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Thursday, 5 July 2012

Bill Tripp's fast and beautiful boats

Hinkley Bermuda 40

In the last two decades of the Cruising Club of America (CCA) rating rule, William H. Tripp Jr. designed  fast, beautiful and innovative sailing yachts. He became known for winning and weatherly centrerboard yawls like the Block Island 40, the Bermuda 40 and the Mercer 44. Many sailors and yacht designers consider them some of the most beautiful boats ever built in fiberglass. They continue to captivate sailors and command high prices in the used boat market today.

Mercer 44

"The Mercer 44, arguably one of the best-looking stock boats ever built," wrote Seattle yacht designer Bob Perry. "You can still find Mercer 44s cruising and racing today. They are a marvel of balanced proportions and look as good today as they did in 1959."

Tripp was a self-taught designer who came up through the ranks working for other designers, including Sparkman & Stevens and Phil Rhodes.

He was a prolific designer. In addition to providing custom racing and cruising designs for many clients he designed production boats for Seafarer, Hinckley, Pearson, Columbia and others. An early advocate of fiberglass, he became known for flush-deck race boats with his distinctive gun-turret dog houses.

As a teenager in the 1960s, Bob Perry considered Tripp to be his favorite designer, along with Phillip Rhodes.

"Tripp’s boats had a very distinctive look, with proud sweeping spoon bows, bold sheer springs, long concave counters terminating in almost vertical transoms, and sexy and svelte cabin trunks," Perry wrote in the Nov./Dec. 2011 issue of Good Old Boat Magazine. "You would never mistake a Tripp design for an S&S design. They just seemed to my young eye to have a strength and boldness, kind of an 'in your face' quality. Plus, his boats were consistent race winners."
Pearson Invicta 37

Burgoo, the Tripp-designed Pearson 37-footer, won the Bermuda race in 1964. At that time it was the smallest fiberglass boat to ever win the race.

"[I]t had all the Tripp trademark design features and it was a very sexy-looking little boat," Perry wrote. "In fact, and I could be wrong, this may be the first Tripp design to have the “gun turret” cabin trunk."

"Bill was the first to put portlights in the topsides as well as opening ports in cockpit sides to improve air circulation and communication below," said Ted Jones, who worked with Tripp before becoming a boating magazine editor. "He popularized flush decks on small boats (Galaxy, Medalist, Invicta, Mercer 44), and set high standards in hull and rigging scantlings that have been proven over time. He designed boats to stay together under the most difficult circumstances. I cannot recall one of his designs ever being dismasted or suffering structural damage at sea."

By the mid-1960s, Columbia, America's leading builder of fiberglass yachts at the time, approached Tripp to design a fifty footer. He produced the first of the Columbia bubble-topped high-sided boats that are still easily recognizable. In the next six years, he produced thirteen Columbias, including the Columbia 26 MkII, Columbia 34, Columbia 39, Columbia 43, Columbia 45, Columbia 50, and the Columbia 57. The boats are vintage Tripp, but with fin keels and spade rudders.

The C-50 attracted a strong following that still has an active owners association.
Columbia 50

"The Columbia 50 was a big elegant-looking boat with the same bubble house and long flush deck (of many other Tripp designs)," Perry wrote. "It was a very good-looking boat and it was fast. Seattle’s racing scene was dominated for years by a Columbia 50 called Six Pack while the smallest class was dominated by a Columbia 26 called Miller’s High Life."

In 1969, Columbia was the world's largest fiberglass sailboat manufacturer and Tripp designed a 57 footer named Concerto, which became the largest production fiberglass boat. It displayed several of Tripp's trademark features: an unusually-long and effective waterline, high-aspect ratio sail plan, dual-surface steering system with a keel-mounted trim tab as well as a balanced spade rudder aft. Speed was derived partially from an absolute minimum of wetted surface area, and from the high prismatic coefficient hull design.

In 1971, the racing community adopted the International Offshore Rule (IOR), effectively making every CCA yacht obsolete. Tripp fought hard against the change, but designed a 52-foot IOR boat for Columbia and was looking forward to developing more of his ideas on the new rule. A few months later, a drunk driver lost control of his car, hurtled over the divider on the Connecticut Turnpike and smashed into Tripp's Jaguar, killing him instantly. He was 51.

While we usually focus on just one design, I wanted to look closer at a designer first, then at one of his designs in more depth. Stay tuned.


  1. I've always thought if a boat looks right it probably is right. These boats look right. I've never heard of the Mercer 44 before, but there's something about the proportions of the overhangs and the beautiful counter stern that makes her an outstanding looker.

  2. Patrick I'm with you on both counts - without wanting to let Brandon's secret out of the bag, he's considering buying a boat which will look just fine as he rows away in the dinghy

  3. Rent a yacht in Dubai is the best choice for the family trip or for the friends.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Hello friends,

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    OMC Outdrive

  6. Tripp has 2 "p"s