Jeff Stobbe’s striking and beautiful Victorian-style plank-on-edge yacht

Twinkle 3 plank on edge yacht

  plank on edge racing yacht

Jeff Stobbe has written to report on a plank-on-edge Victorian-style racing yacht he launched last year.

Narrow and deep, plank-on-edge yachts enjoyed a period of popularity among the English in yacht racing during the Victorian era, during a time when the argument was whether the heavily ballasted and deep plank-on-edge model was faster than lighter, shallower and more beamy American types. The eventual conclusion seems to have been that exaggerated forms did not hold the secret of speed, and more moderate designs cam to hold sway in yacht racing.

Readers with an interest in these things may remember that Jeff first told about his project in California back in 2007.

Here’s Jeff’s message bringing us up to date:

‘I launched Twinkle last summer using the ramp in the Santa Cruz Harbor, where she now resides in the upper harbor. Twinkle is a modified Dodge designed by John Harvey in 1882 and illustrated in CP Kunhardt’s book Small Yachts their Design and Construction.

Twinkle is a true plank-on-edge English racer and very narrow, deep and heavy. I enlarged her to 18ft LOA, 4ft beam and 42in draft. I had planned on adding about 200 lbs of trim lead after launching to an already cast keel of 1200 lbs. This proved to be a miscalculation on my part by about 600 lbs. Now with a ton of lead she sits on her lines.

‘It is hard to imagine 2000lbs of lead on 15ft LWL and 4ft beam. This is the size of a rowboat I built. Plus she is carrying a small Vetus diesel engine of 200 lbs.

‘I added a bowsprit and rigged her as a gaff sloop with 176 square feet of sail. I was somewhat apprehensive on the first sail because even at the dock she is very tender to 10 degrees due to her extremely narrow beam.

‘She is an open boat on a big ocean and if capsized would go down, well, like a lead fishing sinker. She did stiffen up around 15 degrees but was still too tender. I took 18in off the foot of the mainsail and ended up with about 156 square feet of sail. This is much better and lowered the center of effort a bit also.

‘She is quite quick for her short water line and soon reaches hull speed. Despite her narrow hull and lack of flare she rises to a sea fairly well, and free of green water on the deck. She points well, but not up to modern standards, and has real speed off the wind. I am never going to get used to the alarming angle of heel she assumes in a breeze and perhaps she is just a bit small for the open ocean. I just plan on motoring in if it gets over 15 to 20 knots of wind.

‘This is not inexperience speaking. I have sailed from Mexico to Canada on boats I have built and spent years racing sailboats. This is one very beautiful but scary boat.

‘She demands some prudence but in her comfort zone is amazingly pleasant to sail. Her extreme dimensions means she never misses stays even when slapped by a wave in light air. She motors very well but a little wet at hull speed.

‘It’s very difficult to admit but I consider her a failure. She is crowded with three people, pleasant with two and really can’t be handled well alone when raising sail or, in my special case, of having to lower the mast to clear a bridge in the harbor every outing.

‘I am going to abandon her as a sailboat. It was a pleasant build and she is just a gorgeous hull form that had to be brought to life. I have already started a new project again, an enlarged version of a Joel White Haven 12 1/2 enlarged to again 18ft. The hull is almost done on the new boat and it also is cold molded.

‘I will sail Twinkle this summer and dismantle her in October putting the Vetus and some of the ballast in the new boat. I don’t quite know what to do with Twinkle but right now I am thinking of an electric launch. Cutting almost two feet off the bottom will reduce the volume a bit and still leave plenty of displacement for batteries.


Thanks hugely for this Jeff! I’m sure it’s been an interesting journey and the boat’s beautiful – it’s a shame the boat has the usual disadvantages of the plank-on-edge type, even if it is wonderfully elegant. Good luck with the extended 12 1/2 – I’m sure that will be a winner on every front!

PS – Boat designer Mike Storer has written a piece on plank-on-edge sailing craft here.

13 thoughts on “Jeff Stobbe’s striking and beautiful Victorian-style plank-on-edge yacht”

  1. I built a model one of these (to the 1730 rule). she is 28″ loa with 4.5″ beam. She sails really well under rudder only r/c, but I wouldn’t like to be aboard her. I think the view was that they sailed like half-tide rocks, could not – with no flare in the hull- rise to a sea, and within the narrow hulls could not build in the strength to keep the lead mines tied to the bottom. Many yachts and their crews were lost before the yachting world changed to Dixon Kemps LSa rule.

  2. What an amazing project. It is a shame the boat cannot be kept, but with the limited practicality it does make sense to recycle.

    Francis Herreshoff in some of his writings for Rudder magazine mentions how these boats developed because of rating rules.

