Colin Archer (22 July 1832 – 8 February 1921). He was a Norwegian naval architect and shipbuilder from Larvik, Norway. His parents had immigrated from Scotland in 1825. He was known for building safe and durable ships including possibly the most famous of all the ships he ever built, the Fram, specifically designed to get the polar expeditions of Fridtjof Nansen, and later Roald Amundsen, safely through the treacherous ice fields surrounding both the Arctic and Antarctic. Because of her strengthened multi skinned rounded hull, and with no keel protruding, she was deliberately designed in that way so as not to be trapped whenever the ice threatened to crush her. Instead she would merely be pushed up out of harm’s way.
When I was a good deal younger while still serving in the merchant marine, at the end of one particularly long voyage I had the great good fortune to be paid off in Oslo, Norway’s capital.
While there I made a point of visiting the Fram Museum located on the Bygdøy peninsula and was able to get up close with the might Polar ship herself. On my eventual return to New Zealand, the first thing I did was to join a local group of like-minded individuals with salt in their veins, who love traditional boats and boatbuilding methods as much as I do. I bought an old carvel planked seventeen foot double ended wooden ship’s lifeboat, which I converted to sail in my spare time.
While I was in the process of looking for ideas when it came to her reconstruction, I came across a book containing all of Colin Archer’s designs. I fell in love with one in particular. Archer was commissioned to design a boat specifically as a rescue vessel for the coastal waters of Norway and beyond. What he came up with was the most beautiful double ended sail boat ever – the Redningskoytta (see below).
When I set eyes on her graceful lines I fell in love.
No sailing boat then or now has ever comes close to her in terms of perfection of design or build quality.
The only other ship designer and boat builder to even come close to Colin Archer’s genious was the American, Nathanael Herreschoff. The youngest of three brothers, he was born on March 18, 1848 in Bristol, Rhode Island. Like Archer, Herreschoff was a maritime designer and engineer. His company became known for designing pleasure boats for America’s wealthy elite such as Vigilant in 1893, pictured below, and my last sailboat
in New Zealand – the Buzzard Bay 14. Unlike the version pictured below,
with an open cockpit, mine had a cuddy cabin that covered three-quarters of the interior. She was all I could afford at the time. Despite her small size (14 foot waterline), she was a pleasure to sail. Being the smallest fully trailorable keeler, meant that I could tow her literally anywhere in New Zealand.
But she wasn’t the sailing boat of my dreams. I would still give – I was going to say, my eye teeth, but they fell out decades ago – to own one of Colin Archer’s legendary Redningskoytta, even now as I approach my sixty-ninth birthday. A boat like that is more than capable of sailing safely through the roughest waters known to man. But unfortunately, to buy one, let alone maintain one, was and still is well beyond me financially…
I once took an old friend of mine sailing off the East Coast of the North Island of New Zealand in the Buzzard’s Bay. He had pleaded with me to take him. Normally I always sailed alone. But against my better judgment I agreed.
Seeing a giant of a man blubbering like a baby while curled up in a ball on the cockpit sole is not a pretty sight. We had barely cleared the entrance to Whitianga Harbour and turned north to head towards the northern tip of the Coromandel Peninsula and on towards the Hauraki Gulf, before we felt the Pacific swell slide beneath her on its way to the land. At that point he pleaded to go back to dry land. Not wishing to have my planned ten day return voyage end then and there, I put him ashore at the nearest beach from where I left him to walk back to Whitianga and hitch a lift back home. Not surprisingly from that day to this I’ve heard nothing from him. If I was to name him, anyone who knows him back in New Zealand would give him a hard time. But I’m not that cruel.
So now you’ve found out a bit more about me you lucky people. In this instance my passion for sailing and the sea.