Midwest book review for Rowdy

Reviewed by D. Donovan

Completed on: 01/014/2015

The title Rowdy perhaps implies a story of mayhem and parties – and in a strange way, you wouldn’t be far off identifying this saga as a spirited account, even though ‘Rowdy‘ does not identify a state of mind, but is the name of a sailboat author Christopher Madsen discovered in 1998.

At that point Rowdy was certainly not living up to her name: derelict, leaky, and neglected, the yacht and her former owner were largely a mystery – and, as author Christopher Madsen began rebuilding his new acquisition, so he became intrigued by her past and became determined to not just rebuild her, but also to solve all of her mysteries. The surprising course of this investigation traversed East and West coasts, involved exhaustive research, and ultimately drew the author as much into researching Duell and nautical history as into the physical act of restoring an old, once-grand boat. In fact, over sixteen years went into the making this story; and so Rowdy is not a quick nautical adventure so much as an in-depth and personal investigation, made all the more gripping by the fact that the story is completely true, historically significant and meticulous footnoted throughout.

The book quickly transitions from Christopher’s restoration of the yacht and whisks the reader back in time to the 1920’s era of Hemmingway and Gatsby. It is in this setting that the dynamic story of the original owner, Holland Sackett Duell, seems to magically unfold and blossom back to life. The reader will share in the journeys and struggles of Holland Duell, decorated World War I major, celebrated New York state senator, powerful patent attorney, and highly accomplished sailor, as he is immersed in the Great War, politics at the highest level, the birth of Hollywood, fortunes and mansions, love and romance, and scandalous affairs. It is this rich and diverse content makes Rowdy a strong recommendation for sailors and non-sailors alike.

It should be noted that color and vintage, historical black and white photos and illustrations are liberally peppered throughout: something missing in many a nautical tale, and a feature which lends a visual touch to the story line.

Rowdy offers many unusual facets that set it apart from other nautical titles. Of course there is the nautical theme:

To be honest, when I arrived at the marina and saw Rowdy, my first impression of her was so decidedly mixed that I would equate it to seeing a beautiful purebred dog that had been beaten, abused, neglected, and left to die in a pitiful state….while I know I glanced over all the flaws, my gaze was held by the clean design of her flush deck, with no built-up cabin, and her long, graceful sweeping shear. I could picture how easily and quickly her bow, with its immensely long overhang, must have sliced through the water in her heyday. Looking at her sleek yet sad appearance, I saw nothing but potential and the obvious signature of her master designer, Captain Nat Herreshoff.”

A central theme which develops and steadily builds towards a given outcome at the end of the book centers on a secret love affair conceived on the 1918 battlefields of France:

In my absence, your family life would survive on its own, or it would fail on its own, and it’s probably best to let that course play out. I would still like to be a familiar presence, and we can certainly continue to share the happiness and friendship that we have brought to each other in that capacity. But at the same time, I think I would curl up and die and blow away like dust if I were denied one ounce of the intimacy and closeness that we shared last night. With that, the basic foundation of their clandestine relationship had been laid.”

Another faceted inclusion in the book, Holland Duell’s war journal, provides vivid, personalized descriptions of his experiences in the Great War, and is represented to be the most detailed accounting ever written on the 306th Field Artillery, 77th Division:

“The French citizens laughed and cried hysterically as they embraced their liberators. The French and American flags were hoisted, and a makeshift band played “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “La Marseillaise.” To see those French men who, but a blink of the eye ago with all their worldly possessions upon their back, had impressed us as being the most pitiful, destitute, beaten-down souls in existence—to see them now infused with craziness and hilarity, running about madly, throwing their hats in the air and joyously shouting, “Fini la Guerre!” and “Vivent les Americains!” and “Vive l’Amerique!” was a sight to behold. Fini la Guerre indeed! So it was true. The war was finally over.”


But finally – and perhaps, most importantly – Rowdy is a history journal of a boat, its owner, and the process of tracking down a multifaceted story of her life and times: a process that immersed the author not only in the original owner’s remarkable story; but also afforded him the most wonderful and special opportunity to meet and become friends with many of Holland Duell’s descendants.

And so readers anticipating a singular story of a boat’s restoration, or a yachting adventure, or even a new owner’s discoveries about his impulsive purchase will find so much more here. The historical research and vintage history is simply extraordinary, making Rowdy an exceptional standout presentation that neatly moves far above and beyond the multitudes of books competing for similar shelf space.




