Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Learning about the sea at St Abbs

St Abbs by Ailsa Tanner

I don't remember much about my first visit to the North Sea, probably because I was in utero at the time. My parents had a holiday at Coldingham sands in the summer of 1947 and were to decide later that St Abbs was a great place for holidays. After my brother arrived the custom was for our parents to rent the house of a lady named Mrs Nisbet for the month of July. During that period she lived in her garden hut, but regularly turned up in the house to practice playing hymns on her harmonium, for she was the local church organist. Our father couldn't take the entire holiday and for most of the month continued to work weekdays and make the long commute to the East coast in his Wolseley each Friday evening.

"Brother dear, your memory is tripping you. In 1956 we stayed at St Margarets which was almost opposite the bowling green and was owned by Mrs Hood who was the organist in the local church. She had a piano on which I learned my first tune - chopsticks  on black notes only. It is true that we did stay in another place, possibly a guest house, nearer the primary school, again opposite the bowling green maybe a few years earlier, of which I have no memory at all. I did hear the father say that this place had a harmonium, so I cannot be sure that the harmonium was connected with the church organist."
St Abbs by Joyce Peterson

Childhood memories are usually of permanent sunshine and I recall these holidays spent almost entirely by, in or on the sea. At the age of about four I became apprenticed to Jake Nisbet, Master and Commander of the Fleetwing, an open launch from which he mainly hauled crabs and lobsters. I now believe the Fleetwing to have been a utility launch designed by Walter Bergius and built by James N Miller & Sons at St Monans. She was fitted with a petrol/paraffin Kelvin engine. The two of us often set off for the fishing grounds and I quickly learned how to keep the boat under control while Jake emptied and rebaited his pots. On one memorable day after a period of strong winds we went hand-lining for cod, close in at the foot of some steep cliffs with the swell bouncing back from the rocks. He was after a particular fish that had eluded him in the past and was to do so again that day. Looking back it was a pretty dangerous operation, but Jake was my hero and I had total confidence that he would get us back safely.
   
"You forgot about Patch the dog of Jake. Remember when young Peter Nisbet put the Fleetwing into reverse without pausing in neutral for a few seconds, this happened when Patch fell overboard and so this gear movement  broke the gear linkage. There was a pump that had to be primed with a canful of seawater and that was my job. Young Peter was the son of Peter the Fish and owner of grey Morris Minor van in background of foto of yourself and Jake and Lenny the lobster that you boiled alive"



Years later my mother spoke of the pride she felt when I brought the Fleetwing alongside the quay, to the surprise of some visitors (we never saw ourselves as such). However she also got a scare one day when we had just left the little harbour, as usual with a bit of a swell running and an East wind and Jake switched to paraffin before the Kelvin was properly warmed up. As he calmly set about priming the engine with petrol to restart it my wretched mother was seen scrambling over the rocks, calling for the lifeboat to be launched, to my eternal embarrassment. Of course we were soon going again, but Jake thought it better to return me to shore, so I lost a day's fishing. 


Harbour entrance by Patricia Dorward

At the time I was sure that Jake, with his full beard and thick traditional jersey, was the oldest man in the world. Many years later I was returning from a meeting in Durham and found myself near to St Abbs, which I had never revisited, so I took a detour. I found that Jake had died only a few years earlier in his fifties, so he must have been scarcely out of his thirties at the time of our trips.

"Your memory is away again Brother dear, look at the foto again please. You just expect someone like Jake to have had a full beard and his jersey doesn't look all that traditional to me."

Those summers were also an education of the dangers of the sea. There were many people around who could remember the storm of October 1881, when the entire village lost loved ones. And several times during our stays the maroons went off, summoning the lifeboat crew.

My brother and I were green with envy one year when we arrived to find that the local boys had built themselves sailing boats from fish boxes, coating the outsides with canvas and tar, curragh-style, and square-rigging them with old black window blinds. We lacked the skills and resources take part and the experience probably caused both of us to start building boats in later life.

"the home made boats sails were of course wartime blackout blinds. One of these boats was called Lark. It was from these boats that I developed a great love of very small rowing boats."

Rather more stylish than these craft was the Lively Peggy, a beautiful clinker-built skiff, gaff-rigged and immaculate, with the ends of her spars painted white, that lay in the inner harbour, the pride and joy of the charismatic harbour-master George Colven.

