Thursday, 12 June 2014

Pendana's Cruise, Part Two

On arrival at Whitehaven Beach we were amazed at not only its length but also its shinning white sand.

Whitehaven Beach runs a staggering four nautical miles and draws tourists and boaters like bees to honey.

That being said, at three plus nautical miles in length there is plenty of room for everyone and everyone can have their own little piece of paradise for the day, week, month or year!

Whitehaven Beach claims to have the whitest sands of any beach in the world and while a claim that is held to be true I am not sure that there aren’t many more beaches in the world with white sand (the very beautiful Hyams Beach on the south coast of New South Wales with its pristine white sand springs easily to mind, for example), after-all surely white is white? In fact, the sand at Whitehaven is not really sand but rather silica (quartz sand). Silica doesn’t retain heat which makes walking on it a pleasurable experience.

It is thought the incredibly fine silica sand on Whitehaven was brought to the beach via prevailing currents over millions of years as there is no silica present in any rocks which surround it.

Bianca and Abi on Whitehaven beach!

During our time in the Whitsundays we decided to take on some fuel in preparation for our return trip. I can attest that Shute Harbour has the cheapest fuel on the Whitsundays being almost $1.00 per gallon / 26 cents per litre cheaper than the rather pricey Abel Point Marina.

After plenty of relaxing at anchor we decided to move once more and head for a place called Nara Inlet.

Nara Inlet is described as being like the Fiords in Norway and while I see some resemblance we were missing the snow-capped mountains. Nara Inlet on Hook Island in the Whitsundays boasts some very old Aboriginal cave paintings.

In the steep wooded hills around the inlet there are a number of 'caves', really rock overhangs, which show signs of Aboriginal habitation going back some eight thousand years and in one of these at the northern end of the inlet there are Aboriginal paintings. While there are locals who say these were painted as a hoax by early tourist operators, experts from the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Office of Heritage and the Arts are satisfied they are genuine, though it is possible some touching-up has been done. In 1987 the National Parks and Wildlife Service erected a fence and boardwalk to protect this particular cave and the paintings as much from the local goat population as well as human interference.

Once anchored safely in Nara Inlet we decided that it was time to tender to the site where these cave painting were. As we motored towards the small beach which led to the caves we were in awe of the scenery we saw along the way, truly beautiful.

Once at the beach we secured our tender and headed up towards the steps which led to the cave. Once we had climbed the 44 million steps (well, that is what it felt like!) the art was very impressive and made the journey well worth it. With story boards and audio telling the story of the Ngaro people from long ago, we all felt as if we had stepped back in time.

Truly amazed at how well preserved the art was.

The rock formations were extraordinary
With time ever marching on we decided to head for Hamilton Island. Hamilton Island is a truly remarkable place and as Pendana arrived at Dent Passage and turned to Port to line up with the entrance markers of the marina we were through the entrance and tied up on the end of “D” arm in what seemed like seconds. Orange juice and fresh coffee on the brew and helloooo Hamilton Island!!!

Link above is a 360 degree of Pendana at Hamilton Island Marina.

Pendana heading south towards Hamilton Island early in the morning.

After relaxing a little it was time to collect our electric buggy that we had leased for our stay. Basically, all of Hamilton Island is car free and other than the odd bus ferrying tourists around and/or council vehicles, the only other mode of transport is by foot or golf buggy and while I thought of these two alternatives seriously (for about a millisecond) I decided the buggy would be best!!

Rush hour on Hamilton Island.

After we had spent enough time on Hamilton Island we decided to try our luck and head south for Shaw Island in the morning as we were all very keen to truly get away from it all after the high tourist numbers on Hamilton Island.

Shaw Island is well south of Hamilton Island and outside the area where hire yachts can travel so I for one was looking forward to a little less crowded anchorage. After a pleasant three hour run south we arrived at what was a truly magnificent island which was away from it all.

Beautiful Shaw Island.

