In July of 2015, Wooden Boatworks, Inc., of Greenport, New York, launched a new plane-on-frame William Fife III 8-M. The yacht is named Invader, commissioned by Brian Hunt Lawrence of New York City and Oyster Bay, New York. Invader is 48 ft. 2 in. on deck. She carries a 30 ft. 8 in. waterline, an 8 ft. 6 in. beam, and a 6 ft. 6 in. draft, well representing a class with great international appeal in the first part of the last century. 8-Meters were, and still are, a competitive racing class and they formed an Olympic class from 1908 to 1936.
This contemporary Invader was constructed as a historical new-build of a 1930s era 8-Meter calledInvader II, which match-raced for the Canadian team in the 1932 Canada’s Cup. This competition was the freshwater equivalent of the America’s Cup, a decades-long rivalry between the Royal Canadian Yacht Club and the Rochester Yacht Club on Lake Ontario. Although the Canadians fought valiantly for over 50 years, the Rochester Yacht Club stubbornly retained the Canada’s Cup from 1903 to 1954.
After again losing the 1930 Canada’s Cup to the American defender, a Fife-designed 8-Meter namedQuest, RCYC Commodore George Gooderham commissioned the Scottish designer to create Invader II. Determined to win back the Cup from the Americans with a dose of their own Fife medicine, this Canadian 8-Meter yacht was christened Invader II in honor of the first Invader, Gooderham’s yacht that led the Royal Canadian Yacht Club to their former victory in 1901.
By 1930, 8-Meters designed by William Fife III dominated the class. He designed over fifty of them under three evolving racing rules. Invader II was the last 8-Meter Fife designed under the second rule. As an interesting side note to the 1932 competition, Invader II sailed against—and lost to— the American boat Conewago, designed by a young American making a big splash on the racing circuit, Olin Stevens. The American public loved the Eights as well; according to local newspaper clippings of the era, over twenty thousand spectators assembled to watch the battle for the 1932 Canada’s Cup.
Brian Hunt Lawrence, of the New York Yacht Club, has dedicated himself to preserving important classics. One of his favorites is William Fife III’s personal yacht Clio, built in 1921. Clio is 46 ft. with a waterline length of 30 ft., and is one of his very early Bermuda-rigged sloops. Known then asSheevra, Donn Costanzo, now co-owner of Wooden Boatworks, rebuilt the boat entirely with Jeff Law and Olive Adzhead in 1983, in concert with Cantieri Navale dell’Argentario in Italy.
When Lawrence’s love of match racing united with his love of Fife classics, he began a search for an original 8-Meter for restoration. Naturally, he turned to Donn Costanzo and Bruce Wahl of Wooden Boatworks. Besides Clio, Donn Costanzo has restored and raced several other Fifes in Europe, so he is well-versed in Fife design and construction.
Wooden Boatworks specializes in restorations as well as recreating newly built replicas of older yachts. In this way, the original may remain an artifact, while a robust, new boat is created for sailing. Their new and restored work can be viewed by visiting the shop’s website at woodenboatworks.com. In some cases, depending on the planned use of a yacht, Wooden Boatworks feels that a historical replica makes more sense than a full restoration.
This was the case with the search for an 8-Meter for Brian Hunt Lawrence. After trying to locate the right boat on several continents, it turned out that 8-Meters enjoyed such an astounding resurgence in popularity, there remained no more viable original candidates left to restore. So what began as a quest for a historical restoration morphed into a historical reconstruction. This was perhaps an even greater undertaking than the restoration of an existing boat would have been.
Invader II made a perfect candidate for a reconstruction because she no longer existed, having run into a tug and tow line at night on the Hudson River and sunk in two hundred twenty-five feet of water. She enjoyed an unparalleled provenance, a well-documented history, and a vibrant racing career. Most importantly, Invader II was a Fife with excellent racing characteristics—one worthy of recreating.
Building a modern wooden boat to historical standards is challenging enough. Meeting the 8-Meter racing class specifications requires even further demands. Building as close to the original plank-on-frame construction plans in the Fife method, yet creating a boat fully compliant to the rule, meant extreme devotion to historical plans and drawings, construction details and materials, distribution of weight throughout the vessel, and of rig dimensions. Duncan Walker at Fairlie Yachts in Hamble assembled her construction plans and drawings. Using the Invader II plans, naval architect Theo Rye prepared a table of offsets. The Wooden Boatworks team lofted the lines, which were then used to create full-sized AutoCAD construction drawings for cutting materials on the shop floor.
In this case, the shop floor is in a cavernous potato barn in eastern Long Island, an agricultural area known more for growing wine grapes than for building beautiful yachts. Wooden Boatworks has two facilities. One is on the water in Greenport, with several sheds and shops, plus two marine railways for classic yacht maintenance and repairs. The other is the expansive barn complex for new builds. The barn also houses Wooden Boatworks’ extensive collection of vintage Merriman Brothers, Wilcox Crittenden, and Perko marine hardware—much of it never-used old stock—and over 60,000 board feet of seasoned, sustainably harvested lumber suitable for yacht building and repair.
Still, assembling materials for an accurate historical reconstruction is challenging. In today’s world, construction timber comparable to a 1930s era Fife simply does not exist. Although materials for the new Invader were collected for years, Costanzo and Wahl had to reach out to the best sources in America. New England Naval Timbers in Cornwall, Connecticut, located an extraordinary 46-foot white oak at the Thomas Cole Museum in Catskill, New York. The 30-inch diameter tree was milled for the 25 ft. by 2 ft. keel stock. The original Invader II had 88 pairs of grown timber frames.
A modern boat builder could save materials for a lifetime and still not have enough grown frames to build a 48-footer, so Wooden Boatworks’ construction team substituted the best modern equivalent—laminated cherry—for the grown timber primary frames. Then, as in the Fife method, they steam-bent two white oak frames between each laminated cherry frame.
Another divergence from the original design is the floor plates. William Fife used galvanized floor plates, whereas Wooden Boatworks chose silicon bronze plates and strap floors, which were fabricated by Kristian Iglesias of of Kai Design in Greenport. The lead keel itself was molded by Mars Metals of Burlington, Ontario, and trucked to Long Island. Invader is planked with Alaskan yellow cedar and she is copper riveted.