Return of Spartan: A Vintage NY50 Finds Salvation
March 29, 2012
While honeymooning in the British Virgin Islands more than 40 years ago, Toby Dunn saw his first NY50 anchored off the Bitter End Yacht Club. Though outwardly Spartan bore few remnants of her royal lineage, her Herreshoff DNA was still evident.
“Rather than a gaff-rigged sloop, Spartan was a Marconi-rigged yawl. She sat well below her waterline, packed with accommodations to serve the Caribbean charter trade,” recalled Dunn, who owns a 1939 40’ Rhodes 27.
After getting a tour of Spartan, Dunn was left with a profound sense of sorrow. “To me, the lady had been prostituted. Her cosmetics, her outerwear and undergarments all seemed to violate her character and integrity. I had little hope for her future.”
A few years later, Dunn encountered Spartan again when the boat arrived in his homeport of Essex, Connecticut. She was still rigged as a yawl, but sat even lower in the water and looked worn out from her years of contracted service.
The real heartbreaker occurred in 1980, when Dunn saw her yet again after she had been dismasted while participating in that year’s Opera House Cup Regatta in Nantucket, Massachusetts. “She was a broken-down old tramp, not far from facing burial,” said Dunn. It was a sad ending for a once-magnificent sailing vessel—or so he thought.
History of the NY50:
The fleet of NY50s was commissioned by the New York Yacht Club and built in the winter of 1912-1913 by the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company of Bristol (HMCo), Rhode Island. The boats were graceful yet powerful, comfortable in heavy weather and so swift that they won the Astor Cup for sloops 9 times.
Of the 9 NY50s built, the only known remaining vessel is Spartan (though Barbara may be out there somewhere, according to legend). Originally constructed as a jack yard tops’l gaff sloop, Spartan measures 72’ LOA and 50’ LWL. She has a 14’ 7” beam and a draft of 9’ 9”, displacing about 74,000 pounds. She carries 35,500 pounds of lead ballast.
Like her sisters, her topsides were double-planked and diagonally strapped for extra strength in the Herreshoff tradition; the hull was built upsidedown. Because they were constructed so efficiently, the NY50s only cost $17,000 to build.
Allen Pease, Spartan’s owner at the time of her dismasting, had her towed to Brewer Pilots Point Marina in Westbrook, Connecticut. A survey revealed that a complete rebuild was needed. In 1981 he hired Ed McClave, Ben Philbrick and later Andy Giblin, who Pease knew would “do the job right” because of their collective experience in restoring Herreshoffs (24 in total, including Spartan) and other classic boats. The team worked on Spartan over the next 8 years as funds became available, and in the process formally established MP&G with headquarters in Mystic, Connecticut.
“We completed framing with steam-bent white-oak frames, replaced her floor timbers, her stem and part of her horn timber, and replanked her from the garboards to just below the sheer,” wrote McClave in a 2010 paper published by the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers for the 4th Classic Yacht Symposium at the Herreshoff Marine Museum. In addition, her deck beams were replaced with white oak, and steel strapping was substituted for bronze to prevent future corrosion.
The Right Owners:
To reduce the commute time for MP&G, Pease had Spartan towed to Crocker’s Boatyard in New London. The restoration ceased in 1989, and 3 years later Spartan was moved by truck to the Herreshoff Marine Museum in Bristol, Rhode Island. There, she was set up as an exhibit while Pease looked for an appropriate buyer to finish the work he started. It took 18 years. “I had many offers from abroad and in the U.S., but I turned them all down until I met the current owners, who impressed me with their recently gained knowledge of all things Herreshoff, and their desire to have the restoration continue with MP&G, which was important to me,” said Pease.
Spartan’s owners, who wish to remain anonymous, wanted to maintain the boat’s original look without sacrificing safety. “I wanted the aesthetics of the boat to be such that it transports you back in time, so that when you sit on deck or go below you don’t see anything modern,” said one of the owners, who has restored a few houses in Scandinavia and 3 Buzzards Bay 30s, and was keen to test his skills on another classic boat.
In their search for reference materials to aid in the restoration, the owners tracked down old photographs and original drawings of Spartan and other NY50s from collections at Mystic Seaport, the Mariners Museum in Newport News, Virginia, and the Haffenreffer-Herreshoff Collection in the Hart Nautical Collection at the MIT Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The Restoration Continues:
The MP&G team renewed their work on Spartan in 2005, picking up where they had left off. They replaced the boat’s plywood deck covering with solid teak. They replaced the forefoot timber, the timber keel and the horn timber with white oak. They replaced all steel fastenings with silicon-bronze, including the floor timber bolts and chain plates. Because of significant water damage to the plank keel, most of it was replaced with a beautiful piece of knotless white oak measuring 12” thick by 27” wide.