Rowdy By: Christopher Madsen Publisher: CPM Publishing Publication Date: August 2015 ISBN: 978‐0‐9960260‐0‐0 Reviewed by: Charline Ratcliff Date: April 5, 2015

When I was first asked if I would be interested in reviewing Rowdy, a non-fictional story about the renovation of a 1916 yacht, I don’t think I realized what I was getting myself into. I do love books featuring historical ‘look‐backs’ which is why I had readily agreed to read this book. However, upon its arrival, I was understandably stunned by the book’s massiveness, and the words ”it’s like a museum in a box” flitted through my head. (Rowdy was so large that it arrived in a box – hence the reference).

Viewing this book for the first time, I imagine I felt a teeny tiny sense of the same ”what have I gotten myself into” that Christopher Madsen, the book’s author and Rowdy’s renovator, undoubtedly felt upon realizing he now had ownership of this rather derelict 1916 yacht – a sailing vessel (that unbeknownst to him then) had an amazing story to share.

Rowdy (the book) is divided into several accountings – and each one is engrossingly interesting. To say that I struggled to set this book down is an understatement. So, after Madsen’s initial ‘about me’ (and his newest project) introduction, the reader will then be privy to his first phone call with Harriet Anne Duell. Harriet, who prefers to be called Hanny, is the last living child of Holland Duell – Rowdy’s original owner. Almost two years after that initial phone call, Hanny decided to pay a visit to the now renovated yacht that she hasn’t set foot on in 83 years. “Wow” is also an understatement.

After meeting Madsen in person, and after scampering around the yacht as if she were once again 10, Hanny gifts Madsen with the ‘Pandora’s Box’ (or the holy grail as the case may be) of previously unknown‐to‐him information from Rowdy’s original owner – Holland’s writings during World War One (which he later published as The History of the 306th Field Artillery). This is where the next section of Rowdy begins, and is labeled “The Journal.”

“The Journal” allows the reader to experience a first-hand accounting of the events that transpired from May 11, 1917 through May 10, 1919. Madsen also did a remarkable job of searching out and supplementing additional facts for these two years; making this section read as if it was Holland’s personal diary/journal. It was certainly an eye‐opening and riveting look at a small time period within World War I; complete with drawings, diagrams, photographs and other remembrances from these years.

After the reader completes “The Journal” section, he/she will then learn about the Duell’s family history, including career choices (political and/or otherwise). Looking back almost one hundred years through time, I must say that familial ‘drama’ existed even then –it just seems we were a bit more ‘refined’ in how we dealt with it then… I really don’t want to provide any further information about this book – I don’t want to take anything away from the reader’s journey of discovery.

Rowdy is certainly a wonderful read. It’s interesting, well‐written and provides a consistent stream of historical facts.

Quill Says: If you’re a lover of reading anything nautical and/or historical then Rowdy will simply suck you in – not spitting you back out until you reach its conclusion.

ForeWord Reviews, by Matt Sutherland 5/5/2015

Christopher Madsen’s sixteen-year odyssey began with the $5000 purchase of a fifty-nine-foot wooden yacht that barely floated and looked a complete wreck. But he knew the Rowdy was yachting royalty: built in 1916 for the New York Yacht Club by Captain Nat Herreshoff, the greatest sailboat designer of all time. During the restoration, Madsen immersed himself in researching the yacht’s original owner, and what emerged is an intriguing true story of love, war, politics, Hollywood, and wealth at its highest level.


Rowdy, by Christopher Madsen

Good Old Boat, Review by Wayne Gagnon, November 29, 2015

In the summer of 1998, Christopher Madsen came across Rowdy, a 59-foot Nathanael Herreshoff-designed sloop, in an Oxnard, California, boatyard. He bought her for $5,000, and thus began what would become a 16-year project/odyssey. The vessel was in rough shape, which explains the low asking price, but Madsen was determined to bring her back to her full glory. In the process, he found that the original owner was a man named Holland Duell. He tracked down Duell’s 92-year-old daughter, Harriet “Hanny” Duell, and developed a relationship with her and her family that brought more meaning to the project than he ever imagined possible. This book is the story of that journey.

Rowdy (the book) is not much of a do-it-yourself boat-restoration story. In fact there’s very little on that. It’s rather a history lesson on the golden age of yacht racing on the East Coast; Rowdy (the boat), in particular; and the people who owned her for almost a century. Most of the book is the story of the Duell family and their ownership of Rowdy, from launching in 1916 until they sold her in 1941. The remainder follows the boat’s history up until the present day, through various owners from the East Coast to the Great Lakes, through the Panama Canal, to California where Madsen found her rotting away. Also included are excerpts from log books, journals, newspaper clippings, some beautiful water color paintings, and several black and white and color photos of the boat and many of her trophies and owners.

