By Turner Matthews
from Messing Around In Boats)
here for more information about MAIB)
Fairehope is a 21' gaff rigged sloop designed
by Nelson Zimmer in 1946. She was commissioned by a client in
Auckland, New Zealand, who wanted a robust coastal cruiser.
The design has been featured in Rudder magazine, later in the
National Fisherman, and finally in WoodenBoat. As an interesting
aside, in my correspondence and conversations with Mr. Zimmer,
he told me that although he had sold dozens of plan sets throughout
the years, I was the first person to acknowledge receipt of
the plans, much less send him photos or comments on a completed
boat (see sidebar).
Underway on the Manatee River near Bradenton,
My first acquaintance with the design was the
Woodenboat #58 commentary on the boat by the late Joel White
of Brooklin Boat Yard (see Classic Boat #174). I was contemplating
a re-entry into the boating world, being reduced at the time
to a 12' fiberglass (GRP) Whitehall style rowing boat. The cause
of that reduction had been economic, and although I once more
had an adequate income flow, the purchase of a boat, or the
building of a boat by a professional builder, was out of the
Somehow the plan profile looked so right to me
that I became (to borrow a phrase) "boat struck."
Joel White's very favorable comments completed the decision
in my mind that I needed and could build this particular one.
I must state at this point that prior to this event, my sole
boatbuilding experience had been plank on frame models. I had
no illusions about my woodworking skills, which are capable
but well below average for someone about to embark upon a boatbuilding
project. What I did know was that somehow, through force of
will if need be, I could be the life force behind the creation
of this boat and that I must do it.
That decision, whether to rescue some derelict
classic or build a new one, was the easy part because love is
in the air and we are usually blinded to reason by it. Then,
at some point, if we are to get beyond contemplative dreaming,
we must begin to deal with reality. For my own part, once the
decision was made I simply started the project as though I knew
what I were doing. Having now been involved over the years in
a total of four boatbuilding projects, I have had much time
and opportunity to reflect upon the mental processes that are
needed for success.
I do believe two things were vital to this project's
well being. First, I had to envision and never lose sight of
the completed project. How it would feel to sail, what I would
do with and enjoy about it, and how much pride I would take
in its completion. I needed to make it so real that the building
was just some minor obstacle. That then became not a goal, but
rather a reality in my mind. Secondly, once begun, I had to
focus only on the work involved in each phase of the project,
not projecting to the mass of uncompleted work which lay beyond.
A wooden boat, particularly one which is traditionally
built, is a very complex organism, but most particularly so
once it is completed. The component parts, however, are individually
simple forms which are then connected to other simple forms
and so on. This is in no way meant to minimize the amazing skill
needed to properly fit and connect all these pieces together
into the completed boat. It is presented solely to conceptually
reduce the actual construction down to the fitting of these
As to my own process in building Fairehope, the
first thing I did after receiving the plans in the mail was
to visit my friend Bob Pitt, who had apprenticed with Charles
DeHayes, a Welsh shipwright who had emigrated to the U.S. after
WW II. My purpose in the visit, aside from the excitement of
showing him the plans, was to enroll him into helping me with
the project. Once he agreed the project began in earnest. I
obtained a building code variance from our city to construct
a temporary shed in my front yard in which to build the boat.
I bought Allan Vaitses' excellent book on lofting and learned
enough to draw the backbone and other major pieces, installing
the lofting panels as the north wall of the building shed, convenient
as patterns for shaping the pieces, and inspirational, as the
whole boat was there to see, albeit two dimensional.
As for sourcing materials, Bob had a friend who
was owner of a small saw mill and who had some excellent live
oak which had been curing in log form for about four years.
Live oak, although not used commercially to any extent in boatbuilding,
is amazingly strong and resistant to rot, in part, I suppose,
because of its lack of any particular grain pattern. It is more
like a maze and my own belief is that the spores that cause
rot get confused and really can't find their way in or out.
