Uncredited sailboat cameo
November 15, 2005 8:35 AM   Subscribe

Sailboat question, sort of. At the very end of the Dead Like Me episode "Unfinished Business" (from the first season), George is seen sailing alone in a gorgeous wooden sailboat...

I'm a non-sailor who's fascinated by sailboats, particulary wooden ones. Can anyone tell me anything about that particular boat, or even that particular type of boat (i.e., open wooden lapstrake sailboat of that size & rigging)? Especially who might have built it, and when, but any information appreciated.
posted by bricoleur to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I'm not familiar with the show so I can't comment on the specific boat, but Woodenboat magazine is a great resource for all things wooden boat related.
Oddly enough.
posted by Floydd at 8:46 AM on November 15, 2005

I don't know where you live, but if you're fascinated by sailboats, I'd recommend that you start visiting maritime museums. They'll help you get a handle on boatbuilding technique, terminology, and hull designs. Mystic Seaport is an excellent place to start. Here are many others.
posted by Miko at 9:35 AM on November 15, 2005

Thanks, Floydd. I was aware of WoodenBoat, and it is an excellent resource for my fascination. I suppose I could try thumbing through all the back issues at my library to find something similar to the one I'm talking about.

Miko, I'm landlocked in Iowa. That's part of the reason I'm a non-sailor—that and the fact that the fascination is fairly recent. But I think I'm going to have to scratch the itch soon, even if it's in a dinghy on a pond.
posted by bricoleur at 9:49 AM on November 15, 2005

I've managed to scrounge up some pictures of the boat from the episode (which is actually entitled "Business Unfinished"): pic 1, pic 2, pic 3. They might help some sailboat experts come up with the info that bricoleur is looking for.

They're from Ellen Muth's website - she's the actress that played George in Dead Like Me.
posted by flipper at 10:02 AM on November 15, 2005

Landlocked in Iowa? Well, the Great Lakes aren't too far from you, and there's phenomenal boating to be found on all of them. Check into some of the museums on the Lakes.
posted by Miko at 10:12 AM on November 15, 2005

Oh, it's a catboat.
posted by Miko at 10:12 AM on November 15, 2005

It has a jib (the small sail in front of the mast) -- I thought the defining feature of a catboat was the single sail (pictures of catboats).
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 10:23 AM on November 15, 2005

More, now that I've found you some nice links: Catboats are an uncommonly stable boat, having a wide beam and roomy hull. The mast is stepped very far forward, and there is only one sail, the main. It is an exceptionally beginner-friendly and family-friendly design, although the sail can put up a good fight, being so large. They're usually gaff-rigged, which means that the top of the sail is attached not to the mast itself but to a wooden spar called a gaff, which extends the head of the sail for some extra height and sail area. This one appears open-decked, but they're often decked over to provide a wonderful interior berth.

Building a catboat

Catboat Assocation

Catboats on Wikipedia

Mystic Seaport's catboat, the Breck Marshall (only one I've ever sailed).
posted by Miko at 10:24 AM on November 15, 2005

It has a jib (the small sail in front of the mast) -- I thought the defining feature of a catboat was the single sail (pictures of catboats).

No, the defining feature is a single mast stepped far forward. You can still use a headsail with that rig. However, it's rare and not often necessary or useful.
posted by Miko at 10:26 AM on November 15, 2005

[looking at pics again] it is a bit of an odd one, though. The mast is a teensy bit far back for a traditional cat. It's not a design I know. Perhaps someone else will identify the specific type for you - (catboat is a general class, there are many designs possible within it).
posted by Miko at 10:31 AM on November 15, 2005

even if it's in a dinghy on a pond.

Actually you can't get much closer to true sailing than in a dinghy or a windsurfer on a pond. Sailing is all about managing the pressure differential between two fluids - water and air. If the fluids are moving in different directions, you can often move faster than either one, in a dinghy. Because a human is large in comparison to a dinghy, the sailor uses their body weight to balance the boat against the wind force. Larger boats ("keelboats") have a very heavy weight at the bottom that serves this same function. Keelboats are relaxing, but not nearly as engaging as a good dinghy.

A Laser is every bit as technical as the largest and fastest ocean racing boats.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:35 AM on November 15, 2005

It kind of looks like a Wayfarer, only they're plywood.
posted by Floydd at 10:50 AM on November 15, 2005

It looks close to a Biscayne Bay.
Duckworks is another good resource.
(I'm going to stop now. I could look at boats all day long....)
posted by Floydd at 11:06 AM on November 15, 2005

If you see 'gorgeous' and 'wooden boat' in the same sentence Cap'n Nat Herreshoff is probably nearby (in spirit).

This looks quite similar to a Herreshoff 12 and a half, aka "Buzzard's Bay Boy's Boat" . If not an actual 12 and half it is definitely a descendant.

WP entry on Cap'n Nat.

You can buy kits of these and build them in your garage.
posted by Mr T at 1:44 PM on November 15, 2005

I really don't think it's a Herreshoff 12.5. Yes, Herreshoffs are beautiful boats, but look at the difference in hull shape. The hallmark of a Herreshoff is a sleek, graceful sheer with little freeboard above the waterline, coupled with a narrow beam. They look slivery and fast. The catboats, on the other hand, are broad and beamy.
posted by Miko at 2:05 PM on November 15, 2005

Another difference is the transom. In the Herreshoff 12 pic, note that the transom has the classic steep angle which cuts deep under the stern. Catboats, in contrast, have a transom set almost square to the keel line.
posted by Miko at 2:24 PM on November 15, 2005

Miko: yes the transom is different too and I don't think the original had such prominent ship-lap. It is hard to tell from the pictures provided and I did not see that show. But if you read some of the history of the Herreshoff 12 and a half you will see it is the granddaddy of this class of boats.

