Colin Archer

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Colin Archer
Portrett av Colin Archer.jpg
Portrait of Colin Archer, 1893 or earlier
Born Colin Archer
(1832-07-22)22 July 1832
Larvik, Norway
Died 8 February 1921(1921-02-08) (aged 88)
Larvik, Norway
Occupation naval architect and shipbuilder
Spouse(s) Karen Sophie Wiborg (1838-1908)
Children 5

Order of St. Olav -1886

Fram-medaljen - 1896

Colin Archer (22 July 1832 – 8 February 1921) was a Norwegian naval architect and shipbuilder from Larvik, Norway. He was known for building safe and durable ships including the Fram used in both Fridtjof Nansen's and Roald Amundsen's polar expeditions.[1][2]

Personal life[edit]

Colin Archer was born at Tollerodden in Larvik, Norway, the twelfth of thirteen children born to parents who had immigrated to Norway from Scotland in 1825. Prior to his career as a naval architect in Norway, he spent time in Queensland, Australia, with several of his brothers, including Thomas Archer. While there he became a farmer and administrator. He also sailed with cargo up the Fitzroy River, Queensland.[3] Read more on Gracemere Homestead.

In 1861, Archer returned home to Larvik and undertook the study of practical and theoretical shipbuilding.[4]

Archer was married in 1869 to Karen Sophie Wiborg (1838-1908) with whom he had five children. The family resided at Lilleodden (Kirkestredet 11) in Larvik.

Model of RS 1 Colin Archer in the Fram Museum, Oslo, Norway


Archer designed most of his vessels in the working room of their residence.[5][6]

RS 1 COLIN ARCHER, still sailing, here in 2014.

Before he started building sailing boats, he studied Fredrik Henrik af Chapman and especially his displacement curve. He also studied John Scott Russell's theories. His first boats were the designed with Chapmans displacement parabola curve, but with Scott Russell's positioning of the midship section; well aft of amidships and with sharp bow waterlines. His first pilot boat had the midship section positioned 58% from the bow as opposed to the traditional position of 44%. This started the revolution of the Norwegian double ended pilot boats.

Archer started with pleasure craft that he advertised after their completion. After a few years, he started getting orders and then put his mind to the pilot boats. Many pilots were lost every year because of capsizing.

In 1872 his first pilot boats were launched, 33 feet long and clinker built. With a much sharper bow and deeper draught, they soon became known for seaworthiness and speed.

The next and biggest improvement came in 1882, when he introduced ballast keel and carvel building, as he already had used on his yachts for several years. With the improved stability generated by the ballast keel, Archer reduced the beam to 33% as opposed to the traditional 38-40%. The pilot in question was sceptical, but the 36 foot boat proved to be outstanding in its performance, and resisted capsizing.

In 1886 his pilot boats totally outclassed all others in a pilot race with 1,2,3,4,6 and 7th place of 12 participants. Thereafter he was made a Knight of the Order of St. Olav.

In 1892 several of his pilot boats rescued many fishing boats in a severe off shore gale on the southeast coast of Norway. After a design competition, he received an order to design a rescue boat for the Norwegian Society for Sea Rescue (Norsk Selskab til Skibbrudnes Redning). This 47-foot boat[7] proved so seaworthy that 33 were built, building Archer and his shipyard a reputation for building durable and safe ships.

Archer closed his business in 1909, at 78 years old.

Archer's double ended pilot boats were quite different from other Norwegian boats of the time as these were of the old Cod's Head-Mackerel Tail-type, shallow, blunt and beamy with poor windward abilities. Archer's boats, deep and with heavy ballast keels and sharp bow, had a seaworthiness no one believed could have been possible. Archer's type double enders therefore became referred to as a Colin Archer or Colin Archer-type no matter who designed or built them. Boats are still (2017) being built and labelled Colin Archer-type. Archer built about 120 double enders, but thousands, in all materials, have been built worldwide.

Colin Archer built about 200 boats. 120 of them had ballast keels. His designs were also built at other yards, about 50 in his lifetime.

Today, 25 of his boats are still sailing plus about 10 of those built at other yards in his time.

Naval architect and Sailing ships [8][edit]

In 1872 Archer published a 29-page design lecture including Fredrik Henrik af Chapman's and John Scott Russell's theories. Archer wanted to share his knowledge but it was also good advertising for him.

