Nat’s Namesake: Herreshoff 12 1/2

Celebrating the centennial of Nathanael Herreshoff’s timeless H 12 1/2 design

Herreshoff 12 1/2 Nationals 2013
Herreshoff 12 1/2 Nationals 2013
The Herreshoff 12 1/2 celebrated 100 years of sailing in 2014, with more than 50 boats registered for the national championship.Amy Ballentine Stevens

Of the more than 500 designs from Nathanael Greene “Captain Nat” Herreshoff, arguably one of the greatest yacht designers of all time, the only one that bears his name is the Herreshoff H 12 1/2, a daysailer with open cockpit and easy-to-handle sail plan. 2014 Marked the centennial for the design, which was originally created as the Buzzards Bay Boys’ Boat and came to life due in part to the interruption of the 1914 America’s Cup.

In the first half of 1914, Robert W. Emmons II, a noted Corinthian sailor of the day, was the managing director for the Herreshoff-designed Resolute as it prepared for the 1914 America's Cup. Resolute was stellar in the New York YC's observation trials for the defense, handily beating defense rivals Vanitie and Defiance in racing. Resolute would've been selected defender, but the outbreak of World War I forced a postponement of the match until 1920.

While managing the development of Resolute, Emmons commissioned Herreshoff to design and construct the H 12 1/2. Emmons had previously commissioned Herreshoff to design and construct the Buzzards Bay 15 (later known also as the "E Class"). But Emmons and friends wanted a smaller boat, one that would be easier for their sons to handle on the choppy waters of Massachusetts' Buzzards Bay, where his two sons spent their formative summers.

“It’s such a classic design, and easy to sail,” says John N. “Jay” Fisher, Jr., the H Class treasurer and winner of the national championship in 2013 in Edgartown, Mass. “It handles rough weather, wind, and waves very well. Kids can sail it, or you can put four to five adults on it for an afternoon sail. There are a lot of families that have had the boat throughout their history.”

Fisher's family is one shining example. The 60-year-old skipper from Cataumet, Mass., is a two-time national champion—he first won the title in 1976 in the family's original wooden H 12 1/2 Privateer. "I was just a year out of college," says Fisher of the championship won 38 years ago. "I'd sailed the boat actively from my mid-teens until the mid-1980s. My dad was a past commodore of the Buzzards YC and past president of the H Class Association. We won that championship together, and my brothers and I have won the junior championships. There's a fair amount of history in our family and it all started in the mid-1960s."

The 2017 National Champhionship will be help the 28-30 of July at Shelter Island Yacht Club in Shelter Island, New York.

For more information on the H 12 1/2, visit the class website at www.herreshoff12.org.