“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
–Abraham Lincoln

Here we are in March 2014, and I actually bought the plans back in 2012. So what’s taken so long? Well, the main problem was trying to get some important paying work out of the door, followed by a fatwa on the domestic front which resulted in much of last year making our kitchen.

screencap30But that’s not the whole story. I always intended to do as much of the work as possible on our CNC machine, which in turn means that everything has to be modelled in detail on the computer before I can start anything for real. In some ways this is very frustrating, but it has some enormous advantages. The most obvious advantage is time – the speed with which you can do things on the CNC machine far outweighs the time spent up-front – but it is also more accurate. Not only that, but I can for example have the edges of each bulkhead, along with its framing, all faired in before it is even put on the building jig.  Components like the centreboards and rudder are also much easier to make, and can have very precise foil sections.

To work through the entire build, albeit in virtual space, is an enormous eye-opener. Practically every piece of wood I have modelled has thrown up questions about how I would make it, what material would be suited, and how it fits in with other components. A build sequence also begins to emerge, and I can experiment with assembling in different ways – for example how much structure will I erect on the building jig, and in what order, and how much will I leave until turn-over.

screencap22It has been like doing an entire dry run or scale model, but without having had to use any materials. I have also been able to experiment with different motors, tanks, batteries etc, which are all very easy to model and then play with to see where and how I can fit them in. Having ‘virtually’ made the boat already, I am now so familiar with it that it holds far fewer fears for me than it did in paper form.

The modelling is now complete, and only now requires a final check over, followed by pulling the whole thing apart into assemblies, for example bulkheads with all their associated solid framing. The next step will be to program the actual machining.

Here is a sequence of screen captures that approximates to the sequence in which the boat will be built (please note these screen captures were taken in January, so some bits were still yet to be modelled):

Setting out lines

Creating ‘master surfaces’


Possible selection of components to assemble on building jig

Chine, sheer and aprons added

Planking done

Further framing added

Deck and cockpit complete

Coachroof added

And some masts

Nearly there…

Nailing My Colours To The Mast

I love the idea of CANOE – the Committee to Ascribe a Nautical Origin to Everything – some shadowy body tirelessly seeking to seduce us with such theories as the preposterous ‘Port Out Starboard Home’ explanation for the word ‘posh’ or the controversial ‘bitter end’ one. Most sailors of my acquaintance seem only too happy to have been co-opted onto the Committee, but I am still resisting.

“Nailing one’s colours to the mast” though, is one that I will obviously have to give them. Its origin stems from the fact that in a naval engagement it was important to keep one’s battle ensign flying, since its absence could be taken as a sign of surrender, and also that flags would of course normally be held aloft by halyards rather than nails. So literally speaking, the phrase could describe two possible scenarios: either the colours being hastily put back up by improvised means after being brought down by enemy fire – as in the case of Sunderland’s famous son Jack Crawford at the Battle of Camperdown – or, the defiant act of nailing up the colours ahead of the action, so they could not be lowered in surrender under any circumstances. Figuratively, the sense is much the same either way: i.e. the public declaration of one’s position, usually with the implication that such a position is both courageous and immovable.

I have spent the last year or so nailing away like mad, or to put it another way, I have been telling anyone who will listen about my plan to build this boat, with the specific aim of making it unthinkably embarrassing to back out. So when I was asked the other day to regale a meeting of my Yacht Club with the story so far, and to show off the 3D computer model I have been working on, it was – no matter how terrifying – a perfect opportunity to bang in a few more nails. What worries me are the tales of all those who start a boat, but find that their attempt fizzles out. From what I read, the fizzling commonly occurs before any wood is even cut, but after the plans are bought and the mandatory blog is started. I’m at a very dangerous point it seems.

So, read my lips: This week – today in fact – I’m ordering plywood. The rest of the week will be spent finalising CAD drawings, stiffening the sinews, and summoning up the blood. I’m not sure that hard-favour’d rage really suits me, or whether my eye is capable of a terrible aspect, but nevertheless, here we go!

I just hope I won’t be needing the services of young Jack Crawford at any point along the way.

What’s in a name?

