Gannon & Benjamin of Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, is a boatyard of the old school — dedicated to wooden vessels. Their business includes a bit of new construction, always some repair work, and the care and maintenance of a variety of wooden boats. Over the past few years there has emerged from their boatshop doors a small but steady rivulet of handsome new wooden sailing vessels, most of them designed by Nat Benjamin, one of the firm's partners. This 30-foot yawl is a fine example of the quality of design and craftsmanship that has made Gannon & Benjamin well known to a small but discerning circle of admirers.
Candle in the Wind was commissioned by an Englishman who has a summer home in Marion, Massachusetts. He wanted a sailing boat with a large cockpit for daysailing, yet capable of occasional overnight cruises. Hoping to keep his two growing teenagers busy and involved in the sailing of the boat, he specified a two-masted gaff rig without self-tending jib as having the maximum number of strings to pull. Having owned racing boats in the past, he also wanted a responsive, easily driven hull of traditional shape for use as a family boat.
"I couldn't have hoped for a better set of design requirements," says Benjamin, "as I am convinced that performance, comfort, and looks are all very compatible, and to design and build a boat for a family to enjoy is the most reasonable request. I had to cast into the waters of my English ancestors to catch the muse that provides a gaff yawl, and with a few ideas from Albert Strange — and the expert eye of my partner
Snapshots of the new boat indicate that it worked out very well indeed. To my eye, at least, the boat is very good-looking, and a study of the plans indicates delicate lines, a well-proportioned rig, and a large, comfortable cockpit. Let's look more closely at this old-fashioned boat that I believe has implications for the future.
The greatest fun in boating usually comes in the simplest boats. The main thing that so attracted me to sailing and particularly to cruising more than 50 years ago was the total change in lifestyle — no hot baths, an icebox with real ice rather than the refrigerator, oil lamps, the isolation from the daily affairs on shore, the good smell of tarred marline and manila rope mixed with the aroma of cedar and bilgewater — all combined to make even an overnight cruise an adventure. Curled up in the red Hudson's Bay blanket on the kapok bunk cushion, listening to the water moving against the hull, I felt transported to a different world. And I still feel that way about cruising.
Most modern boats are simply too complicated. They are so full of systems, which all too often fail to work, that the feeling of self-reliance — that wonderful ingredient in the pleasures of cruising — is now missing. The modern cruising boat makes the owner a slave to the systems and to the chore of keeping them all working. The Loran isn't working? — well, we can't sail without that. Call the electronics man. While waiting for him, we discover that the refrigeration has quit. Another expert to call. On my dad's old cutter Astrid, the only "system" was the 1932 four-cylinder Palmer,
Particulars Candle in the Wind
541 sq ft
Candle in the Winds fine underbody shows hollow sections right up to the firm turn of the bilge. Her spartan accommodations were conceived and draivn in the old style.
A New Old-Fashioned Yawl and I don't recall that it ever failed to start. We never missed an expedition, whether for mackerel fishing, or for a weekend cruise, due to system failure. Keep it simple and have more fun.
Candle in the Wind is about as simple as a 30-foot boat can be. It would be difficult to imagine a boat that would be more fun to own. Her plans show a three-cylinder Yanmar diesel to move her in a calm, a stove, a sink, a portable cooler, and as a concession to pollution abatement, a Porta Potti. The simple rig with wooden spars and laced-on sails is about as foolproof as possible — nothing there to go wrong or keep one ashore because of breakdown.
The hull reminds me a bit of small English cruising designs of the 1930s — perhaps a touch of Fred Shepherd and Albert Strange. But I think it is mostly Nat Benjamin, distilling a lot of random ideas into a consistent whole that will fulfill the design requirements for good looks, speed, comfort, and sufficient volume to allow limited cruising accommodations on a 30-foot boat. Of necessity, the ends are short so that the waterline length will be long enough to contain the accommodations, an engine, and allow for a large cockpit for daysailing. What catches my eye when looking at the lines is how fine the underbody really is, with the sections showing a marked hollow from the garboard right up to the firm turn of the bilge just below the waterline. The shape of these reminds me most of the sections on Tim and Pauline Carr's old Falmouth quay punt Curlew, a very swift and well-traveled gaff-rigger. These hollow sections in turn produce relatively flat buttocks and slim lower diagonals, both of which undoubtedly contribute to the boat's speed. I like the way the basic shape of the 'midship section carries on into both the forward and after sections. This continuity of shape from end to end, I think, makes for a much more handsome hull than one in which there are abrupt changes of section.
