Return of the Joker

After spending decades off the radar and falling slowly into disrepair, the Bar Harbor 31 – initially named Joker – has resurfaced. Joker was the fourth of thirteen boats that comprised the fleet of Bar Harbor 31s which all left the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company’s doors in the spring of 1903. Her original owner, H. M. Sears, spent his summers on Mount Desert Island in Maine, where all thirteen boats lived out their inaugural season racing against each other.

Over the course of the next few years, the Bar Harbor 31s slowly stopped showing up to the racing area, started doing more coastal cruising, and left Mount Desert Island one by one. Joker moved to Manhasset Bay, New York with her new owner Louis J. Larsen, a sailmaker, and became known as Reliance. Her next known move was under the name Spirit and landed her up at the Seal Cove Boatyard in Harborside, Maine. When her planned restoration came to a halt, she remained under cover at the yard for a quarter of a century.

Joker’s owner contacted Alec Brainerd of Artisan Boatworks because of his former affiliation with Seal Cove Boatyard, where he first dipped his toes into the pool of marine industry work. Brainerd founded Artisan Boatworks in 2002 and currently serves as the President. Under his leadership, Artisan Boatworks agreed to transport Joker to their Rockport, Maine yard and has plans to rebuild the yacht according to her original specifications.

While Joker may not be ready for her next sail just yet, many of her components have maintained their integrity throughout her roller coaster of a journey. Her keel, many parts of the deck hardware, and most of her original planking have been saved, continuing to give shape to the restored yacht. Surely this is a testament to the quality of the original build, which took place in Bristol, Rhode Island 115 years ago.

With a 48’ 10” overall length, but only 30’ 9” at the waterline, the structural rigidity of the topsides, deck, and sheer were some of the most important aspects of N. G. Herreshoff’s design. Fortunately, his experience in the boatbuilding world allowed him to do this without creating a cumbersome yacht. Rather, the “key strength-giving elements are lightweight, small in size, beautiful to look at, and simple to build,” according to Maynard Bray in his publication Two Views of the Herreshoff Bar Harbor 31s. The team at Artisan Boatworks will be working meticulously to preserve or replicate each of these details to pay appropriate homage to Herreshoff’s historic strength and beauty. As Brainerd notes, “it is imperative with a restoration of this nature that the hull shape is restored, and that the boat returns to the water looking and feeling exactly as she did when first launched.”

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