1947 BB Swan “Tangerine” – First Fiberglass Production Boat

By John Harrison Hough, Sunnyland Chapter Member

I have been fortunate to acquire one of the first fiberglass production boats ever built. She is the second oldest known fiberglass production boat in existence: BB Swan hull number 6 sold first in 1947.  Number 5 is in the Mystic Seaport Museum collection. 

I was looking for a very stable small sailboat that could be easily launched off the beach at the Palm Beach Sailing Club.  Another member, Brent Putnam, had recently purchased a 1951 BB Swan, 12.5’ long by 6’ wide sailboat needing cosmetic restoration. This boat seemed to have possibilities.  Brent provided me with several articles on the history of the BB Swans.  I am a collector of classic boats and so it really intrigued me. 

Fortunately for me, one of the first ones built came up for sale on Facebook located in upstate New York that had been owned by the same family since new and had been stored in a barn for the last 30-40 years.  The boat was registered in NY as having been built in 1945, although the boat was not marketed by Beetle until 1947.  The hull was actually built by General Electric in Massachusetts.  At that time, they had not developed a catalyst to cure the resin, so the hull was baked in an oven to cure it.  There was no glue at the time that would stick to the fiberglass, so the wood deck and coamings had to be bolted to the hull. They had not yet developed gel coat – the boat was painted with automobile paint. The Beetle Boat Company in Massachusetts finished off the hulls built by GE.  The first ones like mine had wood decks and coamings.  The Beetle Boat Company still builds wooden catboats about the same size that are widely used in New England.

After striking a deal, the seller delivered the boat to my friend, Jim Moores in Beaufort, NC, who does restoration.  Fortunately, the boat needed only a little structural repair.  Jim did an outstanding job restoring the boat to nearly new condition.  He closely matched the original orange hull and yellow decks with Awlgrip.  The mahogany deck and coamings were in excellent structural condition and only needed re-varnishing.  All hull hardware is original and was re-chromed.

The original sail had been damaged by rodents. I sailed the boat initially using a sail borrowed from Brent, while the new sail shown was being built to classic specifications by Sperry Sails in MA.  The sailing performance of the boat exceeds expectations.  She is really easy to launch off the beach, is very stable and comfortable.  The draft with the board down is just two feet.  I’m too old for capsizing, and although this boat could capsize, it would take a serious mistake in high winds to do it. I continue to be amazed how much attention this strange little boat attracts, particularly from people who do not know anything about boats.

6 Comments

  1. Hi John. Lovely story and an early example of industrial art using fiberglass. Thanks for sharing see you in Mt Dora!

  2. So enjoyed this article and the photos. My dad bought a used BB fiberglass catboat in the early 50’s for his children’s use. That boat looked exactly like this one. My dad and his partner developed a section of Deep Creek Lake that was the sailing center then. They started the first yacht club at Deep Creek. We were told this sailboat had been previously owned by Jonas Salk. I just did some research and Jonas Salk was running his own lab in at the U. of Pittsburg beginning in 1947. Many people from Pittsburg vacation at Deep Creek. I think my dad bought it for our use because it was so safe and low maintenance. Our boat had a totally cushioned bottom. Don’t know if it came that way or if Salk added that feature. Lying on those cushions on the dock, we sunbathed, stargazed & etc. Brings back lots of good memories. Thanks Judy Bowers Thost

  3. I am looking for a new aluminum mast for my grandfathers 1947 fiberglass beetle boat any help or direction would be greatly appreciated

  4. Hi I have hull number 571 and am working on restoring it. Thank you for the article. I have been trying to find a sail and have reached out to the company that was mention.

    Thank you again

    Nick

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