Deceased , Historic



A. Cary Smith


Archibald Cary Smith was a versatile yacht designer, maritime artist, and accomplished sailor with lasting contributions to measurement rules. Smith trained as both a yacht designer and maritime artist. An active member of New York Yacht Club and accomplished sailor in his own right, he served as Club Measurer from 1872-1888 and was appointed to the first Library Committee in 1886.

Smith’s fascination with naval architecture started at a young age. As a fourteen-year-old he observed the construction of the yacht America (1851) and by eighteen had begun his apprenticeship with Robert Fish. It was under Fish’s tutelage that he built his first vessels, which showed early signs of innovation and experimentation.

Smith then turned his attention toward painting and became a skilled maritime artist, exhibiting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the National Academy of Design in the 1860s and 1870s. While he excelled at painting, he was drawn back to
naval architecture when Robert Center commissioned him to design Vindex in 1871. Vindex is credited as the first American yacht designed on paper and an early iron vessel. A few years later, Smith designed the cutter Mischief, which went on to defend the America’s Cup in 1881. Other significant sailing vessels included Iroquois, Fortuna, Yampa, and Kaiser Wilhelm’s Meteor (III).

Smith’s vessels were as diverse as his career—ranging from catboats to racing schooners, an America’s Cup defender to luxury cruisers, and even commercial power vessels. He was a true polymath: a pioneer in the technology of yacht design, a skilled artist, and an expert sailor. This, combined with his contributions to measurement rules, had a lasting impact on the sport.

Archibald Cary Smith: Important Info from The Rudder
Vol XIV. 1903

– As a child Smith and his boyhood friends would create dams to flood the street near a water pump to form small “ponds” to race and sail their homemade model boats in.
– At fourteen Smith saw America being built in the East River at William H. Brown’s Shipyard.
– As a teen Smith was a member of an organized model yacht club in Hoboken. After seeing America he would build his own model of her, all by just looking at the yacht. His model of America beat all of the other model fleet racers in his club.
– At eighteen Smith left home to apprentice under Robert “Bob” Fish. This is not only where Smith learned the trade of yacht design and building, but also how to sail.
– Smith had one term of learning marine architecture under W.W. Bates, an “Old Time shipbuilder.
– Smith was a talented sailor, and won many races in his youth. One even against his mentor Fish.
– Smith made the switch to study marine painting after his success with the practical side of yachting. His in-depth knowledge of ships gave his paintings more detail and accuracy.
– Smith did his painting in the famous tenth street studio building in NYC.
– In 1870 Robert Center asked Smith for aid to design an entirely iron yacht for cruising.
– Smith not only designed an early iron vessel, but also designed Vindex entirely
on paper, with no model boat for reference; a first in American yacht design.
– Smith became a member of the NYYC (New York Yacht Club) in 1872.
– In 1873 when commissioned to design the yacht Prospero, Smith greatly innovated the design with a simple pole bowsprit, instead of the commonplace built-in solid bowsprit with its tangle of bobstays. He also designed Prospero to have its foremast shorter than its mainmast. This was controversial amongst yachtsmen at the time.
– Smith became a member of the Seawanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club in 1874. Smith not using a model to design and only using paper to draw and plan the construction was controversial in itself.
– In 1878 Smith was commissioned by Lloyd Phoenix to design a schooner for cruising. It would be named Intrepid was known as a departure from the other schooners of her time.
– Smith designed the yacht Mischief, which defended the fourth America’s Cup in 1881.
– Smith once designed a yacht for Kaiser Willhelm II called Meteor III. Willhelm also owned Yampa, another Smith designed yacht which was first owned by US congressman Chester W. Chapin.
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