This year marks a number of significant milestones and events for us at Scruffie Marine. First, of course, is the Practical Boat Owner order from the UK. That Britain’s best selling magazine has chosen to order one of our Secret 20s as their project is certainly a feather in our cap, for them to choose us over all the kit manufacturers in Western Europe is an honour itself but for the editors to pick one of my own photos for their Facebook masthead is especially pleasing – much appreciated David and Ben – thanks. Follow the progress on line and in print starting soon. This kit is a standard issue Secret with a few added bonuses such as quarter-sawn veneers to stern, cabin, and coaming. I say veneers but they are 3 to 6 mm in thickness for ease of application and to give the builders a bit of leeway when sanding.
The Secrets have evolved over the years now, with slightly more ballast, lifting tiller, retracting bowsprit, modified tabernacle and so on. A good boat is now better than ever. Modesty? Pah!
This kit marks a milestone being the only one where I’ve machined and manufactured every single component myself. I’ve even built the crate and while I’ve had a hand with packing, strapping, and loading, it’s all my own work. A good feeling actually, to design the boat, design the kit system, work out how it all goes together, build everything, and then drive it to the shipping agents for its big adventure on the high seas.
Also this year the first of big sister, Secret 33, is plying her trade on the Swan River. Customer feedback is good and work progresses steadily on Boat II, also for Perth.
As well as the solar-electric version we have finalised the layout and rig for the gaff yawl which is much more like it. Yes, the solar-electric launch will be popular but I desperately want to sail the yawl.
The first sailing Secret 33 is the plug we built to take the moulds off for GRP production. Like the electric boats, we built her as a 12-passenger commercial vessel but under sail with a 10kW Oceanvolt electric sail drive for irritating calms, unruly headwinds, foul tides, and we’ll be late times. That said, if she’s anything like a Secret 20, she’ll be off in the faintest of breezes.
The electric version will hit nearly 6 knots with only 3kW of power, another is 5 needed to push her to 7.8 knots. That’s fully laden too.
The yawl has a deeper keel, of course, but still comparatively shallow with a draught of 1 metre.
For private use the yawl will be a party like its 1920 boat, so roaring is encouraged and posing on the net “wings” compulsory. Well, for the trim and tanned among us. While I was once young and attractive, those days are sadly long gone.
There’s so much more going on this year I could write for another hour but my editor implores me to be brief, so I’ll stop then except to say hurry up and buy the Secret 33 yawl so I can borrow her back and go sailing.
We bade a fond farewell to Secret 33 No. 1 as she was loaded on to the big rig for her new life on the Swan River in Perth early last November. Now she’s on the water in Perth, attending the opening of Elizabeth Quay and getting out and about generally.
A year ago this boat did not exist. In eleven months we’ve designed and refined her lines, her layout, her power-train, and her aesthetics.
Lots of custom fittings, gleeful use of fibreglass, foams, resins, and plastics with an abundance of red cedar, some of it over a century old and nearly black. Purists queue here for outraged spluttering and sundry accusations.
But really, a 21st Century commercial ferry/charter boat is obliged to exploit all the advantages of modern materials and her hull, while looking like something from the roaring twenties, is actually a racing yacht in disguise. Which is really why she goes so well and yes, sea trials prove it. In 22ish knots and plenty of white horses she proved to be stable and comfortable with nary a drop of spray disturbing the passengers.
“Faster!” I cried, “full ahead both!”and her skipper wound her up to over 7.5 knots.
“What range captain?” I enquired.
“At 5.5 knots we’d do close on 15 hours, sir.”
“Excellent! – I assume that’s with 1.6 watts of solar on the roof?”
“Yes, and allowing for the fitting of fast props.”
Incidentally, the new ferry hulls are sprayed in Colourthane B62 Midnight Blue which is a nice colour but has a touch of purple in strong sunlight. I fancied a purer blue, perhaps a little on the cooler spectrum, so I called up Wattyl with a Pantone reference – more like a deep dark turquoise. They were very helpful, so Secret Blue, a new Wattyl colour, will be tested in the coming weeks and be available nationally as soon as we’ve settled on a formula. Hopefully Ferry II will debut the all new shade of blue – perfect for the bay on cooler days.
On to other news, we’ve re-worked the Shimmy 12 to a 13 in GRP again, this one with a skeg keel and fully enclosed centreboard. A centreboard? – Yes, not a dagger-board – I’d never live it down, but a nicely engineered centreboard fitted entirely under the flat floor and raised via a concealed block and tackle. The beauty of this arrangement means that two versions, a solar/rowing/outboarding one plus a sailing version are easy to manufacture. Easier, that is, once you’ve built and fine-tuned the plug, done the sea trials, made all the moulds, worked out how it all fits together and . . . . . sigh. God knows when I’ll get time.
Meanwhile, talking of plugs, am I the only one who is truly pissed off by modern electric plugs? I have an old grinder fitted with two polishing wheels for when we do our own metalwork and the plug is still perfect. Contrast that to a new good quality jigsaw which is great apart from a crap plug.
Question: how does the rest of the world work a jigsaw? Answer: you pick up the tool and plug it in.
Question: how do Australians work a jigsaw? Answer: you pick it up, attempt to plug it in, bend the prongs, and try again. Next you bend them a little more and finally plug the thing in. It’s the same with nearly all of my newer tools, am I cursed with weak plug syndrome? My new socks have both got holes in them too – both sides . . .
I’ve looked at socks from both sides now and still somehow its socks’ illusions I recall, I really don’t know socks at all . . . . . .
Life in our miniscule part of the universe is subject to linear time and punctuated by an infinite number of significant events, some clearly signposted, others as a result of the toss of a coin. Particle physics or fascinating multiverse theories aside, it’s what we live with.
Some of our life chapters start with an explosive fanfare of fate, some creep up on us in the shadows. It is how we react that is important, we can wallow in a self-indulgent funk or we can stride forward with confidence.
