Sunday, 4 June 2017

Harrison Butler and his Z4s

Some of the nicest boats around are drawn by gifted amateurs and the lovely designs of the ophthalmologist T Harrison Butler are good examples. An interesting feature of Dr Butler's second career as a yacht designer is his enthusiasm for metacentric analysis, a curious theory, which those who understand it say doesn't stand up. As elsewhere in life a dodgy theory sometimes produces good results.

June is one of about 50 little yachts built on a production system by Alfred Lockhart Marine of Brentford in Essex in 1938 and 1939. It seems that Captain O M Watts had seen a commercial possibility in Butler's Zyklon design and the Z4s were the result. The attraction is very obvious, when one reflects that potential buyers recovering from the effects of the Depression years would have been  keen to get afloat without undue expense.

One assumes that the entrepreneurial Captain Watts would have gone out to tender for the construction process, as I believe that Lockharts were originally house, rather than boat, builders. Without a tradition behind them they built the Z4s upside down over iron frames, hulls glued and splined, the intelligent and practical way to go, but rarely adopted by boatyards in the UK. As a result it seems most of the fleet have survived. Building upside down with frames in means that you have to get the important sheerline right first time.

These are tough wee boats for their overall length of under 22 feet and about 7 feet beam, displacing 3356 kilograms with 2700 kilograms of external ballast. By contrast the Kotik design that I'm currently building should displace about 1200 kilograms with 430 kilograms of ballast on the same overall dimensions, although admittedly with longer ends, which of course the Guru of Luing is always pointing out add nothing other than weight (apart from North European charm). Having said this, there's an understated practical elegance here.

An interesting contrast is Ed Burnet's very similar design, about which I wrote here: Frolic

It's also interesting to compare the Z4 with the much larger Mat Ali. Her owner, Charlie Hussey, has written about her here A Builder takes Liberties, where there's also a brief discussion about aesthetics.

I had a nice sail on Mat Ali in a gale of wind a few years ago. so can testify that she's a great sea boat.  You can see a family resemblance from the post I wrote at the time here

Update 13 June

Thanks to comments on the forum at Wooden Boat I realise that the ballast figure for the Z4 is wildly inaccurate, it appears to be about one metric ton. It's still a lot for a wee boat though!

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Turning the Hull

This week it became impossible to put off turning the hull any longer. The outside had three coats of epoxy, nicely sanded down to give a key for further coating, the weather was nice and Annie and Gareth had arrived from New Zealand for their wedding in a Highland castle next weekend to lend a hand. They and a group of local pals rallied round to help with muscle and, of course, advice.

I'm greatly indebted to Mairi Fleck for the images on this post. They make words quite unnecessary.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Breaking News - Toberonochy invaded again!

It's difficult to believe that it's a year since the above photo was taken by Mark Robertson as the Bilderglug fleet made its way back home North from the wee bay where we had stopped for lunch. This top secret event, only for highly superior very select people, which is why it has the name, is now taking place for the fifteenth time. Sadly we will miss Hugh Gray this time.

My yellow boat is the only non-resident participant to escape the indignity of arriving by road, but this does involve some careful weather watching. First of course there is a little winter maintenance, which was confined this year to treating the tyres on the trolley to a session with Peter's ancient but very sturdy Dunlop Standard pump. (There's actually a book about them: Vintage British Foot Pumps 1900 - 1950)

Here is the good ship the Kelpie ready to go:

This boat is absolutely ideal for events such as this. She's the Walt Simmons Christmas Wherry which I built in 2006 specifically for Bilderglug. She's an incredibly seaworthy and to my eye lovely little boat that has seen us through an awful lot of tricky weather over the years. There's a lot of reserve stability and if you keep a look out for squalls you can carry quite a bit of sail and have a lot of fun.

My only complaint is with the location of the centreboard on the drawing, which was far too far aft for proper balance and made tacking difficult. I shifted the slot forward and replaced the lifting board with a daggerboard, but may have slightly overdone it. She comes into the wind instantly I drop the tiller, which is of course safe but a bit undignified at times.

Yesterday I set off at six on a frosty morning and had a good, warming row for an hour or so before the wind came in from the North, straight from Iceland. It was a good working breeze and we ran straight onto the sandy shore in the wee harbour at half past eight. I was met by the Grand Controller who took me to his underground Control Room to investigate the mental condition that causes me to return each year.


