Preview: Murray Peterson’s Designs: TRUANT to EAGLE; An Awesome Conversion

December 10, 2020

Avatar Maynard Bray

Starting with a storm-beached-and-badly-damaged 31-foot Malabar Jr. sloop named TRUANT, Murray G. Peterson not only made the repairs but couldn’t resist converting her into a gem of a little schooner which he called SUSAN (until her first owner renamed her EAGLE). The story, narrated by Murray’s son Bill, follows. But first a little background about this designer whose schooners of the coaster type are so widely admired.

The first issue of WoodenBoat magazine, published shortly after Murray’s 1974 death, contained a eulogy written by Murray’s longtime friend John F. Leavitt, part of which read,  “With the death of Murray G. Peterson of South Bristol, Maine, devotees of wooden hull construction and traditional design have lost a friend. He was a master at combining traditional appearance with practical design. Murray spent much of his youth combing the [Portland, Maine] waterfront, developing a deep interest in coasting schooners. He saw packet schooners like the handsome RAILROAD and the jaunty LIZZIE J. CLARK, and beneath their grimy, salt-stained hulls he saw that many of these little vessels had something else to offer besides picturesque appearance. Many schooners by other designers owe their origins to the [three] COASTERS [that Murray designed and had built for himself] but none were equal in performance. In an age when fewer and fewer people know good basic design and construction of wooden boats, those who prefer traditional methods have indeed lost one of their foremost champions.”

Murray’s son Bill, also a designer, has set out to honor his father by describing some of his designs, and we’re delighted that he’s chosen OffCenterHarbor to spread the word. Peterson designs are known and admired far and wide, especially his schooners, so it’s logical that the series begins with boats of the schooner rig. Always a stickler for handsome detailing, Murray’s beautiful drawings are loaded with them and are as much works of art as they are sheets of paper from which boats were built, converted or repaired.

Murray Peterson (1908-1974) came to love boats and the sea naturally, the busy port of Portland, Maine, being so close to his home; even his name had maritime roots, and he proudly wrote “Murray Gignoux Peterson” with beautiful flowing penmanship learned as a child—in dramatic contrast to the Roman style font that he favored for drafting. “Murray,” from his mother’s side, was a Scottish highland clan from Athol that settled in Maine in the early 1700s eventually residing in Cape Elizabeth;  “Peterson” was his father’s heritage, his people having migrated from Denmark in the mid 1800s.

“Gignoux” comes by way of Murray’s father Louis, who married the daughter noted Cape Elizabeth builder William Murray, and was a close friend of Colonel Frederick Gignoux. In fact, Murray Gignoux Peterson was born on the kitchen table of Gignoux’s new home while it was being built by Louis and his father-in-law William.

Murray G. Peterson about 1970 (photo by Donald Treworgy, courtesy Peterson Associates)

According to Bill Peterson, his father Murray was a great parent to his four children from having had wonderful parents himself while growing up in the freedom and community of Cape Elizabeth. He was a father figure to many others as well including his younger brother Roger after their father’s early death.

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