Many thanks to Karen at Good Old Boat Magazine for sending me the text and pictures for this reprint as well as securing Steve Mitchell's approval. I apologize in advance for any errors which might appear. In an effort to match the high standards of the magazine, I attempted formatting with which I have had little previous experience. I strongly suggest that you go to their website and request a trial issue. I'm sure that you will like it. - Howard

This is an article from Good Old Boat Magazine www.goodoldboat.com . Iíve had it for some time and wanted to get it posted before I lost it completely. Please excuse its being posted in unfinished form. Thank you.

Thomas Gillmer

In profile: One of Americaís most respected cruising boat designers

by Steve Mitchell

 


Tom Gillmer and his current boat, a 30-foot version of his Blue Moon design.

The early days of production fiberglass boats were an exciting time based on the accounts of some of those early pioneers. From the well-known story of the Pearson cousins with their 28-foot Triton at the 1959 New York Boat Show, to Ray Greene and his 27-foot Sparkman & Stephens-designed New Horizon, fiberglass boats caught the publicís fancy early on. Rather than looking at the new material with skepticism about its strength and longevity, the public welcomed fiberglass.

 

 

 

 

 

The Allied Seawind, Apogee, below, leaving Cape Town, South Africa, on the last leg of her circumnavigation. Alan Eddy at the helm.

 

One boat that helped establish fiberglass as suitable for sailboats was the Allied Seawind, a 30-foot 6-inch ketch designed by Thomas Gillmer in 1961. "It was the first fiberglass boat to sail around the world," Tom says. "The Seawind was very successful sailing offshore." That trait was the common denominator for all of his designs, especially in the early days as the fiberglass production revolution took hold and naval architects began designing for the new material.

Growing up with boats

Thomas C. Gillmer was born in Warren, Ohio, a few miles south of Lake Erie, in 1911. "I first made boat models when I was a kid," he explains. "I had a friend, an older fellow, who was from Down East, somewhere in Nova Scotia. He was a good model builder and helped me with them. Later, he built me a 14-foot sailboat, a nice little lapstrake sloop. I learned to sail that by myself on Lake Erie when my family went to our cottage on the lake every summer. It had to be a boat we could launch from the beach, and thatís what I learned to sail on."

Not much choice

Tomís interest in boats led him to attend the U. S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. "At that time you didnít have much choice of what to study at the Academy. You took the standard courses. But they had started a program of electives, and one of those courses was in naval architecture." He took the course and was hooked.

"I can remember when I was a midshipman," he says, "there were a lot of skipjacks based in Annapolis in the winter for oystering. Skipjacks were an important boat then. There were a thousand of them on the bay back in the í30s. Every morning Iíd be up, still sleepy, and about that time thereíd be a whole line of skipjacks sailing out into the bay. It was a beautiful sight. That sight alone probably had as much impact as anything else on my interest in boats."

Tom graduated in June 1935 and served on cruisers in the Pacific and Mediterranean. During World War II he served at the Academy as a professor of naval architecture, eventually founding the department of naval architecture and marine engineering there. He wrote a book on naval architecture used at the Academy to this day.

"I more or less designed these early cruising boats on the side," he says. "It was a nice occupation."

The Seawinds

Allied Seawind 30

For an established naval architect with many wooden boat designs to his credit, designing boats for the fiberglass revolution was a natural progression. "Certainly all the manufacturers were convinced it was tough stuff," he says. "I was confident it would hold up. After all, the Navy had been building fiberglass boats down in Norfolk during the war. Early on, someone gave me a couple of samples of fiberglass to examine. I gave one of them to my dog to chew on, and he could hardly put a dent in it. He was an Airedale and chewed everything, so I knew it was tough. I was one of the first to design for fiberglass."

Tom was a regular contributor of wooden sailboat designs to a couple of popular boating magazines of the day, Rudder and Yachting, so his name and work were well known to manufacturers and sailors. "I knew one of the fellows at Rudder magazine in particular," says Tom. "He needed designs to publish, and I sent him quite a few. Thatís how some of the builders connected with me." These were all wooden boats, but he later converted many of these early designs for fiberglass construction.

