A sad farewell to Philip C Bolger

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Probably Phil Bolger’s most frequently built boat, the Gloucester Light Dory is
a plywood classic that will continue to be built, re-worked and adapted for
many years to come. Writing of its popularity, he joked that it would one day
secure his entry into heaven. Photo by Susan Davis, taken from the Wikimedia

After an idyllic few days on the Norfolk Broads we’ve just returned home to the sad news that the designer Phil Bolger has ended his own life at the age of 81.

I’d like to add my tribute to the many obituaries appearing around the World Wide Web.

Phil Bolger was a man who inspired many people by alternately drawing beautiful boats, utilitarian boats, and utterly original boats that could only have come from the drawing board of someone who had a special gift for ruthlessly teasing out the logic of a design brief.

He was also a superb communicator – in his articles and books he would often excite readers about the ideas behind his designs as much as the designs themselves, and this won him many, many fans.

Bolger was often a controversial designer and frequently misunderstood by those who could not see past the boxy appearance of some of his more easily built designs. However, I think it should be clear to all that he was touched by greatness.

I never met him, but have copies of most of his many fascinating books, which I’ve read and read again many times. I’ll miss him and his writing, as will countless others, but I’m confident his influence and legacy of boat designs will live on for a very long time to come.

For more intheboatshed.net posts on Phil Bolger and his boat designs click here.

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How to have fun racing punts and getting wet at Tuebingen, Germany

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Punt racing at Tuebingen Punt racing at Tuebingen

Punt racing, Tuebingen-style

Chris Partridge reports that the folk of Tuebingen race battling punts powered by hand-paddling. And then they drink beer or cod liver oil, depending on whether they’ve won or lost.

This is just the kind of harmless activity healthy young blokes should be allowed to enjoy, and it would be good to see something similar caught on in Manchester, Birmingham or at Camden in North London. Of course, I’m far too old for this sort of thing myself, particularly the cod liver oil part!

More seriously, has anyone else noticed that these boats bear an uncanny resemblance to the kinds of boats many people would expect Phil Bolger or Jim Michalak to design for the purpose? Read what Jim has to say about seas of peas.

Read all about these crazy, happy Germans at Rowing for Pleasure.

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Award-winning designer Phil Bolger’s clever but neglected Cartopper

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Kellan Hatch’s Cartopper


Kellan Hatch’s Cartopper Kellan Hatch’s Cartopper


Kellan Hatch’s Cartopper has turned out to be a versatile little boat

It was good to read at The Chine Blog the other day that Phil Bolger has been presented with Woodenboat magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award, along with Bill Garden. Both awards are clearly well-earned, but Bolger’s is perhaps particularly pleasing because so many people think of his designs as being the boxy antithesis of what Woodenboat is all about. To my mind, those who believe this heresy have spent too long reading the Internet, and not long enough reading his intriguing and often informative books.

Most people talk of Bolger’s widely celebrated and used Light Dory, but the news reminded me that I’ve been meaning to say something about the Cartopper, which I feel is a very much neglected Bolger design. Take a look at the study plans at the Payson website, which also sells the full-sized plans for boatbuilding. What you get is a proper boat-shaped boat with its centreboard placed well forward, which provides a lot of room in an 11ft 6in boat. Bolger designed an over-sized rudder to balance the rig, but that’s actually a well-tried approach that has worked for many years in traditional centreboard craft.

Thanks to Kellan Hatch for the photos. Like me, Kellan feels that the Cartopper is a fascinating design that reflects how many people use small boats, but reports that it can be a little tender and says that it isn’t self-rescuing without added built-bouyancy because of its strongly curved sheerline.

I think the answer is obvious, at least for solo cruisers: some water or other removable ballast in the spacious centre of the boat, and boxed-in bouyancy and storage tanks fore and aft.

If you’re interested in reading Bolger’s books describing his designs, a good starting point is Boats with an Open Mind. It’s available from Amazon in the UK and from Amazon in the USA. If you’re in the USA you can also get his excellent pocket book about the merits and demerits of alternative sailing rigs 103 Rigs ‘Straight Talk’ .

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