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Herreshoff Museum - A Gem Beside Narragansett Bay

Several months ago, I took a trip to Rhode Island and found myself with a few hours to kill.  Being that I was in an area of the country that was full of boating history, I figured that I could find a nautical museum of some sort to pass the time away.  After Googling on my phone for a bit, I came across the Herreshoff Marine Museum in Bristol, Rhode Island.  I punched the address in my GPS and was on my way. 
The Herreshoff Logo

I had heard the Herreshoff name before. I knew that the Herreshoff Brothers were boat builders in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s and they were renowned for their innovation in the boat building world.  Together, they ran the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company.  Over the years, they built everything from custom sail boats to steam yachts to torpedo boats.  Some of their boats are still in service today and only a few individuals are lucky enough to still own one.  What the Herreshoff’s were best known for was their contribution to the racing community.  Between 1895 and 1920, Herreshoff designed and built yachts successfully defended the America’s Cup 5 times:  Defender (1895), Columbia (1899, 1901), Reliance (1903) and Resolute (1920).

The museum sits on the same property along the northeast side of Narragansett Bay where the manufacturing company existed years ago.  Many of the buildings still exist today but have now been repurposed.  The museum itself is small in size compared to the adjacent buildings but still very easy to find because of the racing yacht America standing tall next to it.  America successfully defended the cup in 1992 and was designed by Eric Goetz, a resident of Bristol, RI and well renowned designer himself. 
As you approach the museum, you are greeted by the America, 1992 America's Cup Winner.

Stepping through the doors of the museum, I found that it initially looked like a typical small museum.  There were souvenirs, logo shorts, and mugs to be purchased as well as models of some of the boats designed and built by the Herreshoff brothers many years ago.  I opted to spend about 20 minutes watching a film that informed me of how John and Nathaniel Herreshoff’s love of sailing developed into a successful business and I found it very interesting.   But, the best was yet to come.

After wandering around for a bit, looking at souvenirs, I stepped into the room next door.  This is where the fun began!  The space was filled with boats of all shapes and sizes, some sail and some steam powered but all designed and built by the brothers Herreshoff.  I felt like a squirrel that had just broken into a nut factory! 

Along with each vessel there was a historical summary and a description of the concepts used in its construction.  Not only were these pieces of art there for the touching but you were also encouraged to board the larger ones so that you could explore the interior, something that I did with delight.  My favorite boat in the museum was Thania, a 60 foot steam motor yacht built in 1905 and used by Harvard University up until 1970. 
Thania is a 60 foot steam motor yacht designed and built in 1905

Looking at the helm in Thania

Looking aft from the forward section in Thania

There was also Sprite, a catboat which is the oldest Herreshoff boat in existence, having been built in 1860.  Bambino was also something that caught my eye.  It is the largest sailboat in the museum and possessed beautiful lines and gorgeous wood trim. 
A view of Hornet with Thania in the background.
For me, this was a place where I could have spent all day, and I almost did.  It seemed that I had only been there an hour, but a quick glance at my watch proved otherwise.  What seemed like only an hour actually was 3 ½ hours and I had run out of time.  I was very glad to have found this little gem though, and if you love boating, especially if you love sailing, I would highly recommend you stop by the Herreshoff Marine Museum the next time you are anywhere in the area.

Happy Boating

Captain Frank
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  1. Great Post! Thanks.

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