Scandinavian Canoe Stern Revived in the 20th Century

Colin Archer, the Westsail and More

By the 1920s, the sport of yachting had seen several theories of design come and go. There was the narrow beam/long overhang style demanded by the International handicap rule, or the wildly contrasting types used by the earliest circumnavigators: Joshua Slocum’s Spray with its wide beam and shallow draft or Captain Voss’ Tilikum–built up from a dugout canoe! There was really no connection between any of those disparate types. Every great sailor, it seemed, had chosen a totally different kind of boat. (A closer look at their writings suggests they were less interested in the design than the cost or the availability.)

But as we all know, you soon come to appreciate whatever qualities your own boat possesses. So there were enough theories on what constituted the ideal cruiser to keep the boating journalists busy. (Maybe things haven’t changed that much!) If you have opened an old magazine from the 1950s or earlier, you’ve probably noticed how many of these “ideal boat” designs were reviewed every month. Before computer design and fiberglass mass production, numerous talented designers competed for the custom-building market by turning out a never-ending stream of beautiful hand-drawn plans.

Many of them were depicted as home-builder projects, as this was considered the best way to make boating accessible to the typical reader. But they look like they really required professional skills to build…so looking back, it’s hard to see how this system really worked to provide employment for designers, builders and journalists. Did readers actually rush down to their local boatyard waving a magazine review? Nonetheless, more than one designer took full advantage of the system and built a career around it.

William Atkin (1882-1962) Yacht Designer and Journalist

William “Bill” Atkin had a remarkable life in boating. During World War I, he served as editor of Yachting magazine for three years–quite an achievement for a young boat builder with little publishing experience. It was something that he evidently enjoyed, for he became deeply involved with marine publishing. Over 40 years, Atkin produced 873 designs, many of them motorboats, and for many years cranked out a design per month for his various publishing commitments.

After the war ended, he joined the staff of Motor Boat as technical editor, beginning a happy association with editor William Nutting, for whom he designed the ketch Typhoon, in 1920. Typhoon measured 45′ on deck, and was intended to demonstrate Atkin’s and Nutting’s concepts for a faster boat, as her proportions were unusual with “a fine bow that could almost be described as ‘all entrance’ clear back to amidships.” She had a very straight run and an unusually broad transom, thus completely breaking with any traditional notion of “balance” between the forward and after shapes of the hull. (This was an approach that didn’t catch on for another 80 years and is now proven to be the fastest!)

Nutting didn’t waste any time in testing his new boat, and Typhoon was blessed with strong fair winds and made a fast trans-Atlantic passage from Baddeck, Nova Scotia to Cowes, England, covering the 2,777 nautical miles in 22 days, 1 hour, and 22 minutes. The boat was praised by the marine press, but Atkin never tried this approach again. Virtually all of his subsequent designs retained a “balanced” hull form in which the after body was not much fuller than the forebody, as was commonly accepted to be desirable for good motion and seaworthiness.

The Typhoon was soon forgotten and in 1923, Nutting, took a ship to Norway and fell in love with the traditional double-ended sailing cutters. He returned with the plans for Archer’s 47-foot pilot boat, and asked Atkin to scale them down to 32′ long with an 11′ beam and refine the shape to look a little more yacht-like. Unfortunately, Nutting decided not to wait for his design to be built, returned to Norway and purchased a yacht of similar type. On the way home from Norway, it was lost without a trace along with the owner and his crew. This had a major impact on Atkin, who would occasionally refer to the loss in his writings for the rest of his life.

In the spring of 1925, three sister ships were built to the design that Nutting had commissioned. They were named Freya, Valgerda, and Eric, and it was the latter that became the class name. Atkin added a 37 footer he called Ingrid and continued to work with the concept for the rest of his life, often calling them his “Atkin-Archer” boats. But it would be wrong to think he had any particular attachment to those particular designs. I found it intriguing that he produced several more double-enders with narrower beam that he thought would be better performers. The gaff sloop Vixen measured 34′ 7″ overall with a beam of 10 ft. and draft 5 ft., displacement about 26,000 lbs, while the slender Bermudian sloop Fram is 39′ overall, 10′ 2″ beam; 5 feet 6 inches draft, displacement 27,500 lbs. It appears that he also used almost exactly the same hull shape as the Eric but with a transom-stern for several other successful boats. (Atkins’ amazing output can be viewed on the web at

Ironically, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the Erics begin to win many admirers, a decade after Atkin died. (His son John continued the business until 1999.) In the interim, many other Archer-type boats would help to build the mystique in the 20th century. In the 1930s, the Norwegian Erling Tambs, published his popular book The Cruise of the Teddy about his voyages in two big Colin Archers. (He was born in Larvik, where Archer’s boat yard was located.) The book became a best-seller and made a powerful impression on many armchair sailors during the Depression.

In the same period, Joseph Hanna produced a design for a 30′ double-ended cruiser that he called “the Tahiti ketch.” This was a magnificent piece of salesmanship and launched a thousand dreams of running away to the South Seas–in a salty double-ender, of course. However, Hanna credited the Greek sponge boats in Florida as his main influence, proving that Scandinavians didn’t have a monopoly on double-enders!

The accepted theory was that when the vessel was hit by a braking wave, it was parted by the V of the stern and passed harmlessly by on both sides. The idea of the seaworthy double-ender even spread to Argentina, where Manuel Campos designed a 31 footer for Vito Dumas, who circled the southern hemisphere alone in 1941. In the inaugural Sydney-Hobart in 1945, a 35′ double-ender named Rani was given little chance of even completing the course, but it arrived in first place after a storm-wracked crossing of the Bass Strait. In 1963, three Norwegian brothers Lars, Trygve and Magnus Halvorsen, who had already been very successful in racing, designed and built a new 39′ double-ender and proceeded to win the 638-mile classic on handicap three years in a row!

