Gordon Baker’s Hydrofoil Sailboat MONITOR

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Gordon Baker’s Hydrofoil Sailboat MONITOR
(Last Update 11 Nov 02)
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Go to Hanno Smit’s MONITOR Page


[5 Mar 02] I found the article about Gordon Baker quite interesting, especially since I grew up in the same part of Wisconsin. My curiosity was piqued especially because Gordon’s brother (I think?), Marlin, was a significant source of the research behind a product he developed (and co-patented) while working with my grandfather, Kenneth Parker; the Parker 51 pen. I wonder if you may be able to provide some clues to help me uncover more information about Marlin. — Geoffrey Parker (gspkr@goeaston.net)

Response…[5 Mar 02] Thanks for your most interesting inquiry. Bob Johnston was our “expert” on Gordon Baker, but unfortunately he is deceased. I will forward your email to a few of IHS’s “old timers” in case someone may have some information to you.  The only other thing I can think of is that Gordon Baker’s sailboat MONITOR is at the Mariners Museum in Newport News VA. They have an archive and research library there, but I don’t know what if anything they might have about the Baker company and family. Website is www.mariner.org. Barney C. Black (Please reply via the BBS)

[3 Aug 01, updated 1 Sep 01] Gordon Baker’s MONITOR is currently on display in the Small Craft Collection at the Mariners’ Museum, 100 Museum Drive, Newport News, Virginia 23606-3759; phone: 757-596-2222; website: www.mariner.org. Next to the MONITOR is SEA LEGS, an experimental hydrofoil craft built by Gibbs & Cox. According to the descriptive plaque associated with the exhibit, the MONITOR hull is of “mahogany glued together, with hollow, stainless steel hydrofoils, two forward, and two aft. The aft foil is used for steering as well as for lift. Length Overall is 26 ft; Beam is 5 feet (less foils) or 21.5 feet including foils.” The craft was built circa 1955 by the Baker Manufacturing Company and was tested in Lake Mendota Wisconsin. With the permission of the museum, I took several photos of the craft, and I have posted some of them below. To see larger version of a particular photo, click on its caption. The museum provided an additional photo to show the stern foil, which is inaccessible for photographing from within the visitor barriers. These photos must not be copied or re-used anywhere beyond this website, whether for commercial or non-profit purposes, without the museum’s permission (send email with details of the proposed use to licensing@mariner.org). When the Mariners’ Museum permits use of these pictures, the IHS and I concur in such use without fee. I would however, appreciate being notified of such use and credit given to me and IHS. — Barney C. Black (Please reply via the BBS)

Port Forward Foil in Retracted Position

Port Forward Foil in Retracted Position

Closer View of the Port Forward Foil

Closer View of the Port Forward Foil

External Detail of the Retraction Mechanism

External Detail of the Retraction Mechanism, Port Forward Foil

Stern Foil, View From Aft (Photo by Gregg L. Vicek, Mariners Museum)

[5 Dec 98] I have just now received a letter from Mr. Neil Lien, who was the engineer working with Gordon Baker. I am now starting a correspondence with him, let’s see what more information this will yield. Thought I should let you know. — Hanno B. Smits MSc. Nav. Arch.; De dam 1; 3956 KA Leersum; The Netherlands; +-31 (343) 451041; — Hanno Smits (hbsmits@worldonline.nl)

Response…[7 Dec 98] To Hanno Smits: Neil Lein is a hard name to forget since it spells the same forward or backward. Actually I have been trying to locate Neil since last spring when interest in the MONITOR came to the attention of IHS. Neil was Gordon Baker’s project Engineer on the MONITOR’s design, construction, and trials of the sailboat. I cannot help but believe that we are going to learn more about the MONITOR from Neil than any other source. Perhaps we can get Neil to do an article for IHS. — Bob Johnston

[5 Jan 98] I am interested in information on Gordon Baker‘s sailing hydrofoil MONITOR. My page http://home-1.worldonline.nl/~hbsmits/monitor1.htm, might interest you. — ir. Hanno Smits (hbsmits@worldonline.nl)

Responses…[29 Mar 98] MONITOR currently resides in Newport News VA, exhibited in the climate controlled “Small Boat Exhibits” outbuilding which is open to the public along with the rest of Mariner’s Museum’s grand collection. The boat, as far as I can tell, is complete. This vessel is about 20-25 feet in length, six foot beam. The hull looks like a modified scow with near plumb sides. Her two main foils are retracted at the sides, but the sailing rig appears to be incomplete. The foils are of a ladder type construction with relatively wide chord. There are two pictures of her under sail, “flying”, and the photo credits are to the US Navy. The land line number for the Mariner’s Museum is 757-596-2222 The library/archive number is 757-591-7782. I would not be surprised if they also have a website. -D Sprock ( DSprock@aol.com)


[6 Jan 98]The hydrofoil sailboat MONITOR was built on my watch in the Office of Naval Research (ONR). It was designed by Gordon Baker and built by the Baker Manufacturing Company of Evansville, Wisconsin. The US Navy shared part of the cost of the construction studying hydrofoil ladder foils fabrication. One of my biggest thrills in hydrofoiling was to fly in the MONITOR at 40 knots. Any information on where MONITOR or its remains may be could only be obtained from the Company if they are still in existence. Somewhere in my files is considerable data on MONITOR as built and tested. Where the files may be is another issue. Maybe John Meyer has some info from his work at the David Taylor R&D Center. I can add the following:

