Keep in mind that this is history as I remember it. That’s the best I can do. If you see something that you feel should be corrected, contact me through my website www.perryboat.com and let me know what it is. I’ll contemplate the change. I’d like to be accurate.
Seeds are sown
The NIGHT RUNNER story begins when I was 16 years old. I would drive down to Shilshole Bay Marina on Sundays for the winter racing series on Sundays. I’d get there early and treat myself to a breakfast at THE LITTLE PEBBLE restaurant. My favorite breakfast was called the Fisherman’s Breakfast and took two plates to hold all the food and it was expensive, $3.50. But I would have been paid Saturday night for working at the meat market so I was flush and $3.50 was not going to break me. I was working on my breakfast one Sunday morning when I saw a low freeboard, white, very traditional cutter sail down the waterway. I watched the skipper dock the boat under sail with apparent ease. I was impressed.
I finished eating and walked down to the dock hoping to have a chat with the owner of the cutter. The boat was the AFRICAN STAR, a Bill Atkin design. I think the design is designated TALLY HO in the Atkin archives. This was a very salty boat with a very salty owner. His name was Frank Paine. He was gruff and taciturn. We sort of chatted. He said he was going to do a circumnavigation in the boat. I asked if I could come along. He said he didn’t want any crew “That way the cook and crew will get along”. I remember him saying exactly that. Then he said, “I’ll take you as far as Hawaii.” Wow! He suggested we do a “test cruise” together to see if we could get along. I was totally up for that. We arranged to meet on the following Friday night at the boat.
My Dad drove me to Shilshole that rainy Friday night. I had some clothes and a sleeping bag in a black plastic garbage bag. This was back in the day before the docks were locked so I walked down to AFRCAN STAR. No one was aboard and the boat was locked. I sat in the cockpit in the rain. A dodger would have been nice but I had my foul weather gear and boots on so I was a bit cold but ok. After two hours sitting in the rain the novelty of the whole idea was beginning to wear off and I was getting wet. Reluctantly, kind of, I went up to the phone booth and called my dad and asked him to please come and get me. It was a humiliating phone call. My parents were skeptical of everything I did and I was tiring of having my nose rubbed in my failures. But Dad loved me and he drove the hour round trip to get me home and out of the rain. Can’t recall the conversation on the ride home.
I never saw Frank Paine again. I made an attempt to get a hold of him but I could not. AFRICAN STAR faded from my imagination. Years later, not sure exactly when, AFRICAN STAR showed up on the PNW racing scene. “I know that boat!” The owner was then Doug Fryer, a Seattle Maritime attorney of some renown. Doug raced AS in just about every race there was. The boat being so traditional, with big, full keel and outboard barn door rudder was slow but it had a generous rating and the word was that if you could see AS the finish, they had beaten you. Doug raced the boat hard and attracted a very loyal crew. Doug’s ability to keep a crew together is a function of how much fun he is to sail with. He can be last or he can be first but he is always enjoying the race. Races are finished at the dock with “ritual rums” with 150 proof rum. Doug would explain, “150 proof rum is lighter.” I wave wobbled my way down the dock several times after racing with Doug. AFRICAN STAR was a fixture in the PNW racing scene. Doug would later explain to me that Frank Paine had lost AFRICAN STAR in a divorce settlement. I felt bad for the guy. But Doug was happy.
I didn’t really know Doug. Of course you tend to meet sailors in the club after the race so I wasn’t a stranger to Doug. When the phone rang in the office Sally answered it and said, “It’s Doug Fryer Bob”. Great. Doug let me know he was considering a new boat, a custom build. More great. Then he went on to tell me just how much he loved Brice King’s UNICORN ketch, Not so great. Actually it was a “shitski” moment. But Doug was concerned about the hull shape of UNICORN. UNICORN had a very pronounce bustle aft much like the Ericson 39. Doug has heard the Ericson 39 handled very poorly off the wind and he wondered if I would be interested in redesigning the stern of UNICORN to cure this handling issue. By this point in the conversation I am really depressed. ” You want me to “fix” a Bruce King design? No, not interested.” “Besides why would you custom build another guy’s custom design? That’s like using his toothbrush!” Doug’s a bit laconic so I suppose there was some dead air on the phone at that point. Then Doug said, “What would you ;propose?” I suggested he give me a few days and I would do a preliminary design for him. Doug agreed and said he’d be by on Tuesday afternoon, as I recall. I had about 4 days to come up with an idea for a custom 40′ boat for Doug Fryer. No problem.
I remember staring at the big sheet of vellum, most probably striking a confident pose to impress the rest of the office. Damn! What to draw? BINGO! Doug loves AFICAN STAR. He should, it’s a great looking boat. I’ll just draw a 41′ version of AFRICAN STAR and put a modern underbody and keel on it. Piece of cake. I think I still have that very first drawing. It was just a sailplan, a “picture” of the boat. Doug showed up mid afternoon on Tuesday. Doug is kind of imposing. He’s not tall but he’s built like a running back. He has a shiny bald head and a deep baritone voice. He says serious things. He smiles when he talks about boats. He stood there, silently, looking at my sailplan. Finally he looked up, smiled and said, “I like it.” I had given him a look that he was very familiar with. It was a smart design move on my part.
