Monday, March 30, 2020

We Are Open For Business

I didn't realise that it is more than two months since my last post. Time flies when you are having fun, or busy. I am working on a 71ft aluminium cruiser, with the detailing taking a lot of time.

Our lives are being disrupted by the COVID-19 virus that is bringing the world to a standstill. Here in Virginia we are not yet in a lock-down situation but that is probably in our future before long. For now we are social distancing, chatting to neighbours at a distance and keeping contact with faraway family by Skype and WhatsApp.

I work from home, with my wife Dehlia as my only co-worker. We are able to work on as before despite the restrictions.

Many people are taking a break from their normal work, some enforced by authorities and others by choice, to ensure isolation from potential infection sources. We all hope that the situation will return to normal within a few weeks but that looks more and more unlikely.

When stuck at home, staying productive helps to fill the days and lift the spirits. A big enough project can involve most or all of the family, racking up quality time and keeping minds off wanting to be elsewhere. Making something worthwhile with our own hands is very satisfying and can provide the balance needed to keep us sane, reducing cabin fever.

If that something worthwhile that you build is a boat then you will have a new family toy when summer comes or when we can get to the water again. Some of my happiest times as a child were those spent sailing or fishing with my dad. As a teenager those prized memories were made on the water, rowing our family dinghies and, especially, sailing my own boat.

If you are already building one of our boats then nothing changes. Our personal backup, included in the price of our plans, continues as usual and we can advise when needed. If you are considering building, we will do all that we can to help you. We have offered study packs and dinghy plans for delivery as PDF files by email as an alternative to traditional paper prints. We will now expand this to include construction plans, under our normal terms of sale.

In the past most customers have been happy with paper plans sent by first class mail, transported by the airlines and delivered by the postal services in the destination country. There have been massive cutbacks in air travel, so most of the aircraft that would have carried the packages to faraway places are grounded. With so few planes, airmail services are under pressure and have slowed considerably, aggravated by slower delivery in the destination country due to restrictions in movement of people. The alternative of courier service speeds up delivery but is costly. Receiving the plans as PDF files may be a viable option for some builders.

PDF files do have drawbacks, related to the size of the drawings that you will be using. Most of them were drawn to A1 size of 491x841mm (23.4x33.1"). These are way too big to print on a standard A4 or letter size printer but you can view them on-screen and zoom in to see details. You may be able to print sections of a drawing or your printer may have a nesting feature to print in sections for taping together into a single sheet. The best option is to take the files to a print shop for printing on a large format inkjet printer.

Here are samples of drawings to show what you will receive for two different types of designs. Click on the links to see them online, which will have limited clarity. Download into your computer and view in a PDF Reader program. Zoom in to appreciate the greater clarity that is available.
Sample PDF file of a CAD drawing, applicable to most of our designs drawn since 1995.
Sample PDF file of a hand-drawn drawing, applicable to most of our designs before 1995.

Some of our designs include full-size patterns, which we normally print on 36" Mylar roll media. Some of them are as long as 16ft, totally impractical to print in small sections with an expectation of accuracy. These must be printed on a wide format printer. You can print on paper instead of Mylar if you store them in a sealed plastic sleeve and use them within a few weeks. Delaying their use risks dimensional change due to variations in humidity.

Whichever delivery method you choose, we can supply any design from our pricelist, except for the Trika 540. This was drawn by a colleague and is only supplied as paper prints, shipped from Germany.

We wish all of our supporters and families continued good health through this worldwide crisis.                                                                                                                  

Friday, January 24, 2020

Memories of a Trans-Atlantic Race

This week I was sent a photo that brought back good memories, 24-year old memories of our first Cape to Rio Race on "Black Cat", in 1996. It was sent to me by Gavin Muller, who was the youngest in our 5-man crew. He took it on the last night of our race, as we were sailing between our Brazilian landfall of Cabo Frio and the finish line off Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro.
From left, Adrian Pearson, Brian Cole, Dudley Dix and Sean Collins. Sadly, two are no longer with us, the others are scattered around the world.
The Cape to Rio Race is 3500 miles of tradewind ocean racing, starting in Cape Town and finishing in Rio de Janeiro. A race like this breeds friendships that last a lifetime. Most of us were good friends before the race and the three weeks in close quarters in the middle of nowhere, in company of seabirds and the occasional fish or whale, cemented those friendships forever. Gavin was the odd-man-out at the start of the race, being much younger than the rest of us, but he too became a friend for life.
Gavin Muller repairing our light spinnaker.
Adrian Pearson (RIP) was my partner in "Black Cat". Brian Cole introduced us while I was building our boat for the race, bringing him in as crew. Later he joined me to co-finance the project.

Brian Cole (RIP) was the oldest in our crew, at 60. He was a director of North Sails Cape Town and a regular on the crew of my previous boat, "Concept Won". He joined us on this race as navigator for his first and only ocean-crossing voyage. His wife, Marion, was co-skipper with Judy Provoyeur of the all-lady crew of the Schumacher 41 "Kelly Girl", our closest handicap competition in the race. On handicap, they had to reach Rio more than 20 minutes ahead of "Black Cat" to beat us.

Sean Collins was a client many years ago for a rig redesign on his cruiser. He became a friend, sailing with me for many, many miles on "Concept Won". We raced together uncountable times in fully-crewed and double-handed races around the buoys and around the coasts of the Cape of Good Hope, quite justly also named "Cape of Storms". We had much experience sailing in mild weather and in those storms.

