Rhode Island’s Marine Economyby Senator Sheldon Whitehouse
Posted on 2013-02-04
WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, today I wish to pay tribute to
one of my State's great traditions and to a wonderful man. The
Herreshoff Marine Museum, founded in 1971, preserves today the history
of one our State's most important economic and design legacies, the
Herreshoff boat building company of Bristol.
Early Rhode Island settlers took advantage of the State's location on the Narragansett Bay to foster one of Colonial America's most successful marine economies. Newport, RI, was the Colonies' fifth most prosperous commercial center, in part because of its port activity. Since that time, Rhode Islanders have sustained the State's maritime tradition, excelling in boatbuilding, fishing, shipping, port operation, energy exploration, and marine biology.
The marine trades continue to play a pivotal economic development role in our State today; as many other sectors in Rhode Island struggle to rebound from the recent recession, our marine industry is actually expanding. The Rhode Island Marine Trade Association reports that this industry supports over 6,600 Rhode Island jobs, paying almost $260 million in wages to Rhode Island workers--and almost 10 percent of private employers in the State are associated with the boating industry.
The Herreshoff family helped shape Rhode Island's maritime legacy. In 1878, John Brown Herreshoff and his brother Nathanael Greene Herreshoff more commonly known as ``Captain Nat''--joined forces to form the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company in Bristol, RI. Known for innovative design, superior skills, and efficient manufacturing, the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company quickly became a national leader in the boatbuilding industry. The brothers developed a lighter, faster version of the steam generator boiler, which allowed steamboats to operate at a much higher speed than previously possible.. Indeed, Herreshoff built the fastest boats on the water, both steam and sail. Between 1893 and 1920, five of Nathanael Greene Herreshoff's custom-designed racing sloops were chosen to sail in the prestigious America's Cup, and all five emerged as victors.
Notwithstanding these sea-going champions, the Herreshoffs' most acclaimed boat design is arguably the smaller S class. Nathanael Greene Herreshoff first designed the S boat in 1919, and the company built 95 boats before halting production in 1941. So well designed and built are they, that many S boats are still racing today.
It is no wonder the S boat has held up so well. The boat shows speed and agility under all conditions, and its engineering is considered one of the most groundbreaking undertakings in boatbuilding history. The S boat was particularly well suited for the coastal waters of Rhode Island: comfortable for easy day sailing; fast when racing hard. Its deep keel and hull shape made the boat steady in the strong ocean breeze that characterizes summer afternoons on Narragansett Bay, but on mild days its vast mainsail catches the lightest zephyr. The S boat boasted a keel with a high aspect ratio, and a high ballast-to- displacement ratio, allowing for a stiffer boat. Although these features were unusual for the 1900s, other boat designers quickly adopted them after the great success of the S boat became apparent. The S boat transom became a common sight for other sailors.
Ninety-five years after the first S boat splashed into Bristol Harbor at the Herreshoff boatyard, the fleet is active and growing, with boats being restored to join the class. This success and growth is much thanks to fleet commodore Fred Roy. Fred brought bouyant enthusiasm and cheerfulness to the Narragansett Bay Herreshoff S Class Association, and the association and all who love our bay and its special sailing traditions join in appreciation of Fred Roy. Fred has brought the spirit of the S boat, rail down and surging forward, to this part of our ongoing history and maritime culture, and I take this opportunity to thank and salute him, and celebrate this tradition of Narragansett Bay.