Dreams and reality


I remember reading something boat designer John Welsford wrote about the importance of ‘dream boats’. I think the essence was that if you want a boat to fulfil your dreams you should build it, even if those dreams might not become reality. And that the designer needs to respect those dreams, but also to help ensure the boat also works for those times on the water when you aren’t able to pursue the dream. So yes, Walkabout – my current boat – was designed for singlehanded cruising of the Maine Island Trail, but also for going around the bay with a couple of friends.

My dream when I chose Walkabout was in two parts:

  • cruising in local waters for up to a week at a time, visiting the coastal villages and islands of the Firth of Forth, and
  • being able to quickly get on the water for a couple of hours at a time, grabbed at the weekend and evenings.

In fact, most of my “adventurous” sailing has been on the Sail Caledonia raid – three times so far, though only twice in “Scratch”. I’ve discovered that the main barrier to longer cruises is committing the time. And if I’ve paid to take part in Sail Caledonia it’s in my diary, and I am definitely going to be away that week. But I find it difficult to put an extended time aside for local sailing. (Partly because being self employed, holidays are a loose concept and if a meeting is needed or some project has to be done urgently, a local holiday evaporates.)

But going sailing for an afternoon or evening has become increasingly difficult for other reasons. My hope when choosing a “lightweight” design like Walkabout was that I could easily and quickly launch singlehanded. If I had a nice gently sloping concrete slipway, or even easy access onto hard packed sand or gravel, that would be possible. While it’s great that my local sailing club is 5 minutes walk down the road, launching is straight off the beach across soft sand. It’s just about physically possible to take Scratch over the sand singlehanded if I take out the oars, mast, anchor etc and carry these down in separate trips.

Since the club bought a quad bike I’ve used that, which is ok if the weather’s been wet and the sand is a bit more solid. But in dry weather the quad just bogs down when towing any weight – including Scratch. And that’s not all! Whether it’s the recession or just that we’ve been ‘discovered’ I don’t know, but the club shed has been broken into several times recently and the quad is now secured with a wheel clamp and a padlock and chain. This adds more time to getting the quad ready to use and put away.

The result is that if I want to launch and recover relatively easily I need to go out on the two times a week in the season when the club provides safety cover – the quad is already out and unlocked, a path down the beach has been cleared and other people are around to push boats through the sand if necessary.

The point of this long moan is to explain why I’m betraying Scratch: while Walkabout is a great design and I love the boat dearly, in my particular situation she doesn’t fulfil the second part of my dream. Say it quietly – I’m building another boat.

In the light of experience I’ve evolved my dream: the ability to be on the water, whether for sailing or rowing, at the drop of a hat. The more adventurous stuff is still there at the back of my mind, but it’s not calling so strongly. The essential design criteria are

  • easy to launch by hand across soft sand and a busy beach without any help
  • excellent rowing ability for one
  • relatively quick and easy to build
  • able to cope with some breaking waves when returning to the beach

The original Drake, with designer Clint Chase at the oars

The first plan was to build a long thin skin on frame rowing boat but I got seduced by a design for a clinker ply faering by Clint Chase called Drake. The seduction was caused by this design’s ability to handle more boisterous conditions if caught out, launching and recovery in heavier seas, to row two up as well as singlehanded (my daughters like rowing too), and a downwind sailing rig.

At the time of writing, two of the three pairs of planks have been fitted. I’m aiming to launch soon after finishing the boat, and to finish the boat shortly before launch date.

I’m not planning to document the build, but I will be posting photos to Flickr here.


About Osbert Lancaster

Creating ripples to foster sustainability. Seeking solace & clarity on the sea by sail & oar.


  1. Tut tut tut
    Shame on you Osbert

    Great post

  2. Osbert Lancaster

    I know, Steve, I know! John has designed and is building a fearing inspired boat, http://jwboatdesigns.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/sei.html but it’s sail first, row second, and I’m heading the other way!

  3. I’ve got a Welsford Rogue that I built and I love it, but there is an even smaller, lighter boat that is starting to percolate in the back of my head that I could car top and launch at a beach when the launch ram is swarmed by fishermen. I’m thinking skin-on-frame, maybe a pea pod shape, 11 ft would fit in the back of my truck, but a little longer might be better and would still fit on top of my truck… The nice thing about small boats is you can have more than one!

  4. Osbert Lancaster

    Hi Scott

    Yup, that quick-to-get-on-the-water boat just keeps on coming back doesn’t it? In the end I decided that because I keep the boat right next to the beach, car-toppable-lightness wasn’t a priority, but I explored the idea here:

    and actually bought the plans for the LFH17, intending to build it as skin-on-frame.

  5. All too often it is the weight of boats that prevents their regular use. Wellsford boats are not heavy but they are not real light either but John builds in quite a high”safety ” factor bearing in mind they are built by amateurs and he has no control over how they are used or in what sort of environment.Also accidents do happen. But a light boat is far easier to launch and can be carried on a roof or even inside a “station wagon” or van type vehicle.A light trailer does make life easier though. Many “occasional use” boats are well over designed and built. There is seldom need for a skin thicker than 4mm(for up to 16ft) if the interior long wood is placed properly.There is no need for fibre glassing, athough epoxy coating is good insurance if leaving the boat out in winter.If kept indoor this becomes redundant too.Good marine paint is quite adequate for the few hours at a time use. All this keeps the cost of the boat way down.Lt boats use light fittings. A skilled amateur can make a normal size 14ft x 3 1/2ft rowboat that eights 75lbs. It will have 2 buoyancy tanks and although primarily for 1 can take another light adult or 2 small children with ease.To me skin on frame looks too much like a toy or tupper ware! Not enough wood! Bring me my W.R cedar and Gaboon/Okoume.

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