the turning of the year, the soft vellum-yellow of Blandford's
hallowed plans have been dusted off, admired, and returned to
the sanctity of the dog-eared envelope that has been their home
for many years. I don't know what it is, but these old plans hold
a particular magic for me. I've had them for years: one for the
Pete six foot pram dinghy
that I outgrew at about the same time as I built up the confidence
and knowledge to be able to knock a boat together; and two others
for the Lysander and
Hornblower cabin cruisers of 17 or 19 and
22 feet respectively. These were always my dream boats; the boats
I'd build and sail around the coast of Britain.
The plans for Fatcat2,
one of Jim
Michalak's designs that I consider truly attractive,
await only the acquisition of a sufficiently powerful car: my
little Hyundai Accent happily puts up with most of the abuse I
throw at it, but I really don't want to push my luck too far!
I like Michalak's presentation of these plans: he manages to make
them very clear and engenders the feeling that one really can
build this boat through the clever simplicity of the plans, design
and accompanying literature. This is my attainable replacement
for the Lysander and Hornblower: a boat I know I'm capable of
building and more importantly can afford in the not-too-distant
9 represents my taste for the traditional. A beautiful
nine-foot stem dinghy design by Selway-Fisher I intend to build
her in a traditional copper fastened style. I own a copy of John
Leather's Clinker Boatbuilding and this accompanied me to sixth
form college for many months as I slowly digested its every word
on the long journeys every day. A combination of this book, and
some kind words from an old boatbuilder I met inspired my aspirations
to one day build a "real" boat. I'd build her in solid
mahogany if I could, but I lack the time, tools and patience to
reward that technique.
With due deference to reality I'd compromise on this boat with
a mahogany transom, and perhaps iroko or oak for the centreline.
The planking would be Gaboon plywood throughout, with many an
expletive around the stem and stern rebates as the intractable
cross-plies splinter in my unpractised hands and my imperfectly
sharpened chisels. The internal frames for such a boat are unquestionably
steamed elm, as are the gunwales, which are open for ease of manufacture.
The thwarts of iroko or mahogany, supported by bent crooks fashioned
into knees. Maybe a little leaky around the garboards where my
first rivets were a little loose and unpractised, or where the
caulking was a little rough and ready against the keel. But fastened
with copper and a little bronze for the screws, a proper boat:
solid and dependable, built to last.
Or then again, I've always been drawn to Gavin Atkin's
designs: his light
trow appealing to my sense of adventure. This boat
would have less Ransome-esque romanticism, and more of a sense
of purpose. Designed with camp cruising in mind, and more than
a nod towards the Norfolk Broads, the old question of whether
to build as designed or modify to tastes arises. Gavin makes life
a little easier by leaving some of the design to the imagination.
As designed she has a balanced lug main and smaller mizzen with
an open plan, and an eye for the traditional. In my mind, she
is simpler still. Reduce the sail plan to a single lug (included
in the plans) and build her light, but deck her fore and aft,
adding rigidity and maybe allowing for a slight lightening of
her scantlings in deference to my car and the modest stresses
of a reduced rig and careful helmsman.
Built in stitch and glue gaboon ply, she is painted a creamy
white with a chocolate stain to her douglas fir rubbing strips
and a small mahogany coaming to keep her dry. Her body is kept
as open as the necessary framing and centreboard case will allow.
Under the fore and aft decks lies dry stowage for bedding, clothing
and perishables. Beneath her cedar thwarts a modest water capacity
and camping stove locker with a kettle and a pan. An extravagant
but thoughtfully constructed removable sliding seat allows long
distance passage making in unfavourable airs under oars. At night
a simple boom tent hangs from the boom raised by halyard and crutch
and secured outside the coamings to ensure security from rain
and insidious night breezes. Carefully placed slats and a couple
of bedding rolls provide passable comfort for six and a half of
her fifteen feet. A lantern swings gently until snuffed and the
night descends, sleep lulled by the secret sounds of a nocturnal
world. Woken at first light, a quick breakfast is had before we
steal away on the first morning breezes as the sun spreads her
long-fingered rays across the marsh and river.
Armchair boatbuilding, sometimes it's hard to beat.
Happy New Year!