Legendary work and cruising boat designer William Garden passes away

Bill Garden plank on edge cartoon

‘I love to design boats. Rather design boats than eat. Often do. So let’s get going on the perfect ship before you are so old that you have to be carried aboard.

‘I have drawers full of stock plans and a head full of boats that want to be launched.

‘Whether you want the ultimate in a motor or sailing yacht or a one cylinder clam hound, I can fix you up with a plan to suit.’

So wrote the legendary William Garden, who died last week. Born in 1918, he was a Canadian boat designer who drew boat plans for many hundreds of craft in a long career, including both yachts and workboats, and anything in between.

Many of them as attractive as you’ll find anywhere.

He also created a distinctively salty and positive style in writing about his plans and the boats that could be built from them – a style that was very much in keeping with the confident and determined young man we see in the photo on this biographical Mystic Seaport web page. He also had a puckish sense of charm and humour, which is clear from the salty little cartoons he often added to his drawings and plans – such as the one above showing a contented pipe-smoking fella getting progressively less comfortable as his plank-on-edge yacht heels further and further…

Garden must have been quite a character.

There’s a particularly nice article here, and a list of Garden designs held by the Mystic Seaport Museum here.

My thanks go to Peter Vanderwaart for alerting me to Bill Garden’s passing.

10 thoughts on “Legendary work and cruising boat designer William Garden passes away”

  1. I count myself one of the lucky ones for having known Bill, I can remember back to using the plans from one of his books to build a few boats from before I was able to locate him and ask permission. When I finally reached him I told him that I was building several of one of his designs and I owed him some royalties and would like a full size set of drawings so I could put the magnifying glass away. His comment was "Sure, where do I send the drawings? As for the royalties, how about $17.00 a boat.

    That was the beginning of a long and wonderful relationship. Bill liked what we built and even added the cabin we had created on his Eel for a customer in Alaska that he added it to the drawings. In his later years when I would call about a design for a client he would say " No, no, I'm not designing any new boats" after a bit of conversation on the design he would send me a design from his files and after a bit of pencil work on our end to get the look the client wanted I would send it back to Bill and he would be quick to say what a good boat it would be and put this motor and this prop on it and it would do X for speed and he was always right on the numbers.

    I for one will miss Bill but he will never be far away.

    Steve Rander

    Schooner Creek Boat Works

  2. Last year I had finally found Bill Garden's address and wrote him to ask about his association with my Grandfather's boadyard in Seattle.

    Bill responded in his draftsman's hand that he had indeed worked for a time at Maj Andrews boatyard and was pleased that my Grandfather had taken an interest in a young graduate. Bill had declined his offer of support to attend the University of Washington and went on to build his schooner Gleam. The rest is history.

    I feef fortunate that he replied to my letter and pictures of the launching by my mother of the 39 ft sloop, Sea Witch, which has been restored and is currently in Canada.

  3. I am intrested in finding the boat plans for a garden motor sailor ketch rig. The original plans were purchased by a man named John Arnold of portland oregon.He built and launched in 1955 I think.I had been involved with the boat since 1973 to 1982. I had ownership from 1978 to 1982.The name of the vessel is M>S> REBEL Through the years i have lost track of the whereabouts of the boat.I am intrested in locating copys of the building plans. It was a 37 ' lwl pilot house ketch rig motor sailor.The original plans were created in about 1949. If someone has information on this boat please e mail me @ christopherwhitestar@yahoo.com Many Thanks.

  4. My boat partner, the late Richard Ballinger and I acquired a Garden designed 36′ cutter named the My Tane in about 1965. I believe Bill Garden designed the boat for a John Gerke of Ballard in 1949 soon after he designed the schooner Rainbird. These two boats have much of the same hull features (the Rainbird is still moored in Friday Harbor). In the late 1950’s Gerke sailed the My Tane from Seattle to Matzatlan and back during which the weather took her mast. Gerke replaced the lost cutter rig with a masthead rig. Mr. Ballinger and I loved how this boat, once set on a course (in a good breeze and better) the My Tane would simply take over and sail herself with a easy line on the rudder. We thought the cutter rig should be replaced so I wrote to Bill and asked for the original drawings showing the rig. He responded within a week or so with prints of the drawings where he added a penciled revision to the cutter rig. He stated that for the best balance the boat should have a 30″ spike bowsprit. And he sent a bill for all this – $10.00!

  5. Im sorry to here about Bill. Bill was my grandfather’s brother. It’s sad to have lost two great minds now. I hope the best for the family.

  6. Thank you for your comments, been doing some research on Toad up again, and have only come across positive comments, and some really neat stories, thank you for sharing.


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