A Boat on the Side

Shining Selkie, Sienna Showcased, Stornaway Saved

Many years ago we recorded an amazing 1930s’ documentary from SBS. Titled “Man of Aran” by Robert Flaherty, it captures the lives of the fishermen and their families on the west coast of Ireland. Fishing from two or three man curraghs they called canoes, the incredible footage of these fearless men taking on the extreme Atlantic weather was unforgettable, in fact the whole documentary – one of the world’s earliest and best – must surely rate as an extremely important historical archive. The sheer everyday bravery and unwavering tenaciousness of these people beggars belief. We found an excerpt on YouTube.

Back to the present day . . . . . . The Selkie, the new tender for Martin and Rikki’s 24-foot Scintilla, is now finished and delivered to Noosa and they were very taken with her. Annette especially was sorry to see her go as she was exactly what she would have liked as a little girl growing up on the George’s River south of Sydney. While the Selkie isn’t as light as the modern skeleton boats which originally interested Martin, she is definitely sturdier – if you look at the above video you will see the men returning with a sizable hole in the hull skin with a temporary mend – a  rag wedged under a stringer.

Selkie Steerboard

As well as commissioning the design of the Selkie, Martin had kindly offered to fund the development of an unusual sailing option for the little tender. At first I thought along the accepted lines meaning centerboard or dagger board (God forbid!) and rudder but then how about a single leeboard? One that’s pivoted down near the waterline and works on both tacks. But that still needed a rudder – yet more weight and bits to stow somewhere when outboarding or rowing. I reasoned that I could combine the two into a steer board which is a side (starboard of course) mounted rudder only moved forward to use the rowlock. Would it work? Well in theory yes.

I was reminded of the Yorkshire Cobles – their rudders are dramatically raked so as to double as dagger boards for extra lateral resistance – so why not? The photo shows a motorized coble, one with a cut down rudder but you can see the point.

Yorkshire Coble Hull

The rig I decided on is a standing lug with a radically raked mast to shift the centre of effort way aft. Other than the addition of a boom, it’s just the same as a traditional coble rig but 10 percent of the size. Ben, our long term sailmaker did a lovely job as usual, even adding tell tales to the tiny sail.

Selkie Rigged

As a professional boatbuilder, designer and amateur historian, the Yorkshire cobles have always fascinated me. That working boats throughout the world have evolved to suit specific conditions and maritime environments is obvious but the sheer diversity of the solutions is amazing.

Yorkshire Coble photo Mike Wilson

The coble was launched off shingle beaches into the North Sea and rowed out far enough to ship their long bladed rudders and set their simple rigs. They were invariably single-masted luggers, often with small jibs set flying on a short bowsprit. The squarish lugsails were set on unstayed masts and offwind were set “cracked off,” allowing the sail to belly out like a squaresail.

Yorkshire Coble

The advantage is that this generates a lifting moment, pulling the boat up as well as forward, thus decreasing drag and increasing speed. The lower courses of square riggers achieve the same result. In strong squalls a fore and aft rigged boat is often luffed up to spill the wind, whereas on a square rigged ship that could result in a fatal knockdown. So the square riggers will bear away from the wind and allow the sails to lift rather than depress the ship.

I’ve always liked square sails – they’re surprisingly efficient – I drew one on my 65’ schooner. But I digress. The coble’s main source of wonder is her amazing hull – sweet, concave entry to forward sweeping back to a “tunnel” aft with the aforementioned radically raked transom and long oar-like rudder. A pair of shallow bilge keel runners complete the job. The whole package worked very well for centuries.

The Selkie is built from clear Western Red Cedar with 6mm ply frames and 3.8 mm ply skin. She utilizes our own radiused bilge system we pioneered for the Secret 20. A double chine is formed and then a lamination of cedar and ply to “lock in” the shape. We then glued on Multipanel foam sections which are shaped to a nice roundness and glassed over. Multipanel is perfect for this, being surprisingly tough yet light and easily bent. Thwarts and transom are of honeycomb core and the boat weighs about 25 kg. OK, around double the weight of the skeleton boats but much more robust and capable of taking at least a 500 kg load – yes 500 kg.

I’ve kept to schedule to “design and build an efficient lightweight tender in two weeks.” A challenge I set myself because that’s how much time I had, although fiddling around with the lug rig and steer board has taken longer but I’m counting that as an “extra.”

  • - A racing tender?
  • - The T.T. tender?
  • - The superlight G.T. version?

Selkie Hull Finished

The new Sienna Solar-Electric was shown to the public at the Noosa Yacht and Rowing Club last Sunday. The boat was well received and I have to say the club members and staff were both friendly and efficient – we’ll be back to launch the new Sienna sailing version – God knows when I’ll get the time to finish her though . . . . .
















It was extremely gratifying to complete the inspection of an old Stornaway MK I back in the yard for a major makeover. The boat, one of a pair built by ourselves a dozen or more years ago, has had an “interesting” life. Commissioned by a youth education group, she was put to work instilling basic seamanship and teamwork into recalcitrant youngsters, along the way one of the two boats surviving a major tropical storm.

A team leader took her away for the weekend and set up camp on an island off the Queensland coast. Being a professional skipper he noted that a strong wind warning was in place and ensured that the Stornaway was not only secured to a mooring but anchored as well. Overnight the gale worsened to severe storm status and the poor boat dragged both mooring and anchor and was driven ashore to be well and truly pounded by the ferocious waves. Early next morning they found her – waterlogged and missing various bits of gear but, apart from a smashed keel, miraculously intact. Subsequently a local shipwright glassed on the broken keel and she was as good as new.

After a few years of hard work the funding ran out and she was put into storage. A few more years passed and the whole operation was wound up with the two Stornaways put out to pasture – literally. Yes, they were towed out into some wasteland and left to rot – but they didn’t! They refused to die. More time passed and Ian Adie and colleague discovered them full of brackish rainwater and rescued the poor bedraggled things.

Ian, who runs four Stornaways for The Rockhampton Grammar School was the best person possible to drag them out of the paddock, drain and dry them. So two old Stornaways have two new owners. Ian delivered his to our yard and I’m delighted to report that other than needing some minor repairs and lots of paint and varnish the boats are in excellent condition. Most of the paintwork is intact but most of the varnish work burnt out long ago. We’re re-spraying the hull and deck, re-working the keel to current specs and fitting a new rudder and laminated tiller. She’ll have a new bowsprit, mizzen and spars but the mainmast is fine. Other work includes the fitting of a new rounded front  to a raised coaming similar to the model review in Australian Yachting – still the nicest open Stornaway, even though I say so myself. Work continues and progress will be recorded and duly posted.

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Organic Pest Control – our Echidna

This week we had a very useful visitor in our back yard. He (or is it she?) spent the afternoon digging and nosing out food – up embankments, over big rocks and logs – this little fellow can really move and it’s hard to believe he has so much energy from a diet of only ants and termites!