The world’s largest scale model of a Concordia Yawl, a boat celebrated in yachting circles as one of the most successful and long-lived wooden racer/cruisers ever built, is currently exhibited in the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s Jacobs Family Gallery, free to the public.
The one-third scale model was built by Tom Borges, a local artist, sculptor and ship’s carpenter, in his New Bedford studio over the course of seven years. Begun early in 2003, Borges constructed the model from scratch using Concordia plans together with his own meticulous drawings and measurements, taken at the Concordia Boatyard, located in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts.
In announcing the special exhibit, James Russell, museum president, said, “The Whaling Museum is famous as the home of the world’s largest ship model, Lagoda, so it is fitting that the world’s largest model of an equally famous and locally built boat, the Concordia Yawl, also be displayed here.”
With the mast stepped the boat stands 22-feet tall (keel to masthead) in its custom cradle. With miniature bronze fittings and its 200-pound lead keel, the hull measures 15 feet, 2 inches long; its beam, 44″ across.
The metal and bronze fittings were hand-made in a multistep process by cutting the major elements on a table saw, TIG welding components together, then grinding, filing and polishing each fitting. To fabricate cylindrical parts, Borges utilized a metal lathe in the mechanical department of Burr Brothers Boatyard in Marion, where he works as a ship’s carpenter during the spring and summer months. Most of the progress on the model took place in the off-season, he said.
By his reckoning, Borges has worked in the repair and carpentry department at Burr Brothers for the past 13 or 14 years, and never as a boat builder. A Mattapoisett native and 1995 graduate of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Borges studied Fine Arts, majoring in Sculpture. His Cove Street studio, located deep within the former Berkshire-Hathaway Mill complex is as remarkable as the 22-foot high Concordia, which stands landlocked within his cramped but well-lighted atelier. The walls and floors are papered with myriad works of Borges’ art. Numerous portraits and figure studies in charcoal and Conté crayon cover the periphery of a studio crammed with sculpture, paintings, and countless objects of natural study and nautical interest. Heaps of books on fine art lie stacked about on the floor and serve as much for reference as they do for tables to hold palettes, brushes and tools.
“I’ve always been interested in models,” Borges said, pointing to a glass case containing his first attempt, a flawless scale model of a Brownell Bass Boat, which he also built from scratch in 2003.
With his first model completed, Borges decided he wanted to build something bigger, and just big enough to actually sail. This required the model be constructed with all working parts. “In theory, all the parts are meant to work,” Borges said. A snug pilot seat built into the miniature cabin at the bottom of the companionway allows for the model to be skippered by a set of controls from below decks, with a head-and-shoulders view of the exterior. Two jammers on the starboard side control the main and jib sheets. The single portside jammer controls the mizzen sheet. A lever and cable on the starboard side controls the tiller. Smiling, the reticent artist added, “I would consider myself far from a sailor; I know how to sail but I wouldn’t call myself a sailor. I’ve always liked boats and I like to build things.” None of his models have ever been made on commission. “I get an idea in my head and I just keep going; I make them and they end up staying here,” he said.
As the Concordia model began to dominate his small studio, Borges wondered what it might be worth. He contacted a ship model dealer in Marblehead, who responded that he could not appraise a model as large as this one, but referred the artist to several experts on large ship models as well as on Concordia history, including Llewellyn Howland III, a Trustee of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society (ODHS) and Whaling Museum. A writer and historian, Howland reviewed photos of the model then called Borges and contacted James Russell, Whaling Museum President. Russell, former head of the International Yacht Restoration Society (IRYS), visited Borges’ studio with John Garfield, ODHS Chair, and Calvin Siegal, Museum Advisory Committee Chair. “We were blown away by the remarkable workmanship and level of detail. We determined that this extraordinary work should be made available for the public to see,” Russell said. Dr. Gregory Galer, V.P. Collections & Exhibitions, and Frances Levin, Collections Committee Chair, also visited the artist.
The story of the Concordia Company and its legendary yawl runs deep in the history of American sailing. Established in Boston in 1926 by retired oil company executive Llewellyn Howland, Concordia Company was named after a Howland family whaling vessel. In the 1930s, the company entered the yacht design and brokerage business under the direction of Howland’s son Waldo.
Two talented naval architects, C. Raymond Hunt and Wilder B. Harris, were associated with Concordia Company in the late l930s. Though differing in their approaches to yacht design, the two men worked closely and successfully with Waldo Howland on a variety of projects.
Shortly after Concordia Company moved its offices to Fairhaven in 1938, a major hurricane swept the area causing much loss of life and property, including the destruction of countless yachts in South Coast harbors. One of the casualties was the boat owned by the company founder, Llewellyn Howland, who soon placed an order with Concordia Company and Ray Hunt for a 39-foot cruising/racing yawl that would perform well in the fresh afternoon breezes and choppy seas that prevail on Buzzards Bay.
The result was Concordia Company’s design number 14, which became the classic Concordia Yawl, one of the most successful and long-lived stock wooden cruiser/racers ever built. When the name Concordia is mentioned in sailing circles, it is this class of yawls (and some sloops) that comes to mind.
Between 1938 and 1947, four Concordia yawls were built, three (including Llewellyn Howland’s) by Casey Boatbuilding Company in Fairhaven, a fourth by George Lawley and Son Corp in Neponset, Mass. Then in 1950 a longtime patron of Concordia company decided to take advantage of Europe’s ravaged post-war economy to have one of the yawls built by the famous German yacht-building firm of Abeking & Rasmussen in Lemwerder near Bremerhaven. The result was so satisfactory, and the cost so reasonable, that an additional 98 Concordia yawls and sloops were built by the German firm before the final boat, Irene, hull #103, was shipped from Bremerhaven in 1966. All 103 Concordia yawls ever built are still in existence today.
Waldo Howland purchased South Wharf in South Dartmouth in 1941, which allowed Concordia Company to become a full-service yacht yard. Soon after the war it acquired the exclusive right to build wooden Beetle Cats. In the late 1950s, in association with the designer R. D. Culler, Waldo Howland and Concordia Company began building traditional wooden yachts at a facility on the Smith Neck Road in Dartmouth. The company was sold to Bill Pinney in 1969, and by Pinney to Brodie MacGregor in 1981, who continues to operate Concordia Company today.
Brodie and son Stuart moved Concordia to 300 Gulf Road in 2007 where they continue the tradition of storing, repairing, and restoring, and selling Concordia yawls. “Fourteen of the 150 boats we maintain are Concordias,” said Stuart. “They are at the same time our heritage and a critical, current aspect of our business. Most rewarding are the opportunities we at Concordia get to deliver or sail on owner’s boats. For all the good looks, nothing compares to level of function and the beauty of Concordias underway. It is why the class endures so well,” he said.
Transport of the model to the whaling museum is courtesy of N.C. Hudon, Inc., a family-owned and operated company based in New Bedford, MA, providing crane hoisting and rigging services for over 60 years.
The model will be on public display for the next several weeks, with its debut on Friday, March 12, as part of the whaling museum’s festive spring fundraiser, “Bermuda Shorts & Knobbly Knees.”
The New Bedford Whaling Museum expresses special thanks to N.C. Hudon, Inc. Crane & Rigging for assisting with the installation of this exhibit.
To see photos form the installation of the model, visit our flickr set.