The man at the piano

Ray Hunt designed 'Easterner' on the top of a grand piano. Some people call him a screwball, but the record indicates that 'working genius' is a more fitting term
June 22, 1958

To a casualstranger, Charles Raymond Hunt, even when encountered ashore in his habitualuniform of dark flannels, white shirt with a tie always slightly askew, andtopsider sneakers, almost instantly conveys the picture of a seafaring man.Thus it seems only fitting that this summer, as designer of Easterner,candidate for the honor of defending the America's Cup, he moves into thetopflight group of three who are creating new 12-meter yachts on this side ofthe Atlantic. No greater accolade than selection for the job can be bestowed bythe yachtsman who must spend astronomic sums of hard cash to transform adesigner's theories on paper to wood and metal reality at the startingline.

At 50, Ray Huntis a man who looks much younger—tanned, with an athlete's body and sensitiveyet capable hands. He is not only a real sailor, but a Yankee in the besttradition, a rugged individualist operating in his own way to evolve a betterseagoing mousetrap.

Typical of hisunorthodox approach to naval architecture was his production of the originallines of Easterner. Whereas most designers operate in an atmosphere of scienceand higher mathematics, approached through lanes of drafting tables, sliderules and protracting machines, Easterner first came to life on the top of agrand piano in the living room of an old farmhouse in Tilton, N.H., more than ahundred miles from the nearest arm of tidewater. "A grand piano makes afine place to work," said Ray. "Right height, good shape.

"After I gotdown the lines and a fairly close displacement figure and sketched the deck andsail plans," Ray continued, "I turned them over to my associate,Fenwick Williams, to complete. I'm no engineer. He put them in shape first tobuild models for tank testing, and then drew detailed construction plans forthe hull finally selected."

Ray told me thisas we drove through the rambling streets of Marblehead past the no-two-alike,no-two-square-to-each-other houses of a New England seaport town, to stopbefore a picket fence. Beyond, great flowering masses of yellow forsythiabloomed against the pale chartreuse grass of spring. We opened the basementdoor of a weathered house to meet a man dressed in battered sneakers, khakipants and plaid shirt.

DESIGNS ON AKITCHEN TABLE

"This isFenwick Williams," said Ray in introduction, and we entered the room wherethe working drawings of Easterner had evolved. Here again, no acres of draftingtables bathed in fluorescent pallor, or receptionist at a buzzing switchboardor outer offices and inner conference rooms: only a small man smiling shylyunder un-painted ceiling beams, carpenter's tools hanging on the cement wallsand a table near the single window bearing a strong resemblance to the onesused by grandmothers of an earlier era in country kitchens. But on that table Iglimpsed one design so radical it might well revolutionize a popular class ofsmall racing yachts another year.

Yet FenwickWilliams is no graduate engineer, either. Failing eyesight forced him to quitcollege, and he went to work for the famous naval architect, John Alden ofBoston. Virtually ever since, he has hovered over a drafting table, doing workof a most meticulous artistry and precision while staving off blindness by thepractice of eye exercises and control.

"Fenwick doesall the work," explained Ray, smiling at his partner. "I went to fiveprep schools and didn't graduate from any. I only get ideas—some of them good.Fenwick puts them in final shape. Without him I would be nothing."

The evolution ofEasterner was typical of the way the two work together. Ray—who had sailed on a12-meter yacht only once in his life, many years before—began chewing over theInternational Rule after the announcement of the change in the Deed of Gift andthe subsequent British challenge. In his Tilton farmhouse he began sketchingideas, allowing his imagination free reign, trying to come up with thebreakthrough hull. "I thought about existing boats and tried putting downdifferent extremes on paper, hoping at least for the happy medium."Anything radical in the results? "It is a tight rule. It doesn't allow muchlatitude. Maybe if we'd had more time we might have been able to come up withsomething tricky...." Why no centerboard after his success with the type?"The rule specifically states that 'center-boards shall not be permitteduntil otherwise agreed and incorporated' by an international group. It wouldhave taken too long to get a decision. Perhaps if we'd had another sixmonths...."