Rowdy comes with a cover that has the feel of worn leather and gold leaf stamping that makes it a beautiful coffee table book and would be worthy to grace any personal or yacht club library. Many readers may balk at spending $55.00 for a book like this, but if you have an interest in the early history of yacht racing on the East Coast, the people involved, and Herreshoff designs, Rowdy would be worth a serious look.

 Eric Hoffer Book Award, May 18, 2016

Upon first sight of the beautiful, old-fashioned cover, one may get the sense that Rowdy was a labor of love, which the introduction confirms. Rowdy is the meticulously researched story of an antique boat and the people associated with it. Madsen’s narration follows these people wherever their stories led them, including the Argonne battlefield and early Hollywood. Rowdy recreates the world of a century ago, helped by many old photos, and those interested in historical reading are likely to find this work a fascinating glimpse into the past.

 Soundings Boating Books Review, Review of Rowdy by Rich Armstrong, August 20, 2015

Many sailors know well the legend of Rowdy, a 65-foot New York 40 launched in 1916.

Built of pine planking on white oak frames, she was designed by Nathanael Herreshoff to sail fast and win races, which she did. Fast forward to 1998, When Christopher Madsen purchased the neglected sailboat with plans for an ambitious restoration. Rowdy (CPM Publishing, $55, rowdystory.com) is Madsen’s account of meticulously researching the yacht’s history, which prominently features ownership by Holland Duell, a decorated soldier turned patent attorney, state senator, Hollywood filmmaker and world-class sailor. Madsen spoke with scores of Duell’s family members and associates, and poured over personal and legal documents during 16 years of research for the book, which reads like an epic historical yarn.

Readers’ Favorite book review for Rowdy


Reviewed by Maria Beltran

Completed on: 01/08/2015

Review Rating: 5 stars!


Christopher Madsen did not imagine that he would write a book but circumstances find him as the new owner of a sailboat that has seen glorious days and this will change his life in a way that he never imagined. Rowdy is the story of a sailboat juxtaposed with that of its original owner, Colonel Holland Sackett Duell, who fought in World War I as a major with the 306th Field Artillery, 77th Division, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, the Croix de Guerre, and the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in combat.

A distinguished personality, Colonel Holland Sackett Duell married Mabel Halliwell, daughter to one of the richest men in New York. The opulent lifestyle they enjoyed in their 20,000 square foot mansion, Ardenwold, exploded in 1924 when it was revealed that for the past six years a secret love affair had been thriving between Holland and Mabel’s first cousin Emilie Brown. A week after his divorce Holland and Emilie married, and remained deeply in love until his death in 1942. A distinguished sailor, Holland Sackett Duell owned Rowdy for more than two decades. This is their story.

Rowdy by Christopher Madsen is a creative non-fiction story that started with the author acquiring a sailboat of the same name, originally owned by American lawyer, US Army officer and New York politician Holland Sackett Duell. This acquisition ignited a quest to find out everything about the 1916 NYYC yacht Rowdy and its previous owner. Well researched and very informative, this book is a work that spanned many years and it shows in the final product. Both subjects certainly have compelling stories to tell and it is interesting to note that in the author’s process of rehabilitating Rowdy, Holland Sackett Duell seems to come back to life through this book as well. Thanks go to the author and the cooperation of Duell’s numerous relatives, especially his 93-year-old daughter Hanny, who, at the time of the book’s writing, was his only surviving child. This is a gem of a book!

Indie Reader

Title: ROWDY indie Author: Christopher Madsen Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, History Reviewer: Angela O’Callaghan March 30, 2015 Rating: 4.5 stars


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 one third 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 goes 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 twenties and thirties. 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 become 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 one hundred 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.



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Rowdy Christopher Madsen Unpublished – Galley (2015) ISBN 9780996026000 Reviewed By Michel Violante for Reader Views (03/15)

My wife received “Rowdy” by Christopher Madsen for review as a fan of memoirs and World War I and WWII, but being an Adriatic Sea creature from the ports of Bari-Italy myself, I snatched it for myself, and I am glad I did. The book begins with Madsen’s own story and the beginning of his relationship with the sea, which was seeded by his own father. After the loss of his wife, it is that relationship and love for sailing that helped him through his grief and to start a new life within the world of sailing. One day he receives a phone call from a boat restorer and seller, and that is when he discovers “Rowdy.” It is at this point in the book that the reader will sail through time into history through the life of this exceptional boat’s first owner. Christopher Madsen’s research will not only unravel a personal account of World War I through Holland Duell’s journal, it will also enrich his own life through a priceless sea jewel and its roots as he meets its long lost family.