In those days the main activity was of course fishing, but many of the men went whaling in winter. There were also occasional opportunities for a little trade, for example when the Polish fishing fleet came close to shore the local men would be off with goods for barter. I don't know what they exported, but the imports included Polish cigarettes and vodka. This all seemed very exciting at a time when the Cold War was getting under way and Mother lived in constant fear of being attacked by the Communists.

"Jake worked in the winters for Christian Salvesen the whalers. There was an article about him in one of the chipshops in Eyemouth about his wartime excursions"

St Abbs is now a haven for divers and I understand that George Colven was instrumental in resolving the problems associated with their arrival, allowing new forms of economic activity to replace the old. On my last visit a couple of years ago I realised that while the structure of the village was unchanged the character was now very different and felt that perhaps the old memories should have been left undisturbed. There are echoes of the past, however, as the village has built a St Ayles skiff and is now participating in the Scottish Coastal Rowing Project.

    "your whole article is very much a boys view of things."

As you have seen my brother is gifted with supernatural recall. Looking back I realise that Jake had a special quality in that he could make everyone feel special. Neil and I were only two of a no doubt large number of holiday children who got their introduction to the sea from this legendary boatman, whom we now know had also survived a hazardous war in the Merchant Navy. We little knew how much those seaside summers would shape our later lives and I despair for those present-day children who are freighted off to Disneyworld at every opportunity and denied knowledge of their native land.


postcard from Robbie Nisbet's collection

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Edmund Nordheim and his yachts

One of the fascinating things about researching the history of yachting is the insight it gives into the personalities of the owners. What were their motives for commissioning what to many would seem just expensive playthings? There is plenty of evidence that when the King or the Emperor of any particular country took up yachting various types would decide that the sport was just right for them too, not that very many of them got cold or wet actually taking part. It's easy to find out about these would-be persons of influence, much more difficult to research the lives of those who took up the sport purely for enjoyment, whose stories are potentially much more interesting.

A good example of a man who was crazy about sailing and had the resources to feed his habit is Edmund Nordheim, Alfred Mylne's mysterious client from the first posting on this blog.

Edmund Nordheim's first commission for a yacht that I have been able to find was the substantial yawl Winifred, commissioned by him from Sibbick of Cowes and launched in 1901. She is still sailing in Germany, as a cutter.

photo courtesy of fky

Writing on the Freundeskreis  website here Kai Greiser says:-

"[apart from those who wanted racing yachts]...Sibbick attracted owners who truly loved sailing on the high seas. Thus came Edmund Nordheim from Hamburg, member of various yacht clubs in England and Germany, who had made lots of money in the fur trade with Russia and who had a new boat built every two years or so....."

So certainly Winifred was not Edmund Nordheim's first boat and it would be interesting to learn of the earlier ones.

Edmund Nordheim would no doubt have known of the skills of George Lennox Watson, who had designed yachts for the Prince of Wales as well as the Kaiser and his brother, but Watson had died suddenly in 1904 so it is understandable that when he decided to commission a new racing yacht in 1905 he turned to Watson's former assistant Alfred Mylne.

The Scottie was the first of five yachts designed by Alfred Mylne for Edmund Nordheim and all were built by Alexander Robertson at Sandbank. This great loyalty to designer and yard paid off, as Scottie and her successors were all successful. David Hutchison, the keeper of the Robertson archive and a descendant of the family, has commented as follows:-

"Alexander Robertson confirmed his early reputation on the Clyde by building Fife and Watson designed yachts in the 1890s.  He did not start to build Mylne yachts until 1900, a business arrangement which was to last for quarter of a century.  However, even after this, the partnership continued as Alfred Mylne purchased the Robertson built 41ft yacht Medea (Ex Vladimir), which he sailed for over 20 years.  After his death in 1951 Medea, which was designed by him in 1904, remained in the Mylne family for another ten years."

Scottie has her own post on this blog and the successors were as follows:-

1908 - Mungo, 24.8 ft, '5-Metre Linear Rating Sloop
Mungo was Mylne design No 149, Robertson's Yard Boat No 54.
Mungo was shipped to Germany at the end of April and by mid May had won her second race on the Alster at Hamburg, in a good steady breeze.  She had a very successful first season and proved champion of her class, with 14 firsts out of 19 starts, plus the Emperor's Cup.  It was commented that, "the prospects for next season, at least as far as the Clyde is concerned, are very bright." 

1908 - Novena, 34.5 ft, '8-Metre Linear Racing Sloop'
Novena was Mylne design No 157, Robertson's Yard Boat No 58.
"Designed by Mylne, she has proved herself to be far the fastest 8- Metre yacht in continental waters.  From 21 starts in Germany she had 11 first prizes, and also won 2 overseas prizes", quote taken from 'The Yachtsman', October 28, 1909.

