Performance matters

It was perhaps my very first design that set the seal on my future thinking. For reasons totally baffling to me in hindsight, I designed a long-keeled 27 footer to be built in ... ferro-concrete. Before the hull had been completed I knew it was mistake. Tremendous weight and performance? That didn’t seem a likely road to fulfilment. With both my hand and dreams in tatters from wiring together all those steel reinforcements, both myself and my companions in this unfortunate adventure saw the future and it was exceeding slow. The hull was sold and provided the material costs for our next venture ... by contrast a 24ft (7.3m) trimaran.

If that seems an unlikely change of tack you would be right. But, from the start, I knew we were on the right track and the launching of Shangaan in 1968 proved a revelation. Although quite simple by modern standards, she was the fastest boat I had ever sailed, scorching past the opposition of that time in a manner that was, quite frankly, embarrassing.

I still thing speed is important. You can sail a fast boat slowly, but you can’t sail a slow boat fast. But there’s no doubt that multihulls are not exactly marina-friendly and that’s an important consideration for cruisers who, even if they more usually prefer to anchor, must leave their boats occasionally, preferably in places where there’s adequate security. To arrive at a marina in a boat 25ft wide is to see panic in the eyes of the Harbour Master.

Three Fingered JackThe boat shown here is not Shangaan – for which no acceptable quality photos exist. Instead, it's Three Fingered Jack, a slightly longer version built for the 1970 two-handed Round Britain and Ireland Race, in which myself (standing on the foredeck) and Mike Ellison finished about halfway down the fleet against larger and considerably more substantial boats.


Sloopy - the first of three built to this designAt 28ft 6in (8.7m) LOA, this design was the first to be built by us in foam sandwich. Sloopy sailed off to Germany and we have lost touch, but her sister ship and immediate predecessor Paradigm is still afloat in Poole Harbour— not bad for a 40-year-old lightweight boat.

'Whisky Jack'

Whisky Jack website lo resThis foam sandwich 35-footer (10.67m) was built for my own use and was originally intended for the 1974 Round Britain Race. Unfortunately, the winter of '73/'74 saw the miners' strike and the immense difficulties of the three-day-week when Britain was effectively starved of electricity — a charter for many companies to go bust. Seeing little future for boatbuilders in the UK, I sold up, loaded some of my more treasured possessions onto Whisky Jack and sailed for Texas to start building boats there. The photo (right) shows us anchored in Funchal, Madeira, the departure point for our Atlantic crossing.

Whisky Jack eventually returned to Britain and went on to win the multihull class in the two-handed Azores and Back (AZAB) race of 1979.

Shifter 32

Shifter 32 beached in Galveston BayThis 32ft (9.75m) trimaran design emerged in 1975 and was the first to be built in moulded glassfibre rather than the more labour intensive custom techniques we had used previously. The boat could be disassembled for transport overland — an important consideration in the US.

Of all my multihull designs, this was the one that gave me the most satisfaction. She proved fast and well mannered, handling beautifully and with an exceptionally comfortable motion at sea. Unfortunately, the complexities of the construction made it difficult to compete on price in a market awash with cheaply produced monohulls. Only six Shifters were built before production ceased.

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Monohull designs

As revealed in my ‘bio’ section, I met Chele, my wife and soul mate, in Texas. The joke goes that I was recently divorced and had a couple of children in tow and she was recently divorced and had a 40ft sailboat. There's no doubt that sometimes the way ahead can be clearly marked!

But Chele’s boat – a Bill Lapworth designed Cal 40 – was an eye-opener for me. Slender and light, a bit like a big dinghy, her performance totally outshone keelboats I had sailed before. So, it was an intriguing prospect: not quite the vivid performance of a thoroughbred multihull but much better than the sluggish keelboats I had previously sailed, and hopefully a much friendlier welcome when I checked into those marinas. Since we were returning to the UK where mooring space is at a premium, I decided on a shift in direction for my designs which I have pursued without too much regret ever since.


Spook almost becalmed in UK watersDesigned in the mid-1980s as a compact ocean cruiser, at 30ft LOA, Spook was the prototype for the series of related designs that followed. She sailed down to and extensively cruisied the Mediterranean but is now back in England, based in Lymington.
The characteristic stepped sheer increases the utility of both the cockpit and the space below it – a feature I've never found the need to change. The hull has quite a pronounced tumblehome, which will reduce her inverted stability if you're unlucky enough to roll. Her flush foredeck is a delight to work on and the unobtrusive doghouse gives virtually all-round vision from below.
Spook's hull and deck are of GRP foam sandwich construction, cored respectively with Airex and end-grain balsa – a structural combination which is both light and very strong.



