Readers who saw the post below this one will note that Phil Bolger (photo, left) was honored, along with Bill Garden, at last year's WoodenBoat Show. This year, we'll honor a group of designers who pioneered multihull sailing yachts. Before the hoopla begins for that, a glance back is in order.
Sam Devlin, the noted designer and builder of highly refined stitch-and-glue plywood boats, moderated a wonderful tribute to Bolger on the Saturday evening of last year's show. Several speakers presented heartfelt tributes—though the highlight of the night was WoodenBoat Designs Editor Mike O'Brien's witty and insightful gallery of favorite Bolger designs. (This was based, in part, on Mike's article "Classical Bolger," which appeared in WB No. 164.)
Mike's article was titled "Classical Bolger" because, as any contemporary student of small craft design knows, Phil Bolger's signature style is anything but classical. Simplicity, rather than complexity, is the hallmark here. His boats are typically built of plywood, and are sometimes called "Bolger boxes"—a pejorative term in some circles, but a point of pride for Mr. Bolger and his many fans worldwide. Bolger boats are built in huge numbers, and they perform as advertised.
But I digress. The article was called "Classical Bolger" because many newcomers to Phil Bolger's style assume that the box-type boats are all he knows. That's not true. Phil Bolger is, in fact, a prolific designer of wide ranging style. He worked as a draftsman for Lindsay Lord and John Hacker in the 1950s, and was mentored by none other than L. Francis Herreshoff. Since 1952, and the publication of his first design—a 32' sportfisherman—Bolger has designed nearly 700 boats. They range from the ubiquitous Light Dory (WoodenBoat Senior Editor Tom Jackson can be seen rowing his on the January page of Benjamin Mendlowitz's Calendar of Wooden Boats this year) to the famous HMS ROSE (now the HMS SURPRISE, which starred along with Russell Crowe in Master and Commander). Between these extremes are sharpies, outboard skiffs, camp cruisers, motor cruisers, dinghies, daysailers, and more. These boats appear in Bolger's numerous books, including the popular Boats with an Open Mind.
Bolger lives and works in Gloucester, Massachusetts, with his wife Susanne Altenberger, doing business as Phil Bolger and Friends. Ever the innovator, Bolger's current efforts are centered on fuel-efficient recreational and fishing boats, as well as on a large military commission to develop a more effective landing craft.
Our kudos to Phil Bolger for his remarkable achievements.