A Boat on the Side

Shimmy Number 78

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.

All framed up

Photo 1: All framed up

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.

Photo 2: Sides and bottoms on, chines rounded and everything sanded

Photo 2: Sides and bottoms on, chines rounded and everything sanded

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.

Photo 3:Lots of filler on the joints

Photo 3:Lots of filler on the joints

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.

Photo 4: Guide coats on and one side sanded

Photo 4: Guide coats on and one side sanded

Photo 5: Top coats – as last!

Photo 5: Top coats – as last!

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.

Photo 6: Inner trims, seat trims, and assorted bits

Photo 6: Inner trims, seat trims, and assorted bits

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.

Photo 8: Fore hatch, unstayed mast and breast hook details

Photo 8: Fore hatch, unstayed mast and breast hook details

Photo 9: I hate it when there’s nowhere to store the oars! The rowing seat lifts off and is also neatly stowed

Photo 9: I hate it when there’s nowhere to store the oars! The rowing seat lifts off and is also neatly stowed

Trailer tales

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.

Photo 7: Ready for delivery

Photo 7: Ready for delivery

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.

Photo 9: Off we go

Photo 9: Off we go

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?

To order a Shimmy send money to derek@scruffie.com but please phone first on 5545 1015

To see photos of the maiden voyage see the Facebook page

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  1. And we all love the boat, Derek!

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