Scruffie Marine started after a perfect storm of multi-adversity but our 25th Anniversary this Easter is founded on unwavering persistence, hard work and unshakable confidence – we chose to stride. Our first boat slipped off a makeshift trailer into the water on Easter Saturday 1990 and now, 327 boats later, we’re still here.
The name Scruffie was chosen by a Courier-Mail journalist who asked “well what kind of boat is it, then?”
“It’s a simple no frills knockabout family sailing boat you can build from a kit” I replied, then adding something like “a boat that doesn’t stand on ceremony.”
“A bit scruffy, then?”
“OK, a scruffy boat then” he said as he scribbled away on a dog-eared notebook. Later I spelt it with an “ie” to make it, well, less scruffy . . . . We’ve often thought of changing it – the joke quickly wore thin but re-branding is a costly exercise and you’d have to re-brand the designer too – something he wouldn’t take kindly to. Besides, the customers just won’t have it.
The simple essence of the original Scruffie 16 lives on in every single kit boat we produce. The tried and tested build systems imitated by many and lauded by the boating media have been fine-tuned and fettled to make the boats easier and quicker to build. With the Secret 20 we designed a composite hull with double chines, strip-planked and faired off to a nicely rounded bilge. Forwards a 4mm ply section is bent around the bottom and glassed over, continuing the rounded sections to the boat, the whole hull then glassed. “I wish I had thought of it” said Dick Phillips of the UK magazine Watercraft in 2009.
The boats have stood the test of time and this month we’ll ship out Shimmy No 84 (AUS) – A lightweight version, Queensland Red Cedar trimmed with tanbark sails and a Torqeedo electric outboard.
We can never stand still, however, and many innovations have been tried and accepted or rejected. In ’98 we were the first to use custom 3D routed rigid foam hull sections as a part of a catamaran kit. The 20-footer weighted just 360 kg all up and went very well indeed. But we only ever sold one. It was an expensive project but the experience was priceless. This system has since been adopted by other kit catamaran manufacturers.
Some years ago after much hand wringing we ventured into the world of fibreglass production, a move accompanied by much gnashing of teeth, especially as it coincided with the fallout of the Great Wall Street Shuffle – the shuffling of capital from us to them. Undeterred, “Forward!” I cried.
Secret 33 – sparks must fly
And now another significant milestone is being passed – the new Secret 33.
Now when you set up production for fibreglass or composite boats most people build a fake boat, albeit a beautifully finished one, in MDF. This is used to build the mould and it’s then thrown away or used to decorate bars. In a similar way a strong-back is used as a mould for strip-planked boats. It all seems such a waste to me. Of course hundreds of moulds are taken from existing boats, old and new, and this is our preference. We’re building Secret 33 No 1 in foam core glass over what amounts to a Scruffie Marine kit, this one will be a yacht (we’re building them with interchangeable keels.) The framework is, of course, our usual set of interlocking bulkheads overlaid with closely spaced stringers. The 15mm foam core sheeting, in 2.4 up to 12-metre lengths is then bent, kerfed, and cajoled over the framework, filled, faired and glassed all over. The catalyst for all this furious foaming is an order for two electric passenger ferries for Perth. An honour gratefully accepted. We’ve been serious about electric boats for a decade or more and a good many of our sailing boats carry electric outboards – Torqeedos or Protruars. Our first all electric passenger launch was the GRP Sienna 19, a 5.9-metre motor boat also available as a lugsail yawl. The motor we fitted was a Torqeedo Cruise2, powered by a bank of lithium batteries charged by the canopy mounted solar array. Such is the efficiency of the Secret derived hull and efficient power train that she uses half, yes half, the power of similar electric production boats and in several years as a hire boat not once has shore charging been required.
Free power, free of pollution, free of profit-sapping overheads – everyone’s a winner. Sienna’s big sister will use a pair of new generation Torqeedo Cruise 4.0s and be rudder steered. For day to day ferry services, up the north bank of Perth water and down the south, the batteries will need an overnight plug in to top up the solar input, and lithium batteries can be quickly topped up between trips if need be, but this will rarely be necessary. The new Secrets are unashamedly vintage in appearance, an important part of the brief, but thoroughly modern under the skin. They’ll fly too!
Thank you project head Kevyn for having the vision and the persistence to carry it through and thank you for choosing us – here’s to many more and not just in Perth.
And now back to the archives
The lead photo shows me and two of my sons sailing Scruffie No 1. This was the first of many pictures taken by professional photographers. From early ‘92, however, most were taken by Scruffie owner Ray Cash, without a doubt one of the country’s best – recently chosen to cover the G20 sortie and the swearing in of the new government in Queensland. We’ve been delighted by his work over the years and many examples have graced these pages. Our website and blog are identified by his stunning photo of Secret and Stornaway on Moreton Bay. Ray can be contacted at raycashphotography.com
The sepia photo shows the original Secret in a bit of a hurry crossing the English Chanel. An old friend’s father commissioned her in the ‘30s from Shuttlewoods of Paglesham, a yard famous for traditional working craft, notably smacks and smack yachts like Secret. The difference being mouldering oilskins in the hold, rather than rotting fish. With war clouds looming and a new bride to placate, the old man kept her a secret as long as he could but she found out. Thankfully she then became a family secret – the boat, that is. Still sailing in the UK, her DNA lives on here at Scruffie H.Q.
Stornaway – Scruffie grows up
The first Stornaway was originally a stretched 16 with a counter-stern. She quickly underwent a whole series of modifications, including widening the hull aft, remodelling the stern, rig and rudder. Stornaways are our second best seller with 77 Of them out there.
Photo No 5 shows Michael Liles and crew roaring along in the Roaring Forties off the coast of Tasmania.
All of our kit boats are built around a solid timber keel and the frames and bulkheads slot in to the keel and to each other. There aren’t many production boats built this way, most of them use centreboards or the devil’s own dagger-boards, sliding down through vestigial keels.
Ah dagger-boards! I can tell a tale or two of those evil contrivances, in fact here’s one.
