All about Me!

Me Me Me Me Me!   

I wrote this piece in the Introduce Yourself section of the DCA Forum.   

My first experience of dinghy sailing was a baptism, the fire came later. Camping with friends on The Ross Of Mull at the tender age of nineteen I was invited to go for a sail along the coast to collect driftwood for the campfire. Being an innocent abroad I jumped aboard dressed in a pair of sawn-off denim shorts and a Peter Storm Cagoul with my attention firmly focused on the agile young woman who would later perform acrobatics on the trapeze.  Eight hours later I was hungry, cold, soaked to the skin and rubbed red-raw by those denim shorts.  The young lady seemed singularly un-impressed, but I was later to discover that the dinghy in question was a Dutchman Class which made a much more lasting impression on me.

I’ve always been someone who liked to potter in my shed. It started with “bogies” built when you could still buy pram wheels from the dustmen, followed by bikes and  dreams of motorbikes and cars to follow, however a craft teacher at school was building stitch and tape kayaks and a mate decided he wanted to build a  rowing dinghy which I took a small but significant hand in.  The dinghy was finally finished by his younger brother and the last I heard it was still going strong and stored in a cowshed very close to the site of my maiden voyage on Mull. The seeds of possibility were sewn. 

Roll forward twenty boat-free years to my thirty-nineth birthday and after a chance remark to my wife that I might like to try that sailing lark I found myself at Calshot Activity Centre on Southampton Water on a two-day RYA dinghy course sailing Wayfarers.   A few years crewing on a Victoria 16 and a spell crewing on bigger yachts confirmed that the bug had indeed bitten. 
So, there I was in my forties with a little bit of sailing experience and a copy of the Selway-Fisher Design Catalogue beside my bed.

To scratch the itch which had been irritating me all those years I built one of Paul Fisher’s Ranger 16 canoes, aided and abetted by my then teenage daughter.


That boat eventually got a sailing rig, made mainly from poly-tarp and broom handles, a centreboard and rudder and was christened Polythene Pam.

The itch having been scratched the urge to build a “proper” boat was still there so   I went down to Lyme Regis for the five day Modern Boat Building Course run by the late great Jack Chippendale, in his eighties by then but still full of life and great stories.  Fired with Jack’s enthusiasm I decided to build an Iain Oughtred double ender and wrote to Iain to order the plans for a Whilly Boat.  Iain wrote back to tell me he was re-drawing the design with much fuller sections and would I like the first set of plans? I could hardly refuse and so I built the first Whilly Tern “Caitlin” a lovely fifteen-foot double ender from plan set No1 with the ink still wet. 


About this time the call went out through the pages of Watercraft to gather at Cotswold Water Park for the inaugural meeting of what was to become the UK- HBBR a disparate and at times desperate bunch of amateur builders and bodgers with a common addiction to epoxy and a fondness for torturing plywood.  With much apprehension I towed Caitlin over to CWP and joined a merry band of kindred spirits some of whom would become life long friends.


There seems to be a trend amongst these serial boatbuilders; A home build takes between two and three years during which time we have chatted to others, inspected their boats, studied the catalogues and visited the late lamented Beale Park Boat Show and decided what they really really want to build,  which is where I saw Andrew Wolstenholm’s Coot.   Chatting to Andrew, he told me that Alex Jordan of Jordan Boats was working up a CNC kit for a client so I wondered over to Alex’ stand for a chat and ordered kit No 2. So, the Whilly Boat was sold away to The Netherlands and I got down to my next build.

While building the Coot, the HBBR hit on a plan to Raid down The Thames from Lechlade to arrive at Pangbourne 75 miles away just in time for The Beale Park Boat Show.  Having sold Caitlin, I had no alternative but to press Polythene Pam into service so laden with camping gear she was my floating home for the five day journey.   


Those Thames Raids became a permanent fixture in the calendar and having watched all those rowists straining their necks and bumping into things became convinced that forward facing with a double paddle was definitely the best way to go and a new and improved sailing canoe would be just the thing. Much discussion on the old HBBR Yahoo Forum led to Chris Waite designing a canoe hull which I built and fitted out, and so Katie Beardie was born.

Polythene Pam meanwhile was moved on to a fellow HBBR member and had a new lease of life on the rivers and canals of the south west.

Katie was launched into The Thames in the pouring rain on the day of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee river pageant, one hundred or so miles up-stream at Lechlade.   That year it rained and rained, the river rose to Amber Alert and the sewers of Oxford overflowed. We finally arrived at Beale Park show ground which was closed to the public due to muddy conditions and suffering from a severe dose of Thames Tummy.  



 Katie went on to have a chequered career taking part in quite a few Raids and eventually sporting a fine pair of amas and a Paradox style roller reefing rig. Unfortunately, she would finally succumb to terminal sogginess due to her frame being stressed far beyond her original design parameters. Dropping her on the garage floor from eight feet up didn’t help either.


The Coot was a lovely wee boat, just a dream to sail, and I campaigned her round Chichester Harbour and The Norfolk Broads for a few years but as you’ve probably guessed by now my thoughts had began to stray elsewhere.  When the wind piped up and things got a bit lumpy I always thought the Coot could do with an extra plank, and maybe some built in buoyancy instead of those bags. I had admired Francois Vivier’s designs and had seen Sarah and Mike Curtis’ Morbic 12 at Cobnor Camp, so after a final visit to Beale Park to dismiss one of the other short list contenders I wrote to Alex Jordan once again, this time to order a kit for the Morbic 12.  The Coot went off firstly to Ditisham and then on to Bristol. She never writes.

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A couple of years and a pandemic later Sistership was launched, named in honour of my three granddaughters Brooke Adriana and Dulcie.
I’m loving the Morbic and the girls like to come out with me on occasion. It’s about giving them a taste of possibilities rather than forcing something on them.


Right now Katie Beardie’s successor, as yet un-named, is coming together in the garage. She will sport much of the parts scavenged from Katie including the amas and rig although she’ll always be a bit of an experimental development platform. I’m looking forward to trying her out.


What next? Well of course while I’ve been building the new canoe my mind has been wandering and wondering what next.  I’ll be seventy in a couple of years, so soon, how did that happen?  I’ve always fancied owning a proper cabin boat at least once in my life.  A Cornish Shrimper or a Swallow Yachts Bayraider Expedition would be great but apart from the cost I haven’t the space to store one at home nor do I want to be launching something quite so big and heavy. Chesapeake Light Craft’s Pocketship looks very promising but there are one or two things I’d want to change. Time to get the drawing board out. 

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