Fred Hibberd blueprinted 25 years of sailing experience into the yawl 'Caprice.' For the story of his boat and how he built it, turn the page
THE DREAM THAT BECAME 'CAPRICE'
At a time when yachting fashion suggests that to be fast on the water and comfortable in your cabin you must own a wide-beamed center-boarder like Finisterre (SI, June 18, 1956), a New York engineer named Fred Hibberd is sailing dead against the current with some solid and original ideas of his own. Unlike many of his yachting brothers, Hibberd is unmoved by the fact that in the past two years the winner of the transatlantic race to Sweden, of the Storm Trysail Race, and of three of the four classes in the last Bermuda Race were center-boarders.
" Carleton Mitchell," Hibberd said, speaking of Finisterre's owner, "says he likes fat boats. I belong to another school. I like the way a keel boat handles when the weather is heavy. Centerboarders tend to be rather complicated affairs and rather expensive. They're wider, and for that reason the rail goes under further at a given angle of heel. You've got to keep center-boarders on their feet to get the best out of them. And for going to sea, the centerboard trunk is just one more thing that can go wrong. Also, with regard to room," he went on, "our main cabin has as much effective room as Finisterre's."
Hibberd, whose Caprice measures a full 15 inches narrower in the beam than Finisterre's extreme 11 feet three inches, actually did get as much room in his main cabin by combining a couple of pet theories. One is the open fin keel, a 6,000-pound torpedo of cast iron supported by two fins, with a yawning hole between (see drawing page 30). No one else, in Hibberd's knowledge, has ever tried to build one.
The idea of the open keel, which Hibberd worked out on a 31-foot guinea-pig Caprice he built in 1949, is to allow the keel to be bolted to a steel frame forward in the boat without getting the lateral plane of the keel as a whole so far forward that it upsets the sailing balance. Furthermore, Caprice's keel gives an extra dividend in cabin space because it is set onto a hull with fat, convex lower sections that allow for a wider floor inside the boat. In a conventional keel boat, the lower sections have to be drawn narrow and concave so that the curves of the hull will run smoothly into the keel.
Hibberd gets even more floor space as a by-product of the ribless, molded-type construction he picked for Caprice. For this, he went to Luders Marine Construction Co. of Stamford, Conn., a pioneer in molded hulls, whose latest model of the ribless L-27 cruising sloop is one of the prime attractions at the New York boat show this week.
For Caprice, Luders set up a mold of rough spruce, and bent strips of 3/8-inch mahogany diagonally across the frame. Then, using waterproof Resorcinol glue and about 20,000 brass screws, they clamped down another layer of planking on the opposite diagonal. Finally, they glued and nailed on an outer skin with the planking running fore and aft. Once the second layer of glue had set, the nails were pulled, the spruce mold was pried out and thrown away. The hull was then ready for the three stainless steel frames and the plywood bulkheads which hold the hull rigid, take the strain of the mast and shrouds and support the weight of the keel.
Very few boats have ever been made by this cold-molded process, i.e., without the expensive permanent forms and the steam heat and pressure system used in conventional molded-hull construction. Luders tried the cold-molded system and got away with it. As a result, the builders not only saved money, they also drew praise on the construction method from no less an authority than Philip H. Rhodes, a brilliant marine architect who normally favors the more traditional approach. "He's got one piece of wood all the way around the boat," said Rhodes. "It becomes one piece, that is, and that's good."
Rhodes also liked Hibberd's choice of a split cabin. Ordinarily it is hard enough to fit one livable cabin into a small cruising boat, but Hibberd and Luders, by using a shoehorn and some geometrical hocus-pocus, were able to squeeze in two of them.