WoodenBoat, #138, September/October 1997

Ted Geary, More than a Naval Architect:
Part II - From Flatties to motoryachts

by Thomas G. Skahill

The 18' Flattie class, the culmination of Ted Geary's dedication to youth sail-training and water-safety programs, was inaugurated in 1928. A February article in a Seattle newspaper proclaimed the Flattie an "...unsinkable sailboat provided for junior yachtsmen. Young sailors will compete in [the] `Flattie,' new one design craft; fleet of 14 inexpensive boats assured. At a meeting held under the leadership of the junior members of the Seattle Yacht Club, some 70 boating enthusiasts adopted a design presented by the well-known racing skipper and naval architect L.E.(Ted) Geary

"First considerations of the Flattie are ease of construction, low cost, safety, speed, smartness, and value in training beginning sailors. The boat is 18' long, 5' 3" beam, and [has] a jib-headed centerboard sloop rig with 114 sq ft in the main and 43 1/2 sq ft in the jib. Her racing complement is two, but [she] can be sailed by one or up to four. The Flattie can be deliberately or accidentally tipped on her side and will usually float without filling. But even when swamped, she will not sink and can be bailed out readily."

In their first year, 10 Flatties were built by Blanchard Boat Company and another 10 by members of the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club in British Columbia. An Oregon fleet followed soon after. The Flattie's popularity grew by word of mouth, and there was little organization at first, with the primary stimulant being the enthusiasm of crews. Ted Geary himself was to introduce the class to Lake Arrowhead, California, and Acapulco, Mexico, but otherwise the class grew on its own, until, in 1938, it became the official boat of the Sea Scouts.

Ted was an active participant in the early races, crewing for Mary Helen Corbett, the daughter of former SIR TOM crew Roy Corbett, in a Lake Washington series, and often crewing for the children of other sailing friends to "get them started right." After World War 11, he continued to promote the class, declaring his intention "[to keep] the Flattie class ...as a racing yacht that anyone with little or no boating experience can build and race; to develop faster sailors, not faster boats; to keep the boat in a low?cost bracket, changing the specifications only when a definite saving can be shown." The Flattie class honored his memory in 1961 by changing the boat's name to the Geary 18.

Seventy years on, the class remains active all along the Pacific coast, and numbers have passed 1,500. The 1995 championship series was sailed on Mission Bay, San Diego, and attracted 21 competing boats; the 1996 championships were held in Ashland, Oregon, and attracted 23 boats; and 26 boats are expected at the 1997 series to be held on Cultus Lake, British Columbia. Fiberglass hull's have been popular in the class for some years now, but some 15 wooden boats are still active and competitive indeed, the 1996 championship series was won by a wooden boat, and it is interesting to note that there is an increasing trend away from fiberglass and back to wood for new hulls. Surely, the Geary 18 is a fine manifestation of Ted Geary's basic tenet of simplicity, practicality, and longevity.

The year of the Flattie's inauguration, 1928, also saw the completion of the first two of four handsome 96' motoryachts that perhaps epitomize the Geary style. Often referred to as sisterships because of their near-identical hulls, the yachts were markedly different in their superstructure profiles, accomodations, and propulsion. All four were built by Lake Union Dry Dock Company, and the first and only single-screw version was launched for San Francisco yachtsman L.A. Macomber and christened PRINCIPIA (see WB No. 123). BLUE PETER, with twin-screw propulsion and a somewhat shorter aft deckhouse, was launched later in the year for Seattle architect John Graham, for whom Geary had previously designed the 48'yawl ORTONA in 1912 and, in 1923, the 65'motoryacht MARY

The remaining two yachts were launched in 1930: CANIM was built for The Seattle Tunes publisher C.D. Blethen, and the appropriately named ELECTRA was launched for A.W. Leonard, president of Puget Sound Power & Light. ELECTRA's superstructure, and some of her interior design, were completed at the Todd Dry Dock Company of Seattle, whose boss was C.D. Wiley, a friend of A.W Leonard.

These four boats represent the best of their era: Built of the very finest Northwest timber, they were a combination of elegant form and heavy scantlings, and could go anywhere, even in the toughest weather. All four remain active today, and all remain in splendid condition. PRINCIPIA recently underwent a complete upgrade for Coast Guard passenger-carrying certification at Billings Diesel & Marine in Stonington, Maine, for her new owner, the Independence Seaport Museum of Philadelphia. ELECTRA has returned to the West Coast after her sojourn in Florida and is earning her living as a charter yacht in Newport Harbor, California. BLUE PETER and CANIM remain in private ownership and are back in Seattle after careers that have taken them up and down the coast. BLUE PETER has been in the J.G. McCurdy family for the past 50 years, while CANIM was recently repurchased by former owner, Gary Norton.