1910 - Decima, 33.6 ft, '8-Metre Linear Racing Sloop'
Decima was Mylne design No 179, Robertson's Yard Boat No 66.
"Mr Edmund Nordheim's Mylne-designed boat Decima has come out at the top of the 8-Metre class at Keil (1910).  Her record for 33 starts is: 19 firsts; 3 seconds;4 thirds.  This record was put up in a class of 13, and including new boats by Fife, Linton Hope, von Hacht and Anker."

1912 - Pampero, 51.9 ft, '10-Metre Auxiliary Bermudan Cutter'
Pampero was Mylne design No 214, Robertson's Yard Boat No 72.
On her completion at Robertson's yard the Yachtsman magazine stated, "there is something about her which is indicative of speed and power in no stinted degree".  Pampero did not disappoint, with a win at the important International Regatta in July 1912.

The business relationship was not always profitable for the Robertson yard. David Hutchison has kindly supplied copies of the pages from the yard ledger showing the costs of Scottie.



At the end of page 2 is the comment:-

"The contract was entered into in a slack time of the year, October 1905, at a price of £210 to keep things going, and at this figure it was thought the job would turn.  However, owing to delays and humbugging on the part of the designer, a real start was not made until January 1906 when matters had to be rushed and overtime wrought, entailing a decided loss (actual cost £264)".

The contract price was not the end of the story for Edmund Nordheim. He was almost certainly the anonymous Hamburg correspondent who wrote to the Yachtsman magazine in May 1906:-

"It will undoubtedly be of some interest to those who are enthusiastic about the new International Rating Rule to know how the German tariff encourages International competition in boat building.  I have a little cruiser of seven sailing lengths (about 23 ft waterline) built on the Clyde, and had to pay at a rate of £7 10s per 1,000 Kg - more than £28 - as duty!  I spare you an account of the anxiety, ink, and time spent in passing the boat through Customs"

As David Hutchison has pointed out, import duty of 13.3% suggests the German authorities were trying to discourage foreign yachts.

As we know, Scottie survives as Illusion and sails today on the Wannsee. Despite our best efforts neither David Hutchison nor I has been able to discover the fate of the other four yachts. I would love to be able to update this post with their histories.

Equally important, I believe that Edmund Nordheim deserves a proper memorial and respect as a loyal client who backed a young designer and his favoured yard. I have been unable to trace his life history, but suspect he may have settled in England after the First World War. He appears to have had a great interest in antiquities and a substantial collection of ancient Roman and Greek coins was sold by him, or by his estate, between 1929 and 1931.

I hope that this post will be a work in progress and that our readers may be able to fill in the many gaps.

I am indebted to David Hutchison for his input here. To read his excellent wiki article on the Robertson family and their yard just click here.

Alex Robertson and his sons

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

A hearty welcome to friends from Germany

I was excited and pleased to find that my blogs have been picked up by www.fky.org, because I have happy memories of friendships made in Germany and sailing in the Baltic. Sailing together in small boats is a great way to get to know another country and make lasting connections. As you will see from my posts I am interested in researching Scottish/German connections and it would be fantastic to develop some research partnerships on specific topics.

It is obvious from the archives of the leading Scottish designers that many fine yachts went from their desks and yards to Germany in the period prior to 1914. A good example of a German client is Edmund Nordheim, who had five yachts designed by Alfred Mylne and built by Alexander Robertson on the Clyde.

After my first sailing visit in 1997 I started to learn German and can now read the language reasonably well, so please don't bother to translate any contribution.

Mit herzliche Gruesse

Ewan

Sunday, 7 November 2010

An innocent pursuit

On the weekend of 23th to 25th June 2006 the Royal Highland Yacht Club celebrated its 125th anniversary with a pursuit race.

The forecast was pretty good, offering a grey day with light Southwesterlies on the Friday, followed by a brighter Saturday with a very light Westerly wind and a sunny Sunday with a stronger Northwest wind. At least this suggested we should be able to get back home on the Sunday.

John Wilson agreed to come along and brought his dog Ben to keep Anne company at home.

On the Friday we set off at midday, there being no point in too early a start as there would be plenty of tide to get us to Pulldoran. John helmed us down to Ardluing buoy, which we cleared at 14.00. Out there we found a Southwesterly of about Force 3, which gradually increased as the day went on. We had a fast reach down past Easdale, by which time the weather had cleared up and there was a wonderful view of the hills of Mull and the mainland.

