Category Archives: Small boats

Veler El•La’s sailing Ella skiff starts her summer adventure for 2014

Veler El•la is a community  group on Facebook based in Barcelona who built an example of the sailing version of of my Ella skiffs, and now sail it in stages along the coast of Taragonna. This week they even called for folks to put their hand up to sail her for a day – hopefully I got that right as I don’t speak that language and we can’t trust the online translators!

Here are some photos of what I take to be the first leg of this year’s voyage, mixed in with some great harbour shots from her launch last year. Thanks for the photos folks!

Blokes Up North – through the heart of the Northwest Passage by sail and oar


Blokes Up North.

Blokes… Up North. They sound ordinary enough, and they and their publisher try to describe themselves that way – but ordinary they aren’t really.

They’re as tough as the old boots they probably keep in a cupboard somewhere.

For one thing, they’re Marines. For another, the authors of this account published by Lodestar, Kev Oliver and Tony Lancashire have sailed, rowed and dragged a 17ft open dinghy from West to East through the often frozen seas and islands that claimed so many explorers and crews in search of the North West passage during the 19th century.

Even today in the era of global warming and in the height of the Arctic summer, it’s not too strong a claim to say that in doing so they risked their lives, and that surviving and reaching their destination is no small achievement in a time when the age of exploration is otherwise largely over.

Oliver is clearly a big fan of Shackleton and fascinated by polar exploration generally. On top of that he had drawn inspiration from an old friend from the Marines who as a 19-year old with a pal had circumnavigated Spitzbergen, and was also a great admirer of the scarily determined dinghy cruising exponent Frank Dye.

Lancashire’s viewpoint seems to have been that he admired Oliver and liked adventuring with him in the Marines – and was hoping he’d be asked along for an unexplained scheme…

The boat they chose was the Norseboat 17, which seems like a very good choice, being long enough for two rowing stations and, in theory, just about light enough to be handled on shore or ice  - but was still going to need additional built-in buoyancy, and, in all that ice, reinforced bows.

And so, as the rest of the world continued to reel and totter in the months following the the banking crisis, in July, 2009 these two ‘ordinary’ blokes set off . Happily they were well equipped, as well as well trained, even if they were not hugely experienced small boat sailors or rowers.

The book recounts their adventures in their own voices – typically a few paragraphs from one followed by a few from the other. It’s a choppy sort of effect, but lends the book a novel conversational quality, and brings a new dimension to the narrative. It’s certainly an interesting approach, and I’m quite glad someone’s tried it.

The story includes the usual sailing expedition incidents – falling in, near capsizes, losing the mainsail halliard (which meant they couldn’t raise the mainsail and go to windward) in 9ft waves miles from land and being blown further North further out into open sea – but with the added spice that the cold Arctic water has the power to kill in moments. Happily, they figured out a way round the halliard problem - but then there was the time their tent got sat on by a polar bear…

I won’t spoil this story or any of the others. If sailing adventures are something you enjoy – and many of us do, especially in the dull dark days of winter – this book from Lodestar priced at £12 in the UK, £13 in Europe and £15 elsewhere won’t disappoint.

PS – Did I mention that one of the best half dozen Victorian and early 20th century books about cruising the Thames Estuary – arguably it is the best – previously available only in hardback is now available in paperback from Lodestar? H Lewis Jones’ Swin, Swale & Swatchway

BBA students build 12ft Paul Gartside traditional style clinker dinghy

The Boat Building Academy celebrated the launch of six boats and seventeen new boat builders at Lyme a few weeks ago.

The boats were built by the BBA’s class of September 2013, who had completed its 38-week course. Although new to woodworking and boat building, the students built six boats and a paddle board using modern and traditional methods, completing every step from lofting board to launch in just nine months.

Some three hundred well-wishers gathered in the sunshine to celebrate the students’ achievements and give a resounding cheer as the champagne popped and each boat went into the water.

