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Little Auk
From Classic Boat No: 108 (June 1997)

Little Auk and several other classic designs can be
bought as kits from
Swallow Boatworks

SAILING IS a wonderful way of learning the consequences of your actions. The best way, of course, is alone in a small dinghy, preferably one you've built yourself, so that there is absolutely no-one else to blame for the mistakes.

There must be a fair number of people whose first water experience took place on some version of the "old pallet stuffed with pieces of polystyrene and bedsheet sail". This certainly teaches balance, if no great windward skills. Yet, despite the amateur status in the boatbuilding field of most would-be sailors, it is not now necessary to start quite so far back in the evolutionary cycle. There are several kit boats on the market, requiring varying degrees of woodworking skills.

One of the smallest, and surely one of the simplest, is the 10ft 2in (3.lm) Little Auk. She is designed by Nick Newland, a product of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich, whose career as a naval architect has involved him in the design and construction of everything from aircraft carriers to submarines. Nick knows how satisfying it is to see a vessel take shape under one's hands - whether inside a computer or a garden shed - and it is to enable the amateur to experience such satisfaction that he has put such thought in to his design. little-auk-3a.jpg (12597 bytes)
Though Nick does supply finished boats and hulls for home completion, his main intention is to bring to the market a kit boat such that the potential sailor can play a major part in the creation. Bearing in mind that sailing and boatbuilding are different skills, Nick has concentrated on making the process easy and enjoyable for woodworkers of most skill levels, with a boat that he hopes can accommodate the same range of sailing skills: "If you can use a plane," says Nick, "you can build the Little Auk."

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Double-ended, with a beam of 4ft 4in (1.3m) she is small enough to fit into a garage and simple to assemble. There are two wide panels each side of 4mm (1 /4in) ply with slightly vee-ed bottom, strengthened and protected by fairly substantial bilge runners. Construction is simple: the tried-and-tested 'stitch and glue', sealed with WEST epoxy. The panels are laser-cut, the holes pre-drilled to take the copper wire stitches. To create the overall shape of the boat you just lay out the pieces and sew them up, so that after only a short day's work, one can see the hull coming together.
The seams are then glass-taped with epoxy and you're onto the next stage, which is no more complicated. All the pieces of hardwood that transform the bare hull into a solid little sailing craft are mahogany, cut to shape and size, even down to the rounding of the edges. This means that a professional-looking finish is a matter of sandpaper rather than plane. The only bevels that Nick has left uncut are those at the stem and stern as he feels that, however uniform it may look, each piece of plywood bends differently. Rather than risk an ill-fitting joint that would have to be bodged with filler, he has left them to each individual builder.
Being plywood, with bulkheads fore and aft, the boat is strong for her hull weight of 651b (30kg) and even stronger for the bilge runners. At the gunwale, the end-grain is protected by a mahogany capping which runs round the whole boat, with triangular knees at the stem and stern. Cheeks take two pairs of rowlocks.

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Her appearance is enhanced by a pretty sheer and wide band of contrasting colour that breaks up what could be rather slab-sided top-sides. The sternsheets are made up of two curving side-pieces with a centre triangle that can be removed to insert a buoyancy bag. Another is strapped under the middle thwart.

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Forward, the daggerboard casing and mast step are models of simplicity. A single piece of mahogany nests on a support right in the bow, running aft over the bulkhead to form the cap-ping for the daggerboard trunk. The mast is stepped through a keyhole in this into a step just forward of the bulkhead.
The rudder has a relatively wide, shallow blade, fixed for ease of construction, which extends just below the level of the keel. When I asked Nick whether it wouldn't have been better to forego some area rather than risk damage when grounding, he pointed out the long upper pintle, which allows it to slide up, and there is the added provision of a pin on a lan-yard securing tiller and rudder to the boat.
She has that most straightforward of rigs, a high-peaked lug, with the mast short enough to fit into the boat and needing no stays. The spars are supplied already roughed out. The halyard is attached to the yard about a third of the way along it, leading through a dumb sheave at the masthead to a cleat at the foot. To step, the mast is dropped into the keyhole in the fore-and-aft thwart and swiveled 180 degrees to lock it into position.

