Preview: My Time With BARNSWALLOW—By Roger Taylor

October 13, 2020

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 With this post, OffCenterHarbor begins what we hope will be a long series by Roger Taylor where he’ll be describing his experiences sailing good boats. Here is how he kicks off what he calls UNDERWAY: LOGS OF A BOAT NUT:

“In The New Yorker for January 13, 2020, I noticed that John McPhee has been inspired by Thornton Wilder to devise a writing project that would “extend his life,” something that “would take him at least a dozen years” to complete. Wilder had been 66; McPhee is now 88. Wilder was going to read and catalogue 431 plays by Lope de Vega, an obscure 17th Century Spaniard; McPhee has started ‘to describe in capsule form the many writing projects that I have conceived and seriously planned across the years, but have never written.’

Well, I have all the log books covering the boats I’ve sailed. So, what I’m going to do to extend my own 88 years is describe and show them to you with plans and photos, and tell you where we went, how the vessel handled, and what happened along the way. There is plenty of life-extending material! I figure that maybe 75 boat trips I’ve made (from a life-list approaching 500) are worth the telling.”

You may have read about a genius of a yacht designer named W.Starling Burgess. During two summers I was lucky enough to charter one of the fine vessels he drew, for two weeks at the end of the 1985 season and for the whole six months of the 1986 season. She is named BARNSWALLOW, a 39-foot, light-blue sloop that has kept her name throughout her more than eighty years of life.

Let me share the wealth by telling you about her.

Unusually shallow for a keel boat, BARNSWALLOW’s underbody stayed as Burgess designed it, but her bow was lengthened slightly and her deckhouse changed during construction.

An ancestor of BARNSWALLOW was Elihu Root’s DORMOUSE, a 20-foot-waterline sloop that Burgess designed as an experiment to see if a keel boat withmoderate draft could be so shaped that she would sail well to windward. She could and did, and so when Paul Hammond went back to Burgess, after previously having had him design the famous staysail schooner NINA, to design him a coastwise cruising boat small enough so that he could sail her by himself or with his wife, they decided on a 30-foot-waterline sloop with the same general proportions as DORMOUSE.

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