In the late summer and early autumn of 2020, the clouds briefly parted between lockdowns and the world stepped outside for a short spell of freedom. Throughout spring and summer, boatbuilding and restoration work had continued around the world behind closed doors at a steady, uninterrupted pace, but sailing had been put on hold.
Amid a series of ever more affirmative press releases (“We will go ahead!”) from the biggest beano of them all – Voiles de Saint-Tropez – a lean shape was taking form in a shed on the Tuscan coast.
In the end, the press releases came true, and that shape, a newly-rebuilt Bar Harbor 31 called Scud, was ready. With the huge rig, low freeboard and menacing, low-profile upperworks, she looked dangerous, and so she proved to be, winning first in class at Régates Royales in Cannes in September. Straight after that she reprised the feat at Saint-Tropez.
But is Scud, which had only emerged a few months earlier from her chrysalis, really the fastest classic yacht in the Med? Or even the world? The results suggest she was in 2020, but of course, it comes down as much as anything to the rating given by the Comité International de la Méditerranée (CIM); and the race crew on the day. Those factors played to Scud’s advantage, not only in racing, but, in the case of a good rating, her survival.
In 1902, when they were designed, the Seawanhaka Rule to which they were optimised (which penalised LWL length but didn’t take into account the LOD) was “in vogue” and the “scow-like hull of the Bar Harbor with its long overhanging bow and stern was a result,” writes US sailing authority Maynard Bray.
The Bar Harbor 31s were in fact the last Seawnhaka yachts to leave the Herreshoff Yard before the Universal Class (think J Class) took over. Even with that end-of-era provenance, Scud, in common with so many designs from Nathanael Herreshoff, has a cleanliness and modernity of line make her look three decades younger than her age. Under the water, the keel starts so far aft, with the bows so fine, and the relatively broad, typically American beam, that the boat is halfway between her era and ours. Above decks, the low cabin trunk and square windows are another Herreshoff motif. The gaff rig is the only clue to the fact that she is in fact 118 years old, launched in the spring of 1903, along with 12 sister ships, all built over one winter at the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company, then with a 300-strong workforce.
So Scud is the product of, by almost any metric, the greatest of all naval architects; not only that, but ‘the Wizard of Bristol’ (Rhode Island) was at the peak of his career and had, by 1903, designed and built 169 steam vessels, and invented, patented or improved many of the ideas that remain central to sailing even today. In 1903, the year Scud and her sisters were built, all eyes were on another yacht leaving the yard that year: the fourth consecutive Herreshoff-designed America’s Cup defender, the unsurpassed extreme machine Reliance, 144ft (43.9m) on deck with 16,000sqft (1,500m2) of sail, and so finely built that even the wooden cleats were hollowed out to save weight. Later that year, a few hundred miles down the coast, Wilbur and Orville Wright invented powered flight. From such a man, in such an era and place, the vigorous novelty of Scud makes sense.
HERRESHOFF’S FORGOTTEN CLASS
While some of Herreshoff’s other classes, like the New York 30s and ‘fighting’ New York 40s, even his more modest designs like the 12½ dayboat, have come to define his legacy, The Bar Harbor 31 class was, until those two regattas in the Med, something of a forgotten class. Even at their outset they were, according to Maynard Bray “not unusual boats for their day and, in fact, were about the smallest sailing craft – at just over 30ft LWL – that could lay official claim to the title of ‘yacht’ and thus be eligible to race and cruise with major yacht clubs.” The Bar Harbor 31 was not dissimilar to the Buzzard’s Bay 30, but with a fixed keel rather than centreboard, and 9in (23cm) longer.
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