About 1965, a big new boat factory opened on Route 123, a major thoroughfare that touched, among other roads, Route 139, which ran west to Holbrook and Avon, where major parts suppliers for the Whaler factory were located and routes 3A, 228 and 39. These were the major shipping routes or parts supply routes for the factory that made the unsinkable boat.
Frankly, no one, unless you were one of the partners in the company later bought out by Brunswick Marine and moved south knew how the Boston Whaler achieved its magic undrinkability, but recent research has shown that they were the first craft to make extensive use of the then-new and amazing bubbled plastic, polyurethane. Indeed after the prototypes were approved and manufacturing had begun, they laid down the frame of the Whaler first and its fiberglass body panels. They then cut and fit the major polyurethane filler pieces to the subframe and attached the decking and stowage to the the same subframe. Finally, they blew in additional polyurethane to fill any areas that might have been missed. This made the Whaler unsinkable and remarkably tough.
(There was a memorable TV commercial for Whalers, at the time, that showed a crew with a chainsaw cutting one in half and both halves floating quietly at the dock as if nothing had happened. If someone had actually started the Whaler in the commercial they would have soon found out that the back half, where the steering console and engine were located would actually have moved, but the bow would have stayed at the dock. It's also likely the shell would quickly have swamped, but not sunk.)
That said, the Boston Whaler was loosely based on both the Alcott Sailfish, initially, and later on the Hickman Sea Sled, designed in the 20s. Its designer believed it to be the sine qua non of small boat design. That it wasn't really didn't occur to the designer and when some problems with the designer were pointed out by Whaler founder Richard Fisher, Hickman simply waved him off.
It took Fisher's constant tinkering with the design and the aid of partner Ray Hunt, a marine designer, to iron out the problems with the Whaler.
Initially, the Whaler was designed as dingy or runabout with pronounced V-hull, inserted between two outer runners. There were two sculpted tube-like devices between the runners and the hull. This prototype design was tweaked and developed, but it remains the essential design today. The outer runners were designed for better control in turns (anti-skid, for example).
The prototypes, which used a fiberglass outershell, polyurethane foam filler and fiberglass decking and stowage areas also had another unique feature, a center console helm/control panel. One could actually call this design the original bowrider because the bow was an active part of the boat's design.
Initially tested and proven to work in the mid 1950s, everything seemed secure during the late 1950s when the proof-of-concept boats were tested in the bays and inlets around Hingham, Hull, Cohasset, Scituate and other southern Massachusetts seacoast towns. As long as the weather remained calm and nice, the boats were tremendous handlers and everyone who saw the prototypes wanted one. After all, they were light and didn't require huge engines to move them around. Instead, they could plane with smaller engines or troll all day long with the engine just above idle if you were fishing.As they were developed, though, the fact that they were great light weather boats was quite evident. As soon as the weather turned lousy in the fall, things began to get a lot more serious.
Facing New England Northeasters, cross-currents, tricky winds and sudden frontal changes, the Whaler had faced a new challenge. It couldn't plane. In rough water, as soon as power was applied, the engine ran rough and, more than once, stalled out.
Testing showed that the two outer runners and the reverse hull set up a wind-tunnel that added air to the area the boat's engine/propeller had to dig into. It was also found that the faster the Whaler went the more air was introduced and this turbulence just couldn't be handled in their prototype configuration.
Fisher, backyard tinkerer that he was, would daily take home prototype boats and add more fiberglass to the outer runners and hull. Indeed, a deep-V hull was one of the results and the other results were noticeable outer runners. But that tinkering still didn't solve the problem.
Fisher turned to his partner Hunt who looked at the design and added a third runner to the bottom of the center hull and that solved the added air problem because it equalized the pressure coming through the hull. The Whaler, in fact, became pretty stable after that.
The ultimate proof of concept, though, was a long distance run which was accomplished in a 120-mile round trip to the southern coast of Massachusetts.
That trip did led to the one last problem that had to be solved. It was a wet trip. In other words, once the Whaler had planed there seemed to be a constant spray of water and that was because the Whaler tended to ride a bit light and spray splashed in throughout the trip. They tweaked the hull design a bit and the hull was ready to be made into the manufacturing molding from which all other Whalers would be designed.
With all of the issues fixed, the Whaler became an instant hit with anyone connected with the water. It was a stable platform that was favored by:
The militaryFishermanWater skiersGeneral day sailersRescue crews
Whalers were known for their inherent stability and center console design made very customizable. They were also lightweight and easily trailered and didn't need huge engines to move them rapidly. In other words, they were the a boater's dream.