A tale of class development - and adaptation
By Bill Belmont
Reprinted with permission from Wooden Boat Magazine, Mar/Apr 2001 (No 159)
Some of San Francisco Bay’s racing sailors were getting a little restless in the late 1930’s. The Bay had phenomenally successful racing classes in the 23’ Bear boats (see WB No. 50), the 25’ Golden Gate class, and the 30’1” Bird boats (see WB No. 144). All of these classes offered thrilling sailing, and because they had been well suited to the Bay’s conditions, they had quickly gained popularity. But some of the sailors longed for something bigger, something that could handle class racing and ocean racing and still be useful as a good cruising boat for the traditional July racing sabbatical, which encouraged get-away-from-it-all cruises to the Sacramento River Delta.
Two of these yachtsmen, Jesse Carr and Ed Bruck, called together a group of their physician colleagues from the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco to drum up support for the development of a larger class. The meeting would prove auspicious. The ultimate result was that the 38’ Farallone Clipper - after the conception and gestation period typical for a new class - was born and was christened with the name of the islands that lie 23 miles south-southwest of the Golden Gate. By the time the class reached it’s heyday in the 1950’s and 1960’s, it would be considered among the best of the West Coast production boats.
The first boats of the new class were designed and built in 1938 by the Stockton-based Stephens Brothers Boat Yard, which at that time had specialized in workboats and custom yachts. Notable sailing yacht hulls from the yard were several designed by I.Judson Kelly; JADA, a 56’ staysail schooner built in 1938 and surviving today as a yawl; ODYSSEY, a 58’ yawl built side-by-side with JADA and still owned today by the same family that had her built; and PAJARA, a cutter built in 1937 and based closely- too closely, many would say- on the lines of the Sparkman & Stevens cutter STARLIGHT. The yard had a reason to step into the development of a one-design racing class: it was a natural extension of the sailing and racing interest that ran deep in brothers Theo and Barre. They themselves would come to be key players in the development of the Farallone Clipper and Bay Area racing.
The clipper’s birth wasn’t without pain or complications, however. The Nunes Brothers Yard (see WB No. 50) was originally meant to be at the head of the line for developing the new class, having already distinguished itself by developing the Bear boats. The yard also had made its own notable forays into the large power-yacht market, especially with the high-profile 118’ ZACA, built for Templeton Crocker of the Crocker Bank and still serving in yacht condition in Monaco. Myron Spaulding, then a budding young naval architect who had sailed frequently with Manuel Nunes, had drawn a heavy-displacement 38-footer with 7300 lbs of lead outside ballast, Philippine mahogany planking, and bronze fastenings throughout. [Spaulding died September 11, 2000, at age 94, after the research and writing for this article was completed. —Eds] Spaulding calculated that Nunes could build the boat for $4,900 — provided that five orders could be obtained. Ed Bruck was serving as the point man for the yachtsmen’s group the time and had been consulting with Spaulding and with the Nunes yard during this early phase of development. But just as things appeared ready to go, another of the interested parties — Nelson Jones, who had a business relationship with the Stephenses— revealed that he had broached the subject with the yard in Stockton. Before Spaulding knew what happened, the deal was done: Stephens had signed up five buyers at $4,750 each, with a sixth boat going to Theo and Barre Stephens themselves. The new class was underway. Spaulding’s 38-footer was never built, and he never forgot nor forgave the incident.
The Stephenses used the 1937 Donald Abbott-sponsored, Sparkman & Stephens-designed “Weekender” as a starting point, having built one of the boats in 1938. The lines were stretched out to create the Farallone Clipper. The records of the yard for the period, now housed in the Haggin Museum in Stockton, list project details and materials used, including some variations in interior layout. The owners specified their own sailmakers, ranging from Ratsey and Lapthorn in City Island, New York, to Cox and Holcomb in Oakland. By the spring of 1939, the new boats were racing as a class. The Farallone Clipper Association made its debut in the Pacific Interclub Yacht Association yearbook in 1940, with Jesse Carr as secretary and Ed Bruck as chairman. The class, despite it contentious start, was on its way.
The 1950s and 1960s
After the war, Stephens Brothers began an aggressive marketing program. Once the Stephenses’ own boat, hull No. 6 FARALLONE, was sold to a buyer in Oregon— thereby being taken out of competition — they right away built another. With Theo at the helm of the new boat, VIP, hull No. 7, the spirited competition continued and the class remained in the limelight. After VIP sold, the yard simultaneously started two hulls on speculation. These were No. 8, CREDIT, and No. 9, DEBIT. Of the two, DEBIT was finished first, and Theo Stephens raced her for many years. CREDIT, meanwhile, languished at the Bauman Brothers brokerage in Sausalito for almost a year. But once Ed Fuld of Stockton bought her and renamed her DELTA BELLE, she became an active member of the fleet. For a while, only one new boat was being added to the fleet every couple of years, but then the rate began to increase. Between 1955 and 1959, six new boats joined.