There's now a video clip showing the flavour of the trip across on Youtube, here, Sailing to Luing

Thursday, 13 April 2017

A reformed Rockhopper's Thoughts on Ballast

I have a couple of confessions to make and don't know which of my sins is worse.

In the West coast of Scotland, where I sail, there's a great deal of deep water, but sadly there are also an awful lot of rocks, with a strange capacity to spring up at odd times, usually when you're opening another bottle or storming along on a beam reach without a care in the World or both.

Some of these rocks have special names, after the ancient mariners who found them and maybe foundered on them. Nearby we have Campbell's Rock and Hutchison's Rock to name but two. Others just have generic names, like Sgeir Dubh, the black skerries that you find all over. Anyone who has sailed here for a while will have met one or two of them, otherwise is probably dishonest.

The problem has been recognised by yacht designers over the years and may be a reason for the considerable drag often given to his long keels by Alfred Mylne and contemporaries. The old yachties knew that with luck gravity would help them to slide back into deeper water. Indeed an old lady assured me that Scottish Islanders carried a spinnaker pole for the sole purpose of assisting on those occasions.

Mylne's keels also feature a sloping forward end, which means that when you do strike it's the lead that hits and absorbs the shock rather than the delicate timber structure of the boat. Contrast the extensive damage done to a deep modern fin keel cutting the corner in a race at speed - boatyard's delight!

This brings me to the second confession. I've messed a bit with Iain's design, bringing the ballast keel forward and sloping it, as you will see from this photo showing the pattern for the lead.

The effect of this is to add some lead forward, but I've also deepened the ballast from 125mm to 135mm, an overall increase in weight of about 8% to something a little over 400kg. Factors in this were receiving from Iain at the start of the year an amended construction drawing suggesting a modest increase in draught and a feeling that there's plenty displacement and it won't harm a beamy centre boarder that is not to be trailed about to carry a bit more weight. Also we're experiencing much stronger winds around here in Summer, due to climate change. Time will tell.

I haven't posted here for a while, as having got the hull done in January progress has become slower, building deadwood and the keel pattern. I had a trip to the wonderful town of B'oness, a Victorian jewel surrounded by oil refineries, where Ricky the foreman at Ballantines Foundry declared that my effort should just about serve as a pattern, so the keel will be cast in Scotland at one of our oldest family companies, now in the seventh generation.

I'm now coating the hull and turnover day draws nearer.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Hugh Gray's Viking Funeral

Hugh Gray 1947 to 2016

"He loved nothing more than filling his boat with friends and going for a sail.
Hugh was kind, generous, self-effacing and deeply intelligent.
And a good friend to very many of us.
He will be missed." 

Brice Avery

It was very appropriate for Hugh to be given a Viking Funeral and it seems that most of the island were in attendance at Atlantic Centre a week or so ago.

Hugh had been one of the Bilderglug people since the first muster on Toberonochy in 2001. For the uninitiated the muster is similar to Bilderberg because of its total secrecy, which I am breaking with this post, and the fact that it happens in a lovely place, but also rather different, because the people who go are unfailingly nice, decent, interesting members of the human race who value the company of our fellows and the natural environment. At least that's our story.

It was quite emotional to say farewell to the first of our stalwarts to die. Will the muster end up as a sort of Hebridean tontine with sometime around the year 2090 some poor ancient sitting on the shore pondering a fleet of lovely wee boats hauled up on the shingle, that he or she is too old to sail?

Here are some images from the event.

Across from the bigger island on the Belnahua

The ship, with the ghosts of former islanders looking on

The ghosts arriving on their puffer

A brisk onshore wind made things look doubtful

Farewell messages all written and stowed.

Getting an offing.

Ready to launch


Hugh on his journey.

Well alight and still afloat.

The good ship Hede, the man himself at the helm.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Hull Complete

Of course I know perfectly well that when the hull is planked up you're only a fraction of the way along the voyage to the completed boat, but it's quite an important stage psychologically, because in a way the boat has life from this point and what happens from now on is a steady progression.

There was a bit of a worry in this case, because I think this is the first time that Alec Jordan has produced a kit of planks for the Kotik. Right now in the World there are, I think, two of these boats, in Russia and Austria, with another perhaps building in Australia. The idea for stretching the proven Wee Seal design by Iain Oughtred came from Mikhail Markov, whose hull was built for him in the Netherlands by Bert van Baar.

