The R-Boat SIR TOM

In 1898, Nathaniel G. Herreshoff conceived a new racing rule that, seven years later, was adopted by a conference at which most of America's leading yacht clubs and associations were represented. It became known as the Universal Rule and remained the official formula for the measuring and rating of yachts until 1927, when it was superceded (for most racers) by the International Rule. The Universal Rule (like the International Rule that followed) was a formula-based rule that allowed for development of open classes rather than one-design classes.

The Rating Formula;
Where L = Length, SA = Sail Area, and D = Displacement

could be applied to any size yacht - the J class being the largest and probably most famous - and the resulting figure designated which of the several "Letter" classes a yacht would fall into. For example, R-class had a maximum allowable rating of 20.

One of Ted Geary's most famous designs was the cabin day-racer SIR TOM, designated as an R-boat to race in the typically ligjt airs of Puget Sound. SIR TOM's original measurement certificate (signed by Fred S. Brinton of Lee and Brinton, Seattle naval architects in 1914) gives the following dimensions: LOA 39' 8", LWL 22' 81/2" (in salt water), 23' 0" (in fresh water), beam 7' 10", draft 5' 4", sail area 605 sq.ft., displacement 8,225 lbs with keel weight of 4,500 lbs. Within the Universal Rule, these diemsions gave SIR TOM a rating of 19.98 - just below the maximum of the class.

SIR TOM's racing record was extraordinary, and over the years her fame grew, especially when she began to travel and race in more wind than the boat supposedly had been designed for. Her win at the San Francisco Panama Pacific Exposition of 1915, in a series of races for Pacific Coast Championships against a field of eight boats, reinforced her reputation, with many later successes at San Pedro and Victoria, British Columbia, lending further credence.

For her first nine years, SIR TOM carried a gaff rig, but as newer boats were launched with more modern rigs and SIR TOM's supremacy was threatened, she was given a new marconi sail plan in 1922. This rig must have been a marvel for its time: Built of light, straight-grained Washington spruce, the mast was of hollow tapered construction, with just 3/4" wall thickness at its 61/2"-diameter base and only 1/2" at the top; it was 50' long with a 12" bend built in, and weighed only 80 lbs. Rigging added another 80 lbs. Heavy-wind tests proved the mast strong enough to weather a small gale. Years later, this first, marvelous tall mast was lost (when passing beneath a drawbridge that had not been fully raised), and Ted Geary claimed that SIR TOM never sailed as fast again with its replacement.

Nevertheless, SIR TOM's next mast, with a double-spreader rig, was good enough to keep her in the front of racing fleets well into the 1930's, and, except to the designer, there seemed no noticeable change in performance. It must be remembered that the R class was a development class, and that new and faster boats were continuously being designed and launched; so it was no small achievement that SIR TOM remained undefeated in the Lipton Trophy until 1929, when she lost to Vacouver's LADY VAN. The following year, with more determination than ever, Ted Geary and SIR TOM regained the trophy.

By this time, SIR TOM had been twice rebuilt. In November 1917, while laying off the old Seattle Yacht Club in West Seattle, a northwesterly gale blew up, tore her from her moorings, and swept her ashore. Both bow and stern were stove in. Later that same year during another gale, water poured in through the damaged stem and stern, and SIR TOM went down in 137' of water. It was three weeks before she was located, raised, and hauled out at Pacific Bridge & Dredge Company on Harbor Island. There she sat, high and dry, until the spring of 1919 when the world had settled into peace and sailors returned to their sport.

With the 1919 International Regatta scheduled to beheld at Cowichan Bay, British Columbia, and the Lipton Cup once more at stake, the Seattle sailors inspected the battered SIR TOM and came away with little hope. But a few of. the more zealous among them decided to fix up the old war horse, and that summer, with a new bow and stern in place, they went north meeting and defeating the challenger, TURENGA, in straight races.

In 1926, after a rough weather series on San Francisco Bay, SIR TOM was once more in need of repair: By the end of the series in which she, had won one race but was placed third overall behind the winner MACHREE and Tommy Lee's PIRATE (also designed by Ted Geary), SIR. TOM had broken several frames. Thus she was again rebuilt, this tune being given double planking for extra strength. The next summer she went up against, the Canadians' new Alden-designed LADYPAT, sailed by Ron Maitland, and the George Owen-designed RIOWNA, sailed by Cedric Gyles. Yet again, SIR TOM.won the Lipton Trophy in two straight races. Contemporary accounts indicate that the Canadians had, spent more than $35,000 in their attempt to design and construct a boat to beat SIR TOM - $10,000 was spent on LADYPAT alone. By contrast, SIR TOM's ..rebuiild had cost the Americans just $2,500.

SIR TOM was actively sailed (although less conipetitively after World War II) until being finally laid up in 1949. Her outstanding record included 14 wins of the Lipton Trophy in 14 consecutive competitions; 17 straight wins of the Isherwood Cup; between1914 and 1931; and winner of the 1915 Pan-Pacific Exposition series held in San Francisco, at which she won all R-class races against all-comers.


Editor's note: Sir Tom was broken up for the lead in her keel on the Duwamish River in Seattle in the early 1960s.