Madsen’s research is impeccable. I can’t imagine the amount of time invested in restoring the boat and uncovering its story. He was not only successful in both goals he had set for himself, he went even further by creating this beautiful collection of journals, pictures and his own life accounts. This well written book will captivate the reader to travel within its pages and pictures into the second decade of the 1900’s, through time, and all the way to the re-birth of “Rowdy.”  This book is not just about the boat. These pages are also homage of Madsen’s love for sailing and his relationship with the sea.

If you haven’t guessed it yet, I truly enjoyed “Rowdy” by Christopher Madsen and recommend it as a five-star read for history and sailing lovers alike. It is a wonderful gift for anyone’s book collection and a wonderful couch traveling adventure to come back to on a relaxing weekend afternoon!

San Francisco Book Festival, July 19, 2015

ROWDY, by Christopher Madsen

Brimming with passion, definitively researched, and amazingly readable, Christopher Madsen’s “Rowdy” is a book that will take the reader on a remarkable journey through history.

“Rowdy” is the name of a wooden yacht that Madsen purchased for $5000, a steep discount off its usually million-dollar price. The reason for the steep break was the yacht’s condition – it barely floated, its bilge pumps working overtime just to keep it afloat, and it needed a lot of time-consuming and expensive restorative work.

But to Madsen, an avid sailor with a keen eye for history, the boat represented everything he’d ever desired in a sea-going craft. He soon realized that “Rowdy” was built by the greatest sailboat designer of the early 20th century, and he later discovered that the yacht’s original owner, Holland Duell, had an even more remarkable story. The Duell family’s interests spanned politics, the early days of Hollywood, and a tabloid-worthy scandal, all set against a background of extreme wealth and class intrigue in the early 20th century.

Madsen immersed himself into finding out more details about Holland Duell, the yacht owner. Using a long-ago book about WWI given to him by the elderly surviving child of Holland Duell, he reconstructed what life must have been like for the young solider during the Great War, taking some narrative liberties to construct a pseudo-diary of the times as told by Duell. It’s a fascinating glimpse of the conflict, and features some harrowing tales of combat.

Even more readable is the story of Charles Duell, the youngest brother of the yacht’s owner. One of the early players in Hollywood, he fell in love with a young actress that soon became one of the screen’s most captivating heroines. Lillian Gish had a magnetic personality and fresh-faced innocence, and Duell soon fell under her spell.

Since he was married, the love affair gradually compromised their ability to work together. This led to Gish walking out on her contract when the relationship soured, causing Duell’s own movie-making career to crash and burn. It was later to evolve into a high-profile lawsuit.

These dramatic stories will seduce anyone with a love for the Gilded Age adventures of the post-World War I era. Far from the tale of a boat – although that passion is omnipresent in the book’s final chapter – the story of “Rowdy” will entrance anyone who wants to take a trip through time to one of the most remarkable periods in U.S. history. For fans of sailing and history, the winds will be at your back as you devour this remarkable story.

New York Book Festival, September 3, 2015

ROWDY, by Christopher Madsen

A man. A boat. A remarkable story. Those are the elements of “Rowdy,” an adventure in DIY restoration and a history lesson rolled up into one book.

Author Christopher Madsen, a sailing aficionado, bought a decrepit wooden yacht named “Rowdy.” He recognized the value in the boat, which usually sells for millions of dollars, but was purchased for a mere $5000 by him because of its condition. He knew he was in for a long restoration, but the challenge of bringing an amazing piece of craftsmanship back to life intrigued him.

As he became immersed in the project, Madsen became something of a history scholar when he realized the story behind the boat’s original owner. Holland Duell and his family were giants in politics and later Hollywood, and Madsen began to explore their story. He eventually found the elderly surviving child of Holland Duell, which further fueled his interest.

The rest of “Rowdy” is a pieced-together and fictionalized tale of what life was like for the extremely wealthy in the early 20th Century. We travel through World War I and into the early days of Hollywood, where the youngest brother of Holland Duell financed some of the earliest motion pictures and became embroiled in a scandal with actress Lillian Gish, then America’s sweetheart. This tale of love, betrayal and scandal is as juicy as any of today’s tabloid fodder, and brings new perspective on just how the movie industry was created at its dawn.

The book concludes with the triumphant return of the restored “Rowdy,” which symbolizes the long journey of the Duell family and Madsen’s persistence. The reader will feel like they’ve taken this journey with Madsen, who has a historian’s love for detail combined with a passion for sailing’s adventure. Combined, they result in a fine book that will be a proud addition to the collection of anyone with an appreciation for context in all things.