As a young student who knew everything about sailing, I once took out a lovely young sweet-natured girl, blessed with cascading ringlets of shimmery bronze. The boat was her dad’s, a nice little clinker dinghy with a dagger-board. It was dead calm as we launched so I began to row out up the narrow muddy Leigh creek. Within minutes I had caught an oar on the muddy, fishy bank and splattered her lovely hair with flecks of black estuarine goo. She shrugged it off.
As the wind piped up I set sail on a dead run and a little wayward gust caught the little mainsail unawares and the little boom gaily swung over collecting the little angel on the forehead en route – involuntary tears welled up. Mine, I think.
This was definitely not going to plan.
We sailed on, morosely.
We picnicked on the sunny sandbank, envious eyes cast over to other happier, unblemished, mud-free sailors.
On the way back I touched ground and the rigid non-retractable rudder tore out the bottom transom pintle. I managed a makeshift lash up and we continued, the broken rudder banging on the varnished transom.
The final humiliating end to this day of maritime disasters came as we were tacking back up the creek to the cockle sheds. The devil’s dagger-board was down, the water was shallow, the wind was brisk and gusty from the west. We picked up speed on the final leg and the dagger collected a bit of bank that shouldn’t have been there. The boat stopped dead in the water but the crew carried on – both thrown forward, her lovely lips making contact with an unyielding mahogany thwart.
I was mortified.
I apologised for the seventh time but it was way too late.
Her features set in a grimace that did not bode well for future dates or meeting the parents.
We packed up the gear and trudged silently up the hill. We parted at her gate without a word and I never saw her again.
I have never, ever, built a boat with a dagger-board. Even today most of my smaller boats carry boomless mains.
More stories, articles, and even recipes on the Captain’s Blog blog.scruffie.com
Cherchez la femme
I did and at the end of 1994 I found Annette!
In those first few years I struggled on with two boys to look after and a business to build but then Annette joined in and we became a team. In short order a proper functioning office took shape with a proper filing system and all. Annette and I both have an art school background so between us we have been able to cover just about all of the business design needs in house. So from boat design to boatbuilding, from brochure design to bookkeeping (the long-boarding of office work) from costing to customer care, from component design to . . . . anyway, we make a good team.
Export or die
Starting in the late 90s we began to export the kits. We exhibited at the Southampton Boat Show in 1995 and sold our first three export kits. Classic Boat did a favourable story on us, the first of the three, and after a couple of false starts we appointed Max Campbell as our UK agent. Max built a Secret and a Shimmy and sold numerous boats before the Wall Street Shuffle trampled the UK market. The photo below shows his Shimmy on the Norfolk Broads.
We exported kits to nine different countries, most to the UK and America and by 2008 half our business was in exports. Then someone moved the goal posts, the sign posts, and even the gate posts. We took a collective deep breath, tightened our belts and panicked.
Back to the Secret, then
We’ve certainly had our fair share of challenges but no corners have been cut and indeed THE CORNER has been well and truly turned with the new 33s. We’re all very excited to be working on a new model. It’s lovely to see her evolve from early concepts – the 29 and the 36 – into the current 33, rapidly taking shape in the yard. Her hull follows current racing yacht practice with a needle sharp entry merging into a wide flattish section aft of centre – a big Secret 20 in fact and still trailerable. That’s not to say you’d put her in for an afternoon sail, no, you’d keep her on a mooring or caravan up to the Whitsundays for a few weeks.
While all boats are both a challenge and a compromise, the good thing about our production system is that, like the Sienna, many different models can be built from the same hull, power or sail. No 1 will be a sailer and a scale sketch appeared in the last issue of AAB.
While I’d prefer an over-canvassed gaff cutter with an outrageous jackyard topsail, I have drawn this as a yawl with an eye to working the Swan River and Rottnest. A lower main mast is essential to clear the bridges and while the gaff is being dipped to clear the lowest, she still has plenty of power with the staysail, jib and mizzen.
While the electric ferries have a draught of under 600mm, the sailing version with their deeper 1-tonne ballasted keels draw a metre – still not bad for a 33-footer. I’ve been studying a number of comparable boats in the Spirit of Tradition sector and most of them draw 6 or even 8 feet with a fin keel – a fixed dagger board – no good for the shallows or overconfident teenage skippers and a bit of a problem with the trailer unless you had a 30-foot drawbar or a handy mobile crane.
Then there’s the weight – the boat and trailer must total no more than 3.5 tonnes to suit most newer 4 x 4s and of course a beam of 2.5 is the limit without flashing lights, flags, and nerves of steel. There’s an end to slipway fees of course and an electric outboard on a sliding track is quickly serviced or even replaced, unlike an inboard diesel.
While I really can’t see a big market for a kit version, we’ve already had enquiries about home fit-out, so I could be well wrong.
We couldn’t have done it without . . .
. . .Our suppliers, our service providers, the locals here on Tamborine Mountain, and most of all the customers whether they be schools, commercial operators or you, dear reader.
Here then are some of the people, in no particular order, who continue to make it all possible.
That Oregon Place has supplied us with beautiful close grained Oregon Pine or more correctly, Douglas Fir for 25 years. Every single boat we’ve built has incorporated Oregon. The best comes from high up in the Cascades and is shipped out from Portland on the Columbia River. Oregon State law allows only sustainable logging and rightly so.
Keith Smith has been supplying us with rich Red Cedar and Silky Oak for over 30 years. He’s a builder too and we’ve built several houses up here. Keith and I are not good with paperwork, we rely on plain verbal agreement and Annette keeps us in line – it works.
Ben Kelly of Quantum sails – Ben served his apprenticeship cutting our sails and we’ve been with him for nearly 20 years now and followed him when he teamed up with Quantum. Ben is a racer and his sails reflect that passion – that’s partly why a Secret 20 will out-perform so many other boats, even to windward. Quantum sails and Ben Kelly – the best.
Boatcraft Pacific – a quarter century of good service with good products, courtesy of Boatcraft Pacific. Bruce, the founder, brewed his own epoxy and we’ve been using it forever. It’s superior, full stop. They supply our cloth and these days marine ply plus all sorts of stuff from their extensive range of boatbuilding products. So thanks Ian and the boys.
