Video: How Herreshoff Designed His Boats


The name Nathanael Greene Herreshoff still resonates among yachtsmen, boatbuilders and designers around the world, and his legacy lives on at the Herreshoff Museum in Bristol, Rhode Island. Located on the site of the former Herreshoff Manufacturing Company, the museum contains many examples of Herreshoff’s genius, including beautifully restored boats and old tools of the trade.

Halsey Herreshoff, grandson of Nathanael, addresses students from the Landing School’s design program. Photo by Mike King/New England Boating

Recently, Halsey Herreshoff, grandson of the famous designer, spoke to a group of eager boatbuilding students from Maine’s Landing School about how “Capt. Nat” went about the process of designing his boats and creating the exquisite wood half-models from which they were built.

Capt. Nathanael Greene Herreshoff. Courtesy Wikimedia.

Standing in a room filled with model boats, Halsey explained that his grandfather would start by making a small sketch of the boat, along with notes regarding the desired weight, length and other specifications. He would then create a half-model from a solid block of white pine, which he shaped with small planes and other tools. Apparently he worked very rapidly in shaping the model, relying solely on a mental image of the boat.

The Herreshoff Museum is packed with boatbuilding memorabilia. Photo by Mike King/New England Boating.

From the model he would take heights and offsets at various points using a special offset machine. These numbers were written in a book, which was sent directly to the shop foreman, who would use them to create the full-size molds, or jigs, on which the actual boat was framed and planked. Much more detailed drawings were made for the interior of the boats, and these are carefully preserved at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The old offset machine was used to take measurements for the design of the H-20, currently under construction. Photo courtesy Herreshoff Design.

The old offset machine, which resides in the museum, was recently dusted off and used in the design of the H-20, a daysailor conceived by Nathanael Herreshoff in 1928 and now being built for the first time. The original half-model of the H-20 hull was measured with the offset machine and the numbers entered into a computer-assisted design (CAD) program to produce a virtual model of the boat and the dimensions for the mold.

The H-20 is nearing completion under the watchful eye and skilled hands of Dan Shea of the Bristol Boat Company, located right across the street from the museum.

You can read more about the H-20 and watch a video of the hull being flipped at New England Boating: Herreshoff H20 Takes Shape in Bristol, RI.

Restored wooden boats and replicas of all shapes and sizes can be found in the Museum. Photo by Mike King/New England Boating
Nathanael Herreshoff designed his share of powerboats too. Photo by Mike King/New England Boating
A look inside the model room. Photo by Mike King/New England Boating

We appreciate all comments.