In 1873 he thought there would be more money in building ships than boats, so he got in contact with investors and in 1874 they founded the shipyard "Laurvig Strandeværft", at Rekkevik in the Larvik fjord, with Archer as a 30% part owner. Rekkevik lies 3 km from his boatyard at Tollerodden, at the inner harbour of Larvik. One of the investors were ship owners and ordered the first ship, in which Archer was also a part owner; a good garantie for the ship owner that good work was done. in 1886 Archer became sole owner of the shipyard.

Archer built four ships here to his design.

  • 1875: Schooner «Aries», 86 feet
  • 1880: Brigantine «Leon», 108 feet
  • 1892: Polar ship «Fram», 140 feet
  • 1900: Auxiliary steam Yacht «Ingeborg», 94 feet

Colin Archer designed a dozen other sailing ships, mostly three masted barks, that were built at other yards on the south coast, the most in Arendal. Close to 20 were built as several were built from the same drawing.

Archer's shipyard also did a lot repair work and especially conversion and outfitting for polar expeditions. Some pilot and rescue boats were also built here when it was to busy at Tollerodden.

The plans for the 1880 brigantine «Leon» has been reproduced by Harold A. Underhill in his book "Plank-On-Frame Models and Scale Masting and Rigging, vol. I" and such a large number of «Leon» models exists around the world, including one at Royal Museums Greenwich. «Leon» was built to Herlofsen in Arendal. Herlofsens were a sailor and ship owner family and «Leon» stayed in the family until 1894. «Leon» then shifted hands several times, but all Norwegian owners. In 1897 she had the rig changed to schooner. Late autumn in 1915 she got a serious leak in the North Sea on a voyage from Granton to Porsgrunn with coal, and was abandoned.

The shipyard Laurvig Strandværft was laid down in 1907, two years before Archer retired and his boatyard also was laid down.

Polar ships [8][edit]

The most notable single ship built by Colin Archer was the «Fram», which participated in Fridtjof Nansen's expeditions to the North Pole 1893-96 and in 1911 in Roald Amundsen's historic first expedition to the South Pole. «Fram» is now preserved in the Fram Museum on Bygdøy, Oslo, Norway.[9][10]

In 1886 the 3-masted bark «Pollux» was built to Colin Archer's design in Arendal for catching seals and whales. In 1897 she was bought by Carsten Borchgrevink and taken to Archer's yard and fitted out for polar expeditions. Renamed «Southern Cross» she sailed to Antarctica 1898-1900 and did important discoveries later used by Roald Amundsen for his expedition to the south pole.

In 1898 the Italian prince and explorer Prince Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi wanted to do polar expeditions. He travelled to Norway and consulted the famous polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen. In 1899 Amedo bought Jason, renamed her Stella Polare and took her to Colin Archer's shipyard. The interior was stripped out and new beams, diagonals and knees heavily strengthened the ship. Amedo sett of in June 1899 and Stella Polare had hard time in Amedo's expedition but survived thanks to Archer work.

In 1899, Archer also fitted out Zarya for the Russian polar expedition of 1900–02. So the two ships lay side by side at the yard. «Zarya» was also strengthened heavily with internal frames and beams, and deckhouses were added and modified. The rig was changed to barkentine (square sail on foremast only). In October 1899 the ship was certified by Norwegian authorities for a three-year expedition in the Arctic.

Rescue boats[11][12][edit]

RS 6, identical to RS1 COLIN ARCHER

At first, it was thought that pilots should do the rescue operations. Three cutter rigged Archer pilot boats were built; 38, 41 and 42 feet length and fitted out as rescue boats and started their service early 1893.

After a design competition in 1892, it was decided that ketches should be tried and two to be built. Archer got order for one and based his design on his newest pilot boat. The lines plan was scaled to 46 feet (English) and slightly stretched so beam ratio became 33.5%. Freeboard height was increased with approx. 20 cm. The keel was widened so the ballast keel became considerably heavier, 6,5 tons. Inside ballast is approx. the same, 6-7 tons. The boat was launched July 1893 and became RS 1 COLIN ARCHER.

The rescue boats did not only sail out to rescue, they sailed out with the fishing fleet every day. There were no weather forecasts and no distress signals, so the rescue boats had to be at the scene when the storm arrived. As wind increased, the smallest boats first, several at a time, were towed to safety and the rescue boat returned out and towed more. If a storm arrived when the rescue boat was in harbour, they sailed out to look for boats in distress and did not return until they were sure no other boats were out. Only one rescue boat was lost at sea with the crew lost.

33 ketch rigged rescue boats were built from 1893 to 1924. 28 of the ketches were Archer’s design and 13 built by Archer. From 1909 – 1924 the last 13 were built in Risør area (35 n.m. SW of Larvik).