Col Clifford of Compucraft – I can’t remember when I first met Col but it must be nearly 30 years by now and never a bad word between us. To this day I draw up the hull lines by hand, Col scans them in and his electronic wizardry smoothes out the wobbly lines on the screen. We then work up the lines to full scale plans and while I have the final say, we are always in accord, even when I obsess over raising a sheerline 3mm at the bow. That’s not to say the design process ends there, the whole front third of the Scintilla 24 was re-modelled after the prototype and I’ve now completely re-worked the new Secret 33’s stern – she’s a little wider too, now perilously close to the 2.5 metre maximum width. This, of course, stresses the importance of building and modifying a full-size boat before you commit to a production run – there’s surely no substitute.
When Col and I were doing the Shimmy we followed the usual procedure and we each took a set of lines to fine-tune. He rang me up and said “You’d better get down here and look at this.” He would say no more. So, fearing the worst I drove down as soon as I could. He held up our two versions to the sunlight, one on top of the other – they were, within a mill or two, identical.
That’s the way we do it!
Australian Amateur Boatbuilder – what can I say? Thank you Wendy, thank you Paul and everyone else at the magazine for your unfailing good humour, even when I’m having one of those “moments.”
Ronstan – we’ve used Ronstan products almost exclusively from Day One and considering the thrashing they often get, year in, year out their gear doesn’t give up easily. That’s why we stick with them, that and their very efficient service. Sure we also buy from other suppliers, but a good three quarters of our chandlery is from Ronstan.
Lightwave Yachts – build all of our GRP hulls to a consistently high standard and they look after us very well.
Blue Peter – Jono and his crew currently run 2 Siennas and 1 Stornaway. They work their boats hard and Jono is without a doubt our most experienced skipper – in his hands a Sienna 19 will take on all comers and probably come out on top. Jono and Martin, between them have bought lots of our boats over the years for schools and outdoor education centres. We are extremely grateful.
Rite Price Distributors – I’m happy to say their prices are right by us. They supply Wattyl coatings, sanding products and various specialised industrial stuff – definitely recommended.
Oceanic Trailers – Australian built, good service, and nice alloy wheels too.
There really are so many – Runaway Bay Marine Covers do all our marine covers and soft fit-outs, a special thanks to Martin for looking after our web hosting, Ben Upton at Echo Imaging has been a great help as have all our customers, especially those who have taken the time to provide feedback, drawings, endless encouragement and lots of photos – a big hug from the captain and a big kiss from Annette.
I’d also like to thank my staff, Ian and Andy, and my supportive sons Robin, Chris and Andrew, my late parents and . . . . and . . . . wait a minute, this sounds like one of those truly embarrassing Oscar acceptance speeches where a tearful actress in a fearful frock thanks everyone from the local newsagent to the third cousin twice removed.
So I’ll stop right there.
The decade from 1960 on was pivotal in the affairs of man and pivotal in the affairs of Scruffie Marine.
1960 was the last year I regularly raced sailing dinghies and it was the year I survived several shocking capsizes in the frigid waters of the UK East Coast. This was not, I felt, the way to the warm glow of satisfaction I expected from childhood readings of Swallows and Amazons, while some wonderful sailing times were still to come, racing had lost its appeal. I resolved to voyage instead but first there was study.
By 1963 I was at Art School full time when such things were completely free and encouragement was generous. This was a time when we studied the relationships between form and function, and between aesthetics and efficiency, for while the course was fine art based, those enlightened educators insisted on a well-rounded, all-encompassing first year introductory course. Its effect was profound for I embarked on a lifelong study of all things related to water, particularly boats.
We studied the human form, we studied many beautiful works of man and gods, and we also studied, albeit briefly, fish. Now there’s a lot more to fish than chips. They are, for starters, amazingly efficient creatures, some reaching astonishing speeds, some diving to impossible depths and some even flying. In the 18th Century naval architecture turned a new page and inspired by fish formula, promoted the “Cod’s Head Mackerel Tail” theory of design. Remember the film “Master and Commander?” – It’s a good history documentary too.
In the late 19th Century Joshua Slocum circumnavigated the world in his converted fishing boat “Spray” which featured, you guessed it, a rather fishy hull shape. Variations of that boat still sail the seven seas.
But back to the sixties. In giving up a none too promising racing career, I began to search for answers to the perennial challenges facing all designers of cruising boats – that is how to reconcile a set of wholly inconvenient but necessary compromises. Life, however, got in the way so it wasn’t until the late eighties that the on tenth scale Scruffie 16 model was built and all the compromises were keenly agonised over again.
The first full-sized Scruffie 16 sailed in 1990 but by number two the racer in me started to refine the boat and by boat number eight a number of changes had been made, even though the basic hull remained the same as it is today. Quite soon then, the keels grew deeper, the rudders better profiled (think of fish tail fins), the sails subtly re-designed, jibs added and a host of other small but significant improvements were made. You can’t stand still, can you? Then came the Shimmy 12, the 16’s smaller sister and in some ways the nicer boat, and closer perhaps to the simple cruising ideals of Arthur Ransome. The very basic early Scruffie 16s were too compromised in an effort to produce a cheap, knockabout boat and as they became more sophisticated and thus more expensive, the Shimmy 12 went back to those early ideals, virtually unchanged from boat number one and with nearly eighty boats sold, she’s still very much in production.
Shimmy No 78
Recently we built Shimmy number 78 for a Bellingen family – two busy doctors and two sons. Now there’s a powerful argument for kits – it’s quite simple but increasingly relevant. It’s time saved – our kits are delivered with pretty much everything you need to build the boat. Kits equate to no time sourcing parts and much less time building and so more time boating. And if you are not up to the task, or simply can’t wait, our kits are so quick to assemble that we can build them for you at a very reasonable price – which was the case with No 78 – they couldn’t really justify the time to build.
