Sam Devlin’s beautiful renderings illustrate the transformation
of one design from trawler to gaff-rigged pilothouse schooner.
Shortly before World War I, one of the earliest yacht
designers, William H. Hand Jr., began placing these
same gasoline engines in recreational powerboats. He
started with the V-bottom designs of Chesapeake Bay
sailboats, modified their lines for power, and designed
and patented the “Hand V-bottom.” Hand, who had
become famous by the time of WWI, was never
personally interested in racing boats. He wanted
to incorporate speed into cruising-type boats.
After the conclusion of the war, Hand turned his
attention to schooners, designing and building a number
of them ranging from 47 to 63 feet. He lived aboard
his own schooner and each summer could be found
swordfishing out of Martha’s Vineyard. By 1927, power
was again of prime interest to Hand, as he refined his
earlier schooners into the motorsailer concept. His first
motorsailer design, Water Witch, was a heavy, 46-foot,
deepwater powerboat hull with enough rig to provide
both limited sailing ability and steady motion in a beam
sea. As with his schooners, Hand owned and used his
own motorsailers and equipped them with bow pulpits,
lookout platforms aloft, and other fishing gear.
He also changed the rig from a schooner to a sloop
for easier sail handling. The hulls featured slack, sailboat-like sections but lost the deep keels. He used plenty of
power; Hand never intended his motorsailers to be
sailboats, or he would have given them more sail area.
In the 1930s, motorsailers gained popularity and
started getting attention in the press, as evidenced by the
cover of the October 1936 issue of Motor Boating (see
page 127). This magazine, as well as The Rudder, featured
the work of Hand and many other designers.
Around this time, Richard O. Davis, who was
employed as a draftsman, joined Hand, producing many
conceptual drawings and building plans. They made a
perfect team, and their close collaboration resulted in
many successful yachts. After Hand’s death in 1946,
Davis continued the evolution of motorsailer design in
association with the Henry B. Nevis Co. in New York.
One of his finest designs was a 58-foot motorsailer
named Burma. Built in 1950, she was lighter and more
yacht-like than her predecessors. Her moderate-size
sailing rig assisted the engine and dampened the roll of
the vessel in rough seas. Cruising speed under power was
7–9 knots and, in a breeze, the sails added another knot
or so. Ease of handling was another important criterion,
as her original owner, Frank Bissel, singlehanded her,
covering more than 30,000 miles.
Hand and Davis were not the only pioneers of
motorsailer design. Other famous designers such as
William Garden, Philip L. Rhodes, and John G. Alden
also were active in designing motorsailers from 33 to
90 feet long.
Alden, who designed yachts for over 50 years before
retiring in 1955, is probably best known for his series of
Malabar schooners that won the Bermuda Race three
times in the early 1900s. What is lesser known is that his
last design, no. 908, was a 43-1/2-foot motorsailer,
Rolling Stone IV, built by Morse Boatbuilding in 1955. She
is a real seagoing yacht with a reasonably deep keel,
short ends, high freeboard, and a moderate rig. Her