On the Water

Half Model, Fishing Schooner Helen B. Thomas

Unlike most of the half-hull models in the Smithsonian’s National Watercraft Collection, this one was not intended for use in shipbuilding. Instead, this half model of the fishing schooner Helen B. Thomas was made to show a radical design innovation to potential vessel owners. Its maker, Thomas F. McManus, a naval architect in Boston, adapted an idea from sailing yachts to the fishing schooners of New England. He eliminated the bowsprit, the spar projecting forward from the schooner’s bow, in an attempt to make the vessel safer for the fishermen working in treacherous conditions far offshore. In McManus’s new design, fishermen would not have to clamber out on the bowsprit to tend the jib (the vessel’s forward-most sail), a dangerous task especially in bad weather that, in McManus’s view, resulted too often in injury or death.

McManus made this half-hull model and displayed it in his Boston office, hoping to attract a client. After nearly a year, Capt. William Thomas of Portland, Maine, decided to try the design and contracted with the Oxner & Story yard in Essex, Mass., to build the schooner. The Helen B. Thomas was launched in 1902 and measured 106’-7” overall, with a beam (width) of 21’-6” and 13’ deep. The vessel became a successful fishing schooner. While no other schooners were built to this exact design, many were built without the bowsprit, a schooner design that became known as the “knockabout.”

ID Number:
McManus, Thomas F.
Place Made:
Boston, Massachusetts
9 1/4 in x 32 in x 3 1/4 in; 23.495 cm x 81.28 cm x 8.255 cm
Gift of Capt. Thomas F. McManus