As his thinkingand preliminary sketching went along, Ray kept Chandler Hovey, the Bostonfinancier, informed of his progress. Hovey was interested, as was natural in aman who has spent a long lifetime connected with sailing, including three triesfor the honor of representing America in a cup defense. Still, the cost ofbuilding and campaigning a 12-meter for a summer is frightening, as anyexperienced yachtsman knows. It goes far beyond hull, rigging and sails; thereare countless extras running from crew wages to maintaining a mother ship andproviding hospitality for thirsty well-wishers. It was not until a directappeal was made by former Commodore of the New York Yacht Club, Henry S. Morganthat Hovey decided to go ahead, with a syndicate if others came forward, aloneas a family affair if not (SI, May 12).

It has beenrumored that Hunt does not believe in tank-testing sailing vessels. "Nottrue," he snapped. "I certainly would abide by the results as opposedto my own judgment. But I have felt it was too bad that waves could not becreated to simulate all kinds of sea conditions—and now I understand this isgoing to be accomplished in a new tank at Stevens Institute."

The partners haveno hesitation in farming out engineering work requiring involved calculations."We go to people with experience," explained Hunt. "Fairey Marinein England did the final construction plans on the centerboards of Drumbeat,which we designed for the Honorable Max Aitken, son of Lord Beaverbrook. Shelooks like a blown-up version of Harrier, and I guess it is no longer a secretshe has not one but two center-boards and they can be moved laterally as wellas up and down. Very tricky engineering; Fairey did a beautiful job. Same withEasterner's mast. It was designed by Bill Luders of the Luders MarineConstruction Company in Stamford. No use fooling with details when someone elsecan do them better."

Perhaps thisdisregard for detail stems partly from Hunt's lack of training in the precise,partly from his temperament, partly from his personal way of approaching aproblem. But part may reflect typical Yankee frugality; details, in yachtconstruction as everything else, are expensive. Hunt's creations are functionalbut not fancy. In fact, the equipment and supplies aboard boats he himself issailing are likely to be the bare minimum. He tends to disregard little thingswith true Olympian casual-ness. Herein may lie his major weakness as a designerand a sailor.

Ray Hunt is oneof those fortunate humans who has spent a lifetime sailing, beginning as asmall boy in Duxbury, Mass. Before him, his father had been an active racingskipper: "I guess they had some wild rides in those days, and thecommittees weren't fussy. Once when Pop was getting beaten he hopped over andcut a main halyard." His father was also part owner of the Mayflower, afamous but controversial fishing schooner which sought to challenge for thecoveted trophy representing the championship of the Grand Banks fleet. "Shewas thrown out for being too yachty, even if she was a success as a workingfishing schooner, and as heavily built," Ray recalls. "The partners hadgone to Starling Burgess for her lines. In those days he symbolized racingmachines—he did Enterprise and Rainbow and was co-designer of Ranger, so Iguess he had earned the reputation. Anyway, when Mayflower was not allowed tocompete it made Pop mad and he sold his share. But he had already pretty muchquit racing anyway after he got married."

A TOUGHCOMPETITOR

James Henry Huntmust have been a tough, determined and resourceful competitor, and hetransmitted these qualities to his son. Before he was 18, Ray had won theJunior Championship of the Massachusetts South Shore three times, and twice hadgone on to win the Sears Trophy to become National Junior champion. In 1930 hewas asked to be a member of the afterguard of the J boat Yankee, but he nevercame to a Trial Race. "Early in the season we were in City Island to lookat sails," he recalled. "We got up the anchor carrying only the main.It was blowing better than 20 from the sou'west, and without a jib Yankee beganfalling off on the three-masted schooner Atlantic. You can imagine what wouldhave happened if we had tangled in that wind. Our helmsman froze. I gave himthe hip and spun the wheel. Somebody caught him before he went over the side,but it was the beginning of the end of my cup career. Guess I was too young tofit in...anyway, we didn't hit Atlantic."