Shaw Island lies south of the famous Lindeman Island and is once again paradise on earth. Deserted beaches, fine white sand, calm crystal clear waters and a peacefulness that is hard to put into words. It reminded me of that lovely feeling I had as a child, wrapped up in bed all snug as a bug in a rug, listening the rain fall on our roof. The feeling of calm, safety and tranquillity was overwhelming and Shaw Island delivered in spades.

The beautiful Whitsundays is truly a place that all boaters should visit. It’s a remarkable place with words and photos only being able to convey a fraction of its beauty and sense of serenity. Pendana is now home in Sydney waters after a six month trip away, covering some 2,500nms/4,689klms or in other words the same distance as Sydney to Samoa, London to Nova Scotia (Canada) or New York to French Guiana (South America). I must say that the overall journey was a wonderful experience and one that we all enjoyed and other than 24 hours of some pretty nasty weather off the Fraser Island coast (+5 metre seas) we did in the main have perfect conditions for the entire time we were away.

If you decide to head for the Whitsundays then I can highly recommend Hamilton Island Marina as it is the best marina for long or short stays without doubt. Shute Harbour is by far the cheapest for fuel and however much time you plan to spend in this part of the world, it won’t be long enough. Both Claire and I commented that we could easily spend a few years in this area and not see it all.

More information on Pendana can be found at

And now for something completely different!

A six month voyage of discovery!

The owners of Pendana, a Nordhavn 62 decided to embark on a six month, 2,500nm round trip from Sydney, Australia up to the beautiful Whitsunday Islands which is often referred to as the third best cruising grounds in the world, after the Bahamas and Mediterranean.

Departing Sydney, Australia, Pendana departed carrying enough fuel and spares to see her make landfall in Hawaii if the need should arise. As a nasty cold front was closing in on Sydney her departure was not with clear blue skies overhead but rather dark, ominous clouds forming out to sea just to the south east of Sydney Heads. Realising they would be able to sneak ahead of the large cloud front and take advantage of the following seas she headed out, for what everyone aboard hoped to be, an adventure of a lifetime!

On board for the journey were Pendana’s owners James and Claire Ellingford, their two children Abi and Bianca aged 13yrs and 9yrs together with regular crew member and general all round nice guy, Captain Mark James. James Ellingford has always maintained that any run over twenty four hours requires three crew as being tired on watch is not a smart thing to do while at sea. With the appropriate crew you have the freedom of running a four hour on, eight hour off watch cycle which allows for all to remain well rested and alert for whatever situation may arise. Mistakes happen when people are tired.

Pendana’s first day at sea saw her humming along doing a steady 9.3kts, consuming a very respectable 18 litres of fuel an hour in what were far more reasonable conditions than had been forecasted. She faced 14kt winds, two meter following seas with a generous eleven second period.

Pendana departing in less than ideal conditions.

As some would know June is the whale migration season where the whales from the Southern Ocean migrate north to warmer waters north along the east coast of Australia. By complete chance once Pendana was clear of the heads a very large barnacled hump back whale surfaced within about eight feet from Pendana’s starboard side amidships as if wishing us well on our journey north.

The first leg of our Pendana’s trip north from Sydney is to Lady Musgrave Island which is a large coral cay with, I might add, an alarmingly narrow entrance. From Lady Musgrave, Pendana will then head further north to the Percy Group of Islands on advice from a fellow mariner who said that Middle Percy is hands down the best of the Whitsundays! Following from the Percy Group Pendana will head further north to explore the more traditional islands of Hayman, Hamilton, Hook, Shaw and as many of the seventy islands in the Whitsunday group as possible.

The Whitsundays are comprised of 74 islands within a 40 nautical mile radius on Australia’s northeast coast, with Hamilton Island being the largest of the six islands that are inhabited. These tropical islands offer deserted, fine sand beaches, lush bushland, and remarkable flora, fauna and sea life. The Great Barrier Reef which is literally on the Whitsundays doorstep is, in fact, one of the world’s seven natural wonders stretching over 2,300 kilometres and covering some 350,000 square kilometres (nearly the size of Germany) consisting of a myriad of lagoons, atolls, sand cays and coral outcrops that simply must be experienced to be able to be fully appreciated.

