Duckworks - Reviews
The Online Magazine For Amateur Boat Builders

Oceans Alone
by Rebecca Hayter
review by Paul Kenna

Anyone who purchases John Welsford's book Backyard Boatbuilder will see the bizzare high tech Mini Transat boat in the pictures. Not exactly a plan available off the shelf for such a specialised yacht with twin dagger boards in the bow, twin rudder on the stern and keel that kants from side to side.

To anyone who does not follow short handed ocean racing, or I suspect, anyone not living in New Zealand, Chris Sayer would not be recognised. John's design and Chris's determination made the 1997 Mini Transat 6.5m yacht Navman competitive and innovative, allowing Chris to secure 3rd place overall.

In a later challenge the French organisers and government (remember Rainbow Warrior anyone?) did everything in their power to prevent Chris competing in the 2003 event in 6.5m yacht that was designed by another NZ designer but developed the themes John had started in timber and ply in a kevlar and carbon hull that weighed 85kg.

The book written by NZ journalist Rebecca Hayter gives an insight into Sayer, Welsford and the NZ tenacity when cornered or challenged.

Of particular interest is a passage about John Welsford:

"But if John Welsford was surprised by Chris's ambitions, many were
surprised by Chris' choice of designer."

"Bearded, quite spoken, Welsfords opinions are firm and he fixes his listener with his unblinking gaze as he talks. He describes himself as a
'woodworking machinery sales engineer and family man, who designed small boats as a hobby'. He loved timber and enjoyed designing traditional style boats: little yawls and nutshell sailing dinghies for day sailing or the occasional night away camping."

The world of solo ocean racing is one of stark, aggressive innovation, of expensive complex structures in Kevlar and carbon fibre technology. To those that knew of Welsfords work at the time - and few racing yatchmen did - he and the modern species of offshore racing yachts were about 80 years apart.

"I went to John because he could think outside the square" says Chris. "He's actually quite a clever cookie. I've always liked simple boats so keeping it simple was primary. In a way it was quite good being separated from the French because they are not looking at what they are doing and you come up with fresh ideas and I think we did that quite well" "

I'd recommend the book to anyone who has been bitten by any of John's designs. Apart from being a great read about a nautical underdog, it gives you insight into the designer of the boat that will be between you and the wet stuff.