R Class Sloop Pirate Turns 90: Restoration

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 the second of a two-part series written by CWB volunteer Shawn Lynam to celebrate this milestone in Pirate’s exciting history.

After a prosperous racing career, and back on the West Coast, Pirate enjoyed longevity under the care of many affluent owners sailing out of Southern California’s most prestigious yacht clubs. In the 1930s, Pirate was purchased jointly by two very prominent families from Malibu. According to Lloyd’s Register of American Yachts, the Rindge and Adamson families bought Pirate in partnership. Later, Pirate was given to the elder Adamson’s son, Merrit Jr., and his new wife, Sharon, who ironically was the daughter of designer Ted Geary.

After many great years on the Pacific waters off the California coast, the great champion sat idle in a Southern California boatyard where years of wear and tear had taken their toll on the once-proud vessel. Then, in early 1999, Pirate was located by Scott Rohrer, a tenured and decorated yachtsman from Seattle. He and a group of partners known as the Pirate Syndicate purchased Pirate and brought her home to her Seattle birthplace, where she would be meticulously restored to near-original condition over the course of the next five years.

Rohrer and a team of several part-time boatbuilders, along with three regular CWB volunteers, worked diligently in a Ballard warehouse to restore Pirate to the grand condition deserved by such a decorated champion. The team completely disassembled Geary’s masterpiece, board by board, while painstakingly documenting the design geometry and specifications for the entire boat. Rohrer was even able to get his hands on Geary’s 1925 original design drawings, which he and the team used to recreate the magnificent vessel you see today gracing the Lake Union docks of The Center for Wooden Boats.

All renovations replicated the original specifications and the exact same materials were used to carefully reconstruct Geary’s design. The keel and structural members were carved from solid, full-length Douglas fir timbers with absolutely no scarf joints. The hull was double-planked with 5/16” red cedar inside and 5/8” Burma teak outside. The decks and house were built using double-diagonal red cedar, with canvas over top on the house and teak on the deck.

The careful restoration was painstakingly completed to the standards of the U.S Secretary of the Interior’s Standards of Historic Vessel Preservation Projects. Rohrer and the group laboriously applied the standards to every aspect of their work, including the required preservation of original fabric and the faithful use of materials and equipment as close to the original as possible. Carefully following the Standards throughout the entire process reportedly simplified decision making for the team and provided a disciplined approach to the reconstruction. The restoration of Pirate is so close to original that the boat has been nominated to the U.S. National Register of Historic Properties and the Historic American Engineering Record – two high distinctions that no other racing yacht has ever received.

Today, Pirate sits in the water exactly on her original freeboard (aft). Forward is only up an eighth of an inch, which is remarkable. It is said that she sales today as she would have in 1935.

While the boat was donated to The Center for Wooden Boats by the Pirate Syndicate when she was brought back to Seattle in 1999, it was not until she was re-christened in April 2005 that Pirate was officially added to CWB’s historic wooden boat collection.

Today you can visit Pirate and see her beauty and remarkable engineering up close on exhibit at The Center for Wooden Boats. Pirate also can be found sailing the waters of Lake Union and the Puget Sound, and still continues to turn heads in admiration at wooden boat shows such as the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival. Pirate has been noted as the best surviving example of the R Class; she certainly embodies the spirit and ingenuity of early 20th century yacht design and construction in the Seattle area.

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One thought on “R Class Sloop Pirate Turns 90: Restoration”

  1. Jack Kennedy says:

    Wonderful article about a restored treasure. If I might bring to your attention a typo in the text. The writer used the word “sales” instead of the intended word “sails. ” Thanks.

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