It cannot be considered a dimensionally stable wood, however,
so its best applications are in larger sections only where the
movement is minimal and the fastenings are large. In addition
to using it for the keel and backbone, we also cut some natural
crooks which we used for quarter knees and the breasthook. The
hull is planked with 7/8" juniper with a mahogany sheer
strake of 1-3/8". Construction of the hull from chine to
deck is batten seam with mahogany battens, fastened with copper
rivets. The bottom was carvel planked and fastened with silicon
To begin a boatbuilding project in earnest, one
simply needs to, quoting my late friend, Jim Bristol, "cut
wood." So began the project, weekend after weekend. I started
to realize just how many pieces of wood must be cut. I became
aware of my abysmal lack of skill in fitting them together and
how dependent I was upon others for help. It was somewhere in
these relatively early stages that the reality of the whole
project descended like a cloud of doom. This was where the previous
creation of the absolute vision of the completed project became
I looked around and saw a pile of carefully stickered
juniper waiting to become planking, pieces of noble live oak
begging to become a robust backbone to which the planking could
be attached, a building shed with the tools purchased for the
construction, and I saw the beautiful two dimensional shape
on the wall waiting patiently to be freed from its static existence.
For me it was well past the point of no return and I realized
that I had arrived there by a blind act of faith that the project
would be done. That blind faith, or "leap of faith"
as Kierkegaard would refer to it, is the threshold which must
be reached before the dream can be realized. You must make it
so real that it can't "not happen."
How each of us deals with the completion, if
we have gotten beyond the threshold, is not the puipose of this
writing. For my part, in this project and three subsequent ones,
there were happy ending/completions.
Fairehope was launched after three years of weekend
work with steady paid assistance from Bob Pitt on the hull and
from Jim Bristol, who did a compressed period of four months
of daily work at the end to complete the decking, cabin, spars,
and rigging and prepare it for launch. I have now been sailing
Fairehope for 15 years. She has met and gone beyond any expectations
and dreams I may have had. Her home water is Florida's Manatee
River, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico through the lower
part ofTampa Bay. I did trailer her to Mt. Desert Island, Maine,
for a WoodenBoat Show at Southwest Harbor, just to sail for
a bit among the many traditional boats there, of which Florida
is sadly lacking. Mostly, however, I use her for day sailing
with occasional trips up or down the coast, much as she was
designed to do. I truly hope that those others which may have
been built continue to give their owners as much
Fairehope is 21' on deck, 23' overall. Her V-bottom
hull shape has moderate deadrise to the chines. She has a centerboard
and as designed draws 2' with the board up. Beam is 7'2".
Total sail area is 260sf with 200' in the main and 60' in the
self tending jib. She is at her best in 10-15 knots unreefed
or 15-20 with one reef. The scantlings for a 21' boat are impressive,
as are the structural specifications which include a full set
of hanging and lodging knees. Her motion is that of a much larger
boat and several friends have commented that the only thing
she lacks is about 10 more feet of length. With a water line
length of only 16' hull speed is limited, but I have seen 7-1/2
knots on a really favorable broad reach.
With the designer's blessing we made some changes.
Instead of the deep cockpit he designed we installed a bridge
deck and a selfdraining foot well. As well as improving the
seaworthiness of the boat, it allowed us to tuck a 2-cylinder
1 hp Vetus diesel under the deck. It is offset to port so as
not to weaken the keel/deadwood and has functioned quite well,
notwithstanding the increased rudder angle and force required
to steer under power. Maximum speed with engine is 6-1/2 knots
with an easy running speed of 5-1/2 knots. We also rigged running
backstays and added a small bulwark to replace the toerail and
to allow us to raise the cabin height for sitting headroom while
visually retaining the pleasing profile as drawn. Initially,
as specified, we added around 600 lbs. of cast lead ingots as
internal and trim ballast.
Although this arrangement never caused any known
problems, I was never comfortable with the concept, plus it
made very difficult work of cleaning the bilges. We now have
removed most of it and added 500 lbs. of external lead in the
form of a 4" shoe to the keel which is bolted through the
floors and bed log on each side of the centerboard. By blind
luck, I suppose, the boat's wonderful motion was retamed and
she is noticeably stiffer.
For someone seeking a traditional shoal draft
small coastal cruiser to build, I can think of none better.