Thursday, June 28, 2012

Little Egret - A Munroe-style sharpie nearing completion

After having written recently about the so-called 'Humber Yawls', my mind turned to another type which may well provide similar character and utility, but in a boat which is vastly more simple to build.

I was brought up on the shores of Moreton Bay in south-east Queensland, Australia. Moreton Bay is a huge expanse of water protected from the open Pacific Ocean by a line of huge barrier islands - the bay itself being 100 kilometres long and 32 kilometres across at its widest point. The waters of this great waterway are open and deep to the north, but large portions of it, particularly in the southern half, are shallow and protected. As a friend once said to me, "There is a lot of water in Moreton Bay, but it is spread out very thin!" This sort of coastal area is, in my opinion, a magnificent location for dinghy cruising.

Pleasant days on Moreton Bay
 As a child, I learned sailing in Sabot pram sailing dinghies at the Cleveland Yacht Club, and I remember my father pointing out the "Sharpie" which sat on a mooring in front of the house next-door to the club. She didn't mean much to me, being a non-descript flat-bottomed boat of about 24 feet LOA fitted with a very basic cuddy-cabin. But Dad obviously thought highly of her, so I did store the image and the "Sharpie" name away in my memory.

One characteristic of this boat which I did appreciate was that the family of the owner could get her underway and put back to bed on her mooring in no time flat, and they never seemed to be stressed by the operation.

It is now more than fifty years since those days, but I have come to love the sharpie form, and marvel at the reported speed and carrying capacity of those used in the fishery, particularly the oyster fishery, on the east coast of the United States in the late ninteenth and early twentieth centuary.

A New Haven Sharpie, much used for oyster tonging in Chesapeake Bay

Some time back I wrote about the design and initial building stages of a sharpie I designed for a customer who wanted a 19 foot boat similar to one designed by Bill Schwicker in the U.S. The design ended up being very much after the style of Ralph Munroe's famous Egret, which was a cross between the hull-form of a sharpie and that of a Bank Dory, and which measured about 28 feet LOA.
You can read one of my posts on the design using this link.

An early drawing of my Little Egret design

An early drawing of my Little Egret design
The owner/builder of this boat has made wonderful progress, despite having to work at his normal job and being forced to carry out his building under a tarp over an outdoor deck. His determination, resourcfulness and quality of work should be an inspiration to those of you who procrastinate!
Here are a few photos of the job, including the almost-finished boat. This is just a very small selec tion of the photos, but you can see a very comprehensive presentation of John's photos, along with much commentary at this address

John's strongback under construction. Note his inovative a resourceful use of existing backyard structures!
Construction begins - the bottom panel being cut
Scarphed-together panels of marine plywood being marked out using offsets taken directly from the plans.
An example of determination - the project being protected from rain.
Rain protection for scarphed panels
The stitch-and-glue construction method allows one to mark shapes directly onto the plywood panels without lofting, and as long as the developed panel shapes have been correctly designed, a boat will appear without the need for a station mold or other conventional bracing structure.

John's first glimpse of a three-dimensional hull!
The addition of prefabricated bulkheads and frames gives shape to the boat, and also refines the rocker as the topside panels are held at the correct flare.
Cleats/deckbeams being glued to the bulkheads. This can be done prior to installing the bulkheads
Bird's mouth masts being assembled on John's fence! An excellent example of lateral thinking!
Casting a lead sinking weight into the lower end of the centreboard
Centreboard at a later stage, sheathed in epoxy/glass, and having had the pivot hole drilled oversize and filled with a reinforced epoxy plug which was cast in place. This was subsequently drilled to take the silicon bronze pivot pin
The very shallow, low aspect-ratio rudder was equipped with end-plates to improve efficiency. The excellent stainless steel shaft and head were devised by John
The rudder can be held at differing depths by moving the tiller attachment point up or down on the shaft
Here it is at the deepest setting
Masking for the bottom paint
Tantalising progress! Decks and coamings in place
Very nicely done floorboards
Floorboards in place, and seat-risers being fitted
Spars being fitted out and coated. Lovely homemade cleats
A big day! Moving the boat out of her coccoon
First opportunity to see the hull shape from above. The balanced ends will hopefully make her a good bar-crosser
John has done a superb job of taking this boat from plans to reality
Launching is not too far away now, and I eagerly await test reports. As soon as anything becomes available I'll put up a post. Remember to look at John's thread on the Woodenboat Magazine Forum at

