74 DESIGN NEW ENGLAND MARCH/APRIL 2017
Wizardry on Water
Elegantly designed and built for speed,
Rhode Island’s Herreshoffs dominated the America’s Cup and still capture sailors’ imagination
written by bruce irving
Whether you’re something of a salt or would never be caught dead aboard one, sailboats are fascinat- ing. Borne across the water by an invisible force, all but silent except for waves against the hull, a sail- boat is as much a part of the New England seaside
scene as a lobster dinner.
And no one made more beautiful boats — in New England or any-
where — than the Herreshoff Manufacturing Co. of Bristol, Rhode
Island. John Brown Herreshoff and his younger brother Nathanael,
known by all as Captain Nat, who were part of a large and prominent
Bristol family, founded the company in 1878. The brothers grew up sail-
ing the tricky waters of Narragansett Bay. John, the businessman, had
gone blind in childhood, yet ran a successful boatbuilding facility; Nat,
the engineer and designer, went to Massachusetts Institute of Tech-
nology and became a skilled creator of steam engines.
Combining forces, they tapped into the growing market for pow-
erboats. Stiletto made headlines by beating the reigning speed-queen
steamer Mary Powell on New York’s Hudson River; it would later be
herreshoff’s reliance takes
the lead against Shamrock III,
Sir Thomas Lipton’s 1903
America’s Cup contender
designed by William Fife.