/have a theory, difficult to prove but intriguing to think about, that the best yacht designers are able to instill some of their character traits into their designs. Nat Herreshoff, genius designer, workaholic, a demon for speed, turned out a huge body of work, meticulously designed and crafted, fast and long-lived. His son, L. Francis, was inventive, eccentric, a lover of beauty and simplicity; he produced a number of beautiful and simple yachts as well as some that were more inventive than beautiful. John Alden, ardent racer and deepwater sailor, took the fisherman-type schooner and modified the design into offshore yachts that were simple, strong, and economically appealing to the yachtsmen of the Depression years.
I am sorry that I never knew S.S. (Sam) Crocker, but over the years I have come to know a number of his boats. I have built two boats to his design, and have stored and maintained several others in my boatyard. If my theory is correct, Sam Crocker must have been a practical, sensible man, one who enjoyed comfort and rugged good looks, a man who preferred simplicity to extravagance. He was a cruiser rather than a racer, a man well versed in practical yacht construction with a good knowledge of what makes a boat look "right."
In 1967, I was privileged to build the little sloop shown here for a rather special client. I had a great deal of enjoyment with the project, and the client enjoyed a great little boat for many years.
If you have studied Sam Manning's fine drawings for the "Anatomy of a Wooden Boat" in the tenth anniversary issue of WoodenBoat magazine (WB No. 60), you were looking at perspectives of this boat, Sallee Rover. Crocker designed her as a yawl in 1953; later, in 1955, a sloop-rigged version was drawn. It was this sloop-rigged design that I built in 1967.
Perhaps more than any other boat in my harbor, she is admired for her good looks; people are always inquiring about the origins of this sloop named Martha. I can see her now out of my drafting-room window, looking extremely jaunty with her dark green topsides, red bottom, white top strake and cabin sides. Her spars and deck are painted a fisherman buff, and her trail-boards have three leaping dolphins picked out in gold leaf. The only varnished item on the boat is her oak tiller.
As you can see from her lines plan, the hull is of shallow draft and wide beam, sort of a cross between a catboat and a Muscongus Bay sloop. To me, she is prettier than either one, more delicate than the chunky cat, more graceful than the Muscongus sloop. The large outboard rudder hangs on a well-raked transom, and the deadwood just forward of the rudder is cut away for the propeller of the 8-hp single-cylinder Palmer Baby Husky engine installed under the big hatch in the cockpit floor. This power plant is perfectly suited to the character of the boat, driving her easily and economically, and producing a wonderful, old-fashioned "putt-putt" exhaust out the stern. The round-fronted cabin trunk goes well with the clipper bow profile and the strong sheerline. The general appearance is of husk-iness and grace, an eyecatching little boat. Only a naval architect knows how difficult this is to achieve on such a small boat. Crocker deserves high marks for this design.
I might as well confess right away that we made a few changes when we built her. To give a wider deck and make it easier to go forward to gaff the mooring or to furl the jib, the cabin sides were moved inboard about 3 inches. The top of the stern was given a high arch above the deck crown, the tiller brought through it above the deck, and the coamings carried aft to join 63 —
the stern as in a Herreshoff 12y2-footer. I think this made her even prettier. A boom gallows was added to eliminate the need for a boom crutch and to give a good handhold aft.
Rugged is the best description of her construction. For example, the keel is 7-inch by 9-inch oak! The stem is sided 4/4 inches and molded about 8 inches — all this on a boat only 20 feet overall. What Crocker has done has been to incorporate much of the ballast needed into the backbone structure of the boat. A keel entirely of oak is cheaper than one having a specially cast chunk of lead or iron ballast attached to it. This boat has no outside ballast at all, which simplifies the building.
The heavy construction continues with 1-inch cedar planking over 1 '/i-inch-square bent-oak frames on 9-inch centers and 1 /4-inch-thick oak floor timbers. All of this weight is pretty low in the boat where it will improve stability as well as strength. The deck, of 1/4-inch plywood covered with Dynel and epoxy over oak beams, is of normal weight. She is tremendously strong and should last a long, long time. About 700 pounds of lead ballast stored under the floorboards abreast the centerboard trunk brings her down to her lines, and together with the heavy backbone and wide beam makes her a stiff boat in a breeze.
Below, the cabin is split in two by the centerboard trunk, which runs from the cockpit almost to the mast. A low seat/bunk on each side allows the boat to he used for overnight cruising for two. Forward of the mast, a raised platform permits stowage, both under it and on top. There are no toilet or galley facilities.
The rig, a low marconi mainsail with self-tending jib, and a total area of 218 square feet looks a bit stumpy on paper, but to my eye appears just right on the actual boat. She is certainly no light-air flyer, but sails well in moderate and strong winds, giving one the feeling of being on a boat much longer than 20 feet.
For the owner's convenience, we arranged to lead the halyards aft so they can be handled from the cockpit. Her original sails were tanbarked canvas, which looked wonderful, but her second suit of white Dacron proved easier to handle and longer lasting.
I have another theory, one which I think can be proved, that good-looking boats last longer than plain ones. The boat that gives one pleasure merely to look at it is a great joy, evoking favorable comment from others. This fills the owner with pride, causing him to take extra care with the boat's appearance. More attention is paid to a handsome craft by everyone involved in her care, whether owner or paid professional; her paint and varnish are better kept, dirt and grime are washed away, problems are dealt with as soon as they appear. Such a boat will last much longer than the homely and less-loved craft on the next mooring. I suspect Mr. Crocker knew this to be true; certainly he designed attractive boats, and many of them have aged gracefully.
Plans for the 19-foot 9-inch Sallee/Rover are available from The WoodenBoat Store, P.O. Box 78, Brooklin, ME 04616; 800-273-7447.
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