When did you become a boat designer and what was your first real design?
From the age of about 14 I drew boats on just about every available surface. I also found through slipway work later I had a huge catalogue of boats in my head. This was useful for knowing if they would fall forward or backwards on slipping 🙂
So, while at Uni doing a Chemistry degree, I swore I wouldn’t draw another boat on paper until I was going to build it. That opportunity came over a decade later with my Beth Sailing Canoe.
I flunked the chemistry. Heart wasn’t in it.
Which designer(s) had the greatest influence on you?
Originally, I imagined myself a racing boat designer. But then I ran into Bolger’s books. Beyond anything, I love his aesthetic approach. From “Gold Platers” to the simplest boat he always has something distinct to say.
I actually started off selling other people’s plans and cutting kits at Duckflat Wooden Boats in Adelaide.
I quickly understood that designers like Iain Oughtred, Bear Mountain and Oz designer Murray Isles had hit on a formula that plans should instruct every step clearly.
This made it easy to sell their plans because clients could build boats without a lot of handholding.
It made their businesses SCALABLE. This is essential if you want to make a living. It is hard to make a living if clients are always chasing you with lots of questions. Good plans save lots of work for everyone!
How many boat designs have you drawn in total?
I’m very strict. While I have around 40 boats built to drawings of mine they are not designs or plans until fully developed and exist in their own right. So I’d say in reality about 15 as full step by step publishable entities.
Which of your designs is your best seller, and which is your personal favorite?
At the moment the best seller is the Oz Goose. It’s been around for a few years. Finally, it clicked with people and they realised what a good sailing boat it was thanks to Ian Henehan‘s videos. “How can such a silly looking boat sail so well?” It is so counter intuitive, which I really like because it is such a good lesson on how convention guides our thinking, including mine. And then experience comes along and says “HEY, look what I can do … you were so wrong about that”.
I’m reluctant to pick a favourite. There’s a lesson in everything but it would have to be the Goat Island Skiff (GIS). Basically, it is the most stripped down 16 footer I could come up with. And, it incorporated all of my ideas on where performance really comes from. It is was a case of minimising proportion and using the lessons from racing boats without the complication and ridiculous expense that’s crippled sailing as a mass sport/pasttime. Something all the designers in this series have contributed to overcoming.
Do you have a design philosophy – certain themes or principles your adhere to?
Definitely, otherwise the designs will look the same as so many others. I definitely consider history in the “look” of my boats. But in terms of design for performance, I do quick boats in particular? The restricted classes where designers are free to play with different hull shapes and rigs are tremendously informative if you know what to look for. Dinghy design is well in advance of yacht design particularly in restricted classes. In dinghy terms yachts are still messing around within 1960s and 70s concepts. It takes a studious longitudinal view to work out what is advance and what is trend. As one example, (stick with me here) there’s always an argument in rigs about mainsail with big luff rounds on very bent masts and sails that have small luff rounds on stiff masts. The thoughts about what is faster for one class of boat flip flops every half decade. This makes it fashion rather than innovation.
A strong counter example is the way multihull bows have less and less volume because they control nosediving with dynamic forces at the back of the boat from rocker design rather than bow volume. The scow months in Australia also found the solution to nosediving to be changes in the back of the boat. That’s a huge innovation. A break with previous concepts. Changing materials for more expensive ones is definitely NOT innovation.
What key tips would you give to builders of your designs?
What do you have on the drawing board now?
Most people know I live in the Philippines now. Local boats are called Bangka. Sailing ones have two outriggers. There’s a lot of pressure from fisheries and other groups to push fishers towards motors. It’s a slippery economic slope with much higher stakes because the fisher has to pay for gas whether or not they catch fish to pay for it. Local loans, if you need gas or anything, are typically 5% a week. Our aim is to develop a sailing Bangka from locally available materials that leverages the multihull design improvements of the past three decades. If we can put the ‘frighteners’ on the local Hobie 16 fleet in light to medium winds then I’ll be happy. And, I hope it makes some locals interested in considering sail particularly as local materials mean they know a lot about building already.
Michael’s plans are in the Duckworks Store.