A Gremlin, a Walnut and a long career in boatbuilding and design: some of the story of Richard Pierce

Boat designer and builder Richard Pierce has been in touch to tell us some of the story of his life in boat building and boat design. (See his growing weblog here.)

It all began when Richard was a seven year-old with a Percy Blandford Gremlin in 1958.

Some 17 years later in 1978 he Richard (Franklin) Pierce and Brennan Eldridge set up Franklin-Eldridge Boatbuilders at Windermere in the Lake District.

The new firm started by building pram dinghies, which Richard says were designed to address some of the shortcomings of the Gremlin while including some of its most desirable and pragmatic details.  

An interest in the National 12 class had also led to visits to Wyche & Coppock in Nottingham during the 1950s & 60s, an experience that inspired an interest in glued clinker. To Richard it looked like the the perfect medium for building an easily developed design that would need the minimum investment in terms of a building jig.

The result was the Walnut. He says: ‘It was one of the very first glued clinker pram dinghies in production. Two of us turned out one a week!’  

He adds that The first Walnut built in 1978 was recently spotted in NewZealand… ‘She got there as a tender to my sister’s 28ft yacht Skugga in 1980.  I have to thank both PB and Wych & Coppock for early guidelines and inspiration for the 11 Walnut derivatives I eventually built.

‘I still enjoy sailing No. 6, built for my daughter in 1980.’

‘A tugboat skipper on the Mersey in 1963 explained to me that there were no two identical tugs… Their design was a constant and positive process of development, though which each change must be properly evaluated. This principle has been central to my boat design philosophy.’

The Franklin-Edridge partnership went on to design & build a variety of racing and cruising boats, from the 12ft Beachnut to the 35ft steamer Pendlebury, Merlin Rockets and National 12s, Windermere 17 Restricted Class Yachts, International 5.5 Metres, a few Canadian canoes and boats for the Heritage 23 Sailing & Rowing program in Michigan.  

The basic plan was always to make durable, well engineered, well behaved & attractive wooden boats.

With regard to Heritage Coast Sailing & Rowing programme, after they had completed several lapstrake kits, recently he proposed, designed and then built with the HCS&R team the H23 Indigenous, a Mackinaw boat built using locally sourced materials including white cedar strip planking with epoxy glass sheathing using epoxy from WEST, which is just 100 miles down the road from the Heritage Sailing & Rowing base at Tawas.

Richard is currently preparing a fully illustrated set of step-by-step building instructions and full size drawings/patterns for future builders of his various designs in wood/epoxy/glass construction.

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One thought on “A Gremlin, a Walnut and a long career in boatbuilding and design: some of the story of Richard Pierce”

  1. Just wanted to say that there is a short video on you-tube ,which I have watched many times, of Richard Pierce and family sailing his 14 ft lugsail dinghy Sciurus near Luing in the Western isles. It’s of particular interest because it was a day when the wind was sufficiently strong for racing to be cancelled. He shows what can be done in a well -designed, well-sailed boat in very testing conditions. And it’s a very good example of the efficiency and seaworthiness of the balanced lug rig. I should also add that a few years ago, after I had seen the video for the first time, I contacted Richard Pierce with questions about design of a lug sail (I was planning a lug rig for a boat I owned) and he was extremely helpful. I confess that at the time I did not know he was such a well-known builder and designer and that I should probably have been paying lots of money for his advice! In any event, it is evident he is one of those people who has made a great contribution to boat-building and design in this country. And i’m grateful for his advice.

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