By the early 1950’s, some of the boats were making headway in ocean racing competitions, too. MISTRESS placed second in Class C in the 1953 Transpac Race, then went on to win the Honolulu-Tahiti Race that same year. DEBIT also did well in the Transpac, and Theo took her to a second-in-class and fourth overall finish in the 1955 Los Angeles-Honolulu biennial race. The ocean racing laurels continued, with DEBIT and ECHO (hull No. 12) placing first and second, respectively in Class D in the 1959 Honolulu Race. (They placed third and fourth overall on corrected time.)
In the mid 1950’s, the group formally reorganized as the Farallone Clipper Class Association, declaring itself a development class, as opposed to a strict one-design class. The new designation allowed for experimentation within a given set of parameters. Revised class racing rules of 1956 placed stringent limits on inside ballast, sail size, and sailcloth weight— rules the sailors immediately set about trying to bend. Stephens drew up a sail and rigging plan and a construction plan about this same time. During the 1950’s, the Clipper could be purchased much like a stock boat today— you filled out an order sheet, and you were more or less on your way to getting your boat. But the class’s rise was cut short by the onslaught of fiberglass production boats. Only five more were built after 1958.
The Farallones were built of 1” Philippine mahogany planking over 2”square steam-bent oak frames on 14” centers. They were fastened with 2” No. 12 bronze screws. Their engine bedbugs were laminated oak, glued with resorcinol. The house sides were 1” mahogany. The decks were canvas-covered 1” plywood. Teak decks —blind fastened with toenails instead of the usual method of face fastening with countersunk screws and bungs— were listed as an option in the early in the early 1960s, but only two boats, No. 15, CYNOSURE, and No. 16, CIRCE, had them as an original feature. A teak deck was added to CREDIT later. This deck and others were built in the 1970s by Hank Easom’snow-departed Easom Boat Works in Sausalito. Only two boats — MISTRESS II and ECHO — were finished bright, and they remain so today. CIRCE was built with evenly color-matched planks for a bright finish, but Lou Riggs had her painted.
There were notable differences among the original six boats and the later versions. The pre-war boats had deck level cockpit seating and small round cabin ports. Some of the earlier boats had a Douglas-fir toenail with a mahogany cap. Beginning with hull No. 7, the boats were given oval ports and a sunken cockpit.
Most boatwrights who have worked on FaralloneClippers over the years have the same general observations — they were production boats to which very little custom work was added. Some owners have invested time and energy in specific custom features that distinguish their boats from the others. DEBIT, for example, now has custom joiner work below and refrigeration, while OUESSANT has custom wooden blocks, tiller, and turning block pads and has had ceiling installed in the forward cabin. WENDY ANN has a large opening vent box amidships atop the trunk cabin.
As originally designed, the boats were sailed with a club-footed jib. Because such jibs require very little sail handling during tacks and jibes, few crew were required— thus achieving one of the goals of the original five owners. A non-reefing main and a spinnaker completed the early sail inventory, although the boats also had 110% or 120% overlapping jibs.
As times and practices changed, the class allowed genoas, as long as the foot didn’t exceed 22’ and the sail cloth weight didn’t exceed 5 oz. Such a genoa is very close to the size of the currently allowable Performance Handicap Racing Formula (PHRF) rule regarding the 155% No. 1 jib, although the sailcloth weights for the Farallone Clippers tend to vary depending on construction and sailmaker. In the early 1960s, provision was made at a point midway between the first and the second spreaders for a halyard block for a nylon “ballon staysail” which was carried under certain conditions when flying the spinnaker.
The biggest change in the rig, however, came in the 1960s in response to a change in the racing habits of Lou Riggs, who had bought CIRCE, hull No. 16. He wintered at Grindstone Joe’s in the Sacramento River Delta, traveling to the Bay for weekend races but missing the weeknight “beer can” race and their opportunities for tuning up. Finding that long-distance events were more to his taste, he decided to enter the 1962 Mazatlan Race, staring at Newport Beach and finishing at the Mexican port. Largely a downwind event, it favored light, relatively flat-bottomed boats with large spinnakers. By this time, only for Clippers were consistently racing, and newer designs — especially the Lapworth 36, a successful strip planked boat developed in Southern California — were wreaking havoc in the fleet. Riggs enjoyed ocean racing, and he finished in the middle of the pack. Afterwards, hoping to make his Clipper more competitive, he put the issue to Sausalito sailmaker Pete Sutter. The story goes that he and Sutter drew up what became the masthead rig for the Farallone Clipper on a napkin while sitting in a bar in Sausalito. According to Riggs, this is essentially true, although Myron Spaulding and Theo Stephens also got involved. The final results from all three sources were very similar. The final plan — drawn up by Stephens — is dated august 5, 1964, and CIRCE was converted in time for the 1964 Mazatlan Race.