Of course, as mentioned, the overall look for NIGHT RUNNER came directly from AFRICAN STAR. But that’s just the part you see above the water. I wanted the new NR to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. At the time, 1980, I was pretty full of myself, imagine that. My two tonner HEATHER had been dominant to the point that YACHING magazine credited or blamed HEATHER with ‘destroying Class A racing in the PNW”. UNION JACK my quarter tonner “mini HEATHER” was unbeatable above and below the border. I was pretty sure then as now that I know how to draw a fast hull. But NR would not be an IOR boat. The gloves were off for this one. For inspiration I looked to the old Uffa Fox International 14 One Design Class. I knew these boats well from my own early dinghy racing days on Lake Washington. I’m not sure why that particular hull came to mind but it did. I think if you squint a bit you may see some similarities.
The bow is on the full side. I needed a full line to the deck in plan view to get the character I wanted of an old cutter type. The half angle of entry is 22 degrees. That’s two degree finer than a Valiant 40. A modern high performance boat might have a half angle of entry of almost half that. The forward sections ate U shaped but there is some deadrise forward. From this deadrise forward I faired into a midsection with no deadrise. I wanted a midsection that was tangent across the centerline, like an old I-14. My reason for this was I wanted to run the wood veneers unbroken across the centerline. Like the old I-14’s. We will talk about this feature more later. Bottom line is that NR has a very dinghy like mid section. Once I got to around station 6 I re introduced the deadrise. I have ten degrees of deadrise at the “buttwater” ( opposite of cutwater?) I wanted deadrise aft even if it wasn’t the fastest shape. I hate those “suppository” shape transoms and with some deadrise aft I could add a hint of reverse in the transom to give it a pleasant shape. NR’s transom is very pretty. This hull was quite a change to the IOR shapes I had been drawing. Funny thing is that I noticed yesterday, looking at the old, original line plan, that I had laid out fwd and aft girth curves. So at some point I must have worked out an IOR rating for NR. Not sure what it was. NR never raced IOR so it doesn’t matter. In 2006 NR had a PHRF rating of 76.
I received a note from my buddy Matt who has sailed many ocean and PNW miles on NIGHT RUNNER:
Bob, I found an IOR certificate for Night Runner. Back in the day the Vic-Maui required everyone to race under IOR. Doug raced locally under PHRF, she just wouldn’t be competitive in IOR. When she raced to Maui she was giving time to boats much larger.
IOR L is 39.5 feet.
She’s a great all around boat, pretty much the same performance as a J-35 upwind (speed and point). She’s really good in light air, and trucks downwind, so light on the helm and stable. When we crossed line on the Vic-Maui in 2000, we were in flat water (no help from the waves), wind in the mid 20’s and speed around 12. There was quite a trough . But we were pretty happy drinking our rituals from the dog bowls.
Yes, I did give NR a skeg hung rudder. I was still big on skegs back then. I also think that considering Doug was coming off the mother of all full keelers, AFRICAN STAR, a spade rudder would have been a hard sell. I honestly don’t remember discussing it. When, many years later cruising up the coast of Mexico the skeg feel off Doug called me and asked for some drawings so they could get it rebuilt. I asked him how the boat handled without the skeg. He said, “Better.”
NIGHT RUNNER has gone through three keel mods. Originally the boat drew 7′. A couple years later we added a 12″ deep timber shoe to increase the draft. A couple years after that the wooden keel shoe was replaced with the same volume of lead and that amount of lead was removed from the top of the keel and a timber spacer was put in place. The fin is a NACA A010-12 foil in the middle of the span tapering down with the same half breadths towards the root and tapering up with the same half breadths towards the tip. In other words at any waterline, at any chord location, say 40%, the thickness of the foil would be the same. This had worked well on HEATHER and UNION JACK. My thinking was that a fin stalls first at the tip so why not have a fatter foil there. And, with the hull providing an end plate of sorts at the root why not have a thinner foil there? I was very scientific.
The rig was designed to have that old cutter look with a big foretriangle for carrying genoa and staysail. The J of 22′ is a bit excessive and I probably should have moved the mast forward or shortened the bowsprit but the resultant look might have been a bit odd. Short tacking NR with that huge 150%+ genoa was a bit of a chore. But the boat went to weather fine and loved a good power reach.
The interior layout was based on Doug’s requirements and has port and starboard pilot berths and a nice galley. I used an indented, offset companionway to open up some room in the aft cabin where I tucked in a double berth for Doug. This worked very well but with that companionway moved forward of the aft end of the cabin trunk a dodger is impossible. At the 30 year anniversary party for NR I talked to Doug’s wife and she complained about not having a dodger. I told her that I could fix that easily with a nice new 50′ version of NR. She said she had suggested that to Doug but his response had been, ” They will have to carry my dead and lifeless body off NR before I get rid of it,” Damn! I always dreamed of a 50′ ULDB version of NR.
J.J. Cale sang:
“After midnight we’re going to let it all hang out.”
