Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Building Phil Bolger's Harbinger

Back in 2002, I received a request from a customer for a pretty Catboat. I can't remember the initial wish-list, but when I showed him Phil Bolger's Harbinger design, he was hooked. Harbinger is a Catboat of the New York model, rather than the better known Cape Cod model, and she has exceptionally fine and easy lines.

Fine lines

Easy bilges

Harbinger was designed with rowing as the primary source of auxilliary propulsion, and the New York model was much better suited to this than the more buxom Cape Cod hull-form. Phil had designed the boat to be built plank-on-frame carvel, but as the customer intended to leave the boat out of the water on a trailer, we had to come up with a different method of construction - carvel would open up when dry. The most obvious options were, glued strip-plank, glued lapstrake, and cold molded. I decided to go for strip-diagonal cold-molding, and wrote to Phil to get his permission. He was very happy with my construction plan, but indicated that he was frightened by the labour-intensive nature of the method.

The boat turned out to be very successful in construction and use, and I'd love to build one for my own use. Very briefly, here are the primary stages in construction: -

MDF Molds set-up.

7mm WRC strip Planking.

First of two layers of 3mm Hoop Pine diagonal planking.

Lots of staples needed in hollow sections - used a total of 18 thousand, put in individually and pulled out by hand.

Diagonal planking finished. Hull thickness 13mm (just over 1/2").

Shapely and massively strong hull.

Launching day.

First sail.

Phil Bolger's Harbinger
When I can get around to it, I'll put up a photo gallery showing the construction in more detail.


  1. Nearly as pretty as your Perriwinkle Rossco!


  2. Thanks, Al. Just goes to show how much of a genius Phil Bolger was. Harbinger sailed beautifully, and got to windward faster than a Laser - all the while carrying three men and their gear!


  3. Dear Ross, we dont know eachother. I am a Dutch amateur-boatbuilder (see: This lovely Bolger Boat you built is on the shortlist for my next project. How is het behaviour is Bft 4-5?
    André Ligthart Schenk, Winsum,Holland

  4. Are there plans available for this cat boat?
    Thank you

  5. Ross, I own the Bolger Harbinger made by Bruce Tyson. Port Sorell, Tasmania (the Dolly-T). My boat handles extremely well, and can come up onto the wind with ease. She is a stable boat, and with my wife and two grown daughters on board, she still has plenty of room to spare. A fantastic day boat, easily rigged, derigged and sailed, and recommended should anyone seek to own one of these fine craft. If you ever build another one, I'd be interested in getting all of them together for a photo shoot one day. Cheers, Darren