John Welsford's

John Welsford's designs

A few of John's designs:

Golden Bay/Setnet






From the Drawing Board
(occasional ramblings of a Small Craft Designer)

by JohnWelsford


Not a word that I would have associated with boating . A good word though, in itís broader sense of questioning our institutions, but the connection with boating was not one that I would have made, at least until last week.

I had the privilege of being asked to give a talk to a group of community college students, adults all, working part time to learn boat building. They are building two of my Navigator design and six of My Tender Behinds, a huge compliment in itself so I was keen to go and have a chat. My friend Richard Williams came with me, as much to see what the social interaction was like as anything. Richard is a very respected Barrister and Solicitor, one of the few Lawyers I've come across who has a real social conscience, and a very enthusiastic small boat enthusiast getting close to beginning his first building project. (Possibly a "Truant": a small and simple boat that suits both his lanky frame and the notoriously windy area in which he lives.)

So I gladly shook hands with all of the 20 odd students, darned if I can remember the names but they are as varied a bunch as you could find, with the common factor being a real enthusiasm for what they are doing and a respect for their Tutor master boatbuilder Bernie Perano. Their awed demeanour toward me the designer is something that I always find discomfiting but I figure that they and I will get over it as we get to know each other, and it was with this in mind that I stood up and spoke for half an hour or so.

I talked about the design process that had led to the boats they were building, gave them insights into the people for whom I'd originally drawn the boats, and spoke at length about my philosophy in building and using small boats.

The talk went down a treat, and after looking the boats over we left them to get on with the building. I was on a buzz as I left, the energy and enthusiasm was contagious and my parting promise to return on launching day (its about a six hour drive) was totally sincere.

Richard and I were talking on the phone a week or so later, and he remarked upon my ďpreaching sedition to the masses". ????????? The tenor of his remarks suggested that he thought it a good thing. ????????

Now Richard, English born and English University educated; a student of the English language and a man who makes his living by using words absolutely in context, is a man whom one should listen hard to. But sedition? Images of the gallows springs to mind, our government is not so barbaric as to execute those who don't follow its laws, but you never know.

He laughed at my puzzlement and reminded me of my insistence that the student boatbuilders did not have to pay through the nose in order to achieve their boating goals; I'd told them of the process of design that had made the Navigators Yawl rig achievable from simple alloy tubing.
To explain, in most parts of the developed world there are manufacturers of alloy sections, the sort you see around windows and so on. These are made in lengths that ship conveniently in a 20ft container, in New Zealand they are typically 5.2 meters long and the range invariably includes drawn seam tubing of various grades and sizes.

These mass produced general purpose sections are a fraction of the price of the custom designed and extruded specialist mast sections from your local (if you have one!) rigging shop. To give you an idea, I got prices from both and have converted them to US$ for you.

The "yottie rigging shop" with its rockstar sailor staff all preoccupied with the Americas Cup challenge starting here in a couple of months ( I have some thoughts on that too, not all negative) quoted me US$725 plus tax and freight for a mast, mizzen, main yard, main and mizzen booms. That's and arm, a leg and two fingers on my budget! And the delivery was two months!!

Jock, the storeman at my friendly Ullrich Aluminium shop quoted me US$128 00, tax included, and he not only had it in stock but would cut it to length for me. No contest, especially when I have serious suspicions that the "yotshop" would be buying the stock from the likes of Ullrich Aluminium anyway!

I also mentioned that by reinforcing a nice straight length of bamboo with some epoxy and glass cloth, the neighbours hedge could be a really useful source of spars, and that winning races with such spars was not only possible but was worth the effort just to see the expressions on the faces of the other skippers.

My philosophy on boats and boatbuilding is to question the conventions that set our perceptions, the ethic that suggests that we have to be members of those elitist groups that comprise some of the yacht clubs, that tells us that those wallet emptying establishments called Ships Chandleries are the place to buy our boating needs, that convinces us to buy wet weather clothing that looks like Liquorice allsorts and costs like gold plate when what we need is the stuff that the road repairmen use. Those guys don't care what they look like, as long as they are warm and dry and that's how I feel about it as well.

Magazines are, for the most part in cahoots on this, they are, through their need to pander to their advertisers, busy telling you the readers that you cannot possibly go boating without spending a whole lot of money on this that and the other ( expensive) thing.

The whole boating image thing has got well out of control, out of the hands of the ordinary guy or guyess with kids and a mortgage and a car that needs replacing yesterday. It has been hijacked by the compulsively conspicuous consumer who goes boating to show off his success and wealth (I like to remind myself that in most cases the bank owns most of it, it makes me feel less envious). People like these don't have as much fun as we do, they are not there to enjoy the boating, they are there to climb some invisible ladder of pecking order and social status based upon how much they can afford to spend on something not immediately connected with getting a meal on the table.
It doesn't have to be like that. The aluminium people (and Chuck here at Duckworks Magazine) sell amazingly cheap stainless steel screws that make a really good job of holding wood together and thatís only one example of an alternative supplier of useful things.

And on the subject of plywood, (here we go again) almost all plywood mills that make BS1088 or other certified marine plywood also make a very similar "exterior bonded" product that is significantly cheaper. It can be much more economical for them to make the certificated grade only and just leave the stamp off the product that will be sold at the cheaper price. The cost to the factory of running two veneer selection criteria, two "prebooking lines" two sets of grading and stacking bins and so on far exceeds the savings, so, many just run one line making all "good stuff" identifying the "different" grades with a rubber stamp (Iíve worked in a couple of plywood factories and helped one reduce costs by developing this very policy, another example of "seditious" thinking).

I note that an increasing number of small boat owners are making their own sails from "polytarpĒ Great! I have tried the stuff and its limitations brings to mind my friend Nick Skeats who sailed his 32ft steel Wylo II from New Zealand to England several times on a suit of sails made from UV Stabilised Polyester Awning cloth, about 30% of the cost of "real" sailcloth so if your boat is a bigger one there is an alternative.

There are many, many analogues of these alternatives, for some the differences may make boating possible, bringing a modest craft within their reach. For others, it may mean the difference between a boat that is only enough to get them around the bay, and a boat that can stay out overnight. But whatever your situation is, question the conventions, challenge the institutions, wear your hardware store rubber boots and your bright yellow slicker, pull on the hairy reduced price fishing boat rope running through the galvanised iron blocks and get out there on the water, think about how much the stuffed shirts in the millionaires row houses along the waterfront had to pay to watch you enjoying "their" water, and laugh.

Sedition? Letís have more of it.

John Welsford Small Craft Design.