Building Fairehope

By Turner Matthews
(Excerpted from Messing Around In Boats)
(click here for more information about MAIB)

Fairehope is a 21' gaff rigged sloop designed by Nelson Zimmer in 1946. She was commissioned by a client in Auckland, New Zealand, who wanted a robust coastal cruiser. The design has been featured in Rudder magazine, later in the National Fisherman, and finally in WoodenBoat. As an interesting aside, in my correspondence and conversations with Mr. Zimmer, he told me that although he had sold dozens of plan sets throughout the years, I was the first person to acknowledge receipt of the plans, much less send him photos or comments on a completed boat (see sidebar).

Underway on the Manatee River near Bradenton, Florida

My first acquaintance with the design was the Woodenboat #58 commentary on the boat by the late Joel White of Brooklin Boat Yard (see Classic Boat #174). I was contemplating a re-entry into the boating world, being reduced at the time to a 12' fiberglass (GRP) Whitehall style rowing boat. The cause of that reduction had been economic, and although I once more had an adequate income flow, the purchase of a boat, or the building of a boat by a professional builder, was out of the question.

Somehow the plan profile looked so right to me that I became (to borrow a phrase) "boat struck." Joel White's very favorable comments completed the decision in my mind that I needed and could build this particular one. I must state at this point that prior to this event, my sole boatbuilding experience had been plank on frame models. I had no illusions about my woodworking skills, which are capable but well below average for someone about to embark upon a boatbuilding project. What I did know was that somehow, through force of will if need be, I could be the life force behind the creation of this boat and that I must do it.

That decision, whether to rescue some derelict classic or build a new one, was the easy part because love is in the air and we are usually blinded to reason by it. Then, at some point, if we are to get beyond contemplative dreaming, we must begin to deal with reality. For my own part, once the decision was made I simply started the project as though I knew what I were doing. Having now been involved over the years in a total of four boatbuilding projects, I have had much time and opportunity to reflect upon the mental processes that are needed for success.

I do believe two things were vital to this project's well being. First, I had to envision and never lose sight of the completed project. How it would feel to sail, what I would do with and enjoy about it, and how much pride I would take in its completion. I needed to make it so real that the building was just some minor obstacle. That then became not a goal, but rather a reality in my mind. Secondly, once begun, I had to focus only on the work involved in each phase of the project, not projecting to the mass of uncompleted work which lay beyond.

A wooden boat, particularly one which is traditionally built, is a very complex organism, but most particularly so once it is completed. The component parts, however, are individually simple forms which are then connected to other simple forms and so on. This is in no way meant to minimize the amazing skill needed to properly fit and connect all these pieces together into the completed boat. It is presented solely to conceptually reduce the actual construction down to the fitting of these pieces together.

As to my own process in building Fairehope, the first thing I did after receiving the plans in the mail was to visit my friend Bob Pitt, who had apprenticed with Charles DeHayes, a Welsh shipwright who had emigrated to the U.S. after WW II. My purpose in the visit, aside from the excitement of showing him the plans, was to enroll him into helping me with the project. Once he agreed the project began in earnest. I obtained a building code variance from our city to construct a temporary shed in my front yard in which to build the boat. I bought Allan Vaitses' excellent book on lofting and learned enough to draw the backbone and other major pieces, installing the lofting panels as the north wall of the building shed, convenient as patterns for shaping the pieces, and inspirational, as the whole boat was there to see, albeit two dimensional.

As for sourcing materials, Bob had a friend who was owner of a small saw mill and who had some excellent live oak which had been curing in log form for about four years. Live oak, although not used commercially to any extent in boatbuilding, is amazingly strong and resistant to rot, in part, I suppose, because of its lack of any particular grain pattern. It is more like a maze and my own belief is that the spores that cause rot get confused and really can't find their way in or out. It cannot be considered a dimensionally stable wood, however, so its best applications are in larger sections only where the movement is minimal and the fastenings are large. In addition to using it for the keel and backbone, we also cut some natural crooks which we used for quarter knees and the breasthook. The hull is planked with 7/8" juniper with a mahogany sheer strake of 1-3/8". Construction of the hull from chine to deck is batten seam with mahogany battens, fastened with copper rivets. The bottom was carvel planked and fastened with silicon bronze screws.