After a little over three days at sea Pendana had arrived at Lady Musgrave Island and all any of us on board could say was, WOW! The lagoon’s amazing colours and beauty are world class. Boasting an abundance of coral, fish and turtles the lagoons water is very similar to that in the Bahamas or Nice, in the South of France. Crystal clear deep turquoise blue water that is simply incredible. For snorkelling enthusiasts Lady Musgrave Island is one of the most rewarding destinations in the Great Barrier Reef, with a diverse variety of fish and coral species creating the perfect underwater setting for those lucky enough to get to enjoy it!

The entrance into Lady Musgrove was narrow but well-marked with two starboard makers, one port marker and an isolated danger marker once inside. Any error in going through the entrance would be met with catastrophic consequences as the coral walls drop for metres below the surface of the water.

Once we’d had enough of Lady Musgrave Island we departed and headed further north to Middle Percy Island where we arrived early morning. Middle Percy, without any doubt, was in a word, sensational and certainly a must-stop for all who find themselves in this area! First charted by Matthew Flinders, and named after the Duke of Northumberland, Middle Percy is the quintessential tropical island. Palm trees (complete with coconuts) white sand, crystal clear blue water, butterflies, starfish, seals and dolphins to boot.

Middle Percy was the last remaining leasehold island off the Queensland coast. However, this is no longer the case with a Queensland government department now managing the island and ensuring it is kept in its pristine state. The island is still bound to a tradition of providing fresh water and supplies to passing seafarers. Past leaseholders have always helped mariners in trouble and assisted with emergency repairs over the many years and as such seafarers feel a real sense of home when stepping ashore.

Middle Percy also holds the tradition where seafarers young and old leave memorabilia from their boats under an old rustic A-Frame set just back from the beach. It is absolutely incredible to look at the variety of items left over the years by visitors to Middle Percy, everything from messages in bottles, oars, clothing, barometers, flags, life buoys, engravings on wood, and more, abound with vessel and crew names and years of those lucky enough to have spent time on this lovely island.

Pendana’s owners prepare to leave behind a life ring.
Middle Percy’s A-Frame.

Spending more time than we should in paradise, which was Middle Percy Island we decided it was time to make the short, 160nm run north to Cid Harbour which was by all accounts a very safe, well protected anchorage on the west side of Whitsunday Island.

Cid Harbour
One thing that has struck all of us is how un-Australian the Whitsundays actually appear to be; we would all swear that when motoring around the islands that the appearance of them is more akin to cruising in Canada than Australia and while one would expect to see the islands littered with various species of gum trees (indigenous Australian tree) nothing could be further from the truth. Norfolk Pines are the order of the day! Islands with sheer cliff faces, steep hillsides slanting acutely down into the blue/green waters, covered in rich, dark green Norfolk Pines right down to the absolute edge making the whole experience rather surreal. We all thought that one wouldn’t be surprised to see a Canadian brown bear leaping from the land in search of lunch but alas, not to be. I must say that it is an incredibly beautiful part of the world and some of those attractions lie in its complete difference to the mainland.

After spending time exploring in and around Cid Harbour we decided to move Pendana to the very beautiful Whitehaven Beach so that we could drop anchor, have lunch and then go for a swim in the afternoon.

Whitehaven Beach is on the east side of Whitsunday Island and with confidence building after successfully navigating the narrow entrance of Lady Musgrave, we decided to travel through the narrow passage between Hook and Whitsunday Islands which is also the most convenient route to take paying particular attention to the effect of tides and current.

In this part of the world tides flood (incoming) to the south and ebb (out-going) to the north and can create strong currents up to 9kts in some parts so after checking with my new best friend, the Queensland tide table book, we were confident that our arrival in the passage between islands would be at almost slack tide making the effects of current null and void. With Claire at the helm it was clear that while the current was not a problem there were certainly times when Pendana would yaw off course due to the current’s residual effects but as always, Pendana handled it with ease correcting as she went.