Of course plans are even cheaper and these days often free, particularly for flat-bottomed skiffs but they too have their compromises and, of course, it’s up to each builder to carefully weigh up the pros and cons. The fact remains, however, that in our Brave New Corporate Utopian World not many of us can spare much time for the pleasures of even basic boating, let alone the creative satisfaction of sailing your own dream. The Shimmy 12 then, really is a good compromise – of course I’m bound to say that, but here’s an awful lot of research and development gone into that little boat, a lot of serious voyaging too. The runs are on the board without a doubt – there’s not many 12-footers that can safely circumnavigate Kangaroo Island.
I can build a Shimmy in three weeks by myself without overtime. Our customers will take longer of course, but I’ll take you through the basic stages with No 78 – it’s quite straightforward.
First up Shimmys are unlike any other small production sailing boat in that they have a fixed keel which makes building set-up a breeze and helps to endow them with Island hopping seaworthiness. The keel is supplied ready to take the pre-jointed stem and stern, you epoxy them all together in an hour or two, and when cured set them up level and plumb on a pair of saw stools.
Next cut the ply tabs to release the frames and bulkheads and trim the slots and tabs to enable them to fit together. It’s just a big, simple, 3D jigsaw really. You do this “dry” first. Then join the seat parts together with ply pads and fit to the framework. The whole assembly is now fitted to the keel via the pre-cut slots and once the dry run is completed to your satisfaction, you can glue it all together with more epoxy – we use Bote-Cote. Use a spirit level to check everything and use scrap wood battens and the odd clamp to brace it up and that’s it – hull in frame.
Next up is fitting the transom and various bevelled battens to take the stringers and sides. We do most of this prior to assembly but it’s either or. Then it’s time to fit the laminated stringers. These come in pairs and are cut to fit at the bow, and laminated together to form a strong yet lightweight corner or chine to the hull. At the stern they are held in place by a transom slot – see photo No 1.
Fairing, floorboards, sanding, and sides
Now take a break from building and start coating and sanding and coating and sanding. Boring, yes, but if we do it at this stage it’s much easier. Basically sand everything is sight. Flatten and sand the seats with a longboard and power sanders of your choice. Apply any coving (filleting) as appropriate and sand all the fiddly bits. Saturate with neat Bote-Cote epoxy thinned down with a little TRPD and GP Thinners so the wood or ply is fully soaked. When dry sand again and try not to go through to bare timber. We then roller on a couple of coats of Wattyl Epinamel 4:1 undercoat. Then sand again, with blocks to ensure you don’t work any hollows into the job.
At this stage you can also fit the floorboards. Shimmys have two fixed side boards but the centre four are removable. We clear coat them and mask off for a strip of non-slip in the centre of each board. Now comes the sides. Very little trimming will be needed but glue blocks on the edges of the seats are epoxied on to help fix the sides. The tabs correspond with the slots in each of the side sections and each panel is screwed to the chines, stem, and glue blocks. We use 25mm x 8 gauge chipboard screws as they don’t need drilling and they’re easy to remove. Once fitted, the protruding tabs are sanded back, filled and a small section of glass tape epoxied on – see photo 2.
The fillets between seat and sides, and sides and bow are important for both strength and appearance so we’ll go through this step by step. The insides of the side panels will be pre-primed, sanded, and undercoated as will the seats, so the coving will be to a finished standard. First carefully sand the joint with coarse paper, using the rounded edge of a small piece of 19mm timber and assorted fingers. Then thoroughly clean the area and coat sparingly with neat epoxy. The filleting mix should be epoxy plus microspheres to a consistency of toothpaste – i.e. it will not slump. Work in a row of filler then work it into a concave section using a rounded stick. The diameter of ours are about 35mm and we keep the stick at an angle of about 45 degrees. The mix should then be pushed into place with excess oozing out top and bottom. This is carefully scraped off with a flat filling-knife and returned to the pot. Repeat with the stick held at a similar angle and try to complete half a boat length in one go.
As the resin begins to set it will begin to become firmer, now’s the time to lightly smooth off with fingers and thinners, smoothing out any irregularities as you go – careful mind, stuffing up is easy. When it’s completely cured you can sand with around 120 grit and it’s ready for undercoating. The same process is repeated at the bow and stern. As you can see in photo 4, a nice neat even cove is important when the top coats are on.
Once the sides are on and sanded, we fit the gunwale trim which is rebated to cover the top of the ply. This boat has Silky Oak and it’s screwed on from the inside.
Turn, turn, turn!
Yes, roll her over and sit her on top of a couple of padded saw stools. The rabbet battens are fitted to the keel first and the chines and other bits planed and sanded off to ensure the bottoms all lay over the frames without any high spots.
So, bottom panels next.
Bow first, these are 4mm –easy to bend – and butt jointed to the sides for the first two or three hundred mil. Dry fitted first, then the joints are liberally coated with the thickish epoxy adhesive mix and screwed down with lots of 25mm chipboard screws. Meanwhile some poor bugger has to crawl underneath and smooth out all the saggy bits – a vital but hardly joyful experience.
The 6mm aft panels are on next and when all is cured and all those screws removed, the whole is planed, sanded and the chines well rounded off. A layer of heavyish glass cloth is screeded on to the 4mm bits to lock it in shape and beef it up. The chines are taped and then all is plastered evenly with filler mix and faired into shape.
Now there what we call the “keel coving batten” which is a concave section of timber glued onto the keel/bottom as in photo 3. This stabilises and strengthens the joint and aids in a nice easy water-friendly flow. Just like the joint between a fish and his dorsal fin.
OK, so more sanding, fairing, coating . . . blah blah blah.
A couple of coats of Epinamel undercoat and sanding, preferably with an air-sander, then final coatings are sprayed on – that was quick! And it’s rolled back over for the home stretch which is fitting all the trims and yet more bloody sanding – still it’s only a 12-footer, thank god.
