Posts Tagged ‘R. Tucker Thompson’

Pete Culler

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

To be successful at sea we must keep things simple.

Captain R. D. ‘Pete’ Culler was an American naval architect. He designed a wide range of vessels, as the contents of John Burke’s book, Peter Culler’s Boats: The Complete Design Catalog show:
* Round -Bilged Open Craft for Sail and Oar
* Vee-and Flat-Bottomed Open Boats for Sail and Oar
* Power, Inboard and Outboard
* Cutters, Sloops, Yawls
* Ketches
* Schooners

Pete Culler also wrote about his design work in Skiffs and Schooners and Boats, Oars and Rowing. These two books were combined by John Burke into Pete Culler on Wooden Boats: The Master Craftsman’s Collected Teachings on Boat Design, Building, Repair, and Use.

R. Tucker Thompson, designed by Pete Culler

R. Tucker Thompson (photo courtesy Miso Beno)


Culler also wrote The Spray: Building and Sailing a Replica of Joshua Slocum’s Famous Vessel.

One of the schooners designed by Culler is the R. Tucker Thompson, a traditional gaff-rigged schooner owned and operated by the R. Tucker Thompson Sail Training Trust. She (it seems odd to call a ship a ‘she’ when it carries a male name, says Annie!) carries passengers for day sails and longer voyages, taking in New Zealand’s beautiful Bay of Islands.

A sad ending

Culler also designed several schooners for the Concordia Company of Massachusetts. Sadly, one, an 83 tonner named the John F. Leavitt, sank on her maiden voyage. She was built for Ned Ackerman and launched in 1979 – the first wind-powered cargo vessel built in the USA for 40 years. 97 ft long, with a shallow draft of just six and a half feet, she was designed to carry 6,441 sq ft of sail.

Fully laden with lumber and canning chemicals, the John F. Leavitt set sail for Haiti. During a heavy winter three-day gale near the Gulf Stream the cargo broke free and damaged the hull. She sank on 29 December 1979 and, fortunately, her crew were all rescued by helicopter.

Among the crew of nine was Jon Craig Cloutier, a filmmaker who had recorded the progress of the ship’s building over four years. He was lucky to rescue from the foundering vessel 3,600 ft of film taken of the voyage although was unable to save another US$50,000 worth of camera equipment that was on board. In 1981 he released a film, Coaster: The Adventures of the John F. Leavitt. It had been edited from over 100,000 ft of film into a 90 minute documentary feature.

The ship was planned as the first of three and wholly financed by Ned Ackerman. She was valued at US$350,000. Her loss was the end of the project.

You can read more about the John F. Leavitt in a Time magazine article from Sept 1979, In Maine: A Bold Launching into the Past and a report of the rescue.