I confess that I am not a great fan of poetry (which reminds me of one of my favourite Bertie Wooster-isms: “I don’t want to wrong anybody, so I won’t go so far as to say that she actually wrote poetry…”), but there are a few poems that I have enjoyed and remembered. One such is The Tryst by the Scots poet William Soutar:

O luely, luely cam she in
And luely she lay doun:
I kent her be her caller lips
And her breists sae sma' and roun'.

A' thru the nicht we spak nae word
Nor sinder'd bane frae bane:
A' thru the nicht I heard her hert
Gang soundin' wi' my ain.

It was about the waukrife hour
Whan cocks begin to craw:
That she smool'd saftly thru the mirk
Afore the day wud daw.

Sae luely, luely cam she in
Sae luely was she gaen:
And wi' her a' my simmer days
Like they had never been.

In my copy of the Oxford Book of Scottish Verse, the word luely is translated as ‘lovely’, which makes perfect sense, since the root lue means ‘love’ (hence luesome: ‘loveable’) but I have seen far more references to the word being given the meaning ‘softly’. If anyone reading this can shed further light, please leave a comment!

Either way, it was a word that stuck in my head and seemed a good name for my boat. It has the poetry connection that ties in with the name Haiku, and the Scottish connection that ties in with where she will mainly sail. On top of all of that, Luely is a nickname we often call our daughter (which is perfect if it does mean lovely, but softly – I don’t think so!)

Choosing a design

It would be tempting fate to suggest that choosing the design is the hardest part, but if if any of the steps ahead of me prove to be much harder, I’m in trouble! Since making the decision to build a boat I must have looked at dozens of different designs, and come very close to building half of them.

Here was my shopping list:

  • Shallow draft – preferebaly no more than 1 ft
  • Happy to dry out (upright)
  • Need only be suited to coastal sailing
  • Accommodation: Daysail 6, Weekend 4, Week 2 (Extended cruising not envisaged)
  • Comfortable, but need not be luxurious
  • Pretty, wooden
  • Trailerable
  • Simple to sail
  • Simple to maintain
  • Simple to build
  • Preferably a yawl

I had at one point got enthusiastic about sharpies, but went off the idea because I had it in my head that in order to tow my boat on a trailer legally, it would have to be less than 7m long. A sharpie of this size was not likely to give me the accommodation I wanted, so my searches went off in other directions.

Another great desire was to build one of Iain Oughtred’s designs, all of which I have admired for a long time. There is something simultaneously honest and exciting, traditional and forward-looking, and altogether just plain right about them. However none, seemingly, was quite right for my needs.

It was only when I realised that in fact I can tow over 7m with the correct vehicle that the sun shone through again, and I could combine the two magic ingredients, as if they had been brought together specially for me. Oughtred’s 30ft sharpie Haiku ticked every box.

I won’t bore you with all the boats I nearly made, but will just mention three that came especially close: Selway Fisher’s Rona Yawl and Francois Vivier’s Stir Ven and Meaban. All lovely boats that I would be pleased to own, but all just missed my specifications for different reasons.

Now I’m the first to admit my choice would not suit everyone. You only have to Google ‘sharpie’ to elicit dire warnings about how you will get wet, get banged around, capsize, and probably die. Furthermore, if you (or your executor) ever want to sell the boat, you will get no takers. I’m sure there is a grain of truth to such arguments, but however large the legion of doom-mongers there seems at least an equal number of fans, especially for Commodore Munroe’s famed sharpie Egret, which was said to be an exception to most of the rules. I also have great faith in Iain Oughtred – not only has he chosen the Egret as a starting point for Haiku’s design, but has a wealth of well-proven boats from other traditions to his name.

mooringLet’s just say that choosing a sharpie is controversial. Add to that the fact that despite being 30ft long, you don’t even get standing room in the cabin, and only get the accommodation typical of a boat maybe 6 feet shorter. Not looking such a great idea? But yes, for me, I think (and hope) it’s perfect. Mainly this is because of where I sail – the south coast of Scotland – where there is more mud than water. The tides and the shape of the coastline mean you either do short, cautious trips, or you get yourself a shallow draft boat and explore, prepared all the while to stop over somewhere beautiful – if necessary by beaching yourself. Another important factor is the simplicity of the build: I seriously doubt you would find many boats of this size that are much easier. It’s not so much that I doubt my ability, but I am seriously worried about my perseverance!