Monday, June 18, 2012

Continued - In the Spirit of the Humber Yawl

The larger examples of the Canoe-Yawl are very appealing, and I've fantasised about building and sailing a Rozinante for decades. However, age brings wisdom, and I have realised that even a small increase in the linear size of boats brings enormous differences in the practical utility. As an example, I would often look at the study plan for William Garden's Eel, (which is a very good example of the canoe-yawl type), and think that at 18' 6" x 6' she was a small boat.

Eel, designed by William Garden. Image scanned from Woodenboat Publications Thirty Wooden Boats

Well, one day a customer turned up at the workshop with a second-hand Eel on a trailer, and I discovered that she was far from small and was definitely not light when it came to pushing the trailer around!

Eel on arrival at the workshop
Eel on arrival at the workshop
Eel on arrival at the workshop
Eel went through a successful restoration process, but the owner never got to use her for the simple reason that she was too much boat for him to launch and retrieve without assistance.

A typical Humber Yawl in the late 1800's may have been around 14' x 4' 6", so about 75% of the overall dimensions of Eel. That doesn't sound like a huge difference, but when it comes to weight, volume, and cost the difference varies according to the cube of the linear change. Therefore, Eel is nearly two-and-a-half times (2.3 times) bigger than a typical Humber Yawl from the early days.

One of my favourite examples of the early Humber-Yawl was Ethel, designed by George Holmes, who was one of the original members of the Humber Yawl Club which I refered to in the previous post . I first saw this drawing in John Leather's book Sail and Oar back in the early eighties, and I found the little boat to be incredibly attractive and wholesome.

Ethel designed by George Holmes and built somewhere between 1888 and 1889. Her principal dimensions were 13ft x 4' 6" and with a total sail area of 106.5 sq.ft. (Sail and Oar by John Leather, Conway Maritime Press)

This is a sketch done by George Holmes, said to represent a cruise in which he participated, in Denmark 1896. These boats were transported by ships as deck cargo, or in the freight vans on trains - trailers being the modern equivalent, I guess. (Sail and Oar by John Leather, Conway Maritime Press)
Funnily enough, the size I decided upon fifteen years ago for my idea of the perfect beach-cruiser for solo and two-up sailing happens to be very close to the "average" size of these early Humber Yawls. My decision was a boat of around 15' LOA and 4' 6" BOA.

This is my Phoenix III design, which at 15' x 4' 6" (to the inside of the planking) is very close to early Humber Yawl dimensions. Also, other than having a transom stern, her character is similar, and she could easily be fitted with a yawl or ketch rig.

You might think that using a transom stern automatically disqualifies a boat from the canoe-yawl category, but I think that the type is determined by function and use rather than specific hullform. However, I am still drawn strongly towards the double-ended form, such as Ethel shown earlier. I'm working on a design for just such a hull, but lack of time has prevented me getting the hull modelling to a point where I am able to produce a hull which is as effective as my existing transom-sterned boats. I intend to continue working on the idea, though, and here is a sample.

Recently I've started on a new direction with my boatbuilding, and after I have completed my existing orders, I'm taking a break from professional building and will at last devote some time to maintaining and using my own boats. Not only that, but I've been indulging myself in the design of a new boat for my own use, with the intention that she be passed on to my sons when I'm too old to sail. I'm hoping that they will benefit in the same way that I have benefitted from the use of my own dad's boat.

Phoenix, designed and built by V.R. Lillistone. The rig shown is one of the many that I have tried on her since dad's passing, and my sons have also spent much enjoyable and educational time aboard her - right from when they were babies. 
Because I intend my next boat to last several generations, and to be used for more than just solo beach-cruising, I've decided to make her a bit larger than my "ideal" size. She will be 17' x 5' and will carry around 130 sq.ft of sail, depending on her rig (of which there will be several options - all fitting in a single set of partners and steps).
I haven't decided on the construction method yet, but the short list includes glued-lapstrake and glued strip-plank, with the latter being the likely choice. The design is in a very early stage at the moment, but the internal layout will most likely be very similar to that in my existing Perwinkle design.