The masthead rig calls for a simple but extremely sturdy mast, with a single spreader and no running backstays. It gives the boat a shorter mainsail but a slightly larger headsail — actually a genoa, because , by this time the boats were normally racing with 155% headsails under almost all conditions, as they still do. The mast height is about 4’ shorter that that of the fractional rig, but the boom length remained at 18’ on most of the boats that were eventually converted. By the time the masthead rig was developed, Sutter already had plenty of experience racing Farallone Clippers and had been developing and building sails for most of the fleet. He had encouraged their owners to change with the times by moving from cotton to synthetic sail cloth. He also was credited with developing the radial-head spinnaker.
“It was a time of great evolution,” Rigg explains, “not only with sailcloth and spinnaker design, but with gear as well. Barient was a new local company, and I got some Barient 28s to replace either the South Coast or Merriman gear I had onboard. I got new Dacron or Terylene sails — anything to keep up with the other guys.”
A lot of Farallone Clippers followed suit. MISTRESS II and HOYDEN II converted to masthead rigs in 1965, and Theo Stephens’s own DEBIT turned mishap into opportunity by making the conversion after losing her original rig in a 1965 summer race on the Bay.
Some also converted to aluminum spars. Bill Trask, who raced Hoyden II successfully until leaving the sport in favor of senior swimming in 1976, even altered his rig to fit a diminished aluminum boom that sheeted down to the cabintop. She was known — as many are quick to remark even today — as the boat to beat in a blow. Other changes have been made, too: CREDIT, for example, incorporates a block built into the boom end that is used to trim the outhaul, remove the shelf, and, when fully hauled, trim the flattening reef. Some boats have increased the diameters of the their forestays and backstays, and even rod rigging has been used in some cases. Most of the boats are using roller furling jibs.
To improve the control downwind, tow boats with masthead rigs — HOYDEN II and CIRCE — added a swept-back rudder design based on those developed for 12-Meters.
But a few Farallone Clippers haven’t been altered a bit: ECHO, owned by Dr. Glen Harmon of Santa Cruz for many years until he sold it to Jack Coulter only a few years ago, was fitted out with almost the exact gear with which she had been delivered new. Hulls No. 5 and 6 have recent new owners and are being rebuilt.
Another boat that has had no rig changes is Gene Buck’s OUESSANT. When the PHRF ratings were established, her fractional rig was rated at 153 seconds per mile and the masthead-rigged boats were rated at 144 seconds per mile. In 1997, an adjustment put the fractional rigs at 156 and the masthead rigs at 153. the debate about which rig was faster has been a long-running one. Lou Riggs and others felt the masthead sail plan had a slight edge, especially in long-distance races. At this point, however, it’s hard to tell: none of the masthead-rigged Farallone Clippers are actively racing. Considering that sail design and gear technology have changed so much in the past 20 years, it would be interesting to see how competitive HOYDEN II would be today against boats of her rating. She won the San Francisco Bay Championship as late as 1974 against boats one-tenth her age.
Dealing with new stresses
Sailing — and especially racing — in San Francisco Bay is especially arduous during summer. Most afternoons, the westerly picks up to 18 knots, with gusts to 25 or higher. Farallone Clippers that actively raced can truly be said to have been “used.”
The six original Farallone Clippers were designed to sail with a 345-sq-ft mainsails and club-footed jibs of 250 sq ft, for a total sail area of 595. These were cotton sails. Beginning in about 1958, they changed the rigs that totaled about 700 sq ft of sail area in the working rig — 365 in the main and 340 in the genoa, at a time when many owners were shifting to Dacron! The new sailcloth, with less stretch and greater power, put even more stress on the rig and hull. The transition to ever more modern gear hasn’t ceased, either. Because the hulls were not designed to withstand the forces these rigging innovations wrought, some problems have developed, and owners have responded with several methods to strengthen the hulls, especially those that have been raced consistently.
A number of boats added bronze, wing-like maststeps which attached to the floor timbers and to the frames immediately forward and aft of the mast. The “wings” of this step were part of a device that had been used experimentally on other boats racing in the Bay — notably International One-Designs and Knarrs — and had come to be known as a “jock stap.” This consisted of shroud wires port and starboard, with their lower ends affixed to the maststep “wings” and their other ends to the chainplates of the intermediate shrouds (see drawing, above). Turnbuckles were fitted at the chainplate ends and tightened down as far as one could stand it. The object, as Hank Easom explained to me, was to prevent the mast from being shoved through the bottom of the boat. Easom believed the maststep was originally too short, spanning only two or three floor timbers when in his view, it should have extended over four or five.
