Herreshoff H-20 Takes Shape in Bristol, RI


There’s history and a bit of wooden-boat magic being made in Bristol, Rhode Island. On the bottom floor of a weathered, clapboard-sided, former factory building across the street from the Herreshoff Marine Museum and America’s Cup Hall of Fame, a 20-foot, cold-molded daysailor designed by Nathanael Greene Herreshoff over 80 years ago is taking shape under the hand and eye of master builder Dan Shea and his Bristol Boat Company.

I visited the shop on Monday, April 11, just as the boat was being lifted from its jig and turned. As the gorgeous hull was gently rotated and placed on its keel amid an admiring group of classic-boat aficionados, there was the sense that something extraordinary was taking place in the old building, once part of the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company.

Shea has spent the last 9 months working from the original plans created by “Captain Nat”. He explained that the boat was intended to be a larger version of the popular 12 1/2 designed in 1914 and still seen today throughout the Northeast in both wood and fiberglass versions, yet none of the larger boats were ever produced, perhaps due to the onset of the Great Depression.

Combining the best of traditional and modern materials and construction techniques, the new boat, deemed the H-20, is built of Atlantic white cedar carvel planking epoxy-bonded to laminated, vertical-grain Douglas fir framing. Two layers of Spanish cedar are then laid diagonally over the white cedar and covered in fiberglass cloth set in epoxy and vacuum-bagged to remove any excess resin. Later, a layer of epoxy-infused fiberglass will be added to the outside of the hull for abrasion resistance.

Weighing in at around 500 pounds, the resulting hull is lighter than what could have been produced in Herreshoff’s day, and is stronger than fiberglass. Further, no metal fasteners are used in the construction, so there’s no way for water to enter the laminates.

In the accompanying video, you can see the H-20 being turned and secured, then listen as Dan Shea expounds on the H-20 and wooden boatbuilding in general. Later, the shop gets a visit from Halsey Herreshoff, grandson of the famous designer and a principal of Herreshoff Designs, which is working with the Bristol Boat to build and market the H-20. In a grand compliment to Shea’s skills, Halsey comments that his grandfather “would be smiling on this.”

A lot of work lies ahead for Shea and the Bristol Boat crew, but for a few hours at least they could take some time to celebrate the fruits of their labor. We’ll keep you posted on developments as the H-20 nears completion, and will hopefully be present at her launch, which should take place in early summer.

Contact Information:

Bristol Boat Company

Bristol, RI



  • LOA: 19’ 10”
  • LWL: 17’ 10”
  • Beam: 6’ 10”
  • Draft: 3’ 1”
  • Sail Area: 212 sq. ft.

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