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Colin Archer (22 July 1832 – 8 February 1921) was a Norwegian naval architect and shipbuilder from Larvik, Norway. He was known for building safe and durable ships including the Fram used in both Fridtjof Nansen's and Roald Amundsen's polar expeditions.[1][2]

Colin Archer
Portrett av Colin Archer.jpg
Portrait of Colin Archer, 1893 or earlier
Born Colin Archer
(1832-07-22)22 July 1832
Larvik, Norway
Died 8 February 1921(1921-02-08) (aged 88)
Larvik, Norway
Occupation naval architect and shipbuilder
Spouse(s) Karen Sophie Wiborg (1838-1908)
Children 5

Order of St. Olav -1886

Fram-medaljen - 1896


Personal lifeEdit

Colin Archer was born at Tollerodden in Larvik, Norway. He was the second youngest of thirteen sibling born to parents who had immigrated to Norway from Scotland in 1825. Prior to his career as a naval architect in Norway, he spent time in Queensland, Australia, with several of his brothers, including Thomas Archer. While there he became a farmer and administrator. He also sailed with cargo up the Fitzroy River, Queensland. [3]

In 1861, Archer returned home to Larvik and undertook the study of practical and theoretical shipbuilding. [4].

Archer was married in 1869 to Karen Sophie Wiborg (1838-1908) with whom he had five children. The family resided at Lilleodden (Kirkestredet 11) in Larvik.

Model of RS 1 Colin Archer in the Fram Museum, Oslo, Norway


Archer designed most of his vessels in the working room of their residence. [5][6]

RS 1 COLIN ARCHER, still sailing, here in 1914.

Before he started building sailing boats, he studied Fredrik Henrik af Chapman and especially his displacement curve. He also studied John Scott Russell's theories. His first boats were the designed with Chapmans displacement parabola curve, but with Scott Russell's positioning of the midship section; well aft of amidships and with sharp bow waterlines. This revolutionised the Norwegian double ended pilot boats.

Archer started with pleasure crafts that he advertised after their completion. After a few years, he started getting orders and then put his mind to the pilot boats. Many pilots were lost every year because of capsizing.

In 1871 his first pilot boats were launched, 33 feet long and clinker built. With a much sharper bow and deeper draught, they soon became known for seaworthiness and speed.

The next and biggest improvement came in 1882, when he introduced ballast keel and carvel building, as he already had used on his yachts for several years. The pilot in question was sceptical, but the 36 foot boat proved to be to be outstanding in its performance, and totaly safe against capsizing.

RS 6, identical to RS1 COLIN ARCHER

In 1886 his pilot boats totally outclassed all others in a pilot race with 1,2,3,4,6 and 7th place of 12 participants. Thereafter he was awarded Knight of the Order of St. Olav.

In 1892 several of his pilot boats rescued many fishing boats in a severe off shore gale on the SE coast. After a design competition, he received an order to design a rescue boat for the Norwegian Society for Sea Rescue (Norsk Selskab til Skibbrudnes Redning). This boat on 47 feet [7] proved so seaworthy that 33 were built. The orders were spread to several yards, all in Risør area from 1909, to Archer's design, the last one in 1924. Next generation boats with engine did not come until 1932 and a dozen of Archer's design sailed without an engine until 1940. With engine insatlled, they served until 1960. Thus Archer and his shipyard became known for building durable and safe ships.

Archer closed his business in 1909, 78 years old.

Archer's double ended pilot boats were quite different from other Norwegian boats of the time as they were of the old Cod's Head-Mackerel Tail-type, shallow, blunt and beamy with poor windward abilities. Archer's boats, deep and with heavy ballast keels and sharp bow, had a seaworthiness no one believed could have been possible. Archer's type double enders therefore became referred to as a Colin Archer or Colin Archer-type no matter who designed or built them. Boats are still (2017) being built and labelled Colin Archer-type. Archer built about 120 double enders, but thousands, in all materials, have been built world wide.