The designed displacement of Candle in the Wind is only 11,900 pounds on a waterline length of 25 feet, for a displacement/length ratio of 340 — less than that of a Concordia yawl, for instance, at 355. The designed waterline is fairly fine forward, with a nice hollow at the entrance. The forefoot is moderately cutaway and the sternpost raked; the draft of 4 feet 9 inches allows the 4,000-pound lead ballast keel to be low enough to give good stability. Nothing revolutionary in the lines plan, but a very nice combination of elements to produce a fast, shapely hull that looks right under its old-fashioned gaff-yawl rig.
The proportions of the rig are perfect. It is not easy to draw a gaff rig that looks right when built — the angles of the gaffs, the lift of the booms, the taper of the spars, and the shape of the quadrilateral sails comprise an art nearly lost in this marconi generation.
Benjamin has drawn a large mainsail, knowing that this sail will have to provide most of the drive, the mizzen being more of a balance sail. The loose-footed jib gives a nice slot effect for the mainsail, and helps keep the teenagers busy during windward legs. The mizzen sheets to a longish boomkin, which complements the nicely curved bowsprit forward. So many new boats built today with gaff rigs suffer from ill-proportioned spars, clumsy rigging details, and a lack of knowledge of how things were done a century ago. Candle in the Wind, with her eye-spliced shrouds and wooden blocks, would not have looked out of place in a turn-of-the-century regatta.
We do not have a construction plan to show you, as, like most builder-designers, Benjamin did not draw one. In an old-fashioned wooden boatshop, once the lines are laid down, construction proceeds along traditional paths with very little need for plans. In his letter to me about the boat, Benjamin describes her construction. I will quote from it verbatim, as it not only indicates the materials used but the sequence of events, and gives a feeling of how straightforward traditional construction can be when done with understanding and practice.
"The keel," writes Benjamin, "is longleaf yellow pine sided 5 inches with a maximum width of 10 inches, tapering at the ends as shown on the lines drawing. Hurricane Hugo live oak provided a one-piece horn timber/sternpost, as well as the stem. Locust and pur-pleheart floor timbers were then through-bolted to the backbone on 9-inch centers and the ballast keel attached with ->4-inch bronze bolts between the floors. White oak frames lVA-inch square were steamed into place and bolted to each floor. White cedar was used for planking, except for the bottom four strakes, which were cypress, and the sheerstrake and one below, which were vertical-grain Douglas-fir. The planks are "/16-inch thick, fastened with bronze screws. After installing bilge stringers and sheer clamps, the deck was framed with locust, and the carlins let in on the flat. Framing the cockpit was challenging, as the seats are 4 inches below the deck, giving a snug feeling when aboard. Three layers of Xs-inch mahogany were bent and laminated for the round-fronted house. A three-cylinder 27-hp Yanmar diesel lives under the bridge deck, with the fuel tank under the cockpit sole. After installation of the spartan interior, a 1 %-inch teak deck was laid, which dresses her up a bit. The cabintop is canvas over plywood — grooved inside to take the curse off the overhead. Gretchen Snyder, who owns and operates the sail loft above the Gannon & Benjamin shop, made the beautiful set of Dacron sails."
Sounds simple, doesn't it? Well, it is.
Again, quoting from Benjamin's letter: "I am very pleased with the performance of this boat — she stiffens up dramatically as the rail gets close to the water, steers easily, and is quite fast."
I think this little boat is very close to perfect. Her appearance would make any owner proud, and her simplicity has tremendous appeal for me. Both owner and designer speak highly of her speed and handling qualities. When Nick Verey, the owner, heard that I was writing about the boat, he called me up to extol her virtues. Even more, he wanted to tell me how satisfying the entire experience of having a boat designed and built at Gannon & Benjamin had been. The right people coming together in pursuit of a mutually perceived goal can often strike sparks of great brilliance.
Author's note about the drawings:
The moment I saw the plans for this lovely little cruiser, 1 was reminded of the beautiful drawings of late-nineteenth-century sailing craft in C.P. Kunhardt's book Small Yachts. Kunhardt was the yachting editor of the sporting journal Forest and Stream, and a magnificent draftsman as well. The first edition of Small Yachts was published in 1885. In 1985, WoodenBoat published an edited and abridged version of Forest and Stream's 1891 edition. The 1985 edition is now (1997) out of print.
When asked, Nat Benjamin was gracious enough to let me attempt to copy Kunhardt's style in redrawing these plans. I am uncertain how successful I have been in recapturing the style, but I had a grand time trying.
Gannon & Benjamin can be reached at P.O. Box 1095, Beach Rd., Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.
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