    Instead of actually measuring the beam, depth and length of hull to get some factor to represent displacement they measured the beam of the boat and squared it to represent the depth of the boat. At that time most normal boats had beam and depth fairly close together … so they thought it would be a useful short cut for measurement.

    So if you only measure beam to estimate performance for handicapping then the the designer will attempt to improve the handicap by reducing beam and trying to compensate for the narrow beam with lots of depth and lots of lead.

    I can’t remember who wrote it and whether it was reported by Herreshoff or Tony Marchaj, but there are mentions that some of these boats heeled over to 15 degrees FROM THE HORIZONTAL (!!!!) in normal sailing conditions. Also there is an eyewitness account that another boat could see one of these heeled over at a crazy angle in the distance. So they thought a squall was coming.

    When they got closer they found moderate sailing conditions, but that the “plank on edge” cutter was well heeled over.

    There is a lesson in this about boat design. The English persisted in the idea that these boats were FAST. But in reality they were slow but the rating/handicap rule saw them as even slower than they were. The brits (or at least some of them) were not able to jump out of their paradigm.

    It is pretty similar to the situation now with ocean racers with deep bulb keels that swing over to the side. They think they are FAST … again.

    But the reality is that the next step is to get the bulb above the water … then you can have the “keel” as long as you like without hitting bottom. Then to prevent excessive heeling or capsize to windward … why not turn the bulb into another hull allowing the main hull to be slimmer.

    Hey … we have just invented the Catamaran. Which is why a 40ft multihull will burn off a 70ft canting keel monohull on just about any point of sail. Get rid of the lead and go for more width, I say!

    And then you wouldn’t need the 250 horsepower diesel ticking over to provide the hydraulics to flip the keel from side to side. Every major ocean race should have a trophy for the lowest fuel consumption over the course!!!

    It is the most stupid thing and a massive waste of resources that could produce cheaper, simpler and faster boats … and is result of the fatuous separation between mono and multi sailing.

    Maybe there is something good about the America’s Cup after all?

    Pardon the (bitter) rant 🙂


  3. My copy of Marchaj has an illustration and mention of plank on edge sailing at 15 deg off the water.

    Rant? Bitter?

    I have fond memories of a Melbourne – Geelong passage race as part of the Festival of Sail, blasting past the race leader to take what I thought would be outright line honours. We had wound up to 23 knots and smoked past (to leeward) of the race leader, a crack 40 footer with what seemed to be a football team hanging off the rails. To a man the crew stared at everywhere but us. Understandable really as our Farrier F9R trimaran was worth about as much as their drinks bill for the event.

    We had to wait at the finish line for the race committee to set the finish mark… and found ourselves invisible in the outright results.

    1. As I often say, competition so often brings out the worst in people. And that principle applies as well to racing on the water as it does to anything else…

      But I guess you’ll never forget that sail!


      1. Well, funny enough I had forgotten the trip, until Mik’s prompt gave me flashbacks!

        With respect to plank on edge yachts, I would rather think that a trip in even moderate seas would be truly unforgettable. I cannot ever recall seeing hulls like that in Aus.

  4. It was the lwl that was squared – the beam was cubed! (L+B)squared times B /1730 to give the tonnage rate.

  5. Hi Gavin, when I posted a link to the WBF I used the words “she’s a bit of a risk to sail”. Seems I was right given Toby Churchill’s comment. A model might be interesting though.

  6. My copy of Marchaj 1979 (pp.65,66) includes a quote from Uffa Fox, who it is stated had sailed “those extreme craft” and in “Thoughts on Yachts and Yachting” described them as “more like submarines than sailing boats”
    Marchaj goes on to describe the impact of the change in YRA rule to L x Sa/6000 and how this lead directly to the design of Britannia, an enormous leap in performance in the years 1890 to 1893. He makes a delightful comment that Victorian nautical gentlemen universally condemned the new designs as being “hideous machines” !

  7. Great to see this boat finished and more importantly to hear how she sails. From previous research I had thought she would pretty extreme in her performance and Jeffs experience confirms this. So thanks for sharing it. For a less extreme rule beater from the same era you might check out Dixon Kemps Manual of Yachting. In the second edition he describes a Kingstown boat 18 feet on the waterline and also built to the Thames three ton rule. I built a half model to the lines, on my website,
    P.S. This is my first try at inserting links, let me know if they don’t work.

  8. These boats by nature do heel over a little more, but I would attribute the tenderness of Twinkle more to the height of the boom and raised CE of the overall sail plan.
    I own Molly which was built by the English shipwright Peter Graham to the exact lines of ” Catboat Dodge” and I can say without a shadow of
    doubt she is a true beauty to sail!

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