The sheeting arrangements are unusual. As the little Auk has no transom and there is no obvious place for the customary fixed sheet horse, Nick has come up with an ingenious adjustable rope horse involving lance cleats, as used on racing dinghies.

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Rather than having the mainsheet block shackled around the horse, the rope horse here has a loop spliced into the middle of its length, through which the sheet block is shackled. The ends are led through the lance cleats positioned on the gunwale at each aft quarter. The correct sheeting position when hard on the wind is with the loop at the leeward cleat. When tacking, one frees the horse and, as she comes through the wind, hauls it over to the other, newly leeward cleat. The result is a sort of traveler in reverse, an interesting solution to the ever-present problem of sheeting arrangements on a small double-ender.
LTAROOFa.jpg (15407 bytes) Nick brought his own Little Auk by car from Cardigan to Falmouth, proving she is 'car-toppable', with none of those hidden pounds that make you wonder what sort of Hercules the ad-men employed for the brochure. It is more convenient to have a person at either end when lifting or lowering the boat, but it is possible to do it alone - a sensible feature on a boat so suited to single-handing.
Her spars, including the sail bent onto the yard, fit in a bag inside the hull and rigging her is simple. The oars extend out from the bows over the forward rowlocks, but it is difficult to accommodate them safely anywhere else.

In sunshine and a gentle breeze we discovered that sailing the Little Auk takes a little getting used to, but Nick is always open to suggestions. The seated position is sideways on the centre thwart, with one's feet aft so as to manipulate the horse. There's a knack to it that, once grasped, wasn't difficult.

Going into a tack you put the helm down and, leaving the boat to carry on through, you free off the horse at the lance cleat next to your hand. As she goes through the eye of the wind you slide along the thwart, hauling in the other end of the horse as you go. I found it disconcerting at first, turning my back on the bow during the operation as well as keeping hold of the mainsheet, but we never missed a tack, though there were some pretty untidy ones.

Luff tension is adjusted via a tack line through a block at the foot of the mast. The conditions I was sailing in, with a wind shadow near the shore and a rising 3 further out, meant that I was playing the tack rope like a sheet. Luff tension makes a significant difference to the set of a lug sail and what was appropriate for the stronger breeze was too tight for the calms. One can split the difference, of course, but it's satisfying to have it right and with the line handy there's no reason not to.

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The daggerboard is adjustable too, with a simple wedge. Nick had told me she would sail to windward with the board up, and I must admit that I doubted him, as Little Auk hasn't much keel. But sure enough - probably because of those bilge runners - we ghosted around a windward buoy with no trouble.

Going like a train

Off the wind, she went like a little train and here the horse arrangement really came in useful. The loop can be eased out so that the sheeting point is outboard, allowing the sail, a little beauty cut by Mark Williams of Ratsey Sail-makers at Milford Haven, to set really well.
When the wind piped up, I scooted back in to more sheltered water and, wrapping the painter round the sail to douse it, set to with the oars. With 7ft (2.1m) oars and such a light hull, she flies along.

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Back at the slipway we discussed little Auk's pros and cons. Though I felt that the adjustable-horse added complications to the superbly simple rig, I could think of no better solution. One could compromise by leaving it cleated with loop amidships without too much loss of sail shape. But, as with the luff tension, if you want harmony, you have to tune your instrument. I would however recommend a brailing line. It makes furling so quick and easy and need not interfere with the set of the sail at all.

The hull kit, which includes everything except the paint, costs 820, with the sailing accessory pack a further 350.  Completed, ready to sail boats are an added 875, all including VAT.

Nick has certainly thought through the design and the practicalities of amateur building with a blow-by-blow manual and 8am-lOpm helpline.

Little Auk fulfils her brief admirably. She's good to look at, simple to build and fun to sail. Though designed primarily as a 'car-topper', she is a versatile yacht tender, easy to lift, capable of carrying four adults under oars, yet perfect for a quiet solo sail around the anchorage. The only problem I can see would be in wresting her away from the children.

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