Lion’s Whelp

When Phin Sprague Jr. came ashore in 1977 after a three-year circumnavigation aboard the Alden schooner Mariah, he always knew there would be another boat — and indeed there was. Last summer, and almost 30 years later, Sprague’s southern Maine boatyard, Portland Yacht Services, launched the Alden/Portland Yacht Services-designed schooner, Lion’s Whelp. The name honors the Sprague family’s connection to the vessel of the same name that brought their ancestor Ralph Sprague to the New World in 1629.

Sprague came upon the hull after years of searching for the right boat. The search led him to California, where he found a somewhat distressed cold-molded hull (Alden design #1044B, built sometime between 1983 and 1984) in need of rescue. The hull was sister ship to Etesian, another Alden schooner built in 1982. Built from a combination of Alaskan yellow cedar and western red cedar, the hull had been on the hard for a number of years and suffered from the deteriorating effects of sun and standing freshwater in the bilge. After a survey and closing on the deal, Sprague and his brother, Abbott, his partner in the project, had the boat trucked to Maine to begin the four-year process of restoration and finishing.

As the owner of a full-service boatyard, Sprague was well positioned to undertake the project. The Portland Yacht Services crew began the project by assessing the extent of the rot. Unfortunately, it had gone farther than originally thought, resulting in replacement of most of the forward frames and most of the lower ribs. New floor frames were fabricated from stainless steel and were fastened by Monel. The mast steps are custom stainless-steel fabrications as well.

As the work progressed, small pockets of compromised wood in the outer cold molding were discovered and needed tending to. Here the strip planking was replaced and faired in, after which the hull was reglassed.

An experienced ocean voyager, Sprague was especially concerned with the integrity of the hull. The risk of a hard grounding or collision with a submerged object like a shipping container is real. As a precaution, Sprague reinforced the hull by filling in the void space between the frames with epoxy-covered Nida-Core, a highly impact-resistant honeycomb foam panel. The Nida-Core not only beefs up the hull, but it also serves as insulation and soundproofing. As a further precaution, Sprague installed a ballistic Kevlar strip on the stem.

While the hull was being completed, work began in earnest on the cockpit, house and deck furniture. Maine boatbuilders Todd French and Peter Webb constructed mock-ups and completed the work in their Belfast shop &mdash the end result being a perfect fit.

Portland Yacht Services did all of the interior joinery and system installations. Here, too, mock-ups were used to determine layout and facilitate construction. The interior joinery is mahogany and features teak beam caps and painted Herreshoff-style panels as you move forward. All of the doors and panels are foam-cored to reduce weight. The cabin sole is Brazilian white cedar.

Hidden beneath the yacht’s classic interior styling are carefully integrated modern systems that include Simrad nav/communications equipment, an IBM server that provides wireless LAN, and a hidden projection television system. For creature comfort there is a Marine Air climate control system and a sauna in the forward head.

On deck Lion’s Whelp’s traditional look is enhanced by custom bronze hardware, including stanchions fabricated by D.W. Davies (now Bespoke Fabrication Ltd.) in England and bronze gooseneck boom-end fittings that were patterned by French & Webb and cast by Bristol Bronze of Tiverton, R.I. But looks can be deceiving. The yacht’s masts, spreaders, three booms and spinnaker pole have all been built out of carbon fiber by GMT Composites. The spars are tapered and shaped to match the era and are finished faux bois to simulate the look of wood. The rig is a traditional staysail schooner, with the exception of the asymmetrical spinnaker built by U.K. Sails’ U.K. International loft, which Sprague said works great on a schooner because of the bowsprit.

“Lion’s Whelp was built by a boatyard for the owner of a boatyard,” Sprague said.

His years of experience maintaining yachts has helped him design a boat that is not destined to be a maintenance nightmare and assure quick turnaround time in the yard. Sprague sees the new yacht “as an example of the yard’s best work.”

A detailed inventory of much of the equipment aboard Lion’s Whelp has been cataloged by Bluewater Logistics, Newport, R.I. You can view the current catalog of Lion’s Whelp by visiting their website,


By Ocean Navigator