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!


  1. Hi Ross, my son and I went down to the Lyme Regis Boatbuilding School in Dec lasy year to see the lauch of a new strip plank George Holmes Cassy design.

    Here are some of my pictures of her that day. It was great to see such a lovely design in the flesh and on the water.

  2. Brian, Thanks indeed for the photos - I particularly liked seeing the white, counter-sterned Catboat. Regarding 'Cassy', she looks lovely on the water but I think some of the details such as the samson post and the rudder head would look nicer if not so clunky - they seemed out of proportion for a little canoe-yawl. However, it is still wonderful to know that such beautiful boats are again being built and used - Thank-you. P.S. Somebody needs to tell the owner that he is using the rowlocks back-to-front!

  3. I asked the builder about those beautiful folding riggers. They were made custom by Classic Marine.Most expensive thing on the whole boat. I remember a figure of £600 I think.
    I have been working on a similar theme, slightly smaller, with John Welsford and the new Nautilus.
    I really look forward to seeing the outcome of your canoe yawl project. Brian

  4. Excellent thought-provoking essay, Ross. You do a real service with that.

    Rick H

    1. Rick, Thanks very much for the comment. I'm hoping that I may soon be in the position to do some more personal building work, and even more importantly, be able to get out on the water. However, I'll have to find myself a real job first!

      Ross Lillistone