How the "Whistler" Came to Be

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By William Harnden Foster


October 10, 1921

Ready for her final launching.
This Is the Story of How the Versatile Author of the "Big Brains in Boating" Series of Cartoons Designed and Built a Bully Boat. It Explains Why Bill Foster Can Caricature Boats so Well; He Knows Them as Only a Man Who Loves Them Can. --The Editors

The different ways in which different men take their recreation is an interesting subject for conjecture, and to know the comparative amount of pleasure that each class gets out of his hobby would make it still more interesting. When it comes to boat ownership, I have often wondered just how the fun that the rich man gets, who buys a boat somewhat as he would a lawn mower, compares with that of the other fellow who, either by necessity or for the pure love of it, studies and builds, piece by piece and month by month, until he has his little ship -- the product of his own industry. If effort counts for anything then the balance is all on the side of the latter. But since, when men change stations, they usually lose their sense of perspective, I don't see how we can prove anything one way or the other. Still, I can't help thinking that in the boating game a blister on your mitt means more than a nick out of your war profits.

It occurs to me that somebody or other, now deceased, started the idea of putting the moral of a story at the end. Just to show you that my literary efforts are not moored to any particular style I am going to sprinkle this yarn with morals with the first one right here, namely: If you want to get the most out of boating do as much toward designing and building as you can. You see I have been practicing what I now preach, for at her mooring swings the Whistler, a 24-ft. Casco Bay Hampton, the designing and building of which has been my pastime since Tige was a pup.

The name Whistler certainly has a familiar sound, for no one who has seen or read about neighbor Hand's creel, little sword-fisherman is likely to forget it. In naming his boat, I do not know whether Hand was inspired by those very useful producers of ungodly noises or not, but my Whistler takes her name from those neat little swift-flying ducks that bring joy to the hearts of the bay gunners. Be that as it may, lest one of our friends who has a very sensitive ear for boat names accuse me of lacking in originality, I must go back into ancient history.

Some ten years ago I stood on a slope overlooking one of the fairest reaches of that ideal cruising water, Casco Bay, Maine, and decided to look no farther for a place to take up my domicile. With the batters up for the house, the next question was that of a boat, for no home on Casco Bay is complete without one. As all my previous experience had been with sailing craft my ideas naturally turned in that direction, and I picked up a 33-ft. combination keel and centerboard knockabout, built by Stearns & McKay of Marblehead — a smart sailer and handy little boat withal. Now it happens that my particular form of servitude dictates that I do my sailing after 4 p. m. as a general thing. The first season with the sloop had not advanced very far before I found that 4 p. m. marked the time of day when the sailing breeze became fickle, and also that the tide ebbed out between the rocky islets about as often as it flowed. The result was that I came home on the end of a tow-line altogether too often for peace of mind. The result was that the sloop went to Staten Island and I became the owner of the boat that had done most of the towing, an 18-ft. Hampton, relic of the pod-auger days, but able, as all real Hamptons are, despite her twenty-five summers.

Either one of our interesting friends who writes on the subject of boats waxes over-eloquent on the soothing effect of a one lung make-and-break or else the bird has changed its tune of late. At any rate, the three-horse kicker in that nameless Hampton never sang me to sleep. It had the most spiteful bark of any piece of machinery of its size that I ever saw or heard, and if you wanted to be sure of what you were looking at you had to go forward and stand on tip-toe. Even then you were in danger of getting fallen arches. Nevertheless, in this small craft, that I now paint in somber colors, I explored most of the highways and by-ways of Casco Bay, and incidentally got stung beyond recovery by the motor boat bug.

At this stage of the game I hadn't enough practical knowledge of the subject to realize that my next move would not be altogether practical. The forum of the evening cap-log had their eyes peeled for anything that could show more than 10 miles, while a 15-miler brought the whole countryside to the high-water mark. About this time I was smitten with a desire to drive a fast boat, something that would astonish the natives, if you please. So the following spring we unloaded what was then one of the crack runabouts of the country, Peter Pan IV, the first of the Cinderellas, which had, the season before, cleaned up on the Hudson and proved the worth of her type. It was a big day when she roared into the river. Screen-doors slammed as the inhabitants of the village left the supper table and the shore was lined to see "a bo't goin' 40 miles an hour" -- 28 as a matter of fact.

On moderate days, before the novelty of the speed had begun to wear off and the bay steamers continued to offer a salute, Peter Pan IV made her owner famous. But after a couple of seasons the expense account began to look like the power curve of an indicator chart, while the value received came to resemble the torque. I then came to realize that there was something to the game besides racing from place to place and accomplishing nothing. So Peter Pan IV, good boat that she was, went the way of the sloop.

