Museum Honors Dark Harbor 20 Class with William A. Baker Award

The owners are being recognized for their effort to preserve and maintain a significant class of American sailing craft.
Dark Harbor 20s racing off Islesboro, ME. Photo Credit: Antelo Devereux, Jr.

Dark Harbor 20s racing off Islesboro, ME. Photo Credit: Antelo Devereux, Jr.Mystic Seaport Museum announces it is honoring the Dark Harbor 20 class owners with the William A. Baker Award. The award is given to promote the awareness and appreciation of fine examples of one-design classes or boats of like kind, and to foster faithful preservation and restoration, and encourage their continued use.

The owners are being recognized for their effort to preserve and maintain a significant class of American sailing craft.

Antique and classic boat organizations throughout the country typically present awards for the preservation of wooden boats. As a rule, these awards are presented to individual owners or vessels, recognizing some superlative aspect of the work that has been done to keep them up, maintain original status, or examples of fine craftsmanship.

The William Avery Baker Award is unusual in that it is presented to a class association or group of owners. The purpose is to recognize the people and communities that do the bold, arduous, and often expensive work of keeping a large group or class of vessels actively sailing.

Dark Harbor 20s racing off Islesboro, ME. Photo Credit: Antelo Devereux, Jr.The Dark Harbor 20 was designed in 1934 by yacht designers Olin Stephens II and his partner Drake Sparkman in response to a request from members of the Tarratine Club of Dark Harbor in Islesboro, ME, for a new sloop for club racing. The resulting boat is a narrow, fin-keel hull with long overhangs and a Bermudan rig. The first group of 16 boats was built by George Lawley in Neponset, MA, during 1934-6. The design proved to be a success, both on and off the racecourse.

The boats are fast, easily driven with particularly good windward performance, and easy to handle. Boat number 1 (Widgeon) was built for Rebecca Crane Tompkins, daughter of famed yacht designer Clinton Crane. Mrs. Tompkins sailed with Donnie Durkee and Gilbert Leach as crew for more than 25 years. Widgeon was then raced by her family until recently when her great-grandsons Ned and Peter Truslow donated it to the Islesboro Central School.

A second group of five boats (Hulls 17-21) joined the fleet after World War II. They were built by Al Norton on 700 Acre Island at what is now Dark Harbor Boatyard. All but one of the original Dark Harbor 20s are still in existence – Hull 19 was lost in a storm. With no way to expand the fleet to new owners, and with maintenance costs of the aging fleet growing, there was talk of switching to a new model, but instead in 2003 under the leadership of Commodore Bill Elkins, research began on a fiberglass version. The new boats were designed and engineered by Sparkman & Stephens to be identical in all relevant aspects to the wooden boats to ensure fair competition. They were built by Shaw yachts of Thomaston, ME, and launched in 2005 (Hulls 22-25).

According to a 2016 article by Art Paine in Maine Boats, Homes and HarborsThe goal in developing the fiberglass version was to not only maintain the same weight, stability, and sailing characteristics, but also to preserve the classic feel of the existing boats while utilizing modern but conservative (low-tech) construction techniques.

Pendleton Yacht Yard weighed 11 different boats, soaking wet, in the fall of 2003. Then S&S Naval Architect Carl Persak spent several weeks documenting hull, keel, and deck geometry, testing construction materials, doing inclining experiments, and scale measurements of all the existing boats.

Based on these measurements, S&S produced a detailed weight study confirming the weight, vertical and longitudinal center of gravity, stability, and righting moments of existing wooden boats. This study was the basis for the calculations of the 3D hull file for the fiberglass version.

Dark Harbor 20s racing off Islesboro, ME. Photo Credit: Antelo Devereux, Jr.According to Stanley Pendleton, who oversaw the calculations for the new boats, the molds for the hull, deck, and rudder are now at Pendleton Yacht Yard, located in downtown Dark Harbor. Their first project with the molds was a restoration of wooden Hull 10 into fiberglass Hull 26. All of the bronze Lawley castings, bronze fittings, mahogany seats, mahogany main bulkhead, rudder and tiller, trunk house and mahogany coaming, and lead keel were removed and re-installed into a new fiberglass hull and fiberglass deck. The original bronze rudder post was also saved and used for a new fiberglass blade. The spars were stripped and refurbished, keeping the original castings but installing new bronze tangs and other fittings. The boat sails as #10 and is a perfect replica of a wooden boat. Special care was taken with the hull and deck joint so it could be hidden by a proper 3/4-inch wide toe rail and have a proper reveal between the toe rail and rub rail.

Pendleton Yacht Yard then splined and refinished the left-over original hull, handsome by itself, re-framed and flattened the deck, made a floor mount, and it is now used as a stunning tasting bar in a rum distillery in Massachusetts.

More new fiberglass Dark Harbor 20s are planned.

“The owners of the Dark Harbor 20s are to be commended for their dedication to authenticity and active use of the class. That so many of the inaugural fleet are still sailing is a remarkable accomplishment and yet there is room for a next generation to continue the class for the future,” said Steve White, president of Mystic Seaport Museum. “We are proud to honor the Dark Harbor 20 owners for their continued effort to allow future generations to sail and enjoy these fine boats.”

The award will be presented at a ceremony at the Tarratine Club on Tuesday July 31.