Join Date: Feb 2000
Location: Annapolis, Md
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HyLyte hit the nail on the head, but to add a bit more, What generically is called a lifeboat varied very widely with the country of origin and period of build.
The boat in question looks like a conversion of an English lifeboat which is in part supported by the larch planking and lapstrake construction. She clearly had her sheer raised when the deck and cabin were added. The cabin construction details and the railing/bulkwark installation suggests that this was not a particularly expert conversion. She looks a lot like a lifeboat conversion that a hippie friend of mine owned back in the 1970's that he used to sail back and forth from Miami to the Bahamas.
In general, wooden lifeboats had a tough life living out in the sun (dry), yet being expected to be water tight when the hit the water. They were expected to have a roughly 10 year lifespan and that was it. They were often iron fastened and had species that were suited to be stored dry and then suddenly launched and being water tight, rather than a species that is rot and borer resistant as would be desireable for a boat living in the water.
Lifeboats needed to be burdensome (in order to carry a lot of wet passengers). By the mid-20th century most were not expected to actually sail or be moved under oars more than very short distances. For the most part, they had hull forms that were buoyant but very poor for sailing or any other form of propulsion.
Those that had sailing rigs were unballasted and carried either a gaff rig, sliding gunther rig, quadralateral sprit rig, or a lug rig of some kind. In other words, rigs that would reach quite well but with limited upwind ability, developing a lot of drive with minimal heeling.
The best sailing conversions were performed on Monomoy style lifeboats which were intended to be rescue type lifeboats and so rowed very well and sailed better than most other forms of lifeboats. That said they had lower freeboard and so the sheer needed to be raised to convert them to a sailing yacht.
After the war you could buy lifeboats dirt cheap. Wooden Lifeboats could be bought for under a $100 and so they were often bought and converted. Some had brilliantly conceived conversions with long fin keels, cast ballast and decent rudder designs. The skillful conversions were quite yacht like and made great offshore pocket cruisers by the standard of the day. But by the 1960's you saw a lot of ill-conceived and poorly executed designs. The basic hulls, now 20-30 years old, were in rough shape and the hippie type owners were not big on craftsmanship or even knowledgeable in how to do a decent job. Many of these were about as minimal a conversion as you could imagine. In an earlier post on this topic I described 'Grace', which was just one such conversion.
'Grace' had a bit of deck added all around. Above this deck was a small cabin trunk but to call it a trunk cabin is to exaggerate a bit. It was really a trunk cabin top supported on wooden stanchions. Ratty old canvas curtains, stained a mottled ochre by rust and salt and mildew, could be rolled down on the forward end and the sides of the trunk to form the side and forward cabin bulkhead and when properly battened into place could almost keep out the rain and spray when needed. ‘Grace’s’ rig was the original lifeboat's gaff rigged sloop; a small telephone pole for a mast held up by plow steel wire."
In any event, if lovingly maintained boats like these can be a cheap thrill and fun in their percular way to own. If you buy one, your personality should be such that you enjoy working on the boat as much as sailing and need to be very patient when sailing. A well done lifeboat conversion will sail almost anywhere, but not get there all that quickly.
Quotes regarding the Monomoy Lifeboats:
"The Monomoys are 26’ long with a 7’ beam and draw of about 2‘ with the crew on board. Most weigh over 2,000 lbs. The rowing configuration is double-banked, that is, the eight rowers sit in four pairs side-by-side on fixed thwarts (benches). (In single-banked boats, like racing shells, rowers sit fore and aft of each other, each on their own seat.) Each rower handles a single 12’ wooden oar. The oars range in weight from 11 to 15 lbs. A coxswain stands in the stern and steers with a 16’ oar. In a BAWRA race, a 10th person rides in the bow for added safety."
“The Monomoy design is an evolution of the classic utilitarian whaleboat: a double-ended, lightweight, cheaply constructed boat to be rowed or sailed under all conditions in pursuit of whales and for use in general ship's work. In 1934 the U.S. Coast Guard standardized the design for contract purposes, and thousands were built for use as lifeboats and gigs aboard not only naval and military ships but also commercial freighters and ocean liners.....The boat is quite simple and Spartan.”-- From Wooden Boat Magazine, A Tale of Two Sisters: Carvel vs. Cold Molding, January/February, 1982 By W. Tay Vaughan, III
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Curmudgeon at Large- and rhinestone in the rough, sailing my Farr 11.6 on the Chesapeake Bay