The most notable single ship built by Colin Archer was the Fram, which participated in Fridtjof Nansen's expeditions to the North Pole and, later, in Roald Amundsen's historic first expedition to the South Pole. Fram is now preserved in the Fram Museum on Bygdøy, Oslo, Norway. [8][9]

Colin Archer built about 200 boats and ships. 120 of them had ballast keels. His designs were also built at other yards, about 50 in his living time.

Today, 25 of his boats are still sailing pluss about 10 of those built at other yards in his time.


NANNA built 1898 by Colin Archer is typical for his yachts.

Archer built about 60 yachts, half being double enders and the other half with counter sterns. Many of both double enders and the counter stern yachts, have plum stem (almost vertical, straight stem). All yachts have more undercut forefoot than the workboats, especially after 1897 and then with the known Colin Archer curved stem profile.

Beam is 22-30% of length over deck. (As opposed to 33-36% for the pilot boats and the rescue boats).

All yachts, even the larger ones at 60 feet, except one (Asgard), and all pilot boats, are cutter rigged (one mast) . The yachts have their main boom extending the stern with several feet which together with a realtively tall mast, gives very good performance on all points of sailing. (The pilot boats' boom normally extends the sternpost by one foot. Only the rescue boats and a few fishing boats, are ketch rigged (two masts)). Sail area for the yachts are in the range 100-125% of waterline length squared, pilot boats 85-90% and the rescue boats 70%.

On almost all boats, Archer spaced of grown pine frames 2 feet c-c with a thin steam bent oak rib in between. This, together with thin, canvassed decks, made the yachts fairly light. (The rescue boats have heavy ceiling (planking inside the frames) that made them strong and unsinkable, but heavier.)

The yachts have large ballast keels and normally no inside ballast, except a little for trim. (Pilot and rescue boats have equal keel weight and ballast weight.)

Archer's Wave Form TheoryEdit

Archer spent much time calculating how an efficient hull should be designed. He started with Chapmans displacement parabola curve, but with Scott Russell's positioning of the midship section; well aft of amidships and thus with sharp bow waterlines.

In 1876 he swapped Chapman's parabola for the displacement curce, with Scott Russell's wave curves; the sine curve forward and the trochoid curve aft. This sounded very logic and gave designers more freedom in shaping the hull than Scott Russell's theory. Many used his theory, either directly or as a guide.

We know now that the theory is not correct at all, but it did away with the old Cod's Head-Mackerel Tail-type. However, unless a well undercut forefoot, the bow line became very sharp with a tendency to make the boats "picthy" and wet. The theory did not change Colin Archer's early lines as they were already sharp in the bow; it more confirmed them. With more undercut forefoot and the displacemnt curve extending the designed waterline, the lines became fuller and Archer's boats became the seaworthy boats he is known for.

Even to this day, people consult his work when designing new boats.

Bust of Colin Archer in Larvik, Norway


  • Knight of the Order of St. Olav -1886
  • Commander of Order of St. Olav -1896
  • Fram-medaljen - 1896


Archer's designs were adapted to pleasure sailing in the twentieth century. World wide, thousands of boats are based on Archer's designs.

The rescue boat lines has been the most popular design to copy or modify. Thus the Archer-type outside Norway, has a lot more beam and smaller rig than Archer's acual yachts.

In 1904, he built a boat for the writer Robert Erskine Childers named the Asgard.[10][11]

In 1928, William Atkin scaled down Archer's 47-foot (14 m) Regis Voyager, a pilot boat, to make the 32-foot (9.8 m) Eric and in 1934 the 38-foot (12 m) Ingrid.

The Eric went on to become very influential in ocean sailing, with boats such as Vito Dumas's Lehg II and Robin Knox-Johnston's Suhaili making notable circumnavigations, the latter becoming the first boat to be sailed single-handed and non-stop around the world in the 1968 Golden Globe Race. Suhaili was the only of the nine starting boats to complete the race.

