A bridge from wood to glass

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A Luders 16 ghosts along in this photo from the late 1940s. The sailboat is one of many designs from father-and-son team Alfred E. Luders Sr. and Alfred E. Luders Jr., better known as Bill. The senior Luders, born in New York in 1878, founded Luders Marine Construction in 1908, settling in 1912 in Stamford, Conn.

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Over the years he became known for his large powerboats, such as the 107-foot motoryacht Robador, built in 1929. Luders also designed and built small craft, sailboats and commuters, as well as boats for the military, at his complex on western Long Island Sound.

Bill, born in 1909, apprenticed at the Luders yard and became an active racing skipper in the Luders-built Redwing Class and in 6 Meters. He designed a number of well-known racing boats, including the 12 Meter American Eagle, challenger for the America’s Cup in 1964.

The Luders 16 was designed in the mid-’30s as a junior racing class, traditionally built in wood, reflecting the era’s IOR (International Offshore Rule) boats in looks and design with her spare but graceful hull and long, well-balanced overhangs. World War II interrupted production. During the conflict, Luders built airplane life rafts, among other things, for the war effort. The rafts were made of thin veneers glued together and baked in an autoclave. They were light and strong, and Luders perfected the method.

When the Luders 16 returned to production after the war, it was built the same way, using 0.125-inch mahogany veneers laid up with glue in five layers and baked to cure the adhesive. Thus, the boats bridged the gap between traditional wooden boatbuilding and the advent of fiberglass.

The sloop was priced at $1,950 and carried a main, genoa and spinnaker. The “16” refers to waterline length; the boat was 26 feet, 4 inches overall. It also was a postwar hit with sailracers. From an initial seven-boat fleet in Chicago, the class grew nationwide, peaking in popularity in the late-’60s, when they were built in fiberglass. The Luders 16 Class remains active today, with fleets in San Diego, Chicago, Maine, Connecticut and Bermuda, according to information on the class Web site (www.l16.org).

— Steve Knauth