The Boxfather !

Readers please note that i have had to use borrowed images from the internet for this post :  i apologise for that and if any one is yours please let me know and i will credit you or remove the picture.  This is also my first post of the new year and i wanted to make it a boat related post based on some of the work i did at the end of 2018.

I’m slowly working on a longer blog post which is the beginning of the rig and sails project for my Hunter Liberty.  In brief the total project is to convert the cat-ketch to, most likely, a cat-yawl and with an as yet undecided sail configuration.     It’s funny but i was just reading a section of another yacht designers book in which the author states that there is no such thing as a cat-ketch and that technically my little boat is a ‘periauger’.  I must admit that among all the sailing terms i know, that one has never featured highly.  In the longer post i am about up to the point where i know what i want to achieve and am now trying to work out the practicalities.  Rather than re-invent the wheel, or in this case the lug or gunter rig and ketch, yawl or periauger , i have spent some time looking at designers work that have already solved the problem.

Very close to what i think i want to end up with are some designs from Iain Oughtread, notably his Caledonia Yawl, the excellent Nigel Irens and the Rommilly lugger and last of all the late Phil Bolger and several of his designs : the closest to my needs probably being the ‘Chebacco’ yawl.  I don’t see any point in trying to do unfamiliar work when it’s already been done by someone far more competent.

At home i have quite an extensive library to refer to, in times past i kept 3 full stacking crates of files taken from sailing magazines : quite literally anything and everything that i found interesting.  I know that among those files were exactly what i needed in the shape of an article about a National 18 dinghy which was converted from sloop to lug-yawl.  By all accounts that boat is even faster with it’s powerful lug rig than it was as a class boat.  It does help that the owner was a National 18 class champion but it does demonstrate how good the lug rig always was.  On this coast the lug rig was known to be the fastest and most close winded and the chosen rig of smugglers on these coasts.

For the current project i referred back to some of my books and one of those in particular : “Boats with an open mind” by the late Phil Bolger , and it’s his quirky designs that i want to talk about in this post.

Bolger ‘Chebacco’ gunter rigged yawl.


For my own project i am very close to what i need with one of his designs and specifically it’s rig, and it’s the boat in the photograph above.  That boat is , i think, one of his prettiest designs he called his ‘Chebacco’ boats.  The one that comes very close is 20 feet but already has more sail area than my own boat at 22 feet.  The proportions of the mains’l , total sail area and main mast position would be almost exactly what i need. For reference the Chebbacco 20 when rigged as a gunter yawl has 170 sq ft in it’s mains’l and 170 sq feet is exactly what i have now but spread between 2 masts.  I wouldn’t mind adding a few yards of sailpower to my own rig and that would account for the small mizzen so maybe it’s a go.


I hadn’t heard of Phil Bolger until around 1995 at which time i had just stopped trying to be a professional sailor.  That year i had come ashore from driving a maxi yacht for a living and had a job back in the hospital.  I was dealing with a bad negative equity situation and the UK tax system, was completely broke and just worked flat-out. My light relief was to pick up any book about boat design, the stranger the better, and chew on that in the few hours i gave myself not working.    If i remember this correctly i had just bought Bolger’s book (boats with an open mind) just before heading over to Cowes IOW to help with a boat delivery.  The boat, of course, was some old IOR race boat but by chance it just happened to be rafted against a much more radical design : one of IOR bad boy Julian Everitt’s designs and the man just happened to be aboard. During a break while i was stowing the boat i’m pretty sure he raised an eyebrow and expressed the hope that i would enjoy the book.   The 2 designers couldn’t be further apart and at the time it was only the IOR world of cranky hulls, fragile rigs and rule bending that i knew if at all.  Bolger’s world of simple but open minded design was way over my horizon.

I think i was genuinely perplexed by the book and the boat designs within it as it didn’t represent anything like the world of boats that i knew.  Some of his designs were , i believe, genuinely weird and maybe not serious essays in ‘sensible’ boat design. If you want to take a look at this end of Bolger’s work then go search for boats such as ‘Brick’ and ‘Superbrick’.  Many of his designs look nothing more than ultra simple plywood boxes with any form of left-field rig thrown in….usually plus any combination of leeboards or off-centre-boards possible.   I truly didn’t understand at the time that a boat doesn’t have to be a particular shape like say the narrow focus IOR boats which really was everything i normally saw.  I guess also that my kind of sailing was all about offshore speed…not that the IOR produced fast boats : that didn’t happen for me until the post IOR period of Volvo 60’s and the like.

