By Carolyn Battista / Photos by A. Vincent Scarano, Heather Holloway, MIT Museum & Mystic Seaport Museum
For a long time, she was a large lady in dire distress. Now, to her admirers’ relief, she has arrived at just the right place.
She would be Doris, a 78-foot sailing yacht built in 1905, with hull #625, by the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company in Bristol, Rhode Island. She’s the largest all-wooden boat ever built by the famed company, but a few years ago she seemed about to get scrapped, after decades of damage and neglect. At last she was rescued and brought to Snediker Yacht Restoration, an outfit in Pawcatuck, Connecticut, that’s known for meticulous care and skill in building, maintaining, and restoring boats, mostly wooden ones.
“Doris is an incredibly lucky girl. Even through neglect, people made sure she didn’t get cut up,” said Dave Snediker, whose boat shop has tackled everything from building a dory like Henry David Thoreau’s, to restoring a 1960’s “vaporetto,” a Venetian water taxi. Doris will become the shop’s largest project ever. Work to rebuild her from the inside out using original plans, proper materials, and a combination of traditional and modern methods, is expected to take about five years. The shop has established a website, Doris1905.com, to tell Doris’s history, show photos old and new, and report progress. Meanwhile, day to day, the shop keeps up with its other varied tasks.
Doris was designed by Nathanael G. Herreshoff for S. Reed Anthony, an investment banker who paid $18,000 for her. She was the first boat designed and built under the Universal Rule which, Dave said, “rewarded a more voluminous hull. It really changed the way boats looked.” Doris soon turned heads as she defeated Gloriana, a prize-winning 1899 Herreshoff boat of “old-rule” design, in a race series off Marblehead, Massachusetts.
Over the years Doris had several owners, several names (Astarte, Huntress, Vayu, Doris again) and many fine hours on the water; but she came upon hard times. In the late 1970’s, she ran aground. Her hull got badly damaged; and there was even talk of just packing her with hay, then setting her afire. Over the years there were noble efforts to fix, to restore, but all faltered.
Early photos on the Doris website show a resplendent vessel; later ones include a group poignantly titled, “The Beautiful Decline of Vayu.” Eventually poor Doris spent more than 30 years just sitting, deteriorating, at Crocker’s Boatyard in New London. By 2013, Crocker’s was ready to scrap her, but waited while help was found–an anonymous Snediker’s client who stepped forward to buy Doris and fund her restoration. “He wants to stay in the background,” Dave said. “He’s a great guy.”
In September 2015, Doris traveled by truck-and-trailer with escort vehicles flashing their lights, down busy city streets, along I-95, and across the Gold Star Bridge to Snediker’s. There Dave has the original construction profile for Doris (from Herreshoff papers at MIT) on one office wall, and one of her cast-iron malleable hanging knees on another. “We’ll start the restoration of Doris pretty much the way she was built,” Dave said. “We just got a truck load of oak for frames and deck beams….”
Because work on Doris will require more room than the boat shop has, Snediker’s is leasing an old sail loft building nearby. There, lofting—laying down plans for the hull—has already been completed. Doris has been resting on supports outside the boat shop, but she’s headed for another road trip—this one to the sail loft building with its nice indoor space, 90 feet long.
Dave launched the boat shop with Bill Taylor (who has since retired) more than 30 years ago, but he has worked with wood and with boats since he was a kid. “My dad always had cranky old wooden boats we worked on with him,” he said. The family lived on Long Island and sailed the local waters. “I loved it,” he said. He also liked a PBS woodworking show. “That’s so cool!” he thought, even of wooden buckets on the show. The family moved to Mystic when he was 14, and he soon signed up for a boat building course with the legendary John Gardner at Mystic Seaport. In coming years he would help his brother Quentin build the Mystic Clipper (replica of a 19th-century Baltimore clipper), work as a shipwright at the Seaport, and do many building and carpentry projects. He noted that he and Taylor took on assorted jobs at first, but soon gravitated to what they especially favored—“all boats.”
Snediker’s has worked on boats of all sorts and sizes. In 2007, they constructed a close-as-possible replica of Musketaquid, the boat that Henry David Thoreau built with his brother John. Henry wrote about the boat and their 1839 trip in it in his first book, “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.” He described the boat as 15 feet long, 3 ½ feet wide, “in a form like a fisherman’s dory.” Dave said, “It was a fun project. We harvested knees in the woods, which is what I think Thoreau would have done.” The new Musketaquid was exhibited at the Concord Museum in Concord, Mass.
Another project was the restoration of Intermezzo, the vaporetto (or “motoscafi”) that had plied Venetian waterways. Now Intermezzo has among other improvements, a new engine, a new bottom, and restored chrome. “She flies,” Dave said.
This spring Snediker’s restored the 1950’s Arion, the first American fiberglass auxiliary sailing yacht. It was designed by Sidney Herreshoff, Nathanael’s son, who used traditional methods (such as starting with a half-hull model) along with the new-fangled fiberglass. “It’s a very significant boat,” Snediker said, adding that it left the boat shop in splendid shape. “We really tricked her out,” he said. “We used lots of teak; she’s pretty fancy.”
Recently completed was the restoration of The Kid, a 21-foot 1901 raceabout designed by BB Crowninshield for a famed yachtsman, Oliver Harriman. She belonged for many years to the late Clifford D. Mallory, a longtime supporter and trustee of Mystic Seaport, who named her Cliphora and raced her on Long Island Sound. Snediker’s also builds boats, including lots of little Herreshoff models that have been shipped all over, from the Mediterranean to New Zealand. Current projects include building a 97-foot mast for a Sparkman & Stephens yawl and doing little extra tasks (like varnishing the binoculars rack) on Arion, which gets attention even after leaving the shop.
As the boat shop crew digs into the Doris project, Snediker’s will also engage cabinetmakers, metal fabricators, and other contractors for some jobs. “There’s a network of people who do such great work, so many little great machine shops,” Dave said. He appreciates the small operations, often run by old-timers with decades of experience, that take on painstaking projects that bigger, more modern places don’t want. New work will have to be done around original work. “It’s boatbuilding with the old boat in the way,” he said. Always, the aim will be to stay true to Doris—the 1905 Herreshoff Doris.
Snediker’s welcomes more information, more photos, and even original components that will aid the restoration. All were pleased when a truck pulled up with such items as paneling and bunk boards that answered some of their questions about detailing. Joel Plessala, of the boatshop crew, said, “Stuff comes out of the woodwork. We have located the binnacle and the wheel. There are other things out there….”
Dave noted that many folks in southeastern Connecticut know Doris, remember seeing her on the water and never wanted to see her scrapped. “So many people cared about her,”he said. “It’s been a huge effort by a lot of people to get her this far.” He expects that when the restoration is completed, Doris will sail New England waters and maybe beyond. “The Mediterranean…,” he mused, “that’s where she should be seen!”