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by Stephen Thorpe - Melbourne, Victoria - Australia

I built most of my Navigator in a course run for 'after-hours boat builders' at a local college. I finished it at home. It took me over 7 years to complete the boat working for about 3 hours a week at the college on a Tuesday night until I took her home and spent as many week nights and weekends as I could to finish. She hit the water in February 2011.

'Annalisa' on launching day at the sailing club

I chose to build a Navigator because of the versatility and seaworthiness of the design. I already owned a similar-sized sailing dinghy, an English Seafly design, and knew that it was a good size boat for single-handed sailing or a family day out. I mainly sail on Port Phillip, a large embayment in southern Victoria that regularly has summer sea breezes of 15 to 25 knots and waves can be as high as 2 metres. I decided that whatever boat I built, it would need to be reliable and safe for outings in all conditions with my family.

I found out about the Navigator when I borrowed the Backyard Boatbuilder book from my local library. My uncle was my advisor. I sent him some copies of pictures of John's boats. He had sailed all his life in Tumlarens and liked a boat with nice lines. He thought the Navigator had a great sheer line and a 'nice bum' (transom). I read the stories that Navigator builders were posting on John's Yahoo site in 2004 and they testified to the capabilities of the boat and the ease of building. So I wrote off for the plans.

I built the boat as designed except that I added an inboard motor well (based on plans John supplied from the Pathfinder set) and I installed chain plates and mast steps to enable me to sail with the lug yawl or a sloop rig. I have also installed oarlocks for rowing with a single oar to starboard or sculling from the transom - but I have yet to make a suitable oar. My trickiest bit of ad-libbing was designing a centreboard downhaul/uphaul system because I decided to make the board narrower and leave out the lead weight. Overall, throughout the build I found the plans easy to understand and they were well supported by John.

Sailing to windward

Since launching 'Annalisa', I have managed to work out how to sail her with the lug yawl rig. It hasn't been easy. There are lots of lines compared with a sloop rigged dinghy and the bowsprit is an impractical thing when manoeuvring near other boats or jetties. I am yet to master sailing to windward but she is very quick on any kind of reach. The speed and stability of the boat is impressive. My daughter and I sailed on a reaching course for 9 nautical miles in just over an hour in about 12-15 knots of breeze and I still can't believe it. We must have been on the plane more often than we noticed!

In addition to sailing, I plan to fish from my Navigator. I purchased a 2-stroke, 3.5 Hp Tohatsu outboard to get the smallest, lightest and most powerful motor that I could fit into the motor well. It pushes the boat easily, including against a 3 knot current and a 20 knot head wind! I like the reassurance of the motor when sailing in case the wind dies or conditions become heavy, and the reassurance of the sails
(jib and mizzen) in case the motor fails when fishing. Leaving the main sail at home makes the Navigator a big boat for 4 people out fishing.

Sailing on a broad reach with Melbourne behind

I found that there are many lessons in boat building, both personal and technical. It is a big commitment of discretionary time and is bound to have an impact on your family life. Building the boat at a college was frustratingly slow but good for the family. With the boat at home it is easy to step over that invisible line between a healthy hobby and an obsession! Spending long hours on your own, especially on the conceptually difficult jobs to 'nut' them out or the mind-numbingly boring jobs just to get them done (sanding!), can also be a challenge. I found regular breaks from boat building (mostly involuntary!) allowed a return to normality. When I finally sanded my last finger tip away on the epoxy fillets along the stringers and had to stop sanding for 6 weeks until the skin grew back, it was a welcome relief. By the way, I wouldn't fillet anything that doesn't need it if I was building again, no matter how much epoxy gets thrown away. The hours of finishing that those fillets require far outweighs any advantage.

I learnt many new skills making the Navigator. How to make a hollow mast. Bending plywood. Scarfing all sorts of wood. Using epoxy. Routing, planing, drilling, sanding, painting. My wood working has improved significantly. This has paid off in some furniture making since the boat has been finished, most of which has involved plywood and epoxy! There is almost a grieving process once the boat is finished and the project ends. I understand the people at the college who finish their boat and sign up for another one straight away, even though they haven't used the one they have just built.

Boating is a great pastime. My sailing uncle told me that there are people who build boats and people who sail boats and sometimes they aren't the same people. That is my challenge. The desire to build another boat, to make something bigger and better is certainly there. There are so many great designs available. And now I know how to do it. But the breeze is blowing and the sun shines on another great day for sailing or fishing (or both). I look forward to many years of enjoyment of my Navigator in races, cruises and leisurely days catching fish.

Sailing home

Building a boat for the first time, even a small one, is a long and difficult process. In the first instance it required the forbearance of my wife and children who were unwittingly drawn into the boat building project and its demands. I am also indebted to others. Bill Pride for his tuition (he is the college instructor and an experienced builder of traditional boats and Hartley 16's); John Welsford for his endless and timely advice whenever needed; Alan Chinn (proprietor of Ibis Boats) for advice and assistance in obtaining materials; Jok Smith for bringing his own beer; and Tim Passmore for his perseverance in helping with the difficult bits. Without all of their help, and the help of many others, I wouldn't have finished the project.

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