A Boat on the Side

Pirates and payloads

Our world is all about boats and boatbuilding and the people that indulge in that ancient and honourable activity so it’s timely I think, to take another look at the past, the present, and the future of small boats.

Years ago a man would build his own house, shed, or boat and enjoy the simple rewards of life without the need for instant gratification. I think it’s time for younger generations to revisit those days. A good house or boat took time and hard work to build but a boat, let’s not forget, is your only link to life if you’re caught out in rough weather and you’re not a good swimmer – like me. Which is one of the reasons I get a tiny bit obsessed by seaworthiness, sea kindliness, that easy motion in a nasty chop which all good boats have.

I come from a long line of British seafarers, none of us good swimmers. It’s an old Royal Navy tradition – I mean what’s the point of being a good swimmer if your frigate is shot full of canon off the Spanish coast? You ain’t going to be plucked out of the water and wrapped in warm blankets by caring Hispanic lifeboat men, are you?

Anyway, the seas my ancestors sailed were just the same as today so the boats need the same attributes for safe passage making. Yes, it’s true, their oceans were still teeming with marine life, the atmosphere was carbon balanced, Mother Nature was Queen – a world in perfect equilibrium. Since then we’ve just kept on reproducing, kept on polluting, kept on with our unceasing efforts to mould the world to our own greedy whine. And then there’s Trump . . . . oops, sorry I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it.

Back to boats. I’ve studied boatbuilding for well over half a century, it started in earnest in Roskilde, Denmark when I was 15 and on a sort of student work experience thing. I sailed a clinker built dinghy on the fiord, I visited the Viking ship museum and discovered Scandinavian girls. Three things to change a boy’s life – forever.

Now the Vikings knew a thing or two about the way of a ship in the sea. Take a look at the footage of the Norwegian replica Draken Harald Hårfagre – 35 metres of lithe longship – in stormy weather. Look at the way she moves – poetry. It’s no wonder that countless modern designers take these long simple shapes, push and pull them a bit and call them their own. They worked well over a thousand years ago, so why not now? So thanks to you, YouTube for something other than small furry animals and laugh out loud disasters. Talking of YouTube, our own video of the Secret 33 has passed the 3,000 views milestone as I write in October. That’s with no paid publicity and no fake views either, I wonder if it will go virus . . . or is it viral?

While I don’t do Viking ships, my own boats have a lot of workboat DNA in them and I’m certainly rather fond of the lug rig – it’s carried on nearly all of our boats and after all, it was good enough for Bligh to sail 6,000 miles in an open 22-footer. Seen the SBS series “Mutiny”? Rather light on boat details but good viewing and it proves the point – a good little ship and a good navigator can withstand nearly anything the irritable sea gods can hurl at them.

I’ve been thinking about sailing cargo ships a lot lately and designed a modern mini Thames barge – a mix of the past and a possible future.

The new boat is to be built from pre-fabricated containerable 3 metre by 2.4 metre steel sections and shipped out from China or Korea as a kit. They will take one 20-foot or 40-foot container, depending on how may middle sections you weld together. The ends are as fine as I can make them and the rig is reduced to its simplest components with a boomless main, a low aspect gaff with vangs, and its crane convertible too. – not for 12 tonne containers, though. So pretty much any cargo can be loaded, all covered by a concertina hatch on rollers with as many solar panels as possible stitched on the canvas. Solar panels? Yes, it has twin electric auxiliary motors plus a diesel generator and water turbine generator tool. Now, of course you’re not going to get far on solar alone, but all the time you’re sailing you’re powering up the battery banks.

You may rightly snort derisively and quite reasonable point out that sustainable sailing isn’t exactly compatible with steel container ships but mark my words, it’s coming – look at your roof solar, look at Tesla, look at South Australia. Better still, look at our own Secret 33 launches. We can build you one, you know, and you’ll never buy diesel or petrol again. There’s a lot going on around the world with sailing cargo ships from the sublime – the three masted lugger Greyhound, a replica privateer – to the not so sublime but some interesting projects nevertheless. The Greyhound has shipped cargos of wine from France to the UK, returning with cider. Where do I sign?

Lots of interest then, including a two container capacity catamaran which apparently took six naval architects, a team of IT professionals and a good few engineers and researchers plus a catering division and a university department, all to come up with some working drawings.

The new take on the Thames barge took just me at my dining table. Of course I had pencils, a scale rule, a good rubber, cups of tea and Annette to help with scanning in the drawings and typing my copy. It’s a funny old world sometimes. They have EU backing, I have a lovely view from my table.

Finally got the new Sienna in the water last month. Not much wind but she slipped along nicely and the new electric sail drive unit worked well. 2HP, 12 hours range and 1.5 knots – if you need more get something big and wide with 200HP and, well you wouldn’t be reading this, would you?

So a little bit goes a long way then and yes, it will push a loaded boat into a short chop and a headwind. Not quickly, I grant you, but it’s only an auxiliary and it’s a sailing boat, after all.

We did the sea trials at of the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron and took a couple of their sailing academy guys and a journalist with us. They were all very complimentary and “shocked “as to how well the 19 went in winds not exceeding 4 knots. We’ve completed the Sienna’s extensive checklist (see scruffie.com/sienna19-EX) and we’ll convince the world of the lugger’s many virtues.

We’re developing the Sienna 19 as a 17 footer too – it has a transom baffle to cut off the counter stern for an easy to hang rudder and there will be two new versions of the electric one plus a gaff sloop. We’re also seriously considering sending them out as semi kits with all the internal mouldings fitted in for stability but the decks left off, leaving the customer to fit out and trim. Sure, it’s not like our timber kits and, let’s face it, not as cheap either but for a no maintenance sea kindly 19 or 17 footer, it’s probably going to be available at two thirds the price of a completed one. The mast/sail pack is much the same as our tried and tested kit versions and the timber trims are similar too. Most of the fit-out is by way of bolting on things, so don’t be put off by the fibreglass thing. Talk to us if you are interested.

I’ve always had an unnatural fear of any theatrical productions involving pirates or any seafaring for that matter. I suppose it’s all that fake “Arrgh Jim lad!” stuff, uttered in fake Cornish accents. That plus the awful sets with fake yardarms and let’s not mention the “musical” aspects of anything by Gilbert and Sullivan.

But I’m being the bad Derek here – the Bah! Humbug! Man of boating. So when I was asked to design and build some sets for a local amateur production involving maritime looting, pillaging and um, violence the good Derek stepped forward and said “Yes, I can do that!” So with a budget running into nearly a fair day’s pay (including materials) I was off and splicing the mainbrace before you could shout “Avast there!” Here’s some photos – the theatre people painted them – judge for yourself. I suggested that the director introduce some unsavoury seafarers sayings to spice it all up a bit, old naval gems like “Ashore it’s wine, women, and song but at sea it’s rum, bum and concertina.” I shudder to think of the unbidden images . . . .

Fair winds and don’t forget to Box the Compass.


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