Meanwhile we’ll have assembled the pre-cut rudder and tiller bits and sanded the hollow mast and yard. These are all clear coated of course, you wouldn’t dare paint that lovely close-grained top quality spar-grade Oregon, would you? Why I’d strike you off the register without so much as a by your leave!
Where was I? Oh yes, the same things apply – first a thinned down coat or two of resin, followed by five or six coats of 2-pack poly or Coelan or whatever – I’m not going to buy into any clear coat debates here.
Lastly, there’s all the chandlery to fit on, sails to be bent on, viewing seats to be sat on and so forth. Three weeks –easy.
Shimmys sit on a custom trailer and the spars (almost) all fit neatly inside with the rudder, hatches, oars and floorboards all fitted and fine for travelling. Tie downs are a pain with small boats, with many a beautifully varnished gunwale ruined by over zealous strapping manoeuvres. We won’t have a bar of it. Shimmys have a 50 x 50 or thereabouts transverse batten shaped to fit in the rowlocks with grooves worked on the outside bits to locate the ropes away from the sides. See photo 7. All our boats have special arrangements to tie them down. You can also see the seat scuppers – neat holes near the transom for fast drainage in rough weather.
Time to deliver, then.
Bellingen is a lovely little town just south of Coffs Harbour which is most definitely not. Spared by the developers iron fist, there are some delightful 19th Century and early 20th Century buildings and more importantly, some excellent ice cream. Lots of green forest and a delightful river – what more could you want? The customer and his family are happy and we had a nice time away from Tamborine, but it’s good to get back to your own fireside.
Sailing the Shimmy is a pleasure in all weathers, but then I would say that, wouldn’t I? Annette and I have been out in some pretty tough conditions but her flared bow, long keel, and low aspect rig copes with it all and she shrugs off the white water with disdain – no unruly slamming or slewing allowed on this little cruiser. Self-draining at seat level is wonderful in such conditions – we’ve even been able to rescue the crews of lesser boats as they turned turtle. We’ve towed pontoons under sail, coped with six passengers – two too many – and given 78 boat owners and their extended families untold happy days of safe cruising.
Of course a longer, narrower centre-boarded, high aspect ratio dinghy will run rings around her, especially to windward but we can be rigged and launched in ten minutes flat and there’s two metres of uninterrupted flat floorboards for camping, dozing off and even horizontal folk dancing in quiet secluded inlets – can’t do that in a racing skiff, can you?
Shimmy – still the one for discerning doctors, cruising kids, Amazon explorers and racy retirees.
But I would say that, wouldn’t I?
We’ve been working on a new retractable electric outboard and I’m glad to report that the prototype is up and running and working well. The Protruar 2 HP based unit was fitted to the new Secret 20 finished just before Christmas. The unit will eventually be available for lots of different boats but it fits neatly and unobtrusively into the counter stern of a Secret or Sienna. I’m really pleased – finally an outboard that doesn’t entail big ugly brackets, heavy smelly cans of fuel and bits of string – way to go. The Protruar people have a 5HP model in the pipeline which would be perfect for the Scintilla but at present we have a good compromise with a standard petrol or 6HP Torqeedo motors lifting up on tracks and full-tilted with the prop back up in the counter. The all important water flows over the hull, smoothed along by a neatly fitting engine hatch.
So, the new retractable unit solves more than a few irritating hindrances. I did consider fitting the unit with servo motors for fully automated push-button operation but that means there’s more to go wrong and frankly, if you can’t manage to manually raise or lower an electric pod, you’ve no business calling yourself a sailor. I comforted myself with designing a pop-up control pod, hidden under a flush hatch on the Sienna 19 but that will have to wait oar the new GRP deck/seat moulds to be built – so many solutions, so little time!
Not really a new model at all, just a new layout and one or two significant tweaks, the hull remains the same – if it ain’t broke etc. But it gives me an excuse for publicity and it’s no worse than the world’s car manufacturers who spend trillions promoting a ‘new model’ which is often exactly the same car with a new grille, new tail lights and new seat colours. So it’s really a new model then – a Scintilla 24 EX (for exploration.)
We’ve been approached by a Brunei based adventure/sail training organisation to provide a number of compact yet sea going boats for a variety of roles, based around an established sail training programme. Our Sienna 19, although developed with exactly that in mind was not suitable as parties of up to 8 needed to sleep onboard during extended voyages. The standard Scintilla 24 fitted the bill and with an interior that was always customised to her owner’s choice, it was relatively simple to accommodate.
Following the brief, the operator’s requirements called for some more significant changes. I widened the cockpit almost to the sides as per our Scintilla 19 and lengthened it by 300ml or so. As a result you can now comfortably seat 6, or 8 at a squeeze. A fold-up table or two can also be accommodated for alfresco dining and dissertation and the boat’s yawl rig makes fitting a decent awning a breeze and a cool one at that. Down below it’s a bit more radical with a fitted head and decent washbasin, a good sized galley, nav station, and bunks for four plus one in a hammock. Hang on, you might exclaim, that’s only five! Where do the other poor buggers bed down? Well they’re banished to the cockpit on li-los or other inflatable devices. But here’s the thing, this is the tropics remember and they’re better off out under the stars and an awning than down below. Nevertheless good ventilation in those latitudes is vital for safety and sanity so there’s lots of opening ports and my patented – well in spirit at least – wind scoop system to force those balmy night zephyrs to where they belong. So we do our best to keep them cool, well fed, well rested, and well happy.
While we’re into Scintillas, one of our European builders, Gerard in France, produces and excellent blog http://scintilla24.blogspot.com.au which provides a good step by step guide to building one. Gerard ordered a kit with a keel prefabricated to take an inboard diesel, clearly shown in the photos. Being from Toulouse he will cruise the Canal du Midi and the Mediterranean, perhaps even as far as Monaco . . . . I am consumed with jealously.
