The First Fiberglass Production Sailboat
The following is an excerpt from an article by Scott Gibson published in the Freshwater News (November 1984) on Yacht Constructors and the Chinook 34, the first model they built in 1956. The 'Cascade' line began production out of the same facility in 1961 with the Cascade 29, followed shortly by the Cascade 42 in 1964, and thee Cascade 36 in 1967.
Boating historians usually cite 1959 as the year that the first production fiberglass sailboat was produced, referring to the Pearson Yacht Company introducing the 28-foot Triton at the New York Boat Show that year. By then Yacht Constructors had been in business for two years building the Chinook 34!
In 1955 eleven Portland sailors wanted newer, bigger sailboats. Thinking of a joint building effort, they looked around for a design acceptable to all. Merl Starr and Tom Green, today's owners of Yacht Constructors, Inc., were two of the original group.
Tom and Merle were very impressed by the potential of fiberglass as a boat building material, in spite of its shakey reputation. They persuaded three of the original group that a design for a 34-foot wood sloop by well-known Philadelphia naval architect Frederick Geiger could be built in fiberglass. This was a daring proposition; no one had ever built such a large boat in fiberglass before.
Building your own fiberglass boat has one very big disadvantage - you must first invest a great deal of time and skilled labor in building a "plug" and then from the plug building a mold. Once you have the mold you can use it to form one or many identical boats. That is why no one wanting to make only a single boat is likely to do so in fiberglass unless he can borrow an existing mold. But it becomes worthwhile when five people pool their labor and money so each can end up with a boat at great savings.
It took the five sailors about eight months to build the plug and mold. They began in April of 1955 and finished in November of 1955. After converting the designed-for-wood plans into plans for a fiberglass construction, they went into production with Tom and Merle directing operations. Their three co-workers were Wade Cornwell, Henry Morton, and the late Dr. Jarvis Gould. During the next year they produced five identical boats, one for each guy. They called these boats Chinook 34.
Chinook hull #1 was launched April 20, 1956. Merle Starr got hull #5, launched in July 1957. It was Christmas before he built the mast and rigged the vessel. He sailed PYXIS the first time during a mild spell in January 1958. Merle still has PYXIS now, 27 years later, and she is in excellent shape.
They might have sailed off in different directions and that would be the end of the story, but three of them did not.
Yacht Constructors took their first order in the fall of 1957. They built a Chinook 34 for the late Dr. Donald Laird of Portland. This was the first of over 700 boats to come from the plant. They continued building the 34-foot Chinook until 1968 when they shipped the 70th hull to Maryland and terminated the model.
Yacht Constructors is a remarkable company in many ways. Most unusual, perhaps, is the fact that they have survived and even prospered for almost 30 years. Many other fiberglass boat-building ventures were launched in this period, but many foundered. Yacht Constructors is the oldest American fiberglass boat building company under continuous ownership.