During this time that I had spent in experimenting, the fishermen in their Hamptons had been going about their work with unemotional regularity. Blow high, blow low, they went forth in the morning and came back at night, their only comments being in terms of lobsters and fish. They took the weather as they found it, three hundred days a year. Then the light dawned. Why was not this Hampton type the boat for me? Although a timid soul, why should I not go hand-lining with the rest and not have to keep an anxious eye to windward all the time? Yes, it was decided -- my next boat would be a Hampton, perhaps with fewer fish-kids and more seats, but an able Hampton. Moreover, I decided to name her Whistler and that I would design and build her myself. Here is the second moral: If you are taking up boating in a new locality, and are in doubt what type will serve you best, look closely at the type that has been developed in that locality, and which is used to the greatest extent.

Most readers of MOTOR BOAT doubtless are familiar, in a general way, with the Hampton of Casco Bay, a time-proven type half a century in the development, and built to meet local conditions just as the Seabright skiff has linked its name with the Jersey mosquito unto posterity. The Hampton is found in its native heath between Cape Elizabeth and Small Point, with the center of population around Harpswell and Bailey's and Orr's Islands. The majority of the fleet that numbers several hundred are turned out by a few honest builders of the old school who work for the love of the working and who vie with each other to produce the best. The length of the average Hampton is around 23 ft., although they do run up to 25. They are beamy, high-bowed, square-sterned and long-legged, brutes to carry and as hard to drown as the fish that swim beneath their slanting keels.

Almost invariably the Hampton is of strip constructional, that is, instead of being planked in the orthodox manner, it is built up of narrow strips over molds. These strips are usually about 1 in. sq. and are laid in paint with no caulking, being fastened together by edge-nailing. The ribs are put in after the planking is on. The result is a tremendously strong construction.

For the amateur, building a heavy boat of this size, this method of construction is entirely practical. By using plenty of molds, well stayed, and fitting each strip carefully, one cannot go wrong. To be sure, it is a slower process than set-work, but the fact that there is no caulking to be done helps even the score. The difficulty of steaming ribs, which is the bane of most amateurs, is reduced to a minimum. The planking is so rigid that a hot rib may be taken from the steam-box and riveted in without danger of distorting the lines.

As I studied over these boats, I decided that the Whistler should have certain improvements, or at least attempts at improvements. While no man could expect to improve on the general seaworthiness of the type, yet I felt that the bow, which, while high, is wedge-shaped with nearly straight sides, would be made dryer by giving it a flare. The average Hampton is usually powered with a single cylinder engine of about 10 hp. Even at this many drag water badly, holding the speed down to 7 to 9 miles an hour. I thought that I recognized in this the fact that some of the builders had not become thoroughly weaned from the lines of the sailing Hampton of pre-motor days, a fact that I believe in some cases to be true. So I intended to give the Whistler an easier entrance, with a good broad stern with flatter sections aft, for while I appreciated the simplicity and reliability of the accepted powerplants from the fisherman's standpoint, it was my intention to install a four-cylinder, four-cycle engine, with the hope of getting 10 miles an hour out of this full-bodied model. Such an engine, I felt, would drive the hull to the limit and at the same time give me a quiet, smooth-running outfit with a little reserve power for times of need. The usual square stern, I decided, could be relieved by rounding it, and I saw also the virtue of shaft-log construction as compared with the bored stern-post and outside stuffing-box.

To sum up, I wanted the Whistler to, be a big able Hampton, with all the Hampton's earmarks, yet with several minor features worked in that would add to the comfort without sacrificing any of the fundamental sea-going qualities.

Before starting my design I measured some of the products of the best builders, and by comparing these figures I got a pretty good line on what the conservative dimensions should be. Next I made the model scaled 1 in. to the foot, using white pine in half-inch thicknesses. As a naval architect I had not reached the stage where I felt that I could start the design of a boat with the flourish of a drawing-pen and a T-square. I wanted to be able to look at the lines in a more material way, hence the model. When I got what seemed good to me I took the model apart and by careful measuring developed a table of offsets from it, and from this table began my drawings. I do not imagine that this is the approved method of procedure, and yet it worked out quite well in my case.

As soon as I had carried my calculations as far as I could I swallowed what pride I had in the matter and sought out William J. Deed, whom I knew to be an authority on small boat designing, and who had made a particular study of the type in which I was interested. Mr. Deed was kind enough to be interested in my efforts, and after going over the entire matter I was greatly pleased when he handed down the decision that my plans were entirely practical as they stood. However, in view of the fact that I was going to use a little more power than was customary he suggested that I flatten the after sections even a little more than I had them. I have since been grateful for this suggestion. So here, then, is moral No. 3: If you are an amateur planning to spend two or three seasons of spare time, and some money, in building from your own plans, it is a good idea to let some specialist look over your work before you begin. Even if you are correct in every calculation, the satisfaction of knowing it before you start hewing oak is worth the price.