Racing atMarblehead, center of some of the keenest competition in the world of yachting,he impressed Frank Paine, noted skipper and designer from Boston, withconsistent victories in the castoff R-class Gypsy I over Paine's Gypsy III.Both vessels were the work of Paine, and he was sure the newer boat was faster.He invited the youngster into his office, and for six months Ray Hunt observedand experimented, but mostly "just looked over the shoulder of Norman L.Skene as he worked." Skene, an associate of Paine, was author of TheElements of Yacht Design, still a standard work on the subject. Hunt nowcarries a copy everywhere in his briefcase but characteristically didn't getaround to looking between the covers until recently. "I'm so mad I didn'tread it until a couple of years ago I can't speak. I could have learned manythings much sooner."

Ray Hunt did notat once begin designing on his own after the brief apprenticeship in Paine'soffice but went into yacht brokerage. It was not until 1936 that he turned outa yacht on order—and his third commission resulted in the famous Concordiaclass of 40-foot yawls. Fifty-eight were built to the original plans. One ofthem, Malay, won the Newport to Bermuda Race in 1954. Modified in '55 to theHarrier type, an additional 14 have been constructed.

Thepanatela-shaped 110 class came along in 1939 "to provide somethinginexpensive to promote interclub racing—at that time interclub racing wasalmost unheard of," The 210s appeared in '46. Both are unorthodoxdouble-ended vessels with flat underbodies and streamlined fin keels, keptlight-to be driven easily by a small sail plan. According to Hunt, the 210fleet now consists of more than 300 boats, making it the largest one-design"big boat" class in existence, as they measure 30 feet on deck.

Although he is asailing sailor in the fullest sense of the word, Hunt is almost equallyinterested in power vessels. Last summer on the New York Yacht Club cruise, theperformance of his 23-foot high-speed runabout Hunter, along as a tender,created almost as much interest among yachtsmen as Harrier herself, which wasawarded the Cygnet Trophy for the outstanding record of the racing fleet. Huntbelieves the conventional motorboat is all wrong in its basic concept."Look at that," he commented as we walked through Graves Yacht Yard atMarblehead, where Easterner is taking shape. He pointed to a typical smallfishing craft on the ways. "See? A deep V-section forward and flat sectionsaft. As soon as you begin to run before a following sea, the bow buries andthat flat stern takes charge. You can't steer. In extreme cases, you broach—thebow noses down, the stern lifts and slews and you swing crosswise into thetrough of the sea. If it's rough enough, you may capsize. Damned dangerous, yetnine out of 10 boats are built that way."

The Hunter is nowgoing into production in the United States and England, and meanwhile Ray hastransferred his attention to a smaller, outboard-powered version. We walkeddown a float to inspect a prototype. "This is the most amazing little boatyou ever saw," he enthused as we approached. "Wait till you see thegimmick." The gimmick is typical of Hunt's unconventional thinking, appliedto a hull incorporating equally radical ideas; in the stern, below the waterline, there is a large elliptical opening to allow an inner compartment toflood when the boat is alongside a dock or moving slowly. Some 200 pounds ofwater enter between two skins of the double bottom, giving the craft stability."Automatic water ballast," explained Ray with the delighted air of aboy showing a new toy.

30 MPH ON 30HP

Under way, abreather hole on deck allows the water to drain out as the boat gathers speed,and the hull is lightened to lift and ride easily on top. "We are getting30 miles an hour with a 30-horsepower outboard," the designer said."There doesn't seem to be any tendency for the bow to take charge, ever.You can go a mile in a following sea without steering." A patent has beenapplied for, but as yet no manufacturer has contracted to put the craft intoproduction.

