By H. I. Chapelle
Yachting, July 1938
KEEL versus centerboard -- the relative advantages of the two types have been the source of many clubhouse arguments in past years. Recently the question has again become of interest to yachtsmen and once more hot words are being exchanged by the adherents of both types. All the old objections to the centerboard are discussed and, often, rather surprising new ones are raised. After listening to a few arguments on this subject, it is apparent that the most popular belief among the objectors to the centerboard is that centerboard hulls are, inherently, unable to work to windward in a heavy sea or chop; in short, that they are less weatherly and also less seaworthy than keel boats. Now, whatever objections there are to centerboarders, such a one as this is the least correct. To prove this point, take the Hampden boat as an illustration.
This type of boat was produced on the coast of Maine, in Casco Bay. A glance at a chart of the Maine coast just to the eastward of Cape Elizabeth, will give a far better idea of the conditions on this bay than any amount of description. It will be seen that Casco Bay is made up of a series of long, narrow coves or bights, all more or less open to the sou'west, and a multitude of islands, rocks, ledges and flats. There are deep channels up most of the bights, but most of the coves alongshore are relatively shoal. Once out of the deep bights, the cruiser is in the open sea. In and out of the deep bights making up the bay, there are strong tidal currents, changing in direction with each change of tide. Therefore, with the wind against the tide, it is not uncommon to find the short, steep chop supposedly so disadvantageous to the centerboard hull. On the other hand, the shallow coves and the ledges were the working grounds of the local fishermen; this made the centerboard boat attractive, if not wholly necessary. In the winter, when lobsters go to deep water, the fishermen have to go outside the bay, into the open waters between Cape Elizabeth and Monhegan Island. If not in the lobster fishery, their boats would go off for other fish or would be used in the numerous employments alongshore that are possible to the small boat.
These natural and economic conditions had a tendency to produce a specific model of a small sailing boat -- centerboard, to permit use in the shoal waters of the ledges or the home cove; simply rigged, for ease of working and cheapness; seaworthy, to do the work in open water; weatherly, to get home again against a winter nor'wester or nor'easter; burdensome, to carry a big load of lobster pots or fish; and, last, small enough so that one or two men could work her. The fine sailing Hampden boats and their successors, the motor Hampden boats seen today, were the result of these specifications.
The history of the development of this type is like that of so many others, in that it is not a matter of record and cannot be easily traced. I am unable to discover where the name "Hampden" came from; there is no town on the bay by this name though there is a Hampden near Bangor, in the Penobscot valley. There seems to be no tradition as to the source of the name on Casco Bay. A great many Hampden boats have been built at Bailey and Orr Islands, Harpswell Neck and on Sebascodegan Island as well as along the mainland from Yarmouth to Cape Small. No two builders have the same tradition as to the date or beginning of the type; it is apparent, however, that the type came into being some time between 1855 and 1868.
The forerunner of the Hampden boat appears to have been the ordinary yawl boat of the coaster and sailing ship, not far different from those still seen on the sterns of Maine and Nova Scotia coasting schooners. At an earlier period, the whaleboat seems to have been used; these were probably something like the small Jonesport "peapods," not as large as the standard whaleboats of New Bedford fame. In support of this supposition, there is the fact that 18-foot peapods were built at Orr Island within the last 30 years. The influence of the traditional sharp stern might be inferred by the existence of a small number of sharp-sterned Hampden boats, known as "Crotch Island pinkies," that were built at Yarmouth in the nineties.
Figure 1 is an example of what appears to be the first step in the evolution of the true Hampden boat. These lines were taken from a builder's half model found in West Harpswell and are reputed to be those of the first square-sterned fishing boat built on Casco Bay. They are about the same as the lines of a ship's yawl boat of the same date, except for a sharper bow. The model might well have been originally made for a yawl boat; there is no indication that a centerboard was used though it is true that half models are not always marked to show boards, even though boards were actually used. There are marks that indicate that the boat had two masts, however.
It is probable that this boat had the sprit rig, similar to that of the later Hampdens. This supposition is based on the tradition that the one-masted spritsail rig was common in whaleboats in early times. The popularity of the spritsail rig with small boat fishermen was due to the fact that the spars were so short that they could be stowed all inboard, out of the way of a man hauling pots or fishing. A minor advantage was the comparatively low cost of the rig; no ironwork or standing rigging was necessary and blocks were few. The sail area could be large, yet sail was easily and effectively reduced in a blow by merely unshipping the sprit and securing the peak to the tack, leaving a snug, triangular sail with which to work the boat. These features, found together in few other rigs, account for the use of the sprit in so many American small boats employed commercially or as fishermen.
