Gilbert Monroe Smith,  1843-1940
Patchogue, New York, USA

 
Gill Smith's boats were the envy of their competitors; the pride of their owners.
-- W.H. deFontaine Yachting, March 1966
 

A
long, lazy lagoon, the Great South Bay spreads across the South shore of Long Island, New York, enchanting every generation fortunate enough to live along its banks. Boasting singularly fruitful bottomland and protected, wind-spun waters, a century ago the Bay gave livelihood to hundreds of hunters and shellfisherman. By the late 1800's, its bewitching invitation proved irresistable to wealthy New York families bent on escaping the city's summer heat.

Any man might have made a living boatbuilding along those shores, but Gil Smith took these waters as his worktable and as a perfect foil for his genius.

In the custom of the day, many of his boats, work or pleasure, were catboats, a rig with one large gaff sail on a single mast stepped just inches behind the bow. Such a boat would fly downwind and beat safely up. Given the Bay's shoal depth - not more than six feet on average - he crafted his hulls to draw merely a foot or two of water with the centerboard up. His boats were broad and shallow, like a shell, with wide cockpits, into which entire families would pack themselves and a day’s worth of beach hampers.

H
is genius was to weave wood as if it were silk. He finely-tuned a range of 20'- 45' yachts, shifting his designs slowly from workboat lines, with plumb stems (straight bows) and beam forward, to spoon bows with beam amidship. His signature lines of elegant tumblehome quarters and elliptical-radius transoms were as graceful as a dancer’s jeté. These boats captured all the sweet sou’wester breeze of a summer's day and all the trophies at a race's end. It was said that the only way to beat a Gil Smith boat was with another one -- among his boats, that is still the case.

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