Though all these vessels are akin to works of art that are now irreplaceable, they are also outstanding performers. For example, BLUE PETER cruises at 12 knots using only 18 gallons of fuel per hour. In 1973, she was repowered with her present pair of Caterpillar diesel 334s with 3:1 reduction gears swinging her two 48" five bladed propellers. She carries 2,000 gallons of fuel and 2,200 gallons of water, giving her ample range at a good and comfortable speed.

It was in the late 1920s that Ted Geary reached the pinnacle of his career in both naval architecture and yacht racing. His boats were being built by yards up and down the West Coast (San Diego Marine Construction built the 86' BLUE FIN; Wilmington Boat Works built the 75' JOYITA; Hoffars Vancouver Shipyards Ltd. built the 107' CORA MARIE), and he had formed a fine working relationship with Otis Cutting, Head of Lake Union Dry Dock Company. The design office of L.E. Geary had never been busier, and it was perhaps the associated pressure of this work that brought to an end the 15 year reign of SIR TOM: in 1929 the great yacht finally lost the Lipton Cup to the Canadian boat, LADY VAN, in a series sailed in Vancouver. In a contemporary issue of Pacific Motor Boat, Ted genially and characteristically accepted responsibility for the loss, paid high compliments to the winning crew, and promised renewed diligence and effort for his 1930 challenge. It was then a little known fact that two years previously, in an effort to stimulate competition, Ted had sent the plans of SIR TOM to his friendly Canadian competitors, and it was often remarked that LADY VAN bore a striking resemblance to SIR TOM. The Canadian vistory was short-lived, for in the following year Ted Geary and SIR TOM won back both the Lipton and the Isherwood Cups (see side bar "The R-boat SIR TOM" below).

Times were changing, and late in 1930 Ted Geary announced that, while he would maintain an office in Seattle, he had decided to move to southern California. America was in the grip of the Great Depression, but the California motion-picture and oil industries gave promise of greater opportunities. Indeed, Geary's move was not wholly unexpected: he had, after all, been spending more and more time in California through the 1920s, and had made many friends who had become customers.

One was actor John Barrymore, whom Geary had met on the 1926 Honolulu race. A much-respected racing and cruising man, Barrymore sold his beloved schooner MARINER after his 1928 honeymoon cruise to the Galapagos Islands and South American coast, and commissioned Geary to design a 120' twin-screw diesel cruiser as a replacement. This yacht, INFANTA, was launched at the Long Beach yard of the Craig Shipbuilding Company in early 1930, and was of all-steel construction. Lavishly furnished and paneled, with gameroom fireplace and gun cabinets, and elegant cantina and library, INFANTA made a 1930 cruise to Mexico, Central America, and the South Pacific, and a 1931 cruise to the Pacific Northwest for sportfishing and an Alaskan big-game hunt. INFANTA cruises Seattle waters today as THEA FOSS, and her owners also recently purchased the 100' Geary-designed MALIBU.

After INFANTA, and also built by the Craig Shipbuilding Company of Long Beach, came the 147_' SAMONA II for Willets J. Hole, who had cruised his 115' SAMONA extensively for the previous eight years, and had become a widely known sport fisherman, amateur archaeologist, botanist, naturalist, and world traveler (see "Ted Geary" Part I, WB No. 137). SAMONA II, launched in 1931, carried Hole and his friends on further voyages of record gamefishing, scientific discovery, and species collection for the furtherance of scientific research. Among her voyages, SAMONA II circumnavigated South America, going well up the Amazon and the Rio Negro and their tributaries, and passing through the Straits of Magellan. She continued these voyages to the Pacific and Alaska until, in 1936, Willets J. Hole died - he had become a very different and, no doubt, happier man than he had been on that fateful day in 1922 when he had ordered from Geary a "small fishing launch."

Despite such illustrious commissions as INFANTA and SAMONA II, the 1930s were years of slim pickings for the boating industry, even in southern California; and as the numbers of orders for new boats declined, so, too, did their dimensions. Nevertheless, Geary found strong niches: in 1929, he had prepared the design of the 45' Lake Union Dreamboat for the Lake Union Dry Dock Company. These boats caught on both in sedan and pilothouse versions, and many were sold all along the coast. Their popularity led Geary to design a number of pleasure boats in the 50'- 65' range; most were built by Lake Union Dry Dock Company, but some were produced by various southern California builders throughout the 1930s.

In the first half of that decade, Geary drew no sailboats, as far as can be determined but, in 1936 he designed TIADA, built by the Master craftsman Harry Carlson and his son Hal of Wilmington, California. Though considered small at 37', TIADA was a fast boat and won her very first offshore race-the Tri-Island Race around Santa Barbara, San Clemente, and Catalina Islands. Indeed, TIADA enjoyed a successful career under several owners, and was a familiar sight in California waters for many years.