Passage between Hook and Whitsunday Island.
This is part 1 of James Ellingford's account of his family's wonderful voyage to Paradise. Part 2 will follow shortly.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Over sixty skiffs and counting

The Isle of Luing community launched skiff number sixty last weekend and the Selkies were there to salute her, with their new flag floating in the gentle breeze. 

The row down from Balvicar was a light paddle of three and a half miles down tide with a following zephyr.  

The only hazard the Belnahua, who has right of way.

The Gill of Melfort came by road to the ferry and missed the lovely trip down, but had a nice row across the Sound.

One of our surviving fellow creatures, who has so far escaped the fish farm's rifles. 

Rowing is back in strength it seems.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Bilderglug Report and a Sombre Postcript

Bilderglug 2014 showed how much fun you can have when it’s really cold and wet. The ditty bag my Swedish friends Petter and Birgitta gave me has a legend which translates “my little boat makes me awful wet round the middle when it’s stonking”, which just about sums up this year’s highly secret muster in a tiny village on a small much perforated island somewhere.

At least having the Kelpie there in advance meant that I could drive round in comfort and warmth. It was good to get the tent up and the chefs in charge of the enormous Friday feast really surpassed themselves.

Saturday was fun, charging about in a brisk wind and rain with the borrowed Mrs D while Mr D gave his Flashboat a test drive under sail. Circumnavigating Right Island was followed by picnic on Shuna and a trip home round Wrong Island to base, with barbeque and ceilidh courtesy of Paul and Chris with squeezebox, clarsach and fiddle. Songs in sundry tongues from English to Russian, voices female and male, some classical flute solos and some poems and stories too. All good traditional stuff and this year two complete sets for the Jig, which means that sixteen can now do it and at this rate the whole company will be managing it by 2016.

Sunday was wet and cold, Mrs D had been reclaimed and so I was alone. It blew a bit, but not enough to make things interesting. It rained, then rained a bit more.

At lunchtime we visited Pol na Gille once again, in the shadow of cages licensed by the so-called Scottish Environment Protection Agency to hold about 2000 tonnes of salmon, up to half a million mature fish. My article published a year ago about the industrial pollution of the bay seemed to have produced a result, as most of the debris had been removed, no doubt because there’s now a new application in to ruin the bay round the corner with yet another fish farm. Here is the map showing the location:

A cold, wet, sombre Sunday ended with a warming evening of “lectures”, some of which may or may not be eventually published online.

Recovery of the Kelpie took place the following week with the aid of the buses and the ferry to the island, then a lift from Richard who took the photos at the top of this post.


Industrial fish farming is doing a lot of damage to the SNP and hence to the cause of Scottish independence, which is desperately sad, because I believe that whichever major party was in power we would see precisely the same destruction of the environment.

There was massive expansion under the previous Labour regime and while the Libdems and Tories will not get near to power in Scotland this century their few surviving placemen vote for the farms whenever they can. A pathetic example of this is Councillor Currie from the Isle of Islay, elected by a population which refuses to allow farms, but who felt he could safely vote for the one at Ardmaddy.

The policy seems to be driven by civil servants who have far too much power and who have become far too close to the industry for proper independent analysis of the issues. In case we the public find out what’s going on, under the freedom of information rules, government has decided not to require the industry to disclose data on subjects such as the prevalence of sea lice. No land-based industry would be allowed the same liberty.

Nobody expects politicians to care for the environment, but they should care for the fragile micro-economies in places like Seil, whose private sector businesses are entirely dependent on the quality of life and the visitor experience. Pollution from the farms put an end to recreational diving years ago, by wrecking many of the delicate life forms that exist below the surface. Placing colonies of caged salmon in most of the bays will put an end to the pleasure boating, kayaking and pottering that bring so many visitors. Killing or scaring off the local wildlife self-evidently puts paid to eco-tourism (officially over a dozen “rogue” seals were shot last year at Pol na Gille).