Naturally, as inthe case of all unconventional thinkers and experimenters, especially thosepracticing geniuses who operate without benefit of formal education andimpressive degrees, Ray Hunt is thought of by some as a screwball. Some of theideas haven't worked any better than conventional approaches, if as well.Critics are likely to seize upon these to condemn. Yet Hunt is unperturbed andremains ever willing to try to break away from standard procedure. "Youdon't improve anything by not being willing to change," he said, "but Idon't think I've ever gone completely haywire anywhere. And I conform where itseems desirable, as on Easterner."

Easterner will bebasically conventional both in external appearance and hidden characteristics.In comparison to Vim, which must remain the measuring stick until all the newboats are launched, she will be shorter over-all and longer on the waterline;Hunt has stated the figures to be 65 feet on deck and 45½ feet at the point offlotation. Vim's comparable measurements are 69 feet 7 inches and 45 feet even.According to Ray: "The beam is on the minimum of the rule—I think all thenew designs will be. The draft is the maximum. And displacement is to the ruleminimum for the waterline length. The sail area is about 1,930 squarefeet."

When I sawEasterner last month in the quiet shed at Marblehead in company with Ray Huntand Fenwick Williams, it was hard for me to judge her characteristics, beyondbeing able to see that she embodied no radical departures from theconventional. In fact, in her cocoon of staging, she looked remarkably similarto the new Stephens' and Rhodes's designs, themselves not very different fromprewar Vim or the British challenger Sceptre, and I said so. Ray agreed,"They'll all be pretty much alike. How they're sailed will probably makethe difference."

And when it comesto sailing, Charles Raymond Hunt has no detractors. All yachtsmen join inpaying tribute to his touch on the helm, his mastery of tactics, his almostuncanny ability to smell out favoring slants of winds. While he will not be incharge of Easterner, his presence aboard is certain to have an effect on herperformance.

I will neverforget the day Ray Hunt first sailed with me. It was aboard Caribbee on the NewYork Yacht Club cruise of 1951. Bunny Rigg had suggested I invite him for theKing's Cup Race off Marblehead because of his local knowledge. Ray jumped ondeck as we pulled away from the dock. Wearing rimless glasses, gray flannelsand an ordinary white business shirt with the tie firmly knotted in place, hedidn't look like a hotshot hand. But it didn't take long for him to impress methat he was a sailor—one of the best. It was a crowded start, and the rest ofus in the crew were tense after a frustrating period of bad breaks and thickweather. Ray calmed us with his casual manner; yet we immediately sensed healready knew as much about the boat and her capabilities as we did. Maybe more.Something intangible happened. I suddenly felt I had never steered a boat towindward so well or that Caribbee moved so easily in light air. We flew."Tack," Ray would suggest, and we tacked, playing slants of current andwind, slicing through the fleet in such fashion that at the weather mark wewere third behind Vim and Bolero, the two much larger speedsters, but wellwithin handicap allowance. It was a moment of elation.

AN IBM MIND
On that occasion Ray Hunt was magic, as I have known him to be many timessince, sailing both with and against me. Part of his secret is a rare abilityto see a large body of water as a chessboard and to be able to evaluate therelative positions of the scattered pieces; he always seems to know how eachindividual yacht in a fleet is faring—which has a lift, which has a header,which has picked up a freshener—and where to go next to benefit. Standing ondeck, he looks casual to the point of unconcern, almost uninterested. Yet he ismissing nothing. In his mind a veritable IBM machine is processing data,calculating, weighing odds, all so automatically the process is unconscious. Ifyou ask how he came up with some particular flash of inspiration, he will looksurprised and reply damned if he knows. And he is undoubtedly telling thetruth. As someone remarked, "Ray Hunt operates on a different wavelength." Perhaps he does. But, ashore or afloat, it is a pretty effectiveone.

PHOTOCREATORS of Easterner, Ray Hunt (left) and his assistant Fenwick Williams check blueprints in front of the partially completed hull of Hunt's America's Cup contender. Built for Chandler Hovey of Boston, yacht is expected to be launched in late June or early July.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)