Another interesting boat was VIRGINIA, a sturdy 39' motorsailer described by Ted as "an attempt to produce a ninety-ninety instead of a fifty-fifty." She proved to be a most appealing design with an ample rig to move her along under sail, and spacious accommodations that would have rivaled a 50-footer's.

New yacht design continued to lag in 1936, but Geary undertook two notable redesigns that year. First was the 52' GLADIATOR, originally built by Fellows & Stewart for author Zane Grey as an ocean fishing cruiser, and subsequently owned by a Long Beach yachtsman. Ted gave the boat a new ketch rig, considerably reworked her cabin and pilothouse arrangement, and added many safety features and upgrades. Then there was a new cutter rig for the 54' Alden schooner MALABAR VII, whose new owner wanted to race her in the active N class, along with such well-remembered boats as WESTWARD, AHIJADO, SEA HAWK, and SOLILOQUY Elmer Strutford, who had sailed with Geary on PIRATE for the 1935 season, was invited to join the MALABAR VII crew. Then a young teenager, Strafford now recalls how he was awed by Geary's ability to make a boat go, and by his tactical genius. "He could just sail higher and faster than anyone, and when we went aboard Dr. Cady's boat [MALABAR VIIl, he really surprised everyone in the offshore races around the islands. Ted was in charge of these boats, no doubt about that, and he expected and demanded our best. Our reward was usually first place."

In 1935, Ted was named Southern California Helmsman of the Year by virtue of his victories in five of the most prestigious annual events on the West Coast. All, except one, were accomplished with the R-class sloop PIRATE. He began with San Diego's Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy Race in May. This trophy, inaugurated in 1904, preceded Seattle's Lipton Trophy by some 10 years, and is still contested today. Next came the venerable Times Trophy Race, in competition since 1903, and sailed in 1935 in a strong westerly wind over a 15-mile ocean course. It was followed a day later by the Nordlinger Trophy, over a 50-mile open-sea course. Then came the SOYA-PCYA Championships for the R class. And finally, at Seattle, with the R-boat LIVE YANKEE, then owned by his old Seattle friend Cully Stimson, Ted claimed the Pacific International R-class Championship and won the Isherwood Trophy for the umpteenth time. (A Seattle Yacht Club history note tells that in this same year, SIR TOM, sailed by Art Ayers, defeated LIVE YANKEE in Seattle Yacht Club's opening-day race - Ted was not aboard either boat at the time - and goes on to say that LIVE YANKEE, designed by L. Francis Herreshoff, was the most expensive R-boat ever built, and that the lead in her keel alone weighed more than SIR TOM's gross weight!)

In 1938, Ted Geary was commissioned to design what was to be the largest privately owned vessel to be built in the United Sates since 1931, and which was to be the most completely equipped boat of her size in any service, including government craft. Her owner, Capt. Fred L. Lewis, had become internationally recognized in the field of oceanography and marine science, and he held Master's papers for all oceans. The yacht, 135' LOA x 129' LWL x 22'8" beam x 13' draft, was to be christened STRANGER, the seventh of that name, and all of which had been used for voyages of oceanographic research. Built by Lake Union Dry Dock in Seattle, STRANGER was heavily built entirely of wood, and for the most part, of yellow cypress - double planking, sawn frames, and keel members, for example, were all of cypress. Shortly after being commissioned, she became involved in America's preparation for the war in the Pacific. Ostensibly engaged in a continuing program of marine research, STRANGER was actually operating under the direction of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, predecessor to the CIA) in charting many of the Pacific areas where the anticipated war was expected to reach, and where the only charts extant were those made by the British Admiralty in the late 19th century. After the war, STRANGER was acquired by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at La Jolla, California, and spent her later years in genuine oceanographic work.

For his part, Ted Geary was busy throughout the Second World War at Craig Shipbuilding Company in Long Beach, where his work included the designing of phantom decks for tankers and doing the inclining tests of 49 ships for the U.S. Navy. According to naval architect Arthur DeFever, Geary had previously inclined many of the major southern Californian tuna clippers.

De Fever and Geary met in 1939 and became good friends over the course of the next few years. DeFever remembers his friend as an accomplished engineer who was extremely helpful to a young man in the early stages of his career. In a recent conversation, he described Geary as "a very likable fellow, most enjoyable to be with socially and extremely well qualified in his profession. He was often called upon to give expert-witness testimony on the stability of commercial vessels. He was a very honest and fine person, and it was really a privilege to have known and worked with him."

After the War, Ted returned to private practice. He retained his offices at Craig Shipbuilding, where he supervised the conversion of surplus Navy craft to yachts, and the restoration of former yachts back to private owner-ship; he also carried out the few new design jobs that came his way. As he entered his mid-60s, however, Geary scaled down his professional commitments, although he could still be found among his sailing friends wherever they gathered, and his interest in the Flattie class never waned; he was often the guest of honor at their important races.

