The Racing Sloop Ranger

The racing sloop Ranger, Hull 172, stands out among the list of trawlers and destroyers built at BIW in the late 1930’s.  Ranger was built to defend the America’s Cup, the world’s oldest international sporting prize and a source of intense rivalry and great national pride. She was the last vessel built in the machine shop and the only one of her type constructed at BIW.

Design work for the 135-foot Ranger began in 1935, leading up to a planned race in 1937. Her designer suggested that BIW construct the sloop because of the yard’s advanced welding skills when many ships were still riveted. By 1936, BIW’s role was finalized with a gentlemen’s agreement between her owner and Pete Newell, president of the Iron Works, and work began late that year.

Ranger’s “keel laying” on December 22, 1936 was unlike anything ever seen at BIW. The keel was a 100 ton lead casting, 39 feet long, 5 feet wide and 5 feet deep, reported to be the largest such casting ever created. Over seven hours, the lead was melted in the machine shop and poured into a massive mold built into the shop floor.

The remainder of Ranger’s construction was marked by painstaking attention to detail to ensure an absolutely smooth hull without the slightest imperfection. BIW also built the 165-foot mast alongside Ranger in the machine shop.

Ranger was launched on May 11, 1936, with a crowd of 6,000 spectators inside the machine shop and along the Carlton Bridge. The sloop reached a speed of 16 knots sliding down the ways, and was safely brought alongside the pier where her mast was stepped within the hour. Just three days later, Ranger departed under tow to Newport, Rhode Island.

BIW’s role should have ended with delivery, but later that night a small part installed after construction failed, and Ranger’s enormous mast collapsed overboard. With the races just weeks away and national pride on the line, BIW sprang into action. Special aluminum plates were shipped to Bath by express train to be used as material for a new mast, which was built in just 25 days.

BIW’s effort paid off, as Ranger was proven to be the fastest of her class. She went on to defend the America’s Cup against the British challenger, winning the series 4-0.  Ranger was hauled out at the end of the 1937 season and never re-launched, as the coming war in Europe prevented another series of races. By 1941, the United States was entering WWII and yacht racing was out of the question. Ranger was broken up for scrap.