J. Henry Rushton And His Catboat

It is interesting that a builder who is famed for his canoes and Adirondack boats would have built other boats of equal quality, like catboats and launches, yet he never achieved the same fame for those designs. In comparison to the canoes, his other boats were no better or worse. But why was Rushton known for canoes and not rowboats or sailboats?

J. H. Rushton built canoes, light boats and launches around the turn of the last century in upper NY. Famed for their sturdy, lightweight construction, one might think quality was the reason for his success, but the quality of one’s boats will only create a modicum of positive PR, and is not reason enough for his fame. It is more likely that Rushton achieved notoriety via one of his clients, "Forest and Stream" writer, Nessmuk, the nom de plume of George Washington Sears.

Rushton, a noteworthy boat builder around the Adirondack at that time, built a canoe for Sears. Called the Sairy Gamp, it was a tiny boat (Sears was a minuscule man) that had everything stripped to the bare bones. Sears had instructed Rushton to build a boat that could be portaged easily by one man from lake to lake. At the time Sears was breaking new ground by paddling around the Adirondack by himself in his own boat. This made his adventures noteworthy, and anyone who wanted to have similar adventures would need a similar boat. Rushton was a natural choice given Sears’ endorsement. Thus Rushton was known as a canoe builder, and given the canoe’s popularity, this was quite good for his business.

Rushton’s canoes are masterful examples of what was available at that time, but so were the other boats listed in his catalogue. If Sears had chosen a catboat for his adventures, Rushton might be remembered in a different light. His catalogues list row boats, sailboats and electric launches in addition to the canoes one would expect, all with illustrations and price lists evoking wonder at the quality and scope of the boats offered. The catboat Douglas Brooks and his client became smitten with is noteworthy for the sole fact that it was the one they liked. It is likely any of Rushton’s boats would be worth reproducing.

© copyright Marc Bauer 2009

The catboat, whose hull looks like that of a Whitehall that has been widened, decked over and given a sailing rig, is presented in the catalog of 1903 in a similar way to all the other boats: it shows the lines of the craft along with several illustrations of its layout and rig, but no mention of the designer. It is possible that Rushton was the designer. There are references in other books to sketches Rushton made for clients, and his shop foreman has been credited as the man behind the quality of the boats. It may be that his foreman simply built what looked right, given a few key parameters. Either way, the only record of the catboat ever having existed consists of a few pages in an old reprinted catalog.

Douglas felt these few pages were enough to build the boat, and he was right. He could have scaled, lofted and built the boat entirely by himself, but a friend (your author) stepped in by drawing a set of lines with offsets. Having a lines plan only saved him a few hours out of hundreds spent building the boat. But the beauty of the boat presented in his series of how to articles is a testament to the fact that Rushton was more than just a canoe builder.

"Rushton and His Times in American Canoeing", by Atwood Manley, is a complete history of Rushton’s boatbuilding, and it has an appendix of the construction details and offsets for several Rushton boats, including the Sairy Gamp, the 9’– 0” long by 2’– 2” wide canoe that Sears wrote about. "Canoeing the Adirondacks with Nessmuk: The Adirondack Letters of George Washington Sears", edited by Dan Brenan, fully explains why Sears wanted such a small boat and what sportsmen were like around the Adirondack at that time.

The author’s interpretation of Rushton’s 15ft. Cat Boat
Plans -- $250 plus shipping
5 Architectural D (24” x 36”) sized sheets showing:

  • Lines Plan and Offsets
  • Midship Section and Materials List
  • Construction Plan and Profile
  • Deck Plan
  • Sail Plan
Lofting required.

You can contact the designer via email at marc.a.bauer at gmail dot com.

Marc Bauer
August, 2009

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