Monday, November 5, 2018

The Evolution of Phoenix (I, II, III, and (maybe), IV)

The very first Phoenix III built - Paul Hernes' Willy Wagtail
(photo courtesy Paul Hernes)
Mike Schuit wrote asking:-

Sorry if the answer to this question is common knowledge already, but I’ve been wondering about the nomenclature of the P3... was there a P1 &P2? What were those like and how different are they from what appears to be the final product? Will there ever be a P4? (the post is on the "Ross Lillistone Builder's Group Page on Facebook ).

Here is my brief reply:-

Hi Mike, The original Phoeinix (1) was designed and built by my late father back in 1970. She is now coming up 49 years of age, and is still going strong, and still in our family. She is 15' 2" x 5' 11" built batten-seam multi-chine with marine plywood planking over Western Red Cedar stringers. No epoxy - resorcinol, nails, and screws.

She was originally rigged with a deck-stepped mast and a sloop (or "Knockabout") rig of 103 sq.ft. She has a lovely shape which manages to look traditional, but without trying pretentiously to appear that way. Many of the designs around these days try hard to look traditional, without it coming naturally as a by-product of their shape and layout.

Phoenix II was a design exercise on my part as part of my self-education, and never built.

Phoenix III was what came of that exercise when I was sort of forced into producing a buildable design for Paul Hernes (the builder of the first example). It was not Paul who forced me, by the way, but my old, deceased friend, Doug Laver. He told Paul I'd design the boat for him, even though nobody had bothered to tell me!

There is a Phoenix IV in my portfolio, but I haven't decided whether to make her public, because I like number III, and she is easy to build.

Phoenix (I) with her original rig. She was about 17 years old at the time of the picture.

Phoenix as she is now (photo courtesy Steven Lillistone)

Phoenix as she is now (photo courtesy Steven Lillistone)

Phoenix II - I do have drawings as well, but the half-model gives the idea.

Mike wrote back:-

"Also curious, if you would be willing to share, what sorts of alterations you are thinking of for the P4, if it were ever to come to pass. Completely respect your choice as a craftsman and a businessman if you would prefer to keep that under wraps, though".

Well, a number of years ago I drew a "New" Phoenix III hull - a sort of, "what I would have drawn originally if I had known then what I now know". The centre-of-buoyancy is a little further forward, and there is a bit more flare up forward. Also, the quarters are not as firm as on the original.

All of the above changes were aimed at producing a hull which has less need of being sailed flat. I would possibly have designed some of these features into the original Phoenix III, but I was trying to keep the number of hull planks to a minimum to make construction easier for a newcomer to glued-lapstrake construction. The resulting wide planks needed to be "developable", which means their shape when bent and twisted into position on the hull had to be a segment of a cylinder or cone at every point of along their lengths. This placed some limits on the three-dimensional shape I could design into the hull - particularly in the forward sections.

Here you can see the fine forward sections of Phoenix III - very nice for getting to windward in a chop and staying dry, or for rowing. (photo courtesy of Al Burke) 
When I started to draw a "New" Phoenix III, I decided to disregard the need for developable planks, and the constraint they place on hull shape. In order to achieve that freedom, I judged that I would need at least eight planks - instead of the five on the original design.

The lines of the "New" Phoenix III. Note that the curved black line at the bottom of the picture do not represent the other side of the boat - they are the developed shapes of the diagonals. 

A very basic rendering of the hull shape

A very basic rendering of the hull shape
The new hull shape is pleasing to my eye, but when I ran some hydrostatic calculations and some hull resistance predictions, I discovered that the original boat was as good or better than the new one. Having discovered this, I reflected upon my egotistical thoughts, and decided to leave Phoenix III exactly as she was when I first drew her back in 2003.

I do have another embryonic design for a 15 foot boat, but she is not a replacement for Phoenix III. She is a different boat - heavier, beamier, and with a layout similar to that used in Periwinkle. This boat is derived from a 17 foot hull I have in the works, but shorter by two feet, and about 3 or 4 inches less beamy. She also has very slightly less freeboard than the 17-footer. Don't hold your breath waiting for these designs to be published, though...

Proposed 15ft x 5ft design
What really matters to me (and I am very biased about this) is that more "Sail and Oar" boats start populating our waterways. There is a wholesomeness, independence, and versatility wrapped up in the sail-and-oar movement, and I believe that such boats and the associated activity is good for the body and soul. Day-sailing, beach-cruising, rowing, picnicking, expeditioning - all carried out in something which you can make with your own hands, for relatively little money.


  1. Hi Ross, thanks for sharing this informative post with those of us who aren't facebookers.

    Two things struck me.

    The first is how reassuring it is for the novice boatbuilder to hear how a simpler design can trump a more complex one in terms of function.

    The second, is what a beautiful boat your dad built, and how wonderful it must be for successive generations to enjoy her.


    1. Hi Graham, Like you, I'm not a Facebooker, but the group page has been a valuable communication medium. The trouble is that it has distracted me from my blog, and from some magazine writing which I would like to do.

      I'm going to try to migrate my longer comments back to the blog, because it is a better repository of ideas and discussion, and is much better suited to the display of drawings and photos.

      Your comment about simple designs is right up my alley. Phil Bolger seems to come in for a lot of negative comment about his very simple (to build, that is) designs. My feeling is that it is much more difficult to produce a simple design which works well, than a complex one. Jim Michalak is another example of a designer who has "simplicity magic" dripping from his finger-tips.

      Here is a useful quote from Charles Mingus - "Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity."

      The old Phoenix is now being crewed by the fourth generation of our family - thank-you so much for your comment.

  2. The strong and original design allowed to keep the old look of the vessel for many years. The small repair improved its structure.