The proposed “farm” at Shuna Cottage will if allowed destroy the amenity of one of the last unspoilt anchorages and may mean the end of Bilderglug, which has done its bit for the local economy for the last twelve years. Comments can be registered with the local authority by following the link here:

Argyll and Bute planning portal

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Bilderglug again

Secret messages passing, of course now overheard by GCHQ and others, suggest that Bilderglug may be about to happen again, perhaps for the twelfth time.

A forecast of a light Easterly proved accurate and it was too good a morning to miss, but on Easter Sunday no buses or ferry and Vice-Admiral Sir B**** A****, Bart (applied for) doesn't have his modified Ninigret afloat yet to supply a run home. Solution - the venerable Nutshell, now nearly twenty eight and the best little tender in the world.

I got the Kelpie underway at 0800 with the Nutshell in tow and we ran down to Toberonochy before a gentle breeze with a falling tide, grounding on the slatey sand at 0945. A good cup of strong coffee, some chocolate and chat, then off under oar at 1045.

There followed a pull of 45 minutes against the tide in Shuna Sound to the North of Shuna island, about one and a quarter miles, then a half hour hike across to Right Island for a break of fifteen minutes for bananas and a drink of water.

There was then a long stretch of four and a half miles home, with a little land breeze, which sadly faded and became a fresh little Easterly just when port was in sight.

Altogether a good day was had, about seven miles rowed in two and a quarter hours in a boat under eight feet long.

Friday, 28 March 2014


I've cared for her since 1976 and she's been a big part of my life, source of a lot of joy and good friendships and occasional worries. She's taken me and those I love safely through storms, gently cradled us when we were tired and thrilled us when we eased her sheets and let her reach across broad seas.

I've never counted the hours spent caring for her, but am sure there are few yachts her age in better condition. She's as strong as when McGruers launched her in 1929.

I'm sixty six now and won't be taking her, as I once did, to Ardminish or to Craighouse, or to Skye or Muck or Eigg or Coll or Mull or Wester Ross. She needs someone younger to do such things, in Scotland or further afield; I won't care if she's going to be in good hands.

Stroma is up on the hard at Cairnbaan along the Crinan Canal, a two hour trip from Glasgow. I'm asking £18,000, about 22,000 euros, for her and she's well worth that to the right person.    

There are full details elsewhere on our sister website,

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Classic Boat Awards 2014

Ellad, photo by Nigel Pert

Interesting to see a good Scottish contingent getting awards at the Classic Boat 2014 awards, with best restoration William Fife III’s Ellad heading the list, and his Saskia included.

Our own St Ayles skiffs did well, coming runners-up to the CW Hood 32 footer from the United States, a fibreglass “Spirit of Tradition” daysailer, which I guess would have collected a few trans-Atlantic votes.
Skiffieworlds in Ullapool
American plastic daysailer
Among the human winners were Fiona and Alastair Houston, tireless organisers of the Fife Regattas and Martin Black, the painstaking biographer of G L Watson, whose massive work is a great read and a fantastic resource for anyone looking for information about our sailing heritage of a hundred years ago, available from our fellow blogger the Leggy Prawn.
Fiona and Alastair

The images in this post have been lifted from Classic Boat, who attribute the one of Ellad to Nigel Pert. The takers of the others are not identified, but the one of Martin is mine, which I took when we were aboard the Ayrshire Lass last year. It’s always nice when the commercial sector acknowledges the efforts of those of us who publish for the fun of it. 

Sunday, 9 March 2014

The Easdale Ferry

Until recently almost any journey on our western seaboard would have involved a ferry crossing or two. The ferries were part of the lifeblood of the coastal communities and stories about them form an interesting component of our social history. The skills of the ferrymen were legendary in keeping vital routes open in all weather. 

Greatly improved roads and numerous bridges have reduced the numbers considerably and ferrymen and women are now quite a rare breed. Some of the ferries from earlier days can be seen gently rotting in remote bays, a reminder of the greater skills required of the early motorists than those of today.

