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San Juan Islands, Washington State, United States
A society formed in 2009 for the purpose of collecting, preserving, celebrating, and disseminating the maritime history of the San Juan Islands and northern Puget Sound area. Check this log for tales from out-of-print publications as well as from members and friends. There are circa 500, often long entries, on a broad range of maritime topics; there are search aids at the bottom of the log. Please ask for permission to use any photo posted on this site. Thank you.

26 October 2016

❖ VESSELS SPIRIT, SIR TOM, AND THE GENIUS OF DESIGNER/SAILOR TED GEARY ❖

SPIRIT II
48' x 28' with 1,275-ft of sail.
Built by Adolph Rohlfs and Merrill at their 
new plant on the East Waterway.
Photo dated,  8 June 1909
Seattle, WA.

Photographer unknown.
Photo from the Carl Weber Collection, S.P.H.S.© archives.
SPIRIT II, 1909
Ted Geary, 1885-1960 (center) designer, helmsman
with Dean and Lloyd Johnson

ready for launching, Seattle, WA.

Photographer unknown.
From the Carl Weber Collection, S.P.H.S.©
SPIRIT II
Dated 29 June 1909
Seattle, WA. 
Photographer unknown .
Carl Weber Collection, S.P.H.S. ©
"I never heard from my father––or anyone else––when or how he and Ted Geary and the Griffiths boys all got together as young sailors, but it must have been shortly after Dad built the WINONA. Ted Geary, whose full name was Leslie Edward Geary, was born in Kansas in 1885. When he was still a boy the Geary family moved to Portland, and soon on to Seattle, where Ted grew up around the waterfront. Two of his childhood friends were Dean and Lloyd Johnson, who later became my dad's partners. In fact, Ted and the Johnson boys circumnavigated Seattle in a sailing canoe sometime before the turn of the century, and at that time, the feat required portaging between Salmon Bay, Lake Union, and Lake Washington.
      Ted went to high school at the old Broadway High on Capitol Hill, and I think he was probably designing boats even before he graduated in 1904. After he finished high school he enrolled at the U of WA, and in 1907, joined the Seattle Yacht Club when it was still known as the Elliott Bay Yacht Club.
      The first yacht design that really brought Ted any acclaim was for the SPIRIT, launched in 1907. SPIRIT II was launched two years later. Ted designed her while still at the university, and she was built mostly by the Johnson brothers in a former firehouse on the top of Queen Anne Hill. A fire station bay in those days was about the right size to build a fairly good-sized boat. The SPIRIT was a 42-ft sloop, built to challenge the Canadians for the Dunsmuir Cup, and, skippered by Geary, she beat the Vancouverites entry, the ALEXANDRA, and won the cup from the Canadians in 1907.
      The next year, the SPIRIT lost to the ALEXANDRA, so the SYC commissioned the SPIRIT II in 1909. Well, this second design was to the then-new Universal Rule, developed by Nathanael Herreshoff. And what Geary did was design the SPIRIT II with a keel that went from nothing and then was not totally straight down, but steeper than most. Practically all the English keel designs, like the Canadians' ALEXANDRA, were the long, sweeping profile. So the SPIRIT II beat the Canadians the next season.
      In fact, I heard that they got so badly beaten that the measurer demanded that the SPIRIT II be hauled out so he could measure it, and he called this slight variation in design a notch in the keel. The first measurement was made in the notch. Of course, it wasn't a notch at all, it was just kind of a corner. There've been thousands, tens of thousands, of boats built like this since. But this episode caused a rift between the Canadians and the Americans that was not patched up until 1912 when Sir Thomas Lipton visited Seattle and brought about a truce.
      Around 1907, Geary left Seattle to study naval architecture at MIT. He returned to Seattle in 1910 with a degree in naval architecture, and soon had many commissions for yachts as well as work boats.
      Ted Geary could make a sailboat sail faster than anybody else. He was probably the most savvy helmsman on the west coast. He could sense changes in wind, things like that, with incredible accuracy. So for a good ten or eleven years the SIR TOM was never beaten.
     
