|Philip L. Rhodes
Philip L. Rhodes, born in 1895, was a prolific and versatile boat designer, whose career spanned more than five decades from 1919 until his death in 1974. His range of design was amazing, from 123' motorsailers to 7' dinghies, from hydrofoil racers to giant motor yachts. His clients ranged from Rockefellers to Sears and Roebuck. His 12 Meter Weatherly won the America's Cup in 1962. And, in addition, he designed a wide range of commercial craft.
His biographer Richard Henderson emphasizes that Rhodes was not only an excellent engineer but also a true artist. "Whatever kind of vessel he produced, it invariably had the look of rightness about it. His sailing yachts in particular, with their beautifully proportioned hulls and graceful sheerlines, are works of true design harmony. Not only are Rhodes yachts handsome; they somehow appear to be uniquely suited to their purpose… Phil will be remembered best for this distinguished thoroughbred yachts. They are not only superbly functional, but they also have an elegance and ageless beauty that is all to rare in yacht design today."
Henderson concludes his book with this generalization: "It is difficult to pigeonhole Rhodes, because his designs are so varied, but in general his work in the field of seagoing sailing yachts seems to fall somewhere between Alden and Stephens. A Rhodes boat might be described as being a bit heavier, more comfortable, often more graceful, and not quite as racy as one by Stephens. On the other hand, a Rhodes boat may be thought of as being lighter, yachtier, more expensively built, and a better all-round performer than the kind of boat one associates with Alden. Of course, these are gross generalizations, and there are many individual exceptions." (Richard Henderson, Philip L. Rhodes and his Yacht Designs. Camden: International Marine, 1981.)
This discussion, drawing on material in Henderson's book, will emphasize his designs of racing cruising sailboats from roughly the 1930's through the 1960's in the 25-90 foot range. His boats in this range won numerous ocean races (Bermuda, Trans-Atlantic) and short races and cruised successfully on lakes, coasts, and oceans. They have high, nicely curved bows, well defined sheers dropping fairly low in the mid-ships to after third, and rising gracefully to a buoyant stern. The profiles of the boats are distinctive and similar enough to be big and little sister ships. By today's standards, the hulls are relatively narrow and heavy, resulting in a more comfortable motion in a seaway than the light, wide, high modern boats. Rhodes' boats have a good turn of speed, easily reaching their hull speeds with modest breezes.
While the boats are quite similar in profile, the Rhodes boats are different. With a great deal of oversimplification, overlooking questions of displacement, keel shape, and rig, the boats fall into five groups:
1. Rhodes' basic hull form was remarkably stable from the late 1920's to the early 1960s. It was a fairly narrow hull, with the lwl roughly 2.7 to 3 times the beam. (The bigger boats in this series generally are relatively narrower, gaining stability from greater weight.). The Rhodes 27 designed in 1938 had a beam of 9'8" for a 27 foot waterline. Caper, one of Rhodes' favorite boats, was only 12' wide for a lwl of 38' (and a loa of 56'). In the smaller size boats, this hull form is seen in the Ranger and Chesapeake 32. (green marks on the chart)
2. Rhodes designed a few boats that were quite a bit narrower, mainly for inland lake racing, day sailing, and overnight cruising. The Great Lakes 30 was a little over 29' on the water line but only 7'9" in beam. The Rhodes 33, developed for Southern California, falls in this group. (red marks on the chart)
3. Rhodes also designed a series of centerboarders with somewhat more beam than his standard hull form. Generally the lwl was 2.5 to 2.8 times the beam. This model was well defined with Ayesha (1932) and refined in Alondra (1936). The model had enough of a keel for ocean-going stability, but still were shoal draft boats. Alondra played a key role in popularizing the keel-centerboard concept in a strange way. Alondra was purchased by Carleton Mitchell in 1947 and renamed Caribbee. She was raced very successfully and cruised extensively. For a variety of reasons, more related to racing and rigging than hull form, Mitchell went to Sparkman and Stephens for his next boat, Finisterre. Olin Stephens based Finisterre's centerboard hull very much on the Rhodes Alondra model that had so satisfied Mitchell.
Rhodes developed the centerboard in a full range of sizes. Perhaps the most famous in this series was Carina II, with a waterline of 36'3", 2.79 times its 13' beam. A smaller version of Carina II was Design No. 618, with a water line of 32' and beam of 11'9', for a ratio of 2.72. Several boats were built to this design. Rhodes carried this theme to Erewhon, with a 29' waterline and 11'3" beam. In fiberglass, the Swiftsure was an even smaller version of the Rhodes centerboarder concept. Swiftsure had a waterline of 22'11" and a beam of 10'. These beamier boats were not fat. On a 29 foot water line, Rhodes gave the narrow version (Altair) a 10'6" beam; the centerboarder (Erewhon) had a beam of 11'3", just 9 inches more. (purple marks on the chart)
4. Over the years and decades, Rhodes seemed to give boats slightly more beam, an inch or two here or there. By the 1960's, he had a boat that might be considered a new design. It was noticeably beamier than his earlier models, but not quite as beamy as the centerboarders. The Rhodes Reliant, designed in 1963, defined this new, "medium" model. The gradual increase in the beam for the Reliant can be seen in his evolution of the 28' waterline. In the 1930s, Rhodes gave a 28' waterline boat a 9'8" beam on Surf Bird and a 9'10" beam on a Rhodes Cutter; Bounty II had a beam of 10'3" (in 1956); Copacetic in 1962 had 10'6" beam. The Reliant, in 1963, had a 10'9" beam. This medium hull form also was evident in the smaller Vanguard. (blue marks on the chart)While the large ocean racers and huge cruising boats captured headlines, Rhodes designed several small day sailers, which have captured thousands of sailors for generations. The 11 1/2' Penguin, designed in 1933, remains a vigorous class today. Close to 10,000 have been built. He also designed the Wood Pussy and the Rhodes 18, one of the first fiberglass boats. Perhaps the most popular was the Rhodes 19, designed in 1945, with either a centerboard or fin keel. About 3,200 have been built, and they are actively raced in 16 fleets around the United States. The Rhodes 22 trailorable cruiser doesn't look like a classic Rhodes boat; it has some inspiration from the flared-bow 505.
He also designed light displacement fin keel sailboats, very large cruising ketches, motorsailers, medium and high speed motorboats, racing hydrofoils, etc.
Over the years, Rhodes experimented with the interiors of his sailboat designs. Often the galley was forward, sometimes aft. Likewise, the head, sometimes forward, sometimes aft. On some boats both head and galley are amidships.
One of his persistent themes was to have an aft cabin, with quarter-berths. These were comfortable sea berths and didn't take too much space under the cabin top. To provide privacy, the companionway was forward a bit, on the cabin top, or as in the Rhodes Reliant, on a deck passageway to a somewhat forward companionway. This aft cabin idea shows up in Copperhead, Kirawan, and later in the Reliant and Thunderhead, among many others.
Many of his boats had what became a "conventional" interior, with galley and nav station aft, a commodious main cabin, usually including pilot berths, head and hanging lockers forward, and a forward cabin with Vee berths forward of that.
One peculiarity of Rhodes designs is that exceedingly few has a double bed! No matter how large and elegant the cabins, even if they were double cabins, they had two (distantly) separated beds, and not very wide at that. On the boats in the 70 to 100+ foot range, there is room for a bath tub in the owner's cabin and two narrow bunks almost 20 feet apart! On Copperhead, he came close to having a near double bed, but deliberately made it narrower and put in a "stowage bin" instead. Obviously the constraint was not space. According to Charles Jannace, the reason for no double beds was simple: clients didn't ask for them. In those days, among his clients, a yacht seems to have been more for racing and adventure at sea. It wasn't the place for family togetherness or sexual exploits. Rhodes designed boats for sailing, with narrow, secure beds at sea. His clients had other places for their families and rendezvous.
Rhodes did put in a double bed in a few boats as part of a distinctive interior, with a linear galley to starboard and a dinette to port in which the table can drop down and form a double bed. This design first shows up in Olsching and some of her sisterships including Piera and Masker (design 618) built in 1953-56 and later in Firande, 1957 (design 666). This inteior enabled the Reliant, 1963 (design 753), to have three separate cabins and a double bed. This same idea of dinette to port and linear galley to starboard is carried into the 45' cruising ketch Meltemi (designed the year after the Reliant) and the micro cruiser, the Rhodes 22, which also has a small dinette/double bed to port and a galley to starboard. Design #618, also, has a double bed in the tiny fore peak.
