Amaryllis II momentarily reunited with her rig

Revolutionary catamaran gets fleeting breath of sea breezes

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Passersby at the Herreshoff Marine Museum were treated recently to a sight not seen in nearly 80 years — the historic catamaran Amaryllis II outdoors, fully rigged and looking ready for a mid-winter sail.

The moment was brief. Participants enjoyed the moment, snapped photos, then carefully removed the spars and lines. Amaryllis was brought back inside and hoisted up toward the rafters again, this time in a more prominent position within the Hall of Boats.

Amaryllis II is the only known remaining catamaran constructed at the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company under the supervision of famed yacht designer Nathanael G. Herreshoff. She was built in 1933 for K.T. Keller, president of Chrysler Motors, as a near replica of Amaryllis, the famed groundbreaking catamaran designed and built by Captain Nat in 1876 and patented in 1877.

Museum director Bill Lynn said nobody is quite sure what happened to the original 1876 version, but said he guesses it is unlikely that the relatively fragile boat survived.

But in an era when sailing catamarans were virtually unheard of beyond the South Pacific, Amaryllis was a shocker.

“They were utterly alien to the New England yachting scene in the late 1800’s,” Mr. Lynn said. “Captain Nat’s multihulls were exceptionally fast, clocking speeds close to 20 knots. Captain Nat envisioned building an active racing class of catamarans,” but they proved too revolutionary for their era. “Indeed, Captain Nat’s catamarans were so far ahead of their time that today’s foiling multihulls - their direct descendants - continue to represent the cutting edge in America’s Cup yacht design.”

Still, Capt. Nat managed to have plenty of fun with his boat.

Soon after Amaryllis was finished, he sailed it the 200 miles to New York “in the remarkable time of 14 hours,” says an old article.

“Then he entered her in the Centennial Regatta and beat all comers with this radical sailing machine. The utter shock to the other contestants sailing much larger boats led to disqualification of Amaryllis and the barring of catamarans from all conventional yacht races.”

Capt. Nat wrote of lying in wait off Poppasquash Point for the Richard Bordon, the fastest Narragansett Bay steamer, “pouncing on her and passing her with great ease in Tarantella, a successor to Amaryllis.”

Friday, Jan. 20, brought calm winds, just the weather needed to rig Amaryllis II.

“Rigging the boat proved to be a day-long experimental archaeology project and a chance to puzzle out the mechanics of what it might have been like to sail her in the 1930’s,” Mr. Lynn said.

Sam Kinder brought a Kinder tree truck to help with the hoisting and museum volunteers worked with rigging that had not been hoisted for many decades.

“Historically, the “stepping” of a yacht’s mast was a ceremonious occasion marking the near completion of a yacht construction project,” Mr. Lynn said. This day, though, “had the feel of a community barn-raising with a number of curious visitors and passersby.”

Although Amaryllis II looks like she could go out for a sail, that would probably be a bad idea, Mr. Lynn said. Stresses on very old joints might break something and such abuse would certainly offend a few purists, Mr. Lynn said. He added, though, that it would be great if someone felt inspired to build a new replica to see what it can do.

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