Classics: Herreshoff 12½

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Columbia, Resolute, Reliance — so many great boats came from the mind of Nathanael G. Herreshoff. But the graceful little daysailer shown here, which he designed in 1914, is the only one that bears his name. A century after this boat was first sailed on Massachusetts’ Buzzards Bay, the Herreshoff 12½ is an acknowledged classic, prized for its easy sailing, comfort and stability, with active fleets and a national association.

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“It’s such a classic design,” says H Class champion John Fisher on the class website. “It handles rough weather, wind and waves very well.”

That was the idea. Yachtsman Robert W. Emmons II commissioned Capt. Nat to design a small sailboat for his sons and their friends, one that would be easy to handle on the choppy waters of Buzzards Bay. Herreshoff came up with a smaller version of the yachts these youngsters might sail as adults. It measured 12 feet, 6 inches on the waterline, and overhangs brought the overall length to 15 feet, 10 inches. The graceful hull had a spoon bow, a deep forefoot and a full keel with 735 pounds of lead. The gaff-rig main was 109 square feet, and a small jib completed the sail plan.

The Herreshoff Manufacturing Co. built 360 of these daysailers — also known as the Buzzards Bay Boys Boat — before production ended in 1943. In 1972 William G. Harding revived the class, building an identical boat in fiberglass, which became known as the Doughdish. (The story goes that an Italian gardener would yell dodici — Italian for 12 — when he saw the boats sailing, and locals thought it sounded like doughdish.) Today the fiberglass Doughdish is built by Ballentine’s Boat Shop in Cataumet, Massachusetts, on Buzzards Bay.

More than 500 “Twelves,” as they also are known, have been built. “This design has long since established itself as one of the foremost examples of yachting genius,” the Herreshoff Marine Museum asserts. “No other type of boat has acquired a more enduring popularity. The mere fact that no significant modification has been made in the design testifies to its perfection.”

This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue.