MAX EBB — T
he yacht club manager hailed me as I walked passed his office door: "Three more cartons of books for you to sort, Max," I fetched up hard and backed sails. "Who died?" I asked. "Anything good in their collection?" It was a name that I recognized as a longterm club member. I had seen him at club dinners but didn't really know him personally. As per the usual protocol, his large collection of sailing books had been donated to the yacht club library. Looking at the three big cartons, loaded down to their plimsoll marks with books, I concluded that the best way to honor his passing was to give this collection a thorough going-over, making sure that the really good stuff was properly sorted, shelved, and made available to the membership. So I hoisted up the first of the three boxes and made my way up the stairs to the club library. It was after I landed the heavy carton on a desk that I noticed who was already in the library. Lee Helm, a naval architecture grad student, was deep into her research and didn't even notice my entrance. She only turned to see who was there when the heavy cardboard box shook the desk on impact. Lee is not a yacht club member, and I was wondering who let her in without a prior invite. "Just doing some research," she explained. "You have a great library up here." "Thanks, we try to keep it organized,"
I said. "Just today we have three new incoming cartons of books to catalog. What's your project?" "Nothing serious," she answered. "The department thought it would be interesting if I gave a talk on America's Cup technology, so I'm researching the early innovations. And like, there's some revisionist history here. It turns out that George Steers, credited with the radical hull shape of the America in 1851, was really just applying ideas pioneered by John W. Griffiths, the steamship and clipper ship designer that Steers apprenticed with. Like, there's an argument to be made that Griffiths, not Steers, was the genius behind the America." "That is news," I said, noticing that Lee had bookmarked some pages in The Search for Speed Under Sail by Howard Chapelle. "Published in 1967," she explained, "so like, I couldn't find any of this info online." The color of the book jacket reminded me of something I had seen just a minute ago, so I took another look inside the carton of books. Sure enough, The Search for Speed was in among the new donations. "You're in luck," I said as I handed Lee the book. "We usually sell off duplicate library books at 25 cents each, but for you, special deal: on the house." "The rule used to be 'cod's head and mackerel tail' for sailing ship," she said after thanking me for the book. "And
The duplicates shelf in the yacht club lounge. Every sailor's library has the same books, but there might be hidden gems in a donated collection.
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• February, 2019
like, that made sense for ships that were big, heavy and relatively slow. The round bow maximized load-carrying ability and minimized frictional resistance by minimizing wetted surface. But any ship with that kind of bow also needs a long, thin stern that would let some clean water, you know, unseparated flow, reach the rudder, for directional stability and steering control. It wasn't until ships could sustain higher speeds — steamships, for example, but clipper ships too — that wave-making resistance became more important. And like, by high speed I mean anything over about 15 knots." "How do we know that Griffiths' ideas came first?" I asked. "Mabe Griffiths got his ideas from his brilliant young intern." "Check out this passage in this book by Professor Cedric Ridgely-Nevitt, American Steamships on the Atlantic. It's about steamships, so researchers studying yacht design don't usually find this info. Here's a passage to highlight: "'By January of 1850 the second steamship, the Georgia, was ready. Smith and Dimon employed John W. Griffiths, who had achieved great success with his two early clipper ships, Rainbow and Sea Witch, to draw her lines. Griffiths teemed with ideas and
The February 2019 eBook issue of the West's premier sailing and marine magazine.