Goat Island Skiff - sophisticated but simple
to build plywood hullshape.
Maybe if you understand the boat, you understand the designer.
Perhaps the reverse is true too.
I discovered sailing as a 12 year old when my family moved into
a beachside house while our home was finished. The house was on
Pittwater – an hour’s drive north of Sydney Harbour.
It was the site almost chosen by Cook for the new colony and is
a world class sailing area in its own right.
I was unaware of this as I out front of the house on a Sunday
to find a mass of small boats and cats rigging. The rest is history - I haven’t stopped eating, drinking
and breathing boats since.
Most of my early sailing years were involved in competitive sailing
with some dinghy cruising during school holidays. Then onto Uni
and some uncompleted Naval Architecture studies (Bulk carriers
loomed) and more racing in the Australian lightweight version
of the 12sq metre Sharpie – very quick boats.
Australian Sharpie - originally could be homebuilt
in ply - now exotic, expensive and a few percentage points
faster. Still great to sail though!
Australian Sharpie - originally could be homebuilt in ply - now exotic, expensive and a few percentage points faster. Still great to sail though!
By the mid ’80s the racing scene had changed. New technology
had been accepted by all the racing classes and the initial and
running costs were discouraging both new and existing participants.
This was even true of classes that had set out to be affordable
to the average family.
A popular boat for two kids where I grew up is now $8000 and
a class that was a sophisticated but aimed at reasonable price
for two adults is now $16,000. The Sharpie above is up around
So I dropped out of most racing. But I still delight in boats
that are efficient to sail and efficient to handle.
On the Round Australia Trip - that many young people take as
an initiation - I found myself employed by a tiny business in
Adelaide -Duck Flat Wooden Boats - which was later to become the
kit and material supplier in the country.
It was an eye opener - customers were highly motivated to "do
something with their own hands" and were building boats for
a fraction of the cost of racing boats of similar size.
My ideas were quickly formed in this environment. Boats with
good performance, that were easy to build, fun to sail and reasonably cheap to
put together but retaining a strong traditional character. The
main antipodean input was our tradition of boats that are dramatically
lighter than Northern Hemisphere equivalents (average 10lbs/ft)
but tough enough to deal with our stronger average winds and rougher
While working at Duck Flat it was obvious that a few plans were very good at supporting people who had not built a boat before and others were not. Plans with poor detail and poor procedure consumed crazy amounts of time in the fledging business. The best plans, by far, were from Iain Oughtred who at that time had about 3 wonderfully documented designs. It was clear that the better the plans, the less work the designer and plans agent have to do in the long run! Lesson learned.
That leads to a slightly embarrassing confession … I am
a really lazy boatbuilder. I might love the look of Nat Herreshoff's
Coquina , or an 1880's sailing
canoe with batwing sails … but I can't
even imagine building either! I want boats that build in weeks
rather than months.
So plywood is my first choice in materials – nothing speeds
up boatbuilding (for the chronically lazy) or simplifies it more
than this one choice. The second big influence in construction
is a result of improvements in bonding technology. There are no
permanent nails and screws which allows solid timber holding the
bits of ply together can be quite small in dimension. Weight and
the number of parts are both reduced but reliability and strength
Less timber used in the boat saves money.
Less structure - saves weight - increases performance.
Fewer parts so the boat builds much more quickly.
Beth Sailing Canoe - Experienced small boat
Beth Sailing Canoe - Experienced small boat sailors only.
But I was (and am still) in love with beautiful boats. Was it
possible to create simple ply
boats that just "look right" on the water? My first
simplified hull shape in 1990, a sailingcanoe, ended up quite pretty. About two designs
later in ‘92 came the Goat Island Skiff (GIS).
The second Goat on the water after 8 years - shows how epoxy
boatbuilding reduces maintenance - in this case zero.
The second Goat on the water after 8 years
- shows how epoxy boatbuilding reduces maintenance - in
this case zero.
So why is the GIS my favourite boat?
The main reason is the same as for many of the people who buy
the plan – it looks wonderful. When my now friend Peter
Hyndman built one of the first boats he used to have requests
from his three teenage daughters to rig up the boat on the beach
for them. When asked if they needed lifejackets they replied “No
Dad – we are just going sit beside the boat and read –
but the boat is a real bloke magnet”.
But importantly the good looks are supported by truly excellent
sailing performance. Performance is close to conventional non-trapeze
racing boats. Compared with colourful recreations of boats gone
by – it sails rings around almost all of them and it sits
well amongst the better sailing modern wood boats like Iain Oughtred’s.
My first sail of the GIS was a day of sailing on Brisbane’s
Moreton Bay with 4 adults and a picnic aboard (700lbs/310kg) for
a day of sailing in a nice sailing breeze. We covered a lot of
ground upwind and down and could skim over shallows with the centreboard
half up. I’ve also sailed the skiff by alone – last
year to watch the Etchell World Championships or this year for
a strong wind photoshoot. It’s a handful, but fun when gybing
and tacking in stronger winds if the sail isn’t reefed.
I could go into detail about the reasons for the performance
but I don’t have space here to elaborate. Much is taking
some of the efficiencies of modern racing boats but incorporating
them by design in a way that is invisible to the builder. Large
and efficient-section foils (rudder and centreboard), slender
bow, optimised volume distribution, light weight structure where
possible and many refinements garnered from lots of sailing with
simple balance lug rigs. All achieved with normal, moderate cost
materials with labour minimised during the building process.
The hull is built “instant” style with no building
jig required. For simple hullshapes I don’t think stitch
and glue is warranted – real timber to hold the ply together
is faster, more efficient and much smoother.
The hull is made up of four bulkheads and the transom prefabricated
to fit between the two sides then turned over to fit the bottom.
Add three seat tops, the centrecase, gunwales and inwales and
it is time to start the spars and foils. Even I was surprised
when this big, almost 16 footer came out at 127lbs for the complete
hull before paint and varnish. Part of that is down to building
of Gaboon/Okoume plywood which is highly recommended. It makes
the boat so much easier to move around on land.
So a boat for lazy people who like pretty boats that go fast!