Of the artifacts our current civilization will leave behind, most will be counted by future archaeologists as gadgety junk or flossy baubles. A few, however, may survive as very creditable items. The water bucket, the Jeep, the garden spade, the Volkswagen and the Colt .45 revolver, for instance. Undergoing change only when change could do some good, the Colt .45 has served for 90 years, in major wars and countless minor arguments, and it is still selling and shooting well. The latest item worthy of inclusion in this brief catalogue is the Boston Whaler, a boat that looks like a bathtub and indeed could be used for one by the mere installation of a faucet—it has a drain.
When the Whaler first appeared in the marketplace five years ago, it suffered because of its unorthodox, tubby looks. Seeing it at boat shows, the public would ask, "What in the name of heaven is that?" Dealers seeing it said, "A wonderful boat, but I don't think I could sell one." But during the past five years the Whaler has sold itself, partly because, like the water bucket, the Colt .45 and the Volkswagen, it is well made and efficient, and certainly because it has one special feature that even the dumbest boat lover can appreciate: it does not sink.
There are currently two hull models of the Boston Whaler. The smaller of these, 13 feet 3 inches long, with a 5-foot 3-inch beam, weighs a mere 250 pounds and has a pay load of 1,200 pounds. In more human terms, it will carry six fair-weather fishermen complete with bait and beer, or four frog-footed, lead-weighted, tank-heavy scuba divers. With such a load in a heavy chop an orthodox hull of comparable dimensions wallows and may swamp or capsize. The Whaler simply settles down a couple of inches deeper in the slop and carries on.
As with many items of enduring quality, the Whaler is a New England product. It is built in a nondescript, modern Easter-egg-pink factory in Rockland, Mass., some dozen miles removed from the sea. There is no sign, either large or small, on or near the building proclaiming that the Fisher-Pierce Company makes Boston Whalers inside. For all the passing public knows, the pink plant could contain an assembly line of lawn sprinklers or a colony of Trappist monks.
Like the Whaler itself, the Yankee austerity of its manufacture is a reflection of Richard T. Fisher, president and chief worrier of the Fisher-Pierce Company. In an age distinguished by verbose hucksterism, Fisher talks only when he has something to say, which is occasionally a good deal. He often starts his phone talks, "Since it's my dime, I'll give you my ideas, then I'd like to have yours."
In 1958, when he first put his boat on the market, Fisher, in order to publicize its unsinkability, sawed a Whaler in half and let the occupants of the two halves go their separate ways. Taken by this, a Whaler purchaser wired the company, "Just received delivery of my Whaler. How come no saw?" Fisher simply wired back, "The saw is extra."
Without saw, the basic 13-foot 3-inch Whaler costs $595, and for this the buyer gets a hull fitted with bare necessities: one bow eye, three cleats, two seats, a forward locker and internal wiring for running lights. The money buys a small boat that may not be the absolute best for any particular sporting use but does better than most by all. Because of its low freeboard it rates high with divers, water skiers and swimmers, who can flop in and out of it. A Whaler provides ample room for a fisherman to wield just about every weapon in his armory, and the consequent mess and odor of fish and bait are readily washed away; the Whaler rides so high that with three persons aboard the plug can be pulled and all the unpleasant juices of a successful catch flushed down the drain. Dogs are partial to Whalers; the boat is so stable that a restless dog can prowl the length and breadth of it with utter assurance, getting a good nosehold on every new smell that the air has to offer. Picnickers, yachtsmen, duck hunters, even an occasional commuter all find Whalers useful.
Dick Fisher first contemplated making small hulls by sandwiching a low-density material such as balsa between layers of a tougher skin in the late '30s. Since he is a man with a perpetual zest for messing around in boats, the idea persisted through the war. Then in the early '50s, when many synthetics became available, Fisher went to work, finally settling on one of the newest foamy compounds, polyurethane, sandwiched between layers of fiber glass. He consulted Designer Ray Hunt with a thought of producing a small sailing hull on the order of the Sailfish. But Hunt convinced Fisher that, though the future of sail looked bright, that of powerboating looked brighter still. Why not, suggested Hunt, build an outboard, improving on the concept of the old Hickman Sea Sled—a speedboat of the 1920s with two runnerlike keels where its chines should have been? The Hickman sled behaved competently, but it had shortcomings. On turns at high speed it tended to dig in and the inverted-V bottom created too much turbulence on the prop.
To counteract such defects in the future Whaler, Hunt and Fisher settled on a hull with a bow configuration of two inverted Vs, or, if you will, a very distended, inverted W. In addition, Hunt and Fisher softened the hard lines of the sled's keellike chines to prevent the Whaler from digging in on turns.
The first Whaler, sold in 1958, is still in action under the command of its original owner, Delmar Williams, a fuel oil contractor of Cohasset, Mass. The bright white exterior and the baby-blue interior of the Williams' Whaler are both a trifle grayer now, but at the drop of a classified ad the five-year-old hull would sell for at least $450. It is still as much a boat as the 3,500 identical hulls made in the pink plant this year.