As many of you will know, we’ve been closely involved with education under sail for nearly 2 decades with lots of our boats voyaging here and there with their precious cargos of tomorrow’s mariners. I, for one, am extremely thankful for my own experiences as a young boy on the water – we sailed our own little ship, Graham and I, to far distant islands where smugglers furtively stowed cognac and evaded the revenue cutters. Almost true that for one of the yacht clubs we sailed from was Brandy Hole on the River Crouch, a river with a fine history of alcohol anarchy. To my utter delight I’ve just googled it and it’s still there. So let’s raise a glass to all those who, with patience, guide each generation towards a better, more worldly future with the aid of small ships and infinite horizons.
A while back I was asked to do a sign for our Main Street here on Tamborine Mountain. The timber supplied was neither flat enough or of a size that could fit under the router gantry so I had carved and hand-routered it.
The new one ‘Hidden Woods’ was auto machined from our artwork. First you have to select a slab of the right size and type – stable, not twisted, and thickness to a uniform size. Then the timber is placed on a bed with air suction holding it in place. The overhead router does the rest and does it very well. While I was waiting to pick up the work I had a ‘doh!’ moment – why not do small ones for boats? After all over the years we’ve supplied dozens of name boards for our boats, why not have them sign-written or carved as well? So now you can. We’ll help you decide on the type face, do the layout and have it carved into a nice piece of select timber to match your boat. Talk to us when you’re nearing the launch day and we’ll do our best to give the new girl the name plate she deserves.
Excerpts from my Australian Amateur Boatbuilder column over the last year . . . .
All Tooled Up
We men are hardwired to build things, it’s an inescapable part of our nature - our ancestral DNA – this will to create and it’s a good thing too, this magazine owes its existence to that very compulsion. Women are certainly better at many things in life, and generally nicer too, but when it comes down to building a shelter or a table or a boat, ask a bloke.
I’ve been doing some teaching lately and it’s wonderful to pass on a little part of half a century’s worth of woodworking. And how it changes people! Geoff tells me it’s given him such pleasure to build a simple seat and such confidence in his own ability. That’s because I make him do his homework, of course . . . . . I am well aware though, that sadly there’s an awful lot of knowledge just slipping away – all the minutiae of it, all the little tricks and treats of it – and then there’s the traditional tools of the trade – gradually, almost imperceptibly disappearing. Geoff’s been trying to find a cutting gauge, for instance – pretty much essential for lots of hand crafted joints but there’s none to be found. Marking gauges yes, but the cutting gauge with its tiny triangular blade – well it’s pretty much obsolete. I still use mine occasionally, not much for boatbuilding but I did a lot of furniture last year and all the old tools were back in service. Some of them are family heirlooms and still going strong after a century’s use. You have to pay big money for tools to last a lifetime these days but most were and are simply good, practical, everyday tools that had evolved over the years into the near perfect hand driven machine. My cutting gauge, for its simple efficiency, cannot be bettered, nor can my boxwood spokeshave or my refurbished No 4 plane. Now there’s a thing, possibly one of the most enduring tools in the box, the good old Stanley or Record No 4. When I acquired the plane it needed a bit of TLC so I sent it off to a specialist for some mods – a new laminated Samurai style blade, a new acacia handle, the base machined and a good clean up. The result is wonderful to use and the super sharp blade keeps its edge for ages and boy, does it get a workout.
Older power tools can be worth their weight in gold too. One of my prized possessions is a 1970s Bosch Scintilla drill. Well and truly thrashed in the yard for over forty years and still going strong. Swiss made with roller bearings, it’s never ever been serviced. It’s been dropped, accidentally set on fire, well and truly abused and forced to drill holes in things it was never designed for but, touch wood, it’s still going strong. You can’t say that about today’s Bosch drills, can you? Makitas possibly, I’ve had a fair few Makitas in the shop and yes, they do last well. My Makita belt sander has had an appallingly rough ride and while it’s held together with epoxy and the odd non-standard fastening, it’s still OK. The other day it faltered a bit though – what, breaking down after 315 boats, countless furniture and a new house? Why I only bought it in 1990 – I’ve a good mind to send it right back and demand a refund! Oh, I almost forgot, the boatbuilders’ friend, the compass plane – what a wonderful thing that is, perfect for all those lovely rounded bits that all good boats should have. I still use it for coachroof hatch sections, stern trims, our ‘dashboards’ and in fact it’s been used on every kit and finished boat we ever did. There’s really no substitute for these tools, honed and fine-tuned by generations of artisans and craftsmen – using renewable muscle power rather than coal fired power. It’s up to all of us to continue to use these efficient old instruments and look after them so that future generations can enjoy them as much as we have.
A Plane a Day Keeps the Shrink Away
In the last issue of AAB I enjoyed writing about some of the woodworking tools I use, so I’ll carry on. I got to thinking about my work when Annette asked me recently if I ever felt daunted by it all. ‘No,’ I replied, ‘never! – It’s a joy! I look forward to every day and relish both the challenges and the solutions.’ Part of it is having a good workshop and certainly a good part of it is fine tools. A razor-sharp chisel to pare away a few thou here and there, a thin slice with a beautifully balanced Japanese pull saw, a crisp even shaving from a vintage jointer plane – woodworking is an ancient and fulfilling occupation and I’m privileged indeed.
The jointer is my largest plane and mainly used, as its name implies, for truing up longer stock for accurate jointing, but also just to get a variety of things straight and true. Its extreme length means it only hits the high spots whereas at the other end of the scale, the block plane will follow all the undulations. The shallow angle of the block plane, however, means you can plane end grain satisfactorily and if used diagonally it’s excellent for clearing up irregular and interlocking grains such as European walnut – not that there’s much of that at the local hardware store.
Incidentally, the photo of the new block plane iron clearly shows the machine marks on modern tools. By the time I’ve ground the iron right back beyond the recommended angle and flattened the back on my diamond stone I’ve started to get the thing ready for serious use – Plane on you crazy diamond, you might say if you were a Pink Floyd fan. Speaking of Messrs Floyd, will there ever be anything to rival ‘Dark Side of the Moon?’ Heard some on the radio a while back and I was amazed yet again as to how fresh and exciting it still sounds, even after more than 40 years. Apparently it’s still selling well around the globe as each generation ‘discovers’ its timeless tracks.