In 1961, a Delaware attorney named Rex Kaiser commissioned Tom to design a boat for him. Kaiser had the resulting 30-foot ketch built by Lunn Laminates in Glen Cove, N.Y. The following year, Lunn became part of Allied Boat Company when it was founded in Catskill, N.Y. Allied named the 30-foot ketch the Seawind. This was its only model at first. Says Tom, "Allied got their start building the Seawind. It was right behind the Pearson Triton and the Tartan 27." The first Allied Seawind hulls came off the assembly line in 1962.

Good offshore

He continues, "The Seawind has a big sail area for a small boat. Itís also a good offshore boat. Thatís what always has appealed to me the most ó designing boats to go offshore. Cruising boats were always more of an interest to me. People could cruise on them and enjoy them. I donít think racing boats are all that comfortable. I had a Seawind myself for sailing around here on the Chesapeake. They said they sold it to me for a discount," he chuckles, "but it wasnít much of one as far as I could tell."

In 1963, a sailor named Alan Eddy set off from Hampton, Virginia, sailing for the Virgin Islands in a Seawind named Apogee. His trip to the islands turned into a five-year circumnavigation, the first ever for a fiberglass boat. In an account written by Alan and published by Allied after the circumnavigation, he stated that when he left for the Virgin Islands "I had never been offshore overnight, or even offshore by myself, or even taken a sight in earnest." Two items on his list of what it takes to complete a circumnavigation are the simple statements "a suitable boat" and "the will to do it." Surprisingly, he does not mention the word "luck" in his list.

Two views of the Seawind 30 provided by Peter Edwards, secretary of the Allied Seawind Ownersí Association. <http://www.webmoxie.net/seawind/ index.htm>.

 

Perhaps Alan was confident enough in his Seawind that he didnít think he needed luck. His most harrowing experience was being attacked by whales in the Indian Ocean. He wrote: "I had gone below to fetch a dish towel when I heard a tremendous bang, and Apogee shuddered from keel to masthead." What he estimated to be about a dozen whales were swimming next to and under Apogee. Whales rammed his boat at least three times, but he sailed on with no apparent damage.

Advertising bonanza

Alanís account of the voyage goes on to extol the virtues of fiberglass construction over the wood and steel construction more common at the time. Certainly his voyage proved that fiberglass boats were up to whatever the sea could hand out. When he returned home, Allied used his trip as an advertising bonanza for the Seawind with the slogan, "She will go around the world if you will." As Tom puts it, "Crossing an ocean is generally harder on the people than on the boat."

Says Dan Spurr, "I donít think anyone was aware of Alan Eddyís circumnavigation until Allied started using it in their advertising. Allied was savvy enough to take advantage of a public relations opportunity, and it was a notable accomplishment. Certainly not every 30-footer could have done it. The Seawind was a good design and strong enough to do it. It belongs in the history books."

Despite its popularity, the accommodations on the Seawind are Spartan. Says Dan, "The Seawindís interior wasnít much larger than a Pearson Tritonís. It just wasnít very usable. It had no table, for example. I can see why there was a demand for the Seawind II."

According to Tom, "The Seawind 30 was about the limit of what people could buy in terms of accommodations to fit the boat and price at the time. The Seawind II was all about improving the accommodations and what we thought the market could bear."

Allied produced the Seawind 30 from 1962 until 1974. The Seawind II replaced it in 1975. At 31 feet 7 inches, the Seawind II was only 13 inches longer, but all other dimensions were significantly greater. The waterline length increased from an even 24 feet to 25 feet 6 inches in the new model. Beam increased from 9 feet 3 inches to 10 feet 5 inches, and displacement grew from 12,080 to 14,900 pounds. Sail area increased from 500 to 555 square feet. The standard rig was a masthead ketch with a cutter rig available as a very desirable option.

Out of business

Interestingly, Allied reintroduced the original Seawind in 1978, producing both models until the company went out of business in 1981. Says Dan Smith, a former Seawind 30 owner and unofficial historian of the Allied Boat Company, "Bringing back the Seawind 30 was a bad call as far as I can tell. Someone spent a lot of money rebuilding the molds, and for what?" According to Dan, Allied built a total of 161 Seawind 30s.

The Seawind II continued the tradition of an able sea boat, with many bluewater miles credited to it. In fact, itís difficult to find a boat of her size more suited for the open ocean and extended cruising. Stowage in particular is a strong point for the Seawind II. Allied built 129 Seawind IIs.