In the fall of the year the work on the Whistler was actually begun, and perhaps if I had known then how many moons would pass before I should see her float, my courage might have failed me. They say "ignorance is bliss," so let's let it go at that.

The first step was to make the temporary molds from paper patterns. The former were made from 7/8-in. white pine in a substantial manner, so that there would be no danger of buckling when the strips were bent around. Then came the stern-board, which was of 1 ½-in. oak. As this was to be built up of three boards 9 in. wide and was to be curved on a 5 ft. 6 in. radius, the whole board was steam bent to the uniform curve and then cut up afterwards, and edge-bolted and cleated together. In the construction the stern-board and the stem also acted as molds.

The backbone was of oak sided 3½ in., while the shaft-log sided 4 in. On the keel, and screw-bolted through it, was an apron piece 9 in. wide at the widest and 1½ in. thick. The floor-timbers went on top of this and were also screw-bolted through both the apron and the keel. Instead of drift-bolting the keel, dead-wood, shaft-log and horn-timbers together, as is often done, this construction was held together with three pairs of bronze screw bolts. While galvanized fastenings were used elsewhere, the fact that I used a 1 1/4-in, brass sleeve in the shaft-log with the stuffing-box and stern-bearing screwed on, necessitated the use of bronze fastenings here, as the bolts passed nearer to the pipe than one could expect iron and brass to live happily together. When it came time to stop work in the spring the backbone and the molds were ready to be taken from the cellar, that had served as a workshop, and set up.

Early the next fall the Whistler was set up in an open loft over a garage 25 miles from salt water and 125 from her future home. The place proved a good workshop, although the spirit of the sea was wholly lacking. A ball of marline helped to give a little of the proper atmosphere, but I missed the kindred spirits that usually are found where boats are built.

After fairing up the floor timbers and putting in the 11 ft. engine bed, which was notched and bolted to each floor timber in turn, I was ready for the planking. The stock that I used for this purpose was clear white pine 7/8 in. by 1 in., the 1 in. going for the thickness of the hull. Thus when the hull was smoothed off there was no place in it that fell less than 7/8 in. in thickness. By starting with a few shorter "stealers," I found that I could carry all the strips full length and without much tapering, as the distances around the hull at the different sections were nearly the same. When once well started, strip planking is pretty work. A strip is selected that will be of proper length to break joints with the three previous ones and fitted to the rabbit in the stem, at the same time marking where it touches the molds. Then a small block is laid on the last strip at the different molds to determine the different amounts of bevel that exist. These bevels are transferred to the strip which is planed until it fits. The strips being so narrow require only very little attention even when the sides of the hull are changing rapidly. In planking a strip boat it is advisable to alternate from one side to the other with each ten or a dozen strips, so as not to put an excess strain on the molds.

Each strip, as it is put on, is nailed in to the previous one with galvanized nails I spaced 6 in. apart. These nails should be of sufficient length to go through two strips and into the third. As soon as one strip is fastened the location of the heads of the nails are marked on the outside of the plank. Then when the next strip goes on the next set of fastenings go to the right 2 in. Thus each strip is fastened to the next with nailings spaced 2 in. part. It is a good idea to leave the pencil marks on the hull "until the last gun is fired," for it enables you to bore through for rib fastenings, water-intakes, and so on, without hitting the network of iron that is concealed in the planking of a strip boat. The Whistler has about 110 lb. of nails hidden away out of sight.

The Hampton boat builders lay their strips in thick paint, but as an experiment I used Jeffery's liquid marine glue. I believe that this will work out well, for not only does this glue seem to have the waterproof qualities of paint, but also has that adhesive property which allows it to stretch without breaking as is the case with paint, making a hull less liable to leak when first launched in the spring.

As it was impossible to get clear stock that would run the whole length of the boat it was necessary to make at least one joint in each strip. There are two styles of joint used for this purpose, one is simply a square butt while the other is a slush joint. I chose the latter, making a joint about 2 in. long. I found that by cutting each end in a small miter-box made for the purpose and driving the ends well together with one nail down through the splice that the joint was as strong as the rest of the hull.