With the passing years, the Hampden boat slowly developed from the yawl boat to a distinctly different model, particularly fitted to pick up lobster pots in heavy seas and gales, to meet a steep chop when beating, to carry sail well and to be generally suitable for the natural conditions she had to meet. By 1890, the boats had reached the height of their development as commercial sailing boats, both in model and rig.
Figure 2 is an example of the lines of a boat of this period. These were taken from a builder's half model made by Herbert Wilson, from which a number of successful fishing boats have been built by his brother, Dennis Wilson, of Orr Island. This model represents a "two-man boat" — that is, she worked with two fishermen and so was larger than a boat worked by a single man. These "two-man boats" were employed in the lobster fishery not only during the summer but in the winter time, and so worked in exposed waters.
Before going on to her construction and rig, analysis of her lines is in order. This will show how a centerboard design can meet the requirements of weatherlines and seaworthiness. In the first place, the draft at the sternpost is slightly under two-and-a-half feet, which allowed the boat to work among the ledges and to anchor in the shoal coves of the bay. On the other hand, the displacement is fairly large, to permit the use of a quantity of inside ballast, which gives sufficient dead weight to enable the boat to forge through a chop without being stopped by the waves, as a light displacement boat would be. In such conditions, there is no substitute for weight, in either keel or centerboard hulls. The bow is long and sharp, to make the weight more effective by eliminating pounding and excessive "stamping"; in conditions where the dead weight is not sufficient, the sharp bow adds to the weatherings of a shoal hull. It is obvious that such a bow would be wet and so the freeboard is high. This same feature is to be seen on the old and better known Friendship sloops. The long, sharp bow was accentuated by the position of the greatest beam, well aft. This was brought about through the methods of fishing employed locally and by the small size of the boats. When working, the men stood aft near the tiller and loaded the boat with pots or fish from that point forward. As a result, the boat had to have her center of buoyancy fairly well aft; hence the position of the greatest beam.
It was possible to load these boats heavily by the bow as the high freeboard gave a reasonable margin of safety. The freeboard aft was comparatively low to make it easy to get lobster pots aboard, so the boats were not allowed to trim much by the stern. It will be noticed that the bow is wall-sided; the same feature is another to be seen in Friendship Sloops. Probably this does no great harm if there is no great weight forward but wall-sidedness does permit a lot of spray to come aboard, a fault often complained of in the Friendship sloops. The theory on which the wall-sided bow sections were based is that a boat was faster in rough water if the bow did not lift or plunge; there may be some truth to this in a light boat, working in a steep chop, but a fuller deck line forward would certainly be more desirable in a yacht conversion of either type.
The comparatively narrow beam is another element of design exhibited in this example that is desirable in a centerboarder that must work in rough water. Great beam usually goes with a lack of depth and it is this class of centerboarders — "all on top of the water" — that has given the centerboard hull a bad name. Of course, beam so narrow that Power to stand up and carry sail is sacrificed would make a small fishing boat useless, particularly an undecked craft. In the example, power is obtained through firm bilges and low ballast position is obtained by deadrise and hollow garboards, combined with topsides that flare outward, giving increasing righting power as the boat heels.
The shape of the run is important where speed is concerned; a full run will destroy the good qualities of a model otherwise excellent. It was often a fault in boats having their breadth of beam well aft that the run was short and full. The Hampdens obtained a long run in spite of the position of their greatest beam by use of the "raking midship section," indicated by the change in position of the greatest beam on each water line shown in the half breadth plan. By this means, the run could be carried well forward and a clean wake assured.
Quick handling in picking up a lobster pot is an obvious advantage in a boat of this type; for that reason, there was a strong drag to the keel to aid in staying quickly. On the other hand, these boats were not cut away excessively as it was believed that a long keel was necessary for steady steering. This is not wholly true, of course, but it can be said that such a keel is at least a damper on wild steering.
The construction offered no original or startling details. A great many Hampdens were built by fishermen for their own use; as a result, many of them were "strip-built;" some were very rough, of course. A number of boats were lapstrake, particularly the "Crotch Island pinkies," but the majority were planked in the ordinary way. The frames were small and closely spaced; the construction in general was moderately light but usually very strong. Steam bent frames of oak, planking of white pine or cedar, with keel and deadwood of oak, all iron fastened, were the common specifications. It was customary to set the molds perpendicular to the keel in the old fashion; the lines are drawn to show these molds. Not only does this give rather queer water lines but also odd diagonals. I have often pointed out that the shape of a diagonal means little as far as hull form is concerned, except in scow hulls, and these Hampdens illustrate the point.
