Email This Page to a FriendPreview: Origins of the Keel/Centerboard: Why American Sailors Stuck with a Movable Appendage by Rob Mazza
September 29, 2016
This is an article from “Good Old Boat” (a magazine we like a lot), written by Rob Mazza. Good Old Boat and Rob have graciously allowed us to republish it for OCH members.
An exclusively North American phenomenon, the keel/centerboarder traces its origin to 1885 and the Boston design office of Edward Burgess. At a tme when the difference between the deep-draft, heavy-displacement, narrow-beam (“plank on edge”) British cutters, and the beamy, shoal-draft, light-displacement American centerboarder was at its greatest, the British mounted back-to-back challenges for the America’s Cup with the Beavor-Webb-designed GENESTA and GALATEA, typical products of the British Tonnage Rules. The New York Yacht Club (NYYC), feeling the need to defend the “American Type,” responded with defenders in that traditional American style, causing A. Cary Smith to lament, “They’re forcing me to design a damned scow!” However, Burgess and the Boston syndicate headed by Paine, less restricted by the need to uphold American yachting “tradition,” responded with what was to become known as the “compromise” cutter, PURITAN, followed by in 1886 by MAYFLOWER and in 1887 by VOLUNTEER of the same type. Note the obvious New England names, emphasizing their non-NYYC origins. These successful defenders had narrower beam, deeper draft, and greater displacement and ballast than the typical “American Type” of the time but still utilized a centerboard protruding down through a slot in the external ballast keel. The introduction of the Burgess compromise marked the end of the extremes in yachts on opposite sides of the Atlantic, and the Mercer 44 and its contemporaries can certainly stretch their ancestry back to these “compromise” cutters of the 1880s.