Ted Geary died peacefully at home on May 19, 1960, just a few days before his 75th birthday. He left a legacy of designs ranging from fast racing yachts and handsome cruising sailboats, to classic motoryachts, many of which continue to grace our waters today. While little biographical material survives today, we do have some personal and family correspondence that reveals him to be a loving husband to his wife Freda, and a doting, tender, and ever-available father to his two daughters, Sharon and Patricia. Both girls sailed Flatties and were required by their father to pass swimming tests prior to getting their boats. For Sharon, this ultimately led to her winning three gold medals in the Pan American Games, and a berth on the U.S. Olympic swim team at the 1952 Helsinki games. For Patricia, her love of the water led to a career as an accomplished marine artist.

Geary's business correspondence reveals an outgoing and breezy way of expressing himself, and a magazine article of the 1930s described him thus: "Colorful without eccentricities, Ted Geary speaks a racy idiom of his own in which strict nautical terms are mixed in equal parts with original Geary slang. Energetic and alert, he can, almost literally, be in two places at once. On a solid background of training he never hesitates to set an innovation providing there is a good reason for it."

Doug Egan recalls, "He had a great vocabulary of slang expressions .... If a boat was less than Bristol kept, he would refer to it as a `basket,' or he might say he had been out sailing with some friend `in his basket.' He would call the straits or ocean the `Big Sink,' and when in rough water, he'd say he was `out in the Goulash'! I never did hear Ted use any profanity, only his endless slang. I remember Mrs. Griffiths, wife of Capt. James Griffiths, telling of an incident that occurred when Ted was drawing the. plans for SUEJA III. The plans called for a beam of 19'; the Captain insisted on at least 20'. Ted's answer was, `Captain, we're building a yacht, not a Peruvian doughnut.' The expression was lost on the Captain, but when he told his wife about it, it set her thinking. Finally she got it out of Ted: In Peru on Lake Titicaca, the natives build a craft nearly round in shape, of reeds and grass about the lowest form of a boat."

Perhaps one of the best gauges of a man is how he is perceived by those who follow in his professional foot steps, and in this we have ample testament for Ted Geary. Bill Garden said of him, "Geary was the golden boy from the beginning .... A natural sailor...a beautiful draftsman with an unerring eye for form .... He could and did sell his boats, but essentially he was an excellent designer and engineer." Phil Spaulding adds, "He had a great style, and to me that was important. All of his boats were handsome, and he was a fine helmsman and seaman. He was also a businessman."

Norman C. Blanchard, whose father built and raced SIR TOM for many seasons, and built most of Geary's designs up to the mid-1920s, says, "He had a tremendous artistic eye. He would fight for a quarter of an inch to keep the pilothouse low in his early designs ...to keep their appearance as long and low as possible. The touch he had on the tiller also gave him enormous success as a racing sailor."

Among Ted Geary's many noteworthy and lasting contributions to boating, it is generally agreed that the most significant was his designing of so many elegant and handsome motoryachts that were so well adapted to long range voyages. They were, and in many cases still are, beautiful - enduringly beautiful - yet rugged, too, as befits the product of a design theory that had its inception in the sturdy commercial vessels of L.E. Geary's early career. We are fortunate to have so many of these boats still in active service today, and in the care of owners who so much appreciate their worth. Perhaps the poet John Masefield's words, written for ships of an earlier era and of a different type, are appropriate here, "They mark our passage as a race of men, / Earth shall not see such ships as these again."

Part One

Tom Skahill, a regular contributor to WoodenBoat - having previously profiled designers Nick Potter (WB No. 83) and Edson B. Schock (WB No. 113) - is an avid sailor, classic-powerboat owner, and maritime historian. Among his current boats, he owns a 1941 Matthews and a lapstrake pulling boat designed by lain Oughtred in which he rows around Newport Harbor, California.

The author wishes to express his appreciation for the generous assistance provided in so many ways by the following people and organizations, without whom this study would be lacking in much factual content: Arthur DeFever, N.A.; Douglas S. Egan; William Garden, N.A.; Don Gumpertz; Capt. George Hobson of the Foss Maritime Co.; Rolly Kalayjian; Sally Laura, Historical Chair, Seatle Yacht Club; Michael Cropper, The Los Angeles Maritime Museum, San Pedro; James G. McCurdy; Duncan McIntosh Co. (Sea arid Pacific Motor Boat); Frank H.. Person, Historian, Los Angeles.Yacht Club; The Puget.Sound Maritime Historical Society; Thol Simonson; Philip Spaulding, NA; Elmer Stratford. And, especially, Norman C. Blanchard for his help, in so many ways, and Sharon Geary (Adamson) Gee, and Patricia Geary Johnson, Ted's two daughters who provided so much archival material and memorabilia to make this story more complete.