SIR TOM
L.O.A. 38'+ L.W.L. 23'-0" x 7'-10" x 5'-6"
Displace 8,500 lbs; Lead Keel 4,500 lbs.
Sail area 400 sq. ft.
Rating 19.99
Built by the Johnson brothers and Blanchards.
1914-1956
Seattle, WA.

Throughout most of her racing days she was skippered
by her designer, Ted Geary.
back dated July 1937.

Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©

 WW I interrupted competition in sailing, so when the war was over people were anxious to get sailing and racing going again. I recall it must have been in the early spring of 1919, when one Sunday a bunch of the fellows came over to get my dad and go down and have a look at the SIR TOM, which was sitting on the ground leaning against a fence at some commercial shipyard down on the waterfront. I was included in this expedition, and I don't remember why, because I was still pretty young. So we went down to this shipyard, and the TOMMY was sitting there with the entire first 18 or 24 inches of her bow missing. During the winter of 1916 and '17 there had been a record-breaking northwest wind and freezing conditions, and quite a few of the fleet at the SUC had broken loose. Some of them would up unharmed on sandbanks, but more of them were badly damaged, and the SIR TOM had pounded her snout off on her mooring float.
      This was a big shipyard, but at the time it was more or less down to a maintenance crew. They had steam locomotives in those yards and it was no problem for the yard to fire up one of the steam locomotive cranes on a weekday and set the TOMMY back in the water. Quent Williams or somebody with a power boat picked her up and brought her up to the Blanchard Boat Co. They built a new nose on her, and that first year, 1919, she still sailed with her gaff rig. 
      The Vancouverites had a brand new boat called the LADY VAN, and she was a hard- chine design. She was designed by someone up in Canada, and Geary was successful in shipping both boats down to California, so right away he could see the handwriting on the wall; he had to put a new rig on the TOMMY. At that time, the early 1920s, the original syndicate that owned the SIR TOM was pretty much intact, and old Capt. James Griffiths would say, "C-mon now, you're going to put up another $150 so Norm can build a new mast for the SIR TOM."
      In 1922, the Pacific Coast Championship Regatta was held in Newport Harbor, CA. My dad had built a cradle for the SIR TOM and she was towed afloat down to the Pacific Coast Steamship dock for the trip to CA. I think they put her on the EMMA ALEXANDER. We were there and the boat did not have lifting eyes at that time, so they used automobile slings and spreaders and lifted her into her cradle.
      The races were off Newport Beach, which was nothing much but a beach. Newport Harbor had been made by dredging out a natural salt-water marsh. The big red interurban cars ran on standard railroad track out to the end of the peninsula, where they made a circle and stopped. About 50 or 100 yards from the end of the peninsula was the Newport Harbor Yacht Club. It was about the size of a triple garage, big enough for a bar and not much else.
      The SIR TOM won all three races and was still the west coast R Class champion. Geary's career blossomed. In addition to commissions to design working boats, he had considerable success with bigger motor yachts after the SAMONA was built, and to name a few, the ELECTRA, the CANIM, the PRINCIPIA, the BLUE PETER, but those boats were all built at the Lake Union dry Dock. He also turned out some fine sailboats like the schooner KATEDNA, which we know as the RED JACKET. And in 1927, he designed a new class of small sailboat for the juniors. These Flatties, as they were called, were built at the Blanchard Boat Co.
      Ted continued to work in Seattle as a naval architect until after he married for the second time in 1927. His success continued in S. California. He designed the big, steel-hull yacht in 1930 for John Barrymore, that we know as the THEA FOSS.
      The last time I had a good contact with Ted was when he came up here to design the new rig for a MALABAR VII, a John Alden-designed schooner. I had redesigned a 22-ft Phil Rhodes sloop into a 25-footer, so Ted came over and laid out the sail plan for me, and we had a nice visit. Ted passed on in 1960; he was undoubtedly the finest helmsman I ever sailed with and had the pleasure of knowing."
Words by the well-known boatbuilder/mariner Norman C. Blanchard. Knee-Deep in Shavings. Victoria, B.C. Horsdal & Schubart. 1999.

      

      



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