Category Archives: Dinghy building

P.E.I.-based boatbuilder receives international recognition


12.5 foot and 17.5 foot Norseboats on a P.E.I. beach


All too often we think of the golden age of sailing and boatbuilding as being something confined to the 19th century.  Of course, 150 years ago Charlottetown the harbour was the home of scores of small multi-purpose boats that served as fishing craft, lighters, dinghys, sculling boats, ferries, and yes, even as small yachts.  Boatbuilders both in Charlottetown and other coastal areas served the market for well-built small boats.  Not so much today.


Charles McQuarrie’s boatbuilding ad in Haszard’s Gazette 1852

The work of making small craft was one of the minor industries along with sail making and marine blacksmithing which often get lost when we talk about the wood, wind and water economy. We focus on shipbuilding with schooners, brigs and barques, often forgetting that the nautical arts  contained dozens of specialties which were a requirement for a community which, as an island, depended on boats for much of their existence.  As the economy changed and our dependency on locally produced  craft was reduced many of these minor skills almost disappeared. In the 20th century boat building became the preserve of those producing large motorized fishing boats on the one hand and home-built pleasure craft on the other.

But all has not been lost. In the most recent issue of the English yachting magazine Classic Boat, the Norseboat has been recognized as a “New Classic”.  See the story here.  The founder and president of the firm responsible for the Norseboat is Kevin Jeffery of the Belfast area just down the coast from Charlottetown.  He conceived of the boat as a multi-purpose craft which could equally well be sailed or rowed, had a classic appearance, and could be easily transported by trailer so that its range was extended to almost every harbour in the world.  Built originally in Pinette, PEI production moved to Lunenburg and then to Maine to tap the increasing market.


Norseboat 12.5t showing characteristic rig.

There are now a number of different craft in the range with boats at 12.5, 17.5 and 21.5 feet, all with a distinctive dutch curved gaff rig with a boomless mainsail.  The boats are now found all over the world and are admired for their classic style and their fine workmanship . In addition to being recognized by Classic Boat Norseboats have graced the cover of Small Craft Advisor and have been nominated for awards such as the Sail Magazine Best Boat award.  Kevin has described the boat as “the swiss army knife of boats” and his depiction is not far off. The webpage for the Norseboat has lots of video and photos of the various models in action in posts across the globe.

I have spotted a Norseboat from time to time in Charlottetown harbour and have seen them at boat shows. They are expensive boats but have a quality which matches the price. Like the Drascomb Lugger this seems to be a boat that does everything well.   I am sure DeSable’s Charles McQuarrie would approve.

A boat for winter’s dreaming

Over the last few years I have indulged in a semi-annual winter project of building a dinghy in my basement.  Lacking a garage I have been limited to what I can get up the basement stairs and so my builds have been modest in scale. Those who have followed this site have seen my step-by-step adventures with constructing a 7 1/2 foot Greenshank pram as a tender for my Halman 20, Ebony, and an 11 foot Medway skiff for rowing.  Both were from plans from Paul Fisher of Selway-Fisher design whose website of boat plans is a delight for dreamers.   His boats are both buildable and sailable for those of us with modest skills in both areas.


Westray 9 – Selway-Fisher Design

He has recently posted a new plan for a 9 foot sailing dinghy which I like very much.  The plan is actually an old one as he drew it some years ago for a boat-building company which is no longer with us and he has just added the plan to his extensive catalogue.

It is called the Westray 9 and has a 4-plank stitch and glue construction and a very “boaty” shape. At the same width, and about 1 1/2 feet longer than my Greenshank pram, it probably has about the same carrying capacity but with a pointed stem which would make for easier rowing.

What is of more interest to me is the fact that the increased length leaves lots of room for an un-stayed gaff rig mounted in the bow in the catboat style.  The plans also give the sail plan for a balanced lug sail. The idea of a “gaffer” is quite appealing as it would give me a few extra strings to pull and is a very traditional rig not usually associated with a boat this small. Paul has also indicated he could supply design for a gunter rig if desired. The design has variations for either a drop centre board (as shown in the sketch) or a dagger board.


Sailing Today April 1998 p.18

The design was produced commercially in fibreglass for a few years in the late 1990s and received a very  favourable review in the English yachting magazine Sailing Today.  The review gave the sailing dinghy its highest marks 5/5 and noted “she sails well and rows exceptionable well.”

Much as I like rowing, the idea of having a small sail to set when the wind is right is very appealing. There are a number of rivers on the Island blocked from access by sailboats owing to low bridges and the idea of having to row the 15 or so miles up the Hillsborough River is a challenge for me. But to be able to set a sail for the same day-trip has merit.  Add to the fact that I can throw it on a trailer and take it to places difficult to access with the Halman 20.


Photo courtesy Paul Fisher

Although unlikely to be built this spring (I would have to dispose of at least one of the boats in the existing fleet first) the Westray 9 is my current dream dinghy.  Today, with snow up to the window sills and one dinghy buried beneath the snow and another tucked up a shed dreaming is about all that can be done.

Winter is a dangerous time for sailors and it has become even more so since the internet made it easy to find “things.” It used to be that the greatest danger was the boat show where vendors would prey on the vulnerable water-starved yachtsmen to provide all sorts of “essentials” which would render the upcoming season both easier and more pleasurable. Now the assault on our spirits and wallets is unrelenting. For builders, web sites with boat plans hold the same threat.   However there are no drawbacks to dreaming. Even if I never build a Westray I have already spent profitable hours aboard her gazing up as the gentle breeze tugs on the sail and imagining a summer’s day on the West River.

Launched !!!

IMG_2736I’m playing catch-up here as I have spent so much time with the new boat that I have fallen behind with the postings.   As seen above the Medway Skiff has been launched and I am tickled pink.  It rows well, it looks good and it is finished!

IMG_2728This was the scene a few days ago as I waited for my friend Craig to help me manoeuvre  the Skiff through the basement and up the stairs to daylight.  It had taken forever for the interior paint to dry enough to add a second coat. I had inserted a bow fitting, added the oarlocks and placed two cleats on the aft deck. I had been a little worried about the turns but the process went very smoothly. Actually the Medway is only three feet longer than last year’s Greenshank and it weighs less as the latter was built of 3/8 inch ply rather than 1/4.

IMG_2730The next part of the trip was to the Charlottetown Yacht Club using a new utility trailer. I will have to build a cradle for better positioning the boat on the trailer but couldn’t wait.  The second set of wheels is a launch dolly to carry the boat to the launch floats. It slid beautifully into the water. However the event was carried out without ceremony  and no champagne was splashed across the bows.  I immediately set out for a 1/2 hour row along the waterfront. As the only boat in the water I was free from the danger of wakes. Over the next couple of ways I experienced the craft in a number of different wave conditions and took a number of photos.