Monthly Archives: January 2013


Top Secret Revealed!

It is time to take the wraps off of some of our secret weapons. Mike Mirman our casting volunteer and Harrison Casting Company, Inc., Johnston RI. Mike creates wax molds for individual parts and rubber molds for repetitive parts and Harrison Casting does the actual bronze casting.

I’d like to publicly compliment both for the hard work and exquisite castings. Thank you so much!!!

Mike takes the Herreshoff drawings and as you can see in the pictures, reduced them to our scale size – 2″ to 1 foot or 1/6th scale. Hence a 6″ piece is 1″, and a 3″ piece is 1/2″ on our model. From the pictures provided by Mike, you can see size comparisons of parts to quarters, nickels and pennies. Tiny! He and Harrison Casting have many more than a 1000 such fittings to cast!

I should also note that Mike takes the bronze castings and grinds them to finished size and then buffs them to brilliance. We joke about this, since contemporary pictures and our museum’s collection of castings show that HM Co. was more concerned about functionality than polished brilliance! It was after all a racing yacht not a pleasure boat. But we’re not sure that our viewers want to take off their sunglasses.

Some of these castings will be given to Roger Williams University’s School of Engineering for a collaborative project we’re doing. As part of their review of our model’s structural integrity and design of the display cradle, they’ll take representative castings for destructive load tests of the model’s rig. We’ll give you an update on that project at a later date, perhaps to include a picture or discussion of the testing scale in the Museum’s half hull room.


Gaff Jaws and Other Fittings



Hooks and Staples

Shackles and Staple


Spars and Masts

One of our readers asked for a sailplan diagram showing the spars and masts. I enclose a sketch which answers this question.

I should also note that RELIANCE carried three sets of topsails yards and clubs. #1, #2 and #3 from largest to smallest. Thus there were four sizes of topsails including a gaff topsail.

The same philosophy extended to the headsails where there were multiple sizes of jib topsail (flying jib), jib, staysail, balloon jib and spinnaker. We also noted that during the course of her short sailing life they made 6 sets of sails of each size! (Going downwind RELIANCE carried a balloon jib to leeward and spinnaker to windward; each with its peak at the topmast tip.)

We have also noted that spare spars were made for each mast, boom, gaff and topsail spars. Some of these were re-purposed for later boats. Most spectacularly, the Schooner Katoura (1914) carried RELIANCE’s spare mast as her mainmast and Constitution’s’s spare mast as her foremast.

Size of these spars is:
Mast 112′ 5″ long with max diameter of 26″ (106′ was above deck) – fabricated metal
Boom 105′ long with max diameter of 21″ – fabricated metal
Gaff 68′ 7/8″ long with max diameter of 14″ – fabricated metal
Bowsprit 40 7 1/2″ long with max diameter 14″ – solid douglas fir
Spinnaker boom 83′ 4″ with max diameter of 12 9/16″- hollow douglas fir
Telescoping Topmast 58′ 3″ long with 13″ diameter. (8’4″ was inside the mast when erect) – hollow sitka spruce with nicket steel fabricated cone
Club topsail yard 68′ 0″ long and 13 5/8″ x 10″ in cross section – hollow douglas fir (The scotchman attaching this yard to the top of the topmast was placed 32′ from the top of the yard)
Club Topsail Club 57′ 6″ long and 7 1/2″ x 6 3/4″ in cross section – hollow douglas fir

It is interesting to note the relative size and cross section of the topmast (13″ dia) and the longer club topsail yard (13 5/8″ wide) which is made up alongside the topmast when under sail.


Update on Spar Making Activities

I thought I’d give you a status of our spar making activities.
We’ve completed:
-Douglas Fir hollow Spinnaker pole (83′ 6″)
-#1 Douglas Fir hollow Club Topsail yard (68′)
-#1 Douglas Fir hollow Club Topsail Club (57’6″‘)

This past Saturday a gentleman came into our shop with several pristine RELIANCE drawings from Hart Museum. These showed new penciled note information, not on our own microfilm copies:
a. That the boom was lengthened 3’0″ during May 1903 (From 111′ boom length or 112′ from center of boom hanging)
b. That the #1 and #2 club topsail club spar had 7/8″ sail tracks twhich end 2′ from spar tips.

