Atkin Encounter in Boatbuilder
- George Buehler let loose with some thoughts about Billy Atkin in an article
about a little schooner in the latest Boatbuilder magazine. I thought you
might enjoy it, so, with George's permission, here's the relevant bit of
"Thoughts About Building Uncle Sam
"I'm lucky enough to have experienced the marine press in the 1950's and 60's
and early 70's back before it, other than this rag and too few others,
became advertisement-driven rather than content driven.
"One of my favorites was MotorBoating & Sailing, today known as MotorBoating,
with current issues reviewing $50,000+ 24' outboard plastic boats. And such.
"But back then, each month they printed an entire boat plan with an article
about how to build it. William Atkin did most of them and some of his
designs were and still are simply outrageous, or "outta sight!!" in my
generation's vernacular. His "Eric," a 32' double ended ketch sailed by a
Brit, was the winner of the first single handed around-the-world race. Her
plans were in MB&S back in the 1940's, I believe. Atkin's Thistle, a flush
deck cutter and the original version of Eric, was "plagiarized" and the
freeboard raised, and it was a smash success in the production boat world
under the name Westsail 32. Atkin's name was never mentioned. Atkin's
incredible Ingrid design was first built out of plastic in Seattle by Don
Pitblado in the late 1960s, who bought the plans from MB&S and built the
boat for himself. The hull was used without Don's permission when it was
hauled out in Pt. Townsend, as a mold, and later many hulls were (and might
still be) sold under a local name. The same design was built and heavily
advertised under a name I can't remember -- "Alueyla 38" or something.
Neither gave mention to Atkin. In fact, there are numerous examples of
plastic boat companies taking Atkin's designs, building molds and selling
them, and not giving credit to the now dead designer or money to the family.
There's at least one still selling an Atkin rip-off today here in Washington
"There are also a few Herreshoffs being built in glass which is especially
funny because he wrote in his wonderful book Common Sense of Yacht Design,
"fiberglass is a material suited only for the sons of labor leaders to take
bad girls up the river in." He was a tremendous draftsman, maybe one of the
best of the 20th century (many of the 19th were freakin' magical and at his
par....), certainly one of the most gifted designers ever, and actually had
equally the versatility and originality of his father, Nathaniel Herreshoff.
And, he was an entertaining writer. He was also a rather pompous, rigid,
opinionated, and probably insufferable old coot, just the sort of person who
is interesting. I wish I had met him and it kills me I never bothered to do
so back when I was running around his neighborhood in the 1960s. I didn't
appreciate him particularly then, although one of his early designs,
Wagonwheel, is one of my all time favorites and I did dig it then.
"But back to Bill Atkin. Atkin was a prolific designer and a wonderful writer
about boats and was able to turn out a "how to build" article about each
design almost monthly. His designs, along with a few other designers' stuff,
were compiled by MB&S (a name that is now gone] in a series of books printed
in the 1940's, 50's and 60's and now long out of print. I own three of them.
You occasionally find them on the used book market, but good libraries will
have them all.
"Don't steal them! Photocopy them! The Seattle library has one of the best
collections of boatbuilding stuff in the US. The books are all reference and
can't be checked out, which is why they still have them. You can photocopy
whatever you want from them.
"If this were an Atkin article he'd give a brief description of how to build
this boat, embellished with a story, made cute but friendly, yet oddly not
corny, with a steady use of calling you "shipmates" and establishing a
connection with the reader and a gentleness that is yet to be matched in
boat stuff writing. To show you how corny and innocent Atkin was, in WWII he
flew in front of his home whatever flag of whatever US ally was winning
whatever battle. Some days that meant the Evil Empire (USSR). The FBI
investigated his son, a merchant marine officer, over that! Too bad the gay
rights stuff happened 40 years later. If J. Edgar hadn't thought of himself
as a closet pervert and had instead accepted his, ah, "bent," things would
likely have been different today. . .
"But anyhow, this ain't an Atkin article and I do not have his skill of
describing the building briefly. So I wrote a book called Buehler's Backyard
Boatbuilding and it does tell you how to build boats like Sam. Not briefly,
either. You can buy it through this rag, if you look in the Books For Sale
section on pages 32-33. Or from me if you go to my web site which is
The little schooner is a nice one:
Correlation does not imply causation; except, of course, to your cat.