Well, it’ 12.02am so I’m going to “let it all hang out”.
He also sang.:
“After midnight, all’s going to be peaches and cream.”
I have to tell you that it wasn’t peaches and cream when I had to deal with Cecil Lange, the builder of NR. Not sure what the problem was. Probably it was a case of the old smart ass versus the young smart ass. I didn’t even like the way Cecil shook hands. I’m a guitar player and I have an intimate relationship with my fingers but Cecil’s hand shake could leave indentations on a yellow cedar 2 by 6. I like a firm hand shake but really? The good news was that while the old Kiwi Cecil ran the yard it was his son Bob Lange who did the actual building and Bob for sure is a peach.
My first trip to the yard during the actual build process was to check the lofting. This was 1980 and computer produced and faired lines were still a ways off. NR’s lines were drawn by hand at ¾” tom the foot scale. To get this to full size for pattern making required the age old skill of lofting, i.e. drawing the full lines plan on the floor full size. This is necessary because at ¾” to the foot even a highly skilled draftsman is going to have some error. I learned lines drawing from a true master of the arty, Yves-Marie Tanton, when I was at the Carter office. I knew my lines were as fair as any but full sized lofting was still required.
I pulled my big Mercedes into Cecil’s parking lot and even before I could get out Cecil walked over to me and said, through the window, in his Kiwi accent, “Now don’t get excited Bob but your wife just called and she thinks she’s going into labor.” Great. There I was in Port Townsend and my wife is going into labor in Seattle with our first child. I went in to check the lofting. Years later when Chuck Schiff was lofting MERIDIAN he called me and asked, “What’s the tolerance for lofting?” Tolerance? Tolerance? There’s not tolerance in lofting! You are either spot on or you are off and you must correct so that all intersections agree, in all views, plan, profile and sections. Cecil’s lofting of NR was a mess. It was clear that while he had drawn all three views full size he had not bothered to resolve the small intersection differences required to produce a fair hull. I carefully explained to Cecil exactly what I wanted to see and how to go about it. Cecil nodded. When I got in the car to drive home Cecil walked over to the car and said, through the window, “I’m not going to draw more lines on the floor just to be drawing lines on the floor. I’ll fair the hull with battens after I have the mold frames up.” I knew this was one way to do it but I also knew it gave Cecil some license that I did not want him to have. I wanted all the control over the shape of the hull. But I lost that argument. To his credit Cecil produced a very fair hull faithful to my lines as far as I could tell.
A kind of funny moment, kind of occurred when Cecil was interviewed for a magazine article. The article was highlighting his New Zealand origins and his “old world” approach to boat building. NR was under construction at the yard at that time so Cecil took the reporter out to the yard and commenced to show her the “old school” way of establishing the centerline of the cabin trunk top. Cecil would have to do it the old way because he “did not have enough details from the designer”. I read this and went bat shit. I called Cecil up and said, “What the hell are you talking about. I sent you a drawing, deck lines, with dimensions all over it for the cabin trunk.” Cecil responded,’ “I know Bob but I had to do something to show her my boatbuilding skills.” Something like that. And that is why to this day the cabin trunk on NR has never looked right to my eye.
The next head butting episode was over the number and thickness of veneers in the hull. I wanted eight thin veneers. Cecil wanted four thicker veneers. His was saved labor. He won that argument. The Cecil announced that he would not wrap the veneers across the hull as I had spec’d. Too much labor spiling both sides of the boat separately. His way you only needed to spile ( shape) the veneers on one side and duplicate that spiling on the other. I lost that argument too. Many years later Doug would tell me that my way was probably the better way.
But these minor hiccups faded away as the beautiful NR took shape. The boat was launched and it floated right on it’s designed lines. Everyone was happy, especially Doug. If memory serves I think the build cost of NR was a bit over $150,000. Times have changed.
I just got this email from Doug:
Yes I got it. I’ve actually been
out on NR since last Thursday. The earlier race history has pretty well faded
into the past. I know we won our class in Tri island several times and in
Center Sound did well. One first in class Grand Prix. Probably the best is
Swiftsure 1st overall 1998, 2011 and 2013. 1st in class 5
times, a 2d overall in 2000, 3d overall 2004. 1st div II Van Isle
360 in 2009. 1st to finish in division Victoria Maui 1984, 1986, 2000 and
Her sailing qualities are best
illustrated by a delivery trip, not a race. In 1986 four of us sailed her back
from Hanalei Bay, Kauai, in the Hawaiian Islands to Port Townsend Washington a
distance of about 2500 nautical miles in 12 days, 17 hours at an average speed
of 8 knots. We had five day runs of 200 miles or better. The best day was
reaching with a double head rig and two reefs in the main and we averaged
better than 9 knots for 24 hours. . The bow hawse pipes were whistling. She is
easily driven and has the most responsive yet gentle feel at the helm of any
vessel I have sailed. If I were to build another boat I cannot think of
anything I would change.
In my next blog entry I’ll talk about sailing and racing NIGHT RUNNER.
This article was syndicated from YACHT DESIGN