To a casual
stranger, Charles Raymond Hunt, even when encountered ashore in his habitual
uniform of dark flannels, white shirt with a tie always slightly askew, and
topsider sneakers, almost instantly conveys the picture of a seafaring man.
Thus it seems only fitting that this summer, as designer of Easterner,
candidate for the honor of defending the America's Cup, he moves into the
topflight group of three who are creating new 12-meter yachts on this side of
the Atlantic. No greater accolade than selection for the job can be bestowed by
the yachtsman who must spend astronomic sums of hard cash to transform a
designer's theories on paper to wood and metal reality at the starting
At 50, Ray Hunt
is a man who looks much younger—tanned, with an athlete's body and sensitive
yet capable hands. He is not only a real sailor, but a Yankee in the best
tradition, a rugged individualist operating in his own way to evolve a better
Typical of his
unorthodox approach to naval architecture was his production of the original
lines of Easterner. Whereas most designers operate in an atmosphere of science
and higher mathematics, approached through lanes of drafting tables, slide
rules and protracting machines, Easterner first came to life on the top of a
grand piano in the living room of an old farmhouse in Tilton, N.H., more than a
hundred miles from the nearest arm of tidewater. "A grand piano makes a
fine place to work," said Ray. "Right height, good shape.
"After I got
down the lines and a fairly close displacement figure and sketched the deck and
sail plans," Ray continued, "I turned them over to my associate,
Fenwick Williams, to complete. I'm no engineer. He put them in shape first to
build models for tank testing, and then drew detailed construction plans for
the hull finally selected."
Ray told me this
as we drove through the rambling streets of Marblehead past the no-two-alike,
no-two-square-to-each-other houses of a New England seaport town, to stop
before a picket fence. Beyond, great flowering masses of yellow forsythia
bloomed against the pale chartreuse grass of spring. We opened the basement
door of a weathered house to meet a man dressed in battered sneakers, khaki
pants and plaid shirt.
DESIGNS ON A
Fenwick Williams," said Ray in introduction, and we entered the room where
the working drawings of Easterner had evolved. Here again, no acres of drafting
tables bathed in fluorescent pallor, or receptionist at a buzzing switchboard
or outer offices and inner conference rooms: only a small man smiling shyly
under un-painted ceiling beams, carpenter's tools hanging on the cement walls
and a table near the single window bearing a strong resemblance to the ones
used by grandmothers of an earlier era in country kitchens. But on that table I
glimpsed one design so radical it might well revolutionize a popular class of
small racing yachts another year.
Williams is no graduate engineer, either. Failing eyesight forced him to quit
college, and he went to work for the famous naval architect, John Alden of
Boston. Virtually ever since, he has hovered over a drafting table, doing work
of a most meticulous artistry and precision while staving off blindness by the
practice of eye exercises and control.
all the work," explained Ray, smiling at his partner. "I went to five
prep schools and didn't graduate from any. I only get ideas—some of them good.
Fenwick puts them in final shape. Without him I would be nothing."
The evolution of
Easterner was typical of the way the two work together. Ray—who had sailed on a
12-meter yacht only once in his life, many years before—began chewing over the
International Rule after the announcement of the change in the Deed of Gift and
the subsequent British challenge. In his Tilton farmhouse he began sketching
ideas, allowing his imagination free reign, trying to come up with the
breakthrough hull. "I thought about existing boats and tried putting down
different extremes on paper, hoping at least for the happy medium."
Anything radical in the results? "It is a tight rule. It doesn't allow much
latitude. Maybe if we'd had more time we might have been able to come up with
something tricky...." Why no centerboard after his success with the type?
"The rule specifically states that 'center-boards shall not be permitted
until otherwise agreed and incorporated' by an international group. It would
have taken too long to get a decision. Perhaps if we'd had another six