Archer made 2 new plans. Mk II in 1897 has more overhang in the bow profile and thus more flare in the bow sections and a slightly fuller waterline in the bow. Length over deck became 47 feet and the boat had a bit more stability for better towing power. Mk. III came in 1908 with 20 cm more beam (34.4%) and a considerably fuller bow, but a finer stern. All versions have the midship section approx. 53% from bow, but mk. III’s lines are more symmetrically shaped than Archer normally used. The mk. III rescue boat was considered the best boat in strong winds and most towing abilities. This is mainly because the fuller bow gave more stability and easier motions, so it could be driven harder with less reefing. It was obviously slower in light airs, but that was off course of no importance for a rescue boat.

Framing is kept relatively light with frame spacing 60–66 cm c-c with a thin stem bent oak rib in between. Planking was 38 mm oak and the inside of the frames was also planked (ceiling) with 50 mm pine. This was caulked watertight to the watertight cabin sole (floor) and thus, they had a double hull and stayed floated when the planking was holed or got a leak.

To minimized pitching, ballast was concentrated amidships, and anchor windlass and chain placed aft of the mast.

The rig was ketch (two mast) with relatively short mast and very small mizzen. In strong wind, they normally sailed with main and staysail only, often reefed. With boats in tow, the mizzen was used to point higher to the wind and help tacking. The rig was basically the same for all boats, but the spars became heavier for each upgrade.

The last sailing rescue boat was built in 1924. Next generation boats, the Bjarne Aas design with engine but also full rig, did not come until 1932. A dozen of Archer's design served without an engine until 1940. With engine installed, they served until 1960.


NANNA built 1898 by Colin Archer. The cutter rig is typical for his yachts.

Colin Archer built about 60 yachts, each to unique drawing, half being double enders and the other half with counter sterns. Many of both double enders and the counter stern yachts, have plum stem (almost vertical, straight stem). All yachts have more undercut forefoot than the workboats, especially after 1897 and then with the known Colin Archer curved stem profile.

Beam is 22-30% of length over deck. (As opposed to 33-36% for the pilot boats and the rescue boats).

All yachts, even the larger ones at 60 feet, except one (Asgard), and all pilot boats, are cutter rigged (one mast). The yachts have their main boom extending the stern with several feet which together with a relatively tall mast, gives very good performance on all points of sailing. (The pilot boats' boom normally extends the sternpost by one foot. Only the rescue boats and a few fishing boats, are ketch rigged (two masts)). Sail area for the yachts are in the range 100-125% of waterline length squared, pilot boats 85-90% and the rescue boats 70%.

On almost all boats, Archer spaced of grown pine frames 2 feet c-c with a thin steam bent oak rib in between. This, together with thin, canvassed decks, made the yachts fairly light. (The rescue boats have heavy ceiling (planking inside the frames) that made them strong and unsinkable, but heavier.)

The yachts have large ballast keels and normally no inside ballast, except a little for trim. (Pilot and rescue boats have equal keel weight and ballast weight.)

Archer's Wave Form Theory[edit]

Archer spent much time calculating how an efficient hull should be designed. He started with Chapman's displacement parabola curve, but with Scott Russell's positioning of the midship section; well aft of amidships and thus with sharp bow waterlines.

In 1876 he swapped Chapman's parabola for the displacement curve, with Scott Russell's wave curves; the sine curve forward and the trochoid curve aft. This sounded very logic and gave designers more freedom in shaping the hull than Scott Russell's theory. Many used his theory, either directly or as a guide.

We know now that the theory is not correct at all, but it did away with the old Cod's Head-Mackerel Tail-type. However, unless a well undercut forefoot, the bow line became very sharp with a tendency to make the boats "pitchy" and wet. The theory did not change Colin Archer's early lines as they were already sharp in the bow; it more confirmed them. With more undercut forefoot and the displacement curve extending the designed waterline, the lines became fuller and Archer's boats became the seaworthy boats he is known for.

Even to this day, people consult his work when designing new boats.

Bust of Colin Archer in Larvik, Norway


  • Knight of the Order of St. Olav -1886
  • Commander of Order of St. Olav -1896
  • Fram-medaljen - 1896


Colin Archer sold several boats to Sweden in the early 1880s and Swedish designers soon adapted the Archer type for pilot boats and yachts. Norwegian pilot- and fishingboat builders converted to the Archer type after the rescue boat had shown its seaworthiness in 1894.[12]

Archer also had customers in Denmark, Germany, Holland and England. In 1904, he built a boat for the writer Robert Erskine Childers named the Asgard.[13][14]

Outside Scandinavia, the rescue boat lines have been the most popular design to copy or modify. Thus, the Archer-type outside Norway, has a lot more beam and smaller rig than Archer's actual yachts.