"The Seawinds were my most successful designs," says Tom. "They seemed to suit me best, anyway."

Allied, unfortunately, was never noted for the quality of its management team. Despite building many popular cruising boats, including the 35-foot Seabreeze, Luders 33, Princess 36, and Mistress 39, the company was in and out of bankruptcy several times under several different owners. In 1980, the New York Job Development Authority took over running the company. The authority had lent about $500,000 to the company in the hopes of saving the jobs of the 50 or so people Allied employed, in part because it was the largest single employer in Catskill. Allied also dropped its dealer network, selling boats directly from the factory to save the 15 percent dealer commission.

When Allied finally succumbed to a murky death in late 1981, it had partially completed the tooling for a new 52-footer designed by David Pedrick. As with most other sailboat manufacturers in financial trouble, itís always "the next boat" the owners think will catch on and save the company. Allied couldnít hang on that long.

Southern Cross boats

 

Southern Cross 39

Above and at right, Bill Dugganís Southern Cross 31. Bill is commodore of the Southern Cross Ownersí Association. <http://www.southern-cross.com/>.

 

By the early 1970s, Clarke Ryder had been making fiberglass industrial parts and boats for nearly a decade. He says, "In 1973 to 1974 I saw the popularity on the West Coast of the Westsail 32 in kit form and thought that we could do the same thing on this coast. I had a portfolio of designs from one of the marine publishing houses with a collection of Tom Gillmerís designs in it, so I was familiar with his work. He had designed a wooden 31-footer called the Aries (a double-ender with Norwegian influences in its outboard rudder and sheerline) that was about two-thirds the weight of the Westsail. It essentially had the same underbody as the Seawind (unlike the SC39 hull shown above ĖEd.). I got in touch with Tom and decided to build it in fiberglass. I took the first one to the Annapolis Boat Show in 1975 as the Southern Cross 31." The C. E. Ryder Company eventually produced about 150 of that model.

The 31 was followed by the 28, the 35, and the 39. All were available as kits or as factory-completed boats. All were double-enders because, as Clarke puts it, "We decided to keep them that way. If you start changing the designs, you start arguing against your own premise."

At left, Mike Murphyís Miss Sweet Pea sails near Massachusetts.

 

"I liked double-enders, as did the Southern Cross folks," says Tom. "It was sold as something new to the public, although of course it wasnít. Canoe sterns had been around for at least a hundred years, particularly in the Mediterranean. People thought they were more seaworthy than transom-stern boats, but I donít think thereís a difference. About the only difference is that a transom stern can be noisy under some sea conditions."

Says Clarke, "The 31 was the most successful model by all measures. The 35 is a big boat. Its interior volume is probably twice that of the 31. The 28 didnít have enough ballast at first. Tom and I had a little go-round over that one. It was another takeoff from a wooden design of his, and he had to extend the keel or something to add ballast. We never sold that many 39s. We overestimated the number of people who needed a boat that large."

Speedy as well

Southern Cross boats also are known for a turn of speed, something Tom claims not to have been concerned about. "I was trying to achieve a hull form that would go to sea well. I wasnít interested in speed necessarily, although some of my boats are quite fast. Generally, speedy boats are not seaworthy boats. Seaworthy boats are a little slower because you have to give them more sheer to keep them drier in a seaway instead of flattening them out. You can do things to make boats faster, but they are less seaworthy, I think. Itís pretty easy to know what goes fast ó itís long and narrow without much beam. But itíll be wet at sea. Some designers specialized in fast boats, but not me. I went for something safe and comfortable at sea."

Clarke Ryder entered a Southern Cross 31 in the 1977 Marion to Bermuda Race. "We finished third in class," he says. "The 31 is a fast boat off the wind with the tall rig. Also, I can remember one particular around-the-buoys race in that same boat when we came in first ahead of a Tartan 34. If the wind is right, the 31 will do very well."

Pat Henry chose a Southern Cross 31 for her circumnavigation. She began her journey in 1989, setting sail from Acapulco, Mexico. She completed the trip on May 5, 1997, when she once again anchored in Acapulco.