More essential workshop equipment . . . . .
1. The Lead Shot
Lead shot is incredibly versatile and we use it for a lot of jobs. It’s the nature of our designs, with their fixed keels, that ballasting cannot be fitted far enough forward in the three quarter keels. To bring the keel forward would upset the boats’ balance, so internal ballast is needed generally under the mast or forwards. Lead-acid batteries are good, of course, but lead shot encapsulated in epoxy is better. The resin/shot mixture spreads the load in the bilges as low as possible and hardens to a solid lump of heavy plastic.
Bagged lead shot is excellent for holding all sorts of materials down while the resin sets. We regularly ‘veneer’ marine ply with 4 or 6mm timber, often over a jig to form curves conducive to the job. The lead inside the bags settles to create a nice, even pressure and if you use epoxy accelerator, they can be removed after an hour or two. Bags of lead shot can also be used anywhere where weight and levers are applied to bend and twist things into shape. Toxic but versatile – don’t forget to use gloves.
2. The ultrasound trolley
Many of our customers are medical people and one of them, a radiologist, had asked me to spend a few hours helping to get the bottom panels on to his boat. While I was there I noticed several hospital trolleys in the workshop – ‘Oh these,’ he said, ‘once the machine is obsolete they sell it off but throw out the trolleys.’ I mentioned that my own wooden trolley – the rolling bench – was well past it – ‘I’ll bring one up,” he replied and so my own ultrasound trolley carries tools, screws, resins, bags of shot, around the yard to wherever they’re needed. The locking castors even hold their own on the sloping entry under the roller door. The trolley is wonderfully versatile – it holds up the ends of spars as they are sprayed, helps me unload heavy slabs of timber unaided and can be moved in an instant.
3. The Glamorous Assistant
No workshop should be without one, quite apart form being a useful source of discarded apparel (see previous blog ‘A Tale of Two Secrets’) the services of a beautiful young woman in your workshop cannot be underestimated. They include:
- Brightening a dull day with a lovely smile
- Sweeping the floor
- Engaging in water fights with your son
- Fetching coffee and snacks
- essential in fact, but contrary to popular belief, few wives ever object to their menfolk engaging an attractive assistant, more often or not they will say something like ‘Look darling, I know you work very hard and I think you deserve someone nice to keep you company and help out in the shed.’
1. David’s Secret
For many years on and off I worked in the building industry – joiner, builder, shop fitter – and on many a job the cry could be heard ‘All architects should be made to build their own xxxxxxxx houses! (Please insert expletive of your choice.) So it should be with boats, and I’m glad to say that I’ve built lots of mine over the years – that way you iron out the faults, fine-tune the process and ramp up the performance – of the boats, that is.
So the request to build a new Secret for David, a Victorian sailor, was greeted with delight – yes delight, for my profession is not simply a job, it is a source of great satisfaction akin to a musician being asked to perform one of his own compositions – and being paid for it – a delight surely, and who could ask for anything else? What’s more, the new Secret is for racing and day sailing with a truncated lowered cabin and lots of little go-faster hull tweaks.
The new Secret was delivered as a kit some years back but the client’s business took off and spoiled any chance of leisurely gentleman boatbuilder activities. He framed her up quite quickly but being a realist, he shipped her back to us for completion.
We finished the framing and stringers, coved, and coated everything and got the sides on in the first week and by week two we had her turned over and ready for the bottom panels and glassing to commence. Turning her over is quick and easy but it requires five blokes, a selection of local and imported beer and exaggerated tales of past exploits afterwards.
Our Secrets have pioneered lots of boatbuilding design systems, including the double chine plus faired strip planking to get a nicely rounded bottom, and the almost undetectable rudder gudgeon system for good water flow, the dovetail keel and, of course, our tried and tested slot-system framing.
Secrets were born of a desire for performance of course, but outright speed was not the sole purpose, for that you need hydrofoils and Formula One technicians. No, Secrets are more a retro take on the racers of a century ago, vintage aesthetics with 21st century attitude, if you like. That they go well is beyond doubt but it’s the whys and wherefores that are of interest. Secret’s deadrise, for instance, the angle of each frame to the keel changes from frame one to ten, flattening as it goes to form a semi-displacement hull. Now there’s a compromise if ever there was one! Semi-displacement hulls are somewhere in between a planing and non-planing hull with the emphasis on all round performance at displacement speeds with the added bonus of adrenaline injection if the wind is strong enough and the crew brave enough. So the flattish aft sections of the Secret will allow her to lift up and fly but it takes more bottle than I have these days. I’ve clocked one at 7.5 knots semi-surfing and Max in the UK has equalled that but double figures will be reached one day. Full main, gennaker, 20+ knots, broad reach – her delivery is in late December so we’ll see.
2. Victoria’s Secret
Having a yard in Main Street means we get a steady trickle of visitors to commission work, buy timber and things, and ask advice. Now in any boatyard you can never have enough rags. Annette does the best – old white cotton sheets and so on, carefully cut into handy resin wipes but my youngest son occasionally brings some up, generally old clothes. Andrew and his partner Christie are a handsome couple – tall, tanned, young, lovely, good natured – much like we all were once, eh?
So last week found me sorting through a big bag of clothes including jeans, tee-shirts, shorts, a little black dress with Aztec detailing, a beaded poly-cotton singlet and something flimsy with ‘Victoria’s Secret’ written on it. In walked a local to enquire about a repair on a caravan. We discussed the job for a while but I couldn’t help noticing he was looking at me in a rather odd way. Now there’s good rags, glad rags, and bad rags, and it was only later that I realised I had sorted the unusable stuff, the girlie bits, into a pile on the bench between us – ready for the tip – and I was wiping my brow with Victoria’s Secret intimates – ‘It was a hot day, Your Honour, I swear!’ My reputation in tatters, I quickly shoved the unmentionables into a plain black garbage bag and sat down with a cup of good strong Dilmah.
After two and a half months, the Secret is ready to go – here she is