Fred Hibberd blueprinted 25 years of sailing experience into the yawl 'Caprice.' For the story of his boat and how he built it, turn the page
This is an article from the Jan. 21, 1957 issue
THE DREAM THAT BECAME 'CAPRICE'
At a time when yachting fashion suggests that to be fast on the water and comfortable in your cabin you must own a wide-beamed center-boarder like Finisterre (SI, June 18, 1956), a New York engineer named Fred Hibberd is sailing dead against the current with some solid and original ideas of his own. Unlike many of his yachting brothers, Hibberd is unmoved by the fact that in the past two years the winner of the transatlantic race to Sweden, of the Storm Trysail Race, and of three of the four classes in the last Bermuda Race were center-boarders.
"Carleton Mitchell," Hibberd said, speaking of Finisterre's owner, "says he likes fat boats. I belong to another school. I like the way a keel boat handles when the weather is heavy. Centerboarders tend to be rather complicated affairs and rather expensive. They're wider, and for that reason the rail goes under further at a given angle of heel. You've got to keep center-boarders on their feet to get the best out of them. And for going to sea, the centerboard trunk is just one more thing that can go wrong. Also, with regard to room," he went on, "our main cabin has as much effective room as Finisterre's."
Hibberd, whose Caprice measures a full 15 inches narrower in the beam than Finisterre's extreme 11 feet three inches, actually did get as much room in his main cabin by combining a couple of pet theories. One is the open fin keel, a 6,000-pound torpedo of cast iron supported by two fins, with a yawning hole between (see drawing page 30). No one else, in Hibberd's knowledge, has ever tried to build one.
The idea of the open keel, which Hibberd worked out on a 31-foot guinea-pig Caprice he built in 1949, is to allow the keel to be bolted to a steel frame forward in the boat without getting the lateral plane of the keel as a whole so far forward that it upsets the sailing balance. Furthermore, Caprice's keel gives an extra dividend in cabin space because it is set onto a hull with fat, convex lower sections that allow for a wider floor inside the boat. In a conventional keel boat, the lower sections have to be drawn narrow and concave so that the curves of the hull will run smoothly into the keel.
Hibberd gets even more floor space as a by-product of the ribless, molded-type construction he picked for Caprice. For this, he went to Luders Marine Construction Co. of Stamford, Conn., a pioneer in molded hulls, whose latest model of the ribless L-27 cruising sloop is one of the prime attractions at the New York boat show this week.
For Caprice, Luders set up a mold of rough spruce, and bent strips of 3/8-inch mahogany diagonally across the frame. Then, using waterproof Resorcinol glue and about 20,000 brass screws, they clamped down another layer of planking on the opposite diagonal. Finally, they glued and nailed on an outer skin with the planking running fore and aft. Once the second layer of glue had set, the nails were pulled, the spruce mold was pried out and thrown away. The hull was then ready for the three stainless steel frames and the plywood bulkheads which hold the hull rigid, take the strain of the mast and shrouds and support the weight of the keel.
Very few boats have ever been made by this cold-molded process, i.e., without the expensive permanent forms and the steam heat and pressure system used in conventional molded-hull construction. Luders tried the cold-molded system and got away with it. As a result, the builders not only saved money, they also drew praise on the construction method from no less an authority than Philip H. Rhodes, a brilliant marine architect who normally favors the more traditional approach. "He's got one piece of wood all the way around the boat," said Rhodes. "It becomes one piece, that is, and that's good."
Rhodes also liked Hibberd's choice of a split cabin. Ordinarily it is hard enough to fit one livable cabin into a small cruising boat, but Hibberd and Luders, by using a shoehorn and some geometrical hocus-pocus, were able to squeeze in two of them.
"That arrangement," said Rhodes, "does double duty on length. The cockpit is right there where you can reach it. And you're not sitting under the mizzen, which can be bad—it dumps wind and water down your neck. The split cabin also lets you get the engine under the cockpit and still have a big engine room. The only thing I don't like about it is that it's wet because the cockpit is so far forward."
Hibberd, naturally, had his own list of reasons for the arrangement. "You get privacy," he said, "especially when you have a head in each cabin. You get the dinghy out of your line of sight by getting it off the main cabin top and sticking it under the mizzen on the after cabin. You get access to the motor under the cockpit from both ends. I don't think Mitchell could possibly get my big diesel in his boat. Then, there are two seagoing reasons for it. One is that you're sitting in the center of pitching, instead of back near the stern where the boat's going up and down. The other is that by filling out the waterline to make room for the other cabin, you have a great deal of reserve buoyancy aft.