In the 1960s, an Eric was built in teak for a group of young British merchant navy officers in SE Asia. One of them was Robin Knox-Johnston, who later sailed the Suhaili around the world non-stop in 312 days. Bernard Moitessier’s steel Joshua was also a similar shape and carried him twice around Cape Horn in the 1960s. This really put Archer-inspired boats back on the yachting map, but it was also the time of the fiberglass revolution.

People wanted their yachts to look “modern,” and by the late 1960s, double enders began to be viewed as relics of the past. It probably would have stayed like that if the character/wooden boat craze had not gotten started in the early 1970’s. It was hard to fathom how. Perhaps it was connected to the “back to the land” movement? After decades of being laughed at by knowledgeable sailors, bowsprits, clipper bows and taff rails were back in vogue, and some fiberglass hulls even displayed fake plank seams!


The Westsail: No Matter who Designed it, it’s Still a Colin Archer!

In the mid-1960s, Larry Kendall of Costa Mesa, CA commissioned naval architect W.I.B. “Bill” Crealock to take the lines of the 32′ Atkin and convert them for fiberglass construction. The design became the Kendall 32. But after several years of production, Kendall’s operation failed and, at a bankruptcy auction, the tooling was sold to Snider and Lynne Vick. The Vicks asked Crealock for a new trunk cabin and the Westsail 32 was born. With a slogan of “Westsail the World” and a marketing campaign geared to swaying palm trees and white sand beaches, the boat was introduced to an unsuspecting public in 1971.

The Westsail 32 measures 32′ on deck, 27′ 6″ LWL, with a beam of 11′ and a draft of 5′. Displacement is 20,000 lbs. The overall length was 39′ with a bowsprit and boomkin included. A secure bulwark protected the crew and there were high lifelines. The cockpit was very small with large freeing ports. The 20,000 lbs displacement gave an enormous interior volume that provided perhaps the largest and most livable interior of any 32 footer.

Over the next ten years, more than 800 Westsails were built, and no boat has inspired more dreams of sailing to faraway places! Indeed, it became the quintessential ocean cruiser in the public eye. The hulls were laminated from 24 alternating, hand-laid layers of fiberglass woven roving cloth and chopped strand mat in polyester resin The result is a very strong structure at the penalty of extreme weight. About half were sold complete, while the rest went out the door in various stages of completion. Thus was borne the bullet-proof Westsail 32–the first fiberglass boat for serious blue water cruising.

Derided as heavy, slow and wet, with many being bought by posers and wannabes, the Westsails have proven to be enduring boats with an admirable cruising record. Their fans called them “the best boat for the worst weather” and hundreds are still sailing the seven seas. Speed was never high on the list of the Colin Archer’s attributes, but then Portland delivery skipper Dave King cleaned up the underwater shape of his Westsail Saraband, and seriously raced it in the Pacific Cup in 1990. He surprised everyone by winning the handicap trophy. He explained to me that his technique was to get the boat up to waterline speed–7-8 knots–and keep it there round the clock.

As I finished this story, I was vaguely aware that I had seen a double ender at the Port of Astoria boatyard not far from my home, so stopped by there to see if it was worth photographing. To my surprise, there were three Colin Archer types within a few yards, and they were constructed of wood, concrete and fiberglass. I think that is as good a proof as any that these boats turn up everywhere and appeal to every kind of builder and owner. It seems that the older it gets, the more this timeless design appears to be growing in popularity–not bad for a 150-year old Norwegian workboat!


A Double-Ended Lightweight: the Tumlaren

A more extreme type of the Nordic double-ender–and a personal favorite of mine–is the Tumlaren designed by Knud Reimers in Sweden in 1933. It continued the local tradition of the “skjaergaardskrysser” (loosely translated as the “skerry cruiser”) that raced in classes limited only by sail area. This resulted in characteristically long easily-driven hulls, but Reimers changed the typical long overhang aft onto a canoe stern and created a classic–a long, lean boat with an exquisite sheer and a stern that could only come from Scandinavia. It’s 27′ long, 22’3″ LWL, 6’3″ beam, 4′ 2″ draft, 4,000 lbs displacement with a sail area of 20 sq meters.

Sailors all over the world fell in love with the boat after the war, and the Tumlaren was raced in fleets as far away as Australia. Like its transom-sterned Scandinavian cousins the Dragon, the Folkboat and Knarr, the Tumlaren had painfully little accommodation, so where the climate was good year round, it was given a short coach house and large cockpit. Adlard Coles, the well-known English publisher and author of “Heavy Weather Sailing” had two Tumlare boats. The first was the 27 footer, modified with a larger cabin and self-draining cockpit, called Zara. He described her as being ‘”as wet as a half-tide rock,” but accepted that as the price for speed.

So in 1946, he took the risk and had Moody’s yard at Bursledon near Southampton build a 32′ Stor Tumlaren. He called it Cohoe (a word that is familiar in the northwest but was quite foreign in England). In 1950, when he entered the first trans-Atlantic race held after the war, the organizers were concerned it was too small to take on the ocean. Coles was a talented sailor and went on to win the race, but he had another bigger goal in mind: the Bermuda Race. However, this had a minimum size rule of 35′, so the Cohoe actually raced all year with a 3’ false bow. (You can read about this and the race in Coles book “The North Atlantic.”)



About seamarsh

Still trying to find the answers to life's nautical questions.
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