In 1908 the 47 feet OEGER was designed by Archer but built in Porsgrunn. The customer was the English sailor Haig that had already sailed in north Norway and wanted to have a more seaworthy boat to go to Spitsbergen. The lines were narrower version (32% beam) of the mk. III rescue boat. The rig, however, was cutter with large sail area. The boat was sold to Ralph Stock in 1919 that undertook a cruise around the world with her.

In 1921 the book The Cruise of the Dream Ship was published. This was Ralph Stock’s cruise with OEGER. The book became extremely popular with many reprints.

In the early 1920s, a 47 feet yacht was built in China. The lines were based on Colin Archer’s 1908 mk. III rescue boat plans. The boat was named SHANGHAI and sailed to Denmark in 1923/24 by the Danish owners and put out for sale.[15]

In June 1923, plans for SHANGHAI were published in the American magazine MotorBoat. SHANGHAI was sold to the American judge F. DeWitt Wells to undertake a voyage in the wake of the Vikings to America.[15]

In 1924 William Atkin was contacted by W.W. Nutting, editor[16] of the American magazine MotorBoat and previous Atkin customer.[17] He wanted a yacht based on Colin Archer’s rescue boats. Atkin designed a 32 feet yacht with lines basically a scaled down version of Colin Archer’s mk. III rescue boat,[16] slightly sharper bow lines and with a cutter[18] rig. The project was called ERIC and was published in the Motorboat. Nutting, however, heard that boats were cheaper in Norway, cancelled the building and went to Norway.[15] There he bought a 40 feet second-hand double ender. Although built as yacht, the lines were basically of a fishing boat design with great beam (by 14,5 feet – 36%) and without a ballast keel. It had high bulwarks and the large cockpit were not self-draining for access to the engine beneath.[19] Nutting wanted to sail the northerly route to America, called the boat LEIV ERIKSSON and left Norway at same time as SHANGHAI. Unfortunately, Nutting and his crew were lost without traces off Greenland in September. SHANGHAI also got into trouble; their sails parted, and they blew ashore on Nova Scotia, but the crew were rescued under dramatic circumstances.[20]

William Atkins plans for ERIC, published in MotorBoat arose immediate interest. Plans were modified with new interior, ketch rig and three boats were built and launched in 1925. Atkin got more orders and more Archer-type were designed. The INGRID in 1934 is 37,5 feet and a stretched version (beam 30%) with well undercut forefoot and hollow waterlines.[15] The lines thus resemble Archer’s yachts except Archer had greatest beam further aft. Archer, on his later yachts, used fuller lines, especially aft.

The Eric went on to become very influential in ocean sailing, with boats such as Vito Dumas's Lehg II and Robin Knox-Johnston's Suhaili making notable circumnavigations, the latter becoming the first boat to be sailed single-handed and non-stop around the world in the 1968 Golden Globe Race. Suhaili was very under canvassed and definitely the slowest boat in the race, but as the only of the nine starting boats to complete the race, she took both first prices, the first and the fastest boat!

Another Colin Archer type boat to become very famous in the 1968 Golden Globe Race, was the French sailor and author Bernard Moitessier in his custom-built 39 foot steel ketch Joshua. She has a tall rig and was catching up on Suhaili, but instead of passing the finishing line, Moitessier continued around the world to Tahiti, thus sailing 1,5 times around the globe, non-stop, single handed.

In the 1970s, Atkin's ERIC design was adapted to glass-reinforced plastic by William Crealock, and became the Westsail 32; this famous cruising boat has, in turn, inspired many imitations, so that the "Archer double-ender" style of boat continues to be popular to the present day.[21][22]

The Argentinian naval architect Manuel M. Campos based his designs on Archer/Atkin and built Vito Dumas's Lehg II in 1934 in Argentina. Other of Campos designs have less draught that the typical Archer-type.

Tahiti ketch is clearly derived from the Archer-type. Tahiti ketch are characterised by a straight sternpost, less draught and their small rig. The straight sternpost and hull shape make them easier to build.


