Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Anthony Steward - Around Alone in an Open Boat

More than 20 years ago Anthony Steward sailed around the world on a tiny open boat. He took the mould plug from my TLC 19 trailer-sailer and turned it into a boat to circum-navigate the world. Nobody had done it before him and nobody has done it since.

Ant Steward's little boat shipwrecked in the Seychelles
Anthony has always been very modest about his achievement and has done very little to publicise it. Most of the publicity that it has received has been through articles that I have written for magazines, the article on my website and his chapter in my book "Shaped by Wind & Wave".

I am pleased to see that this has now changed. A video that was made 20 years ago, documenting his voyage, is now on YouTube. It is worth the 30 minutes to watch it, to understand just how tough this voyage was.

Anthony modified my little boat extensively to serve the purpose that he needed. We have many designs to take you more comfortably around the world or just to take you across your local pond. Please visit

Monday, October 28, 2013

Wrap-up of Georgetown Wooden Boat Show

Last weekend we exhibited our Paper Jet on the Georgetown Wooden Boat Show in South Carolina. This was our 2nd time at this show, having been there in 2009 and won a special award for our Paper Jet. This time she wasn't lonely and was in the company of two sisters from the area. The show was on Saturday 19th October, on the Georgetown waterfront.

Three Paper Jets at Georgetown Wooden Boat Show
In the photo above, the yellow boat in the middle is my prototype, which you have probably seen many times before. The turquoise boat on the right belongs to Ted Bullock of Barrier Island Boatbuilders in Charleston. His boat is not yet complete and was displayed with the mast free-standing and no sails. The white boat in the background belongs to Bob Turner of Pawleys Island and was completed the week before the show, with the mainsail being set for the first time at the show.

Bob's Mylar sails were supplied by i-Sails . My sails are Dacron and supplied by Baxter Sails but they also offer them in Mylar. For those who are interested, you can compare the two sails in the photos. Mine is a fathead sail shaped to my original design. Bob's Mylar sail is a more modern squaretop sail to the i-Sails design that is being used in Europe. It has a marginally wider head and considerably less roach.

It will be interesting to compare the efficiency of the two sails when we can sail against each other. We intended to do that the evening before the show but heavy rain washed that plan away.

As always, my good wife, Dehlia, was at the show with me. Over the years she has become very competent and knowledgeable of our designs. She is a big help to me for talking to existing and potential builders of our boats and only has to refer the more technical questions to me.

Dehlia chatting to a visitor at the show.
We had a good flow of visitors all day. We were pleased to be visited by a few people who are already building our boats, including one who is building the Didi 29 Retro with cruising rig in North Carolina. Thanks to all who came to chat, we will be back again in a few years.

To see our full range of designs, please visit

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Radius Chine Plywood Class 950

The Didi 950 is our newest design and the plans are now nearing completion. They show a very modern boat that is designed to comply with the Class 950 Rules and which can be built by any reasonably competent amateur woodworker.

Sail plan of Didi 950
The Class 950 Rule produces a fast boat that is great for level boat-for-boat racing. The rule results in reasonable proportions and features, for a safe and strong boat with comfortable accommodation that is also good for a performance cruiser.

Class 950 accommodation
Construction is radius chine plywood with a hard chine aft in the topsides. This format produces a very modern hull that is built mostly from a very low-tech sheet material, yet looks as good as any moulded composite boat that can only be built with skills that most amateurs don't have. Most men are comfortable working with wood and this construction method allows them to use those skills to build a competitive boat.
3D Profile of Didi 950
The more that I look at this boat the more that I would like to be on it for offshore or ocean racing. This would be a great boat for sailing trans-Atlantic in the Cape to Rio Race or going across the Pacific in the Trans-Pac Race. Close-reaching to broad-reaching under asymmetrical and powered up by water ballast tanks, she will be a thrilling boat, reeling off the miles like few others in this size range can do.
3D View with contours to highlight hull shape.
Someone close by, please build one of these boats. I need to sail on this one.

For more info go to and visit our website at to see our other designs.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Georgetown Wooden Boat Show This Weekend

Saturday 19th October is Georgetown Wooden Boat Show, on the waterfront of Georgetown South Carolina. We will have our prototype Paper Jet on display, among the land exhibits on Front Street.

This year we will enjoy the company of two other Paper Jets, local to that area. Bob Turner of Pawleys Island has just completed his boat and Ted Bullock of Barrier Island Boatbuilders in Charleston will exhibit his one, which is nearing completion.
Paper Jet #007. Numbers are now approaching 80 boats.
The Paper Jet is very different in concept from most other boats that will be on display. The very light but robust construction and thoroughly modern image of these boats provides a sharp contrast with the generally classically styled boats, of mostly traditional construction methods, of other exhibits.

If you are within day-trip range of Georgetown, please come by to talk about the Paper Jet and any other of our wide range of designs that might interest you.