Eilean Dun was dead down-wind and we had to gybe several times as the wind shifted. Martyn had left later on Shona, but had gone through Cuan, so was in front and called to say there were about sixteen masts visible at Pulldoran. At midsummer it fills up rapidly and there were to be about twenty boats there when we arrived.

In the lee of Eilean Dun we got the jib down and stowed and the anchor and chain up on deck. I always use a Bruce nowadays with a short piece of heavy chain and a nylon warp, because it is fine in places like Pulldoran where you know the bottom is mud and there is so much traffic hardly any weed grows.

The Islanders are great tacking into a tight spot under main alone. I sheet in the main, set up both runners and Stroma works her way gently up wind, tacking without needing to do anything other than steer. It was amusing to see someone getting fenders out when we came up quite close under his counter.

We tacked up near to the head of the bay and anchored about twenty metres off the islands, next to Shona. A beautiful Arthur Robb designed 56 foot yawl lay quite near, the Rob Roy, flying the Virgin Islands flag, a very romantic sight indeed. Her owners Dave and Tricia were having a cruise in British waters to celebrate their ship's fiftieth birthday.

We had our dinner aboard and later walked over to the Tigh an Truish, where we had a few pints of Somerled. It's a great old inn and a very good reason to anchor in Pulldoran.

Saturday was a very bright morning with a gentle South-westerly breeze, a much better day then forecast. As our start was not until 12.08 in Oban we spent plenty of time stowing things, got the anchor up about 10.30 and spent most of the reach into Oban cleaning off the mud that Pulldoran is famous for.

We arrived in time to check the time signal on the Commodore boat Bandit. In a pursuit race the slowest boats start first, the idea being that everyone arrives at the finish line together. The Bandit was firing a gun every ten minutes, sounding a long blast every five and a short one every minute, making timing your start very easy.

The Committee boat

The bay was pretty full of boats and a fantastic sight. Stroma wasn't the oldest boat there, as the Elk is over a hundred. I remember seeing her on the shore near the Brandystone in the early seventies, an abandoned hulk. It's an incredible credit to Alex McRae that he's got her into first class condition. As you will see her crew dress the part too.






The crew of Shona were dressed the part too, with their Tammies.



Because of the crowd we were a couple of minutes late at the start, which gave the Shona a good lead. Paddy Shaw in Canna was well behind, having had to come down from Loch Etive and arriving a bit late to get into the starting sequence.

The course was the one from the 1898 race, North out of Oban Bay, across to Port Donain on Mull, round Bach Island to port then up the Sound of Kerrera to finish back in the bay.

Once clear of the bay we were closehauled on port tack in a wind which had increased a bit since the morning, ideal weather for the Islanders. The main problem was getting clear of the dirty wind from the slower boats ahead, requiring us to sail free under their lees and then make up the ground lost later by sailing faster. Shona was sitting on top of us and it seemed we would never get out of her wind shadow. I got the impression the two boats are now exactly equal in boat speed on the beat. We were still in her shadow when the fleet went about and sailed back towards Kerrera on the next tack.

The Port Donain mark was very difficult to spot and I only saw it when Shona went about. I thought Martyn had slightly underestimated for the North-going tide and stood on a bit more before doing our tack. This paid off because Shona had to sail close inshore at Mull and got caught in the ferocious tide that flows like a river up to Duart Point. As a result we cleared the mark about twenty yards ahead.

I then realised to my astonishment that only the Hot Toddy was in front of us, a very well-crewed boat from Oban Sailing Club, flying a big genoa. To pass her we had to work our way up to windward of her and then reach down to blanket her wind, which took an anxious twenty minutes or so. Then we were reaching across to Bach Island in a good breeze.






The Islanders are great reaching, thanks to the big main-sail and we were able to draw a bit further ahead and had a good lead by the time we turned into the Sound for the run home. This was quite stressful, because the boats behind were now blanketing us and the wind is always flukey in the Sound. I was worried that Hot Toddy would use some local knowledge to find a way past us. We had a bit of by-the-lee sailing to clear the Ferry Rocks buoy and were finally clear to sail for the line.

The fleet running home

The wind shifted a bit at the very end and we gybed just before the finish. It was nice to hear the gun and lots of hooting from the Rob Roys, who were anchored at Ardentraive Bay to watch the finish. Our course time was three hours and a minute.