She writes from her home in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, "When I began my search for a cruising boat I was not familiar with the Southern Cross line of boats at all. I was focused on a full-keel fiberglass hull with good lines. My budget was tight, which limited my size range, not for original purchase as much as for replacing aging gear. I also had a long list of features/characteristics that were important: good bridge deck, small cockpit, solid bulwarks, sturdy rigging, bronze portholes, and as much cruising gear as possible. When I saw my SC31 for the first time, I knew almost instantly that she was the boat for me. Her graceful, handsome lines just grabbed me, and the survey and test sail made the sale."

Great choice

Pat continues, reflecting on her circumnavigation, "Now I know what a great choice I made. She has proven dependable and seaworthy in pretty heavy conditions (28-foot seas and 60-knot winds for more than a day at a time.) The cockpit provides a sense of security, and the space below is light and roomy. The ventilation is superb. Never a Ďboaty odorí belowdecks."

Pat has a degree in architecture and makes her living painting, writing, and making motivational speeches to business groups. Her memoir, By the Grace of the Sea: A Womanís Solo Odyssey Around the World, is scheduled for publication this fall by McGraw-Hill. As Clarke Ryder puts it, "Pat Henry is braver than most of us."

Tom Gillmer selects the Southern Cross 35 for special praise. "One owner told me it was the smoothest boat he had ever sailed in the ocean. Thatís quite a lot to say about a 35-foot boat."

That opinion of the SC35 is seconded by Pat and Colleen DeGroodt, who in 1998 began a circumnavigation in a SC35 cutter named Simmer. They write from Cape Town, South Africa, "We find she sails exceptionally well in light air compared to other, similarly sized, cruising boats and holds her own in heavy air. No matter what sails you have, she can be balanced to sail on the windvane easily, thanks to the cutter rig. We definitely like the appearance. We always enjoy looking back at her on anchor as we dinghy away, and other cruisers also comment favorably on her aesthetics.

"The layout below is perfect for a couple, especially offshore (two great sea berths). We particularly like the nav station layout and location. The galley is ideal at anchor and offshore. Bronze opening ports and three deck hatches make it cool below even on the equator. The deck is well laid out for shorthanded sailing, and the cockpit is big and very comfortable. The sidedecks are clean and easy to traverse since the shrouds are inboard."

According to Clarke, the last Southern Cross was produced in 1983, although some kit-built boats were completed by their owners well after that. The C. E. Ryder Company closed its doors in 1990.

Privateers

Also early in the fiberglass revolution, Tom Gillmer connected with "a fellow named Kenner down in New Orleans, and I designed a couple of boats for him. He didnít know much about sailboats. He mainly was building houseboats for the river. They looked like boxes."

The first Tom Gillmer design the Kenner Boat Company produced was the Privateer 26, yet another ketch-rigged boat with a cutter option that Tom had originally designed in wood. It was derived from a larger wooden boat he had designed many years earlier called the Wind and Wave.

Neil Pancoastís Privateer 26, at right, Neil is the contact for Privateer sailors: <http://www.privateer26.org>.

 

According to a brochure of his designs published in the 1970s, he described the Privateer 26 as "a boat of rather unusual character but conventional structure. Her stem form, which has been rather loosely referred to as a clipper bow, is actually more of the Chesapeake stem form in profile. It is much like that seen on the sailing oyster boats, old bugeyes, and the old pungy schooners of the 19th century." Thus, Tom couldnít resist reaching back to his memories of the skipjacks for design elements for one of his boats. He used the same bow design on at least two other boats.

His other design for Kenner was the Privateer 35, again a ketch-rigged cruiser. That boat was manufactured from 1968 to 1972.

Kenner Privateer 35

"I like ketch rigs," says Tom. "I donít think it makes much difference what size the boat is, although it shouldnít be too small. I could sail all day on my Seawind with just the jib and mizzen. With the ketch rig you could add sail area, and that translates into more speed. Itís also easier to find a sail combination that balances the boat so that she would steer herself, which is good for short-handed sailors. I never liked to sail alone but often did."

Pat Birchard bought Privateer Hull #93 "for a good price," as he puts it, after sheíd sunk in her slip. After 14 months of hard work, his Lady in Red is a beauty.

 

 

Historical designs

As a naval architect at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Tom Gillmer developed an interest in the history of ships. He wrote several books on the subject including one titled A History of Working Watercraft in the Western World. When the City of Baltimore decided to commission a design for a replica of a Baltimore Clipper as a tourist attraction, Tom Gillmer was the natural choice as architect. He designed the original Pride of Baltimore in 1976 to 1977, and thousands of visitors to Baltimoreís Inner Harbor watched the ship being built at the waterís edge.

