John Welsford's website

John Welsford's design page

A few of John's designs:

Golden Bay/Setnet






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

by JohnWelsford


I've paid the airfare, close to a months salary by the time I pay the various taxes plus a days or twos accommodation along the way. The trip will take 16 hours plus 3 hours in the transit lounge in Hawaii plus the return trip from Vancouver BC via LA. ( Sorry Angelinos, that airport is not a nice place to have to spend much time). I've often wondered what Hawaii is like, and it looks like I won't get to see much of this tropical paradise this trip. Three hours is not worth fighting my way through customs and immigration for, I'd be due to check back in before I escaped!

As I write I'm only a couple of days short of leaving for Port Townsend and the Wooden Boat Festival on Sept 6th/8th . It will be really great to meet up with some people who I have only ever met over "the net", we share an interest, nay, a passion for small boats, and to be able to talk over the subject without the delays and disadvantages of a read only medium will be great.

Although it will be a while before you get to read this and the show will be long over, but the issue of communication between myself as the interpreter of dreams and needs, and those who will be the users of my work will still be very real.

Communication is a large part of a designers function, I listen to the needs of a client, often in the form of letters or emails, I write and send my replies back and hope that we are getting things clear between us. But the most effective communication uses all of the available mediums. The voice alone can convey both semantic and emotional content, the words themselves have meaning, but often modified by the tone, and the manner of delivery. Add the facial expression and the gestures of the hands as well as the body language and the communication becomes much more complete, the meaning more clear, the possibility of misunderstandings greatly reduced.

Communication is a necessary part of learning, and it is to learn that I am traveling so far. Close to a third of the way around the world and back, just to wander a boat show with some people I have yet to meet. I need to look at the work of other designers, seek the opinions of other people, get my head around other ways of doing things and sit in other cabins. It is easy to lurk inside a sealed environment, designing my own boats and "doing it my way". To get stale and grumpy, criticizing others and pontificating to the dwindling numbers who will listen, so I'm off, on the big silver bird, and am both keen to see what is out there, and a bit scared of the changes that the new knowledge will bring.

On the design front I have been working away at Pathfinder and am getting very keen. Very similar to Navigator she has a lot easier lines due to the longer length, more stability due also to extra length and so has a lot more sail carrying power. This boat will be an effortless cruiser by open boat standards, her size has given me room to put two bed spaces on the floorboards and up under the foredeck, lots of stowage and buoyancy, an outboard inboard if you know what I mean ( in a well just forward of the transom on the port side) and the rig looks really good. Navigator could in theory do with a bit more separation between the leach of the main and the luff of the mizzen but still works very well, this one has a lot more space in there to keep the airflow of the two sails separated. A theoretical thing but nice to have.

I am also playing with a concept I have dubbed "Bocks", I think I have mentioned it before, a designed for function rather than looks basic cruising yacht that will rival anything yet built for functional looks ( that means most kind hearted people will think she looks a bit unusual , others would say she would only look good at five miles on a dark night) . But the looks are totally a product of her function. No ( well, almost no) concession for styling or looks, everything about her will be purely functional.

Even that though is a wide brief . Functional in this case includes building, probably at home in a confined space with some consideration for neighbours sleeping habits, consideration for minimal building skills, a budget that should in reality be applied to buying the kids some new shoes and a burning desire to wake up in the morning in some mirror calm inlet with the birds singing, the breeze just beginning to sigh in the tops of the pines and no need to be back on the treadmill for a few days.

To fit all of those criteria into a single package is not so easy. Materials have to be of a type that do not intimidate the prospective builder, they should be available a bit at a time from local suppliers, should be of a type that can be worked and used with easily available tools and skills, and should be useable in an urban environment.

There is a very real cost to learning new skills such as welding aluminium or steel, working with large amounts of polyester resin and fiberglass cloth, or even learning to plaster a ferro cement yacht. Add to this the costs of buying all of the tools to handle some of these and the comparatively expensive epoxy glued plywood with a thin layer of glass cloth over becomes competitive, so, back to "Bocks", one guess as to what she will be made of. In this case the materials will all be available at the Builders Supply Merchant just down the road, you could carry everything you will need a bit at a time on your roofrack, and I know I can carry all of the tools that I would need to build her in a single trip with one box ( Bocks?) .

Back to communication. I hear, over and over again, a yearning to be free of the cares and pressures of life on the treadmill. I hear it and see it expressed in many forms, from the reading of cruising stories which are by far the most popular of the books in the boating section, to the endless stream of young couples pacing the walkways of the marinas discussing the merits of the boats that they will sadly never own, and the popularity of those tracks along the tops of coastal cliffs where dreams seem much closer than reality. All of these are telling me what the dream is.
It costs to own a boat, especially one that will really fulfill the dream. That cost can be met in many different ways, there are a few people who could be given their choice of old fashioned hand tools, a couple of rolls of wire rope and some canvas to throw in the back of their rusty old pickup, aimed at a patch of scrubby looking forest, left for a couple of years and they'd be phoning up to ask if you wanted to come sailing on the 60ft schooner they had moored in the bay.

Those people have a huge amount of capital in a non monetary form, capital in the form of skills and drive. Others have to pay for everything including even the simplest sliced rope eye. And their "capital" with respect to this type of project would be monetary only. Most are somewhere in between, and most have more capital than they think.

A designer needs to know what kind of capital is available for the project, or, in the case of drawing a design for stock plan sales rather than custom designs, must assume that there are certain levels of skill, levels of drive and "lets get on with-itness" levels of "I've got those tools, and I know how to do that" as well as dollar capital available.

How do we designers know what level of capital our client base has? We talk to the people, we watch the projects pages in Duckworks Magazine, we monitor our incoming emails and phone calls to see what is causing our clients to gnash their teeth and we ( sometimes ) build our own boats to see how they will go together. There a huge number of people out there who would do almost anything to escape from the *rut that the "system" forces us into, and some of them will actually do it. I'm hoping that I can, in the form of a capable cruiser that will not require an excessive amount of capital, help a few to do just that.

In the case of "Bocks" I'm up to the second towing test model, the very simple shapes are giving nice low towing resistances and good transverse stability, and the amount of space inside is staggering. I do need to work the concept over to eliminate as many of the awkward building jobs as possible, and will be building a scale construction model soon to see how it goes together.

Before I started to draw I wrote a short description of the people who would build this, and the skills and tools that they would require. This is directing my designing, and both categories of needs will be really basic. If you can read, measure , and cut to a line you can build this thing, but only if you have enough capital in the form of a real need to achieve that dream.

Look out for "Bocks", boats like her could be catching.

John Welsford.

*Definition, " Rut, a long grave".