We had a nice sail up to Dunstaffnage and had booked a visitors mooring, so were soon enjoying our dinner with Paddy, who had anchored alongside us. Later we went ashore and found that we had actually beaten sixtytwo other boats. We enjoyed the party at the marina, but were glad to turn in for a quiet night.



On Sunday morning we were up at five to a lovely bright day without a breath of wind. I decided to set off reasonably early to use the morning ebb tide and thought we would probably have to use the evening one as well to get home. We helped Stroma along with the paddles to get out of Dunstaffnage bay, helped by the tide sweeping round clockwise and round the South side of the entrance. After a couple of hours we had covered about one and a half miles, then spotted a really brisk breeze to the westwards. It took ages to drift across to it, always apprehensive that it would evaporate, but eventually we made it. We had a really fast run down past Bach Island and the Dubh Skeir and I though we might even get down to Ardluing before the tide turned. Then the wind gradually lessened and we were still a couple of miles from Seil when the tide turned. To stay out of the main stream I sailed across to the Seil shore, then ran down very slowly into Easdale, where we anchored off the Stone Wharf at 14.30. We had soup followed by strawberries and a couple of glasses of wine while waiting for the tide.

According to the tables the tide at Cuan would turn in our favour at a quarter to five, so we left an hour before then and just managed to stem the last of the North-going stream.

We were a little early at Cuan and ended up on the Seil side of the entrance, which was a mistake. Once we were in the Sound the wind was of course negatived by the stream so there was no way to steer. There were some powerful motor boats playing about in the Sound and cutting in and out of the whirlpools. One of them turned very near to us and her wash caught Stroma's bow, turning her round to face back where she came from. We were then drifting backwards in the tide, getting ever closer to the Seil shore and unable to steer. There's a little bay just South of the ferry pier and when we got there we had just enough way on to sail in, gybe round and come out going forwards once again.  In a few seconds we were back in the stream and under control.

We then had a gentle run down to Degnish Point and drifted up Loch Melfort as it started to rain and there was very little wind. Just when we were getting cold and depressed a gentle Northerly breeze came up and took us to the entrance to the Yacht Haven. Finally the wind died completely and we finished the day's journey as it had begun, shoving Stroma along with a paddle. We were on the mooring at 20.00, just over twelve hours after we had left Dunstaffnage.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Voyage around Torsa



Caisteal nan Con
I am fascinated by the House of the Dogs on Torsa. It is generally supposed to have been a hunting lodge of the MacDougalls and is known to have become Campbell property the year before Bannockburn, to become MacDougall property again in the Sixteenth Century. The MacLeans of Duart also possessed it for a while and as they were known as the dogs their tenure provides another theory about its name. It's probably of prehistoric origin and has been cleverly built into a natural rock outcrop with later modifications including possibly the installation of a chimney, an item only found only in the grandest of Scottish homes until quite recently. Nearby is a lovely sheltered bay, ideal for beaching boats.

Torsa islands lies at the South entrance to the Cuan Sound, an exhilarating narrow passage which gives a quick route from the quiet waters of Loch Melfort to the Atlantic. The Lords of the Admiralty advise:-
"Cuan Sound should only be used by small vessels with local knowledge. On account of the strong tidal streams and eddies, passage is not recommended except at slack water."
The tidal streams vary between three and six knots.

The Atlantic outside Cuan Sound

On a fine day in early May 2009 the fleet had sailed up to Torsa and we had our picnic under the Caisteal nan Con. From the height of the castle we could feel that the wind had backed North-west and there was the prospect of an interesting afternoon. The obvious challenge was to see if our boats could beat up against the ebb, now running strongly South, and circumnavigate Torsa while there was sufficient depth of water in the narrow gap down to Ardinamir. About twelve little boats made it and there follow some images of the trip.

The Widdakers, Topher and Kelpie.

Widddakers, Seapod and Beechnut

Sciurus in a tide rip


Seapod driving hard

Bonny, an Iain Oughtred Whilly boat
Kelpie's sprit shows the strain
John in his Nutshell

Rocks on the way to Ardinamir

Monday, 1 November 2010

The evolution of small boat types


The image above is of Mike and Daphne Murray's gaffer in a half gale off Crinan a couple of years ago. There's nothing to beat the pleasure of driving a seaworthy little boat hard in such conditions.

The last century saw the evolution of small recreational boats from traditional shapes such as this, into the twelve and fourteen foot dinghies of the 1930s, through the boxy shapes that appeared post-war as a result of advances in technology and ending in the production of quite extreme forms that demanded considerable levels of fitness and skill from those who sailed them.


