Our New 40 Year Old Herreshoff America 18 Catboat – In Praise of Classic Plastic

Hague-20130705-00249I will admit that I am not a lover of wooden vessels. An admirer from afar, perhaps.  The truth is that I am afraid of rot.  I don’t understand it, and, as is often the case, I fear what I don’t understand. And, I doubt that I would like rot, even if I did understand it.  Frankly, I like fiberglass. There I said it.  And I am not ashamed.

Two months ago, I bought a Herreshoff America 18 catboat, an example of what I consider to be “classic plastic,” a timeless design, built to last.  Built in 1973, at forty years old, her hull is still solid and sound.  She is on at least her second sail (she only has one, a 250 square foot gaff rigged main.)  Her aluminum mast is original as are her boom and gaff.  I am only her third owner, or so the last owner told me.  The first owner is said to have owned her for close to 39 years. In this case, the sailor wore out before the boat.  He is said to have sold the catboat when he was in his 80s and couldn’t sail anymore. The next owner found that he was too busy to sail, kept her for a season, and then passed the boat along to me (in exchange for a cashier’s check.)

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Once I owned the boat, I found that I was too busy to get her in the water for two months. Over the Fourth of July weekend, we finally launched her and had a wonderful sail on Lake George. For a tubby 18 footer, with an 8′ beam and weighing in at 2,500 pounds, she sails amazingly well. We screamed along at close to 6 knots, which for a boat with a 17.75′ waterline is pretty impressive. Having a sail area to displacement ratio of almost 23 definitely helps.

I recall distinctly when I saw my first Herrsehoff America 18. It was in the late 70s, so the boat must have been fairly new.  The catboat was sailing down the channel into Stamford harbor. She was a small boat but with a beam almost half her length she had a certain presence. She was on a broad reach and her gaff-rigged mainsail looked huge and stately. She was lovely.  Decades later, my opinion hasn’t changed.

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29 Responses to Our New 40 Year Old Herreshoff America 18 Catboat – In Praise of Classic Plastic

  1. Ken Page says:

    Very, very happy for you! She’s beautiful!
    I see nothing wrong with 40 year old classic glass, nothing! Of course, that’s coming from a guy who has only owned old wood boats and knows and understands rot, but is about to buy a 33 year old glass girl that’s not quite as classic as that Herreshoff but will be my home.

  2. She’s a nice looking boat, Richard, congrats. I don’t own a boat but often sail a Chesapeake 32, designed by Phil Rhodes. Built in 1958 in Denmark and delivered to the US in 1960, hull # 1 of the series. Primary sailing ground is out of North East MD, at the very top of the Chesapeake. She’s a bit deep draft for this area, so we mind that we keep to the channel. There’s enough upkeep/refit involved that I can only imagine a wooden boat…must needs deep pockets.

  3. Buck says:

    Congratulations! She’s beautiful. I think that wood is over-idealised by sailors. Many of us would like to have a wood sailboat, but few of us are JP Morgan! Fibreglass is practical and durable – two important attributes for a boat that sees use.

    May your Herreshoff see a lot of use!

  4. Ed Weglein says:

    Congrats on your purchase ! Any Herreshoff boat is going to look good on the water, I don’t think it’s possible for anyone with that last name to draw an ugly boat.
    My old 1973 O’day 27 (#67) sails every weekend on Chesapeake Bay. There’s something to be said for being able to haul out one weekend and drop in the next and basically be done for the season .
    Stay safe out on the lake !

  5. Irwin Bryan says:

    Congrats on getting the boat in the water and having a spouse that shares your interests and enthusiasm!
    And you get to go sailing too!

  6. Peyton Adair says:

    I just started sailing Hull #371 after she had sat for almost 2 decades. I have owned several other monohulls, but I think I like the “America” the most. I still prefer my Stiletto 27, but this little boat is a close second.