The professional builders would have lofted the planks themselves, but doing that requires not only skills that I don't possess but a suitable lofting floor, completely impossible in Argyll  where most of the floors are off-level, either deliberately to allow hosing out after the cows have been in or because most of the local builders haven't heard of spirit levels. I've been very lucky to have found one of the few truly level floors around, even if it's open to the elements.

In the event I and, I suspect, Alec have been relieved to find that the planks which he plotted on computer from Iain's drawings have gone together rather well and in a timescale of about four weeks, which included a short break at Hogmanay and was occasionally disrupted by gales of about 120kph.

Now that the ship (sort of) exists she needs a name and I think she'll be called the Seamew.

Naming ships is a tricky business, for all sorts of reasons.

You have to avoid everything with bad connotations and some with nice ones are already ubiquitous.

In Scotland one should avoid Gaelic names unless fluent in the tongue. Taking advice from a Gael is fraught with problems, as evidenced by the many white settlers who live in Tigh Beag. The late Iain Christie of Portree wrote a poem on this subject, see below. I've seen some boats around parading some pretty bad Gaelic and have only minimal knowledge.

You may have to say or spell the boat's name on VHF at some stage.

Avoid accidental misunderstandings. John Gardner told me that in the French navy of the Eighteenth Century the first captain had the privilege of naming the ship and so the name La Belle Pauline was submitted for his wife, but a wag in the Admiralty changed it to La Belle Poule, a very different sort of lady altogether..

Seamew is an old Scots word for a seagull, akin to the Danish Mage and the German Moewe (forgive lack of accents). Quite short and there don't seem to be too many others about (the boats, that is, not the birds).

The Crofters Song

Words by the late Iain Christie, Portree
Tune – The Road to the Isles


From Brighton and from Aldershot and Kensington we’ve come
And we want to buy a cottage here in Skye…
With at least a hundred acres and a view of Eigg and Rhum
And seclusion… for we’re really very shy


Electricity and gas we want and water from the mains
Easy connections to the nearest motorway
With connections to the telephone and to the sewage drain
And a Gaelic name that’s not too hard to say


The house must be authentic like a Hebridean croft
Central heating from the peat upon the fire
With room for a solarium and sauna in the loft
Fitted carpets in the stable and the byre



We’ll arrange to have it surveyed for an architect’s report
That there’s damp proof course beneath the hardwood floor
That the walls are made of granite
That the windows aren’t too short
And there’s double mortice locks upon the door



To keep our poodle company we’ll breed rabbits, geese and goats
Make our fortune making butter, milk and cheese
From the Highland Board we’ll get a grant to make toy plastic boats
And to titled friends we’ll offer B & B


Friday, 23 December 2016

Hull coming along

Moorings in the loch, waiting for boats

It's great to be back doing something creative after three years working in the shadow of other highly creative people in the fine art world. I think that without realising it I became a bit intimidated by being surrounded by a group of incredibly talented folk. Of course good artists work very hard at keeping their skill levels up and that's true of boatbuilding as well.  Actually with boatbuilding persistence trumps skill and in wood working it's always possible to fix blunders, provided you spot them early.

It's exactly thirty years since my first build and four years since my most recent one, which is too long a gap because I find I'm remaking old mistakes.

I deliberately carry no advertising on this blog, which means that when praise is offered it is unsolicited and really meant. I can't praise highly enough the effort and care taken by Alec Jordan in providing a kit of planks and moulds, absolutely true to the millimetre, but of course unforgiving as a result. This has taken months off the building time, even if I had possessed space big enough to loft the planks. As it is they have to be assembled in the house and only the incredible suppleness of Vendia Plank allows it into the workshop for cleaning up.

Once the planks are ready I have to walk them along to the building shed, lent by a wonderful neighbour.

Progress so far has been quite good, more than half the hull planked in less than a fortnight, working in an open shed in winter. Planks five six and seven are nearly ready to go, but I'll need to wait for the storm to abate because if I take one outside just now I'll be blown across to the top of Cruachan.

First half of plank one, 9 December

Plank two installed, 15 December

Plank four done, 22 December

The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water