Moby Dick? She’s alive and well

By Bob Muggleston
For Points East

Here’s a scenario I’ve thought about quite a bit lately: The year is 1939, and you’re aboard a boat tooling around Block Island Sound. Fog has rolled in, making visibility difficult. Horns sound. Suddenly, to starboard, something emerges from the swirling vapors. Stunned silence. And then, finally, from one of your crew: “What the @#$% is that!?”

Carl Pimentel, Moby Dick’s last owner, stands tall on the boatÕs unique hull. Photo courtesy Kurt Pimentel

Built by Maurice Chapin in 1937 of African mahogany and oak, Moby Dick, the mystery vessel in the above dreamscape, was, in its day, a truly radical machine that would have elicited gasps. Certainly, it defied then, and still does today, easy description: A riff on the Tjalk, the Dutch sailing barge? A submarine with a sail? Dorade, made even more slippery? A nod to Italian-designed WWI torpedo boats?

Thanks to her unique design, she’s supposedly quite fast. In an era when long overhangs were prevalent, the 42-foot Moby Dick boasted a 37-foot waterline and ample buoyancy carried well forward that ends in a blunt bow. There’s no cabintop, but standing room below for a six-footer. While the high freeboard/small boat combo often produces an ungainly design, Moby Dick isn’t. She’s just . . . different.

Like the man who built her.

In 1937 Maurice Chapin was a Rhode Island resident who ran a lumber company in the Boston area. He’s thought to have at some point studied Naval Architecture at MIT. Obsessed with the idea of speed in a small boat, Chapin ran a model of Moby Dick through the Stevens Institute towing tank in Hoboken, New Jersey. One of his primary goals was to reduce a boat’s surface and wave-making resistances, which would theoretically result in a faster hull. The tank confirmed his design. Alder Manufacturing Co., Inc., a firm in Warren, R.I., got the nod, though it’s rumored that Chapin was so secretive that the folks at Alder never got to see a full set of plans. The boat itself, while sporting a traditional full keel, had features uncommon in 1937: like a tall, rotating mast and Marconi rig, and a “basket” on the hollow boom that performed similarly to lazy jacks.

In a 2014 essay, then Points East editor Nim Marsh recalled seeing Moby Dick, which he described as a “whale-backed sloop,” in and around Padanarum Harbor in the 1950s and ’60s, and wondered if the vessel was still alive.

I’m happy to report today that Moby Dick is indeed alive and well, and has a new owner. Michael Yorston, of Acushnet, Mass., was recently given the boat by Kurt Pimentel, the son of the boat’s previous owner, Carl Pimentel.

According to Yorston, Moby Dick has been on the hard for roughly 20 years, but has had a dedicated caretaker and is in great shape. “It helps that she was built like a brick @#$%house,” Yorston says. “The craftsmanship of the build is truly remarkable.”

The 65-year-old Yorston has worn many hats in the marine industry since he entered it at age 18, as a builder and a salesman and virtually everything in between. He recently went through Moby Dick with a wooden boatbuilder’s most valuable survey tool, a jackknife. “There’s no rot,” he claims.

Yorston anticipates setting up a grill next to the boat once it’s moved from its current home in New Bedford, Mass., to Acushnet, and organizing “work parties” comprising many of the marine contacts he’s made over the years. Not Slocum working alone in a field amid a crowd of onlookers, but the crowd itself pressed into service, and served burgers and beers. “We’re Portuguese,” Yorston says. “Everything we do revolves around food and drink.” Pimentel says he’ll be there, as well.

Yorston anticipates a two-year refit, and says Moby Dick’s first re-entry into the world of competition will be in the Figawi Race, an event she won in 1973. The boat will eventually live in New Bedford Harbor, where Yorston is an active member of the boating scene, both on the commercial and recreational end of things.

Keep your eyes peeled for Moby Dick: Hopefully, she’s coming soon to a body of water near you.