At first glance, ROWDY seems to be a book about the rebuilding of a NY40 Class racing yacht. However, as one gets further into the story, it is actually three books: the recounting of how the boat was discovered and restored, the World War I diary of Rowdy’s first owner and finally, a description of upper class New York society between the wars. Christopher Madsen weaves these three seemingly disparate elements into a comprehensive story centered on Rowdy and her racing prowess.
In 1998, Christopher Madsen discovered the badly deteriorated hulk of a Hershoff racing yacht in a California boatyard. Normally, a boat of this type would fetch a price of about $1 million but the damage to the craft was so severe that he was able to take ownership for $5,000. As he began rebuilding the craft over the next four years, he became interested in the history of this new project, taking out ads in sailing magazines to find anyone who might know something of Rowdy’s past. Hanny Duell, daughter of Rowdy’s principal owner, Holland Duell, contacted him and supplied most of the backstory about her father’s yacht. She also sent a copy of “The History of the 306th Field Artillery” written by Holland Duell. Information Madsen gained from this book and numerous other sources takes up about 1/3 of the story and recounts Duell’s military service during the First World War. After reading this history, Madsen became intrigued by the relationship between Rowdy and Duell. Madsen began researching the family in old news stories and court records to create this book. While the elements of the book may seem disjointed, they actually mesh quite well into a cohesive story. Duell buys the boat in 1916 and shortly thereafter, went to war, thus allowing the story to follow him through his military service. Afterwards, the boat becomes central to his life as it becomes a refuge during his many tumults of the 20s and 30s. The author has done an excellent job retelling the whole story of Duell and Rowdy, seemingly a love story of a man for the freedom he found when under sail. Unfortunately, sometimes the family story of the Duells becomes too detailed and the names and marriages becomes tedious. As in real life, Rowdy herself rescues the book from this brief ennui as her own story continues. At the present time, Rowdy is sailing from a marina in Monaco, still winning races despite her nearly 100 years slicing through the waves.
ROWDY is an engrossing story of a unique racing yacht and the people who sailed her. One can almost feel the salt spray as the sails grow taut and the bow heads for deep water.