Forbes and Clark Collections

Royal Thames Yacht Club Schooner Match, June 5, 1869. View item



Constructing the Gloriana

The year 1891 was revolutionary for yacht building, as the Gloriana built by Nathaniel Herreshoff, went undefeated throughout the eight races of the 1891 season.

The Gloriana was of composite construction, with metal framing and wooden decking. Mr. Herreshoff had designed the craft with a very unusual cut-away bow design. He also called for lead ballast low in the vessel, allowing her to carry greater sail. Additionally, he created innovative hardware, which allowed for easier sailing.

Gloriana was initially designed for Royal Phelps Carroll, and Mr. Herreshoff was ready to begin building when Mr. Carroll decided that he could not afford the yacht, as he was about to be married. Mr. Carroll was released from his contract, and the plans were set aside. Later, friend and former customer, Edwin Morgan, was shown Mr. Herreshoff’s design plans. Mr. Morgan assumed the contract, and the construction began. The vessel was named Gloriana, after the heroine of Edmund Spencer’s 16th century poem, “The Faerie Queen”. Mr. Morgan and Mr. Herreshoff sailed the Gloriana together in the victorious season.


A Revolution in Ship Design

Naturally the yachting community took notice of the revolutionary design, affecting the construction of America’s Cup contenders for many years.

Today the former Herreshoff Manufacturing Company in Bristol, Rhode Island has become the site of the America’s Cup Hall of Fame. It documents yachts built for eight consecutive America’s Cup defenses from 1893 to 1934.

In the model to the right of an older yacht before the Gloriana, notice that the ship has a full bow. This is in direct contract to the cut-away version designed by Herreshoff that was so revolutionary. Herreshoff writes, "Above the water line everything on Gloriana was pared down in size and weight—even the hatches, companionways, and skylights—and every ounce of this saving in weight was put into the outside lead. Although her upper works were light they were strong because they were constructed scientifically, and the proof of this is Gloriana's long life free from structural defects. But above deck is where Gloriana excelled mostly, for her fittings and rig in general were what might be expected from an engineer who had his own forge shop and machine shop—sail tracks, special winches, properly proportioned turnbuckles, together with special goosenecks, gaff jaws, topmast cap irons, etc. A photo shows Gloriana sailing and gives a general idea of the neatness of her rig, but the construction of Gloriana, her special fittings, rig, etc., were overlooked by the writers of the time who were so fascinated with her bow that they either did not see or could not understand her other advanced features.

Gloriana entered eight races in the forty-six foot class the first year and won them all. In the first race E. D. Morgan was helmsman, and in the following seven Captain Nat steered her. Mr. Morgan then very sportingly withdrew Gloriana from the class to let the other ten or eleven yachts fight it out among themselves."


From the Memoir of Nathaniel Herreshoff

There was fairly deep water almost to Mr. Morgan's residence on two sides, and Brenton's Cove right in front of the house was where the cup defenders and many others of the large yachts anchored at Newport.

Here at that time Mr. Morgan kept the fine schooner Constellation, which he had had built in 1889 from a design by Edward Burgess. He also kept in Brenton's Cove the forty foot racing sloop Moccasin as well as the Herreshoff forty-eight foot cabin steam launch Henrietta. Mr. Morgan often owned five or six yachts at a time ranging in size from English steel steam yachts to Newport catboats, and in those days he often sailed or steamed up to the boat shops at Bristol. Not only was he interested in the steam craft building there but he took much interest in Captain Nat's own catyawl Clara which Mr. Morgan had both sailed in and tried out alongside the Moccasin. So Mr. Morgan ordered from Captain Nat two catyawls—he did not believe in doing things in halves—which were to be improvements on Clara. They were both built on the same molds and the first one, completed and launched on November 11, 1890, was named Pelican. She was twenty-six feet six inches long on the water while the other one named Gannet was twenty-nine feet six inches long. Pelican is still in existence while Gannet made her home port Newport for nearly forty years, becoming almost a landmark in the inner harbor there.But to get back to the sailboats. In 1890 and 1891 the famous class of forty-six-footers was started, and I believe there were about a dozen built with more than half of them designed by Edward Burgess. Mr. E. D. Morgan had an acquaintance, Mr. Royal Phelps Carroll, who was to build in this class and he recommended that Carroll go to the Herreshoffs for his forty-six-footer, which he did.

As for construction, it is quite unlikely that the independent yacht designers such as Edward Burgess, Cary Smith or Gardner, even if they had been engineers, could have brought out so many innovations in one year. Although any of them might have taught a builder to use steam-bent frames one year, double planking another year, and diagonal strapping the next, etc., Captain Nat had a great advantage with his own yard and a crew whom he had trained in all these constructions on steam craft. Gloriana was built almost exactly as all high-grade yachts of her size are today, that is, steel angle frames, double planking, and strap diagonal framing which was quite a contrast to some others in her class which had single planking over sawed frames fastened with nails.

Test your knowledge

Why was the Herreshoff design so significant?

The work of Nathaniel Herreshoff started a revolution in yachtbuilding, and generations of builders learned from his work with the Gloriana. What was the primary attribute that made his work so important?