Robert Manry and his extraordinary tale of small boat-big ocean survival

Robert Manry’s amazing West-East Atlantic crossing in a heavily overloaded 13ft 6in boat and his subsequent fame was now so long ago, I feel pretty sure even most sailing types have probably forgotten about his remarkable achievement.

So hats off to Steve Wystrach and colleagues for his efforts to produce a crowd-funded film designed to remind the world and to commemorate the event.

Manry was a sub-editor in his working life, so looking at the project website I was tickled to be reminded that the lone sailor had taken a copy of Strunk’s The Elements of Style with him, presumably to keep him on the straight and narrow as he wrote his log. Or was it to keep him company?

I read and was fascinated by Manry’s book a couple of decades ago, after finding a second hand copy in a shop somewhere. If you’re inspired to read it there are various e-book editions available via the Robert Manry Project site.


A tale of two Ella skiffs, part 2

Kostas Dourdounas (from the photos I imagine he’s in Greece or nearby) departed from the Ella skiff drawings in several ways.

Instead of building the half-decked sailing dinghy that I drew on the Ella hull, he stiffened the rowing version of the boat and included extra built in buouyancy – and seems to have constructed a successful small boat. Congratulations Kostas!

It usually takes some experience to pull off something like that and while I am delighted the result is a very good looking little boat, I would still prefer people to build the Sailing Ella skiff as drawn. The plans are on the free boat plans page.

Here’s his report:

‘Dear Gavin:

‘Attached are some pictures of the Ella skiff I have built using both the sailing and the rowing versions drawings you provided.

‘I made several modifications on your original plans keeping the dimensions for the hull to the exact coordinate matrix.

‘I used some recycled pieces of wood for the gunwale and changed the number of frames. Plywood was purchased new.

‘Mast boom and yard are aluminium pipes sold by weight. They are light and durable, and also cheaper than wood.

‘The sail was ordered from a professional sail maker (I didn’t want to take any chances), and the dimensions were kept to the exact specs.

‘The boat sails well up to F4.5 on the Beaufort scale, and deals well with gusts. I have added foot straps, which help a lot when sailing on a close reach.

‘When running she needs some balance, so the dagger needs to stay lowered.

‘I have intentionally capsized her a couple times with one or two on board. She is easy to right by stepping on the dagger board. She stays afloat when turned over and some fast hand bailing is required if the water is choppy – otherwise there is no problem.

‘The project started Oct 2015 and finished April 2016, and I first sailed her in mid-June 2016. I worked mostly outside as I have no garage, and the winter was a pain to deal with.

‘I have no previous boat building experience, and had only done some small repairs in the past on dinghies. Also i am very limited in tools, just a drill a jigsaw and lots of grid 80 sand paper.

‘Overall, it is a pleasure to sail this little boat, and the kids like it as well.

‘Thanks for the free plans.


Thanks for the great report Kostas.

Timber-orientated boat builder and restorer Ian Baird fixes up a plastic boat shock!

Portland boat builder and repairer, freelance writer and environmentalist Ian Baird (contact him here or here) has just fixed up an old plastic boat and brought it back to life. How did that happen?

It began with a neglected wreck on the shore. I’ll let Ian tell his story.

‘A pile of broken boats, uncared for and abandoned on the beach is never a happy sight for those of us that enjoy taking to the water, but then, when one is in the right frame of mind, it does present an opportunity…

‘My friend Dean needed a new fishing boat. At 6ft5in tall, the aluminium saucer that he was taking out to sea was, to say the least, a bit risky, especially when bins full of nets were involved. He told me that he was looking for a new boat, something longer with a lot more freeboard but his search had been fruitless, basically because of budgetary restrictions.

‘So when a pile of three boats presented themselves on Castletown slipway awaiting removal by the council to go to landfill the opportunity had to be taken.

‘The largest was an 11ft purpose-built harbour fishing boat built by Clarkes of Castletown, probably in the 1970/80s. The keel was smashed at the stern end and the woodwork was completely shot, but the hull was salvageable.

‘Dean is an incredibly generous person. He feeds the street with the excess fish he catches, freely giving away the fruits of his labour but fishing is his hobby, not his income, so I restored the boat for free in return for past and future suppers.

‘Because it wasn’t a paid job it was an as and when and was done over the course of a year. If it had been done in a clear workshop and hit in one go it would have taken a few days. Also, a lot of the job was done on the beach and all of it outside which slows things down.

‘GRP isn’t my favourite material to work with but I would rather breathe life into an old GRP boat than consign it to landfill, for ecological reasons every bit as much as practical reasons.

‘Dean reckons the bill for materials and bits was about £800 – but £800 isn’t bad for what is now effectively a new boat that will last many years.

‘This was a belt and braces job. We used American white oak for all the woodwork and everything was ‘over-engineered’ to produce a very solid boat that will see out his fishing days.

‘I would definitely recommend taking this approach.  It does mean that you can own a decent boat at reduced cost and help the environment by not sending it to landfill.

‘It is a perfectly reasonable job for someone with some woodworking skills, although if you don’t have a good knowledge of fibreglass boats I would recommend an inspection by a surveyor before it is used.

‘You’re going to put your life in this vessel so you have to make sure that it is safe. If the hull is badly damaged – holes, fractured – it may not be a good idea without good laminating skills to try to restore it – you don’t want the thing breaking up on you with 150’ of the deep blue underneath you! Having said that, one can argue that nothing is irreparable. It may even be worth repairing a damaged hull and fairing it to use as a plug for a mould to lay up new boats.

‘Another time on a GRP boat like this I think I would prefer to laminate the gunwales and inwales. We used much chunkier material than the originals, and laminating would have made it easier and quicker to fit.’

So what are Dean and Ian doing with the little boat? ‘We fish from it and have adventures, of course!’