|The legacy of Philip Rhodes|
Sponsored by Good Old Boat Magazine
A pioneering designer of many early production fiberglass sailboats
by Ben Stavis
Philip L. Rhodes (1895 -1974) was one of the most distinguished yacht designers of the past century. Indicative of his importance, in February 2005 he and Olin Stephens became the first two yacht designers inducted into the North American Boat Designers Hall of Fame at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut.
A brilliant designer whose boats were beautiful, fast, seaworthy, and comfortable, Phil Rhodes was active for 50 years -- from 1920 to 1970. And he was prolific; a listing of his yacht designs totals 386, most of which are sailboats.
Phil was a graduate of MIT's program in naval architecture and marine engineering (1918), so he had unusually strong academic credentials. Moreover, he was active on professional committees that reached into the boating world. These included the Motor Boat and Yacht Advisory Panel of the U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Marine Council, the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC), and the Measurement Rule Committee of the Cruising Club of America (CCA).
Over the decades the list of people who worked in his office and later became distinguished designers or boating industry professionals in their own right, is its own hall of fame: Frederick Bates, R. P. Cook, Roger Cook, Richard Davis, Henry Devereaux, Mark Ellis, Weston Farmer, Ralph Jackson, Charles Jannace, Francis Kinney, Roger Long, Al Mason, James McCurdy, Joseph Reinhardt, Olin Stephens, Robert Steward, William Tripp, Bob Wallstrom, Winthrop Warner, and Charles Wittholz. It is easy to see why Phil Rhodes' influence was so pervasive.
Born on the river
Philip Rhodes was born in 1895 in Southern Ohio. From childhood he was enchanted by boats on the Ohio River: paddlewheelers, barges, and speedboats. His father was a manufacturer of wooden wheels, wagons, and carriages. After his father died his mother married a master carpenter. So Phil learned from an early age about crafting wood.
He designed and built his first hydrofoil speedboat at the age of 18 and soon was publishing articles in Motor Boating magazine. He graduated from high school in 1914 and from MIT in 1918, largely converted to the challenge of designing sailboats. His first job was a training position for naval construction at the Boston Navy Yard, followed by a job at the American Shipbuilding Company on Lake Erie, where he helped build ore carriers and became a practical shipfitter. His later design work was strengthened by his understanding of shipbuilding techniques.
But sailboats were his love. His first sailboat design was a prizewinner in Motor Boating's Ideal Series in 1919. He married his high-school sweetheart, Mary Jones, in 1920. Around 1925 he set up his own office in New York, and in 1932 he became associated with Cox & Stevens, a prestigious yacht- and commercial-design firm. In 1935 the head designer died, and Phil succeeded him as chief designer.
A diverse portfolio
Over the course of his career Phil designed sailboats of all types, for all kinds of sailing needs. He introduced countless sailors to the water with his small boats, such as the 11-foot Penguin and the Rhodes 19. His coastal and ocean-racing boats, generally in the 40- to 70-foot range, were always serious competitors. A Rhodes-designed gaff cutter, Skal, was second in the 1931 transatlantic race (which was won by Olin Stephens' Dorade ). Kirawan , a 53-foot Rhodes sloop, won the Bermuda Race on her first outing in 1936 against fierce headwinds.
Her sistership, Senta , carried her owner on a world cruise from 1969 to 1980. His 12-Meter, Weatherly , won the America's Cup in 1962. In 2000, a 40-year-old Rhodes 41 won the Bermuda Race, and Bengalore , a wooden cutter designed by Rhodes in 1928, was second.
His narrow one-design club racers (33 to 36 feet) are quick and agile. His family cruising boats (26 to 50 feet) are prized for their beautiful lines, comfort, and sailing ability. His trailersailer, the Rhodes 22, is popular on inland lakes. And his large ketches and motorsailers in the 70- to 150-foot range carry their owners and guests in style and comfort as they circle the Atlantic from the Caribbean to Maine to the Mediterranean and back. His range is amply illustrated by two consecutive designs in 1966 -- a 122-foot three-master for a Rockefeller and a 12-foot aluminum sailing dinghy for mass production.
Phil designed a wide range of hull forms. Early in his career, he emulated Colin Archer's double-ended boats. One of these 1930 designs was converted into fiberglass in 1970 as the Traveller 32. When Alden schooners were popular in the 1930s, Phil designed schooners. When Baltimore clients liked the bugeye ketch, he designed elegant ones, not unlike the beautiful Cherubini 44. He had no problem drawing clipper bows when clients liked them. Phil also designed light-displacement, fin-keel boats in 1932, 1944, 1946, and 1957 -- all before the Cal 40 made fin keels popular.
One of his major contributions was the shoal-draft, keel-centerboard form. Phil developed this hull form in 1932 and used it often through the 1960s in his custom-designed racers and cruisers in the 40- to 55-foot range. They were a little beamier than his normal designs, to increase form stability, but are still narrow by contemporary standards. Of course they had a bit less draft. This configuration gave them less wetted surface area, so they were fast as well as roomier below. Phil's famous 1955 transatlantic race winner, Carina II , was a superb example of this hull form. These keel-centerboard designs were the inspiration for the famous centerboarder, Finisterre , designed by Olin Stephens for Carleton Mitchell, who had asked Olin to make Finisterre similar to his previous Rhodes-designed centerboarder, Caribbee .
In shaping hulls, Phil was eager to test small-scale models. As a child, he had tested models of hulls in an Ohio canal. When the Stevens Institute of Technology's tank testing facility was built in 1935, he began using it immediately. His test boat was Narada. Her design was highly praised, and her test data provided the standards by which other performance-prediction methods were gauged.
Phil was thoughtful in designing accommodations. Whether on a 26- or a 76-footer, he designed cockpits, bunks, lockers, passageways, doors, and lockers that were ergonomically sensible. He was also creative and experimental. On different designs he tried putting the galley forward, midships, aft, and along one side opposite a dinette. On some boats he located the main cabin near the back of the boat. He had several ways of creating a real aft owner's cabin in moderately sized boats.
Apart from those boats with the dinette that converts to a double berth, exceedingly few Rhodes boats have a double berth. No matter how large and elegant the cabins, even if they were double cabins, they had two (distantly) separated beds, and not very wide ones at that. On his boats in the 70- to more than 100-foot range, there is room for a bathtub in the owner's cabin and two narrow bunks ... almost 20 feet apart. On Copperhead , he came close to having a near double berth, but deliberately made it narrower and put in a "stowage bin" instead.
Obviously the constraint was not space. According to Charles Jannace, a draftsman in Phil's office in the 1950s and '60s, the reason for the absence of double beds was simple: clients didn't ask for them. In those days, among his clients, a yacht seems to have been more for racing and adventure at sea. It wasn't the place for family togetherness or marital bliss. Phil designed boats for sailing, with narrow, secure berths at sea.
While each design was individually developed, when one looks at his overall output of designs, the connections between boats are clear. Each design is an iteration of a previous work. When Phil designed a keel boat, sooner or later the design would be tweaked into a centerboarder. This is clear in the pairs of keel and centerboard 33-foot, 42-foot, and 45-foot designs. Phil himself pointed out the connections between his designs when he wrote to a prospective client that a 45-foot centerboarder was essentially a smaller version of the 53-foot centerboarder, Carina II .
One also can see a recurring pattern in interior layouts. For example, in the 45-foot Olsching , drawn in 1953, Phil drew a dinette on one side of the boat and a linear galley on the other. This approach shows up in a late 1950s boat, in the 1963 Reliant, and in the Rhodes 22.