Friday, November 18, 2011

The resurrection of Moth Boat 264

Back in 1998 I was contacted by a young sailor who had an old Moth Boat that had been his initial introduction to sailing but now was excess to his needs.  The boat had been stored in his parent's back yard up until a week or so before he called me.  When they pressed him to do something with the boat or junk her, he moved her to the marina where he kept his big boat and then towed her out to a spoil island in Dredge Harbor (a cove off the Delaware River near Riverton, New Jersey) and then pulled her up on the bank.  When he called he said "you can have her if you beat the local vandals from burning her on the island."  A day or so later I met him at the marina and we made the run out to the island in the 8 foot dinghy which served as the tender for his sloop.  The dinghy had a 2 or 3 horsepower motor which with two of us aboard provided just even oomph to propel us against a stiff headwind.  The timing of this meeting was in late fall and we met up in the late afternoon so daylight was quickly becoming limiting.  After arriving on the island we found the boat--the local kids had pulled her higher up the bank for some reason but had not inflicted any new damage.  I could see at once that the Moth in question was a very old one, probably dating to the early 1930s and thus was worth saving.  The US Moth Class started in 1929 and this boat may well be the earliest surviving example.  She was heavily constructed and a thick layer of fiberglass did nothing but add more weight.  With a good deal of effort we managed to drag and push her back down the bank and into the water.  She floated but in the dim light we could see that she was taking on water.  We rigged a tow line and after several frustrating pulls on the starter cord the little engine finally barked to life.  With the old Moth in tow, it was all that little engine could do to get us the mile or so back to the marina!  We made it but then the next problem was getting the hull out of the water and onto the roof racks of my old Jeep Cherokee.  Luckily another boat owner happened by and we pressed him into service and the three of us managed to lift the boat (now partially filled with the Delaware River) out of the water, over a railing and then with a lot of cussing and panting up on the roof racks.  The racks visibly bowed under the weight but there was no going back at that point.  I lashed her on and followed the owner back to his parent's house for the sail, rudder and other odds and ends.  Remarkably, I made it back to Maryland without incident, and the next morning enlisted two naive neighbors into helping me get the boat off the racks and onto a dolly.  Over the next few weeks I removed the fiberglass so that the wood could dry rather than continue to rot and took a few photos to document the boat.

Note the plank on frame construction and the wide seam gap visible on the outer edges of the garboard planks.  There was no caulking in the seams.  This boat was designed to be sunk in the spring until the planks swelled and "made up" the difference.
A look at the centerboard trunk.  Note the wooden cleats.  Most of the surviving "hardware" was made by hand.
Here is a view of the "transom" style bow.

This is the rudder blade which I believe is correct for the boat.  The hardware is a collection of brass and bronze sheet formed by hand.

This is the centerboard.  The hole for the pivot pin can be seen at the extreme lower left end of the blade.  Note the slab of  lead which was cast into a hollowed out area in the lower right hand corner of the blade.

A closer look at the lead cast into the centerboard to keep it from becoming a "pop tart".

The Dacron sail which came with the boat dates to the early 1970s, the time period in which the American Moth class adopted the Australian rig and the "squashed bug" insignia in favor of the circle-M insignia. Local New Jersey sail maker, Brad Linthicum, built the sail to suit the boat's original low aspect rig but used the insignia then in use rather than the one which is correct for the boat's age.

Right from the beginning I knew that I would not restore this boat but instead seek a good home for her.  It took a number of years but two years ago Arch Farmer from Elizabeth City, North Carolina approached me at the Nationals and asked about the boat.  Arch and his brother had a similar Moth in their younger days and wanted to restore old Nr 264.  I agreed and they drove up one sunny fall day and took her away.  A few weeks ago Arch sent me a few photos of their progress.  I think the results are splendid.  See if you don't agree.  I look forward to seeing this boat back on the water.  She'll never be fast but she'll be marvelous never the less. 

The Farmer brothers have retained as much of the original boat and construction methods as is practical.  They have made a few major departures including using plywood for the bottom instead of individual planks.  As a result, she'll be stiffer, lighter and less prone to leak.

They've made a nice job of the planked deck.

A view of the new deck from the bow end of the boat.  Arch and his brother hope to have the boat raceworthy in time for next year's National Regatta in September.


  1. George, thank you for facilitating the saving of this boat. I'm convinced it was worth the trip to that island in the Delaware. Apparently not far from where I reside. What a great story!

    The name Brad Linthicum came up in a post of mine lately, and I recall having a mainsail for an O'Day daysailer built in his loft probably sometime in the 80's. I also have actually raced against him with my Dad at least once in my life. This world is not that big; in fact it is as small as they say it is.

  2. Baydog: Thanks for the "atta boy". I have a nodding acquaintance with Brad L. and Penguin class dinghies (helped build the one that's in my garage back in '63, but that's another story).

    I've never ordered a new sail from Brad but I've owned a couple of his sails over the years and I always look for him at the fall sailboat show in Annapolis and drop in to say "hi" if he has a booth.

    Old number 264 is a dead ringer for another Moth which the Toms River Seaport Society has on display. Also at one point the Tuckerton Sea Port Museum displayed a scale model of what they called the "Barnegat Bay Moth". Indeed, in my collection of Moth junque I have a set of blueprints for a Moth designed by Jim Kean for the Lavallette Yacht Club back in the early 1930s which is also very similar to Nr 264, so the Barnegat Bay connection is v. strongly supported.

    Getting back to Brad Linthicum, if I recall correctly, Brad apprenticed under another south Jersey sail maker, Bob Seidelmann. In the 1960s Seidelmann Sails dominated the Moth Class. Legend has it that Bob's granny did most of the hand stitching and finishing when that loft was located in Westmont during the early days. Sadly Bob Seidelmann passed away a couple years ago. I bumped into his son Robb at Cooper River YC back on the 6th of Nov when Moths raced up there. Robb works with John MacCausland and in turn John had just bought out Skip Morehouse's loft so at least that's one local sail loft that will live on. Another south Jersey sail maker that is no longer in business is the old Merril loft which was in Delran, not far from Lippencott boat works. I still have an old Merril sail in my collection of sails. Old man Merril also was a minor boat designer and is credited with the Duster class boat. One of the Lippencotts sailed a Duster at the Wooden Boat regatta at Rock Hall last spring. I hadn't seen one in years. I could groan on and on but won't bend your ear. Thanks again for the comment. Nice to know someone reads this stuff.


  3. Keep groaning, George. I live for this stuff. Between both my Dad's and Stepdad's E-scows and penguins, we had a bunch of Seidelmann sails over the years. Skip Moorhouse is my third sailing hero; my Dad's second marriage was to his sister Jill. Less than six degrees of separation with a lot of this stuff!

  4. This mention of Brad Linthicum may motivate me into dragging out a few of my old sails and posting pix of the loft tack patches from south Jersey lofts. Many are gone but a few like Brad are still trading. I'll do that after Turkey day, weather permitting.

  5. What a great story about sailboat. Thanks for sharing.

    1. fareastsails: I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'll report on this boat again in early May when I race the NC Governor's Cup regatta at Elizabeth City. Hopefully Nr 264 will be sailing by then.