  7. Robert Mansfield says:

    I have a friend who used to own one of these classic boats and he wishes that he still did. I would like to build him a half hull model, but I can’t seem to find a set of plans. Any idea who built these beauties, or where I might get a set of plans (or at least the line drawings)?

  8. Dick Mohre says:

    I am very lucky to own two classics, the America and the Eagle! I sail into any harbor and the Hinckley people all say wow what a beautiful boat. The America is a classic and sails just fine on Buzzards Bay! The Eagle is a little newer and the same comments happen every time we enter a harbor under sail . The lines are beautiful and the topsail rig is outstanding and yes it does sail very well on all points! My America is faster but the Eagle sails better in rough waters!!!

  9. Rick Spilman says:

    Dick,

    Thanks for the comment. I envy you your Herreshoff fleet. The different rigs on essentially the same hull are intriguing. As much as I appreciate the looks of a classic catboat, I do love the looks of the Eagle.

  10. Ruth CB Smith says:

    We live in Kingston, Ontario, the East end of Lake Ontario and have just bought a 1974 Herreshoff America 18 Catboat and have just put her in the water. I can’t wait to sail her but the ‘through the deck’ mast is not stepped yet.

    As I see many of these boats have tabernacles, for next summer we would like to build one from wood for her, and I think I can use the drawings for the aluminium one (with adoptions of course), but does anyone have any ideas of how to attach the tabernacle to the deck and the ‘post’ supporting it all? I was thinking of sandwiching the deck with 3/4″ ply (well finished and bolted of course) and this would be attached to the tabernacle on top and the ‘post’ underneath. What about using the cut off piece of mast for the ‘post’ ?

    Anyone know who I could ask about this?

    Cheers, Ruth

  11. Rick Spilman says:

    I built a tabernacle by sleeving the original mast with a length of Schedule 40 marine aluminum pipe that I ordered online. (The ID of the pipe and the OD of the mast make it possible.) So far I am quite happy with it. Here are a few photos of the finished tabernacle. My tabernacle is a modified version of the design used on the HA18 Platereo (click here.) The nice thing about sleeving the mast is that you can use the original mast step and fittings. There is no need to modify the deck.

    Several years ago, Jean Miele put together a wonderful rigging guide to the HA18 which he posted on his web page. There is a plan for a tabernacle on page 3 & 14. Click here to go to his web page.

  12. Bob Ten Eyck says:

    Hi, Sadly I must sell my Herreshoff American.Do you know anybody who wants a well maintained Cat boat for $6,500 .Bob

  13. Rick Spilman says:

    Have you tried the Catboat Association used boat listings? That where I found my boat. Listing your boat is free, though you do have to be a member.

  14. WILLIAM J MASON says:

    RE: BOB TEN EYCK
    I AM INTEREST IN YOUR Herreshoff America. PEASE CONFIRM A/ LOCATION OF BOAT, B/ AVAILABILITY C/ INVENTORY ,AND D/ PIC’S
    PLEASE REPLY VIA MY EMAIL.

    REGARDS

    W MASON

  15. jim cameron says:

    Thanks for a very nice site. I have admired the Herreshoff America since the mid 70’s when a client of mine purchased one. At the time I owned the first of my two CD Typhoon’s and we would engage in friendly racing. They were two beauties under sail. Having an adventurous nature, and sometimes less than cautious, he in the America and a friend in his Catalina 22 left the Manatee Pocket, Port Salerno, FL bound for The Bahamas. They enjoyed a great trip and he sported a great smile upon his return.

    I am waiting for a call from a broker to take me to see an HA that is for sale locally. Fingers crossed.

  16. Ted Clark says:

    Have just swapped a Dyer Midget sailing dinghy for an H.A. Cat Boat. She needs a little tender loving care but otherwise she is sound. Just spent a week on her and had a great time. Took a little time to get used to her large sail! I also have a open cockpit Cape Dory Typhoon and a Hunter 40 that we have sailed over forty thousand miles. The only problem she has is a bad leak. The only place it can be is in the center board trunk. Does any one have any suggestions? Any help will be very appreciated.