There seems to be constant pressure, certainly from landowners if not from the ordinary folk, to reduce ferry links further by constructing more bridges and causeways. After all, having a proper road link to the mainland provided at the taxpayer's expense will easily add a zero to the end of whatever figure one's island is currently valued at. The implications of this in terms of rapid influx of new residents, pressure on island roads and so on are pretty obvious. Perhaps more important is the loss of the peculiar quality that makes islands special, the uniqueness of access by ferry. 

I was able to reflect on this a few days ago when crossing to Easdale for a quick visit that had been arranged before the wind got up. With over 30 mph blowing across the Sound I wouldn't have been surprised to find the ferry off, so there was a little surprise and apprehension when I saw the two ferrymen and their dog setting off in response to my summons. I needn't have worried, because the trip across and back was a model of expert seamanship and boat-handling. It would take a lot to stop the Easdale ferry running. 

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Cold water sprinting

Boating events are great for getting us out when we otherwise wouldn’t go and coastal rowing is great because the skiffs are available to do so when yachts and dinghies are at rest. The first formal event of 2014 at Loch Insh will be hard to beat for the competitive buzz, great company and an excellent location purpose-built for watersports.

On Sunday the forty participants were divided into eight teams plus coxes, resulting in a total of seven races - four heats, two semis and the final.

Novices and more experienced rowers were mixed but our crew were all entering just our second season, Will Glover from the Isle of Islay and myself from the Isle of Seil plus two from slightly newer clubs, Gillian Innes from Eskmuthe and Donna Martin from South Queensferry. Will and I grabbed our usual rowing stations, bow and stroke respectively and left it to the women to deliver the real power in the middle of the boat.

Usually everyone likes to have good quick blast on the water to open up the blood vessels and get rid of any residual hangovers, but this wasn’t possible with heats scheduled ten minutes apart so that you climbed aboard less than five minutes before the start. To make matters worse the temperature was hovering around zero.

One always has difficult choices about what to wear, knowing that you can’t change once you’re out. In general I think it’s worse to wear too much and risk becoming overheated and dehydrated, but in these conditions it was better to be well covered up. Gloves are another issue – in general I hate them as even slight separation between the fingers makes the grip less comfortable but they were certainly required at the weekend.

Suitably wrapped up and gloved we joined our cox the experienced Adam Graham aboard the Esther and just had time to sort out our footrests before lining up for the start.

When you’re in a race you don’t seem to see much, all your effort goes into delivering and you’re truly just one piston in a four cylinder engine. You’re running on rocket fuel made from an oxygen and adrenaline mix.

The leg out to the turning mark was pretty hard, the gasps of ice cold air really hurting and the legs suffering from it being a month or so since I was last out. I just remember Adam’s constant urging us on, then the turn, which we did quite well considering we’d never rowed before as a team. On the return leg I think the two skiffs were probably about level most of the way and the finish was the closest of our three races.

It was only after we finished that I realised we had won. This meant, of course, that we had to do it all again twenty minutes later, just time for a quick pint of water.

We drew the Soy Loon for the semi-final. He feels lighter, but maybe that was just his colour, after black Esther. I liked my rowing position further from the pin and felt that my oar suited me rather better. Adam was rowing against us, so Phil Robertson coxed us.

The first race had served as a warm-up and I found the second one much easier despite, I think, my setting a slightly faster pace. As our crew felt confident we did a racing start too.

Again I had no idea during the race about how we were doing but I know the result was pretty close. The closing stages seemed to last much longer than the thirty seconds or so they took in reality.

Thus we found ourselves with less than five minutes before the final race, just time for a slug of water from Will’s bottle.

I’m told the black boat beat us to the turn, but after we were round we settled down to a good fast clip and after half a minute or so I saw her just behind us. The combination of good coordinated rowing, a slight following breeze but most importantly Phil’s incredible coxing kept us ahead, until suddenly he shouted “You’re going to win, take it a little easier and enjoy your success!” and we finished a length or so ahead.

