In search of the ‘real’ Concordia yawl

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When people mention “Concordia yawls,” they are generally referring collectively to the 103 boats built between 1938 and 1966 from Concordia design No. 14 — the Concordia 39s and 41s.

Most people using that phrase would not be referring to, or even know, the existence of the two older Concordia yawls from which this famous class evolved — or that they are both still sailing.

My education on the subject came after I burned out from nearly 20 years in the windjammer business, first as a galley boy, then a deckhand and eventually as a captain of numerous vessels up and down the East Coast and South America. I had subsequently turned away from most things nautical.

Inevitably, though, I slowly found myself regaining my interest in sailing — but this time around, I wanted to go cruising.

The idea of a vessel I could handle with a friend or two, or even by myself in a pinch, seemed very appealing. I wanted no passengers, no annual Coast Guard inspections.

So I found myself poking about boatyards and reading various publications, looking for a coastal cruising boat. As I was attempting to solidify my vague daydreams into something I could look for in an ad listing, I realized I had almost no experience aboard the size of boat I was looking for. I had hardly sailed anything between a dinghy and windjammer schooner, having grown up with small boats and then spending a good chunk of my adult life on schooners and square-riggers.

Therefore, I drew on something my father and grandfather had told me: yawls, they said, combined the efficiency of a sloop with the sail options and maneuverability of a ketch or schooner.

This thinking seemed sound and was echoed by other people whose judgment I respected. Additionally, I had a desire to broaden my horizons and sail something other than a schooner or a sloop. So my search was mainly focused on yawls with the odd ketch thrown in.

The search under way

I looked into several Concordia 39s. They were appealing, but I had still made no decision when a friend presented me with an ad reading “1938 custom Concordia yawl for sale.” Being only familiar with the 39s and 41s, I was not sure what kind of boat a 37-foot Concordia yawl would be.

From the photos she appeared to be perfect for my purposes. I quickly made arrangements and drove to Biddeford Pool, Maine, on an overcast morning in September. I rounded the street corner and she came into view, sitting on blocks and poppets in her owner’s driveway. I was smitten. Looking at her it was easy to see how, with a little modification, her design became the Concordia 39.

Arbella is about 37 feet on deck and about 39 feet with the bowsprit. Compared to the 39s she has a little less pronounced tumblehome amidships and a softer turn to the bilge. Arbella’s spars are round, but the most obvious design difference is that her transom is wider than it is high, instead of the other way around as it is on the 103 Concordia yawls that followed. This design element gives her run a much less puckered look, which I found preferable. Climbing on deck, I noticed her cockpit was smaller than the 39’s. Otherwise her deck layout was the same. The cockpit would not be as comfortable, but would be an improvement in lessening the weight if swamped by a following sea. In the companionway there was a bronze construction plate reading: “Concordia Co., INC 50 State St., Boston Design (No. 10).”

After the usual sort of negotiations I found myself the owner of a beautiful mahogany on oak yawl.

Back to the beginning

I started to take more of an interest in the Concordia company and their vessels, particularly the yawls. In researching Arbella’s history I found that she was designed for William and Kathy Saltenstall, and built by Bud and Ned Macintosh in Dover, N.H., in 1937. She was launched in the spring of 1938.

Around the time I got Arbella back to Mystic, Conn., my father presented me with a book by Waldo Howland titled, “A Life in Boats: The Years Before The War.” In this book I found that my Arbella was the second yawl to bear the Concordia builder’s plate, the first being Hostess III. Later in the book, Howland makes reference to “Escape, the first Concordia yawl,” regarding the vessel owned by Waldo’s father, Llewellyn Howland (Escape was renamed Java in 1944).

I looked back through the text hoping to find out what made Llewellyn Howland’s boat qualify as the first Concordia Yawl, or perhaps what made Hostess III and Arbella somehow disqualified as “Concordia yawls.”

After a little puzzling I dismissed the subject as a literary oversight, until a month or so later, when my father told me of a conversation he had had with Louis Howland (Waldo’s nephew) in which Louis referred to the Concordia 39s and 41s collectively as “the real Concordias.”

In subsequent conversations I noticed several other people echoing the same refrain: “The real Concordia yawls,” as opposed to Hostess III and Arbella, which I therefore inferred must in some way not qualify as “real.”

I was pondering this point while caulking Arbella’s bottom: What was it, specifically, that made a yawl “real”? I tapped the hull a few times with my mallet just to make sure. I heard a reassuring “thuwmp thuwmp” and decided she had, for my purposes, adequately demonstrated her state of being. I went back to work.

Full circle

The Concordia Co. commissioned 103 Concordia yawls between 1938 and 1966. The German shipyard, Abeking and Rasmussen, constructed all but four of the yawls.

My boat is not counted among that official statistic, nor is Hostess III, the first yawl to bear the Concordia builder’s plate, now named Wild Rose. She was designed by Ray Hunt, Walter Cross and Bill Harris for Philip Chase, and built under the supervision of Maj. William Smyth at the Peirce and Kilburn Shipyard in Massachusetts in 1937. I wondered what had become of her in the 60-some years since her construction, but had given her little serious thought. I figured the odds were against her survival and made no attempt to seek her out. I had, in fact, more or less forgotten her.

Around this time a friend asked me to help deliver her Casey yawl to Oxford, Md. — a welcome break from my project. Arbella was still in my shop missing an engine and several planks with only half of them refastened.

One day during that delivery we anchored in Fishing Bay, Va. We were sitting in the cockpit when a vessel of classic and strangely familiar lines came into view beating toward us on the brisk afternoon breeze. There was a threatening squall line not far behind her which added an uncertain tension to the air.

Despite the improbability of her actually being the boat in my research, I found myself saying, “You know I think I know that boat — of her, at any rate.”

We watched as she beat up through the anchorage at nearly hull speed. Her captain took the way off and laid her neatly alongside the dock without starting the engine. I got to the binoculars and read “Wild Rose” on her quarter. She was, in fact, the vessel launched in 1937 as Hostess III. We rowed over, introduced ourselves, and were invited aboard. Our host showed a vague sort of interest in the 104 Concordia yawls that came after his. I gave one of the deck beams a rap with my knuckle. She was real enough for me.

In the four years between then and now I eventually got Arbella back into the water and have cruised her between Maine and Virginia, where she rendezvoused with Wild Rose.

My father and grandfather turned out to be right about the sailing qualities of a yawl. They have amazing versatility for which a sailor sacrifices almost nothing. Among many other qualities Arbella is just as fast as comparable sloops, and because she balances under head rig and mizzen reefing is often done just for the practice. n

Geoffrey Jones, 41, first took to the water on his father’s lobster boat, Ospray, and learnd to sail small boats as a child on the Mystic River. A veteran windjammer captain, Jones was owner and skipper of the Mystic, Conn.-based 84-foot schooner, Sylvina W. Beal, from 1989-97. He sails Arbella out of Mystic with family and friends on Long Island Sound and along the New England Coast.