Cat boats by definition do not have staysails. If you put a jib on a cat boat you got a sloop. You are barking up the wrong tree.
posted by Mr T at 2:28 PM on November 15, 2005

If you put a jib on a cat boat you got a sloop

No, you have a sloop rig on a catboat.
posted by Miko at 3:01 PM on November 15, 2005

if you read some of the history of the Herreshoff 12 and a half you will see it is the granddaddy of this class of boats.

Do you have a link? Because catboats are vernacular styles found up and down the East Coast, and the basic hull shape predates Herreshoff's birth.
posted by Miko at 3:04 PM on November 15, 2005

I don't think she's beamy enough for a catboat.
(I know, I know. I'm done....)
posted by Floydd at 3:25 PM on November 15, 2005

From Wikipedia:
A catboat (alternate spelling: cat boat), or a cat-rigged sailboat, is a sailing vessel characterized by a single mast carried well forward (i.e., near the front of the boat). Although any boat with a single sail and a mast carried well forward is 'technically' a catboat, the traditional catboat has a wide beam approximately half the length of the boat, a centerboard, and a single gaff-rigged sail. Some catboats such as the Barnegat Bay type and more modern catboat designs carry a Bermuda sail. A jib is sometimes added, but this may require a bowsprit, and technically creates a sloop sail-plan.
Sailboats are categorised by their sail-plan and as Floydd points out the boat pictured is not beamy enough to be called a cat boat for any other reason.
posted by Mr T at 4:33 PM on November 15, 2005

Funny thing, Mr. T: I was going to quote that section to support my own point. Sail plans are fluid things and are not fully definitive. That's why WP says carrying a jib "technically" creates a sloop sail plan. [Not that WP is a good source of nautical information -- it's very much not so hot]. WP also indicates that this is rare, as I said above. Stringing a jib on the forestaydoesn't turn this boat into not a catboat. The more important identifying details are in this section:

the traditional catboat has a wide beam approximately half the length of the boat, a centerboard, and a single gaff-rigged sail

Vessel nomenclature is complicated. Vessels can indeed be characterized by their sail plan for some purposes (for example, 'ship', 'bark', 'ketch', and so on). Confusion arises because on first reference, we often call sailboats by their rig types. This is really a historical habit of convenience, because at a distance, the rig is all that is visible. But in boatyards and among builders and sailors, boats are also commonly characterized by their hull design -- especially when discussing their shape, form, and function. That is why you can also refer to vessels by their hull shapes, as in 'clipper, 'sharpie', 'pinky', or 'smack', or by any number of specific proprietary brand names that denote registered commercial designs, like those made by Hunter, Catalina, etc. And then there are military vessels,which can be characterized by their armaments or actions rather than sail plan or hull design, and historic fishing vessels, which are characterized by their fishing methods ('longliner', 'trawler', 'handliner', 'doryman') every bit as often as by sail plan. So there's no "rule" that vessels are always known by the rig they carry. Meaningful characterization normally requires more information than that.

Remember, you can jerry-rig just about any sail plan on any hull if you're crazy enough-- but a change to the sail plan does not create a different hull design.

The hull design pictured is well within the broad definition a traditional catboat. It is definitely beamy enough (God knows I've seen enough of them in my career). Check out the Compass Classic on this page. Remember that it's a vernacluar style; there is no one definitive catboat. And stringing a jib on your forestay does not change the hull design or masting arrangement, and so doesn't require a name change. If you actually called the pictured boat a 'sloop' you'd get some funny looks.

It's kind of impossible to tell from those pictures what the dimensions really are, and it is weird to carry a jib on a cat, but my ID is not way off. I stand by it until the boat design is positively identified. Could I be wrong? Sure; I haven't seen everything out there. But I have seen dozens of great wooden catboats, and there is nothing highly inconsistent with this one. If bricoleur is looking for more boats like that one, he should spend time looking at catboats. He'll see some close matches and some that are more extreme; but he won't be far off the mark.
posted by Miko at 6:16 PM on November 15, 2005

OK. I may have positive ID here. Compare Pic2 above with The Peterborough Catboat. Obviously, the condition of the one in my link is quite different, but attend to: the centerboard trunk, visible in both; the shape of the cockpit coaming; the canvas decking, the sole planking, the distance between frames, the position of the after thwart, and the varnished wood mast-partners. All match the TV show picture.

If not convinced, follow the restoration story of the boat, starting here, and ending with a beautiful result. Compare the bow-on pics in the finished restoration to pic3, above.

Bricoleur, meet your dreamboat: The Peterborough Catboat.
posted by Miko at 6:52 PM on November 15, 2005

Well, thank you all. Flipper, your Google-fu made this possible.

Miko, I think you got it. The boat in Flipper's pictures is larger, but the family resemblance is indisputable.
posted by bricoleur at 7:43 PM on November 15, 2005

I concede to you Miko, your photographic evidence is sound. I will stand my 'technical' ground but the day is yours.
posted by Mr T at 8:58 PM on November 15, 2005

Wood boats are beautiful! You can spend a great deal of time looking at them and admiring their beauty...while you scrape a varnish. Myself, I prefer sailing to maintenance. Just saying, beauty isn't everything.
posted by Goofyy at 4:20 AM on November 16, 2005

Bricoleur, you're right about the size, and I couldn't find a lot more pics on the web of Peterborough catboats. I did find some information about the very historic company, which was known for making canoes. If you wanted to track down some more examples, maybe you'll find some leads there.
posted by Miko at 5:43 AM on November 16, 2005

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