  • My time on MONITOR was limited to two half days and again that was 50 years ago. Gordon and I had two great days sailing her. We had 10 to 20 knot winds which let us take the boat off without assistance. In that breeze MONITOR sailed most beautifully. We sailed in all wind directions and the boat handled each wind direction. We could tack, gybe, and reach. As I remember the boat pointed higher than I was used to on conventional sailboats. The control system functioned as planned in all these conditions letting us handle the lake waves, the wakes of other boats, and inland lake gusts. I had sailed Baker’s other V-foil boats in which we could not gybe without having to take off again and had pitch poled. The MONITOR design had corrected both of these situations. The after foil was basically controlled by the load on the aft stay. On a reach the after foil angle would go negative to prevent pitching.
  • The biplane design was that of a high aspect ratio, aluminum, tapered wing. Baker built one but the expense was high and he therefore went to cloth sails. I would have like to have sailed MONITOR with the bi-plane sails. The bi-plane sails were to provide maximum speed. The project was aimed at commercial sales and the bi-planes were too expensive to be salable. I don’t remember the foil thickness nor section but it was a NACA section and I think about 18% thickness ratio.
  • MONITOR had a mechanical control system which used the load on the stays as the primary input. The port and starboard, forward, ladder foils could be controlled differentially by this system. The helm had an input to the control system which could also provide for differential control.

Bob Johnston


[11 Jan 98] The following is an extract from a book that I wrote some years ago about hydrofoils. From “Ships That Fly” : MONITOR — All of Gordon Baker’s mechanical genius was not expended on military hydrofoil applications. About 1950 he was interested in using hydrofoils for sailing purposes, having built a three V-foil cat boat with an airplane foil configuration (two foils forward and one aft). This craft attained remarkable speeds while beating into the wind reaching 20 knots. Speed ratios of over 1.5 times the real wind velocity were recorded. However, it had a tendency to “pitch pole” when running before the wind and would go into “irons” when coming about. These undesirable characteristics led Baker, with US Navy backing, to develop the MONITOR, a sloop with two ladder foils forward and a submerged foil aft. The forces of all the stays were fed into a mechanical computer. Based on these inputs, the computer determined and then set, through a linkage system, the appropriate angle of attack on the aft foil for the wind in which the boat was sailing. This solved the problem of pitch-polling and made it possible to come about and stay on the foils. MONITOR first flew in 1955 and a pace boat clocked her at 25 knots. In October of the following year she was paced at 30.4 knots. It was reported that MONITOR attained speed to true wind speed ratios of just over 2.0, and at times unofficial boat speed measurements close to 40 knots were observed. It is interesting to note that the U.S. Navy backing of MONITOR was motivated by its objective to learn more about the foil structural characteristics and construction methods used by Baker. Recommended references: Baker, G.G., “Design of Hydrofoil Boats with Particular Reference to Optimum Conditions for Operating in Waves”, Baker Manufacturing Co., Engineering Report No. 248, July 29, 1960. Also, Alexander, Alan F., et al, “Hydrofoil Sailing”, Juanita Kalerghi, 51 Welbeck Street, London, 1972. — John Meyer (jmeyer@erols.com)


[15 Jan 98] In the early 1960s, I heard about the MONITOR, and telephoned Baker. I talked with him on the phone for almost an hour. He sent me a reprint of a paper about the boat. On the first page, I believe there was a title “Research Reviews”, and the paper was likely 8-16 pages long. I still have that paper somewhere in my files, and will search for it diligently if it is one you do not have. At that period in my life, I was devouring all information I could get on hydrofoils and hydrofoil sailing. Later I designed and built the 31-foot hydrofoil sailing yacht WILLIWAW, completed in 1967, then tested and modified up to 1976. No doubt you have heard of the boat. I asked Baker what the foils were made of, and he told me the foils were hollow stainless steel, welded together. He commented that they were very expensive. I know we discussed various construction details. If you have some unanswered questions about the MONITOR, your specific questions might jog my memory, and I might be able to come up with some answers. After I moved to the San Francisco area in 1963, I met someone familiar with demonstrations of the MONITOR. He said the boat often had to be towed to get it up on the foils. Once flying, it did fine, until the wind dropped too low… That made sense to me, because it was only a monohull (inland lakes scow hull shape), and with substantial heeling, the main crossarm would go into the water and cause considerable drag. My own experience of stainless steel in the presence of seawater is that the metal fatigues remarkably quickly. I doubt that Baker had ss fatigue problems, because I assume most tests were in fresh water. — David A. Keiper (now deceased).


[15 Jan 98] I looked for and found copies of Research Reviews, dated August 1957, entitled “The Flying Sailboat.” The copy I got from Baker has on the cover promotional material about a demonstration at the St. Francis Yacht Club, San Francisco. That copy apparently cruised 30,000 miles with me aboard both NIMBLE #1 and WILLIWAW, and is in poor condition, though a photo or two show up well . Someone later sent me a photocopy of the paper, in which the text is perfect but photos show up badly. The story I heard was that Baker was trying to interest venture capitalists to back the marketing of a 21-foot version for 20,000 US 1963-dollars. In today’s dollars that would be maybe US$90,000. Apparently, all the potential financial backers fled. My interest in multi-element foil units started with Alexander Graham Bell’s 1919 foil boat [ HD-4 Hydrodrome] which exhibited good lift/drag. It was reinforced with photos of Baker’s MONITOR. However, I wanted to develop a seagoing hydrofoil, and I recognized Baker’s foils would fatigue badly at the joints. Thus I went to the truss arrangement. I believe the multi-element foil unit, having short chord lifters, offers the best chance for excellent performance over a very wide speed range. Baker’s MONITOR required 13 knots of wind to fly. It’s top speed was given as 30.4 knots. Perhaps he did better after 1957, or perhaps the speed “stories” have grown with time. Somewhere in my design notes I have written down Baker’s foil chord lengths. I seem to recall Baker told me that MONITOR weighed 800 pounds, which surprised me how light it was. — David A. Keiper

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