Saturday, 29 June 2013

A nice pulling boat for the sea.

One of the dreadful things about building any boat is that after the present project is safely up in frame, or on the moulds if you build upside down like most of us do, one’s thoughts turn to the next project. Mutterings along the lines of “haven’t you got enough boats already?” do absolutely nothing to dampen things down. There are several reasons for these feelings.

Boatbuilding is itself a very basic and intrinsically compulsive activity. It seems likely that the human race was going afloat for millennia before the wheel was invented. After all, why build roads when the sea and river are here for nothing? Historically our islands were the centres of commerce and administration and hence culture, also the interface with other cultures far away and thus responsible for most of our genetic mix.

Constructing a boat is a fascinating blend of practicality and artistry, a three-dimensional object which must work, keep us safe and last in a destructive environment but which can also be handsome and even beautiful.

Finally, as with everything else, we do it because we can. We have acquired the tools and skills and why stop now, when every boat we build is an improvement in what has gone before. Ronnie McG from Kilcreggan told me once of an uncle who built livery skiffs by eye and continued to produce them at the rate of one every four weeks or so, long after there was no market for them and all his other faculties were giving up, “just because it was what he did”.

So, my record to date is: a a Joel White Nutshell, which took 6 months in 1986, Mystic John Gardner’s Swampscott Dory from Volume One in 1988, his Quincy Skiff in 1990, David Ryder-Turner’s Sonas between 1992 and 1994, Iain Oughtred’s smallest stem dinghy in 1996 and Walt Simmon’s Christmas Wherry in 2006. The significant gap before the wherry was taken up with rebuilding Stroma after a museum destroyed her and since 2006 I’ve been restoring Juni (and building a house). Most recently Selkie hit the water after the community build on the Isle of Seil. Not all my own work, but I was proud to help.

The next project will be a pulling boat with long enough legs to get up a good clip with one or maybe two people sculling, but not too difficult to handle on shore (so that she gets used)  and fine enough lines not to be a pain, but also firm enough not to cause alarm. Oh dear, I’ve just described two or three separate boats.

A Whitehall type, or Iain’s Acorn at the longer length, say sixteen or seventeen feet, or the lovely but extreme Flashboat, would get the speed, but such boats at shorter lengths are tippy spindles. At the intended longer length she’d be fine until caught in the wind and tidal chops we get around here. And probably blow away if left on the shore.

Shorter boats, such as the larger tenders, are too bulky for recreational rowing and don’t get the speed, if safe.

I’m tending towards an elongated tender, taking an existing design that combines a firm bilge with smooth lines and extending the mould spacings to add some length. The ends should be as vertical as possible, to maximise immersed waterline. Many of Iain O’s designs fail to do this, an exception being the Tammie Norrie, which should go on the list. It’s a plus too, that Alec Jordan has kitted her.

That makes me think of a traditional Cornish rowboat drawn by Percy Dalton, plumb ends, nothing fancy, just a good basic no-nonsense boat. I seem to have lost my copy of his book – must see if the lines are googleable.

A near vertical transom means of course that a little Mercury or similar could perch there, handy if someone wants to go fishing.

As often before I’ve turned to the sage of Mystic Seaport. The closest to what I have in mind is the Lawley tender, which is too short for the purpose at twelve feet, but what if drawn out a foot or two? She has the proud stem, firm bilge and lovely traditional transom that would hold their own in any company. The lines look good and would cope with being drawn out I think. She could be built in strip but, what the hell, better to do her in fine clinker, with lots of planks per side and make a proper job of her!

Does anyone have a better idea?   


  1. She could be a good choice, I have similar thoughts after building my skiff, it seems to me the whitehall types and some of the dory's on which I based her handle best when loaded, she's great 2 1/2 up, fast solo, but looses stability. The extra 2 feet you propose might have a big effect on overall displacement (relative to a small boat).

  2. As you know I've gone for the Flashboat! Yes she is tender but the flare will stiffen her up as she heels, and keep her dry too. Being tender will allow her to run level in a cross sea and I will know my efforts are being rewarded by the lowest possible drag.

    Soon see in the spring.


The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water