This starts a series of interviews with people from our boating community. The first interview is with Ken Simpson, designer.
When did you become a boat designer and what was your first real design?
My first boat design was a fold-in-half 8 foot plywood canoe, about 50 years ago. I lived near a small pond, and wanted to take advantage of the opportunity it presented. So, I made the boat in my basement, but to get it out required that it be less than 29 inches wide. That’s when my preoccupation with folding boats started. It took 30 more years before I had the time to devote serious attention to the design and build aspect of what has become my portable boat hobby. The first official Portable Boat, and the plans provided to Chuck for sale, was the Poke About. It is a small, 6-1/2 foot skiff type hull, and the first of my boats to have the “wedge” shape, ideal for transport.
Which designer(s) had the greatest influence on you?
That’s a tough one, because growing up in the great state of Maine, my influence was more historical. I think Herreshoff had the greatest impact on me, as his designs were majestic yet practical, and have since become classics.
How many boat designs have you drawn in total?
I lost count, but most likely well over a hundred. There are three dozen current ones posted on my website, and Duckworks. Included in my design and build activity over the years have been an amphibious craft, a hovercraft, an airboat, and an ice sailer. Not to mention other non-boat vehicles, like a dune buggy, RC planes and gyro-copters.
Which of your designs is your best seller, and which is your personal favorite?
The best seller has to be the TOTER. It’s size and options, which includes a sailing version, make it quite universal for a smaller home built. It’s an older design that is still relevant.
My favorite is probably the 1 Sheet Boats, as they exibit the principle of “the most with the least”. This also includes my Coroplast boat designs, which bring affordability full circle. Making a boat that holds a 225 pounder comfortably on the water, for under $100, is a challenge. These designs accomplish that.
Last, but not least, is the Mini Camper Cruiser. This was a collaborative design effort with Craig Titmus of Tasmania, Australia. It is his original concept, brought to life by my drawings. He built it, tested it, made construction recommendations, and approved the plans. He is a nautical creative thinker, constantly improving what existed before, and suggesting new and different boating ideas. The new “Fly Fisher” design is a good example, and I am sure there will be others. Although we have never met, we have become good friends, and only wish we lived closer.
Do you have a design philosophy – certain themes or principles your adhere to?
Certainly. Keep It Simple! And, try to make it affordable, practical and appealing. Another theme would be to question convention, and either simplify or improve, or both. My Tape & Glue Process is a good example of this.
What key tips would you give to builders of your designs?
Tip number one; read the plans thoroughly prior to starting the project. Question anything you do not understand. Tip number two; make it your own. This means creating minor changes that will reap major benefits, in its use or construction. Tip number three; don’t replace proven recommended materials without testing them first.
What do you have on the drawing board now?
Well, I just finished the drawings for a more traditional looking skiff called the TRIPOD. It is an 8 foot long, 3 module hull, hence it’s name, that when nested should fit in the trunk (boot) of most cars, yet has a load capacity of nearly 300 pounds. The next step is to build and test it, prior to the release of the drawings. As you can see, I am still focusing on what I call portable boat designs. Those that do not require a trailer, or a big truck, for transport. It has become my design niche.
On the drawing board is an electric powered single seat amphibious craft, capable of transport in the bed of a small pickup truck or small trailer. It will have a top speed on land of about 22 mph, and 5 mph on water. The conversion from road to water involves the simple addition of a small bow module, and a stern module which houses the motor and steering for the boat function. Driving off the beach into the water, and back, should be a breeze. All built of lightweight plywood and Coroplast. It could be registered as a 3 wheel recreation vehicle. This project has been on the boards (computer) for some time, as I have been waiting for the right electric power plant and batteries to develop. Maybe now is the time.
As your readers know, I am open to suggestion when it comes to new designs, and quite a few of my plans have been reader inspired. Being retired for the last 15 years has minimized my public contact and travel, so any new hull design ideas are always appreciated.
The first truly Portable Boat design of mine, about 10 years ago. The first that DUCKWORKS started selling plans for me. It has been surpassed by the 1 Sheet designs of recent years.
The best seller due to it’s multi-purpose design. About 7 years old. Still a favorite because of it’s simplicity and capacity.
MINI CAMPER CRUISER
A truly unique cruiser design, capable of sleeping two comfortably, and easy to transport on a small trailer. Has been highlighted on many camper websites, and some magazines, as a great blend of boat & camper.
This is a design just waiting to be built. I have been waiting for two things; a vehicle to transport it in, and batteries with greater capacity than lead acid. When the cost of lithium types comes down, I will build it.
MICRO CAMPER CRUISER
This is a natural outgrowth of the MCC design, but dedicated to the lone hunter, fisherman or sailor. As a result, it sleeps only one, on land or water. But, it can support two adults for cruising. Driven by just a 55 pound thrust trolling motor, it can achieve hull speed of about 4 MPH.
This is the vehicle I constructed while working at MIT. It took me at least 3 years to complete, but well worth the effort. I had a young family at the time and finding build hours was always a challenge. We had a great time for many years going to various lakes in the region, and just driving right in. Sure did get attention. I also did some ocean cruising with it, but the clean up was tedious and ultimately did take its toll. The craft finally met it demise just a few years ago, as weathering and mechanical problems required that it be demolished.
So there you have it, in text and pictures, my small boat design career. Interestingly, I am not done, although at age 81 things seem to take longer, and time seems to pass quicker. At some point those two will intersect, and my design days will be history. In the meantime, however, I continue to draw every day, and read all the latest regarding boat design and construction. Who knows, maybe another TOTER will emerge from my thoughts one of these fine days.