Philip C. Bolger

This bio exerpted from the magazine Small Boat Journal, Issue #66 April/May 1989

The best boats are either small enough to carry home, or big enough to live on.- P. Bolger

Those of us who fritter away hours pondering small boats have a lot to thank Phil Bolger for. Bolger brought us the "instant boat" and the Dovekie, bow-steerers and the folding schooner, and modern incarnations of leeboards, the dipping lug rig, and the sharpie.

Like his Light Dory, many of Bolgerís designs are exquisite. But others are not. Bolger will always sacrifice aesthetics in favor of function, simplicity, or lower cost. And heís outspoken in terse, barbed prose as to why those well-loved aesthetics got in the way. More than a few sacred, sea-going cows have felt the sharp tip of Bolgerís pen. That, along with his taste for extremes and willingness to take small, cheap, and simple boats seriously, has won him both respect and hostility - respect toward a guru, hostility toward a temple defiler. But his no-nonsense, priorities-oriented approach to boats, and to their place in our lives, always makes his designs fascinating.

Iíd be hard-pressed to call any of Bolgerís boats typical of his work. He is one of the most prolific designers in history, with 537 finished designs to his credit and an uncountable number of studies. He apprenticed to John Hacker and Lindsay Lord, and did part-time drafting for Francis Herreshoff. But his mentor was a little-known boatbuilder and experimenter named Nicholas Montgomery who ran a small yard on the Annisquam River near Bolgerís home in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Bolgerís houseboard still berths at the Montgomery yard. Bolgerís knowledge of practical boating history is encyclopedic, including not only what the boats were but also how they were used and built, and why. His designs range from the 115-foot full-rigged ship Rose to production motor cruisers to ocean-crossing rowboats to working lobster-boats. A few were total failures; many were spectacular successes. Every one of them makes us look just slightly askance at our priorities and at boats as we think we know them. Everyone makes us think.

Thank you, Phil.

Dan Segal


Read Joseph Gribbens biography of Phil Bolger, published in the Nautical Quarterly, Spring 1983.

I recommend the Yahoo discussion group about Bolger boats:

Dynamite Payson sells plans to some of the best Instant Boats.

Some of my favorite Bolger designs...

Writings by Phil Bolger

The Phil Bolger and Friends, Inc. team.

Phil Bolger

Suzanne Altenberger, Phil's wife, collaborator and boat designer in her own right.

The best way to contact Phil Bolger and Friends, Inc. is by fax at (978) 282-1349, or by mail at P.O. Box 1209, Gloucester, MA 01930 USA. They respond quickly to faxes and have a reputation for being very helpful. They do not use a telephone, and do not use email.