  17. John J. O'Neill says:

    I know the Herreshoff cat boat fleet very well. I’m a retired sailmaker and made some of the first sails for the America and all the original sails for the Herreshoff Eagle and the Minuteman boats. I’m delighted to read that many sailors are still sailing them. I still have all the data on these sails and if you are in need of a replacement sail , I can be of service. Happy sailing .

  18. Ed Zacko says:

    That Cat you saw sailing into Stamford Harbor we me–on Drummer Buoy.
    My wife and I had our honeymoon on her and she served us well until we built a larger NorSea 27 to sail the world.
    Drummer Buoy was a great boat. She took good care of us and taught us much. She was sold to a very dear friend when we moved up to the 27 and he still sails her out of Stamford.

    Congratulations the America is a timelss design.
    Ed Zacko
    January 2016

  19. Rick Spilman says:

    Wow. Great to make the connection. Did you then keep the NorSea27 in Yacht Haven West? I recall seeing one a few docks over.

    I am now selling my Herreshoff. Fun to sail but I wanted more space for cruising. Our new/old Albin Nimbus 42 is being worked on as I type down in Virginia.

  20. Don gilbert says:

    Rick,
    I saw your note that you are selling your Herreshoff. Is it still for sale? If so, where can I learn more about it and see pictures of it?
    Don

  21. Mike Stephen says:

    I have enjoyed reading the posts about catboats. I will be putting my 18′ HA Catboat up for sale in the next two weeks. She is a 1971 in good condition and will be fairly priced (under $5000). Boat, motor, trailer and many extras. Mike

  22. Terri Ivins says:

    I am the new owner of a 1976 Herreshoff America located on Cape Cod. She will be my “summer boat” as I live aboard my IP 38 in Florida and desire to escape the heat. I bought her sight unseen to sail to Maine this June and July. I need help with some dimensions. I would like to repower her with a newer outboard with electric start so I can charge a small house battery. Any idea on what will fit in the well? The dimensions including height? Also will I need a long shaft or short shaft?
    Any other suggestions would be appreciated.
    Terri Ivins
    SV “Sailbatical” IP 38
    SV “Annie” HA 18

  23. Don Gilbert says:

    Mike Stephen,
    I am interested in learning more about your boat if it is still for sale. How can I get in touch with you?
    Don

  24. DOUG STEERE says:

    TERRI—DID YOU EVER GET AN ANSWER TO YOUR QUESTION ABOUT THE ENGINE SIZE. I OWN THE SAME BOAT AND NEED TO REPLACE AN OLD ENGINE BUT CAN’T FIND ONE THAT FITS.

    DOES ANYONE KNOW WHAT NEWER 4 STROKE MODEL WOULD FIT???

    ALL HELP APPRECIATED…

  25. Frank Volz says:

    Rick, is there any way you could send me the details for constructing the tabernacle. Specifically the measurements for the cuts and the procedure for making them?
    Thanks, Frank

  26. Rick Spilman says:

    Frank,

    I cannot find the sketches I made. I plan on working on the boat next week so I can take some measurements when I get back to it.

  27. Frank Volz says:

    Thanks for the reply Rick. I plan to do the mod as a winter project and I have a lot of questions. Perhaps rather than tying up this site we could correspond direct through email if that would work for you?

  28. Thom King says:

    I bought a 1972 HA 18 last fall and spent all winter cleaning, sanding, epoxying, varnishing, and painting. Finally put it in the water at the delta last week and what a cool sailboat! I did not replace the running rigging and was wondering if there is a list of lengths for rigging. Was the original rigging 3/8″? Not too many of these on the left coast.

  29. Don Gilbert says:

    Rick,
    Like Frank Volk, I am also planning to modify my Herrshoff America this winter to add a tabernacle. Can you please send the information and measurements you provided to Frank. Or if it would be easier, we could communicate via email.
    Thanks for the help.
    Don

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