Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Original MIT Tech Dinghies - Where Are They Now?

Thanks to Tweezerman, who writes the excellent sailing blog Earwigoagin, for bringing to our attention this old video of wooden lapstrake Tech dinghies participating in collegiate sailing at MIT around 1945. He wonders if any of these beautiful examples of wooden boat-building survived.

Great question Tweezerman. And not just because they were beautiful boats. The fleet of Tech Dinghies that you see in the video gave birth to American college sailing as it we know it today. The Tech was designed specifically for MIT by Professor George Owen, and the first boats were made for the opening of the MIT Sailing Pavilion in 1935 by the famous Herreshoff Yard in Bristol, Rhode Island. In the following years, the first ten Dinghy Championships of the newly organized Intercollegiate Yacht Racing Association (ICYRA) were sailed on the Charles River in that fleet of cat-rigged, wooden Tech Dinghies.

So what happened to them?

In 1952, MIT's Second Fleet of Tech Dinghies was built in fiberglass by Cape Cod Shipbuilding in Wareham, MA. (MIT are now on their Fifth Fleet.) I don't have a clue what MIT did with the First Fleet after taking delivery of the Second Fleet, but if modern day practice is any guide they probably sold the old boats to another college (or perhaps high school) sailing team.

Using the most sophisticated and powerful research tool known to professional historians I have discovered the following information about the whereabouts of some surviving boats from the First Fleet.

The website of the Little Boat Shop in Maine has pictures of the hulls of two of the original MIT Tech Dinghies. One is described as "on display at the Cape Cod Maritime Museum" and the other is being restored by the Little Boat Shop and is said to be "scheduled for complete restoration this year and is available for sale." (It's not entirely clear to me whether these are two different hulls or whether the shop is restoring the boat that was in the museum, or indeed if the website is actually current.)

There are also some pictures of an old wooden Tech dinghy on Flickr.

The caption is a little confusing in that it doesn't specifically say it was one of the First Fleet (but that was the only wooden fleet as far as I know) but it does say that it is "the only remaining one of its class" which seems to conflict with the claims for the boats in the photos on the Little Boat Shop website (unless they are all three actually pictures of the same boat.) The Flickr boat is said to be "at the pavilion" (presumably the MIT Sailing Pavilion), has a very old (torn) sail, and is apparently kept outside. I wonder if it is still sailed?

I mentioned that the First Fleet of Techs was built by Herreshoff in Bristol RI and I know that the Herreshoff Marine Museum has an extensive collection of boats built and/or designed by the Herreshoffs over the years. Sure enough the museum's website confirms that their boat collection does include an MIT Tech Dinghy built in 1936, presumably also one of the First Fleet.

So there we have it Tweezerman. Apparently at least four of those original forty boats still exist (unless I've counted some boats twice) and there may be more. I know that at least one former MIT sailing team member and Tech ace reads this blog so perhaps he, or others in the know, can cast more light on this subject?


Now that I've answered Tweezerman's question I have a couple of my own...

Is the video found by Tweezerman the oldest (or at least the oldest online) video of dinghy racing?

Does anyone know the names of any of the sailors in the video?


Anonymous said...

Indeed, there is one wooden original Tech dinghy still at the MIT Sailing pavilion--the Neutron, I believe.

It's not still sailed, but it still floats, as we had to move it around the pavilion to make room for other boats. I think we still have the original mast and sail, but I haven't actually seen them. Since the boat is stored at an actively used pavilion, it's not in the best of shape, however.

I'm happy to see that someone cares about the history of the sport! And Tillerman, add to your readership an active member of the MIT sailing team.

TechnicalDinghyFan said...

While posting my own comment, "Anonymous" was simultaneously writing the same thing. There is still one of the original technical dinghies at the MIT Sailing Pavilion. I too have never seen is sailed, but I do believe that I have seen it in the water - being used as a row boat a year or two ago.

The video shown above is definitely a classic. I have watched it many times. As a recent alumni of the MIT Sailing Team, I am proud of MIT's early involvement in college sailing and find it fascinating to watch people sailing on the same bit of water that I spent so many hours sailing on myself.

Litoralis said...

I can also confirm that there is an original wood Tech dinghy at the MIT Sailing Pavilion...at least it was still there last time I was there. It is stored on the racks among the current boats and comes out for display at special events. I think it can still be sailed and is occasionally used for special occasions. However, I think TechnicalDinghyFan is mistaken about it being used as a rowboat; there is a more recently built smaller wooden rowboat that is in regular use though.

Litoralis said...

Here's a link to a photo of the original Tech out for display after Commencement:

O Docker said...

Poking around on the site that Litoralis' link leads to will eventually bring you here, where you can download a long, narrated video of early clips from MIT's sailing program.

Lot's of cool stuff there, including a few surprises.

The video runs about 35 minutes and takes about five minutes to download on a quick broadband connection.

tillerman said...

Thanks for that O Docker. That is a fascinating video. Not just of sailing on the Charles in Techs but of collegiate sailing in various other boats at some of my other favorite East Coast sailing venues such as Marblehead, Barnegat Bay and Cold Spring Harbor... not to mention a brief clip early in the video of frostbiting on Mount Hope Bay, also known by my granddaughter as "Grandad's Pool".

And talk about name-dropping!!

Carol Anne said...

I just had an interesting "small world" experience involving these dinghies. Some time, I'm just going to have to get my laptop to a high-speed connection so I can watch those videos.

Anonymous said...

I went to engineering school at the University of WIsconsin from 1966 through June 1970. I joined the Hoofers Sailing Club and learned to sail in the Tech Dingy (Light and Heavy Weather) before graduating to the Interlake, a sloop rig. I used to love to take the Tech out on Lake Mendota. Great fun then and great memories, now.

Anonymous said...

Just for the record: got my hands on one of the early fiberglass Tech boats, minted somewhere in the 50s. In the process of bringing her back to "looking good status," but she sails well enough now, is used almost daily so far in this 2015 season, and is serving her purpose well: helping my daughter fall in love with sailing! A great boat, couldn't be more happy to find these gems; didn't even know they existed.....

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