Alacazam off AntiguaOwned by Dick McClary and Mary Swift, the 38-footer Alacazam was built in the UK but is now based in the Caribbean. She can be sailed either as a sloop or cutter – the latter being an ideal rig in trade wind conditions where reaching is the most common point of sail. Her hull is of epoxy/glass sheathed cedar strip with a marine plywood deck (also sheathed) and ply and cherry trim interior.
She is fast and weatherly and extremely easy to handle. In appropriate circumstances, she carries water ballast, which increases her stiffness and decreases heeling. Her ballast ratio is sufficient to make her stable without it – but to be able to crank up the stability when you need it is very useful.
Despite her internal volume, Alacazam has only 5 berths – two of which are for occasional guests, the fifth being a water resistant sea-berth. Light and airy below, she makes a comfortable floating home for Dick and Mary.


'Vlad the Impaler'

Vlad competing in the 3 Peaks RaceAnother cedar strip 38-footer, but this one designed for flat-out racing. After a career ‘around the cans’ in the Solent area and elsewhere Vlad’s itinerary became focused offshore where she competed in three successive Three Peaks Yacht race, winning two of these gruelling events and coming a very respectable second in the third.

She has since been converted into a fast cruiser with a new foam-sandwich deck and a more comfortable interior layout. Her re-launch is planned for next summer. She is currently in northern Spain.



Shindig sailing in the IonianShindig is our boat – by which I mean Chele's and mine. We sailed her to Greece where she was based for 5 years. She is now in Mallorca. We plan to sail down to the Canaries in 2013 and then across to the Caribbean early in 2014.
Her hull is both narrower and finer forward than Alacazam's, indeed, it was derived from Vlad’s, though is not quite so extreme. Again, the hull is cedar strip, but this time has a layer of khaya (African mahogany) veneer beneath the epoxy sheathing. However, her deck and most of the interior structure is of lightweight Herex cored composite, using vinylester resin in the deck laminate for improved strength and durability.
Shindig also has water ballast, though less than Alacazam, since her slightly deeper draft gives her a little more inherent stability. A somewhat 'retro' feature is her lowish aspect ratio rig, cutter designed to reduce the heeling moment while still giving lots of drive. An easy boat to sail, she is both quick and comfortable – not always the case with faster cruising yachts.


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Designed to Sail

Shindig sailing in the IonianI have been designing sailboats – both monohulls and multihulls – for over 35 years, with a particular interest in fast offshore cruising yachts, usually intended to fulfill specific requirements. Nearly all of them were custom built, employing a variety of techniques, ranging from various forms of laminated timber to synthetic composites – often a combination of both.

But why custom build when there are so many designs to be had off the shelf? Well, although there are undoubtedly some respectable production boats around, most have been hopelessly compromised to conform with accepted marketing wisdoms A good example is the general perception that sailors are incorrigibly gregarious – a perverse presumption, if ever there was one, that compels boat builders to stuff in as many berths as possible, almost invariably to the detriment of the boat as a working environment and floating home.

My own belief is that exactly the opposite is needed. Most offshore boats are sailed shorthanded – often by couples – and it's unfortunate that more designs don't reflect this reality. Being less greedy with the accommodation means fewer berths and more open, less compartmentalised interiors. Liberating all that unnecessary structure means efficient, comfortable spaces – galleys, chart tables, cockpits – and loads of extra storage. Likewise, the deck layout and sail plan should be optimised for shorthanded sailing. It must be possible for a single person to complete every task on deck. This means having all controls ready to hand and keeping them as simple as possible.

Simplicity is a tremendous virtue at sea. Complicated systems might offer convenience – often of the push-button variety – but they are inherently more prone to failure, whereupon most are found to be impossible to repair with the resources available. The image of a crew stuck in port waiting for spares is no myth, but a common occurrence.

None of my designs were conceived with the home boatbuilder in mind, and their completion demands appropriate core skills. However, since they were all built without expensive moulds or tools, they would certainly be suitable for the ambitious amateur. But first think carefully. It's rash to embark on any project of such magnitude without being utterly confident in ones abilities to complete the task. In my time I've seen hundreds of abandoned dreams – and, believe me, there can be no sadder sight.