alongside half a dozen newer glamour boats," says her skipper, Henry J.
Davis, "and even landlubbers will pick her out of the bunch. It's always
been that way." Henry was talking about the 72-foot ketch Ticonderoga,
known for years to blue-water sailors as Big Ti, the most glamorous and
exciting ocean racer of them all.
Big Ti was
christened Tioga (the name was not lengthened until many years later) on Aug.
10, 1936, and all of Marblehead, Mass. was on hand for the launching. Everyone
within the sight or sound of water knew about the big ketch, commissioned by
Millionaire Harry E. Noyes from the drawing board of L. Francis Herreshoff,
youngest son of Captain Nat, the famed "Wizard of Bristol." Oddly
enough, Noyes was not thinking much about racing when he ordered the boat. What
he wanted was a craft big and comfortable enough to take the family sailing on
weekend afternoons. "We already had a 57-foot boat," Noyes's son
Bradley explains, "but my father didn't think she was big enough for the
whole family to crowd aboard for weekend cruising."
Today, when the
boats designed for day sailing are rarely longer than 20 feet and the biggest
ocean racers are no bigger than Ti, it is hard to imagine a 72-foot
"afternoon sailer" as Designer Herreshoff calls her. But those were the
days of low income taxes and yard costs.
christening ceremony began, according to one newspaper account, "workmen
pounded in wedges to raise the keel blocks, and 11-year-old Helen Noyes stepped
into the christening box. She swung the champagne bottle with the decisive
finality of a ballplayer hitting a home run, and the shattering of the bottle
against the chain bobstay seemed to push the new yacht right down the
As the cheering
crowd pressed forward, the graceful craft, supposedly safely supported by her
cradle, rushed toward the water. Then, without warning, the cradle suddenly
jammed, stopped abruptly and began to splinter. The great yacht lurched toward
the building shed wall. But Tioga did not capsize. Something checked her
drunken reel, she staggered upright and then slid smoothly into the harbor.
Except for a scratched bulwark, she apparently was none the worse for her
narrow escape. Afterward it was said that the long, straight keel Herreshoff
had given her was primarily instrumental in saving Ti that day.
To listen to
Herreshoff tell it today, all modern boats are cranky, ungainly, unseaworthy
machines that sail slowly because their shapes are dictated not by beauty or a
quest for speed but by the devil of a rating rule that determines their
boats," he says, "are corky. They thrash around, don't go fast and
carry all those dangerous sails." Herreshoff feels that the only way to
make a boat is to make it long on the waterline—one of the principal factors in
speed production—and give it shallow draft and an easy, flowing shape.
quickly justified her designer's theories, her first race was not notable. It
was a short event that took place only a month after her nearly disastrous
launching. Neither Ti nor her crew was tuned, and she finished third from last.
Nevertheless, sailing men were already beginning to rhapsodize over her grace
and promise of speed. Author Geoffrey G. Smith recalled his feelings when,
returning from the 1939 Halifax Race, the boat he was aboard sailed in company
with Tioga: "As we were abeam of each other with a clear sky, sparkling sea
with a few scattered white-caps, and a brilliant sun lighting up her white
sails. Tioga was, I believe, the most beautiful sight I have ever seen at
A year later Ti
began to hit her stride. Driven by 25- to 35-knot breezes she raced from Miami
to Nassau in a little over 19.5 hours to average an almost unheard-of 9.39
Now 9.39 knots
may not seem much to a drag racer or a hot-rod hotshot, but to a blue-water
sailor there is no experience to compare with that of surfing down tall seas in
a sailing vessel powered by an intricate system of wire, fabric and spars, her
boom alternately striding and dragging through wave crests, everything strained
to the limit. Speed then becomes an elemental, personal experience, an
experience that continues not for brief hours but sometimes for days on end.
Big yachts like Ti can be heard approaching from a mile away. Like the winter
wind, they play chills on one's back as the pulsing thrum of rigging and the
swoosh of a bow wave herald their arrival.