Recent project, Re-”forming” the Newport Catboat Falcon

Mark Sutherland approached me this past Spring to see if we could recover the actual form of a Newport catboat with an interesting history. The 25′ Catboat Falcon was lost off Brenton Reef in a summer thunder-squall at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Two lives were lost, an older brother passing the bowsprit to his younger sibling, leading to his singular survival. The older brother and a friend’s bodies were never to be recovered.

Mark was fascinated by the story, and the boat, a type similar, but distinct from the well-known Cape Cod Catboat. He’d already built a model “by eye,” but wanted to build a half-hull model. To do that, he felt it was important to arrive at as accurate a set of lines as possible for the boat.

There are no surviving plans, but there have been a number of photographs that have come don to us. He wondered if there s some way we could”scan them in” and spit out a set of lines electronically. That’s where the conversation began.

I told him that the DOD might have the capacity to do this, that the problem was much more complex than it seemed at first blush. Any photograph has distortions built in based on the optics of the camera used, the distance from the lens, and the angle and perspective of the shot. Unpacking all of these distortions to “flesh-out”the image into 3-d would be a real challenge. I also brought up my own mounting questions about the compelling yet often illusory “accuracy” of 3-d virtual reality. As with any powerful tool, it can be extremely difficult knowing how to control it, and not be controlled by it. In the end I told him I thought this was much more interesting as a study in perception and mental recreation that would be better done by drawing a series of drafts by hand and using our combined “eye” for form to guide us. In the end, that’s what we did.

Without giving too much away, Mark and I plan on doing an article on this project once his model/models are completed – I also hope to do a painting from the model of Falcon on that day of her sinking – here’s a thumbnail view of the lines we came up with.

I’ll keep you posted on further developments.

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