NBHSCA History


 2009 marks the 90th anniversary of the first Herreshoff S-Class boat that splashed in the waters off Bristol, Rhode Island in 1919. The 2009 Herreshoff Classic Regatta, being held at the Herreshoff Marine Museum in Bristol, Rhode Island August 21-23 will highlight the S-Class in honor of its 90th anniversary. As many as 20 of these splendid yachts are expected to participate in the event. A Master’s Race will be held on the afternoon of Friday, August 21, in which invited past owners of Narragansett Bay S boats will race. This event began in 2004 and has rapidly become a tradition of the class.

 The weekend regatta will include two races on Saturday, August 22, and two races on Sunday, August 23.  The winning yacht in the second race on August 22 will be awarded the Frank McCaffrey Trophy in memory of  Frank McCaffrey, affectionately known for many years in Newport as "the S boat doctor." Transcending the competition of the races, the splendor of such a large fleet of magnificent S-Class yachts sailing together will be a very special occasion for both sailors and spectators.

 By any measure, the S-Class is unique among yachts. Designed by the “Wizard of Bristol,” Captain Nat Herreshoff, perhaps the most renowned American naval architect ever, the S-Class was, and still is, one of Herreshoff's most remarkable concepts. While Herreshoff is best known for his highly successful America’s Cup yachts, his innovative mind did not rest when it came to the finishing touches on this relatively small 27 foot yacht. From the unique graceful curve of the mast, the proud shape of the bow, the eye-pleasing overhang of the stern, to the remarkable contour of the keel, there is nothing ordinary about the design of  the S boat.

 Although there were only about a hundred S boats built between 1919 and 1940, many of the original boats are still actively racing in highly competitive and exhilarating regattas. While the Star class (1910) is the oldest one design class, the S-Class is the oldest one design still sailing in the original boats. The fact that S boats continue to be viable and exciting  to sail and race is a testament to how well they have stood the test of time.  Even by today’s standards, they have design features that are remarkably modern, which has a lot to do with their ability to compete successfully against contemporary racing sailboats.  

 S boats are easily distinguished by a striking curve in the mast, which may appear to be sharply raked aft. In fact, the spar has a built-in curve that may have been an attempt to emulate a gaff rig. Remember, the S -Class was the first Marconi rig Herreshoff designed. The curved mast allows for some unique adjustments to the sail shape and sailing performance.

S boats are the closest thing to a pure-bred true sailor's dream boat for sailing performance. The boats are fast in light wind due to the large sail area, and they handle very well and remain extremely stable in a strong breeze due to the full lead keel and the design of the curved mast. S boats are not a beginner's boat as they are best sailed with an experienced crew of 4 or 5. The boat sails very close to the wind with a small self-tending jib. S boats fly downwind under spinnaker, which requires a skilled crew to coordinate handling spinnaker lines, halyards, running backstays, and sheets all simultaneously.

S-Class yachts bear a fair ballast of mystique. Many a racing sailor has been seen scratching his head or mumbling in disbelief as he stares at the wooden transom of an S boat pulling away on a 20 mile race to Block Island, or a 19 mile race around Jamestown Island. Perhaps the true secret to the success of the S-Class remains in Captain Nat’s unrivaled eye for yacht design.

 Fred Roy

Commodore,  Narragansett Bay Herreshoff S Class Association 2009