My grandfather, Maurice Chapin, designed the Moby Dick to be as streamlined as possible and included such advanced features as a rotating mast and furling in the boom. The boat was launched in 1937 and kept in Saunderstown RI. It survived the Hurricane of 1938 and still sails (in new hands) out of Martha's Vineyard and New Bedford. Here is her story.









The Providence Journal
from
September 24, 1938
(Reporting on the Hurricane of 1938)




The Plum Beach Light
by Lawrence H. Bradner 1989
pgs 117-120

"Scott Chapin, from Saunderstown whose family owned the 40-foot "whaleback" sloop Moby Dick, moored at the Saunderstown Yacht Club, was at the club that afternoon with his friend, Richmond Crolius from South Kingstown. Scott decided to secure the Moby Dick with another line to its mooring against the storm that was upon them. They launched a skiff with great difficulty and rowed out to where the sloop was moored. As Crolius described the situation later in the Delta Phi Record, " I was on the nose, just making fast the inboard end of the warp, when Scott's head appeared in the cockpit astern. About that time a comber caught her and sent the bow up with a rush. The line [to the mooring] snapped and then the fun started.

Scott managed to get the engine started in time to prevent them from crashing into rocks on the Saunderstown shore, and Richmond, in a precarious position on the streamlined bow, made his way back to the cockpit and began attaching an anchor to the end of the line he had attached at the bow.

Since the wind was coming from a southeasterly direction, the plan was to head for protection of a lee shore, and Dutch Island, three-quarters of a mile to the east, was their best hope. The narrow passage between Saunderstown and Dutch Island often has a rough current. On the afternoon of September 21, 1938, the crossing was impossible; in the fully risen sea. Crolius noticed that up to five feet above the water a thick spume blew at them ahead of the waves. Others have described this phenomenon as the wind lifting large "sheets" of water off the waves and blowing them through the air. They never got to Dutch Island, and instead passed back and forth in a north-south circuit in the channel between Saunderstown and Dutch Island, going as far south as the Dutch Island Light.

Then the motor gave out.

With hindsight it would be easy to criticize the decision to go out to the Moby Dick at all on that afternoon. Even when they pushed off from shore in the skiff things looked hazardous, with the wind blowing about 45 miles per hour. But they didn't know that this was a Hurricane, nor that the chances for safety for anyone on the water were rapidly deteriorating.

They were young men of college age, experienced sailors who well knew the bay. Remarkably, they kept cool heads in a life-threatening crisis and handled the storm as best they could. They decided to ride up the bay with the storm, using their thick mast as the only "sail".

At the Plum Beach Light the waves were pounding ten feet above the riprap onto the gallery deck where the two keepers were barricaded in the kitchen. Ganze and Babbie then headed for the iron spiral staircase, carrying the portable radio. Babbie's flask of whisky, and some water. They sought refuge just above the kitchen in the Keeper's quarters which Babbie was using in the absence of Keeper Phillips.

The fury of the storm increased as the waves smashed higher against the lighthouse. Babbie, always vocal and sometimes a vociferous man, openly expressed his fear. Ganze, a reserved person, kept insisting, quietly, that he had gone through worse storms at the Sakonnet Point Light. But Babbie knew the West Passage and its weather better than Ganze, and sensed that the weather they now faced was far different from storms of the past. Babbie had reason to be afraid. By this time the storm was destroying homes and lives on the south shore of the state from Watch Hill to Point Judith. At the lighthouse the waves were breaking freely around the kitchen, and pounding hard against the doors.

Babbie looked out the east window of the quarters. He saw, as reported in the September 24 Providence Journal "a streamlined yacht going by at 60 miles per hour." Apparently Babbie recognized the Moby Dick and later gave the names of the occupants, assuming they could not have survived. Scott Chapin and Rich Crolius were reported dead.

What actually happened to Crolius and Chapin was that as the sloop sped up the bay, they held to the eastern side of the West Passage. Before passing north of the end of Conanicut, wanting to avoid the danger of the wide open expanse of bay to the north east, they decided to try to steer the Moby Dick around to the north and west of Fox Island and look for a place to land on the mainland. They succeeded and rode into the midst of some partially submerged pines at Anthony's Beach north of Bissell's Cove and finally came to rest 200 yards inland from the shoreline.

The young survivors secured the Moby Dick to some of the pines among which they had ended their unexpected ride up the bay, then made their way through pastures covered with "choppy brackish water" to Hamilton. There, the two sailors got a ride, weaving their way around fallen trees to Saunderstown where they found that their belongings and the Crolius family car had been destroyed along with the Yacht Club. They also found a couple of stiff drinks of rum with friends.”