Campus News

Remembering Renowned Boat Designer Phil Bolger '49

Story posted June 03, 2009

Phil Bolger '49, revered around the world for both his boat designs and his writing, died May 24, 2009, outside his home in Gloucester, Mass.

Among Bolger's most popular designs was a series of sharpies — narrow, flat-bottomed sailboats that are effective in shallow waters.

His designs, estimated to number between 600 and 700, flowed from dinghy to frigate, including the nearly 115-foot replica of a historic naval warship that was used in the 2003 movie "Master and Commander."

After a year at the College, Bolger joined the Army and was a combat engineer. He returned to Bowdoin to graduate with a degree in history. While a student Bolger sent a letter questioning certain details in a book by naval architect Lindsay Lord, who hired him as a draftsman after graduation. Bolger went on to work with two other designers, John Hacker and L. Francis Herreshoff. All three mentors were among the best in the field in the mid-1900s.

Spend time with small-boat enthusiasts on nearly any continent "and you will find a coterie of people who think Phil Bolger is some sort of god. He was a cult figure," said Holbrook Robinson, a longtime friend and a professor of French at Northeastern University, in an article that appeared in both The Boston Globe and The San Francisco Chronicle. Read the article.

Recently Bolger and his wife, design partner Susanne Altenburger, had tried to persuade Gloucester's fishing community to consider alternative approaches that might help the beleaguered industry, such as his design for a more fuel-efficient commercial fishing vessel.

The couple also worked with the Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, D.C., on new designs for military landing craft utility boats.

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