Legacy of Colin Archer is Still Alive and Kicking

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If you think your boat is a bear to maintain, you might take some consolation in this months used-boat review of the Union 36. It is a fiberglass boat, but considering the amount of teak on deck and belowdecks, it might as well be made of wood. Not that there is anything very wrong with that.

Jimmy Hall

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The 32-footer my wife Theresa and I cruised on for 11 years was very similar-a big, heavy double-ender-and ours was made of wood. While our 1937 William Atkin Thistle design differed significantly from the Union 36 and the modern double-enders that Bob Perry would later unveil (the Tayana 37 and Valiant 40, among the better known), these boats can be broadly traced to a common ancestor: the North Sea rescue boats designed by the renowned Norwegian naval architect Colin Archer.

While Atkins Thistle is clearly a derivative of Archers work, Perrys boats diverge so sharply from this archetype that they deserve a different branch on the family tree. The longer waterlines, flatter hull sections, and increased volume in the canoe-shaped stern of Perrys boats reduced some of the more annoying characteristics we noticed in our boat, Tosca-among them a tendency to hobby horse and roll at anchor. Perrys changes also made the boat faster and more weatherly.

Few cruising designs are so rich in maritime lore as the double-ender. Archers famous first rescue boat RS1 is a museum piece, as are the boats of famous solo circumnavigators Argentinian Vito Dumas (Lehg II) and Sir Robin Knox-Johnston (Suhaili). The wave of home-built post WW-II cruisers inspired by John G. Hannas Tahiti and Carol ketches, Atkins Ingrid, and L. Francis Herreshoffs Marco Polo, further raised the double-enders legendary status.

When the age of fiberglass finally took hold in the 1970s, William Crealocks Westsail 32, a thinly veiled copy of Atkins designs, rightly earned its place as the boat that launched 1,000 dreams.

While the double-ended concept holds many advantages, there are significant tradeoffs, and it is wrong to assume that just because a boat has a pointy stern, it is inherently a safer cruising boat. When it comes to seaworthiness, quality of construction and maintenance record can be just as important as design lineage.

Among the greatest disadvantages of many of these boats is light-air performance and weatherliness. During Toscas short hops in the Caribbean, these handicaps were striking, but once we set out west across the Pacific, we had no real complaints about the broader tacking angles and relatively sedate passages (average 112 miles per day). True, today we would opt for some more efficient and weatherly hull, but we still hold to the philosophy behind Colin Archers early designs: “Safety comes first.”

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Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and writer-photographer Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.

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