First in was the 12ft traditional clinker dinghy above, built by David Rainbow and Adam Smith to Paul Gartside’s 2001 design, #130 design, and planked in west African mahogany on oak ribs and backbone. (The photos are by Liz Griffiths, Becky Joseph, Jenny Steer, and John Pritchard.)

David, from Middlesex, worked at Heathrow Airport for 20 years in a variety of roles, most recently as baggage operational assurance manager, and first came to the BBA to do a three-day introductory course, and then decided it was time for a change of career and booked a place on the 38-week course last year.

David chose to build this row and sail boat as he felt the traditional clinker method would make a good test of skills, and felt the style and size of this particular Paul Gartside design was just right for him.

He made a couple of changes to the original design – he planked it in West African mahogany rather than western red cedar for aesthetic reasons, and chose a boomless standing lug rig designed by Paul Gartside specifically for David’s boat, rather than the original boomed rig.

Named Enfys – the Welsh word for ‘rainbow’ after David’s surname and his wife’s welsh roots - the boat is to be sailed on a lake at Hillingdon Outdoor Activity Centre, which is close to where David lives.

Adam Smith, originally from Canada, was David’s main build partner.

He was working with computers, but built a Selway Fisher dinghy in his spare time and enjoyed the process so much he decided to train for a new career. Adam made the most of the academy’s facilities and in his spare time on the course he made a cabinet, trestle table and chest. His latest spare-time project now that the course has finished is a strip-planked canoe.

Both David and Adam are start work in jobs on the Thames after a short break.

EW Cooke’s Fifty Plates of Shipping and Craft, published in 1829

Fifty plates of shipping and craft , a collection of drawings by EW Cooke, 1811-80. They were published in 1829, when he was just 18…

Read about him here.

As Arthur Percival points out (comments below – thanks Arthur) there’s a relatively recent biography, if you’re interested and have a few bob to hand.


Documentary film: Marshallese Sailing Canoes Today

Wa Kuk Wa Jimor – Marshallese Canoes Today from Rachel Miller on Vimeo.

My thanks to excellent boat designer and small boat sailor Michael Storer for passing on the link to this film about these wonderful Marshallese sailing canoes. I gather the making of the film was part-funded Hawai‘i Council for the Humanities.

Chris Perkins’ photos from the Beale Park Boat and Outdoor Show

I’m most grateful to Chris Perkins for giving me permission to raid his impressive collection of photos from this year’s Beale Park Boat and Outdoor Show.

Chris is a lovely, meticulous photographer, and seems to have the knack of being unobtrusive when he’s shooting – no-one in his shots seems to pose for the camera! See his full collection at Flickr but please don’t use them without his permission!

From the top left they show three Watercraft magazine Amateur Boat Building Awards entries:

  • Agape a Nottage 12 designed by Fabian Bush and beautifully traditionally built by Richard Harvey (three photos)
  • Curlew, a Nick Smith-designed traditional launch built in the traditional way by Richard Pease (two photos)
  • Strummer, an Iain Oughtred-designed Ness Yawl built in clinker ply by Ian Prior
  • Polly, an Iain Oughtred designed Swampscott dory built in the traditional way by John Kingston (three pics – and isn’t she gorgeous!)

There’s also a general shot of the competition entries.

Also we have a currach (two pics); a Thames skiff set up for camping (two photos), the Old Gaffers Association menagerie of small boats on show, an oldish ply-looking river launch; Moiety, built by Nick Smith, a bit of repair work going on outside the International Boatbuilding Training College stand (principal Nat is wearing the black hat); Kipperman Mike Smylie playing the kipper xylophone (black hats are in fashion, gentlemen); and some typical scenes on the water at Beale Park (six photos).

Australian Historical 10 Foot Skiff Class racing

My thanks to Earwegoagin for pointing out the existence of an extraordinary sailing sport I hadn’t previously imagined – the Australian Historical 10 foot Skiff Class (click here and here).

The skiffs are 10 ft long and carry as much sail area as their three man crews can cope with. No trapezes, leaning boards or ratchet blocks are allowed. With three blokes in a ten foot boat, they sometimes sit on the transom, at others I think they sit on each other…