The Modern Knockabout in 1905 by Captain A J Kenealy








(8th Edition)

THE KNOCKABOUTS, which had their origin in Boston, have much to recommend them. They are free from freakiness. None of them at this time of writing have been fitted with fin-keels to harass their skippers when they come in contact with the ground. They have a moderate sail area, and thus are under control at all times. In a blow one is as safe aboard one of these craft as a converted Chinaman under the lee of his fair Sunday school teacher at church-time. The variety in vogue in Boston in 1897 was limited to 500 square feet of sail. All were keel boats, 21 feet being the limit of length on the load waterline.


This class gained popularity from the intrinsic excellence of the boats themselves, combining capital cruising qualities with fair speed and good accommodations. Several designers competed, the restrictions governing their construction, dimensions, and sail area being such that the boats were very even in speed, and the contests in which they took part were keen, close, and exciting.

The type of knockabout chosen for the season of 1898 by the Seawanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club and the Westchester Country Club has proved to be quite admirably adapted for cruising and racing. They were designed and built by Mr. W.B. Stearns, of Marblehead, their dimensions being:

length over all, 33 feet; on the load waterline, 21 feet; beam, 8 feet 8 inches; draught, 4 feet; with board down, 7 feet.


The area of the mainsail and jib contains 550 square feet. The centerboard is a small one of iron, and houses below the cabin floor. The trunk cabin is 8 feet long, with 5 feet headroom. The price of these boats was $750 complete, and, their construction being sound and strong, they will, if taken care of properly, be good for many years.

It is impossible to speak in terms too high of this class after a surfeit of the racing machines and freaks like the 20-footers whose alarming antics so often amused and amazed us whenever they happened to meet in a reefing breeze. Another good property they possess is that they look like boats when hauled up on the beach, and can never be mistaken when their masts are unstepped for pig-troughs or fish floats. There is no doubt of the sea worthiness of these craft. They are perfectly safe in a northwest squall off Sandy Hook or in a dirty easterly gale on Long Island Sound.

Another craft of this type which was deservedly popular last year is of larger size than the one described above. She is 25 feet on the load waterline, 38 feet over all, with a beam of 8 feet 6 inches, and 5 feet draught with centerboard up. The boat, which was designed by Mr. B.B. Crowninshield, of Boston, has a commodious cabin with 6 feet headroom, a seven foot cockpit, and 800 square feet of duck in mainsail and jib. A very able and roomy boat nearly twice as costly as the Stearns craft, but indeed quite a little ship.


Personally, I favor a short bowsprit in a knockabout, it being convenient for hoisting the anchor, keeping it clear of the hull, and preventing unseemly dents from the flukes.

I fear that knockabouts, or raceboats, even in restricted classes, are designed eventually to be fitted with fin-keels. As a speed-inducing factor the fin has fully demonstrated its capacity since the first edition of this little book appeared. I have not, however, altered my opinion one iota since my remarks on the ballast-fin made in the chapter which precedes this. In my judgement the fin is admirably adapted as an adjunct to a racing machine, but for cruising craft I like it not. Brand me for an old fogy, if you will; half a century behind the times, if it so pleases you, shipmates, but give me credit for sincerity.

The keen sense of rivalry inherent in every American will not permit him to be content with a good, honest sailing boat for cruising purposes only. If one of his chums comes out with a faster craft, whether a fin-keel or a modification thereof, he will become dissatisfied with his own boat, no matter how seaworthy and comfortable she may be, and will promptly discard her for a newfangled design in which speed is the principal characteristic. The so-called restricted classes, which are so popular just now, are, I think, sure in the end to become purely racing classes, something after the fashion of the Herreshoff 30-footers now so fashionable in Newport. As racing boats, none afford more sport than these wonderfully smart flyers, and I can well understand what fascinating toys they have proved to their owners. But, after all, they are only toys, vastly expensive, too, with no accommodations for cruising, and apt to be uncomfortably wet in a breeze.

The one-design classes of small yachts are not confined to knockabouts only. Cruising schooners, designed by Cary Smith, made their appearance in 1898, and the class, from a modest beginning, seems likely to grow. The features of the boats are their sound and wholesome characteristics. They possess moderate draught, large accommodations, and strength of construction. They are 64 feet 2 inches over all, 46 feet long on the load waterline, 16 feet beam, draught without board 6 feet 6 inches, least freeboard 3 feet. A rather low cabin trunk gives full headroom for the greater part of the yacht's length, the main saloon being more than 13 feet long, with a floor width of 6 feet 9 inches. On each side are two berths and two sofas with drawers beneath. There is accommodation in the forecastle for four men. The yachts carry 20,000 pounds of lead ballast, of which 18,000 pounds is on keel. Another one-design division is the Riverside Yacht Club dory class, which has been adopted by many of the clubs enrolled in the Yacht-Racing Union of Long Island Sound. These boats are thirteen feet on the keel, seventeen feet over all, with four feet beam, fitted with a centerboard and rigged with small jib and a leg-of-mutton sail. They are for single-handed racing, but for pleasure cruising or fishing a man can take his chum along. Fully equipped with oars, sails, etc., they cost about forty dollars, and afford capital sport on fine afternoons. To encourage this little class, prizes worth winning are offered by the club, and sweepstakes races are popular features.