With that information we’ll be scheduling a visit to MIT’s Hart Museum to ensure we have all the “red-lines” and will retrofit the club with a sail track!

We’ve nearly completed the bowsprit (40′ 7 1/2″). We’ve cast and formed the pieces at the tip and will install the retaining bar shortly at the butt. This will complete everything we can do on the bowsprit until fastening it to the deck.

We’ve finished shaping a hollow Douglas fir gaff complete with fittings at the end. We are in the process of fashioning the jaws end– the metal ring and tongue, jaws and eye have been cast in bronze and dry fitted to the spar. We also have a photo of gaff jaws, saddle and parrel on Eleonora a “Westward” replica. Westward was contemporaneous to RELIANCE, and we’ll do some searching of the drawings to confirm the picture. There will be many layers of paint applied to our gaff so we get this to look like metal. (at this time we’ll leave the final coat off, since we do not yet know what color the metal spars were painted. I expect that we’ll be able to show you the completed gaff and saddle in several weeks so keep posted! FYI, the original gaff was fabricated metal like the mast and boom. Pictures of the mainsail being raised show how much the boom and gaff flexed until supported by the halyards and mainsail.

We are also working on the boom which we’ve hollowed out and are shaping from Douglas fir. The original was metal plated over metal bulkheads and stringers. The irony of receiving these new drawings on Saturday was that we had just chopped our boom to its original 111′ length one hour before! So, we’ve spent the next couple of days adding the additional 3′ just as HM Co must have! Grrrrr….

We have just ordered Sitka spruce for the topmast. The original topmast was a 56′ 4″ hollow Douglas fir spar. (56′ 4″ without the metal top cone). In June 1903 Captain Nat ordered a second design for the topmast (58’3″ including nickel steel cone). We wonder whether this design results from the dismasting RELIANCE suffered. We’ll have check the dates. The only significant differences in the two designs seem to be that:
– It is now Sitka Spruce
– The bottom portion of the mast is hollowed out 7″ vs 7 1/2″ on the first design. I have no idea whether this to beef it up or compensate for strength differences between Douglas fir and Sitka. Sitka is also lighter.
– The fid which holds the topmast in its erect position is now 1 1/2″ wide vs 1″ on the original
– Original had 8 internal pine bulkheads, 1 3/8’ thick, spaced 5’10 1/2″ apart, but these do not appear on the second drawing, except perhaps at the top bearing ring.

We’ll be constructing this spar the way we believe Herreshoff actually did. Notes on the second design drawing are very helpful (sketch enclosed). It seems to us that HM Co. would first glue up four sets of two 5″ x 5″ sitka stock to form the four sides. These would then be beveled at 45 degrees as shown and routed out for the 7″ diameter core at the bottom, and increased to 9 1/2″ at the top, perhaps using an inclined jig. The square hollow at each end would naturally form when the sides are glued together. When these four sides are ready, they would be glued together to form the mast; the flat outside surfaces forming superb clamping surfaces. Though the topmast is a “straight stick” it would be easy with this approach to taper the spar as well, keeping a constant wall thickness. After gluing, it would be an easy step to round off the outsides using traditional methods. What do you think?

I’ll shortly post some Classic Yacht Symposium articles which show the way that spars were made for the Herreshoff NY50 “Spartan.” One section discusses Herreshoff spar making. I’ll add some pictures from our archives of the spar-making shop and also photos of Columbia’s topmast which once was used as a flag pole. The spar is broken and photos of the inside show reinforcing strips inside the staves. These don’t appear to run the entire length and may have in fact reinforced scarfed joints. TBD. (A note on RELIANCE’s second design says that the scarfs are to be 3’6″) A spar maker who viewed Columbia’s topmast was amazed at these reinforcing strips, noting that early aluminum masts and current carbon fiber masts also have such reinforcement.

Sketch of RELIANCE's topmast, second design

Sketch of RELIANCE’s topmast, second design