The best thing about coastal rowing is the incredible generosity of the clubs. At Ullapool we had to borrow from North Berwick to complete our over sixties crew and it happens time and again. Rowing with experienced people from older clubs and in other skiffs is the best way to learn and is the way to bring everyone up closer to level. On this occasion the main lesson learned (apart from having drinking water aboard) was the value of good coxing from Adam and Phil, two of the best.

Finally a word about our hosts, the Offering a combination of good accommodation, plenty of parking, an excellent restaurant with covered viewing, everything was ideal for skiffing. 

The only problem is the possibility of ice at this time of year, but then if you come in summer it seems you may be treated to aquatic acrobatics, see here: Loch Insh at play

First four photos courtesy of Ian Bright, Portsoy.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Sell wot you got, not wot you ain’t got…

This is the second guest post from Richard Pierce and contains a lot of thought-provoking stuff.

Sell what we’ve got….not what we’ve not got!  I was stopped in my tracks when I heard this clear order from the production manager to the marketing department of the competent manufacturing company I worked for in my early 20′s. And the absolute wisdom of those words has rung in my ears ever since a project I embarked on in the early 1990′s.

The mantra works in a number of ways, but fundamentally it says deal with certainties, not possibilities.

In the early days of my own boatbuilding business we had few orders, but it was immediately clear to me I should use my time to produce boats, solid products that had a value that could, sooner or later be realized. If a day passed with no product a day was lost that could never be regained. We duly started to turn a profit.

Without a sample available, winning a customer is much more difficult, so a substantial part of each day was spent creating new boats. For the first few months these were capitalized by a bank loan of £500, sufficient to cover the material costs of 4 small dinghies in those days. Within 6 months the loan was repaid, and we never used credit again, preferring to re-invest the proceeds of sales in more tools and materials.

After 10 years trading this model was providing a steady if unremarkable income for a few faithful helpers and me. A flow of orders flowed from the distinguished house-style of our product, which was clearly different from anything  anyone within hundreds of miles of our sales pitch was offering. We were building beautiful race-winning yachts.

Then the catastrophe happened. I was lured into a contract to build two racing yachts, just a little larger than those we had been turning out regularly for a few years. Armed with hundreds of photographs and drawings of  typical and contemporary 5-5metre class (34ftLOA) racing yachts I gave a fixed price, and set to work.

CAD machine printing was a new innovation at that time, and in lieu of a  bulky envelope of sweet smelling dye-line construction  drawings, the first package from the designer was a roll of drawing plastic showing the sections, neatly and accurately printed full size, followed by many feet of fax. Precise in some ways, but not a firm base for a contract I later realized….

Time being of the essence (the yachts were to be delivered six months hence to Norway for the World Championships) we set to with little other than a small scale profile drawing showing the station locations and the luxurious, full size, planking-reduced sections to work from. To save time and money the designer’s proposal was that we would remove the decks and cockpit soles from 2 old 5.5′s and install them ready fitted out to the new hulls and keels.  Retaining the old sailnumbers would also avoid the substantial payment of a building fee to the IYRU, an organization to which one of my customers was a past chairman!

The new hull building proceeded apace, with slight delays occuring with the delivery of the designer-specified non woven tri’axial glass cloth, a material I had no previous experience with. (In the event this material needed so much epoxy to fill its interstices its doubtful it was, in practice, any better than a conventional flat weave low-crimp cloth).


At this point line drawings for a bulb keel arrived… at the last possible moment, with some further details later by fax. A pattern had to be built and delivered to the lead keel foundry, Henry Irons in Cornwall some 388 miles distant. The shape was significantly more complex than anything seen in the 5.5 class before, and so the pattern took twice as long to make.  Apart from superior hydrodynamics the designer was aiming to place the CG lower than conventional, which meant that a hollow stub keel had to be built into the hull.

