Bergius cruising dinghy Dodo on show at the National Maritime Museum, London

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Dodo – click on the thumbnails for larger photos

Currently on show at the National Maritime Museum, Dodo was built and designed by 19-year old William Bergius and his younger brother Walter in Glasgow, in 1896.

Fitted with a removable keel of 50kg, she was the first of a series of boats by that name belonging to the Bergius’s, and seems to have been built with camp-cruising in mind. In 1897, a very confident young William wrote the the editor of The Yachtsman in the following terms:

‘Sir – I have read with great interest the letters regarding “Multum in Parvo” cruisers, and cannot help thinking that most of your correspondents want far too big a boat. Last year my brother and I built a boat in which, despite the small size, we can easily sleep three.’

Dodo is quite a big boat in a small length: she’s 14ft 6in in length, 5ft 4in in beam and a draft of 2ft 4in with her keel attached, and with a sail area of no less than 150sqft in a low-profile gaff-rigged mainsail and roller-mounted jib; despite her fairly hard bilges amidships (they’re less hard towards the stern) and small keel she will have been an energetic performer. William Bergius deserves our admiration for creating such a useful little boat.

I don’t think anyone would build a small keelboat like this for open-boat cruising now, but looking at Dodo, I kept thinking I’d seen something a little like her more recently, and now I think I’ve worked out what it was. Take a peek at John  Welsford’s Pilgrim drawings, and see what you think – of course much has changed, but some things – including the rig, generous freeboard and use of a sensible half-decked arrangement decks – are not so very different. Of course, if I wanted a boat to go cruising in myself, I’d take the modern conveniences and comforts of John’s boat every time.

Finally just to show the world what fabulous buildings the museum occupies, I’ve added two more shots for readers’ entertainment.

The Royal Observatory from the NMM’s colonnades; the NMM buildings, the Palladian-style Queen’s House and the Old Royal Naval College with the River Thames and the Isle of Dogs beyond highlights of 2009

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It’s almost impossible to pick out my favourite posts of the year – there are simply too many, and for too many different reasons.

For example, the editor-residents of Towers would have no difficulty picking out the students’ launch at the Boatbuilding Academy in December, but for entirely different reasons we’d equally easily choose the astonishing details of the wherry yacht Hathor, or the various posts on the zulus of the Scottish West Coast, or the review of the lovely new book Holmes of the Humber, or, for that matter, the story of the Iain Oughtred-designed St Ayles skiff and the Scottish Coastal Rowing Project.

And how remiss would we be if we failed to mention Ben Crawshaw’s awesome sailing exploits in his Light Trow, or Dylan Winter’s wonderful Keep Turning Left videos about sailing anti-clockwise around the coasts of Great Britain? I’d like to offer my apologies if I’ve left out your favourites here, but I’m working from memory here – I simply haven’t got the energy required to re-read the 250-or so posts I’ve put up this year.

With the hit-counter below cruising gently towards our millionth, what were readers’ favourite posts? There seems little doubt that the posts that have caught most people’s interest have been about free boat building plans. For example, the post announcing the boatbuilding plans for the Julie skiff 15ft 8in plywood flattie rowing boat has been viewed a whopping 27,647 times. We think it goes to show how powerful is the draw of free plans – but also how effective an advert on this site can be.

A little behind that comes a favourite with model makers and admirers of small Scottish skiffs, A challenge for home boatbuilders: a sweet 10ft clinker-built double-ended skiff, our boatbuilding plans for the sailing version of the 12ft plywood Ella skiff and for the boatbuilding plans for the Sunny 14ft plywood rowing flattie.

Why not let us know what your favourites of the year might have been? We’re very friendly and can be reached at

What will next year bring at It’s impossible to say who will be in touch and what they may send me for publication. I only hope they continue to do so. In the meantime, I can tell you about two projects that are in the works here, the Low -power outboard skiff, and a mark II stitch and glue version of the well tried Light Trow rower-sailer in both its rowing and sailing versions.

At last – construction drawings for the sailing version of the Ella skiff

Ella skiff model drawing

The sailing version of the Ella skiff. Click on the image for a zip file including the plans to build this little boat

I’ve really had to scrabble to find time to get this together – but here is the much awaited sailing version of the 12ft Ella skiff. There’s a lot of design work in sailing boat!

If you use these plans, all I ask in return are some photos, and reports on how the building works and on how she works in the water. However I must emphasise that I’m an amateur with no qualifications and accept no liability for any loss injury or accident that occurs as a result of anyone using or building this boat.

I should add that this is not a boat for big seas, strong winds and currents or for use with an outboard of over one or two hp. It’s a small, narrow flattie with all the limitations that go with this kind of boat. That said, in the right gentle weather conditions I think it will be great fun anywhere one can find flat sheltered water.

Download Ella skiff sailing plans version 1.2

This boat is designed to be built using the stitch and glue technique – if you haven’t done this before you might be interested in my book Ultrasimple Boat Building: 17 Plywood Boats Anyone Can Build or one of the other books on this topic available from Amazon.

PS See a model Ella sailing skiff here.