The putting in of the oak ribs, which were 1 in. by 1¼ in., and spaced 12 in. on centers, was the only part of the Whistler's construction that required two men, one on the outside to bore and countersink for, and drive the rivet, while the other put on the burr and headed it. The rivets went through every third strip, and were covered by wooden plugs set in marine glue.

The remainder of the construction of the Whistler is not sufficiently unlike that of any other small boat to warrant a lengthy description. Suffice it to say that she was built for strength and with no idea of reducing weight by sacrificing anything that would add to her ruggedness.

The spring following the fall that the backbone was set up saw the Whistler planked in, ribbed out and the deck on. It took another winter to finish her inside and joiner her above the water-line. Then followed a period when most men found something else to do besides build boats for the fun of it. However, during that time the Whistler was "launched" from the loft over the garage, loaded on a sled, and shipped to Maine on a flat car. Even then the time was not forthcoming to finish her, and it was not until this last spring that the machinery was installed and she finally took her dip in the briny -- a boat six years in the development.

A glance at the plans will give you an idea of her arrangement. Forward is a small standing - room, a handy place from which to pull the anchor in rough water. Just after is a water-tight fish-kid large enough to hold all the fish I am liable to catch on one trip. This compartment was made water-tight so that it could be cleaned out separately. By drawing a plug, however, it may be rinsed out, allowing the water to go into the bilge. Aft of the fish-kid is a cockpit with side seats flush with the top of the fish-kid and also with a 14-in, cross-thwart that strengthens the hull just forward of the engine. The engine comes close up to this thwart with the flywheel under it. As the engine is under a box with hinged covers and demountable sides, and as the exhaust goes under the floor, it leaves a clear passage on either side of the engine to the after standing-room. This standing-room has no seats on the sides in order to permit comfortable fishing at the rail, but across the after end is a rather high seat for steering with a spacious locker underneath. Access to the space under the 4-ft. deck aft is gained by a flush hatch and makes a good place to store the more bulky articles such as oilers, spray-hood, clam basket and spare gear. There is a gasoline tank in a small locker on either side of the engine covered by an extension of the wash-board. These tanks are piped in such a way that the feed-pipe of either may be shut off and taken out, for clearing, without disturbing the flow from the other.

One of the lessons that I learned earlier in the game was that, like clothes on a male human being, polished brass and varnish do not make a boat; albeit they make a thundering lot of work on a boat. This being so, Whistler cannot boast of any bright-work and therefore cannot hope to figure in any varnish advertisements. She is painted a medium gray inside, white decks and a light pearl gray top-sides with a gold-leaf stripe terminating on either bow, with a portrayal of the bird for which Whistler is named. The under-body is painted with Marblehead green.

Aside from fishing equipment and such staffs of life as water, matches, tobacco, hard-bread in sealed cans and so on, the Whistler carries a full set of electric sailing and riding lights, with connections for the binnacle and trouble-light, two Pyrenes, a Negus log, a sounding-lead, a trawl-roll over which to pull the anchor-rode, a power hilge-pump, and last but not least, a sun-glass with which to light your corn-cob when the loose water is flying.

For the powerplant of the Whistler I chose a Model "VM" Gray unit power plant which is proving to be a mighty satisfactory job, being quiet, smooth-running and powerful. By using one Vapo swing-joint and two forty-fives the exhaust line was carried under the floor and into a Model "F" Maxim silencer placed under the after deck, thence out through the stern. As a small stream of water, is admitted to the exhaust-line, the result is as near silent as one is apt to find.

In trying to pick out a suitable wheel for the combination, I figured over much paper without reaching a result that inspired me with confidence. You see I was hoping against hope for ten real miles. At last I put the dope up to our Billy Atkin and he did the trick. You see on MOTOR BOAT there are several Bills. There are editorial Bills, technical Bills and one or two other kinds of Bills. Take my advice and when you get stuck on a motor boat problem let technical Bill have a shot at it. In my case he surprised me a little by saying "16 in. by 18 in., broad blades" --just like that. But I guess he was right, for at 750 r.p.m. the Whistler does 9 miles, and by opening her up to 900 r.p.m. I get the hoped-for ten, with a few rods to spare. Still, for the sake of economy and sweetness of operation, most of the Whistler's running will be at the former speed.

Thus ends the short history of a long job with the closing moral: When you amateurs design and build your own boats get as much fun and satisfaction out of it as I did building the Whistler.

The first launching from the garage where she was built -- 125 miles from Casco Bay.

Comprehensive views of "Whistler." She is a refinement of the Casco Bay Hampton boat -- the evolution of generations.

Before the motor was installed. In the interests of speed, the stern is broader and the run somewhat flatter than the typical Hampton.

William Harnden Foster at the tiller of the "Whistler."

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