Wood, Water & Light:
Classic Wooden Boats
©1988

GLEAM - the name comes from a line of poetry by Tennyson - "follow, follow, follow the gleam." Since her launching in 1937, many competitors have had occasion to "follow the Gleam" around the racecourse. Built to the 12-meter class for racing in Long Island Sound, she still frequents those waters, and the great yachting center of Newport, Rhode Island. More than fifty years old now, she turns heads whenever she is in sight.

And with good reason. This sixty-eight foot racing sloop, with her gleaming varnished trim and polished brass hardware, takes us back in time to yachting's glory days.

Today's perception of a 12-meter is a utilitarian metal racing boat, studded with winches, manned by athletic giants in oilskins, and serviced by an array of shoreside support groups-riggers, sailmakers, financiers, psychologists, and public-relations men. Since 1958, 12-meters have been the class chosen to race for the America's Cup; prior to that, the America's Cup was raced for in much larger boats. But the 12-meter class, starting back in the early days of this century, once produced truly lovely racing yachts with interior accommodations to house their crews. The 12-meters first became very popular in Europe; there was an active fleet in England in the twenties and thirties which gave some good racing for the owners. Around 1930, with the importation of several boats from abroad, the US fleet began to grow, and regular racing took place on Long Island Sound. In 1935 Clinton Crane designed Seven Seas for Van Merle-Smith, and she proved to be a very successful 12-meter. The next year, Merle-Smith loaned Seven Seas to Crane, in order to persuade him to join the fun and have a 12-meter of his own. Crane, an ardent yachtsman, did well racing her, and indeed the next year, 1937, designed Gleam and had her built for his own use by the H.B. Nevins Co. of City Island, New York. In 1938 Olin Stephens was asked to design Nyala and Northern Light, and in 1939 Stephens drew up Vim, perhaps the most successful 12-meter of all time, for Harold Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt took Vim abroad and did very well racing against the European 12s.

Clinton Crane, designer and first owner of Gleam, was a most interesting man. A year after the completion of his studies in naval architecture, he was offered the commission to design and supervise building of a 126 foot waterline steam auxiliary yacht, rigged as a brigantine. This is not an inconsiderable undertaking for a very young man just out of engineering school, but he proceeded to do the job and Aloha, a handsome and successful vessel, was the result. He also became interested and active in early powerboat racing, and designed a series of boats to race for the Harmsworth Trophy. After eighteen years as a naval architect, he gave it up, became president of the St. Joseph Lead Co., and only returned to boat designing late in life, as a hobby.

Starting again in 1922, he designed racing yachts for the next fifteen years. One of the highlights of this career must have been the design of Weetamoe, a J-boat contender for the 1930 American Cup races. While Enterprise was chosen over Weetamoe to defend the Cup, many consider Weetamoe to have been the faster boat.

Reading Clinton Crane's yachting memoirs, one gets the strong impression that Gleam was the favorite of all his designs. She certainly offered him much good racing and cruising, and her continuing presence on today's yachting scene is a tribute to Crane and the craftsmen of the Nevins Co. who built her more than fifty years ago.

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