"One disadvantage you always hear about a split cabin," he said, echoing Rhodes' criticism, "and that is your cockpit is wet. But Caprice just isn't a wet boat. I don't know if it's the high freeboard or what."
He went on, then, to be quite frank about some of her weaker points.
"One trouble," he said, "which I think can be overcome is that you can get weather or sea in the forward- facing hatch of the after cabin." Up to now, Caprice has been used mainly for cruising the quiet waters of Long Island Sound. However, last week she was loaded aboard a freighter for Trinidad. Later this month the Hibberds will fly down with friends and test her out on a six-week cruise to San Juan. The southern trip should give them plenty of chance to see if she takes water into the after cabin. She won't, if another Hibberd idea, a quick-folding hatch cover that can be flopped down when a big wave hits, works out.
The occasional Caribbean calms may give Hibberd some second thoughts about another of Caprice's characteristics—her short rig. By keeping all of his sails and running gear inboard of the ends of the boat, and by picking smaller masts to keep the sail area in proper proportion to the short booms, he came out with less canvas than most boats this size. "Caprice is an under-rigged boat," he admitted, but he would not admit she is slow. On the contrary, he had the hull tank-tested at Stevens Institute marine laboratories to make sure he had a boat that would go. "All the members of my family race," he said, "and I wanted to give them some incentive to come in races with me. The race record so far indicates that Caprice is not as good in light winds as heavy. But you can't have it all. I'd rather have a boat that is fast in heavy weather and a good sea boat, too, which Caprice is."
As he got ready for the trip to the Caribbean last week, Fred Hibberd seemed just as satisfied with the other ideas that he had designed in his Caprice. The circulating fresh-water cooling system he built into the keel had proved itself over the past summer, not only as a means of keeping the engine cool but as a welcome escape from the weed-clogged intakes that plague vessels with salt-water cooling systems. The winches with built-in jam cleats and ratchet handles were making life easier on a family boat where manpower is often not as heavy as it is on the big ocean racers. The simple inboard rig promised to keep her manageable even under emergency conditions. "Two can handle Caprice nicely in heavy weather," he said, "and if one is sick the other can do it alone." As for her short sail area, Hibberd emphasized that he was satisfied, that he had built this boat for himself and his family, not to win ocean races. "If I wanted a racing boat," said Hibberd, "I wouldn't have built one like Caprice, and I wouldn't have designed her myself. I'd have assumed that the professionals could do a better job. But one thing the professionals don't know is what I want in a boat. That's what I know most about."
INSIDE FRED HIBBERD'S CRUISING YAWL 'CAPRICE'
With an engineer's sharp eye for detail and a yachtsman's feeling for comfort on board, Hibberd packed two full cabins and a hefty diesel engine into a 39-foot eight-inch hull
1 Stowage—light sails, anchor lines2¾-inch plywood frame and partial bulkhead
3 Forward head
4 Deep locker and clothes hamper
5 Mast stepped into stainless-steel frame
6 Hanging locker
7 Portside berths in main cabin
8 Stainless-steel water tanks
9 Cast-steel forward fin
10 Keel cooler for engine water
11 V-drive gear
12 6,000-pound cast-iron ballast keel
13 Stainless-steel reinforced after fin
14 Three-bladed wheel
15 19-gallon starboard fuel tank
16 45-hp Red Wing diesel
17 Motor generator
18 Two pairs of six-volt batteries
19 Refrigerator compressor
20 After cabin portside berth
21 Pullman-type folding washbasin
22 After head
23 After stowage-lines, life jackets, etc.
24 Stainless-steel vertical boomkin
25 Eight-foot molded dinghy
26 Stainless-steel mainsheet horse
27 Hollow aluminum mizzen (24 feet)
29 Combination ratchet winch
30 Switch panel
31 Main hatch, chart holder on top
32 Two-way hatch, Lucite top
33 Stainless-steel frames
34 Kicking strap
35 Outboard canted vent
36 Aluminum rollers on main shrouds
37 Hollow aluminum mainmast (44 feet)
38 Forward hatch with Sudbury Sky-Vent
39 Diagonal planking of inner skin
40 Folding table