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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11 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.

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