The fabrication and installation of these elements took way longer than the usual 5.5 arrangement (which was simply to bolt a fin onto a flat on the bottom of the canoe body using big washers and ten or a dozen bolts ready cast into the keel). Apart from the enhanced difficulty of ensuring perfect alignment, many hours of extra manufacturing were involved in this ‘new’ layout

Did I mention a call from the foundry? The lead castings turned out significantly heavier than designed, and so had to have the top 4″ removed, to be replaced by deadwood. Another small job in itself that multiplied the time needed to fit the keel. At this point I had to move the yacht hulls to other premises with the benefit of an overhead crane… the finished & painted hulls could not be simply lifted onto their completed fins standing on a trailer. This also complicated the painting  process… each boat took 8 hours of almost continuous paint spraying.  I climbed on and off 2ft high benches to reach from deck edge to keel sole, round the boat 6 times. Painting just a hull or keel is very easy by comparison.

Fitting the keels did not bring the job to completion… another first for these yachts was the inclusion of a trim tab. As all yachtbuilders know, fitting, fairing, flapping and pivoting a tab or rudder to the trailing edge of a keel is a highly skilled job. The final sting in the tail was a call for existing rudders to be modified. These would be extended in depth to almost the full draft of the yachts, with a modified foil section. Sometimes its easier to start from new!

Further delays were encountered when special chainplates had to be manufactured… the fabricators did a great and prompt job, but I was frustrated that the drawings were not available at the outset of the contract. Off-the-shelf parts also caused frustration… specified stock rudder bearings from an American manufacturer with a UK agent arrived only after much chasing on the telephone. What a waste of time. At a late stage new masts from an untested alloy were specified, and when the tubes were drawn they proved almost impossible to drill to mount fittings!  Fortunately this was outside the scope of my contract.

In the last month before delivery another insideous, unforeseen factor grew out of control. With time slipping away one owner started to call on their newly invented mobile phones, not just once but many times a day, each time with another good idea. I estimate I took over 150 calls, 75 hours, during that last month, with no positive benefit to the yachts.

Even loading a yacht on a trailer into a container sounds simple… in the event it would have been easier to tow the yachts to Norway behind the trusty Scimitar!

I learned very painfully that I should always keep a diary of additions and variations to contract, however insignificant they might appear at the time. In this instance each variation from the conventional seemed almost trivial, but collectively they would have been my downfall had it not been for other trade. From that time onwards, customers were welcome at the yard after 4 on Friday afternoon to inspect progress, meet or phone to agree variations to the contract. All other time was ringfenced for construction.

The ability to build a beautiful boat is not sufficient to ensure a fruitful future in boatbuilding. Skills in sales, estimating, accounting, purchasing, man management, planning, contracting and transport are equally important elements; ignore any one at your peril.

Sell what you’ve got…. this does not necessarily have to be something you have completed, it could be a skill or experience you have already acquired, but  whatever, it should be something of which you are in complete control of every last detail, from drawing to finished specification. Something you have in stock.  The most reliable sub-contractors will sometimes be unable to deliver, but then its your head on the block, not theirs.

Happily 20 years on, the yachts have new owners, are re-named and sailing in the Netherlands, see the picture at the top of this post.

Comment by Ewan

There are at least two lessons here. Not only should you only sell what you can deliver, but when you have no client in view you must keep the yard busy by creating something you can sell later.

A good example of the latter is the beautiful Rosemary IV built by William Fife III when the Fairlie yard was temporarily out of orders. The result was not only a lovely work of art, still sailing today, but one of the few examples of what the designer really wanted to produce, unconstrained by the troublesome requirements of a customer. I've written about this before, here: The designer unconstrained

A similar episode happened when I was building Sonas to a design of the late David Ryder-Turner (David was indirectly responsible for Richard and I meeting up, but that is a story for another day!). By the late 1980s orders for wooden yachts were few and far between and the McGruer yard had been suffering like many others. Under a scheme funded by public money the yard was persuaded to build a little yacht on spec and to engage some trainees in the process. David readily agreed to do the design work, I suspect gratuitously, and four young people were duly signed on for the duration of the build. The result, the lovely Amber, was sold before she was completed. Sadly no lessons were learned by management, who failed to cash in on the new talent that had been acquired. Amber will remain for all time the last wooden yacht ever produced by this once great yard. 

The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water