An Introduction to Navigator click here to read or make an observation about this  article
By Charles Whipple - Hamilton, New Zealand

I put boatbuilding on hold for the day and drove into Hamilton with John Welsford. He’d invited me to go along for a sail in John Leathwick’s Navigator. We turned into the Leathwick driveway and parked the Camry off to the side.

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John L. and Charlie roll the beach trailer off the main trailer in the parking lot. The rig gets set up after the boat is off the big trailer.

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John L. greeted us with handshakes and a huge grin. “Been almost a year since I was out in her,” he said, opening the door to the garage where his Navigator lounged. She squatted diffidently on a double trailer. John L’s got the boat on a beach trailer with big pontoon tires on it and that’s parked on top of a second trailer that hitches to the back of his Honda. Neat solution to the perennial problem of backing the boat trailer into the water at the launch ramp. All John L. does is roll the beach trailer off the bigger trailer in the parking lot, wheelbarrow the boat over to the grass, spend about ten minutes rigging the mast, boomkin, and bowsprit, and then bending the sails on. After that, trundle boat and beach trailer to the water’s edge – down to the beach’s edge if you’re at the ocean, down the boat ramp if you’re at Hamilton Lake, like we were.

Charlie takes a reef in the main as John L. rigs the jib. Notice the delightful spring in the shapely sheer.

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Navigator is John W.’s best-selling design, with some 600 sets of plans sold and hundreds of the popular little dinghy sailing on lakes and oceans all over the world. John L. build his own Navigator, lavishing it with love in every detail. The little boat boasts a saucy sheer and a jaunty transom that attracts attention the moment John L. starts to launch her.

Onlookers just naturally congregate to Navigators.

“That your boat?”

“Oh, yeah? Where’d you get it?”

“Huh? MADE it? Man! Cool!”

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The Navigator scoots across Hamilton Lake, every sail set nicely and drawing well. Charlie sits to the windward with John L. at the helm.

John L.’s got the mile-wide grin of the satisfied Navigator builder-owner. “Climb in,” he says to me. No one has to invite me twice. I piled in.

Hamilton Lake is a postage stamp of water in Hamilton, New Zealand. There’s probably not anywhere in the entire pond that’s more than 10 or 12 feet deep, and much of the lake just barely clears Navigator’s 60 cm draft, board down.

The two Johns sail away from the boat dock on Hamilton Lake. The breeze is light for the moment.

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John L.’s Navigator is yawl rigged with sprite sails on main and mizzen. The main’s fully battened and pulls like a train of cars. The wind blows gusts across the water, rippling the surface of the little lake. We tie a reef into the main, just in case.

Trundling the Navigator to the water’s edge is child’s play, as it balances almost exactly over the axle of the beach trailer. John L. and John W. push the Navigator into the lake without wetting even their sneakers. The boat rides high in the water, her mizzen heading her into the brisk breeze. I clamber over the gunnel and John L. takes the tiller. John W. pulls photographer duty.

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The wind pipes up and John L. hikes out. The Navigator sails very quickly, standing up well to the stiff breeze.

We bisect the lake in a straight line, then tack and take the wind on a beam reach. The navigator surges ahead, frothing at the mouth. A roostertail comes up behind. She’s making much more speed than her waterline figures say she can. John L.’s grin stretches a full nautical mile. “God it’s good to be sailing again,” he says. I agree.

It’s my first experience in a Navigator, and I marvel at the stability of the little craft. I think I could have stood on the gunnel without tipping her over. I stand five eleven and weigh about 220, and John L.’s a good four inches taller than I am, though perhaps not as heavy. But the Navigator wasn’t lugging at all. She zipped across the wavelets as if she were a ballet dancer. Quite a thrilling ride, and one I’d gladly repeat.

More wind brings more hike-out by John L. The Navigator plunges ahead with aplomb.

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John W. spent the better part of two hours watching John L. and I put the Navigator through its paces, both of us wearing silly grins. So we pulled the boat to the wharf in front of the boat club so John W. and I could change roles. This time John W. took the tiller, John L. hiked out, and I took the photos.

As the two Johns wore the Navigator around and headed across the lake, a young man on a Laser raced by. He looked like he felt he was on a fast boat. The Navigator sailed rings around the little Laser. And as the two Johns brought the boat in after their sail, the Laser sailor brought his craft over.

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The two Johns head for the boat ramp. Note the clean lines of the main, even with a single reef taken.

“Say,” the young man called. “What kind of boat is that anyway?”

The two Johns exchanged a look and a smile. “A Navigator,” John L. said. Then he pointed at John W. “That man designed it,” he said.

In a world of small boats, few can match the Navigator in terms of ease of operation and crew safety. I felt glad to make her acquaintance.

Charles T. Whipple

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