Little Gaffer That Could: Herreshoff Regatta on Buzzards Bay

Few designs can survive the constant evolution of sailing technology and the style of the moment. The must-have boat this year might be cast aside next season for the endlessly upgraded and go-fast gadgets of the sleeker model. This trend makes N.G. Herreshoff’s little gaffer that much more astonishing.

Designed in 1914 between contracts for larger projects, including an America’s Cup defender, the 12½ immediately found a home on the choppy waters of Buzzards Bay.

This August, the H Class Association celebrated the design’s centennial during its Championship Regatta. The 40 boats competing were a mix of original wooden 12½s and their modern sisters, the Doughdish. This included the very first 12½ built by the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company, Elf, and the latest Doughdishes built by Ballentine’s Boat Shop.

The lasting passion for these boats and the active competition between them have been the cornerstone to their enduring success. The class nearly disappeared in the 1970s due to the age of the wooden 12½s and no other true reproduction. Thanks to Bill Harding and Buzzard Bay yacht clubs, the design was given a second chance with the Doughdish and modern materials. Built to exacting standards, the Doughdish reproduced every aspect of design and performance of the wooden Herreshoffs and ensured fair and equal competition for the future. This point was highlighted during this year’s results, with first and second places being a modern Doughdish and an original wooden hull.

Here’s a short video of the racing scene this summer. Talk about a historic event!