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Wren: Restored Herreshoff 12½

By Lynda Clancy

Lisa Morgan and Cody Smith got a chance to sit and take a break on Wren just after she was launched in Rockport Harbor, following her extensive rebuild. Photo by Mike Geer, courtesy Lisa Morgan

On an early November morning, Lisa Morgan sat in a booth at Marriner’s, a popular downtown Camden breakfast joint, with a warm cup of coffee. The normal weekday chatter included locals talking about projects and jobs, such as putting boats and gardens away before the impending hard frost. Two days prior, though, the weather had been spectacular—bluebird skies and a balmy southwest breeze had embraced the coast, and no one, if they could help it, stayed indoors.

Morgan had spent that day sailing through Rockport Harbor, and out into Penobscot Bay for a few perfect tacks. The taste of flawless autumn sailing was enough for her to change her own personal tack.

“I was going to haul Wren out tomorrow,” she said. “But, I think I’ll leave her in a bit longer. Why not?”

Lisa Morgan is at her most careful with Wren’s topsides. Photo courtesy Lisa Morgan
Why not indeed. Wren is a vintage Herreshoff 12½ daysailer that Morgan spent a year restoring, learning about boatbuilding as she went. She missed sailing time last summer as the poor weather, rain and fog, delayed Wren’s re-entry into the salt water. So, the late fall sunshine was a gift.

“Conditions were so perfect,” she said. “The winds were a steady 5 to 10 knots, and you could just cruise.”

It had been many years since Wren felt the ocean around her ribs, and it was only because Morgan spotted the boat in a shed at the J.O. Brown Boat Yard on North Haven on a cold day in 2019, a “Herreshoff for free” sign dangling off her hull. Morgan, a Rockport artisan and artist, appreciates a project. She helps paint and renovate houses. Combine those skills with rebuilding a derelict 12½, and the challenge was on. She put the word out and found Cody Smith, a young master builder on the rise. 

Smith has a workshop at the North End Shipyard in Rockland, where vessels small and large are under a constant bustle of attention. Like many boatyards in Maine, this is where marine knowledge is passed from generation to generation, as older craftsmen counsel the younger, musing over boat design, hardware, and rigging, while the younger roll out their own innovations. Smith calls this hawsepiping—learning on the job. 

Morgan was also equipped with a detailed Maynard Bray article from a 1984 issue of WoodenBoat magazine about restoring a Herreshoff 12½. And Smith found lines for another Herreshoff that he tacked up on the wall for reference. The two plowed into the project, replacing most of the cracked frames, tired old floors and rotting planks, and repairing the rigging. Morgan picked up all sorts of tips from Smith, such as what wood is suitable for what: white oak for the frames, locust for the floors, and mahogany for the topsides.

She loved the collaboration. Eighteen months later, after working on Wren through the winter in Cody’s small workshop, they sat across from each other at Marriner’s and slipped back into a working banter. Morgan told him about her lucky attempts to find the right block for the Herreshoff’s jib sheet—costly, but authentic. Up the hill in a nautical antiques store, she had found a bronze cleat for Wren’s deck. This hunting for hardware was almost as satisfying as the restoration, partially with an appreciation for historical due diligence, partially out of aesthetic regard for the boat.

Smith, meanwhile, appreciated the simple elegance of the boat’s design, the curve of the sheer strake, and the reverse curve where the hull meets the keel.

Wren carries a plaque naming her as “Herreshoff No. 2028.” She was built at the Quincy Adams Yacht Yard in Quincy, Massachusetts, according to Morgan. Bray’s 1984 article noted that hundreds of the 12½s were built by the Herreshoff Manufacturing Co. in Bristol, Rhode Island. These comfortable sailboats—originally called “Buzzards Bay Boys Boats,” wrote Bray—became favorites, purchased by New England yacht clubs for sailing lessons and races. 

Cody Smith at work on Wren in late summer 2022, at his Rockland shop. Photo courtesy Lynda Clancy All told, 364 of the versatile daysailers were built by the Herreshoff Mfg. Co., according to the H Class Association (, the group established to keep the 12½s crews connected and boats racing. According to the H Class, Nathanael Herreshoff used no line drawings nor construction plans; he would, however: “specify, in detail, the sizes and types of all the materials to be used, and the workmen assigned to the job would repeat their process in each stage of construction under Mr. Herreshoff’s supervision, right down to all the special hardware, designed by Captain Nat and cast in the shop foundry.”

After Herreshoff died in 1938, boatbuilding continued in Bristol, until 1943. Another 51 hulls were subsequently built until 1948 through a license transfer to the Quincy Adams Yacht Yard. Then, in 1947, Cape Cod Shipbuilding acquired rights to the design, building 35 more wooden hulls.

Wren (her original name was Jez) arrived on North Haven in the 1940s, and was sold in 1963 to a Vinalhaven family who sailed her for another 50 years. Morgan became her third steward, and embarked on the boat’s restoration at a point in her life when her children had left the home and she had more time on her hands.

Wren in the water, buoyant and ready for Penobscot Bay. Photo by Mike Geer, courtesy Lisa Morgan The boat will remain in Rockport Harbor. She is sweet to sail, Morgan said, but the process of restoring her was just as gratifying. 

“I love the way Cody would go, ‘I think we’re going to do this and this,’ and I would kind of give…,” said Morgan. Smith quickly finished her sentence, “Active advice and engaged feedback,” he said. 

“It’s about aligning goals,” said Smith of the back and forth between the two while they worked on the boat.

“I clearly wanted to be doing what you were doing,” continued Morgan, “but I don’t have the skills.”

For Smith, the best part of the process was the level of independence that Morgan gave him to make decisions.

“It was so collaborative and yet I was allowed to be independent with my thinking,” he said. “That give and take was lovely. I don’t think you get into those situations very often.”

Morgan enjoyed the teamwork, and the creative endeavor with a “terrific guy.”

“We had persistence,” added Smith. “John Foss [owner of the North End Shipyard] said, if you want to be a boatbuilder, you have to have persistence, the grit to just keep going, and concentrate on it. There’s no other way to figure out something you are trying to understand.”

Lynda Clancy is the editorial director of Penobscot Bay Pilot.

WREN Specifications

LOA:  15'10"
LWL:  12'6"
Beam:  5'10"
Draft:  2'6"
Displ.:  1,250 lbs.

Nathanael Herreshoff

Quincy Adams Yacht Yard

Lisa Morgan
Cody Smith

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