The early Rhodes boats had very simple (and light) mechanical systems. They used kerosene lamps and rudimentary plumbing. As the decades went by, all the systems and equipment on the boats became more elaborate and heavier, but the hull remained rather static, without additional bouyancy. The boats set deeper and deeper on their waterlines. Nevertheless, they still sail well.
Rhodes played an important role in the transition to fiberglass boats from the wooden era into the fiberglass era. In the mid 1940s, as Dan Spurr has chronicled in Heart of Glass, dozens of individual and corporate boat builders and navies in the United States and Europe were experimenting with fiberglass. Dinghies, skiffs, and day sailers were successfully built of the new material. Cape Cod Shipbuilding Company (Warham MA) started producing the Rhodes 18 in fiberglass in 1948. The next year, Palmer Scott (New Bedford MA) built the Rhodes designed Wood Pussy in fiberglass. In 1949, Bill Dyer’s firm commenced fiberglass production of the 9 foot Dyer Dhow, also a Rhodes design. Rhodes was not the only designer involved in these early stages of fiberglass production but he clearly was directly involved at the earliest stages.
Charles Jannace, who was a draftsman in the Rhodes office in that time period, recalled that by the eary and mid 1950s, there was already some experience with fiberglass for larger boats. Jannace's father was building a 32 foot boat out of fiberglass, catalyzed by sunlight, at that time, and Rhodes came out to take a look. At that time, the lay-ups were all based on fiberglass cloth; woven roving wasn't around yet.
In the mid 1950s, the Coleman Plastics Company in Sausalito CA gauged that the market was ready for a fiberglass followup to its mass produced wooden Rhodes Bounty, which it had been building in the 1940s. In 1956, Rhodes took the Rhodes 29 (waterline), and shrank it a bit to a 28' waterline. The smaller design might have been called a R28, but instead it was named the Bounty II (40'10" loa). It was slightly larger than the original Bounty. The Bounty II would become the first large production sailboat out of fiberglass.
In the absence of engineering manuals based on empirical testing of samples, Rhodes took a simple, conservative approach. Earlier experience made it clear that fiberglass was stronger than wood. Hence, if they used roughly the same dimensions for fiberglass as they had used for wood, the fiberglass structures would certainly be strong enough. And once a mold had been built, it was not particularly costly to keep adding fiberglass into the mold to build up the thickness. According to Henderson, the Coleman company, out on the West Coast, also asked William Garden, another naval architect, to provide structural details, such as the lay-up and the tooling, including the deck mold -- sort of getting a "second opinion."
In point of fact, the hull layup for the Bounty was probably were 3 to 4 times stronger than necessary. The extra material added to both weight and cost. It also became apparent that fiberglass was too flexible for the mast on the Bounty. To make it stiff enough, it ended up too heavy. That idea was dropped quickly. Whatever the teething problems, the Bounty II established the viability of fiberglass as a material for large production sailboats boats. (I remember seeing her introduced at the New York Boat Show; even the mast was fiberglass.)
The Coleman company later became Aeromarine Plastics, and then in the 1960s the molds were bought by Pearson and were used to build the slightly modified R41. Some unfinished hulls were sold to Palmer Johnson, so there are also some Palmer Johnson Bounty II, with perhaps a higher quality finish.
Over the next four years, the Rhodes office designed five boats for Seafarer Yachts, which imported boats from Holland. These were the Swiftsure (33' centerboarder, 1958), a 35' motor sailor (1959), Ranger (28', 1959), Meridian (24', 1961), and a sailing dinghy (7', 1961). He also designed the Chesapeake 32 (1958, built in Denmark). In the early 1960s, he designed several fiberglass boats; Vanguard (33' for Pearson, 1962), Reliant (41' for Cheoy Lee, 1963), and Tempest and Outlaw (23' and 26' for O'Day - both 1963). Rhodes tried to give the these early fiberglass boats the appearance of traditional wood boats. They had wooden toe rails and rail caps, coamings, and mouldings around the cabin.