Gavin Muller, at 21, was not long out of college. His math teacher, an acquaintance and also a boat owner at Royal Cape Yacht Club, had asked me if I had a crew slot available for Gavin, who had previously sailed a Cape to Rio Race with him while still a school boy. Another friend of mine had to withdraw from the crew and Gavin slid into his spot.
Another of Gavin's photos. This one shows me in the bosun's chair working on the headstay foil, damaged by the spinnaker pole. The big cat watches over me.
"Black Cat" is the prototype of my Didi 38 radius chine plywood design. I designed her primarily for this race, starting to formulate the concept while racing to Rio in 1993 as navigator and sailing master on the Shearwater 39 "Ukelele Lady". I built her in my garden in Hout Bay, a suburb of Cape Town. The build took 2 years with help from my wife Dehlia, Sean Collins and another friend, Nigel Watkins, who didn't join us for the race.

Part-way through that race, with the nearest land (the Brazilian island of Trinidade) about 500 miles away, we had a close call with a boat of about 40ft that was sailing unlit on a moonless night. I was in my berth under the cockpit, dozing with my brain on alert as usual. Brian and Adrian were in the cockpit and I heard a discussion start, trying to identify something ahead of us in the dark. We were under spinnaker, averaging about 10 knots, so closing pretty fast. I joined them in the cockpit to see that we were on course to T-bone this wooden boat. Two wooden boats colliding in mid-ocean would not have been pretty. The skipper of the other boat suddenly appeared on deck, shining a flashlight on his mainsail. Within another 15 seconds we would have been past him and would have made much noise to advise him that he had missed out on the action of unidentified ships passing in the night. I suspect that he still holds those images in his head of our big cat spinnaker bearing down on him fast.

We figured from his course and position that he was possibly en-route from Cape Horn to Europe. Next morning on the daily fleet report I told of our near-miss. The story appeared in the Cape Town newspaper next day, although not entirely accurately reported. We were also the subject of the daily cartoon, the original of which now hangs proudly on my wall at home.
The cartoon drawn by Grogan for the Cape Argus newspaper.
We had not seen our competition "Kelly Girl" since the start but they were always close behind in the handicap race. We hadn't seen another boat for many days although the position reports showed that there were always others somewhere over the horizon. Trinidade was a mark of the course and, as we approached the island toward sunset one day, we saw "Kelly Girl" behind us on the horizon. After that we saw each other at least once a day.

A few days after rounding Trinidade we were sailing in 5000m of inky blue water that suddenly turned brown and murkey. We hadn't seen a seabird for a few days and had hooked nothing on our fishing lure, trailed for many days. At the same time the sky was full of birds and our lure hooked a long-fin tuna. Within 5 minutes we had three of them aboard before deciding to keep the lure aboard rather than have nature think us greedy. The truth is that, with one fish for dinner that night and the other two in the freezer, we could not cope with any more. Within an hour we were back into inky blue water and 5000m of water, having completed our crossing of the 60m depth of the Almirante Saldanha Sea Mount. In another million years or so maybe this will be another island in the Atlantic.

Meanwhile our race-within-a-race carried on with us sometimes ahead and other times "Kelly Girl" appearing out of a thunder storm ahead of us. Cabo Frio was our first landfall in mainland Brazil and we rounded that promontory abeam of each other and 100 yards apart. We finished about 3am that night, about an hour ahead of "Kelly Girl", with the 20 minute handicap advantage in hand as well. Another 4 years on, in the 2000 Cape to Rio Race that same boat was skippered by circumnavigator Anthony Steward, who finished about 20 minutes ahead of us. These two boats are very closely matched for ocean racing.
Relaxing in the Bay of Islands after the race.
Since that 2000 Rio Race "Black Cat" has crossed this ocean twice more, to total six Atlantic crossings. She has also raced the 1700 mile Governor's Cup Race from Cape Town to St Helena Island twice, including line- and handicap-honours in the 2014/15 race.

It is now 24 years that "Black Cat" has been sailing. She has nearly 100 sisters on the water or in build. She has also spawned another 16 performance designs in sizes from 15 to 55ft for a wide range of concepts. These range from monohull dinghies to trailer-sailers and large catamarans, even fast little gaffers. More than 500 boats are on the water or being built to this range of designs. Most are amateur projects, with builders producing impressive quality.
Didi 29 Retro, a gaffer with a great turn of speed.
DH550, a very comfortable and eye-catching cruising cat.
Both of the boats above, as different as they may appear, are derivatives of the Didi 38 design. To see our other plywood designs go to Or to see our full range of designs of all types and materials, go to our main website or our mobile website.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Dix 38 Pilot "Spailpin" Antarctic Voyage

The yacht "Spailpin" is a steel Dix 38 Pilot, owned and skippered by Barry Kennedy. She is currently in the Antarctic, on her second voyage to that wild and very remote part of our world.

She was built in South Africa by Luke Fisher as his family cruiser, named "Bryana". He competed in the 1700 mile Governors Cup Race from South Africa to St Helena Island in 2012, with his wife and two teenage children as crew. Barry Kennedy bought her from Luke, renamed her "Spailpin" and made upgrades to ready her for more vigorous sailing adventures than she had done with Luke and family.
As "Bryana, when Luke Fisher owned her.
Wikipedia defiles a spailpin as a wandering landless labourer, an itinerant or seasonal farm worker in Ireland. Others also offer a rascal or layabout as alternatives. Seeing where she is now and how hard she and Barry have worked to be there, I don't think that the "layabout" handle will fit. That said, she did hang out for most of 2019 in the Falkland Islands between her two voyages.
"Spailpin" hanging out in the Falkland Islands this year.
Prior to her Antarctic voyage a year ago, