Illustration by Jim Ewing
It’s 1956, and a Harvard grad with a degree in philosophy is about to change the way America goes boating. And talk about thinking outside the box. Using non-traditional, cutting-edge materials, a radical hull design and an entirely new method of construction, businessman and would-be designer Dick Fisher created a 13-foot outboard boat unlike anything seen before.
He gave it a catchy, salty name — Boston Whaler — and introduced it to the public with perhaps the most memorable ad campaign of the 20th century.
The idea for a small, lightweight boat had always intrigued Fisher. In the 1940s he’d drawn plans for a sailboat to be built of balsa but never pursued it. The idea stayed in his mind and in the mid-1950s, when he read about a new product called polyurethane foam, he saw it as a kind of synthetic balsa. Fisher was enthused. He built a small sailing dinghy out of foam skinned over with fiberglass and gelcoat and showed it to his friend, designer Ray Hunt. Hunt liked the concept and suggested making outboard powerboats.
Working out of Cohasset and Marblehead, Mass., Fisher and Hunt developed the so-called cathedral hull shape, with two outer runners and what Fisher called a “pointed keel.” The Boston Whaler tri-hull was born.
The 13-footer was made with a molded outer piece and an inner cockpit module joined at the gunwales, the space between the two filled with foam. Radical then, it’s a common building method today. The hull, buoyant and stable, was easily propelled by a small outboard and the foam construction made it unsinkable. To prove his point, Fisher was photographed for Life magazine sitting in a Boston Whaler as it was being sawn in half. As the hulls separated, Fisher was shown motoring off in the stern section. He said later he knew the boat would be a success “when a kid in Cohasset stole one.”
October 2013 issue