After "over-building" the Bounty, there may have been an over-correction on the next fiberglass boats, Swiftsure (1958), Chesapeake 32 (1959), and Ranger (1959). There was some oil canning in heavy seas at the beginning of the production run, and it was difficult to prevent the hard spots of the hull, such as the bulkheads and longitudinal stringers from printing through the hull. It took some experimentation to get the right combination of hull thickness and internal structural reinforcements. Moreover, the hulls themselves were flexible and bent a little as the loads on the headstay increased, resulting in headstay sag. For cruising, this was not too important, but it did affect racing potential. Builders did not want to spend the extra money to build into the hull a grid that could prevent flexing.
The other problem was that in some cases simply builders did not follow the designer's specifications and skimped on materials. In one case, the design called for solid fiberglass under a deck stepped mast. The builder made a cored structure of a balsa sandwich. When water penetrated, the balsa deteriorated. In at least once case the mast came right down through the deck and stopped on the top of the keel. Luckily, no one was injured.
By 1960, there was more knowledge and less uncertainty about design of fiberglass hulls. The Gibbs and Cox book Marine Design Manual for Fiberglass Reinforced Plastics was published, and Rhodes and all other designers were past the early stages of experimentation.
Generally speaking, these early fiberglass laminates have held up well and these old boats can be restored. Of course, even if the basic fiberglass parts are structurally sound, their gel coat surfaces have degraded and there are problems with plywood bulkheads, porthole leaks, water penetration of cored decks, etc. etc. These boats are not only examples of Rhodes' overall design, but also of his early mastery of the new fiberglass material.
By the 1950's, Philip Rhodes was was not actually designing, but was overseeing a large firm which had extensive commerical work as well as yachts. He was meeting clients and developing contracts for various projects. In the sailboat portion of the office, James McCurdy, a very talented designer, served as head of the Yacht Design Section. The actual designs of boats followed certain formula and guidelines Rhodes had developed earlier. Much of the basic design work was done by his son Philip H. ("Bodie") Rhodes (link to Bodie Rhodes obituary). Detailed layouts and drawings were done by Al Mason, Charles Jannace, and Dick Davis. Other designers worked on motor yachts, and commercial and military boats. In addition, Rhodes' other son Daniel Rhodes did brokerage work in the office.
How did Rhodes conduct business and earn a living? In 1956, an Australian negotiated with Rhodes about building one of his designs. The correspondence is available and describes some of the business practices of Rhodes. Typically, at this time (1956) the fees for the naval architect were 10 percent of the completed cost of the boat. A designer would know this price if he could supervise the construction. The cost of construction in places outside the USA was less (e.g. Aberking and Rassmussen in Germany), so Rhodes asked more, 12.5%, of the completed construction cost for boats built outside the USA. Philip Rhodes didn't know the costs in Australia, so there were some quotes prepared that must have been sent to Rhodes. In the end he suggested buying a completed design (#618) rather than a new commission for a 5% rate of the USA building cost - the same price to buy these plans in the USA.
Bob Wallstrom recalls that Rhodes was meticulous in replying to all letters. He always assumed that any enquirer might eventually become a customer.
The Reliant project brought Rhodes some special stress. Cheoy Lee made a knock-off from the Rhodes design, marketed as the Offshore 40, and refused to pay design royalties to Rhodes. Rhodes considered suing, but finally decided that the lawyers would end up with the money, not him. Perhaps this soured Rhodes on fiberglass mass production; he did not provide any other designs for fiberglass production classes. Thus the Bounty II-R41-Reliant were his largest mass produced fiberglass boat.
began to phase out his office in the late 1960s. In 1966, Jim McCurdy
and his son Bodie Rhodes left to set up a their own yacht design company
(McCurdy and Rhodes). Mark Ellis came into the gap and worked
for Philip Rhodes for a year. McCurdy and Rhodes, among other things,
continued the Rhodes design work for Seafarer Yachts. Jim McCurdy
died in 1996, and Bodie Rhodes died in 1998. Jim's son Ian McCurdy
continues the family tradition of superb boat design.