The red boat in the photo above is for sale. It was professionally built with nice detailing. If you are all-thumbs when it comes to woodworking then this boat can provide a painless route to getting afloat in a light and fast performance dinghy. It won't be at the show but we will be able to give details and put you in contact with the seller.

To see our full range of designs, please visit .

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Get your Orders to us Early

The end of 2013 is coming fast. We normally have a rush of orders around year-end but this year it is going to be different. Remember, I will be sailing in the Cape to Rio Race and that is going to create considerable disruption in delivery of orders. I will fly out on December 14th, via Istanbul in Turkey to Cape Town, South Africa. After sailing across the South Atlantic, I will return home from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, about the first week of February 2014.

Dehlia is the person who glues this operation together. She is my wife and she receives the orders, processes the payments, prints the drawings and magically sends them all over the world, allowing me to spend my time drawing pretty pictures of boats and backing up you, our builders. Normally Dehlia would continue unflustered while I am away playing boats. This time it will be different, Dehlia is also going to Cape Town, to wave goodbye tearfully from the dock. She will leave our home and office before I do, on 3rd December. She will not be back to resume business until 14th January 2014. For a month there will be nobody here to print drawings.

Please don't leave your order until the last minute, we may not be able to supply. This is even more important if you intend to order a plywood kit to build one of our boats. It takes more time to set up a kit order than only to supply plans.

We hope to set up systems to take orders while away, for items that can be supplied by email. That will be for our 3:1 dinghies, study packs and eBook "Shaped by Wind & Wave". Paper orders will have to wait until after Dehlia returns 14th January.

Please send your orders by 29th November. After Dehlia leaves I will be able to process and supply only limited orders.

Thank you for your support both past and future. I apologise for any convenience that this disruption may cause you, we will be back as soon as possible.

Go to to see our full range of designs.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Crew of "Black Cat" for Cape to Rio

 Our crew for the 2014 Cape to Rio Race is mostly the same as we had for the 1996 running of this race. Here are bios for two of the crew.

Gavin Muller

Gavin Muller was 21 years old on the 1996 Race. He was the baby of the crew by a long way and received the brunt of the good-natured insults and joking on the voyage from the rest of us. He took it all in very good spirits, was a great crewman to have with us and proved to be very capable in all aspects of sailing our boat at high speed across the Atlantic.

Now, 18 years later, Gavin is a much more respectable age. At least he is now more than half my own age. Gavin can't have had any permanent damage from all of our ribbing on that race because it was he that put the thought in front of me to get the 1996 crew together again for the 2014 race. Wonderful idea, Gavin.

He obviously has a good sense of the ridiculous. The bio that he sent me begins with "I started sailing quite late in life at the age of 14". Heck, most sailors wish that they could have started sailing at that age instead of 30, 40 or even 60 years old. When you are 21 then 14 must be relatively late in life. After his late start in sailing, Gavin hasn't wasted his time and has accomplished much. His achievements include:-

Sank an Optimist on the start line of his first Interschools Regatta.
Rose to captain of his Bishops High School Sailing Club
Was part of the youngest crew to sail the Cape to Rio Race, in 1993
Crewed on "Black Cat" in Cape to Rio Race 1996
Member of line-honours crew in St Helena Race 1996 and sailed return to Cape Town.
Achieved Yachtmaster Offshore in 1997, with better grades than he managed in school.
Sailed his 2nd St Helena Race in 1998 and return voyage to Cape Town.
Moved to England Feb 1999, where he still lives.
Sailed 4 Fastnet Races and all qualifying races.
Sailed 7 Cowes Week Regattas.
Sailed 8 Round the Island Races (Isle of Wight).

Gavin is married to Nicole and they have two young children, Alice and George. He is Head of Operations at one of the most prestigious catering companies in London, so I guess that qualifies him to serve us some imaginative high-class meals in the middle of the South Atlantic.
Gavin with wife Nicole and children, Alice and George.

Gavin in Solent sailing garb.

Sean Collins

In my 60 years of sailing, Sean is the one who has sailed more miles with me than anyone else. We always clicked together on boats and have confidence in each other doing the right thing when needed, including to extricate us from some silly situation into which I have put us.

Sean first sailed at about 7 years old, with an uncle who owned an Enterprise dinghy. The bug bit and he broadened his sailing experiences with the Sea Scouts. Sean's first offshore experience came in 1976 with his uncle, sailing from Durban to Cape Town on a newly-launched 45ft ferro-cement cruiser. Continuing further on the long-term cruise was thwarted by the need to finish schooling.

Sean is a surfer and spent a few years sailing Hobie cats before buying his own first offshore boat. This was a 28ft plywood double-ended ketch named "Elise". After breaking the mizzen mast she had lee-helm problems and that was what brought Sean and me together for our long association. He commissioned me to redesign the rig as a cutter. He sold "Elise" after he started crewing for me on my CW975 "Concept Won" sometime later.

