Monday, 27 December 2010

Who would want a rubber dinghy?

They cost a great deal, don't sail, are difficult to row, don't tow properly and get stolen. When rubber dinghies have such features why did traditional wooden ones go out of fashion?

I admit that a badly designed pram dinghy is an abomination. It takes a great deal of skill to design a good one, but there are some good ones about. Above is Peigi, a Joel White Nutshell design, which I built in 1986 and she has followed behind Stroma on countless trips since. We don't have room on deck for her, but she tows beautifully and has been through the roughest seas without ever shipping a drop.

Not only does the nutshell row well, you can ship her sailing rig in a few seconds and be off to explore your anchorage. She's incredibly forgiving and stable under sail. Here is our young friend Johan doing well on his first ever sailing trip.

Here I am having a shot.


You won't be able to buy a nutshell in a shop, but making your own is an excellent introduction to boat building. There are only about 20 parts and they can be shaped and put together with the most basic tools, a jig saw and a small block plane being the main ones. The longest parts can be cut from a standard sheet of plywood, but there is a 9 1/2 foot version if you can find the larger sheets or are willing to do scarf joints.

Here is Peigi in the workshop.

Here is a beautiful version Peter made, also about 25 years ago. They last well.

If you're wondering what to do during the rest of the winter why not get a set of plans from Woodenboat and get going? The only disadvantage I can think of is that your next build may be much bigger.


  1. Couldn't agree more. I have a John Westell-designed 8ft dinghy, made from two sheets of ply (that includes buoyancy tanks and thwarts) that Classic Boat sell in plan form. Light, pretty, tows a dream, sails well (a trifle tippy, hence her name) but a delight in discerning hands. Yes, John was a pretty good designer. Remember the 505...

  2. I'm in violent agreement with you and Adrian, our D4 pram is so much better than any of the inflatables we've owned.

    the only thing I'd change is not making the rear seat a buoyancy tank, that way I could stretch out my legs when rowing.

    That said you can get it to plane with one up and the outboard which is fun!!

  3. Piero Tassinari30 March 2011 at 13:25

    I built a Humble Bee pram in my living room some time ago. A tender for my 1910 gaffer. A beauty. So beautiful, actually, that she is now permanently moored in the living room, the perfect match for my 1910 piano. No, a rubber dinghy would definitely not be the same.

  4. Hi Ewan,
    This is just to tell you that I am really enjoying wandering around every corner of this blog...
    This particular post has definitely trigger my long hidden desire of building a boat: creating one, beyond the great pleasure of sailing them. I've just order the manual "Building the Nutshell Pram", for starting-up!
    So many thanks for your articles here.

    Pablo de Castro


The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water