By Bruce Burdett
The years and one-family owner have been kind to little Ankle Deep.
The freshly built Class B Frostbite Dinghy emerged from the Herreshoff Mfg. shop in Bristol on Dec. 3, 1934.
And this month, 79 years later, it returned in the back of a box truck after a 1,700-mile trip from Oklahoma just in time for the museum’s Feb. 8 Frost Biter’s Bash. Those there to greet the 11.5-footer were floored.
“Amazing, absolutely amazing,” said Dyer Jones, the museum’s chief executive officer and the man who drove Ankle Deep back home. “You just don’t see boats so old in such original, pristine condition.” The hull structure is original, “original canvas, original boat cover, even all of the original paperwork.”
It’s like those television shows where someone stumbles upon a classic car “tucked away in the back of a barn somewhere and they blow on the dust and find something remarkable,” Mr. Jones said.
The late Charles Moody of Cambridge, Mass., was Ankle Deep’s first owner. He’d framed the bill of sale; $325 for his Frostbite Dinghy, plus another $23 for the special paint job.
“That’s with everything included — ready to go sailing,” Mr. Jones said.
Mr. Moody was a good friend of the Herreshoff Museum and America’s Cup Hall of Fame. Before his death a few years ago, he donated his nautical library to the museum.
Mr. Jones was chatting with Mr. Moody’s son, Charles Moody II, awhile back and asked him what had become of his dad’s old Frostbite Dinghy.
The family had moved to Oklahoma, Mr. Moody said, and taken Ankle Deep with them. They’d sailed it on a lake there some but it had spent much of the time sitting in a garage.
“He sent some photos and I couldn’t believe it,” Mr. Jones said. “Just beautiful, so lovingly cared for.”
The museum has two Frostbite Dinghies in its collection, castoffs from Mystic Seaport that are in “pretty terrible shape.” This boat would fill a gap in the Herreshoff collection, Mr. Jones said, and Mr. Moody said that he’d be willing to donate it: “You just have to come and get it.”
So a few weeks ago, Mr. Jones did just that.
He took a flight out to Oklahoma (his daughter first said she might like to go, then thought better of it), rented a box truck and they loaded the boat in — upside down with plenty of padding.
Ankle Deep comes to Herreshoff fully loaded. There’s a scrapbook with meticulously maintained pictures and boat maintenance details.
Two original sails are still with the boat. One is in outstanding condition — #1 Wamsutta cotton, “soft enough to sleep in” — and there’s a new one too.
Fresh paint and varnish have been applied over the years and the rig has a few modern Harken blocks — “but the owner made sure to keep the originals which we will put back.” During one small floorboard repair, the owner even saved the old board and all of the old screws — they’ll be put back too.
Surprisingly, the original painted Ankle Deep name on the stern had been covered over and replaced with too-big plastic letters. They’ll remove those, of course, and hope to find the outlines of the original letters.
A frame piece and a few of the floorboards are cracked — they’ll be left as is — “but you could put that boat in the harbor right now and, (after time for swelling) go for a nice sail.”
Ankle Deep won’t be sailing on Bristol Harbor though.
After an unveiling and welcome at the museum’s Feb. 8 Frost Biter’s Bash, the boat will take its place among the museum’s prizes in the main exhibition hall.
These dinghies date back to the early days of frostbiting as sailors sought an off-season outlet while their summer boats were hauled for the winter.
At first, any dinghy or tender could compete in club races, but to even the playing field, Rudder magazine sponsored a contest for a new one-design class. Yacht designer Nicolas Potter and yachtsman Bill Strawbridge won with the lapstrake boat that would become the Class B racing dinghy — it came to be known the BO dinghy (the ‘O’ is for one-design).
The first 21 boats were built by Herreshoff Mfg. in late 1934; the rest were built at Fairfield Boat Works in Connecticut.
The boats had a reputation for being fast, great fun to sail and dryer than others of similar size due in part to their generous freeboard and sheer. They could be flipped though and a class requirement was two attached pieces of canvas-covered balsa wood ‘flotation’ inside.
Frost Biter’s Bash
The Herreshoff Marine Museum’s second annual Frost Biter’s Bash will be held in the museum’s Hall of Boats on Saturday, Feb. 8, from 6:30 to 11 p.m.
Not just for those who sail in cold weather, this is a mid-winter party for all with open bar, food tastings from local restaurants and vendors, live and silent auctions and dancing among the museum’s old boats.
For ticket information and more, visit https://www.frostbitersbash.com