When the Pride tragically sank off Puerto Rico in a storm in 1986, the public outcry for a new Pride of Baltimore resulted in his designing the Pride of Baltimore II in 1988. Pride II was designed as an oceangoing vessel to meet stringent Coast Guard licensing requirements, something the original Pride was not designed to meet. Pride II has sailed to all the corners of the earth as a floating ambassador for the citizens of Baltimore and the state of Maryland and, as Tom puts it in his usual understated manner, "She has been most successful."

Tom also designed the Lady Maryland, a replica of a Chesapeake Bay pungy schooner workboat owned by the Living Classrooms Foundation in Baltimore. The boat is used as an environmental teaching vessel for students throughout Maryland. The Navy also hired Tom as a consultant to study the condition of the USS Constitution to restore that ship for her bicentennial celebration in 1997.

One of his last large historical projects was the design and construction of the Kalmer Nyckel, a 139-foot replica of the Dutch pinnace ship that brought the first settlers to Delaware Bay in 1638. The Kalmer Nyckel is the Tall Ship of the State of Delaware and is based in Wilmington.

Needing assistance in 1986 as part of the Pride II project, Tom hired Iver Franzen as a draftsman. This began a partnership that lasted until Tom formally retired as a naval architect in 2000. Ivar, himself a bluewater sailing veteran with a 500-ton Coast Guard license, also assisted Tom in the Constitution and Kalmer Nyckel projects in addition to several others of a historical nature. Now a naval architect himself, Ivar says, "when people ask me where I went to school, I tell them I went to the University of Tom Gillmer."

Boats that sail well

Iver helps put Tomís cruising designs into context. "One of the primary concepts he taught me is that you design a proper boat from the outside in, not from the inside out. Tomís a firm believer in designing a properly performing boat and then designing the interior, not designing the interior first and wrapping a boat around it. Today boats sell better if you design them from the inside out. Many boats today are sold sitting at the dock at boat shows. They are commodious below, and people think they will be more comfortable. But that doesnít mean they are actually more comfortable, seaworthy, or dry when at sea. A lot of them arenít."

He continues, "Of course, some of that is due to the period when Tom was designing. In his day, no one tried to cram so much into a boat. It was easier for the Herreshoffs, the Brewers, and the Gillmers to design a properly performing boat because they werenít expected to have all the amenities people expect in new boats today. But also, the newer, high-tech materials today allow for some latitude in the design approach, although the basic theory still holds true."

What sets Tom Gillmerís designs apart? According to Ivar, "Tomís boats are straightforward in design. He likes a nice, springy sheer. He wasnít afraid to use a lot of sheer, which was part aesthetics, but also part necessity. More sheer leads to a drier boat. The bow doesnít have to be as narrow so that it wonít bury in a wave."

Says Jack Horner, an Annapolis-based naval architect, marine surveyor, and author, "I think when you compare Tom Gillmer to others, you need to compare him to the likes of Alberg, Garden, and Stephens in that they all had a conservative approach in their designs. Tom found a good formula for his production boats and stayed with it. I also donít know of any of his designs that donít perform or handle well. Thatís to his credit. His overhangs werenít as long as others of his day, meaning his boats have shorter ends for a longer waterline, less hobby horsing, and better boat speed."

Striking feature

When examining all of Tomís designs, one striking feature is their variety. While some of his production boats are similar, as in the Southern Cross line, his stock design portfolio for amateur builders and for one-off designs in wood and fiberglass was quite varied. "I sold quite a few stock designs to amateurs," Tom states. "I had a statement in one of my booklets that amateurs were pretty much on their own. I tried to stay away from a few of them I thought couldnít handle building a boat. I got orders for my plans from all over the world, though. I did have different ideas at different times for my designs. My boats donít all look alike. I liked trying out different ideas."

Ivar adds, "Tomís designs did have a variety of looks through the years. He wasnít afraid to try something different, although some of that is client-driven, of course."

A common thread throughout Tom Gillmerís design career is summed up by Dan Smith this way: "Tom has a firm background in designing many classic boats. He sure does have an eye for a good-looking boat."