Remembering Bill Tripp
His special knack made boats faster than their ratings
by Ted Jones
During the 1960s, William H. Tripp Jr. was one of America's most successful yacht designers, drawing custom ocean racers for a distinguished clientele and smaller boats for production builders like Seafarer and Columbia Yachts. His Bermuda 40 for the Henry R. Hinckley Co. is considered by many to be one of the prettiest boats of the fiberglass era.
Sadly, he died suddenly, in a car crash at just 51 years of age. Beyond his inclusion in Bill Robinson's The Great American Yacht Designers (1974) and the more recent collection (2005) by Lucia del Sol Knight and Daniel MacNaughton, The Encyclopedia of Yacht Designers, not much has been written about Bill Tripp.
I had the privilege of working with him for a number of years and counted him as a friend as well as a colleague. In 1958, while I was working for the yacht brokerage firm of John R. Lyon Inc. in Greenwich, Connecticut, I spotted an ad in Yachting magazine announcing the formation of the design/brokerage firm of Tripp & Campbell, with offices at 10 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City. I knew Bill Campbell but had never met Bill Tripp. I wrote a letter to Bill Campbell, congratulating him on his new venture. I received an immediate reply from Bill Tripp inviting me to visit their office. In very short order I began commuting to New York City to help Bill Campbell sell new and used boats.
Georjabelle and Touché
I knew Bill Tripp by reputation, of course. The 43-foot yawl he designed for Jasper H. Kane was skippered by my high-school classmate, Rod Oakes. Georjabelle was a lovely red-hulled centerboard yawl. But the boat that really got Bill noticed was Touché, a radical flush-decked 47-foot sloop designed for Jack Potter of Oyster Bay, Long Island. Touché had proven almost unbeatable in her early races on Long Island Sound. Because of his reputation for designing race-winning sailboats, prospective boatowners had begun beating a path to Bill's door. He also was one of the first yacht designers to make use of the then new boatbuilding material called fiberglass.
Early fiberglass designs
Bill's first fiberglass design was the 32-foot Galaxy for American Boatbuilding in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. But before the Galaxy could be built, a group of offshore sailors approached him to design a 40-foot fiberglass centerboard yawl, to be built by American Boatbuilding and known as the Block Island 40.
Of that first batch of BI 40s, I remember Swamp Yankee (#1), built for Van Allen Clark; Seal (#2), for Frederick J. Lorenzen; and Rhubarb (#3 or #4), for Ben DuPont. There were others, as well: Scylla for Sailmaker Charlie Ulmer; Reindeer (sloop rigged) for E. Newbold Smith; and Wahini for Pat O'Gorman. All did extremely well in the 1958 racing season and several entered the Bermuda Race of that year. Seal became infamous for taking a hunk out of the concrete dock at Pearlman & Watlington's in Bermuda without so much as a scratch to her (or so the legend goes). I often sailed aboard Seal with Fred and Dottie Lorenzen after the 1958 Bermuda Race.
Since fiberglass was a new and untried material, Bill Tripp specified a hull layup fit for a Sherman tank. The first BI 40s were reported to have 2-inch thick fiberglass in parts of the hull. The cost of production and other factors put American Boatbuilding out of business, but not before they returned to the original 32-footer to build several Tripp Galaxys.
The Galaxy was unusual for its time with a flush deck except for a "gun turret" rounded doghouse, wide beam, and wide plumb transom that "just didn't look right" to most traditionalists. It also had a fin keel and spade rudder. I believe she was the first of this configuration -- in contemporary boats -- predating Bill Lapworth's wonderful Cal 40 by several years. In the right hands, the Galaxy sailed very well.