Sean estimates that he has sailed roughly 10,000 sea miles with me on "Concept Won" and "Black Cat". He was my chosen partner whenever available for the double-handed races and regattas at Royal Cape Yacht Club and Hout Bay Yacht Club. He sailed with me on numerous Double Cape Races, Telkom Regattas, Old Brown Table Bay Regattas, Hout Bay Admirals Regattas, Hout Bay Double Regattas and the weekend and Wednesday night racing at RCYC, as well as the 1996 Cape to Rio Race.

Sean was in the crew of "Black Cat" right from the start, long before she even hit the water. He spent many weekends helping with building her, much of it doing a sterling and nasty job of epoxy coating and fibreglassing the joints of the drinking water tanks, to ensure that they would not fail us in mid-ocean.

Sean moved to England in 1998, with wife Lanesse (now ex-wife) and three daughters. There they spent time sailing the estuaries of the Thames and acquiring the new skills of safely navigating large tides and strong currents. Eventually they bought "Vortex", a Nicholson 35, which Sean refurbished for family cruising. In 2004 they headed South to find sunshine and spent 16 months cruising to the Canaries via France, Spain and Portugal. From there they all flew back to settle back in Cape Town. A year later Sean and his nephew double-handed "Vortex" to Cape Town via Cape Verde, Brazil and Tristan da Cunha.

Bad economic times in RSA resulted in Sean working for a few years in Bahrain, where he joined the Bahrain Yacht Club to keep in sailing. Back in RSA again, work commitments keep him away from home but he gets back to Cape Town regularly. Most of his sailing is currently  on inland waters, where he is an instructor with the youth sail training programme at Mountain Yacht Club on Ebenezer Dam.
Sean with Lanesse and daughters Abbey, Kelsey & Megan
Sean on "Vortex" at Hout Bay Yacht Club.

Gavin and Sean, I look forward to sailing with both of you again.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Our Boat for Cape to Rio 2014

A few weeks ago I announced that we will sail in the Cape to Rio Race in January. If you missed it, you can read it here. Now I would like to tell a bit more about the boat.

Her name is "Black Cat" and she is very special in my life. I designed her, I built her in my garden and I have sailed her across the South Atlantic three times. I have also raced and cruised her for many, many miles on the notorious Cape of Good Hope waters and she formed the foundation of my best selling range of boat designs. She is the prototype of the Didi 38 design and older sister to designs from the DS15 (Didi Sport 15) through to the DH550 .
"Black Cat" with her crew on launch day.
 I started concept sketches during the 1993 Cape to Rio Race on the Shearwater 39 "Ukelele Lady". "Ukelele" is very comfortable and carried us across the Atlantic in 29 days, excellent for a cruiser.  Still, I resolved part-way across  to do the next race on a boat of my own, which would be better able to take advantage of the downwind surfing conditions found on this race.

The new boat was to be cold-moulded wood. It was to be very light, with a big rig and deep bulb keel for high performance. Light and beamy boats are uncomfortable at sea and I sometimes get seasick, so I designed her relatively narrow for comfort. Narrow beam would also make her even faster.

I had nearly 3 years to build but I had a very big problem, I had no money to start. It was nearly a year before I had money to start building. Now the problem became a lack of time to build the cold-moulded boat, so I had to find an alternative solution that would be quicker to build.

My solution was to develop a method for building a rounded hull shape from plywood, using a radius chine form developed from my metal designs. I needed it to be mostly sheet plywood for fast construction but a rounded shape for performance, aesthetic and resale value reasons.

The resulting boat was 4 tons displacement in measurement trim and with 50% ballast ratio. She turned out to be clean, simple, pretty and a delight to sail. In two Cape to Rio Races she carried us across the Atlantic in 21 days in vastly different conditions. In one race she topped out as 18 knots and covered 250 miles in 24 hours. On the other her top speed was 22 knots but her 250 mile record went unbroken.

Where did her name come from? She is, after all, a yellow monohull and not a black catamaran. Black Cat is the top-selling peanut butter brand in South Africa and they sponsored her in the 1996 race. The kids knew her as the "Peanut Butter Boat" and her big  Black Cat spinnakers attracted a lot of attention.
Moving well in very light breeze.
She is quick on all headings in light breezes. The above photo was taken while racing on St Helena Bay in only 3-4 knots of breeze, a race in which she took line honours with a very comfortable lead over the 2nd placed boat, also a 38ft cruiser/racer.

She also loves to run free in a strong breeze. From cracked off on a fetch through to a run, she flies in strong conditions. Like me, she loves to surf. I surfed her at 22 knots down a very big wave mid-Atlantic after a storm.

Yet, she remains a home-built plywood boat and I look forward to spending 3 weeks with her and her crew as we cross the ocean once again. In the next few weeks I will write about the crew who will keep me and "Black Cat" company on this voyage.

To see our full range of designs, please visit .

PS. Entries for the race currently stand at 26 boats, with another 19 pending. The race website is at .