When did you become a boat designer and what was your first real design?
It’s a slow process – you start by modifying existing boats that you have or designs which you like by adding your own touches and improvements based on personal boating experience. The very first boat I designed and built was a small sailing catamaran (about 12′ long) made of the steel pontoons of a very old paddle boat. I adapted the sailing rig of a “Cadet” sailing dinghy. The final result wasn’t bad except I only got to sail the boat twice as she got stolen 🙁
Next came a very popular sailing dinghy designed by the famous French small boat designer Jean Jacques Herbulot called “Vaurien”. I found the drawings published in a magazine. The only change I made to the design was a totally redesigned interior arrangement to suit mine and my friend’s needs. Later on, I built my first stitch and glue boat which was a 12′ dinghy designed by Jacques Mertens. I replaced the sail rig with a larger sail and changed the mast attachment to the hull to take the load and stress from the larger sail area. When making changes to designs, the biggest challenge is to make sure you don’t ruin something else especially concerning safety, seaworthiness and strength. It takes a bit of reading, calculations and experiments. Again, it’s a process and doesn’t happen overnight.
My first “real” designs were “Happy Hour” kayak based on Ross Lillistone’s “Water Rat” and “Colibri” – a general purpose dinghy requested by a friend of mine who is an avid fisherman. Actually, most of my designs are based on something else. In my opinion it’s hard to come up with a really pioneering idea in boat design.
Which designer(s) had the greatest influence on you?
I think Jim Michalak and Jacques Mertens – I really like how sturdy, practical and utilitarian their boats are.
How many boat designs have you drawn in total?
Which of your designs is your best seller, and which is your personal favorite?
“Happy Hour” and “Colibri”. My favorite however is “Mouse Grande“. I think this little boat has so much potential that many people new to the boating field don’t see.
Do you have a design philosophy – certain themes or principles your adhere to?
All my boats can be built by first time builders. If you can use a saw and tape measure you can build a boat. I am trying to design small, easy to build, easy to transport boats which can be quickly launched and used just for a few hours. Most people have busy schedules nowadays and being able to transport and launch the boat quickly determines how often she gets used. The smaller the boat the more use she gets. Other important factors are safety, strength and light weight. I am also trying to use less fittings in my boats as the cost of these adds up exponentially. For example a knee with a hole in it provides strength, a handle and a place to tie a line. Last but not least I like to build prototypes of my designs and test them out on the water. If necessary I do changes. Only then I put the plans up for sale on my website.
What key tips would you give to builders of your designs?
Keep it simple, don’t buy fancy tools, follow the instructions. All you need is a jig saw, drill and pliers. When I was building “Colibri” prototype I used a hand saw to cut out all panels from plywood. It’s a good exercise too. Ask questions until everything is clear. I usually reply to e-mails within 24 hours. Use your common sense. Don’t mix too much epoxy, exterior grade plywood is fine, buy the cheapest exterior (porch) paint you can find at Home Depot. Use vinegar to clean surfaces and bread flour for filler. Don’t sand too much into the fiberglass tape and don’t go for a super fancy finish. Instead, spend this time actually using the boat. This kind of finish is just for showroom boats. Everytime you launch your boat she’s gonna get a few scratches. But that’s a good sign – means the boat is getting used. At the end of the season some putty here and there and a couple of coats of paint will take care of it.
What do you have on the drawing board now?
Secret, it will be a surprise:)