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Spring 2006

Article selected from our quarterly magazine dedicated to the largest and most luxurious boats with information, interviews, technical articles, images and yachting news



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Article by
Lino Pastorelli


She turned up in a corner of the Portosole marina in Sanremo, right after the previous year's Classic Week races in Monaco, moored alongside. With her two towering wooden masts on a narrow hull she certainly didn't go unnoticed. Nor did her appearance of a somewhat disdainful, distinguished Bostonian lady, obliged to sojourn in an expanse of white plastic, pass unobserved!


LOA (with bowsprit) 49.30 m
Length of hull 41.62 m
Beam 7.88 m
Displacement 184 t
Sail area 1250 sq. m.
Engine 700 HP
Water tanks 3800 litres
Fuel tanks 16.400 litres

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This is Invader, one of the greatest of East Coast designed schooners. When in 1905 Ray Rainey, heir to the W.J.Rainey Coke Co. empire, engaged Nat Herreshof's nephew A.S.Chesebrough for the design, there was still something in the air of the risky challenges of Gloucester and Halifax fishermen on the Newfoundland banks with their famous down by the stern schooners, the heirs of America in a word, though at the beginning of the century evolution was already going in the direction of safer vessels of adequate speed to be first at the fish markets. But their interiors were adapted for taking rich Yankee yachtsmen cruising or racing. Those were the years of the legendary Bluenose, Delawana, Esperanto and Cicely. The Invader design grew out of this fertile marine humus: a fine-lined steel hull, drop-keel, light displacement, plenty of sail, obviously a racer. The chosen yard was Lawley & Sons of Boston. After being launched on 11th July 1905, and after some fine tuning such as shortening the main and mizzen masts, the boat turned out to be fast and manoeuvrable. We may presume that the absence of propeller and shaft (there was no engine) and the optimal weight/power ratio meant that she could plane with the wind abaft the beam. In any case Invader in the beginning won no races. The second owner, John Borden, bought her in 1914 and installed two 100 HP Hall & Scott petrol engines. His intention was to sail the Great Lakes and organise an Arctic expedition, which he successfully did, but the yacht had no significant sporting success in this period. Invader changed ownership in 1919 and 1921 before Don Lee bought her in 1924. This Californian businessman changed her name to Nancy Lee, and also changed ocean, taking her to the Pacific coast and enrolling for the 1926 Transpac, the most important West Coast race. Invader, having resumed her original name, won the race in spite of being becalmed for two days off Hawaii, establishing a long lasting record over the 2225 mile course. In those years her guests included the Hollywood jet set, from Charlie Chaplin to sailing enthusiast John Barrymore. The end of the golden age of schooners was marked, in Invader's case, by other victories on the Pacific, a beaching on the coast of San Monica - fortunately without damage - and the crisis of 1929. There followed a series of owners with projects for chartering and for improbable scientific expeditions until the eve of the war when she was taken over by the Sailor's Union Pacific and converted into a training ship. During the war she patrolled the Pacific coast, her last dignified position before the decline. Then the fashion for floating casinos, with the enterprise of rampant criminality and beautiful adventuresses, involved the schooner in not always quite clear events such as fires, vendettas and perhaps actual crimes. The name of Lucky Luciano also emerged at the time. There were other abandoned projects of coastal trade in South America, then the old engines were replaced by two 150 HP diesels before the schooner enjoyed ten years of peace and quiet with a certain Mr Wood. He carried out restoration that was no more philological than it was preservation-based and used the yacht for cruises in Mexico and California. In '77 another owner transformed her for his own use, employing a shipyard in Honolulu. The masts were shortened (she now had Marconi rig), the engine power was increased, bulwarks were mounted with a long, horrendous canopy to shelter the tourists. The last insult, Invader lost her status as a sailing vessel. If the years as a tourist boat in Hawaii were certainly not edifying for the old thoroughbred, the period beginning in 1988-89 wasn't much better: 200 seats for dinner parties, 300 standing guests for cocktail parties, moored in Miami as a floating restaurant. Or fitted out for whale-watching excursions and probably for various smuggling operations in Mexico. After being moved to the Caribbean where she remained a few years, Invader headed east and arrived in Europe. The first part of her history ends here. Giuliano Mussone is an Italian captain, from Sanremo to be precise, with fifty years of sailing behind him and infinite knowledge of coasts and seas. In 2000 he was engaged by the Caribbean Blue Sea Inc. to find a big, prestigious sailing ship, and he remembered Invader which he had come across somewhere years earlier. The search was long but he found her at the Lurssen shipyards in Bremen, Germany. The decision to create an ad hoc yard for restoration in Viareggio arose from the flexibility required for such a structure and from the fact that the area is rich in shipbuilding companies and craftsmen. Invader, by now a stripped down hull, made a 2800 mile voyage on a cargo ship from Bremen to La Spezia, then on a barge and then on a trailer that looked like a caterpillar, before arriving at her destination in the industrial area of Viareggio. After the ritual measurements with spirit level and plumb-line, work was begun. Removal of the lower courses of plating, the frames and floors, following a careful survey of every detail; elimination of the cement used as ballast (the original lead had been pragmatically sold for making bullets at the beginning of the war) with a checking of the drop- keel box whose blade was no longer used, weighing of everything taken off board, and a general sandblasting. It was during this phase that a bag of coal was found in the keel, probably a superstitious reminder of the capitalist fortune that had given birth to Invader. Following the instructions of the La Spezia studio C.E.D., work was begun on replacing beams, floors and 80% of the plating, in accordance with the original thicknesses: 15 mm for the keel, 10 mm for the quick-works, 8 mm for the topsides and deck. The remaining original plating, ultrasound-tested, is still visible at the stern, the so called lazaretto, now the engine room. Here the two old GM 220 HP engines have been replaced by one 700 HP which, with a 5 blade 45" screw, shifts the fully loaded schooner at a cruising speed of 11.5-12 knots with a maximum of 14. The interior design is the work of Anna Signorini from Viareggio. In the absence of original documentation the choice is classic: owner's yacht with two guest cabins amidships; owner's suite aft, as wide as the beam; saloon, skipper and crew's quarters forward. The décor is sober and the furnishings are period with a touch of license. Unusual airiness - below deck - and spaces that open up on fine prospects, like the almost totemic vision of the mainmast viewed from the owner's cabin. Nothing that technology can offer has been spared with regard to comfort and safety on long voyages. All the systems are doubled up in the engine room. The massive electronic instrumentation is distributed between the stern doghouse - the old lookout station - and the wheelhouse seat-chest. The sail plan is 95% the original one: hoisted on new masts in Douglas and silver spruce we have, on a reach, 1250 sq. m. of sails, including jackyard and fisherman, 2500 with the balloons on a run: a cathedral of canvas! Sail handling while racing requires 30-35 men (coordinated and able! Mussone underlines) 16 of whom just for the mainsail. The boom, which extends 9 metres beyond the stern, is 28 metres long and the mainsail sheet is 160 metres, while the main rig weighs 3 tonnes. "And if you set out on a gybe?" I ask innocently. Something in the skipper's look invites me to change the subject! In 2005 Invader appeared not only at Classic Week but also at the Coppa del Rey in Palma. HM Juan Carlos, with his Bribon moored alongside, showed that he knew the history of the schooner and its restoration very well! There are prestigious dates awaiting Invader this year. She'll shortly be getting rigged, and out of the container will come hundreds of sheaves, miles of sheets, halyards and lines, the precious sails: in a word, the complete wardrobe of a splendid old schooner.