You can go your own way.

Blog time : as i write it’s mid July so supposedly that makes it peak summer in the UK – of course what it’s really like here is wet and cool or warm and damp with the added bonus of pollen….lots of pollen. Most days i have a quick walk around the vegetable garden a couple of times a year and pull out the overnight weed growth – even so i never seem to keep it under control at this time of year and especially with it being both cool to warm and damp to wet. Today of course it’s both cold and wet.

This, once again, is a boatbuilding project post but only partially a practical one – in this post while i am going to talk about what iv’e been working on i’m really basing this piece on how and where i am deviating from the standard plans. The boat i’m building, a John Welsford designed Pathfinder cruising dinghy is going to be mostly as near as i can get to the man’s plan but i will be going ‘off piste’ , as one of my friends put it, in a few key areas ; namely it’s rig, centerboard layout, auxiliary power and shelter.

As usual i’ll start with a quick update of the jobs that are on the bench right now because one of those jobs represents the main divergence that i’m taking from the original plans – i’m already committed to that change ; after that though i want to make a return to something that i haven’t done in a while and that is to use a short sea story as a point of departure to talk about my concept for this boat and how that is driving the changes.

Looking from aft that’s the centerboard case in it’s slot and frame no 3

On the bench then.

The keen-eyed , especially those readers who have built Navigators, Pathfinder’s, Pilgrim’s etc should instantly note that the start of my boat doesn’t look like the standard model – and they’d be right because yes, that’s the centerboard mounted in it’s slot and butted up against frame no 3 ; i took down all of the other temporarily mounted frames to focus on this detail today. So yes, iv’e committed to building my boat with an off-center centerboard right at the start of the main construction stage and yes it does mean that i’ll have to change other things as i go along.

Now, off-center boards are something that many sailors don’t like straight away – the common concern is that the boat surely sails differently on each tack. Well, maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t – i can think of one example where it would be different , but empirically it seems to be the case that the average sailor wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. In my experience boats often do sail better, or just differently, on either tack , and that’s more often down to the balance of the boat, the sea state or wind sheer and sometimes the set-up of the rig. It’s common for example that in a sloppy sea the boat will simply sail better on one tack because it’s meeting waves at a better angle. The example i was thinking of straight away is what could happen at extreme angles of heel – on port tack say with the board being to port it might cavitate and possibly stall but to be honest if i’m sailing that badly then i 1. deserve to be going sideways and 2. should expect a dunking !.

I see the advantages of the off-center board being twofold ; first that i get a wider open space in the middle of the boat to work in when i’m handling sail and that space will be a better space for me to sleep in – it will actually be the boat’s primary sleeping space and i think a much more comfortable space for me. My intention if you’re wondering is to have 2 sleeping spaces on the boat – one forward and one aft…..my plan being that when my partner is aboard she’ll get the space next to the board and i’ll be sleeping in the longer clear space aft. Secondly it will allow me to build and use a dedicated storage compartment/s to port, ouboard of the case – i may even be able to have a semi-permanent cooking arrangement there.

The view from forward – the bow spine now terminates against the forward face of frame no 3 and the board case butts up against it’s aft face ( i might raise the height of frame no 3 on the port side with a doubler on that side.

Story time….yay !

So – what’s it all about and what’s it for ?, the boat that is.

The build project is about one thing – me having something really interesting and engaging to do every day that i haven’t done before. You might not realize this but i’m working just beyond my normal skill level every day that i’m out there – even those sessions when i just sit next to the bench with a coffee and the plans while i work out how to do something. I will probably only build one boat, this one, so it has to be the best i can do : this isn’t the beginning and end of similar projects though because i know that there are other things that i’d like to build and huge areas of practical skill-sets to learn. At this stage for example i’m pinging Email’s backwards and forwards to my engineer friend in NZ about the engineering of the board pivot and i’d love to be able to weld steel and turn parts on a lathe – well, it just worked out in life that because i made a huge mistake in getting into Grammar school instead of Sec-Mod (i’m sure they made a big mistake too) that i got to learn the basics of woodworking while my mates at the Sec-Mod got metalwork. It’s strange to think today that the school’s attitude was that woodworking was both ‘clean’ and ‘craft’ where metalwork was dirty, rough and blue collar work. I do so wish that we’d had a school system that would have let me do both and ditch the useless stuff ; who needs Latin for example or French grammar ? ……anyway to continue.

Yes, ok but…..what’s it for though ?.

Before i started the build i wrote a few pieces about the choice of boat and as many readers will know my decision was primarily based on the maximum boat i thought i could both build and keep at home – all well and good ; but i didn’t say much about what i’d like to do with this one so here goes.

Several years ago, while i was boat-less and working hard on our cottage and gardens refit i spent a lot of my down time being entertained by the excellent Dylan Winter who was then sailing around the UK in a series of small carp boats ; well, 2 of them were although the middle one was a great little boat. Dylan’s first boat for that series of voyages he aptly called ‘The Slug’ – a Mirror ‘Offshore’ i think it was , later replaced with a much nicer Hunter Minstrel. Anyway, his early video’s i thought had a sense of fun , adventure and real charm in them as he sailed in and out of many of the small rivers and harbours from the Soylent around to the east coast and beyond. Personally i think that although his already good video quality went up , the interest and fun factor went down when he transferred his sailing and filming to a Westerly Centaur – in my opinion perhaps the most boring and charmless boat ever built .

My response as i watching Dylan’s early video’s was that i really wanted to do the same thing but in a slightly different way – in fact with an even smaller boat than his Minstrel ; what i did though was went and bought a similar boat myself (Hunter Liberty) and started exploring my end of the west country in her. While i always intended to start a round UK voyage just like Dylan’s it kind-of felt like a bit of a copycat idea and instead i turned my attention south and headed for France a couple of times ; the latest voyage being some 3 months of continuous sailing and living aboard. With the Liberty though i often reversed the famous line from the film ‘Jaws’ though and frequently said “we’ll need a smaller boat” !.

I’d still like to go back to the idea of sailing and rowing a smaller boat around the UK though except that i’d like to somehow combine the sailing with some ‘wild’ camping and exploring ‘bushcraft’ style. That almost calls for a smaller boat than can cope with a coastal passage but then could be sailed and rowed easily up into the many estuaries and rivers that i find i enjoy so much. Of course now Brittany is off the menu even though this kind of sailing and exploring would be perfect one day again…..maybe…..but lets not bank on that while the current attitude over there is so politically anti-English. It’s looking highly likely that the present situation in Europe will continue well into next year and possibly beyond – and i guess even then that it’ll be a major ball-ache to take a boat over there on a trailer, less i think to do it under sail and oar. So yes, one day this little cruising dinghy is going to be sailed and rowed across the channel one day…..in reasonable conditions……and that’s just for a starter.

I still have my sights set on a Uk based small boat adventure race like the Everglades Challenge and yes i would still like to sail in that event myself with my own boat so…..add 2 and 2 together and we get the answer of a small boat transatlantic via the easy (long) route via the Canaries and the Eastern Caribbean and then on to Florida, the gulf and the keys and maybe a small boat voyage up the east coast of the USA .

Part 2 in the next post.

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