Book Review: A Genius at His Trade

“C. Raymond Hunt and His Remarkable Boats”

I heard about this book several months ago so when I had the opportunity to visit and explore the New Bedford Whaling Museum I picked up a copy. The museum calls it the “first book-length biography” of Hunt and it is a fascinating read. I don’t know of a better word to attach to the man – genius – simply because the breadth and depth of his work, given that he had no formal education beyond his sophomore year of high school, is incredible.

It’s noted that the lack of ‘book learning’ was no doubt one of the reasons he had an uncanny talent for what we would call today ‘thinking out of the box’. When he had an idea he would pursue it until it succeeded or he lost interest. His creativity wasn’t inhibited by a rigorous education that might have narrowed his thinking.

The Concordia yawl… the Boston Whaler… the deep-V hull… All of these sprang from his imagination and intuitive approach to design. He just had a sense for the water that transcended most others’ ability and was part of his genius. This sense allowed him to imagine how a hull would move through the water and drove his creative approach to design. His sailing prowess was the stuff of legend. Stan Grayson clearly did a huge amount of research to uncover examples of Hunt’s sailing ability, because the book is peppered with startling anecdotes of his ability to get more speed out of a sailboat than his competition. The stories also reveal his ability to sense delicate changes in wind and current, before anyone else, and use those natural forces to his advantage.

When he turned his attention to powerboats, it’s fascinating to see how his design iterations evolved to the deep-V design. A design that some laughed at when they first saw it. They didn’t laugh for long. The hull that changed the powerboat racing and rough water world forever was only temporarily his patent, for reasons the book describe.

Grayson does a good job building a textured picture of the man, not without his quirks and faults, and the life he led. Quick to credit others, he had a quiet, confident way about him. His children were a significant source of info for the book so you get a good sense of what his family life was like.

If I have any criticism of the book it’s that I would like to see larger renderings of the lines drawings since they give such an intimate view and understanding of the hull designs. But I  can also appreciate keeping the book manageably sized versus building a big coffee table type no doubt helped keep the cost down.

This one goes on the shelf with the greats. Anyone ate up with boats will thoroughly enjoy the peek into this man’s life, designs, and genius.

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