jeudi 13 octobre 2011

WoodenBoat magazine review — May/June 1988

WoodenBoat magazine review  May/June 1988 

                                 By François Chevalier & Jacques Taglang

The history of the America's Cup has enjoyed considerable attention in the nearly one-and-a-half centuries since the schooner America crossed the Atlantic to her most famous victory under sail. But, until now, there has been no thorough, comparative study of the evolution of Cup contender designs from the beginning to the current crop of 12-meter sloops. One reason has been the daunting challenge of the research involved and of integrating and interpreting the information. The descriptions and drawings were not lost; they were simply scattered, and often inconsistent with other pieces of information crucial to new drawings. The dilemma was distilling the information in such a way as to enhance the numerous plans drawings, which are truly the heart of this book. When authors Chevalier and Taglang decided to put the information together, they created the first French-language history of the Cup (the text is in both French and English), and they committed themselves to making it beautiful. 

With her 10,042 sqft of sail area, 140-ton displacement, 117'7" LOA, and 22'4" beam, Valkyrie II proved to be very fast in the 1893 race. The George L. Watson design was defeated, however, by N. G. Herreshoff's Vigilant. Before Valkyrie II could challenge the Herreshoff yacht again, she was rammed and sank.

That they have succeeded in the latter is undeniable. This is fine bookmaking: good subject, good paper, good printing, good binding. And it should be, at this price. The book measures 17" × 12" and weighs a hefty 16 lbs. It's a book to savor. The printing is entirely black and white, except for the frontispiece, which is a lovely Watercolor by Marc Berthier of America and Australia II sailing side-by-side. 

The passion of the authors for their subject is obvious, and their short prologues contain hints of their characters. Naval architect Chevalier's begins: "Draw me a boat, and I will tell you who you are." But what he gained from creating this book is revealed in his closing question: "What have I become for having redrawn and thereby taken for mine all these superb yachts? Enriched with their lines, it is time for me to go back to the drawing board and start again." For those of us moved by the richness of our maritime past, these are sweet words. 

Writer/modelmaker Taglang's prologue reveals his own lessons: in particular, the process by which individuals of accomplishment become legends in time. His gift is to make note of the also-rans, the individuals who themselves toiled for the chance of defending or challenging. He knows well that generally only the winners become legends, but that all who participate play a role. 

The narrative and descriptive text is, of necessity, somewhat limited in length, the text enhancing the drawings. The only drawback to this approach for the scholar is that it occasionally encourages incorrect inference. A case in point is the text on L. Francis Herreshoffs Whirlwind. A brief reference is made to the fact that LFH did not get along with his father, Nathanael. Nothing more is said about this, and it is easy to infer that this was a true and permanent state of affairs, which was not the case. It might have been more appropriate to note that the two saw things differently and did not collaborate. Once again, this book does not pretend to be a scholarly treatise. On the other hand, it is not superficial, and the chapter notes add considerably to the reader's understanding of events. 

The plans themselves are beautifully drafted, and consist of lines and sail plans for all of the yachts covered. They are elegantly simple and informative. The sail plans are near perfect in their detail, and would make fine framed prints. The lines plans provide scales in both feet and meters, and M. Chevalier has added an interesting touch: in his layout of waterline and overall length scales, he has noted the lengths of overhangs, allowing some interesting quantitative comparisons. Most important, the plans drawings are all source-attributed, so that one may follow the draftsman's paths, if one desires. 
Plans were drawn to nine different scales for the book, so that each group drawn provides for as large a plan as possible. The result is very agreeable throughout; it is perfectly natural to see the lines for the enormous Reliance filling the same space as those for Australia II. A few boats, unfortunately, are absent altogether, due to the unavailability of reliable information. The authors acknowledge this absence, and conclude correctly that it is better to have a few gaps than to include speculative drawings.

Each chapter covers a campaign, beginning with a narrative of events leading up to and through the races themselves, followed by the results of each of the races. Next is a group of plans, with descriptive text, for the defender and challenger and many of the yachts that also vied for the opportunity to challenge or defend. For each of these, sail plans and full lines are included, and, where possible, a small photograph or drawing of the designer as well. 

This process works through 27 chapters (through the 1987 races in Australia) but although there is data on Stars & Stripes '87, and on Kookaburra III, the book unfortunately includes no plans for either of these. Plans for other candidates in this campaign are presented though, and it is very interesting to wind up the book with these modern machines. 

An appendix contains additional technical data on all the boats in the book, as well as the formulae for the various measurement rules that dictated the design parameters over the years. There is a fine bibliography and an index. In the picky-picky department, the Conversion Table defines "knot" as one mile per hour, as opposed to one "nautical" mile per hour, and attentive readers will find a variety of misspellings throughout, but these are small matters. 

Who will buy this book? Well, every serious student of yacht design will find the desire for it undeniable, and the need for it irresistible. One would spend long weeks and months finding the resources that would allow him or her to study this evolution at all, to say nothing of the convenience that the book's consistency of scale and line provides. Any library with an interest in things maritime would certainly do well to acquire it. But the audience who will undoubtedly go wild for it is the modelmakers, for here is an opportunity to devote one's life to the building of half- or full-models that represent 135 years of America's Cup racing. The absence of decks in plan view will slow them down, but the presence of structures in the profile will spur them on. 

Charles E. Nicholson designed and built Shamrock IV for Sir Thomas Lipton's fourth Cup challenge in 1914. "The ugly duckling," as she was called by her designer, had long, flat, lopped-off ends and a sliding centerboard in her keel. When she was halfway across the Atlantic on the way to the races, World War I broke out, and she was put in drydock until the end of the war. When the match against N. G. Herreshoffs Resolute was finally held in 1920,Shamrock IV lost in spite of an early lead. Sir Thomas said he never wanted to see the boat again, and Shamrock IV's bronze hull was sold for scrap and her timbers cut up for firewood.

The price of this book is high, and there is no denying it. On the other hand, there is no denying its unique value. It is not for everyone, by any means. There is an endless number of books an impassioned student of history "wants", but for some, this could be the only book they'd ever need. 

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