This is the kind of thing that really confused me at the time . These are (below) , i think, 3 very nice examples of his Long-Micro design.  There are 2 of these that i know of in the UK and i am trying to track down that was built over on the east coast just to get a better idea of it as a sailing boat.   For those familiar with the excellent Dylan Winter and KTL he covered ‘Applecross’ in one of his films.    In a way this design typifies one thread of Bolger’s work : almost brutally simple, just a few flat planes of plywood joined together at the edges and the simplest of rigs.  Many of these boats were actually thought of as ‘backyard’ boats, the kind of thing that even the most basic woodworker, me as an example, could probably slap together with enough screws and epoxy resin.

Today, when i sum up Phil Bolger as a designer i would say he was a very radical designer during a period that was typified by very same-y and conservative designs , especially in europe and the UK.  Remember that what we were mainly getting again and again were, to quote from a movie , “a copy of a copy of a copy” and in the case of boats where the original design was most likely just another unsuccessful IOR derived cruiser-racer.  He was also a very prolific designer with some 600 designs to his credit or that he was otherwise involved with. I had to check but he also authored 5 or 6 books including the one i have today.


My lightbulb moment came not long after that, maybe the next year, i think the way it went is that we were beating down the western Solent short-handed in a big old IOR maxi sloop and i was officially navigator but was having to swap between chart table and running backstays during the short tacks.  We passed one of the creeks, i guess it must have been Newtown and thought how nice it would be to slip into somewhere like that and anchor for the night, and not do as we were doing heading out into a choppy English channel.  I think i grasped then that there were other ways of sailing that didn’t involve sitting-out an IOR race boat for hours or even days…..the death of a racing sailor perhaps and the genesis of the small boat sailor that i am today.  Of course as a working navigator i had known for a long time that there were huge areas of attractive looking water that we couldn’t even contemplate getting into and i think i realised that those were the places that i wanted to sail in.

Today i understand that what Bolger was doing so often was solving the problems that i would one day meet : how to create the simplest sailing boat that would do what the deep fin keeled racing boat just can’t.   At that time i hadn’t sailed on the East coast so i had no experience of the shallow tidal rivers, equally in my own waters i had hardly ever been up rivers like the Fal and the Tamar beyond the deep water moorings and drying out on a beach or mud-flat was a completely alien world.

My own boat, not a Phil Bolger design.


When i first read the book i think that what i took from it was the functional but often brutally boxy designs that i thought typified his work.  At the time i was completely broke and i thought that the only way i would get on the water with my own boat might be with a self-build .   There were a couple of his designs that i thought would do the job i had in mind although even then i much preferred the work of another designer along similar lines.  That was Bruce Kirby and the design that really appealed was the Norwalk islands sharpie at 26 or 29 feet.  It looked to be nearly as simple to build but was, i thought, a much nicer looking boat than a similar Bolger sharpie.  Just to say that i had discovered Sharpie’s by then and was completely in love with the Egret design of Commodore Munroe even though it would have been a completely impractical boat for what i wanted to do.  The Bolger design that came close was this one which i think is the ‘Red Zinger’ sharpie….i still like the boxy appearance today.


Plywood boxes weren’t Bolger’s only genre though, even ignoring the many basic motor boat designs which held no interest he could also draw a very sweet looking boat , it was just that the design solution often had to be the simplest for a backyard boatbuilder to actually get built.  Today with tools like CNC cutters it would be a much easier job to get the panels for a multi-chine or multi-panel design computer lofted and cut.  Two of Phil Bolger’s designs i think are very sweet looking hulls : the Chebacco designs in multi-panel or lapstrake construction and the design ‘Bright Thread’ which features on the cover of the book.

Chebacco 20 i think and the rig i intend to base my own one on.


Bright Thread.


‘Bright Thread’ was apparently the sum of Bolger’s solutions to the many problems inherent in cat-boat designs.  By some accounts it is the most meticulously built of any of his boats.

Aside from boxy plywood hulls or more sweeter lapstrake or cedar strip ones Bolger would utilise any configuration of rig that would do the job and any device to prevent leeway.  I don’t think he ever drew a deep fin keeled design although plenty of long and shallow keels but also centreboards, off-centre-boards, other drop keels aplenty and even leeboards when they would best suit the design.

The book ‘Boats with an open mind’ is a very good read, not just about the actual designs but there are lots of stories about the boats and the kind of voyages they sail.  I was thinking of doing a separate book review but i realise that to talk about the book would be to talk about the man and his designs first.  There are many of his designs sailing, i don’t know of many in the UK : a couple of Micro’s , one Chebacco and a couple of larger boats that i am trying to track down mainly on the east coast.  I can imagine many of his designs being at home there because the waters and conditions sound similar to many areas that he designed for in the USA.

Sadly the man himself isn’t with us any more.  Phil died in May 2009 , the story going that he took his own life in the fastest, most direct and in a way most certain way possible.

Philip C. Bolger 03.12.1927-24.05.2009



  1. If it was fast enough for Cornish Smugglers, it gets my vote. Jack Vincent would approve I’m sure, even though he preferred a Lug rig:

    Get yourself a frock coat and a naval officer’s hanger Steve 😉

    Wishing you meaning and enjoyment in fitting the new rig and sails to your sails your Liberty in 2019.


  2. Hi Steve
    Just an FYI, the boat you have pictured under the label “Bright Thread” is not Bright Thread. She is indeed a Bolger, but rather a sister ship of Moccasin, and the only other of the Moccasin design that has been built. I took that photo – but don’t mind at all if you continue to use it.

    I came here via a shared post of yours on facebook, looking for the sailing canoe photo you posted from the Adirondack Canoe museum in New York. That photo was taken by Barry Long. is his webpage. I doubt he would object to you posting it.
    Can’t seem to find that on your blog here, in any case.

    If you are interested in sailing canoes, check out my website for my “Chautauqua.” Or watch the first two minutes of this video:

    Darn nice photo of a Red Zinger you have – I’ve never seen decent pic of one before.

    Cheers –


    1. Thanks for replying and thanks for the feedback, i really don’t like to not credit photographers and am always happy to remove posts or post credits when i can. It seems that most photographers like to have their work shared and disseminated as i do. Off to work now but i will check out the video when i get a chance. Many thanks


  3. There are more than a handful of Chebacco’s in the UK. On our website there is a photo of one on the Orwell and another on the Thames. There are quite a few notes from builders in the UK too. UK makes up the fourth or fifth ranked visitors to the site behind USA, Canada, Australia and sometimes France.
    So they must be hiding from your view up shallow waterways! Seek them out – they truly are beautiful boats.


    1. I don’t know if you can help with another Bolger design in the UK…i think a variant of ‘Moccasin’ and i think on the east coast somewhere. It’s a bit loose but i think it was an owner modified and built boat. I don’t know of any Bolger designs down in the SW….would love to find one.


  4. There is a Bolger AS 29 just up the road from here in Australia that is really well maintained. I am told it heads up to the Barrier Reef each year. I had a Norwalk Island Sharpie 26 and it was not the happiest time of my life. But that is another story. It was the wrong boat at the wrong time family wise. Too tippy and wobbly. Kids were always falling over when it lurched etc. Teeth through lip etc. Too big on the trailer, too hard to live with. I was sailing in company with a NI sharpie 18 footer recently in Tasmania which was done as the ketch rig and it was not much better IMHO from my position on another boat.

    I think the bolger box boat much like CLC Autumn Leaves would be better.



    1. Thanks and thanks for the photograph, i thought about building an NIS 26 for a long time as it’s actually bigger and more powerful than my current boat that you’ll see in the blog. I might use the photograph when i return to the box-boat theme as i’m writing some new posts on the same subject but this time starting with Egret…which is where my interest really started. Cheers matey


      1. Email me before you start on one for the whole story. I really had a tough time with that boat.


      2. That series is going along the alphabet ; Iv’e done B (Bolger) , writing D (Dudley Dix) now, ‘E’ will just be Egret etc. ‘F’ my Frances 26 and so on. I guess the NIS will have to wait for ‘K’ (Bruce Kirby) in a few months time….any insights will be really useful.


  5. Quote from the article above: “‘Bright Thread’ was apparently the sum of Bolger’s solutions to the many problems inherent in cat-boat designs. By some accounts it is the most meticulously built of any of his boats.” —- The mentioned catboat ‘Bright Thread’ is now for sale in Denmark due to owners age. I have personally inspected the boat, it’s in very good condition, stored inside. Asking: DKK 189.000 // approx. GBP 22.886 . I have been asked to help the owners sell this boat. Contact me: . Regards Jan ,


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