Here is an image of Melody, a classic National Twelve dinghy from 1951, one of Jack Holt's 500 series built by his firm at the Putney Embankment. The construction is absolutely traditional, hardwood clinker planking with copper fastenings. The hull form has moved on a bit, but not too far, from those around twenty or thirty years earlier, which themselves had evolved from the older shapes.  The main changes are the amount of rocker in the keel, intended to make the boat quick to tack, and the flattening of the run aft. These advances had little effect on the fundamental seaworthiness of the design and Melody has a reassuringly well-behaved feel on the water.

Jack Holt was of course instrumental in evolving hull types that made best use of the new glues and plywood. Virtually all of the new classes that emerged in the late 1950s and through the 1960s had the same basic hard chine, occasionally multi-chine shape, made necessary by the method of construction. They were built upside down of plywood panels glued and screwed to stringers, which were in turn set into plywood bulkheads. When fibreglass construction arrived these hull shapes were often retained, although there was no longer any good reason.

Latterly many dinghy classes evolved into highly sophisticated pieces of sporting equipment only suitable for racing. For those who wanted to enjoy purely recreational sailing in small boats the choice seemed pretty limited. If you read only the mainstream boating press you would have felt that the only option was to go for mass-produced plastic sameness.

But almost unnoticed in the media things were beginning to happen on both side of the Atlantic. From its utterly charming and slightly hamespun Volume 1 Number 1 in September 1974 Wooden Boat magazine has grown in status and strength. It has consistently promoted good design and made plans and constructive help available to the builder.

By the 1980s small workshops were hard at work in the UK, from Topher Dawson in Scoraig, to Richard Pierce at Ferry Nab, to a cluster of craftsmen in Essex. By 1986 Iain Oughtred, then based in London, was sufficiently confident to bring out his directory of Wooden Boatbuilding in Britain. While the listed designers and builders showed a great variety of techniques ranging from traditional to high-tech they also showed a common thread, a return to the proven, seaworthy hull shapes of the past. Iain's book was an important factor in getting many of these individuals to feel less isolated and part of a movement. Classic Boat magazine followed along and has made a contribution, although many will not forgive it for gobbling up The Boatman. Watercraft survives and does its best too.

1986 was also the year when I started taking an interest in building boats, rather than sailing them, as I got the space to build myself a small workshop. My first boat was the late Joel White's Nutshell pram, which I absolutely commend to anyone looking for a safe, elegant little tender, or simply a first building project. She still does service and will be the subject of her own post in due course.


I followed this in 1988 with a Swampscott dory from Volume One of John Gardner's Classic Small Craft. She was an exciting boat to sail with her traditional dory rig. She had little initial stability but once heeled she stiffened up and it was hard to put her rail under. She could have done with a bit more beam, as I found when I bought Volume Two and discovered an improved version.

dory Anne


In 1990 I built John Gardner's Massachusets Quincy skiff, which now resides in semi-retirement beside Loch Awe. She was designed for logging and was wonderful to row, but her flat sides made her unsuitable for work in a seaway.

Quincy skiff

Then between 1992 and 1994 I built Sonas, which has her own post on this blog and between 1995 and 2003 I rebuilt my Scottish Islander Stroma. Stroma and her sisters have their own blog:- www.scottishislandsclass.blogspot.com

After taking a couple of years off from building to go sailing I built the Kelpie, a Christmas Wherry designed by Walt Simmons of Duck Trap Woodworking, and launched her in 2006. She will also be the subject of her own post in due course.


From these projects I have learned that it's quite easy to build a good-looking seaworthy boat without it taking over your life. Advances in gluing technology mean that one does not have to develop traditional wood-working skills either. My boats, other than Sonas, were all built of epoxy-glued plywood upside down over temporary moulds set up on a ladder at a convenient building height. The glued lap produces an extremely strong stringer, so the hulls have needed virtually no framing. Because the moulds can be made from fibre-board or any other cheap material the method should appeal to small-scale professional builders as well as amateurs, in contrast with fibreglass, where there is enormous investment that can only be recouped in mass production.

In recent years there has been almost a craze for small boat musters and raids throughout Europe, where most of the participant boats are built of glued-lap plywood. The Scottish Coastal Rowing Project would not have been achievable using any other method. It will be interesting to watch developments as more people find that building boats can be as much fun as sailing them.

Lunchtime break near the Dorus Mhor


The fleet somewhere in mid-Argyll

The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water