Naval Architecture Was This Sailor’s Passion – And His Profession

June 12, 1940

Naval architect Britton Chance, Jr., who earned considerable acclaim for his creative designs for high-speed yachts, was born in Philadelphia. He acquired a strong enthusiasm for maritime pursuits early on in life. This enthusiasm was hardly surprising in light of his family background; his father Britton Chance, Sr., along with being a world-renowned authority on biochemistry and biophysics, won a gold medal in sailing at the 1952 Summer Olympics.

Britton, Jr., though born in Philadelphia, grew up in the borough of Mantoloking, New Jersey. As a resident of that Jersey Shore community, he spent much of his time sailing on the Barnegat Bay (a small arm of the Atlantic Ocean) and dreaming up ways to make boats travel at even greater speeds. “He was a good skipper,” his father said in a 1970 interview with Sports Illustrated magazine, “but basically, he always wanted to know why the boat was going fast or slow and what he could do to make her go faster. He’s been that way from the beginning.”

Britton, Jr., studied physics at the University of Rochester and mathematics at Columbia University, but he never earned a college degree. He instead dropped out of school to more fully pursue his passion for designing boats. After working for naval architects, Chance went into business for himself. He established the Connecticut-based Chance & Company, a naval architecture firm focused on designing a wide range of racing shells (long rowing boats outfitted with oars) and sailboats (several of which competed in the Summer Olympics).

Chance’s major innovations included devising a new type of keel, which is the structural protuberance underneath a vessel and along its central line. His version was a retractable keel for reducing the drag on a boat headed downwind.

America’s Cup Yacht Intrepid US-22, photographed in 2010 in Newport, RI.

Chance approached his overall design work with a formidable blend of expertise and resourcefulness, and this led to him being hired for a high-stakes assignment in one of the brightest of spotlights in the maritime universe. This assignment entailed redesigning the sailing yacht Intrepid. This yacht had won the 1967 America’s Cup sailing race, and it was up to Chance to work on the core design elements of the vessel and thereby further improve her performance in future competitions for the world’s oldest international sporting trophy.

One key result of this redesign effort involved extending Intrepid’s waterline (the length of a vessel that has contact with the water) by increasing the buoyancy in the back of the yacht. Intrepid went on to win the America’s Cup again, this time in 1970.

Chance made other notable contributions to America’s Cup races. He helped design the yacht and 1987 America’s Cup winner Stars & Stripes 87, for example. Chance also taught classes in naval architecture and engineering at such educational institutions as Yale and Wesleyan Universities. In addition, he remained an accomplished sailor throughout most of his life. “It’s nice out there,” Chance once remarked after being asked why he enjoyed ocean sailing so much.

Chance’s greatest passion, however, continued to be designing vessels that could travel fast and efficiently.  “As a designer, Mr. Chance was known for having a mathematician’s precision and a renegade’s willingness to experiment,” reported the New York Times a few days after his death in 2012 at the age of 72.

For more information on Britton Chance, Jr., please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Britton_Chance_Jr. and his 18 October 2012 New York Times obituary at https://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/18/sports/britton-chance-jr-designer-of-americas-cup-boats-dies-at-72.html.

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