R Class Sloop Pirate Turns 90: A History
The R Class racing yacht Pirate is likely the best known and most well-documented boat at CWB, and she’s turning 90 this year! The post below was written as a two-part series by CWB volunteer Shawn Lynam to celebrate this milestone in Pirate’s exciting history.
One quick search on Wikipedia will tell you that cultural heritage conservation-restoration focuses on the protection of tangible and historically significant items such as artworks, architecture, and archaeology and museum collections. Conservation and restorative activities include preventative conservation, examination, documentation, research, treatment and education. At The Center for Wooden Boats, significant historic conservation and restoration takes place every day.
As a true living museum, The Center for Wooden Boats hosts an active fleet of more than 80 historic wooden boats that have been carefully constructed or restored in CWB’s Lake Union Boatshop using traditional skills, methods and materials. The fleet consists of big and small Livery boats, along with a broad collection of historically significant program boats on exhibit daily. With so many great assets, the fleet is one of the most comprehensive collections of its kind in the world and, as such, no fleet would be appropriately assembled without a commander, even if he or she might be a Pirate.
Pirate is an R Class racing yacht built in Seattle by the Lake Union Drydock Company in 1926. The Lake Union Drydock Company began building boats in 1919 and is still operating today as a significant 12-acre ship repair facility. The birthplace of Pirate sits today in plain view from the docks of The Center for Wooden Boats.
She was designed in 1925 by famed naval architect and Seattle native L.E. “Ted” Geary. He was a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate, who designed numerous extraordinarily competitive racing yachts including Sir Tom, an R Class sloop that dominated the West Coast racing circuit for three decades. Inspired by the success of Sir Tom, Geary set out to perfect his craft in the winter of 1925, when he began the work of building an elite champion from solid full-length Douglas fir timbers and double-diagonal red cedar.
Pirate was built for Tommy Lee, who was the son of prominent Los Angeles yachtsman Don Lee, as a reward for winning the Pacific Coast Star Championship in 1925. Only a few years later and in the hands of her third owner, O.K. Hunsaker, Pirate set her course east with the goal of being the first West Coast designed-and-built R Class boat to win the prestigious national championship during Larchmont [New York] Race Week in the waters of Long Island Sound.
The year was 1929, and the locale was similar to the backdrop of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby, set in prosperous high society Long Island where high stakes yacht racing was an obsession among the rich and powerful. It was in this Roaring Twenties setting that Pirate, the rugged wooden pioneer from the great Pacific Northwest, rose to the occasion by beating world class sloops from the top four designers of the era and winning the national championship. Piloted by Matthew J. Walsh, Pirate won the championship wearing the flag of the California Yacht Club and in doing so became the first West Coast-designed yacht to accomplish such a feat. Pirate was more than 2.800 miles away from Los Angeles yet remained top of mind among prominent West Coast yachtsmen. In acknowledgement of this segment of her rich heritage, Pirate still flies the CYC burgee.