Iain Oughtred, the Australian-born boat builder and designer whose boats frequently appear in Small Boats, passed away on February 21, at the age of 84, in a hospital near his home on Scotland’s Isle of Skye. During his career as a designer, which began in 1967, Iain designed well over 100 boats. They ranged in length from his 6′ 8″ Feather, a pram dinghy, to the 41′ 8″ Gipsy Queen, a clipper-bowed ketch. Between Small Boats and the Small Boats annuals, we’ve reviewed 15 of Iain’s boats. I corresponded with him in connection to the reviews but never met him and most of my impressions of him came through his drawings, his book Clinker Plywood Boatbuilding Manual, and the Caledonia Yawl I built 20 years ago to his plans.

Nic Compton

Iain, here at his drafting table while living in Findhorn, is wearing several layers to keep warm. Nic Compton, who took this photo, noted that Iain was a frugal man and preferred bundling up to the more costly option of using central heating.

Iain did his beautifully detailed drawings by hand with a precision equal to those produced by CAD programs. There was seemingly nothing he overlooked, and I never had questions that his drawings didn’t address. In the complex construction views, he drew wood grain where it helps to distinguish adjoining pieces from one another. His text is all handwritten and dimensions are given in both imperial and metric figures, which he may have intended to help builders become numerically bilingual. His fractions are presented without slashes, which makes them easier to read especially when the drawings inevitably lose clarity when scanned and then printed. Such fine details may seem unimportant, but Iain must surely have given them some thought.

Tordis Ødbehr

Iain designed this boat-like structure in Findhorn, on the east coast of Scotland. When he moved to the Isle of Skye on the west coast, he took it with him and used it as his drawing office.

Clinker Plywood Boatbuilding Manual was first published in Scotland in 1998 and by the time I bought the book in 2001, it was in its second reprint and published by WoodenBoat. My copy spent a year in the workshop and still has sawdust trapped in the creases between many of the pages. The manual is well illustrated with drawings and photographs. Someone’s hands, presumably Iain’s, appear in a multitude of the photographs, but we never get a good look at his face. It’s usually in a corner at the top of the frame and mostly cropped out. And even in the author photo on the second page, Iain is rowing his 25′ faering, Elf. The boat is fully in the frame and shows the full sweeping curve of its starboard sheerline, but Iain has his back to the camera and the turned-up collar of his jacket covers the lower half of his face and his knit cap and glasses obscure the rest. Two people I asked about Iain confirmed that in his life, as in his book, he wasn’t one to call attention to himself.

Laurie Cunningham

While I was drawn to Iain’s Caledonia Yawl as a boat for relaxed summer cruising with my kids, the 127 sq ft balance-lug mainsail was meant to give the boat the speed it needed to be a contender in the small-boat cruising races for which it was designed. It has exceptional stability, even when lightly loaded and here showing a glimpse of her keel amidships.

In 2004 I began building Iain’s Caledonia Yawl, designed in 1988 and destined to become one of his very successful models. I had seen one in the livery at Seattle’s Center for Wooden Boats that summer, and I was immediately drawn to the double-ender’s bold, broad strakes. I didn’t know who had designed it, but it seemed, on looks alone, the clear choice for the next boat to build. I brought my son and daughter, then 15 and 12, to the center and took the boat out for a row. The boat had plenty of room aboard for all three of us and they quickly agreed that we had to have one. I bought the plans, built the Caledonia over the winter and the following spring christened it ALISON after my daughter.

Laurie Cunningham

In all the years since 1988 that I have been building boats, about 40 of them, it wasn’t until I launched the ALISON that I had the company of another boat of the same design. The appeal of the Caledonia Yawl spread around the world and there were four built just in my area of Seattle’s north end. Here, the late Bob Kellett aboard NAUTY, eased the mainsheet to let the ALISON catch up. Two other local Caledonia Yawls are Todd Waffner’s LUNA and Roger Coulter’s SPINDRIFT; both carry the optional gunter yawl rig with jib.

In A Life in Wooden Boats: The life of Iain Oughtred, author Nic Compton writes: “Of all of Iain’s designs, the Caledonia Yawl combined the key ingredients needed on a successful ‘raid’ boat: ability under oar and sail, seaworthiness to cope with variable sea conditions and, last but not least, speed.” Raids combine multi-day racing with overnight beach camping, and while the island hopping the kids and I had in mind would be a lot like raids, with only the one boat, winning the race was assured.

Christopher Cunningham

Ali had her sketchbook, Nate had his guitar, and we were never in a hurry to get anywhere because aboard the Caledonia Yawl we were already right where we wanted to be.

The kids and I made several summer cruises aboard the ALISON and when we reached islands new to us, they often had little interest in going ashore. They were content to stay in the nest they’d made for themselves in the bow. We often spent all but about an hour of each day and all night onboard. My kids are grown now but the memories we created aboard the boat remain. While I may have built the ALISON and she has a valued place in our family, our Caledonia will always rightfully be an Oughtred boat.

Brice Avery

In 2007, during a local get together of traditional small wooden-boat designers and builders on the west coast of Scotland, Iain took the helm of the JEANNIE II, a scaled-down, sloop-rigged version of the Ness Yawl that he built for himself.

There are doubtless many people who crossed paths with Iain who can offer more insight into his life and his work than I can, but I know from my time with Small Boats that the number of lives he touched is beyond counting. He certainly touched mine.