Category Archives: Vicarious cruising

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.

Sailing Diversions When the Winter Nights Are Long

A photo in the local newspaper yesterday pictures ice boats on Charlottetown Harbour – which means it may be some time before Ebony gets back into the water. In the meantime I have taken some comfort from the resources available on the internet to continue both my amusement and education as regards things nautical.


I have, in an earlier post, made reference to Dylan Winter’s site, Keep Turning Left. Winter is a professional documentary videographer who several years ago embarked on a not-so-mad scheme to sail around Great Britain in a small boat.  Setting out on weekends and holidays over the last five years he has now made it up the east coast of England and Scotland and is set to start back down to where he set out near the Isle of Wight.  He is now on his second boat (actually there was a brief fling with a third which proved to be too much capital investment) having worn out the first one.  These boats are small, slow bilge-keelers ideally suited for his meandering travels up rivers and into sheltered harbours.

I enjoy Dylan’s running commentary on the places he visits and the people he meets. He is an engaging, opinionated and entertaining guide.  He visits impossibly small ports, avoiding marinas where possible and often ties up to abandoned wharves and riverbanks.

His videos are not nail-biting adventure films but are more like the kind of sailing that I do and would like to do more of.  The scale of his excursions mirror the journeys I take and he visits places I would like to visit. He now has over 800 videos and blog entries which, as well as documenting his voyage, offer his observations on subjects ranging from cabin heaters using upturned flower pots to shopping in Orkney.

Oriental004Besides simply wishing to share his adventure Winter has an ulterior motive for posting his blogs and videos and that is to help pay for his travels and filming. For example, it seems the salt water exposure costs him about a video camera each year and these aren’t just the little go-pro type cameras that have cluttered the internet with poorly edited and produced video snippets.  Winter has tried a whole host of funding models over the years and his site has followed the changes and improvements in internet video technology.

Originally funded partly through click revenue from Google he ran afoul of enthusiastic supporters who thought they would help by continually clicking on sites until Google cut him off.  Then there was subscription model along with mailed-out quality cds with groups of videos edited together.  Less than a month ago he moved to a voluntary pay-per-view  pay-what-you-like  system and from his postings this seems to be meeting with early success. At the same time he also moved the content to the Vimeo platform  so that the video quality of the HD footage is superb, especially when watched on a large format screen.  I, for one, am quite happy to hit the PayPal button to contribute a few pounds to the travel fund once I have passed a half hour watching the banks of the River Wear slip by accompanied by Dylan’s engaging commentary and chosen music. Highly recommended for armchair and iced-un sailors

Another other site I continue to enjoyed is the Off Centre Harbor series. This is a joint effort among a number of individuals with impeccable boat building and sailing credentials, mostly from New England.

Oriental003There are a number of parts to this site – all impressive. First there are over 200 high quality videos covering such areas as boat handling,  notable boats, machinery and equipment, rigging, maintenance, boat building,  places to sail and a host of others. In addition the site owners/authors/experts have contributed notable videos from across the web. There is a section on recommended and favourite reading and another with musing and essays from those in the field.

The emphasis is on traditional and wooden boats but it is not exclusively sail.  You won’t find reviews of the latest Tupperware boats or thinly disguised advertisements for chartering catamarans in the Carib like most of the boating magazines on the news-stand. In some respects Off Centre Harbor is more like a cross between Wooden Boat and Small Craft Advisor and in my opinion is the best site of its kind on the web.

logo-och (2)The current charge is $39.00 US per year but there is new content of the highest quality  every few days. The web page usually has a few free teaser videos to give you some idea of what this is all about. This site is slick (in a good way) and I have already gleaned a number of excellent tips that will be put into play as soon as the spring thaw allows Ebony to be hoisted off the trailer and into the harbour.

Small-Boats-Monthly_70hA third site that I watch on a regular basis is Small Boats Monthly which is a new e-imprint from Wooden Boat magazine. I have been an avid collector of the annual Small Boats Annual that Wooden Boat has published for about a half-dozen years. With the catch-line “A guide to trailerable small craft you can store and maintain at home” the annuals have introduced me to all sorts of boats.   These volumes have resulted in many hours of idle speculation concerning boats I “could” build (if I had the ……… – fill in the blanks).   Apparently I was not alone and now the publishers have decided to feed the beast by making content available on an ongoing basis. The cost is $2.99 an issue which is considerably cheaper than print material and there is no advertising.

None of these sites impose on you to “keep up”  You can productively go back and forth and sample what you would like without feeling that you have to spend hours on end in front of the computer. However when you do spend time you come away with the sailing itch scratched, if not cured.


The Marine Quarterly

I am not exactly sure how I got to the Marine Quarterly but I think it started with a link from Dylan Winter’s “Keep Turning Left” site which led me somewhere else and after about a dozen links I ended up at The Marine Quarterly.  I’m a sucker for little magazines and journals and this one looked great on the website so I ordered the first and second numbers from when it started its publication in 2011.

It is a true miscellany with little bits of very British nautical articles. The two issues which I have seen are just over one hundred pages each.  Most articles are five or six pages with the odd major piece going to twenty-five. I like the English approach to sailing and the sea and the simple narrative form for cruising stories – especially those in small boats.  In the second number for example there is a big article on the Thames Sailing Barge and about a dozen on topics ranging from Falklands Islands Hydrography to the life of the Grey seal to sailing advice from Hilaire Belloc which is worth repeating:

  • Cruising is not racing
  • Get everything shipshape and, so far as you can, keep it shipshape
  • Keep tight decks
  • Have an anchor heavy enough for your craft
  • Don’t keep too close to the wind, let her sail, keep her full

There is a nice  listing of the editor’s book shelf with short reviews of noteworthy books – not all of which are new publications. The whole package is very nicely put up with some very fine line drawing illustrations.  All in all, an enjoyable read and I was tempted to subscribe.  Given what is on offer the price is not unreasonable 10 pounds per issue whether in single copy or subscription with a flat 15 pounds for shipping.  A year’s worth for 55 pounds.  And yet….  I have been heavily into buying used books and could get quite a bookshelf  of sailing literature and guides for what amounts to about $90.00. However I will keep an eye on the webpage with the table of contents listings and can always order anything that catches my eye.