Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Island Escort: Old Made New

Not so very long ago we had an opportunity to prepare a presentation design for an individual interested in getting to his property on a nearby island and back again. The design requirements were speed and grace. A passing reference was made of the fact that it should probably look like it belongs in Maine. Also, it’s likely that it will be used for the occasional tour of the island. A beautiful boat, sunset, Maine Islands and a gin and tonic. Just add lime, the rest was up to us.

The design brief immediately called to mind a collaboration between Rod Stephens (brother and co-worker of the famous designer, Olin Stephens) and designer Al Mason. In 1940, Commodore William Justice Strawbridge commissioned a design for the expressed purpose of cruising the islands around Penobscot Bay. Stephens and Mason called the result ESCORT. When a client came into the design office and asked for speed, grace and a distinctive design that would still look at home in a rocky harbor in Maine, ESCORT struck me as a pretty good place to start.

This is a great boat, period. But no self-respecting designer is going to show a client someone else’s boat. So whether or not I believed it at the time, I felt that we could do better.

Enter the design work of a man named A. M. Deering, introduced to me through the writings of Maynard Bray. If you fancy yourself a designer you’d do well to immerse yourself in Maynard’s writing. He and Anne Bray, his wife, wrote a book titled Designs to Inspire: Selections From the Rudder, 1897-1942. The Brays describe Deering’s striking beautiful 1935 effort, HILLHARRE:

“Moderately streamlined with an automobile inspired pilothouse, HILLHARRE still looks attractive even after 65 years. Deering’s handling of the transition between trunk cabin and pilothouse, which incorporates a continuous belt line under the windows and a faired-in lower windshield edge, are both distinctive and handsome. Judging from the plan view, her hull and great flare forward and extreme tumblehome aft, making her a worthy progenitor of the shapely Florida sportfisherman. HILLHARRE’s builder was J. Walter Jones of Wittman, Maryland.”(“Sportfishing Cruiser HILLHARRE,” Designs to Inspire, p. 156)

Another great boat. Sure, there are elements that I don’t love. On the whole I think it is evocative of an era that we weren’t keen to retain in our design, and I suspect the dramatic curvature of the house top and the lack of rake to the front of the house are partially to blame for this.  Still, there’s enough inspiration in those two boats to advance a dozen new designs. Our effort was born of the Stephens-Mason collaboration and carries the name they selected. The sheer, dramatic tumblehome, nearly plumb stem and transom, pilothouse window arrangement, even the aft overhang and downward slope to the pilothouse top all pay homage to Deering’s HILLHARRE

-Brendan Riordan



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Location: Rockport, Maine, United States

Rockport Marine is a group of talented craftspeople who design, build and restore wooden yachts with unparalleled expertise.