Harrison Butler and the Harrison Butlerians

Harrison Butler and the Harrison Butlerians ha Harrison Butler and the Harrison Butlerians

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Sailing has many enthusiasms within it, ranging from the wild, dangerous and strange to the charming and sensible. One of the latter groups is the group I call the Harrison Butlerians, a collection of people who care for the remaining yachts built from the designs of Thomas Harrison Butler.

Harrison Butler, as he’s always called, was an ophthalmologist by day and a designer of very distinctive yachts by night. They’re distinctive because he had some firm views about what made a wholesome yacht. Famously, he was an adherent of Admiral Alfred Turner’s metacentric shelf theory intended to create yachts that would steer predictably and lightly at any angle of heel, but he also thought, for example, that in small and medium-sized cruising vessels, make the least freeboard about a tenth of the LWL, and that the beam of a round-bottomed cruising boat should be found from the formula square root beam=cube root LWL.

Again, he believed sail area should be estimated using a formula derived also from Admiral Turner that goes like this:

(Ballast in tons x distance in feet from the centre of gravity to the metacentre)/
(Sail area in sq ft x height of centre of effort in feet above the metacentre) = R
# where R is some value in the range 16/10,000 to 24/10,000.

My first edition copy of his classic book Cruising Yachts: Design and Performance was first published in 1945 and opens with a grand quotation from Thucydides: ‘Seamanship, like any other form of skill, is an art and cannot be pursued at odd times as a secondary occupation; on the contrary, no other work may be subordinated to it.’

It seems an odd quotation to choose, given that the author was necessarily a part-time yacht designer who had presumably just spent a busy war caring for the eyes of injured soldiers, but it seems somehow in keeping with a personality that was hard-working and thorough where detail was concerned – it seems that these qualities of an effective ophthalmologist contributed also to some sweet and widely admired yachts.

The images above show the cover of my copy of Cruising Yachts, a profile of Sprite-of-Arden (a boat we’d like to find in our Christmas stocking at the end of this year), and a sailplan of Harrison Butler’s own Vindilis.

Sadly, there seems to be little of much interest about Harrison Butler and his yachts to be found around the World Wide Web.

The Wikipedia has this .

The Harrison Butler Association is here, though sadly isn’t terribly informative.

Possibly the best set of photos of one of HB’s yachts is this collection this set of a boat that was sold some time ago.

Here’s another advertisement for a boat that has been sold.

And still another .

Traditional Sail in South Devon is currently restoring the Nursery Class yacht La Bonne.

And Wooden Ships is offering a beautifully made but half-finished Cyclone 2A

And A & R Way have some photos dating from some work they did on Vindilis herself.

Finally, here are some boat modellers talking about metacentric shelf theory. It’s only fair to point out that you’ll need a stiff drink to prepare for this one, however.

Have you tried our cool new search gizmo yet? INTHEBOATSHED.NET SEARCH

9 thoughts on “Harrison Butler and the Harrison Butlerians”

  1. By coincidence I had a phone call this same evening from Joan Jardine-Brown, HB's daughter and, at 89, President of the HB Association. Although they don't really 'do' the Web, the HBA have getting on for 200 members and are very much alive and well. Their AGM is a week next Saturday. I'm not a member, but am Secretary of the Albert Strange Association (the two designers were acquainted and HB inherited Strange's planimeter, now in Joan's keeping, along with one or two Strange paintings), so our two clubs keep in touch. HB's boats tend to be a little more capacious than Strange's on the same length, but are very attractive with it.

  2. Hi Dick – great to hear from you again, and thanks for the information, which I'm sure will be appreciated.

    Please don't hesitate to add to the entertainment any time you like!


  3. Gavin,

    The teak Cyclone 2A offered by Wooden Ships will be finished off in Somerset we could possibly post details of the process and progress for general interest.

  4. My wife and I crossed the Atlantic on a little 28' Harrison Butler Rose of Arden called "Romadi" in 1982 delivering it from the Caribbean back to it's owner in Eigg in the Hebrides. We loved the boat, which performed in the Atlantic tradewind gales like a ship of much larger size.

    I am so sorry that there is not more available on the web about these great boats. I have some pictures on my site at http://www.worldcruisingguide.net/index.php?area_….

    Howard and Jayne.

  5. Just an up-date on the Harrison Butler Association for everyone interested in these fine yachts designed by 'The Doctor' Thomas Harrison Butler. The website is undergoing revision at present and the Association is up-dating the definitive catalogue of HB designs originally printed in 2000. Hopefully this will be on sale by the Autumn of 2011. The Association is now lead by a steering committee with Joan Jardine Brown, THB's daughter, now approaching her mid 90's, continuing as President and still very much taking an active role. For membership or general enquiries about the designs contact the Chairman, John Elphinstone Tel: 01590-677422 or Social Secretary, Paul Leinthall-Cowman Tel: 01905-356482 / info@classicyachtbrokerage.co.uk

  6. I have a Butler designed gaff sloop named Water Rat (originally launched as Ishbel) built in 1934 @ Canoe Cove, British Columbia, Canada by the Rodd Brothers. She (or He) sails beautifully and is very well balanced (and so is the skipper on occasion). Does anyone have information on this vessel?

  7. greetings folks,
    I own ‘Seasalter’ an HB designed Queen of Arden built in 1939 in Port Adelaide Australia. She is lying in my workshop in New Zealand awaiting my attentions- I am a traditional timber shipwright and founder of a school of marine restoration. Original design shows a ketch rig and there is evidence on the boat that there is a mast step well forward as per a main mast for a ketch. I found some evidence for chainplates for a mizzen mast but haven’t delved under the cockpit where the motor is presently, for a mast step.
    I have photos of the boat leaving Adelaide to take part in the second Sydney Hobart Race in 1949 (when she placed 6th). The photos show her as a bald headed sloop with jumper struts and stays and timber spars. When I got the boat (about 5 years ago) she had an aluminium mast stuck through the middle of the cabin- ugly as…….
    In my reading of various pages I understand that some HB boats had appreciable weather helm and perhaps the sloop rig was put on to counteract that.
    I should like to put the ‘sprited ketch rig back on and build it of box section Oregon- I have stock up to 18 metres in length, but would like to put a slighter longer bowsprit on to aid balancing.
    I would be most interested if anyone knows about other boats of similar design or woud care to comment upon this post.

  8. An update on Seasalter the Aristene/Queen of Arden built in Adelaide in 1937. There is a Facebook page entitled “Sailing Yacht Seasalter 1937” which carries a photographic commentary of her restoration.

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