Even in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, Farallone Clippers sailed without reefing gear in conditions in which most sailors would have chosen to shorten down. The loads were substantial. Myron Spaulding once calculated that the downward “thrust” on the mast on a Farallone Clipper pounding to weather under her main and a 155% genoa was about 8500 lbs.
A few of the boats were also fitted with a solid stainless steel or bronze rod aft of the mast, attaching to the maststep and to an athwartship plate set aft of the mast at the partners. This rod was also intended to stiffen the hull. The jock strap served the second purpose of reducing the working of the garboard seams near the mast, which are generally regarded as the weakest construction feature of the boats. The garboards always leaked, Hank Easom says. In fact, after a long race in the days before automatic bilge pumps, the crew would sometimes be assigned to stand watch through the night at the dock to make sure the boat was pumped out. It also seems certain that, considering the punishment the boats received, the frames could have been beefier. Most of the boats have a number of sistered frames, most of them adjacent to the bilge stringer.
The floor timbers also could have been deeper, a problem whose effects showed up with the increased load from the new rigs. as it was, the floors extended only to a point just above the garboards, so that a 35-gallon water tank could be accomodated under the cabin sole. This caused a “hard spot” low down on the frame. To stiffen the boat, a few Farallone Clippers had oversized floors added, eventually reaching 3” or even 3 1/8” in thickness. On CREDIT, for example, six floor timbers were replaced, accomodating 3/4” Monel keelbolts sleeved through the iron ballast keel. These were in an every-other-floor-timber pattern, and the intermediate timbers’ original 3/4” drift bolts were replaced with 1/2” stainless steel. The garboards also frequently needed to be refastened, using No. 14 bronze screws.
The ballast presented some problems, too. Unlike the 7,800-lb lead keel Myron Soaulding had given his 38’ design, the Farallones were given a 7,200-lb iron keel. Study of the foundry invoices reveals that no two boats’ keel weighed the same amount, varying from a low of 7,114 lbs for hull No.3 to a high of 7,322 for hull No. 8. Spaulding served as the official measurer for the fleet, and his measurement records confirm this. As more powerful rigs were developed, some boats were given additional keel ballast. CREDIT has 850 lbs of inside ballast; OUESSANT has about 800. During the 1950s, up to 2,000 lbs of inside ballast was added to some of the early boats, which were quite tender in a blow.
Boatyards that have worked on Farallone Clippers also say the stem-to-deadwood stopwater has been a problem. the long scarf in this area is through-fastened with 1/2” carriage bolts, but the scantlings of the pieces are not generous. Replacement of stopwaters has been common, and sometimes they have been glued into place with epozy. A factor contributing to this problem may be that most boats are hauled by Travellift these days, and the forward jackstand comes close to this week area.
Farallones were also built without full bulkheads. the boats have a short bulkhead at the forepeak, two half bulkheads at the head and locker area port and starboard of the mast, and a half bulkheads port and starboard of the companionway. This may have been a cost-saving feature of the original construction. Since these bulkheads are screwed into their adjoining frames from the floor timbers to the sheer clamps but don’t tie in with the overhead, they tend to separate avove the clamp as the boat slowly changes shape with age and as it takes the beating the the Bay delivers.
The Farallone story is primarily about boats that were raced seriously as the largest class on the Bay for about 15 years. Although perhaps no more than five or six actively and regularly pursued the handicap racing events and the ocean racing circuits, as many as eight at a time participated in the single-class races. Only a few of the boats escaped racing.
It has been said among Bay Area sailors that the workmanship in the Farallone Clippers didn’t measure up to the work the Stephens yard put into its powerboats. but Clippers that were maintained well are still going strong—a credit to their designer and builder. In their original configuration, they were designed to be competitive at a reasonable cost — so scantlings were kept light. They were also designed to carry smaller headsails built with cotton, which is much weaker than modern sailcloth. Like many sailing yachts developed under these parameters, their hulls simply couldn’t withstand the added forces from their modern rigs. All in all, though, the boats have retained their original character, even if deviating far from the original concept. To remain competitive, they have adjusted to developments and innovations, and with new owners recently entering the fleet, the future looks bright for this timeless design.
Bill Belmont live in San Fransico and has owned CREDIT for more than 20 years. He is also the principal owner of ARGOSY VENTURE (ex-HOLIDAY, WB. No. 97) His is Vice President for International Operations of Fantasy, Inc