Elegant with her sparkling brightwork, immaculate paint and exquisite lines, the 28-foot cat-rigged yawl Molly B gets underway moments after launching by the D.N. Hylan boatyard after a six-year restoration project. PHOTO COURTESY OF JENNY MAYHER

Historic catboat gets new cast of character

BROOKLIN — It isn’t often that an old sailor gets the chance to see an old, long-sold wooden boat return to the water in “like new” or even better condition.

That’s exactly what happened, though, when Doug Hylan’s boat shop launched the historic, 28-foot cat-rigged yawl Molly B into the Benjamin River earlier this summer after completion of a six-year restoration project.

Originally launched in 1927, Molly B was the last boat designed by the noted naval architect C.C. Hanley. Though not as well known as some of his contemporaries such as Nathaniel G. Herreshoff or B.B. Crowninshield – famous for, among other designs, their America’s Cup contenders drawn around the turn of the 19th century – the Quincy, Mass.-based Hanley was in many ways their equal. He may be best known for the large racing cat boats he designed, Mucilage and Harbinger, which raced successfully against some of the latest designs by his more famous rivals. Hanley also came up with a design for a 1901 America’s Cup contender — a centerboard cat boat 90 feet long overall with a beam of 36 feet and a truly terrifying sail plan.

For many years, long before coming into the hands of her current owner, Molly B was owned by the founders of Horsepower Farm in Penobscot, Paul Birdsall and his late wife, Molly, for whom the boat is named. According to boatbuilder Ellery Brown, who supervised the boat’s restoration, it was on a cruise aboard Molly B that the Birdsalls first caught sight of the Blue Hill Peninsula.

After the Birdsalls had her, the boat was owned for many years by maritime historian and “WoodenBoat” technical editor Maynard Bray and his wife, Anne.

Like the now-restored boat, Paul Birdsall is 89, but he was on hand for the launching in late July.

According to Brown, Molly B was a “basket case” when it arrived at the Hylan shop. Over the past six years or so, he said, about 80 percent of the boat’s original structure and fittings have been replaced, some by her current owner, Brooklin summer resident Robert Baird, whose business, Utah-based Historical Arts and Castings, produces high-quality hardware and castings for custom homes and architectural restorations worldwide.

As a result, Molly B “has a remarkable suit of hardware” including, among other items, the “beautifully restored original steering gear, cast bronze centerboard trunk, a custom bronze sky light and much, much more.”

With nearly 13 feet of beam and split rig easing the sail handling chores, Molly B should be a delight to sail.

“For the owner,” Brown said, “I think the project has always represented a vision of his future, in which he has the time to enjoy this wonderful boat with his large and growing family.”

It would appear that future has arrived.

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]

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