To begin a boatbuilding project in earnest, one simply needs to, quoting my late friend, Jim Bristol, "cut wood." So began the project, weekend after weekend. I started to realize just how many pieces of wood must be cut. I became aware of my abysmal lack of skill in fitting them together and how dependent I was upon others for help. It was somewhere in these relatively early stages that the reality of the whole project descended like a cloud of doom. This was where the previous creation of the absolute vision of the completed project became vital.

I looked around and saw a pile of carefully stickered juniper waiting to become planking, pieces of noble live oak begging to become a robust backbone to which the planking could be attached, a building shed with the tools purchased for the construction, and I saw the beautiful two dimensional shape on the wall waiting patiently to be freed from its static existence. For me it was well past the point of no return and I realized that I had arrived there by a blind act of faith that the project would be done. That blind faith, or "leap of faith" as Kierkegaard would refer to it, is the threshold which must be reached before the dream can be realized. You must make it so real that it can't "not happen."

How each of us deals with the completion, if we have gotten beyond the threshold, is not the puipose of this writing. For my part, in this project and three subsequent ones, there were happy ending/completions.

Fairehope was launched after three years of weekend work with steady paid assistance from Bob Pitt on the hull and from Jim Bristol, who did a compressed period of four months of daily work at the end to complete the decking, cabin, spars, and rigging and prepare it for launch. I have now been sailing Fairehope for 15 years. She has met and gone beyond any expectations and dreams I may have had. Her home water is Florida's Manatee River, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico through the lower part ofTampa Bay. I did trailer her to Mt. Desert Island, Maine, for a WoodenBoat Show at Southwest Harbor, just to sail for a bit among the many traditional boats there, of which Florida is sadly lacking. Mostly, however, I use her for day sailing with occasional trips up or down the coast, much as she was designed to do. I truly hope that those others which may have been built continue to give their owners as much



Fairehope is 21' on deck, 23' overall. Her V-bottom hull shape has moderate deadrise to the chines. She has a centerboard and as designed draws 2' with the board up. Beam is 7'2". Total sail area is 260sf with 200' in the main and 60' in the self tending jib. She is at her best in 10-15 knots unreefed or 15-20 with one reef. The scantlings for a 21' boat are impressive, as are the structural specifications which include a full set of hanging and lodging knees. Her motion is that of a much larger boat and several friends have commented that the only thing she lacks is about 10 more feet of length. With a water line length of only 16' hull speed is limited, but I have seen 7-1/2 knots on a really favorable broad reach.

With the designer's blessing we made some changes. Instead of the deep cockpit he designed we installed a bridge deck and a selfdraining foot well. As well as improving the seaworthiness of the boat, it allowed us to tuck a 2-cylinder 1 hp Vetus diesel under the deck. It is offset to port so as not to weaken the keel/deadwood and has functioned quite well, notwithstanding the increased rudder angle and force required to steer under power. Maximum speed with engine is 6-1/2 knots with an easy running speed of 5-1/2 knots. We also rigged running backstays and added a small bulwark to replace the toerail and to allow us to raise the cabin height for sitting headroom while visually retaining the pleasing profile as drawn. Initially, as specified, we added around 600 lbs. of cast lead ingots as internal and trim ballast.

Although this arrangement never caused any known problems, I was never comfortable with the concept, plus it made very difficult work of cleaning the bilges. We now have removed most of it and added 500 lbs. of external lead in the form of a 4" shoe to the keel which is bolted through the floors and bed log on each side of the centerboard. By blind luck, I suppose, the boat's wonderful motion was retamed and she is noticeably stiffer.

For someone seeking a traditional shoal draft small coastal cruiser to build, I can think of none better.

The Designer
Rarely Hears

June 16, 1988

Dear Mr. Matthews:

It was indeed a great pleasure to receive your thoughtful letter about the little sloop. Mark was correct when he told you that I rarely hear from plan buyers, or even those who commission me for a custom design.

I designed the little shallop in 1946 for a man in Auckland, New Zealand, as a stout coastwise cruiser. The design was featured at that time in the dear old, but now defunct, Rudder and later appeared in the National Fisherman and finally, as you know, in WoodenBoat #58. I have not kept a count but over the years I must have sold some dozens of plan sets. You are the first to acknowledge receipt of the plans, let alone comment on the design. I can only recall four other responses over the years, and friend Mark was one of them. But I guess this must be par for the course because other designers tell me of similar experiences. I'm pleased that she turned out to your satisfaction and it was a treat to see the photos. I have accepted your kind offer and have kept four of them. The others and the slides are enclosed.

Nelson Zimmer,
Naval Archtitect

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to enlarge)