Anna: A modern classic from Sparkman & Stephens

I’m going to stick my neck out and guess that this sailing yacht will appear markedly different from the remaining ones throughout this annual review. Although a sleek, springy-sheered, mostly flush decked yacht like Anna would be familiar to readers of Yachting, Motor Boating (which included sailboats) or The Rudder magazines immediately before and after The Good War, it might appear a “period piece” in this millennium. This fact, if you accept it, would lead us to conclude that what people want out of an ocean-capable sailboat has undergone considerable change during just over half a century.

Stretching out my neck again, I think that most if not all other sailboats herein will boast many of the same features that wealthy buyers demand in their houses: broad square-footage of space, multiple and spacious “bathrooms,” excess electrical consumption and many appliances to consume it, lavish appointments, complex heating, cooling and other systems, and numerous other features. This type of design is done on the assumption that more of everything is what’s wanted.

There was a time, when I was a kid, when an entirely different ethic informed the essence of yachting. To some extent, those who “rusticated” ashore were of the mindset that, afloat as well, actually less was more. That the less one put in the way of the simple rewards of wind on cloth and the rush of water against wood, the finer the experience. There is a dwindling cadre of grown-up kids like me (and I suspect like the owner of Anna), who continue to see merit in an older viewpoint.
The visionary and aesthetically discriminating client who now enjoys Anna wanted simplicity, but being a keen small-boat racer, he also wanted scintillating performance. It was his inspiration to select among the classic designs and designers, and choose just the right touchstone to tweak into perfection. He chose for the departure point a Sparkman & Stephens design that was the all-time favorite of Olin Stephens: Stormy Weather.
Though similar to that beauty, this boat is by no means a carbon copy. The same design office handled the difficult task of modernizing Stormy Weather yet incorporating a great many special requests from the owner and his family. As Greg Matzat, President of Sparkman & Stephens, explained, “The owner wanted to keep the yacht, and the experience of sailing it, relatively simple. But he wanted a boat that would be faster, a little more commodious, and easier to steer.” It was clear that he also hoped to create a boat capable of running at the vanguard of the increasingly popular Classic (wooden) Yacht races.
A few conspicuous features are big differences from Stormy Weather. A sloop rig was chosen, rather than yawl, because without the CCA rule’s favorable treatment of split rigs, Anna will sail better to its rating. Second, in order to get comfortable accommodations for four, with reasonable elbowroom for even a few extra guests, four feet were added overall. Finally, the hull shape was modernized, eliminating the fillet between keel and hull and switching to fin keel and carbon spade rudder. In additon, the boat is constructed using cold molding rather than plank-on-frame.
It’s the traditional wooden boat features, in addition to the obvious visual superiority of a classic, long-ended boat, that make Anna a standout. White-painted topsides with a gilded cove stripe are impossible to beat; you could stare at them endlessly while rowing away. The teak decks are sprung to the planksheer, which was once the only way. While looking for truly subtle elements of style, take note that the black caulking between individual deck planks turns to white within the boundary of the varnished cockpit coamings. Apparently this was once done by switching from Thiokol or its ilk to white seam compound. In the present case, these caulks are trouble-free epoxy fillers. Speaking of details, the truly discriminating (and truly old) will notice that in place of cleats, Sampson posts are used at the quarters, as was in fact the case aboard the original Stormy Weather.
Another delightful piece of nautical accuracy stands out in the Dorade vent cowls. Matzat explained that it was pretty simple to define this pretty bit of tinsmithing; from a dusty corner of Sparkman & Stephens’ office, Matzat dredged up the original type plan used for all ventilation cowls during the 1930s. I have very little doubt that the “aesthetic harbor police,” as people like me call ourselves when on an evening circuit at Newport, Marblehead or Annapolis, will tip their hat to owner and designers for having blessed us with a wonderful element of authenticity.
Hull shape provides headroom
Changing to a larger hull and to vee, rather than wineglass, sections rendered better headroom down below. The cabin sole is much wider than it would’ve been on Dorade or Stormy Weather, although it runs out into skirt-boards here and there. This, in addition to the familiar sight of deck beams, hull ceilings and carlines, was purposely left exposed down below in order to celebrate the warmth and wholesomeness of a real wooden boat. In keeping, the interior is handled with just the right combination of varnish with raised-and-fielded white panelwork. The styling of the interior was overseen by Martha Fay Coolidge of Round Pond, Maine.

An arguable but probably vouchsafable fact is that people of all ages seem more likely to personify a wooden boat with connection and affection. I can recall my love (and my envy) for my best friend’s Beetle Cat, the first boat I ever raced aboard. It was very clear to me even as a young tyke that while my friends’ similarly adored their Blue Jays and Lightnings, nobody ever seemed to treat similarly a plastic Day Sailor or Widgeon. Wood makes a difference. This personal and visceral element of connection, in Anna’s case, couldn’t be better expressed than through its cabin sole. The owner’s business, in fact his family’s business, involves the decanting and bottling of fruit juice, nowadays involving high-speed automated machinery. In his father and grandfather’s time, great quantities of hard and soft drink were stored in enormous wooden vats. The cabin sole of Anna is constructed out of the best, seasoned fir wood from some of these. It’s a little hard to imagine this kind of effort being undertaken for a carbon-flyer at Key West.

The layout of Anna, if I may be so bold, is a little bit more Phil Rhodesian than Olin Stephensian, in that it has an aft owner’s stateroom with its own companionway. There’s an offset companionway on the cabin top for public access to the saloon. This places the owner and spouse’s stateroom at the widest part of the boat, and it makes for a wonderfully lavish place for repose. This seems a terrific way to apportion space for those times when it’s only the two cruising. The boat is set up with the best winches and modern sailhandling gear, although reefing and furling must needs be accomplished pretty much the old-fashioned way. There are no running backs needed while sailing with the smaller cruising jib. Early press releases spoke about steering being done with a tiller, but somebody came to their senses, and I noticed at the launching that Anna is steered with a traditional wheel-on-binnacle.
A final thanks, from this sitting board member of the aesthetic police, must be accorded to whomever insisted on hiding the anchor. It might’ve been placed on a roller, disgracing such a lovely bow like a Machiavellian grey bowsprit, but instead the anchor resides below deck hatches, only to be dispatched when needed by a clever launching arm.
Handsome is as handsome does, somebody used to say in the days when TVs were round and only broadcast in black and white. You can extrapolate that into the watery realm by saying that what looks good performs good.
Anna blew them all away in its first two races, which took place just prior to this story going to layout.
What’s not to love about a boat like that?
By Ocean Navigator