Phil Bolger bigraphy, stories - Boat designer

Phil Bolger : biography

December 3, 1927 - May 24, 2009

Philip C. Bolger (December 3, 1927–May 24, 2009), prolific boat designer, was born and lived in Gloucester, Massachusetts. He began work full-time as a draftsman for boat designers Lindsay Lord and then John Hacker in the early 1950s. Bolger also cites being influenced by mentors L.F. Herreshoff, Nicholas Montgomery, Howard Chapelle and his own brother Bill Bolger.

Bolger's first boat design was a 32-foot (9.75 m) sportfisherman published in the January 1952 issue of Yachting magazine. He subsequently designed more than 668 different boats, making him one of the most prolific boat designers of the 20th century, from the solidly conventional to extremely innovative, from a 114-foot-10-inch (35 m) replica of an eighteenth-century naval warship, the frigate Surprise (ex-Rose), to the 6-foot-5-inch (1.96 m) plywood box-like dinghy Tortoise.

Although his designs ranged through the full spectrum of boat types, Bolger tended to favor simplicity over complexity. Many of his hulls are made from sheet materials — typically plywood — and have hard chines. A subclass of these designed in association with Harold Payson called Instant Boats were so named because they were intended to be easily built by amateurs out of commonly available materials. Bolger was also considered to be a modern expert in the design of the sharpie type and advocated the use of traditional sailing rigs and leeboards.

From the 1990s, Phil Bolger teamed with his wife Susanne Altenburger, designing boats under the name Phil Bolger & Friends Inc. During this time, they emphasized the design of sustainable and fuel-efficient boats for the fishing industry. Also, they participated in a large military commission with the Naval Sea Systems Command on new designs for military landing craft utility boats.

Bolger was a prolific writer and wrote many books, the last being Boats with an Open Mind, as well as hundreds of magazine articles on small craft designs, chiefly in Woodenboat, Small Boat Journal and Messing About in Boats.

Bolger died on May 24, 2009, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His wife explained that "[h]is mind had slipped in the last several months, and he wanted to control the end of his life while he was still able."

Leeboards and Rigs

Bolger championed leeboards as low-tech and practical, to the chagrin of many yachties. The conventional wisdom is that they are ugly. Even many of his centerboard designs had boards that were off-center or all the way to one side or the other (for example, the Birdwatcher and the AS29). He concluded that a single leeboard is sufficient in many cases on small boats, and that rigs could be stepped off the centerline without much effect on performance.

He advocated traditional rigs such as the sprit-boomed leg of mutton, on a range of vessel sizes.

Advanced Gloucester Fisherman Project

Beginning in November 2002, Bolger and Altenberger began a re-examination of fisheries economics, as a result of the partial collapse both globally and locally in their hometown of Gloucester, Massachusetts. Their proposal centered on the principle that, especially in an era of high fuel cost and economic pressure for modernization of depressed fishing ports, sustainable fisheries require a balance of business economics and public planning versus the available fishery resources. They argued the key to this is a restructuring of the fishing fleet towards boats with lower complexity, lower initial cost, better fuel economy, and lower operating costs.

Large expensive complex boats demand taking a high number of fish to be economical. Simpler, lower powered, and lower cost boats can still be economical with lower fish catch rates. Bolger and Altenberger expressed concern that existing governmental fishing permits are issued based on length of the fishing boat, which creates an incentive to use inefficient wide and deep fishing boat hulls. If the fishing permits were issued based instead on displacement tonnage of hull, then the incentive would be for the fishing to use long, narrow and shallow hulls which would be more economical to purchase and to operate per ton of fish caught.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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