By Ross Lillistone - Esk, Queensland - Australia


The Group

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Up on the Sunshine Coast, not too far north of Brisbane, there exists a small slice of Heaven. I’m not talking about a real estate development, nor am I referring to the magnificent beaches and the lush hinterland, laced with craggy volcanic plugs and rolling dairy farmland. No, although the surroundings are attractive, my reference is to an informal gathering of sailing enthusiasts who regularly spend four or five hours at a time sailing in an array of interesting boats, most of which display a distinctly traditional appearance.

This group has no membership, no committee, no rules, no clubhouse, and no fees. It formed spontaneously simply because several people started sailing attractive small boats in the same area at the same time. The main thing these people have in common is a love of sailing in small, un-ballasted boats, most of which were built at home.


This group has no membership, no committee, no rules, no clubhouse, and no fees.

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The boats these blokes sail range in length from 9 feet to 17 feet 4 inches. Most of them are glued-lapstrake (clinker) construction, one is stitch-and-glue, and one is a fibreglass beach catamaran. This group of boats includes short-and-fat, long-and-lean, blunt bows and sharp ones. Each hull type does something better than the others, and similarly, each has a few shortcomings of her own. All of the boats have particular personalities which can be nurtured by someone who cares, so that just like a human, the boat will respond positively to understanding and love.

Other than the beach cat, they all have it in common that their rigs are set on short masts, with four-sided mainsails of an old-fashioned style. All are different designs. Four of the boats have free-standing rigs completely free from the complication of stays of any type. Consequently, they take only a few minutes to rig and un-rig, and the clutter in the boat during transport and storage is a small fraction of what most people endure these days. Also, the traditional rigs ensure that the masts are so short that they stow within the length of the boat.

As is always the case with sailing, competition rears its not-so-ugly head within this group, and the informal races highlight interesting variations which result from the differing hull-forms and rigs. Sometimes the up-wind tortoise becomes the down-wind hare, or vice-versa. The boat which excels on a reach in flat water can become outclassed when the chop begins to build – the variations are endless. One of the consequences of this competition is that there are rig modifications going on all the time, and the idea of building a new boat is always lurking in someone’s head.

The process of sailing such a varied group of interesting boats provides more practical lessons in hull design and rig design than will ever be learned from the text books, let alone from the increasing range of computer hull design programs. It is my strongly held view that the best source of information about boat design comes from the book “The Common Sense of Yacht Design” by L. Francis Herreshoff (Phil Bolger called it the only great book ever published on the subject). This text is full of subtleties and art, but is almost totally free from complicated formulas, coefficients and graphs. L. Francis Herreshoff may well have been (and still is) considered to be a master of yacht design, but he had a deep enough knowledge of the subject to understand that it is un-necessary to baffle people with self-importance and theory. Knowledge of the principles is required, and it is very important to understand that a computer design program alone does not make a designer. Sorry for the digression – I’ll get back to the point…

In the beginning of the article I referred to this informal gathering of sailors and boats as being, “a slice of Heaven”. Well, everything depends on the observer, but from my perspective, these people have got it made. They get to see each other’s boats at close range, they experience the thrill of the odd race, they swap boats and gain from exposure to another person’s sailing style, and all the while they enjoy good companionship. If one of them feels the need for solitude, he or she can sail off for a few hours alone. Everybody is independent. Most of the people in this group could afford to own a much more pretentious boat, but because they have the wisdom to value their simple vessels, the friends get along just fine with small-but-wholesome little ships.

Most of the people in this group could afford to own a much more pretentious boat, but because they have the wisdom to value their simple vessels.

In fact, the whole world benefits from the actions of this collection of free spirits. Most of these boats are beautiful, so the general population gets visual satisfaction for free. The group contributes very little to greenhouse gas emissions, the boats last for generations, and the health of the occupants is improved – emotionally as well as physically. Everybody wins! A sailing boat remains one of the very best examples of applied solar power that the world has ever seen. The sun heats the earth causing (among other things) the wind to blow. That, in turn, drives the boat where ever you want her to go. Surely that is a more direct harnessing to the sun’s energy than is the case with solar cells, batteries, and electric motors.

It is my belief that simple, well-designed sailing dinghies provide more fun and satisfaction than any other sort of watercraft (although canoes and kayaks come close). When you consider that these same sailing dinghies are easily built, cheap, simple to store when not in use, and provide healthy outdoor exercise, the whole thing is too good to ignore.

You can do it too, if you like…

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