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Heart of Glass: Fiberglass Boats and the Men Who Made Them
The fiberglass boat revolution began when polyester resin was invented in 1935. The resin required reinforcement, and builders experimented with various materials (even palm fronds) before arriving at glass fibers. Ray Greene, of Toledo, OH, built the first fiberglass boat, a dinghy, in 1942. The inevitability of the revolution soon became obvious despite the barbs of purists who called the new material "frozen snot," and despite concerns about the new material's strength (manufacturers defended themselves in bizarre tests like firing bullets at glass hulls or dropping boats many feet onto rocks). By 1968 hardly a wooden stock boat was being built.
In this pioneering history of recent boat design and construction, Daniel Spurr tells how glass replaced oak as the structural heart of a modern sailing vessel. He knows the territory well as a restorer of older boats and as long-time editor of Practical Sailor, and he has also conducted a vast amount of research for his narrative. His story concerns both the developing technology and the designers and builders of boats built in yards whose finances usually were as ramshackle as their sheds. He has gathered the histories of 137 companies (you may find the background of your boat here). Many of these stories are based on the memories of owners or others, rather than official records, so the details may not be wholly reliable; oral history has its limitations. But there can be no question about the entrepreneurial spirit that fueled these companies.
One part of the story that could stand more attentionperhaps by Spurr in another bookis marketing, the industry's weakness. Without enthusiastic editorial support by Yachting and other magazines, and without writers like Carleton Mitchell and Bill Robinson, the boom in pleasure boating that fed (and fed off) the fiberglass revolution would not have occurred. Still, Spurr does not ignore marketing altogether, ably describing the ingenious "lifestyle" promotions concocted in the early seventies for the Hobie Cats by Hobie Alter and for the Westsail 32 by Lynne and Snider Vick.
But that's a small complaint. If you want to know how pleasure boating got to where it is now, start with Heart of Glass.