Lines drawing of my intended boat for personal use. She is 17' x 5' to the inside of planking.

As with my other designs, I've tried to manipulate the distribution of area in several rigs so that the boat can be re-rigged without having to alter the location of the mainmast partner and mainmast step.

The Gaff-Cat rig with an optional jib set flying. This is an un-stayed rig, and the tiny jib's function is to smooth the flow of air past the mast. The boat will balance fine with or without the jib set. Total sail area is 132 sq.ft, or 118 sq.ft using the mainsail only.

Here she is with an un-stayed ketch rig, utilising the very effective sprit mainsail and flying jib from Phoenix III and First Mate. The idea is that she will balance with just the mainsail set (reefed or un-reefed), or under jib and mizzen alone. Hopefully she would self-steer under jib and mizzen.

I understand that there will be many people who disagree with my contention that very small boats are the optimum for coastal cruising, but for my own use, I am totally convinced, and I think the original members of the Humber Yawl Club got it right!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

In the Spirit of a Humber Yawl

In 1883, a club was formed on the River Humber, which is on the mid north-east coast of England. The Humber Yawl Club is still operating to the best of my knowledge, and I intend to do more reading about the club's history. The reasons that I am interested in this club is because of two of its most famous members - George Holmes and Albert Strange - and because of the irrisistable tugs which the boats originally used there have on my emotions.

Cherub II designed by the artist Albert Strange. Image courtesy of The Albert Strange Association and the book, Sail and Oar by John Leather (Conway Maritime Press)
LOA 20ft 2in
LWL 17ft 7in
Beam 5ft 10in
Draft 1ft 9in/3ft 9in
Disp. 2464lbs
Sail Area 249 sq.ft
Cherub II designed by Albert Strange. Image courtesy of The Albert Strange Association and the book, Sail and Oar by John Leather (Conway Maritime Press)
Cherub II, shown in the above images, was said to be Albert Strange's favourite design, which is significant given that he was a prolific designer. My first glimpse of the design came in 1983 when I was 29 years old. I had been sailing since the age of five, and for the most part my sailing had been solo and two-up dinghy cruising. I was fortunate to have had a grounding in racing, and it pains me to see people these days who have nice boats, but don't know how to sail them properly. Racing is an unforgiving way of discovering one's faults!

Because of my dinghy cruising background, I was immediately taken by the simplicity and snugness of the canoe-yawl concept and I was hooked. The initial exposure to Cherub II came because my good friend and dinghy cruising accomplice, Ian Hamilton, showed me a copy of the beautiful little book, Sail and Oar by the John Leather. The subject matter in the book was right up my alley, but my favourite chapters were (and still are) the ones about Albert Strange and George Holmes.

The definition of a canoe-yawl is fairly loose, with some people saying that the craft simply have to be sharp at both ends, and be yawl-rigged. However, a number of canoe yawls are rigged as ketches and sloops rather than yawls, but the famous designer, L. Francis Herreshoff said that the term 'yawl' when applied to a canoe-yawl referred to the 'yawl boat' hullform rather than the rig. One of the most beautiful canoe-yawls ever designed was L. F. Herreshoff's Rozinante, which was rigged as a ketch.

Sail Plan of the original Rozinante as depicted in the book, The Compleat Cruiser by L. Francis Herreshoff (published by Sheridan)

Lines drawing of the original Rozinante as depicted in the book, The Compleat Cruiser by L. Francis Herreshoff (published by Sheridan)

Rozinante rigged as a yawl. This sail plan was drawn by the Americanboatbuilder and designer, Doug Hylan be continued


Friday, June 8, 2012

A Comforting Story - Mostly True...

Eel designed by Bill Garden. We carried out significant retoration work on this boat, and she is seen here with master boatbuilder, Bill Flood at the helm.

The time was 2am, and the shallow water sweeping past Mike Rowe’s shins was transparent silver in the intense moonlight. For miles in every direction, he could see the exposed sand banks and the mangrove trees in almost full colour, such was the brightness of the moon. 