Lilleodden (Kirkestredet 11) in Larvik

Selected works[edit]

  • Colin Archer. Anvisning til konstruktion af lystfartöier og både. Polyteknisk tidsskrift 1872, Hefte 5. & 6. (Design lecture with Fredrik Henrik af Chapman's and John Scott Russell's theories.)
  • Colin Archer. On the wave principle, applied to the longitudinal disposition on immersed volume (The Institution of Naval Architects, 13 April 1878)


  1. ^ Stein Ove Erikstad. "Colin Archer". Store norske leksikon. Retrieved May 1, 2017.
  2. ^ Jack Vogelaar (1996). "The story of Colin Archer". Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved May 1, 2017.
  3. ^ "Tollerodden". Retrieved May 1, 2017.
  4. ^ "Colin Archer". 1865 Census Larvik prestegjeld. Retrieved May 1, 2017.
  5. ^ "Lilleodden (Larvik)". Retrieved May 1, 2017.
  6. ^ Geir Tandberg Steigan. "Larvik:Kirkestredet 11". Retrieved May 1, 2017.
  7. ^ "RS 1 Colin Archer". Norsk Selskab til Skibbrudnes Redning. Retrieved May 1, 2017.
  8. ^ a b Sannes, Tor Borch (1978). Colin Archer skipene. Oslo, Norway: Norsk Maritimt Forlag. Oslo, Norway. ISBN 82-7205-026-9.
  9. ^ "Colin Archer". Retrieved May 1, 2017.
  10. ^ Tor Borch Sannes. "Colin Archer, Skipskonstruktør, Verftseier". Norsk biografisk leksikon. Retrieved May 1, 2017.
  11. ^ Leather, John (1979). Colin Archer and the Seaworthy Double-Ender. Camden, Maine, USA: International Marine Publishing Company. pp. 41–65. ISBN 0-87742-086-6.
  12. ^ a b Sannes, Tor Borch (1984). Batbyggeren Colin Archer. Oslo, Norway: Norsk Maritimt Forlag: Oslo. pp. 304–417. ISBN 82-90319-05-3.
  13. ^ "Asgard". National Museum of Ireland. Retrieved May 1, 2017.
  14. ^ "Conservation of the Asgard". National Museum of Ireland. Retrieved May 1, 2017.
  15. ^ a b c d Leather, John (1979). Colin Archer and the Seaworthy Double-Ender. Camnden, Main, USA: International Marine Publishing Company. pp. 84–94. ISBN 0-87742-086-6.
  16. ^ a b "Eric: The Best Boat for the Worst Weather". Retrieved 2017-10-24.
  17. ^ "The Sea Remains the Same". Retrieved 2017-10-24.
  18. ^ "Atkin & Co. - Dragon". Retrieved 2017-10-24.
  19. ^ "Nasjonalbiblioteket". (in Norwegian). Retrieved 2017-10-24.
  20. ^ "Nasjonalbiblioteket". (in Norwegian). Retrieved 2017-10-24.
  21. ^ "Eric, Colin Archer Type Double-Ended Ketch by William Atkin". Atkin & Company. Retrieved May 1, 2017.
  22. ^ "Ingrid, 37' 6" Colin Archer Type Double-Ended Ketch By William Atkin". Atkin & Company. Retrieved May 1, 2017.
  23. ^ "RS 1 «Colin Archer» (1893)". Retrieved May 1, 2017.
  24. ^ "Colin Archer Peninsula". Latitude/Canada. Retrieved May 1, 2017.
  25. ^ "Colin Archer Memorial Race". Waypoint Amsterdam. Retrieved May 1, 2017.

Other sources[edit]

Related reading[edit]

  • Leather, John (1979) Colin Archer and the Seaworthy Double-Ender( International Marine Publishing Company) ISBN 0-87742-086-6
  • Sannes, Tor Borch (1978) Colin Archer skipene (Norsk Maritimt Forlag. Oslo, Norway). ISBN 82-7205-026-9
  • Sannes, Tor Bork (1979) Colin Archer: Skøytene og lystbatene (Norsk Maritimt Forlag: Oslo) ISBN 978-8290319019
  • Sannes, Tor Borch (1984) (Reprint 1978+1979). Batbyggeren Colin Archer. (Norsk Maritimt Forlag: Oslo, Norway). pp. 304–417. ISBN 82-90319-05-3
  • Foss, Bjørn (2002) Fra seil til vannjet (Norsk Maritimt Forlag: Oslo) ISBN 82-90319-34-7
  • McDonald, Lorna (1997) Magic ships: life story of Colin Archer, 1832–1921, and Sailing for pleasure ( Central Queensland University Press) ISBN 1-875998-26-8
  • Ralph Stock (1921) The Cruise of the Dream Ship (William Heinemann Ltd, London)
  • Stephens, William P. (1981) Traditions & memories of American yachting (International Marine Publishing Company) ISBN 0-87742-132-3

External links[edit]