A fortuitous pierhead jump

June 2023

By Donald Street

In mid-September, while in Rhode Island, I happened to spot a massive sailing yacht at a marina in Jamestown. I love to wander through boatyards and marinas, looking at the variety of vessels, so I walked to the end of the dock, discovering that the 183-foot megayacht Rosehearty was no beauty.

No matter. As I walked back up the dock, I noticed over in the finger floats the tops of two wooden masts, obviously a ketch, poking out from alongside a motorboat. I wandered over to the float and discovered a long, narrow, canoe-sterned, midship-cockpit ketch. I recognized her as the ketch that A. Sidney DeWolf Herreshoff, a son of Nathanael Herreshoff, designed for Bill Dyer. Dyer founded the iconic boatbuilding company The Anchorage, in Warren, R.I., that, at that time, not only built the Dyer Dow and Dyer Dink dinghies and daysailers, but also 25- to 29-foot bass-boats.

The vessel I was looking at was either the restored Arion, built in 1951 – the first big fiberglass sailboat ever built – or her replica. She was a real period piece: a bronze bow pulpit, with old-fashioned tear-drop Wilcox-Crittenden running lights with lifelines attached to the pulpit’s bottoms; and cast-bronze guard-rail stanchion bases, with a bulge in the forwardmost one, drilled for the center guard rail. She had a nice, long midship cockpit, a big main-cabin companionway hatch and a small hatch to the little aft cabin.

Looking at the boat carefully, I realized that someone had magnificently restored the original or had built a wonderful copy. The main companionway hatch was open so I knocked on the cabin-top. No response. I wandered back up the dock, passing a man heading down carrying two shopping bags. We greeted each other with a nod and continued on our respective ways.

But I started thinking that, perhaps, he was heading for the ketch I had admired. I stopped, turned around, and watched him walk out the dock to which the floats were attached and board the ketch. I retraced my steps and found him in the cockpit, loading the contents of his bags into a couple of coolers.

I introduced myself, said I admired the boat, and asked about her history. I discovered that she was the boat Sidney Herreshoff designed for Bill Dyer. She had been pretty much abandoned on a mud bank, was retrieved and rebuilt, after which Steve Frary, the present owner, bought her. He did a real restoration, bringing her back to pretty much as she was originally designed and built.

About this point, another man arrived and climbed on board. Steve introduced me and said, “We are going for a quick one-hour or, at maximum, one-and-a-half-hour sail; would you like to come along?” Needless to say, I answered in the affirmative and jumped aboard.

We cast off, backed out of the slip, set sail, and were off: working jib with slight overlap, main and mizzen, hard on the wind, rail half-down in a smooth sea, eight to 10 knots of wind. Steve very kindly let me have the helm, which was feather-light. We beat to windward up to and through the Jamestown-to-Newport bridge, and she sailed like a dream. Then the time came to head back.

I turned downwind, and the speed dropped off, as did the wind. We decided it was time for the iron genoa, rolled up the staysail, dropped main and mizzen, and both sails were caught and flaked properly by the Dutchman system. At half-throttle, the 36-horsepower diesel kicked her easily-driven, narrow, shoal canoe-shaped hull with its fin keel and separate rudder at about five knots.

About the time the mizzen cover was on, a nice seabreeze developed, and Steve said, “This is too good to waste.” He rolled out the jib, re-hoisted the main, and we took off again on a nice reach. She really flew as we headed out of Newport Harbor. On the way back in, it piped up enough to put us almost rail-down on a shy reach. No spray reached the midship cockpit; some spray fell on the foredeck. We did a little easy adjusting of the trim on the jib and main, and we did not bother to rehoist the mizzen.

The shoal-draft canoe hull left an absolutely flat wake astern, and she was feather-light on the helm; yet, when Steve slid back the mahogany door hiding the instruments, I was most surprised. We were doing a solid nine-plus, 9.6, occasionally 10 – and 10 plus. On a 42-foot boat, easy sailing with crew completely relaxed, we were experiencing perfect sailing conditions. We would have liked to continue, but the sun was going down in the west, and our hour-and-a-half sail had been extended to three hours. It really was time to head back to the marina.

For the sailing family that really loves to sail, Arion’s an excellent cruising boat for the coast from the Chesapeake to the Maine/Canadian border. At 42 feet in length, she’s short-ended with a 38-foot waterline, and narrow, with an eight-foot beam. She’s light-displacement at 10,500 pounds, and has a fin keel (with 4,000 pounds of lead in it) and a separate rudder. She draws 5 feet 6 inches, and has adequate accommodations, in three separate cabins, with room on the stern to carry an 11-foot 6-inch rowing/sailing dinghy.

She is so fast with sheets eased – as long as there is wind – that the crew could plan on averaging six to seven knots. If it blows up, drop the mizzen. If it blows more, reef the main. If it really blows, drop the main and continue under mizzen and jib. As long as the desired harbor is not dead to windward, if it is blowing hard, she will still easily average seven knots – even under jib and mizzen. If your destination is dead to windward, change plans and head for a harbor that can be reached with eased sheets. In a flat-calm, the 30-horse diesel will kick her along at six knots at two-thirds throttle.

For a couple with kids who like to sail, she is an ideal cruising boat. When an anchorage is reached, the rowing/sailing dinghy is launched, the kids go off and entertain themselves for hours, while the parents can enjoy their sundowners and peace and quiet in the cockpit.

In the forward cabin, Steve has a big double bunk with a “bundling board” up the middle so each child has, in effect, their own bunk. Moving aft, there’s the head and hanging locker, the main cabin with two settees that make up into bunks, a main-cabin table, and the galley with proper stove with oven and a refrigerator.

The cockpit is a full eight-feet long, with big storage lockers underneath the seats. A small but adequate aft cabin is ideal for times when Steve and his wife wish to invite a couple to enjoy a long weekend of sailing. My late, beloved Aunt Eileen always said, “Fish and guests begin to smell after three days.” The aft cabin is “adequate,” but no couple will want to overstay their leave. They will think a three-day weekend is great, then depart.

I was greatly impressed by Arion during my spontaneous sail in her, and a pleasant dream began to take shape. This flight of fancy will be explained in the Perspectives of the next (July) issue of Points East.

Nonagenarian Don Street cruised on his Iolaire, a 46-foot, 1905 engineless yawl for 52 years, chartering, exploring, charting, and writing about the Caribbean and the Atlantic Islands. His first book, in 1966, was “A Cruising Guide to the Lesser Antilles,” regarded as the text that opened up the Eastern Caribbean to cruisers and greased the skids for the bareboat-charter business. Charts and guides for the Caribbean and the North Atlantic islands followed. Don still races his Dragon Gypsy, which is, at 92, the oldest of its class still racing.