Carl Alberg (1900-1986)
Carl Alberg's designs and boats will live on
More than 50 years ago Carl Alberg, one of this country's
premier designers of fiberglass yachts, decided that Marblehead, Massachusetts
was to become his permanent home. It was only appropriate that he eventually
found himself living in a house that overlooked the town's harbor and its 2,200
moorings. Looking out from his studio high on a hill you can't help but wonder
at the feeling Alberg must have had when he'd lean back from his drafting table
and gaze out on a summer's floating forest of masts to see actually hundreds of
boats that were of his own design.
In fact, Carl Alberg's designs, from his early years with
John G. Alden design firm of Boston to his latest design, the Alberg 40 being
produced by Cape Dory Yachts of East Taunton, Massachusetts, represent a
phenomenal number. And his designs still are popular.
Now retired at 83 years of age, Alberg is probably most known
for his notable 28-foot Triton built by Pearson Yachts of Rhode Island and
Aeromarine Plastics of Sausalito, California. Describing his design philosophy
Alberg remarked, "Contrasted to the modern IOR boats where you have six
gorillas sitting on the weather rail with their feet hanging outside trying to
keep the boat upright, my boats are strictly family-cruising boats. In all my
designs I go for comfortable accommodations and a boat you can sail upright
without scaring the life out of your family or friends. I gave them a good long
keel, plenty of displacement and beam, and a fair amount of sail area so they
can move." An informal count of Alberg designs actually built and sold
numbers over 5,000. He must be doing something right.
Born in 1900 in the harbor city of Gothenburg, Sweden, Alberg
remembers being brought up around and literally in small boats. "The harbor
was always filled with ships and boats of all kinds and when we weren't sailing
there the family usually vacationed on an island off the coast where my father,
brother and I used to race each other in small sailboats." Having caught
the sailing bug, Alberg later enrolled at the Chalmers University of Technology
in Gothenburg for naval architecture and after two years of taking courses
specifically geared toward sailboat design he left to come to the United States
Settling at first in Lynn, Massachusetts he landed a job as a
rigger at the General Dynamics shipyard in Quincy. After one year he became a
spar-maker at the Lawley boatyard in Neponsett where he eventually met John
Alden, who was having several boats made there. After convincing Alden to look
over some of his sketches, Alberg was hired as a designer. It was the beginning
of a relationship that over the years would greatly influence Alberg's own
"I enjoyed working with Alden very much," Alberg
said. "He was a wonderful guy, pleasant, calm, never getting excited, and I
learned quite a bit from working with him. His designs were conservative. He
concentrated on seaworthiness, comfort and boats that would sail on their
bottoms, and that's pretty much what I've tried to do with my boats."
Several years later during the Second World War Alberg went
to work for the navy's conversion section in the Charleston Naval Shipyard.
Afterward he went back to Alden's for two years during which time he drew the
lines for the U.S. One Design. In 1946 he left Alden to start his own firm.
For three years he was successful, designing wooden boats
such as the Sea Lion and an Alberg 46-foot ketch, but business dwindled during
the Korean War and he went back to Charleston for a six-month stint. There he
secured a position as chief marine engineer/architect for the Coast Guard.
During the latter part of the 10 years Alberg was with the Coast Guard he
started designing fiberglass boats.
Alberg recalled how he got started in fiberglass production
design. "The Coast Guard wanted a dinghy repaired and I arranged to have it
fixed by two kids who were always hanging around by the boats. They were bright
sharp kids, and when they did a good job repairing the dinghy with a fiberglass
patch, I approached them about building one of my designs out of
fiberglass." As it turned out, those two kids were the Pearson cousins and
they ended up establishing Pearson Yachts on the popularity of that first
design: the 28-foot Triton, of which 709 were built.
Compared with wooden boats of the same size the fiberglass
Triton was considered a revolutionary design because of its spacious interior
accommodations and sleek lines. At the Triton's first boat show orders came
pouring in and soon, after designing several other boats such as the 22-foot
Ensign (1,600 built) for the Pearson cousins, Alberg retired from the Coast
Guard in 1963 to concentrate full-time on his own designs.
By this time Alberg had been in contact with Andrew Vavolotis
of Cape Dory Yachts, who had purchased the mold for what was to become the Cape
Dory Typhoon, an Alberg design, from a bankrupt builder. After realizing how
popular Alberg boats had become, Vavolotis called the designer and asked him to
draw up some lines for a 28-footer. Since his association with Vavolotis, Alberg
has produced at least one sailboat per year.
Although Alberg is generally regarded as being one of the
pioneers to set a solid foundation for the fiberglass boat industry, even he
admitted that "fiberglass boat building has come a lone way in a relatively
short period of time. The major builders today know so much more about
fiberglass construction and the different methods of laying it up than when I
first got involved. Processes like sandwich construction and the application of
materials to keep boats from sweating were unheard of years ago. Consequently
the glass boats built nowadays are considerably better."
He also believes that any differences in design approach for
fiberglass boats can be attributed to the new ocean racing rules that didn't
apply when he was designing his classics. "There are still some designers
around who share my ideas about glass boat design. Everyone else is trying to
conform to the new rules. My boats are more designed to follow the waves and
stay relatively dry and stable."
To bring his point home Alberg cited the example of an Alberg
35 on its way to England in 1979 that encountered a fierce storm off the coast
of Ireland. "It was really blowing and though they shortened sails and did
everything else they could in order to keep going, they eventually took
everything off, went below, battened down the hatches and just ate, drank and
played cards. When it had blown over they hoisted sail and continued to England,
where they were told they had just sailed through the same gale that had taken
16 lives in the Fastnet race. They had ridden out the storm by just sitting in
the cabin while everyone else was capsizing."
Carl Alberg's designs and boats will live on forever. As one
of the forerunners of the movement toward fiberglass boats, it's understandable
that his one big wish is that one day a museum will gather up all his designs
and preserve them for everyone's use. Besides they might very well stumble upon
the plans for the 52-footer that he has tucked away under his drafting table.
Reprinted from SAILING, Feb. 1984.
(Ed. Note: Carl passed away on August 31, 1986 at
his home in Marblehead Massachusetts. His 56 designs resulted in over 10,000
boats. This site is dedicated to Carl Alberg and the graceful, sea-kindly
boats the "stubborn Swede" designed that have brought generations
of sailors so much enjoyment. Carl Alberg's yacht plans and drawings are now
owned by the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA USA.)
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