Boat designer John Owles has a new website and digital plans

Boat designer John Owles has written to say that he has set up a new website, Summer Boat Design.

John has had a lifetime with boats: he learned to sail at the age of six years and spent childhood summers exploring the creeks of North Norfolk, and has since had a working life as a professional seaman and boat builder working with many kinds of vessels.

He’s done a lot of traditional wooden boat building, including designing and producing small traditional dinghies, designing sailing rigs, and repairing classic yachts, smacks, bawleys and a German WW2 schnellboot (E-boat).

He’s been going through his old plans and re-working them digitally – which meand they can be cut using  form. Being digitised, many of the components can be CNC cut, which makes construction much easier and quicker. He says:

‘After consuming considerable quantities of midnight oil, I have re-drawn, in digital form, a number of my archive of previously hand drawn traditional ‘sail & oar’ boat designs.

‘We will be building two of these designs, Owlet and Windchime, commencing in a couple of weeks’ time.’

He’s promised to send pictures when the two boats are completed.

Shipwright John Owles warns against laying timber decks on plywood

Rotten timber from a timber on plywood deck - John Owles shipwright

Rotten stuff from the timber and plywood deck of Antares. Scary, isn’t it?

Cornwall shipwright John Owles has issued a stern warning against timber-on-plywood decks: the commonly-used technique of laying timber decks onto a plywood substrate is doomed to failure.

‘Have one or the other type of deck construction but do not mix the two,’ he says to anyone considering a big repair and restoration job.

John makes his point on a web page reporting on restoration work he did on Antares, a 55ft schooner that was in his yard a little while ago. Her decks consisted of teak planking reclaimed from an old steamer laid onto a plywood substrate and payed with a polysulphide rubber – and the result was widespread rot.

The choice is clear, he argues: if you want a traditional-looking deck then lay a proper traditional deck using fully dried timber. Otherwise lay an epoxy-glass sealed plywood deck and paint it with a two-pack polyurethane sprinkled with glass beads for grip.

With timber on ply decks, it is almost impossible to achieve a good seal, even when the substrate is coated with epoxy.

This is particularly true where fastenings pass through the timber planking and plywood: ‘When a hole is cut in plywood it exposes 360 degrees of end grain, so every layer is at risk of absorbing water.

‘When moisture is trapped in these mid-layers where there is no air circulation, it is impossible for it to dry out… creating an ideal climate for any spores to become active and so the risk of rot is ever present.’

In building a deck, try to avoid anything that allows hidden water to hang around, he adds, and keep your vessel very well ventilated, especially when left unattended.

See John’s website here:

A tale of three Halcyons

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The original Halcyon

The first Halcyon

The second Halcyon in 1930 The second Halcyon in 1912 Mamie

The first Halcyon sailing in 1930, the second in 1912 and in around 1930-35

The second Halcyon in the workshop The second Halcyon in the workshop The second Halcyon in the workshop

The first and second Halcyons in Roving Commissions’ workshop

John Owles of Roving Commissions at Southdown in Cornwall has been in touch to tell us something of what he’s been up to.

He’s currently working on two half-decked gaff cutters built by Paynters’ at St Ives, of carvel construction with pine on steamed oak timers, and both originally carrying the name of Halcyon:

  • a 28-footer built in 1904 with plumb stem and square counter, very much along working boat lines. The asbestos tycoon, Sir Samuel Turner, learnt to sail in when he was a youngster
  • a 30-footer from around 1910-12, which was commissioned by Sir Samuel, which is more yachty with a spoon bow and finer counter

Sir Samuel later had the 90ft Halcyon built that is currently owned by Andrew Armour and featured in the July 2007 issue of Classic Boat.

The older boat had moved to the Isles of Scilly and had  her name changed by the time the 30-foot Halcyon was built. Then, in the 1920s, Sir Samuel had the 90-foot yacht built and, in order to retain the name, gave the younger Halcyon to Dan Paynter as a wedding gift, renaming her Mamie, after Dan’s bride. This also meant Sir Samuel was able to keep the name Halcyon for the new yacht, commemorating the original St Ives fishing boat of that name in which he was taught to sail.

I’ll let John tell the rest of the story:

‘All three boats have now been returned to their original names – which can be somewhat confusing, especially when two of them are being worked in the same yard at the same time for different owners.

‘We are also working on a 30 foot carvel fishing boat, currently going by the name of Kingfisher, which used to be the Bush Radios company angling boat.

‘On the larger side, we are restoring S130, the last surviving WW2 German schnellboot or E boat, to his (German boats are male) 1943 launch specification inside and out. At 115ft it is still, for the most part, traditional timber boat building, being double-skinned carvel construction on steamed oak timbers. (Click here for a post on this project.)

‘At the smaller end of things we are about to restoring a 14ft mahogany clinker motor boat built at Dartmouth in the early 1950s, and still with her original Stuart Turner engine.

‘Alongside all this I am also working on the design of a fast shoal draft motor boat, capable of 16 to 18 knots with a draft of 6 inches.’