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R.I. artist recreates designs of a master boat-builder

By Eric Tucker
Associated Press / February 7, 2010

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NEWPORT, R.I. - Nathanael Greene Herreshoff was one of the world’s preeminent boat-builders at the turn of the 20th century, crafting innovative yachts that dominated the America’s Cup sailing competition for decades.

Herreshoff, who died in 1938, generally designed boats by beginning with model hulls shaped from blocks of wood instead of first creating lines plans, two-dimensional architectural drawings that reveal the shape of the hull and can suggest a vessel’s speed, performance and seaworthiness.

Now an artist and licensed captain, Will Sofrin, is filling in the gap.

Sofrin is using original design data of the boats owned by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create construction plans for two dozen of Herreshoff’s most heralded yacht designs - even though the project rankles Herreshoff’s grandson.

Sofrin is deciphering tables of boat measurements left with a museum at MIT, which Herreshoff attended, and using the numbers to create mathematically accurate ink drawings, including those of seven yachts designed for the America’s Cup.

Sofrin’s drawings will be added to the Hart Nautical Collections at the MIT Museum, which owns the copyright on Herreshoff’s design data and received a majority of his design records following his death. He is also making copies available for sale.

Though Sofrin’s agreement with MIT prohibits any purchaser from copying his designs to build a replica, Herreshoff’s grandson, Halsey Herreshoff, fears that’s exactly what might happen.

But Sofrin and MIT say those concerns are unfounded.