Figure 3 shows the common working sail plan of the Hampden boat. Most of the boats did not carry a bowsprit and jib; when they did, it was usually a plank bowsprit that unshipped when the head rig was taken off in the winter. Many of the boats laced the sails to the masts; only the large ones used hoops and halliards. Reef points were rarely used as it was easier to reduce sail by unshipping the sprits than to tie in the reef points. Short handed as these boats were, all unnecessary work was avoided. The snotters that supported the sprits were of the usual type sometimes seen today in spiritualized boats, figure eights, spliced and seized. Many of the boats had large overlapping and liquefied mainsails; on some of the older boats, this sail is said to have been fitted with a bonnet for reducing sail. When anchored, the spars — except the mainmast — were often unshipped and stowed on the thwarts or along the gunwale, out of the way. A rope was often spliced into a hole low on the stem, which could be used as a painter or in mooring.
A few boats were built with cockpits — half-decked — instead of having the more practical washboards and coamings. Most of these half-decked boats were built for summer visitors but there were a few "one-man boats" so built.
Figure 4 represents the lines of two "one-man boats" modeled by Herbert Wilson and half-decked. These "one-man boats" usually worked inside the bights and so were rarely as seaworthy as he bigger craft. As in the example, many were modeled to give high speed and power to carry sail rather than great capacity. The boats built on the lines of Figure 4 are said to have been quite powerful and fast; one boat is still alive and rigged as a cat after 36 years of use.
Frank Johnson, on Bailey Island, built two boats from a half model whose lines are shown in Figure 5. These boats are claimed to have been the first to have counter sterns and were built for summer visitors. They were both fine sailers and were a match for many of the contemporary "knockabouts' in a breeze. Without question, these lines represent a boat suitable for yachting purposes and would make a practical and cheap one-design class for training youngsters.
A one-design class of Hampden boats did actually exist; in the early 1900's, the Knickerbocker Yacht Club of Port Washington N. Y., had a number of 17-foot boats built in Maine; each cost $75 complete, including sails and oars. H. Loweree states that these boats were smart sailers and could carry their full rig when everything else of their size was under short canvas. They carried sandbags for ballast when racing. No model has been found but a crude set of lines and sail plan exist which was once published in the old New York Herald. These lines are not fair but enough points could be obtained to draw an approximation of the lines and rig. The drawings, show in Figures 6 and 7, are perhaps more refined than were the origin boats; certainly they could not be built for $75 today. At any rate the drawings offer a suggestion for handy knockabout sail boat for use in rough water. The revival of this class might be possible in some club whose waters are not suitable for the conventional one-design classes.
When the gasoline motor came into general use on the Maine coast, it was found that the Hampden sailing model was particularly efficient with small power. Since boats were on the "double wedge" model of the early speed launches, as can be seen by the lines accompanying this article, practically all the Hampden boats were quickly converted to motor craft; when new boats were built, they were designed primarily as power craft. These new boats were narrower than the earlier sailing craft and had their transoms set a little abaft the sternpost so as to place the propeller under the boat. The same planked up deadwood of the sailing Hampden is to be seen in the motor boats. Now the Hampden has neither centerboard nor spars and is a workaday power fisherman. From her have developed other power fishing boats, with various types of sterns and slightly modified lines. The Jonesport model fishing boat is an example.
Recently, a few sailing Hampden boats, fitted with the old rig and with auxiliary motors, have been laid down as inexpensive cruising yachts. Undoubtedly, these boats will make satisfactory 'longshore cruisers in lengths up to 30 feet over all but the model is not suitable for larger craft, since it was developed, primarily, as a small open boat. The general principles of design seen in the Hampden could be applied to centerboard cruisers, however, to produce a weatherly and seagoing yacht. It seems apparent that there can be no perfect "standard" model of cruising yacht, either centerboard or keel, since every cruiser, or even racer, should be designed to fit the particular conditions of wind and water met where her owner does his sailing. No amount of argument as to the inherent advantages of either keel or centerboard can have more force than this cold fact.
[The writer acknowledges with thanks the assistance given him by Mr. Dennis Wilson, Mr. Frank Johnson, Mr. Harry Loweree, Mr. C. K. Durgan and others.]