Hot Yacht – Part One

by Paul Austin - Dallas, Texas - USA

Part One – Part Two

I was so satisfied with my first scratch-built schooner (15″), that I took it to White Rock Lake, here in Dallas.  This spring is windy, with 15-20mph winds on a nice day.  The waves were about one foot, but I couldn’t wait.  I named her, Whirl.  I was excited to see what Whirl could do in open water.  I decided to alert the media, but for some reason they didn’t come. I think I was Trumped.  Anyway, the little beauty did well.

Whirl sailing

It sailed for a time at about 40 degrees to the wind.  I  can’t say it made much progress toward the wind at that angle; I’m not sure it has enough sail area for that but it made some progress.  This made me think the lug rig has something to do with the windward ability.  It could be the foresail pointing  high enough to get the peak under the jib halyard that the sail caught some wind before the mast.  I could be the mainsail’s boom sits so high above the deck that the center of effort is moved forward.

Whirl across the lake


I had enough string to let it go the 3/4 mile across the south end of  the lake, and it sailed most of the way when it headed for some underwater brush.  So I had to reel her in.  I was afraid the string might break and Whirl ending up in some dark cave leading to the Underworld.  This lake empties into a stream on that south end, so Whirl could have been pulled down the stream where the sun never shines.

Still, I left the lake feeling good.  I learned flat-bottomed models create friction in light air, so they move reluctantly until there is enough wind to overcome this.  I learned the great value of a keel.  While the rule of thumb on 8 foot prams is the board needs to be 2 feet in the water, Whirl has 6 1/2″ of boat, keel and ballast on a model 15″ long.  It sits low, but moves well.

I learned the value of keeping water from washing over the deck at the bow.  This stalls the boat until it becomes level again.  It also might mean the wood absorbs the water and over time makes the model heavier.  My sails are made of construction paper, so they have very little roach in them (if you dip them in water for a moment, they will come out with some roach).  They aren’t better sails than plastic, tarp or cloth but they’re simpler to cut and rig.  They also photograph well, especially in late afternoon.

I’m really proud of Whirl, as a lug-rigged schooner.  But now I wanted to build a bigger model, to photograph better at a distance.  Maybe even race with Whirl.  It’s this boat disease, one leads to another.  But it wasn’t going to be a schooner, too many masts and strings to get right, like a camel with hump disease.

This new one would be after the yachts of the 1920s, a cutter rig and a deep keel.  I’ve included some pictures of Whirl on the lake and some pictures of the model yacht on a pond.  No name yet.

With the cutter, I used slots into which to put the bow end of the wrap-around topsides.  The bow slot held the sides in place without screws, tape or stitches while the Titebond dried.  The slot in the middle was for the midframe.  The aft slot was for the transom.

If I could do it over, I’d have two frames instead of the one midframe; the more frames you have the more symmetrical the sides.  In truth, every piece of wood bends slightly differently, with its’ unique grain.  So with more frames along the keel, every plank can be forced into the shape the design needs, the same curve and arc.  This is especially critical with the stern transom.  Having more than one frame can save you having to put delicately shaped knees to keep the stern in a squared position.

I recommend any model be given a deck unless it is not authentic to that model.  A deck strengthens the hull so much, and a mast hole strengthens the mast angle nicely.

I glued from the inside of the chine most of the way, so the Titebond spread down the chine inside without showing outside.  That way I didn’t have to sand or smooth out the chine where any glue might have seeped out.  If you look closely on the pictures of the yacht, though, I still have some painting and sanding to do, with the addition of small trim pieces.


I made a few mistakes on this yacht, but that’s what glue is for; besides driving nails through such thin plywood would be precarious.  I could have pre-drilled, but I’d rather clamp and glue to use the entire surface of the wood for mating contact.

I’ve found the larger the model, the more ballast is important.

Still, all of this is cool stuff.

This is my 15″ schooner most of the way across the lake.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks Paul. I always enjoy your sailing adventures pictures and narrative. Consistent quality. I would like to meet you one day. I would encourage you to show your stuff at the Port Aransas boat show this fall. I would love to see some of your boats up close.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.