An Introduction to Navigator
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
We turned into the Leathwick driveway and parked the
Camry off to the side.
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.
images to enlarge)
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.
a reef in the main as John L. rigs the jib.
Notice the delightful spring in the shapely
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
Onlookers just naturally congregate to Navigators.
“That your boat?”
“Oh, yeah? Where’d you get it?”
“Huh? MADE it? Man! Cool!”
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
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.
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.
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.
brings more hike-out by John L. The Navigator
plunges ahead with aplomb.
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.
Johns head for the boat ramp. Note the
clean lines of the main, even with a single
“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
# # #
More about Navigators: