Big AL, little boat.

Many years ago one of the sailing magazines ran a series called “one man and his boat” i really enjoyed that series and i would like to take up a version of that here : a modern version which is very good is the one filmed and edited by Dick Durham which i think is called “me and my boat” definitely worth a look.   In the future i intend to get together with some boat owners and film/photograph the boats and talk to their owners, particularly boats that i also like.

The first post in this series isn’t in this country as the boat and its owner/re-builder is literally on the other side of the world and he just like me has a temperamental computer that eats photographs !.   I should explain that ‘Big Al’ just like ‘Jaws’ is an old shipmate of mine who now lives in New Zealand and whose mancave is bigger than my house and gardens combined !.   Big Al is also Alan who regularly comments on here and is my top advisor on anything technical to do with boats : when i worked with Al he was the engineer on a boat where i was mate and we both lived with the nightmare of old gear and micro budget yet somehow kept an old and rough maxi boat going for a few more seasons.  Al then disappeared into the superyacht world and the last time we got together in the sailing world was when i was navi-guesser on another maxi and he was supervising the refit on a big and comfortable motor-sailer.  Then years after we made a couple of trips ‘down-under’ and finally got to see the man again at his place up in the northland of NZ.   For those not that familiar with the NZ boating scene there are apparently more boat owners than car owners although a lot of them are smaller fishing boats and the like.  My contact with sailing Kiwi’s started in the Whitbread race though when NZ was producing the best designs (Farr) and putting together the best crews and campaigns going : anyone remember the mighty Steinlager (big red) and F&P that dominated that race ? and it was right there that the seeds of first the Jules Verne boats and then the NZ Americas cup win was born.

Al is possibly the most frighteningly competent person that i have ever met with anything from out and out fabrication of new stuff in just about any material known to man and can sort out just about any boat problem that he can get either aboard or into his workshop.   When i last met up with him there was everything from titanium bits on the bench to his recently re-built ‘Little boat”, more recently he has been doing superfast sandyachts and i think there is a bus in the works as well.  Recently we have been chewing the fat about trailer-sailers as Al has been looking over several of the boat specs that i have been posting….just to say that Al also knows all the ins and outs of trailers as he did one for his boat that really can be immersed.    We have just been having an online chat about one of the little known (to me) Kiwi designers …..Jim Young anyone ?…no me neither but apparently was years ahead of the curve with very quick water-ballasted and canting keel-ers.   Al is working on the idea of building a cruise-y version of a very fast 31 foot Jim Young design in cedar/glass and i guess with lots of carbon bits but more of that and our recent musings later.

This kind of thing :

The boat of the blog is actually quite a small plywood trailer-sailer that Al and his partner picked up in i think a seizure auction but was in very poor condition with rot in at least one quarter.  Between them they did a total rebuild including a 2 pack paint job excellently completed by Nina and with lots of new very neat stainless steel work : another big-al specialty.  The boat works stunningly well for Al and Nina because they both lead very busy lives and seem to have a whole load of things that they are into (sandyachts and mechanical music machines anyone ?) so when the boat is needed it comes out of the shed, gets towed down to the dock, goes for a cruise and then gets put away again…..and just thinking about my little boat bouncing around on its mooring and getting weedy !.  Trailer-sailing really is a big deal where Alan lives, if i am right there is a club that really only specialises in them and runs a race series for them….some mighty quick sailors drive them too.  Ok so in NZ  a lot more people have a lot more space at home than we do, i could just about get my drive modified to get a boat in there but i would be more than happy to dry-sail my current boat and what is rapidly becoming ‘next’ boat, its definitely one of the parameters that i am working towards.

Here is ‘Little boat’ : Jim Young 6m but modified quite a bit. Basically a quite simple chine ply and glass design but then totally rebuilt by Alan and his partner Nina and now sailed by them around north island NZ.



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Alan i believe has very distinct views about boats and from talking to him recently he does seem to have gone strongly towards the higher performance end of boats but ones that then step back a notch to become cruisable and can be kept ashore : even Al admits that the kind of thing he would go for might be just a tad violent upwind when really powered-up.  Unlike Al i swing from one end of the boat spectrum and back to the other : one moment i am seriously thinking about a long keeled classic that i can dry out on the mud in the river and then the very next week i am looking at the much more modern IOR type boats that i grew up with in sailing and at least that i understand and can sail.   Just to add that Alan also comes from a boatbuilding family as Alan senior used to build the Oakleaf and Mapleleaf classics over on the east coast and that is partially where Al’s perfectionism comes from…oh and some time building F1 race-cars !.  We are totally different : on a good day i am best described as ‘fast and dirty’ and just try and get the job done, for Al if its not right its painful !.

Here by the way is ‘Camp Freddie’ and not my photograph BTW.


We have been talking on and off for a few years about cruising boats and where i swing from one end of the spectrum ie heavy displacement/long keels and back to ULDB flyers with bulb keels and all the kit Al seems pretty convinced that fast and light is the way to go.  With the kind of sailing i do now i am coming around to the idea that a light and quick boat with variable draught might well be a good option especially if like Little Boat it can live on a trailer ashore when its not in use.   We do have a couple of designers and their boats as a common interest and one i would like to highlight is Dudley Dix : over here some visitors here might have heard of the cape cutter and cape henry designs…essentially similar to our Cornish Crabbers but better performance.  A boat we both like in common is the DD26 as seen here in full race mode :


And a quick look at the very clean interior :


Worth taking a look at the designers website (not my pictures) for more of his boats , Al says that these are quite straightforward boats to build being essentially ply over frame and then epoxy/glass.  Just for a little bit of boat-porn here is the one that gets me moist :


What that is , is a modified Didi 26 drawn out to 29 feet as the ‘Retro 29’ with a lifting bulb keel, cassette rudder, lots of sail area which could be anything from gaff to square top and with the light open interior of the racing 26.   Now that would be powerful upwind and would easily plane downwind in the right conditions, i could make that super-comfortable for 2 and it can live on a trailer.  What’s not to like about that aside from lots of time, effort and skill.

Note….several photographs ie Camp Freddie and the Dix designs are not my photographs and the pictures of ‘Little Boat’ come courtesy of Big Al.


  1. Very nice post Steve, thanks 🙂
    I like the Retro / 26 you best find a shed and knock one up if you get the parts cnc cut its a big airfix kit to put together 🙂 The Rocket will have minimal but comfortable interior got to keep the weight out of it.


    1. I feel the temptation but time , space and budget are against me : to afford to do one i would have to work more and that would then take out the project time and any other time for things like actual sailing and running the garden….the compromise is going to have to be something close and already built.


  2. Yes the time thing is the main problem I have, budget is also there, I really need to stop as one customer put it “you fix other people’s problems” having sorted out his home brewery and get on with building my stuff before its to late to enjoy the results on the water.


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