A Few Thoughts About My Welsford Navigator ‘Annie’

by Robert Ditterich - Geelong, Victoria - Australia

John Welsford’s Navigator is a mature design now, having been built in so many countries, in sheds, garages and basements over a significant period of time. The design fits neatly into several niches – neither too big to handle easily into the water alone, nor too small to be safe or steady in challenging circumstances. It has a traditional look about it, but also a hull that is capable of planing beyond ‘hull speed’. It is challenging to build, but just enough to see the project through with some pride.

It is very pretty too – and while that in itself is probably not sufficient reason to choose a boat, it does give many of us a lot of pleasure to have one in the garage to look at.

The rigs are interesting. I wish I had learnt to sail when I was younger, and with a bit more confidence, in my present situation I may have been happier with the cruising or racing rig – not to race, but because as it turns out I just like messing about on the water, and sometimes it is nice to give it a‘nudge’.

But for me the yawl has the magic of taking the stress out of setting and dropping sail, simply because keeping her head to wind is one less thing I need to worry about with the mizzen sheeted in. It also provides more options for shortening sail when concerned about the weather. If that wasn’t enough, the spread of the sail plan across three rather than two sails means the centre of effort is lower, the mast shorter and it becomes less critical to shorten sail in the first place! The downside is that it is a little more tricky to tack in light breezes with the mizzen to worry about, but experience is a fine teacher, and I just had to get out there and do it.

On my first outing in Annie, in very light winds I was having an easy, lovely time, but when a gust came the tiller didn’t do the things that it does to my fingers in a sloop. The boat didn’t ask me to spill some wind or let the tiller slip a’lee, because in those light conditions I had the jib sheeted up like I would have in a sloop. The result was an incredibly light helm, or even a bit of lee helm. It seems to me that makes for very relaxed sailing, but if things go awry quickly it is helpful to have the helm wanting to round up the boat into the wind and decelerate all by itself, with no help from the skipper, whose mind might, at that moment, be on other things. On the other hand, an overly heavy helm is hard on everything, including the fingers.

On a sloop, the helm can be balanced or tuned by adjusting the stays for mast angle – back for heavier helm, forward for lighter (speaking generally), but you can’t do these things without leaving the comfort of your seat.

Anyway, that first sail taught me a lot and I came to the second and third sails wanting to be more tuned into the needs of the mizzen and jib in balancing the rig for comfort as well as safety. The third sail occurred in great weather for finding some skills and practising some drills. I had all morning available, and a wide expanse of Corio Bay to myself except for a few anchored ships and small fishing boats dotted around all the likely spots. Not another sail to be seen. Wind was steady and I took a very long beat from one side of the bay to the other with no other objective in mind than to feel what could be achieved by balancing mizzen against jib.

So, heading to windward I found a useful groove for the wind speed and just let out the jib sheet till I felt the mizzen pulling a little on the tiller. It’s great to have the main and jib sheets coming from the same direction, but in these conditions I just cleated the main and see-sawed the boat from mizzen power (weather helm) to jib power (lee helm) without changing anything but the pull on the jib sheet. (The mizzen was sheeted fairly tight throughout the whole beat.) For a small-brained simpleton like me this was fantastic- and it was like learning to actually feel the mizzen on my tiller fingers as it powered up relative to the jib.

So finding the groove when the boat was in balance soon became more automatic, but still fluid as the wind raised and fell away. If I let the jib go out too far it told me by flapping, so the ears were learning just like the fingers – maybe the brain will catch up soon.

Second time around the bay the wind picked up on a beat and the hull came to life but I felt confident enough now to hold the course and let the wind do its best with me without giving any sheet away. It suddenly felt very grown up. Not content with that I sat out with the tiller extension and let her rip, having the most exhilarating solo sail I’ve ever had. The boat repaid my trust and gave me some speed, and I have to say Annie feels like a different animal altogether from above the coaming with me looking down the bowsprit from an exulted height. It seems bigger, and very resolute.

I chose Duckworks sails and have been very happy with them and have been using them on ‘Annie’ since I built her in 2010, seven good years of service so far.

In terms of resources to build one of these, anyone thinking about it is blessed with lots of Flickr photo sets and blogs of builds and sailing, a book about the design and it’s construction and of course, a very helpful designer. A Navigator will take a good – sized crew and passengers, but I enjoy pottering about on my own sometimes.

I have a bigger sailboat, a 24ft very old cutter and she is pretty too, but if I want to sail alone, Annie is still my go-to boat.

Blog:  Middlething.blogspot.com

Slideshow link: vimeo.com/221075089

Flickr album: flic.kr/s/aHsjqahpg1

Book: a.co/aqE5uT5


  1. Robert, as always, I am in awe of your writing style, knowledge and skill. What a lovely article and as always I have learned heaps. Thank you once again

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