Chris McMullen’s Herreshoff Steam Launch – Part 1

Chris McMullen’s  Herreshoff Steam Launch

I visited a rather special boat shed the other day, shed is a bit of an understatement – I have a shed, Chris McMullen’s one is more like an aircraft hanger.
The reason for the invite was to have a look at the 1933 Colin Wild built launch Wirihana out of the water, but what really made me accept the invite in a flash was the chance to view the 34′ Herreshoff steam launch that Chris has been creating for nearly 30 years.
I use the term creating because every piece of this boat (including the steam engine) has been crafted by Chris’s own hands. Its a little way off launch day but already its a piece of art.

Why would someone undertake a project of this magnitude ? Chris’s view is “the whole project is an engineering exercise and an interesting challenge to recreate what was done 100 plus years ago.  Further, traveling on a fast steam launch is a great experience and there is something about generating your own power from fire and water”.

Click any of the above photos to enlarge 😉

I’ll let Chris tell the story – read on

“I have been building this (lets say) machinery and boat on and off for would you believe 27 years!  I started the project in 1987 –88 the year I sold McMullen & Wing Ltd.  Unlike some of my steam friends in the USA and the UK who are single minded,this has not been my only interest, during the time I have owned or had the use of other boats and done many other things.
The long winded project, is an embarrassment for me being a professional boat builder. It must be explained that I am not a trained Engineers Pattern Maker,  Foundry Moulder, Fitter and Turner, Coppersmith or a Boilermaker. I have had to learn these skills. Believe me, the Herreshoff’s draftsmen certainly did not compromised his design to make it easy for manufacture.  The castings for the engine are complex and thin walled. Several foundry’s kindly allowed me to do my own sand moulding on their premises. It would never have been possible without their cooperation.  I have had four attempts at casting the crankshaft. The only good casting (currently installed in the Engine) is of material not up to spec.  This has been a major blow and I guess my knowing this has set back the job.
The 3 throw crank has been drawn in “Solid Works” with the idea of machining it from a solid 9 inch diameter bar of steel on a NC lathe and Mill. A huge job and still can not be completely finished on these remarkable machines. At this stage there is no way to change the design. Crazy, the original was cast and machined in steel over one hundred years ago!
I went on and built the 34’ x 6’ 3” x’ 1’10”hull exactly the Herreshoff way (with a mould for every White Oak steamed frame) The hull double planked carvel style and glued with epoxy rather than set in shellac (as was the original) The planking was two skins of 5/16 NZ Kauri. So thin it could not be edge set. On the bilge the planks were made from thicker stock as they had to be backed out (hollowed and rounded) Very easy to loose control of thickness doing this and I believe Herreshoff Manufacturing (some how) steamed the round into the planks. I have a steam box, experimented but could not make it form the planks. I could have built the same boat double diagonal in a fraction of the time but the design scantlings would have had to be changed. At the time I wanted an exact replica! To what end? Now, I am not sure. (See below Vapor)
Anyway, the hull is basically finished with the boiler engine and water tank installed ready for the plumbing.
For those interested the design is HMCO design # 263 it was built 1908 as the Starboard launch for the Beautiful Twin Screw Steam Yacht “Cassandra”  Cassandra was built for an American owner by Scott’s at Greenock. Scotland in 1908 .She was 238 f.t O.A.L and could travel at just over 15 knots. Her tender was designed and built in the USA would have been “State of the Art” at the time and most likely the fastest launch available.  It would seem to me there were excellent Steam Launch builders in the UK. Simpson Strickland and Liquid Fuel Engineering (Lifu) and others but the owner chose the Herreshoff design / build. I have a copy of a letter written by Francis Herreshoff (the designers son) stating these launches could do 14 knots. To many, that seems unlikely but I have been on two Steam launches on Lake Windermere that can do  13 knots, so lets say we do not know.  These launches are proportioned closer to a rowing eight than a normal hull. On design #263 The boiler pressure is 250 PSI  The propeller is four bladed 22 x 30 inch pitch. the Hull and machinery is light. The shaft is low angle and the weights well forward.  The speed and shape of “Vapor” a similar steam launch has been discussed at length on Wooden Boat Forum  I have never got involved in the discussion but I am very familiar with “Vapor” and know the owner. Ed Louchard a boat builder from Port Townsend has done a wonderful job of building a replacement hull.  Vapor is the only surviving Herreshoff Steam Launch. The hull had been re planked at some time but the machinery is all original. Regarding “Vapor”, when I started my project I thought there were no Herreshoff Steam Launches in existence. I tracked down” Vapor” and her friendly owner in California about 12 years ago. Now she has been rebuilt it sort of makes my replica surplus.  In some ways procrastination has helped as more information about these remarkable launches comes to light from all over the world. I have enjoyed the research but now I am looking forward to finishing my project but it does get harder as one gets older”

Part 2 – The building of a replica 1898 Nathanael Herreshoff triple expansion steam engine –

Update on Vapor on the WoodenBoat Forum 24/07/2014

Vapor photos & kind words about Chris McMullen

And more Vapor – 25/07/2014

6 thoughts on “Chris McMullen’s Herreshoff Steam Launch – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Chris McMullen’s Herreshoff Steam Launch | #1 for classic wooden boat stories, info, advice & news – updated daily

  2. Pingback: Steamboat Building | HerreshoffSteam

  3. I agree — must say WIRIHANA also looks her usual beautiful self in the background


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