May 5, 2018 | History


L. Francis Herreshoff was born in 1890, the son of an already established yacht designer; Captain Nathaniel Herreshoff. Francis had a natural artistic genius, — a skill he considered far more important than knowledge of mechanical precision.

His main criteria in yacht design were, grace of line, stability and sea kindliness, sound construction principles and economy achieved by straightforward simplicity and good materials. There is no doubt that his many designs, (he produced more than 100 in the period 1920 – 1960), exhibit these qualities admirably, and none more so than the H28.


Herreshoff designed the original H28 in 1943 as an auxiliary cruising ketch for the man who has only a limited time to sail, and who “must report to the office without fail on Monday morning.” He recognised the need for a boat that could be rigged quickly for a summer evening sail, that could coast along in light breezes, as well as stand up to anything. He also realised that many of his customers would want to cruise in relatively shallow waters, and anchor in quiet, picturesque bays without having to row a mile to the shore. Further more, the boat would need to be simple to build, but strong and long lasting, and Herreshoff insisted on producing maximum useable room for the cost.

Many of these objectives appear to be contradictory. To try to incorporate them all in one design might be thought impossible or, at best, result in a vessel that is a mediocre compromise. Such was the genius of L. Francis Herreshoff, however, that he achieved the ultimate, and his graceful little ketch looked good from the start. She was a pleasure to sail and the plans sold like hot cakes from the time they were first published in the American magazine ‘The Rudder’. To use the designer’s own words:

“If you love and cherish her, you can learn to draw sweet melodies from her and she will carry you through all gales and calms, for she is based on well-proven principles. She will lay-to well into wind, under the mizzen, or steer well in a following sea and coast along in light weather.”


Herreshoff had very firm ideas on boat building, and he was not afraid to express them. He had an aversion to motors, (“which cause noise, smell, drag, added cost, extra weight, dirty bilges…”), flashy gadgetry, {“which lines the pockets of manufacturers and advertisers, while doing little for sailing performance….”}, ice boxes, and any unnecessary holes below the waterline. He was an outspoken exponent of timber construction, and the use of a cedar bucket for the toilet.

He was also quite uncompromising when it came to any modification to the design of his H28. In his 1943 description of the boat plans in ‘The Rudder’ he wrote;

“If H28’s design is only slightly changed, the whole balance may be thrown out. If you equip her with deadeyes, build her with sawn frames, or fill her virgin bilge with ballast, the birds will no longer carol over her, nor will the odors arising from the cabin make poetry, nor will your soul be fortified against the world of war lords, politicians, and fakers.” So it is surprising that he should have given tacit agreement to the fibreglass sloop-rigged version now so commonly seen in New Zealand waters.


In 1971, almost 30 years after Herreshoff wrote those words, a Henderson boat builder, John Maurice, was looking for a suitable design to produce in fibre glass. He was attracted by the lines of a particular H28 named ‘Jennifer Joy’. He copied her general outline, but made some subtle changes to increase the cabin size. The cabin height was increased by 125mm, and the freeboard was raised by 63mm to give full headroom in the interior. This lengthened the yacht to 9.02m, (although strangely enough, the hull was never officially measured, and she is still advertised with a length overall of 29ft 1in (8.86m)).

John Lidgard supervised the calculations and did the drawings, together with the study prints for the interior layout. A sloop rig was chosen, and Chris Bouzaid of Hood Sails designed the sail plan.

Herreshoff’s KetchMaurice’s Sloop
Headroom1.42m 1.83m
Sail Area31.86m233.35m2


The timber hull which was used for the plug, from which the mould was taken, was built by Grant Mitchell. This boat was then finished off completely for Phil Levy. She was christened ‘Belvedere’, and was a superb example of the high standard of workmanship attained by Mitchell, who also did all the finishing of the factory produced H28s at Compass Yachts.


The first fibreglass hull taken from the mould, in mid 1972, was given timber decks and cabin top. John Maurice launched this yacht for himself and called her ‘Nicole’. She was exhibited, as the prototype for the series, at the 1972 Boat Show in Auckland, drawing much favour able comment, and resulting in twenty or so orders. ‘Nicole’ is now owned by Derek Smith of Herne Bay.

The yacht was returned to the factory and a mould was taken of the decks and cabin top. The first complete 1-128 in fibreglass was built for a Mr K.A. Bonham of Dargaville and launched early in 1973, under the name of ‘Rendezvous’. She is now believed to be in Christchurch.

Contrary to L. Francis Herreshoff’s dire warning, Compass Yachts’ ‘stretched’ version of the N28 was an instant success. She was moderately priced, (sailaway price: $7750, without motor), she had all the desirable features for family cruising — full headroom, spacious layout with ample working area, a big cockpit, six berths, — and she had lost none of the docile easy handling, and good sea keeping qualities inherent in Herreshoff’s original design. As John Maurice so aptly put it; “The H28 had become the Volkswagen of New Zealand yachting.”

By September 1975 100 hulls had been taken from the mould, and there was a substantial waiting list. To cope with the demand, Compass Yachts produced a second mould and offered furniture and fittings kitsets for the home builder. About 80% of the H28s sold were delivered to the owners as ‘hull-and-deck’ to be completed on lawns and driveways throughout Auckland.


Early in 1974, a group of enthusiastic H28 owners thought that an association should be formed to further the interests of the class. Roy and Sonia Speed, who then owned ‘Gonzales’ arranged for an inaugural meeting to be held in the Richmond Yacht Club on 24 April 1974. John Maurice was the secretary and about 40 people attended. A committee was elected and tasked to set up a constitution and rules. The first General Meeting, held on 10 June 1974, became the first of regular gatherings which have led to the Owners Association becoming the largest and most successful in the country.