After I saw the photograph in the calendar, I searched up BELLE and found that Dan Gonneau, the designer/builder, had written a blog post that was a stream-of-consciousness diary about his inspiration for exactly the kind of small boat I was looking for. It sketched out the big decisions, the tiny details, and the material choices that went into the boat, and the craftsmanship that infused her every plank, frame, and joint. Classic lines with a modern aesthetic—I was hooked!
Having had my sights set on building a plank-on-frame rowboat in the 12′ to 16′ range, I was immediately sold on the Parker Dinghy when I saw her lines. I ordered the plans and set about lofting the boat and picking up all the patterns for the backbone and transom as well as building the five molds required. The plans call for woods all native to New Brunswick, a nod to the way Lindon Parker would have built them, and perhaps to Harry Bryan’s belief in using what’s around you. I was building this boat in the Pacific Northwest and had a different array of wood species to choose from. I found a nice piece of tight vertical-grain western larch for the keel, deadwood, and sternpost. Though it’s a softwood species, it is quite hard and rot-resistant.
On the day SADIE was launched, the wind was light and there was a slight chop off Lyme Regis. With five of us on board and the engine at 5,000 rpm, SADIE achieved a top speed of 21.9 knots. Steve’s concern that his aft seating arrangement might give too much bow-up trim was proven, and so two of his crew crouched in the cuddy to keep her level. The ride was a bit bumpier there than on the aft seat, so Steve plans to install some internal ballast forward.
I contacted François Vivier in the fall of 2016 to inquire if his Morbic 12, designed for lapstrake plywood, could be built with strip planks. He replied, “Yes, with some modification,” and asked me more about my requirements to make sure the it would meet my needs. After discussions on weight, cockpit arrangement, rowing ability, and rig, he decided a new design would be in order. We agreed to go forward with a Morbic 11 as a lightweight strip-built hull with a balanced lug rig, daggerboard, kick-up rudder, buoyancy compartments, and a bit of dry storage.
Jonny built the first St. Ives sailing punt for Pete in 2014, followed by a second boat (with a slightly taller mast) for Scott in 2015. Good-quality larch wasn’t available for the planking, so Jonny built both boats of Douglas-fir on oak ribs, fastened with copper rivets. The inside was fitted with oak thwarts and grown oak knees, all sealed with a mix of Stockholm tar, linseed oil, and turpentine, which quickly turns black with age. Scott named his punt MAIA, in part after Saint Ia of Cornwall who, according to legend, sailed to St. Ives from Ireland on a leaf, and in part after one of the Pleiades, Maia, from Greek mythology.
The Ruston 109 is an old-fashioned guideboat type combining lightness, good looks, and easy rowing. It’s a double-ender with nearly plumb stems, a lapstrake hull, and sweeping sheer. The boat is 14’3” long with a beam of 39-¼”. Many of Rushton’s pulling boats were offered as rowing/sailing combinations with a compact folding centerboard and a rudder with a yoke and steering lines. The plans for the 109 show no accommodation for sailing but do offer a rudder design. No doubt the fashion of the late 1800s allowed a fellow to pull hard on the oars, not seeing where he was going, while his amiable companion pulled the ropes.
The lines of the Swallow seemed to offer an ideal compromise of lightness, speed, and roominess. The plans are suitable for skilled amateurs, as there are no step-by-step instructions or patterns for planks. Lofting isn’t required—full-sized patterns for the molds and transom are provided with the plans—but the hull must be lined off and the plank shapes spiled. When I realized each sheer plank might have to be scarfed together from three pieces of plywood, I asked Andrew to reduce the overall length to allow for two 8′ lengths of ply, joined by 10-to-1 scarfs, to have sufficient length for the sheer planks. Andrew agreed, and the dinghy became 14′ 6″. The straight stem and slightly raked heart-shaped transom, coupled with epoxy-glued planking, give the Swallow a very traditional appearance.
The structure for the Ruth is a combination of plywood and lightweight western red cedar stringers. The 1/2″ marine-plywood stem, frames, and transom are notched for the full-length strips that bend from bow to stern and give shape to the wherry. Joining frames to stringers takes only a bit of thickened epoxy and stainless-steel screws. Even the most inexperienced builder with basic tools can have a frame built in just a few hours. The plywood breasthook and various supporting knees are laid out in the paper templates as well. They are essential strengthening elements and relatively simple to add with a bit of beveling and finesse.
I had already built a smaller and simpler Devlin boat, the 13′ 6″ Zephyr daysailer, a project that seemed plenty challenging at the time. The Winter Wren, while employing the same stitch-and-glue composite construction that I’d begun to get comfortable with, added the complications of cabin, outboard motor, electrical system, much more structure, and vastly more rigging. Listen, this rig is stout. One day I was scrutinizing a 24′ production sloop whose owner was embarking on a bluewater cruise to Hawaii, and I noted that the much smaller Winter Wren’s standing rigging was far more robust. This gave me a warm feeling.