As he stood, amazed at the speed of the water flow now that the tide had turned, Mike saw dark flashes in the water as the predators commenced their next tidal duties. The predatory fish were smaller than a person’s foot, but they were only the advance guard – Mike knew well that as the water deepened, so would the size of the hunters increase. Crocodiles concerned him a bit, so he had remained well clear of the fringing mangrove thickets and frequently glanced around him as he stood on the open flats. 

Mike and his friend Ian had motored into this estuary just after the top of the tide at 8pm of the previous night – had they waited longer, their path would have been blocked by the oyster rocks further out, which formed a barrier to this isolated place. Having located their target, the pair anchored the little cat-yawl using lines from both the bow and the stern. Positioned securely, they prepared their standard late-night drink and passed a few hours in contemplative discussion. 

Normally, their talk would have wandered far and wide over a range of subjects. But tonight they found that they were concentrating solely on the slim and purposeful rowing boat that tugged at the end of the painter running from where it was belayed to a cleat on the aft quarter of the cat-yawl.

Ration designed by William Atkin

For Mike Rowe, the construction of this rowing boat had been a highlight. He had been building full-time for six years when Ian had approached him with a serious commission. What made the proposal so satisfying was that it combined the benefits of building a type of boat he believed in strongly - for a life-long friend.

The plans for the rowing boat came from the board of the late William Atkin. Mike had grown up in a house full of boat books, and the ones which delighted him most were the old “Motor Boating’s Ideal Series”. The series (which dated back to the early part of the twentieth centuary) contained the work of many designers and writers, but by far the majority of the books Mike saw were filled with the work of William Atkin, and subsequently that of his son, John.

William Atkin came across as being a gentle person, and his written word carried a mixture of salty wholesomeness that Mike had not seen equalled. In many ways, Mike preferred the design work of William’s son John – but when it came to evocative writing, nothing gave him such a feeling of security and fulfilment as the words of William Atkin. (If you haven’t done so already, get hold of a copy of, “Of Yachts and Men” by William Atkin – a wonderful book for both dreamers and realists).

Mike had built the boat in what he believed was the quickest and best way – by carrying out a proper lofting, laying down the lines full-size on sheets of white-painted plywood nailed to the floor, and then constructing the boat over a strongback and station mould.

Ration designed by William Atkin

The rowing boat he built for Ian had been a straightforward piece of building, without any gimmicks. A solid sheet of 12mm plywood (scarphed-up from standard length sheets on the bench) made up the bottom. The topside planking went on in three strakes per side – 6mm plywood glued up in clinker (or lapstrake) fashion.  Gunwales were laminated on while the boat was still on the mould, and then she was turned over for installation of frames, thwarts, breasthook, quarter-knees and inwales. A thoroughly wholesome boat.

For those who have never tried rowing in a suitably shaped craft, the process can be a revelation. Instead of rowing being the frustrating chore it is when using a misshapen abomination such as a planing tinnie or an inflatable, rowing a properly designed rowboat is like a magic carpet ride. Attention must be paid to such things as the placement and design of the oarlocks, position of the seats in relation to the oarlocks, and positioning of foot braces. But get those simple things correct, in a properly designed boat, and you are in for some real pleasure.

As the six-metre tide raced into the inlet, Mike made his way back to where his cat-yawl, now starting to lift and bump on the sandy bottom, lay moored. Ian was already awake and was working at lashing the treasure to an arrangement of ropes which were in turn attached to the Atkin rowing boat. The “treasure” was, in fact, a lump of cast iron which had once graced the decks of a sugar barge as a set of bollards. Many decades had passed since the old barge had been abandoned to rot in this isolated creek. All that now remained were a few worm-eaten timers standing black in the moonlight; and the old set of bollards.

Six metre (twenty foot) tides work very effectively as a lifting device, and it wasn’t long before the rowing boat was floating mid-stream with the cast iron bollards hanging below her, unseen in the tropical water. The trip home was made under power, with the treasure ship towing nicely behind the mothership; an armada in modern times. A late breakfast was prepared afloat and, of course, the crew made sure that the treasure was handed over to the relevant authorities…

Simple are the delights of messing about in small boats. How better can one enjoy the pleasures of planning, building, using and maintaining, objects of practical art? The fact that the activities are cheap, health inducing, quiet, non-polluting and pleasurable to the senses, is a fantastic bonus.