An Afternoon With Bill
It's not often that one
has the opportunity to meet a legend; someone who has truly been an
innovator in their particular field of expertise; someone whose name will
forever be associated with their achievements. Such a man is Bill
Lapworth, who spoke at a meeting of the Cal 46 Association at Balboa Yacht
Club on March 9.
Our first contact with
Bill was when my husband Erik consulted with him on the phone about our
intentions to install a cutter rig in Seayanika, our Cal 46 bare
hull whose building has been chronicled in regular Sightings
installments for the last year and a half. The original drawings we
got with the boat were for a ketch, and Erik wanted to find out if the
mast should be relocated to accommodate the cutter. "Leave the mast
in its designed place and add a couple feet to the boom," was Lapworth's
confident and immediate response. We were soon to learn that
Lapworth is always confident in his design decisions, and with good
reason. It is simply because he knows of what he speaks.
That contact led
eventually to his appearance at our association meeting. As soon as
the word went out, reservations quadrupled, with many non-members calling
to ask if they could come too.
Twenty-five of the 145
Cal 46s built were represented at the meeting. If this doesn't sound
surprising, keep in mind that these boats were built between 25-35 years
ago and are located around the world. Many attendees traveled
hundreds of miles just to hear Lapworth's talk. An informal survey
conducted by Dick Lawrence, the President of the Association, revealed
another astounding figure. Of all the sailboats docked and moored at
the Balboa Yacht Club, fully 11% were designed by Bill Lapworth.
This speaks volumes about the popularity, construction and endurance of
On the day of the
meeting, Lapworth appeared quietly and took a seat. At first
impression, he appears thin and a bit frail. But when he got up to
speak, one could easily tell by the intelligence in his eyes, the
expressive use of his hands and the sometimes playful expressions on his
face that Mr. Lapworth is in fine form. Here's a bit of what he had
"Coming to the Balboa
Yacht Club today is of interest to me because it was the first club on
this coast that I ever joined. The Navy sent me out here after V-E
Day to the Naval Repair Base in San Diego. I had a lot of fun in San
Diego. I learned to love sailing on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New
Years -- all those things that we couldn't do in Detroit where I grew up."
After the war, Bill --
who had received his degree in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering
from the University of Michigan in 1941 -- was approached by Merle Davis,
who had a yacht designing office on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.
Davis asked Lapworth to join the firm. Though Bill had received
another offer from the American Shipbuilding Company in Cleveland, he
decided to stay in California.
"It worked out pretty
well with Merle, except that I started working with him in September and
he died the next March," says Lapworth. "So there I was, I had an
office and was ready to go. It's pretty hard to get started
designing yachts when you don't have anything behind you, but we did
surveying and in turn started meeting people in the shipyards. We
managed to find people that liked us, and we like them, and things started
"In my office one day
walked Jack Jensen (founder of the boatbuilding concern Jensen Marine).
Jack was the kind of guy that really didn't have to have anything formal.
With just a handshake, we agreed to do the design for the new 24-footer he
wanted to build. You could count on that back then. Jack
wanted to call it the Lapworth 24 but I said, 'No, you can't do that'
because we already did a 24 footer for somebody else. So that's when
he decided to call the boats Cal boats. It really took off from
Lapworth and Erik Vader discuss the
points of the 46.
Of all the various models
produced over the years, the Cal 40 was Lapworth's most revolutionary
design. It had a shallow hull, a fin keel, a low displacement/length
ratio of 250, and most unconventional of all, a spade rudder. East
coast designers considered it unseaworthy. But the design proved
itself over and over, winning many races including the Bermuda Race in
1966 and the TransPac in 1965, 1966, 1967 and 1985. The 40 was so
successful that it was inducted into the American Sailboat Hall of Fame,
and led Bill Schanen, the editor of Sailing magazine to hail
Lapworth as one of the sport's greatest designers. "There are some
revered names in that group, but Lapworth may be the only one about whom
it can be said0 -- he changed everything."
Of all the boats that
Lapworth has designed, what is his favorite?
"The one I currently own,
a Cal Cruising 46. A fellow named Hale Field, who lived in the
Newport area, had a nifty little sloop that he'd raised five kids on.
He used to navigate for me on various boats. One day he came to me
and said he had kind of a sketch for a boat 46 feet long that he wanted me
to design. This was to be a one-off. It was built at Willard
Boatyard. It was called Fram, and it's been around here on
the West Coast for a long, long time." The next one -- the first
'true' Cal 46 -- was built at Jensen Marine for Wade Hill. When
orders for more 46s started coming in, Jensen took a mold off Wade's hull
and began production.
Jensen Marine built 15
(some say 17) of the original Cal Cruising 46s before the orders started
drying up. Thinking that the accommodations might be the reason,
Bill and Jack put their heads together and redesigned the interior.
They moved the engine room forward to midships and relocated the aft cabin
even further aft. The main salon and the forward cabin were
enlarged. This 'new' design, dubbed the Cal 2-46, proved to be just
what the public wanted and was a huge success at the 1970 Long Beach Boat
Show. Ninety-five 2-46s were eventually built.
The boat went through a
third iteration in the mid-'70s that included smaller cabin windows and a
different interior layout. Around 30 of these Cal 3-46s (or "Mark
IIIs") were built. Whatever their outward or interior appearance,
all the 46s were built on the same hull.
Together, Lapworth and
Jensen produced thousands of boats including the Cal 20 (the most
successful with more than 1,900 boats produced from 1961 to 1972), 24, 28,
29, 30, 33, 34, 36, 39, 40, and 46. But as they say, all good
things must come to an end. The Lapworth/Jensen association ended
when Jack passed away in 1980. Jensen Marine closed up shop the next
year. Bill and Peggy moved back east, settling in Maryland in 1986.
That's where they found Merrydown, the Cruising Cal 46 (hull #7)
that they still own today.
The Lapworths returned to
California just last year, settling once again in Southern California.
(For the time being they're leaving Merrydown in Maryland.)
Having owned and extensively sailed his own 46 for more than 15 years now
-- including being sideswiped twice by hurricanes -- was there anything
the Master would change if he had it to do over again?
"No," he replied after
contemplating the question for a few seconds. "I like it just as it