Amaryllis & the Visionary N.G. Herreshoff


2011-06-23 Released

By Lynn Fitzpatrick

Nathanael G. Herreshoff, one of the most innovative boat designers of all time and designer of America’s Cup yachts Vigilant, Defender, Columbia 1 & II, Reliance and Resolute, was intensely dedicated to multihull design.

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Herreshoff reflected, “Amaryllis was my first cat, and I contrived it while I was with Corliss Steam Engine Company.I had charge of starting up the great (at the time) Corliss Engine at the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia in ’76 (1876) and after being there for about a fortnight to instruct the regular engineers, I took a furlough and came home to try out the double-boat that John had nearly completed for me.The next year I made many improvements that I patented and got another leave of absence from Mr. Corliss to try building catamarans…”

Designed in 1875, Herreshoff’s Amaryllis was 24’10” with an LOA of 23’1” and was originally steered by one rudder. The double-hulled boat with independently articulating hulls that remained in the water at all times was so stable, safe and fast that Herreshoff sailed her west from Rhode Island to the Centennial Regatta held in Western Long Island Sound in 1776 in 14 hours. Other sailors marveled at the double-hulled contraption, but it was only after Herreshoff handily won the first race that a boat from another class protested Herreshoff and his swift catamaran, Amaryllis, for “having no conveniences for living”. Whether they were naive, jealous or mean spirited, they excluded Amaryllis from the competition by arguing that Amaryllis was neither a boat nor a motor yacht.

Catamaran development in the United States was stymied, although not dead, for decades until 1933 when Herreshoff built Amaryllis II for R. T. Keller’s syndicate from Chrysler Motors. Amaryllis II’s hulls cedar hulls were 30 feet long by 3 feet wide by 4 feet high. They were connected with ball and socket joints and were complete with centerboards and rudders. Carrying her 600-squarefoot main sail and a 300-squarefoot jib, Amaryllis II was clocked at 19.8 mph and set the world speed record for boats.

Amaryllis II hovers above the wonderful display of yachts in the main building of the Herreshoff Museum in Bristol, Rhode Island. There is nothing like gazing up at her undercarriage and reading the Wizard of Bristol’s comments to gain a wealth of insight into the merits of and development of the sailing catamaran.

The Herreshoff Museum/America’s Cup Hall of Fame is located at 1 Burnside Street, Bristol, Rhode Island, 02809, USA and is dedicated to the education and inspiration of the public through presentations of the history and innovative work of the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company and the America’s Cup competition.

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