A Boat on the Side

A Few Words on Kits

Nearly half a century ago a school friend’s neighbour built a kit car. It was one of the early Lotus 7s designed by the engineering genius Colin Chapman who subsequently guided Lotus to multiple world championships with their innovative minimalist machines.

I was in awe of Andrew’s neighbour. He built a car! With wheels and everything! I owned a 1938 Austin 7 at the time – top speed 38 miles per hour with equally exhilarating handling and braking. He built a racer!

Andrew had an earlier Austin 7 which fell over during one exuberant tyre squealing turn. The driver and passengers got out, lifted her up, back on four wheels and drover her home. The dents were easily fixed. Now that was motoring, that was then.

But kit cars, what an idea – much better than model aeroplane kits.

So eventually I built my own boat, as you do.

The origins of the first Scruffie 16 are somewhere else on our web site but the idea was, and is, sound. I was inspired by fishing smacks, luggers and family dinghies like the Wayfarer and Mirror. Boat kits were not new – the 1960s spawned a rash of them and the Mirror sold in hundreds of thousands. But a whole generation forgot the simple pleasures of sailing and the bubble burst. The ’70s and ’80s were all about leisure pronounced “leeese-yerr” in the American way. Mankind discovered much but lost more. Came the ’90s and what was once normal fare became organic and expensive. What was once naturally green and efficient – think windmills and Thames sailing barges – became historic projects. Kit boats, as I saw them, were a means by which a family could collaborate on a project which would take them on a voyage of discovery in the physical and metaphysical sense. Of course the reality of getting a sulky self-obsessed teenage girl to help build a boat is, shall we say, a mountain to climb. But you can always bribe her with tales of local islands inhabited by hordes if Italianate boys. Then there’s the looming spectre of compulsive gaming. I read today that serious addicts can now join live-in rehab facilities, whatever they are. In the end though, man is intimately connected to water in an abundance of ways both subtle and obvious.

We want to go to the beach.

We need to get on the water.

We need to sail away sometimes.

It’s healthy.

So let’s make it easy I thought as I sipped my rosewater and chamomile tea. Let’s inject a bit of instant gratification (well relatively instant) by way of a fast, easy to assemble kit system. It took two or three years and a good deal of hard work to get it all to work. The light bulbs alternatively lit up and blew and lit up somewhere else. The resulting boats got better and better and the kits got easier to build and easier to manufacture. We took thousands of photos and did A3 layouts. We re-drew drawings and we wrote notes.

AE Kit

Of course we had our critics – we had the windward issue to deal with – the first boats were not good to windward but what did they expect from a long shallow keel (great for beaching) a simple lugsail (great for everything except uphill sailing.) Well some of them wanted everything – now. By year three the boats were much better to windward and by year twelve they we getting close to the best , given the aforesaid keel and rig.

Of course while the critics conveniently forgot the exceptional sea keeping abilities, the navy didn’t and bought our boats.

The critics also conveniently forgot the unbelievably uncluttered spacious cockpits – the outward bound operators didn’t and bought our boats.

Then there’s speed, so we went all gaff cutter and proved the point, the windward point along with it, thrashing much bigger boats with “modern” rigs.

The critics are still there but most have gone quiet – peace at last.

Of course a well engineered kit boat or should I say little ship is going to be much more expensive than an internet box but at least our kits are comprehensive in their components and fittings. Why, I thought, would you sell a boat that you’d invested a huge chunk of your life in without all the bits necessary to complete the job? It’s like those stupid gadgets sold without batteries or those pathetic gimmickry plastic things that don’t work properly. Waste of resources, waste of time, waste of . . . . . human capital. No, our boats are delivered with all the resins, screws, mixing cups, gloves, let alone all the components. Our stainless steel fittings are designed and carefully manufactured for the boats. Our sails are made by a local sailmaker who has been with us for over a decade.

Most importantly, however, our kits come with a priceless ingredient – a chunk of Me!

Yes every kit builder can ask the designer for advice, can email suggestions, can complain (but don’t push your luck) can even talk to other builders.

We designed the boats and the build system. We select the timbers and machine them. We router out the marine ply, we glass in the lead ballast – what more do you want? You want us to build her for you? OK we can do that too. Not just build her but hand craft her. So it’s not just a kit you’re buying, it’s an investment that will never let you down, that will quite possibly set you free from 21st century angst, it will kill all known germs and cure all known dysfunctions. It’s my investment too – my stake in both our futures.

MG Goosewing
The Designer Demonstrates His Whisker Poles
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