The ballast keel was removed and sent to Canada to be repoured. The yellow pine covering boards were replaced with mahogany, and mahogany toe rails were added. Items like the capstan, binnacle and wheel were also restored.
For the interior, MP&G copied the panels from Pleione, another NY50 that had been partially salvaged by Mystic Seaport before being scuttled. Even the light fixtures were taken from 1915 patterns, the earliest period possible for electrical lights. “Spartan is not a museum artifact. She’s meant to be sailed as a racing boat, so everything we put on her was tested to destruction for maximum expected usage because we intend to sail her hard,” said one of her owners.
Skilled Craftsmen Pitch In:
While MP&G was the lead shop for this very extensive project, many subcontractors contributed their skills. For example, Taylor & Snediker, LLC of Pawcatuck, Connecticut, made the mahogany hatches with help from J.M. Reineck & Son of Hull, Massachusetts, who cast the bronze hardware. French & Webb of Belfast, Maine, built some 250 wooden shell blocks for the rigging that had been redesigned by MP&G from HMCo drawings. William Lowe Inc., of Rockland, Maine, produced the metal components. French & Webb also constructed Spartan’s hollow main mast, which measures 89’ 5” long and 13” at its widest diameter, from Douglas fir.
“There were literally hundreds of people involved in this project. It really was a labor of love because everybody went above and beyond in terms of craftsmanship, time and care,” said the owner. “She’s a special boat to sail, and I think everybody recognized that. Special boats seem to get extra attention.”
Stonington Boat Works, LLC in Stonington, Connecticut, built the 48’ boom, the 32’ gaff, the jack yards, and the mast hoops. “[They] built 20 mast hoops and my rigging crew leathered them. Everything that comes in contact with the wood on that vessel has a leather sleeve sewn around it to protect it from gouges,” said Nathaniel S. Wilson of Sailmaker, Inc. in East Boothbay, Maine, who built the standing and running rigging and made the sails from woven, synthetic, polyester sailcloth instead of Egyptian cotton, which was once commonplace.
Spartan is configured with a 450-square-foot jack yard tops’l; a 570-square-foot club jib; 3 different jib tops in various sizes; a nylon balloon jib for light air; and a 1970-square-foot mainsail designed with 2 reefs instead of its original single reef, for broader use. Because of Spartan’s narrow, efficient hull, and large sail area, she creates her own apparent wind and does very well in light air. “She has a self-tacking jib, so when you are head-to wind, you basically just turn her and go. You back the jib and her nose spins right around. As soon as she makes headway, she is completely maneuverable and handles like a dinghy. We sailed her off the mooring and off the dock,” said her owner.
Spartan Sails On:
He has sailed on classic yachts most of his life. His resume includes the 214’ luxury yacht Creole; the Schooner Yacht America; the 178’ 3-masted topsail schooner Adix (formerly Jessica); and Shenandoah, another 3-masted schooner. “It’s a steep learning curve because nobody on the eastern seaboard has a gaff racer like this one,” said the owner, who has had limited sailing experience, but is determined to learn how to sail his own boat instead of hiring someone to do it for him. “It’s our boat. And if we win, we win by sailing her ourselves. There’s no achievement in paying people to do it for you. The people on the classic sailing circuit are great. It’s more of a collegial atmosphere instead of litigious. That’s why we got into it.”
The owners took Spartan on the racing circuit last summer (2011) starting in Maine, where they participated in the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta. There, they led the Herreshoff Class fleet at the twelfth annual Castine Classic Yacht Race to Camden, and took honors in all three races that also included the Camden Feeder Regatta. After Maine, Spartan returned to Nantucket to compete in the 39th Opera House Cup Regatta where she had been dismasted 31 years before. She placed third in her division. Next winter Spartan’s owners plan to take her to the Med to race against the Fifes where she is certain to do well.
“There is scuttlebutt over the NY50s being the greatest one-design class ever built. I certainly agree with that statement,” said Spartan’s former captain, John Wenz. “I have never sailed anything quite like her. She responds like a nimble modern ocean racer but yet has a solid feel of a classic yacht. She is all thoroughbred and all business. She wants to go fast all the time.”