Bayside Boatshop
by Ross Lillistone

Forget About Thinking

I’ve preached long and hard about building boats that are smaller than you think you really need. The problem is the thinking bit. Perhaps we should concentrate on the need part, and cut out the thinking!

For a good part of my life, I have devoured books on boat design and construction, along with countless plans catalogues. This reading business is a bitter/sweet pill – It has given me information from teachers I’ve never met, many of whom were dead before I learned to read. Reading their work has allowed me to gain information that would have taken me many lifetimes to discover on my own. I have been able to stand on the shoulders of those who have been there before. That is the sweet part. The bitter part is that reading makes me think, and thinking prevents me from doing!

There is a familiar pattern to my reading. I get an idea, which in turn sends me in search of a book for more information. Searching for the information is almost always destructive, because I find out too much. Too many other designs, or too many other construction methods, or too many potential problems, and so on.

An associated problem is when I settle on a design which would be perfect…if it was just a little bigger, or had just a bit more sail, or was built using a slightly different method etc etc. Once again the culprit is too much thought.

I’m sure that there is no way to prevent this thought-trap process completely, but it helps to be aware of its dangers. In my case the primary danger is getting nothing done because there are too many options, too many designs, too many problems.

But there is a solution. Forget about thinking, and just follow your gut feelings, always going for a design that is smaller and simpler than you think that you need. Once you start building, the job itself will answer most of the hundreds of questions, which clog up your mind when reading. The majority of the problems don’t ever eventuate, and the ones that do get you, are ones that you had not thought of anyway!

This is not to say that thinking is a bad thing. Some of my best friends think. It is just that the interval between thought and action should be reduced to the absolute minimum. Think about what you are doing as you are building, or designing, or painting, or using the boat. The end result stands a very good chance of being satisfying.


For those who are badly infected with the boatbuilding bug, one of the most effective learning techniques is to build models. I have built dozens of models, some being complete in all detail, and some being plain hulls to test panel developments. Between the two extremes are many compromise models.

Models provide the astute builder with a wealth of information about the proposed boat. Sheet usage, panel development, displacement, trim, effect of loading, to name just a few. The most important function of the model is to provide a three-dimensional view of the design, which I find to be superior to computer-generated perspectives.

I make up little bags of lead shot which are carefully weighed to represent scale weights of people, outboards, stores, fuel and so on. By viewing the floating model before and after adding the shot-bags, accurate trim and stability information is instantly provided. One has to remember that the weight increases or decreases according to the cube of the linear scale. For example, a 1/8th scale model needs representative weights to be 1/512th of the full sized article.

My models hang around the workshop for years, piled on shelves or lying on bench tops. They lie in ambush, catching your eye as you walk past on other missions. Visitors look at them and ask questions – I once sold a full-sized boat because a customer casually picked up the model while discussing something else altogether.
Because they sit in the background, their presence works on the subconscious.

I have three sons, and they have used a selection of my models as fully rigged sailing and powered versions. In the process I’ve picked up valuable insights into the behavior of differing hull forms in waves. There have been some remarkable voyages. A one eighth scale model of Phil Bolger’s Diablo, powered by a 0.5cc diesel, got away one day. She disappeared over the horizon while heading out into Moreton Bay on a choppy day. I gave chase in a clinker canoe and was lucky to locate her two kilometres offshore, where she was floating happily with an empty fuel tank. Relatively, the waves were enormous, but the open boat contained only an eggcup of water. There have been similar long voyages completed by some of the sailing models.

At Wynnum, we are lucky enough to have access to a 100 metre-long salt-water wading pool. I have tested the relative resistance of models by towing them around the edge of the pool, with two boats attached to a yoke. The yoke is made of light plywood and the towline of each model is attached to one or other of the extremities. The information provided is not absolute, but it is easy to gain excellent relative resistance data.

Sometimes it is better to stop thinking and start playing. Build simply and modestly and enjoy the journey.