Another Colin Archer type boat to become very famous in the 1968 Golden Globe Race, was the French sailor and author Bernard Moitessier in his custom-built 39 foot steel ketch, Joshua, when he instead of passing the finishing line, continued around the world to Tahiti, thus sailing 1,5 times around the globe, non-stop, single handed.

In the 1970s, the design was adapted to glass-reinforced plastic by William Crealock, and became the Westsail 32; this famous cruising boat has, in turn, inspired many imitations, so that the "Archer double-ender" style of boat continues to be popular to the present day.[12][13]

The Argentinian naval architect Manuel M. Campos based his designs on Archer/Atkin and built Vito Dumas's Lehg II in 1934 in Argentina. Other of Campos designs have less draught that the typical Archer-type.

Tahiti ketch is clearly derived from the Archer-type. Tahiti ketch are characterised by a straight sternpost, less draught and their small rig. The straight sternpost and hull shape make them easier to build.


  • The Colin Archer Memorial Race is a biennial race starting in Lauwersoog, the Netherlands, and finishing near Larvik, in Norway. The distance covered is about 365 nautical miles (676 km); depending upon weather and the type of ship, the sailing time generally is three, four, or five days.[16]
Lilleodden (Kirkestredet 11) in Larvik

Selected worksEdit

  • Colin Archer. On the wave principle, applied to the longitudinal disposition on immersed volume (The Institution of Naval Architects, 13 April 1878)


  1. ^ Stein Ove Erikstad. "Colin Archer". Store norske leksikon. Retrieved May 1, 2017. 
  2. ^ Jack Vogelaar (1996). "The story of Colin Archer". Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved May 1, 2017. 
  3. ^ "Tollerodden". Retrieved May 1, 2017. 
  4. ^ "Colin Archer". 1865 Census Larvik prestegjeld. Retrieved May 1, 2017. 
  5. ^ "Lilleodden (Larvik)". Retrieved May 1, 2017. 
  6. ^ Geir Tandberg Steigan. "Larvik:Kirkestredet 11". Retrieved May 1, 2017. 
  7. ^ "RS 1 Colin Archer". Norsk Selskab til Skibbrudnes Redning. Retrieved May 1, 2017. 
  8. ^ "Colin Archer". Retrieved May 1, 2017. 
  9. ^ Tor Borch Sannes. "Colin Archer, Skipskonstruktør, Verftseier". Norsk biografisk leksikon. Retrieved May 1, 2017. 
  10. ^ "Asgard". National Museum of Ireland. Retrieved May 1, 2017. 
  11. ^ "Conservation of the Asgard". National Museum of Ireland. Retrieved May 1, 2017. 
  12. ^ "Eric, Colin Archer Type Double-Ended Ketch by William Atkin". Atkin & Company. Retrieved May 1, 2017. 
  13. ^ "Ingrid, 37' 6" Colin Archer Type Double-Ended Ketch By William Atkin". Atkin & Company. Retrieved May 1, 2017. 
  14. ^ "RS 1 «Colin Archer» (1893)". Retrieved May 1, 2017. 
  15. ^ "Colin Archer Peninsula". Latitude/Canada. Retrieved May 1, 2017. 
  16. ^ "Colin Archer Memorial Race". Waypoint Amsterdam. Retrieved May 1, 2017. 

Other sourcesEdit

Related readingEdit

  • Foss, Bjørn (2002) Fra seil til vannjet (Norsk Maritimt Forlag: Oslo) ISBN 82-90319-34-7
  • Leather, John (1979) Colin Archer and the Seaworthy Double-Ender( International Marine Publishing Company) ISBN 0-87742-086-6
  • McDonald, Lorna (1997) Magic ships: life story of Colin Archer, 1832–1921, and Sailing for pleasure ( Central Queensland University Press) ISBN 1-875998-26-8
  • Sannes, Tor Bork (1979) Colin Archer: Skøytene og lystbatene (Norsk Maritimt Forlag: Oslo) ISBN 978-8290319019
  • Stephens, William P. (1981) Traditions & memories of American yachting (International Marine Publishing Company) ISBN 0-87742-132-3

External linksEdit