After 50 years of work, Rhodes penned no more sailing yachts after 1970. He did retain his office, stationary, a small staff and some commercial work. In his correspondence with an owner in late September, 1973, he was gracious and attentive. He wrote, "I would like to know where you are going to keep the boat and whether or not you are going to retain the name. I try awfully hard to keep in touch with my owners. There are a few more weekends left this season and I hope you will be able to take advantage of them." When the owners replied to him, Rhodes wrote, "I cannot remember ever receiving a more pleasant, enjoyable and informative and welcome letter as yours of October 4. You certainly brought me up-to-date on a great many things that are always of interest to a designer who wants to know who is sailing his boats, and far more of the owner's background than one usually gets... I hope that you achieve those plans and eventually take that trip around the world. One of our boats of the same waterline length is now being prepared for such a trip and I know that she will be a very good boat for it. We have had several larger boats make the voyage and it must be a great experience....It has been a pleasure ot write you this letter and to tell you about the good ship but I want to conclude by telling you once again how much I appreciate all the nice things you had to say about her. Anytime I can be of help, please let me know." Interspersed between these gracious words were suggestions on controlling rust, minimizing electrolysis, trim and ballast, coupled with a detailed explanation of the relationship between length and displacement.
While this review has emphasized Rhodes' racing/cruising sailboats, his design firm had a great deal of commercial and naval business as well. According to Henderson, during World War II, he had responsibilities for Navy auxiliaries, patrol craft, minelayers and sweepers, resesarch vessels, school ships, salvage vessels, tugs, barges, and subchasers. He supervised conversion of large liners into troopships and worked on hospital ships. Later he worked on a large line of cargo vessels, fire boats, dredges, steam turbo-propelled patrool boats for the Yangtze River. The Yangtze River patrol boats had stainless steel bottoms because the Yangze River is so filled with silt (it is also called the Yellow River) that it was abrasive on boats' bottoms.
Rhodes office took on a major project to design minesweepers during the
Korean War, in anticipation of Cold War needs. The boats, 172
feet long, were built of wood, so they would not trigger magnetic
mines. Designing and building a wooden boat of this size represented
a major challenge for the Navy. Rhodes got the contract, presumably
because of his extensive experience with wooden design and construction.
One employed recalled walking with Rhodes along Manhattan's river front. As he saw one of his sewage barges being towed to sea, he said, "Some people think that's a load of shit, but to me it is bread and butter."
Rhodes at one time or other employed (and certainly influenced) many naval architects who are well known, including John D. Ammerman, Frederick Bates, Paul Coble, R.B. Cook, Roger Cook, Richard O. Davis, Henry Devereaux, Mark Ellis, Ralph Jackson, Charles J. Jannace, Francis Kinney, Roger W. Long, Albert A. Mason, James McCurdy, Joseph J. Reinhardt, Philip H. (Bodie) Rhodes, Olin J. Stephens, Robert M. Steward, William Tripp, Bob Wallstrom, Winthrop Warner, and Charles Wittholz.
Philip L. Rhodes died in 1974.
Rhodes donated his yacht design archives to Ship Plans Collection at the Mystic (CT) Seaport Museum http://www.mysticseaport.org/library/collections/ships.cfm and are available inexpensively plus shipping and handling.
The site for ordering is:
Much information about Rhodes' designs is available in Richard Henderson's book Philip L. Rhodes and his Yacht Designs, Camden: International Marine Publishing Co, 1981, with additional printings by International Marine/McGraw Hill in 1993. This book is now out of print and hard to locate. The simple way to get it is to ask a library to order it from inter-library loan. Occasionally, it shows up in the used book market. I got a used copy from the SeaOcean Book Berth in Seattle, seaoceanbooks"at"seanet.com.
Sometimes people shopping for boats ask me for comments on reasonable prices. I am not a broker or surveyor and I am not able to offer any advice along these lines. Especially for the classic wooden boats, reasonable prices are affected by the condition of the boat, and this requires a very detailed survey.
Here is a link to Wooden Boat Magazine's list of marine surveyers: http://www.woodenboat.com/sites.htm#surveyors
Here are some brokerages with knowledge of the markets for different types of boats:
Cannell, Payne & PageWebsites for other yacht designers from this time period: