Boat-testing season is upon me again, and what better way to start it than by spending a day with Art Paine (sailor-artist-journo twin brother to designer Chuck Paine) and Todd French (from the Belfast-based boatbuilder in midcoast Maine) loitering about the waters off Southwest Harbor in this fabulous boat. The original Alerion, a daysailer designed by Nat Herreshoff for his own use back in 1912, is perhaps one of the most iconic classic small boats ever created. One modern builder has seen fit to hijack the name for its own line of high-end retro-style boats, boats faithful to the original design are still built from time to time, and a few variations have been assayed over the years.
This particular variation has especially serendipitous origins. These begin with a knowledgeable private owner, Michael Rindler, who came to French & Webb seeking an Alerion-style daysailer in cold-molded wood, but stiffer and less hard-mouthed than the original keel-centerboard boat, with a round cockpit coaming aft. French & Webb brought in Chuck Paine to fiddle with the hull shape, underbody, and rig (Rindler quickly rejected a fin-keel variation and insisted on a full keel), while the interior and the deck with its elegant cockpit-and-cabinhouse oval footprint were designed in-house by eye as French & Webb actually built the boat. The result is one of the smoothest sailing and steering boats you’re likely to ever meet, combined with a sweet organic built-by-eye aesthetic.
Original boat as drawn by Capt. Nat. He was particularly interested in knocking around the shoal waters of Bermuda
Profile of Rindler’s French & Webb boat, as conceived by the builder and Chuck Paine. The Marconi rig is carbon fiber, which allows for a severely fractional sailplan with minimal standing rigging. Very clean and stylish
The perfectly organic cockpit and cabinhouse
Leaving aside the boat itself, sailing with Todd and Art was a real hoot. It was something like sailing with Abbott and Costello, except they were constantly changing roles as they good-naturedly teased and abused each other.
Todd indignantly removes the exotic jury-rigged jib-sheeting system previously installed by Art without authorization
The remains of Art’s system, post-removal
Note Art’s fingertips on the tiller. This boat really does have a great helm, even though the rudder is not balanced. Sailing in everything from ghostly light to gusty strong conditions we found no lee helm at all, and just the right amount of weather helm. The cockpit is super comfy and roomy, and the boat, per the owner’s brief, is very stiff. It is also, however, easily driven. That’s Todd kibitzing on the right
The interior, unposed
With a proper marine toilet hidden under the berth
And an elegant single-seat settee, one on each side
The 24-volt 2.5kW Drivemaster electric motor. Just the thing for creeping home when the breeze dies to nothing. The lithium battery pack is charged with solar panels laid out on the cockpit sole when the boat is idle
Art editorializes and acts as a human boomvang while Todd steers us into “the fill-in-the-blank of death”
The obligatory rowing-away-from-the-mooring shot. Check out that sweet hollow bow!
And the rowing itself, courtesy of Art
Yes, this is a custom-built boat, but French & Webb are more than willing to build you one just like it! Or with different details, per your requirements. Look for a full review and more details in a future issue of SAIL.
And no, it’s not cheap. As Mr. Morgan once put it: if you have to ask you can’t afford it.
PS: If you happen to be in the market for a bigger, much more expensive boat that is just as sublime as this one, you should check out Michael Rindler’s last French & Webb-built boat, Wings of Grace, which is currently for sale.
PPS: That shot up top was NOT taken during my sail with Art and Todd. That’s courtesy of F&W’s website, and I believe that’s Chuck, not Art, steering, though it is hard to tell the difference from a distance. Or even up close for that matter.
PPPS: Check out this time-lapse viddy of Bella Luna being built at F&W: