by Fred Brehob
Born in the halcyon days of post World War II, the Rhodes 19 has, over the next half century, undergone several metamorphoses enabling it to enter the twenty-first century as a successful, exciting one design sailing racer, day-boat and cruiser with a strong national following.
Available with centerboard or keel, Rhodes 19’s have provided countless hours of enjoyment to thousands of owners, charterers and novice sailors, in and out of structured programs. This all purpose one design boat has proved an ideal platform for national championships, the Sears Cup, the Adams Cup the Mallory Cup, the Prince of Wales Match Races and their elimination series.
Its seaworthy design enabled the Rhodes 19 to win Yachting magazine’s 1967 Heavy Air One-of-a-Kind Regatta over keel speedsters such as the International Tempest, the 110 and the 210. Sail magazine in the seventies, named the Rhodes 19 one of the “Classic” one designs of the post World War II era.
When the fore-named hostilities ended, the Allied Aviation Corporation of Cockeysville, Maryland was forced to convert its molded plywood production facilities from airplane fuselages to a product that could survive in a peacetime economy. In those pre-fiberglass days, a number of one design sailboat classes such as International 14’s, Thistles and Jolly Boats were using molded plywood as a hull material.
Accordingly, Allied commissioned a leading naval architect, Philip Rhodes, to draft the lines for a wholesome, inexpensive sailboat that was fun to sail. He responded with a nineteen foot, round bilged centerboarder known as theHurricane. It had a small forward deck, wooden spars and a sail plan much the same as the prewar Lightning.
A fleet of these formed at Greenwich Cove, Connecticut and they competed in Larchmont Race Week for a few years. Unfortunately for Allied, no national interest in the Hurricane developed and after an initial flurry of orders, the company fell back to producing bare shells for buyers to finish as they saw fit.
In 1947, The Southern Massachusetts Yacht Racing Association was searching for a sturdy boat to serve as junior trainer and club racer. Palmer Scott, an established New Bedford, Massachusetts small boat builder, purchased a number of Allied’s unfinished hulls and fitted them with keels, flotation and a redesigned deck with cuddy cabin. The resultant fast, unsinkable boat with aluminum spars was accepted.
Sporting a jaunty whale sail logo, the new Smyra class sold in 1948 for $1,695, complete with Ratsey sails. They became especially popular in Edgartown and other Martha’s Vineyard locations.
In the 1950’s, fiberglass began to replace molded plywood for boat building. Marscot Plastics, a southern Massachusetts company, established itself in the new industry and with Palmer Scott’s blessing, used one of the Smyra hulls to build a production mold. Subsequently, Marscot associated with American Boat Building of East Greenwich, Rhode Island and the George O’Day organization.
Before long, Marscot and American Boat Building moved on, leaving the Smyra with O’Day’s company. In 1958, O’Day arranged with Philip Rhodes to use his name to identify the boat. In 1959, the O’Day Company changed the name to Rhodes 19 and sold fifty of the new one designs. At this time, the company decided to offer centerboard and keel models. Over the years, centerboarders have flourished in shallow water areas such as Cape Cod, Nantucket and the New Jersey shore.
By the spring of 1960, sales of the Rhodes 19 had mushroomed, especially on Long Island Sound. It was there the boat caught the eye of Frederick P. Warne, a Rye, New York corporation lawyer. He was so impressed that he quickly sold his 210 and bought a new Rhodes from a local dealer.
His experience in the 210 class and his legal training convinced him that if the Rhodes 19 was to be successful as a one design racer it would need a national organization, complete with charters, a constitution and controlled one design rules. He contacted his supplier for names of other local owners, gathered them for a meeting and was rewarded by being elected president of the group.
The cadre’s efforts to locate enough Rhodes 19 owners across the country to form a national class association took the better part of five years. The first recorded national meeting was held February 19, 1965, at the Larchmont Yacht Club. Interim accomplishments were the sailing of the first national championship regatta and the publication of a rules book in 1963.
Thusly launched into the mainstream of one design sailing with assets noted above, the class was assured of success during the ensuing decade and a half. During this time, a number of other one designs made cameo appearances on the sailing screen, only to fade into obscurity due to the lack of an adequate ownership base.
The Rhodes, however, was able to attract an ever increasing number of avid owners due to its sound design, low price and stable class management. Well drafted rules and their change process enabled the class to maintain one design standards while staying abreast of technological advances. At the peak of this nautical heyday there were as many as twenty active fleets in all parts of the nation.
During the late ’70s and the early ’80s, the class was confronted by its greatest challenges, the loss of its sole builder, followed by an inept replacement builder.
Economic change in the form of radically higher raw material costs forced the O’Day Corporation to discontinue production of small and moderately sized fiberglass boats. A secondary consideration was the labor intensive hand lay-up production process used for the Rhodes 19 and its sister ship, the Mariner. Accordingly, O’Day and its successor, Bangor Punta, discontinued active promotion and requested that the Class help locate a new builder.
The spring of 1980 announcement that Rhodes 19 production facilities and rights of sale had been transferred to a respected, small one design manufacturer was greeted with a sigh of relief from the class membership. The new builder, Rebel Industries of Jackson, Michigan had previously acquired the Daysailer and promised to start Rhodes production in March of 1980, and favorably impressed the Rhodes 19 Class officers with their management’s know-how and integrity.
The bloom of optimism was of short duration. By the summer no Rhodes 19 production had occurred, the class newsletter noted the lack of written specifications for the boat and the new builder had changed its name to Spindrift. Sadly, subsequent developments confirmed the appropriateness of the new moniker. The company’s promises proved to be as ephemeral as the wind blown sea foam of its name.
Many other one designs, faced with similar circumstances, have succumbed and faded from the scene. There is no denying that the Rhodes 19 Class suffered some attrition due to its lack of an active builder for the better part of five years; however, thanks to its wholesome design, a strong class organization, a bit of luck and the dedication of two successive administrations, it endured and emerged with a more attractive, viable boat and an enhanced spot on the one design stage.
The Christine Francis administration, 1981-1982, maintained class membership by extensive fleet contact and interaction. The subsequent Charles Loutrel years, 1982-1984, catalyzed the process that converted the boat to a more easily produced, modern configuration.
The 1982 National Championship Regatta in Chicago saw the debut of the new Spindrift Rhodes 19, prototype #1. It was sailed in competition by the class Rules Committee Chairman and was found wanting in several regards. Accordingly, a “Specifications Committee” of top Rhodes 19 sailors, class administrators and builder representatives was formed to correct the design.
The group met in New Orleans during November of 1982, where they subjected a corrected design, prototype #2., to a series of competitions and measurements by a USYRU certified measurer. The result of their intense efforts was approval of the new boat as valid Rhodes 19 that replicated the original in all significant appearance, dimensional and performance criteria.
Despite the Association’s approval and continued, enthusiastic support, Spindrift produced only three additional boats and then, in December, 1982, with no advanced notice, they sold the molds and inventories to Rhodes 19 owner and successful entrepreneur, Stuart Scharaga. Thanks to his dedication and integrity, Rhodes 19 Class fortunes took a sharp upturn.
He immediately set up a Maine facility, known as Stuart Marine. He contacted Rhodes 19 Class Rules Committee Chairman and leading edge Naval Architect, Jim Taylor to help in creating production methods and molds that could produce a profitable, sound boat, conforming to the configuration that had been approved by the forenamed Specifications Committee. Production of a superb Stuart Marine Rhodes 19 in centerboard and keel models began in 1984.
An early keel model was displayed during the 1985 Rhodes 19 National Championship Regatta at Corinthian Yacht Club in Marblehead, Massachusetts. It met with unanimous approval as a well made, durable Rhodes 19, conforming to Rhodes 19 Class Rules.
During the following years, Stuart Marine became highly successful in marketing the boat to fleet buyers for military service and community sailing programs. The company was instrumental in establishing fleet level interest in attractive locations such as Hawaii and the Caribbean Islands.
Sales of keel and centerboard models to individuals continued and in 1995 a Stuart boat won the Rhodes 19 National Championship Regatta at the Southern Yacht Club in New Orleans. As the Millennium approaches, builder, class and individual owner promotional efforts are bearing fruit with the formation of new, active fleets.
One of these, the Boston Harbor Fleet, Number 45, hosted a highly successful Thirty-sixth National Championship Regatta at Cottage Park Yacht Club, Winthrop, Massachusetts in August, 1998.
The thirty-seventh National Championship Regatta is scheduled for October 1999, at the Southern Yacht Club in New Orleans, Louisiana. Until then and beyond, the Rhodes 19 Class Association will continue to promote this classic boat and one design sailing.