The idea was probably taken from the Nahant Dory Club, organized in 1894, which did much to encourage sport in this serviceable and inexpensive class. Spectators will find amusement in watching "green hands" in their maiden efforts at sailing these dories, as strange and startling results often follow the rash experiments of an adventurous tyro. But apart from the comic element, valuable lessons in yacht racing may be learned by steering and maneuvering a dory against a fleet of half-a-dozen eager competitors. Thus, yachtsmen cannot help approving this new Riverside venture, originated, I believe, by Mr. F. Bowne Jones, of the Regatta Committee.

The origin of the one-design class was Dublin Bay, where the "Water Wag" type was first evolved. A Norwegian praam with a boilerplate centerboard, combining ballast and lateral resistance, and carrying a big sail, was built in 1878 at Shankhill. She was christened Cesmiostama, and proved an ideal boat. The conditions were a sloping sandy shore on which the high surf not infrequently broke, and from which the craft had to be launched every time her owner wanted a sail, and onto which she had to be beached after the cruise was finished. Cesmiostama was a capital sea-boat; she pointed well, hit what she aimed at, did not sag off to leeward, and was quite fast. When the centerboard, weighing about one hundred pounds, was raised, she ran up easily on the beach, resting quietly on her flat bottom. Her centerboard was then lifted out, and her crew of two hauled her up. The knowing Irish yachtsmen, appreciating a good thing, saw that there was a lot of fun in a boat of this class, and several were built, and many scrub races were indulged in. In 1887 the Water Wag Association was started, the craft being built on the same lines, and the sail-area being limited. Their dimensions were thirteen feet in length, with a beam of four feet ten inches, full lines and a flat floor.

The Water Wags are presided over by a king and a queen, bishop, knights, and rooks; and, although the boats were at first used principally for pleasure, they are now racers, pure and simple. Their headquarters are now in Kingstown Harbor, and prizes are put up for them at all the local regattas. They are very handy, too, and quite admirable for the purpose for which they were designed. They cost from $75 to $100, and the rules that govern their races provide that they shall be similar in every respect except sail-plan. The mast must not exceed thirteen feet over all, measured from top of keel to truck; the fore and aft sails must not exceed seventy-five square feet in area, and the spinnaker (which is to be used only before the wind, and never as a jib) must not exceed sixty square feet.

Each boat shall carry no less than two or more than three persons in a race, all of whom shall be amateurs. A member or any lady may steer. No prize shall be awarded a boat for a sail-over, but she may fly a winning flag therefor. A pair of oars and a life-buoy must be carried in every race. It is only right to mention that these sailing regulations are vigorously enforced.

The latest one-design class established by our rollicking Irish cousins is known as the 25-footers of the Dublin Bay Sailing Club. These craft are of such noteworthy type as to deserve a few lines of description and approval here, especially as it was wisely decided that the type shall not be altered for five years from January 1, 1898. The boats, of which quite a number were built and raced, are deep-keeled cutters of the following dimensions:

Length over all, 37 feet 3 inches; length on load waterline, 25 feet; beam, 8 feet 8 inches; draught, 6 feet 3 inches; lead on keel, 3 tons 5 cwt., and sail area, 845 square feet, divided into a mainsail laced to the boom, gafftopsail, foresail and jib.

A second jib, jibtopsail, balloon foresail, spinnaker, storm jib and trysail may also be carried. The design, made by Will Fife, Jr., of Fairlie, is handsome, the type being eminently adapted for Dublin Bay. Restrictions of the strictest kind ensure the boats being exactly alike in size, material, construction and canvas.

The "Mermaids," a craft much used by the B division of the same club, are large Water Wags, 18 feet long, with 6 feet beam, fitted with centerboards, but carrying no ballast, and limited when racing to 180 square feet of sail. These are vastly popular, and a dozen or so race every Saturday afternoon during the season.

Although one-design racing originated on the other side of the Atlantic, it is questionable if any one class has been sailed with more spirit or persistency than were the Herreshoff 30-footers at Newport during the yachting season of 1897 and since.

That the classes are destined to prosper there is no doubt, the only condition being that the type must be carefully adapted to the location for which it is intended, and the more it is available for fishing excursions and pleasure trips the greater favor will attend it. Another helpful feature is the substantial economic gain from the construction of several boats by the same builder from the same design.

Reprinted with permission. The original version may be found here. And much great sailing info here.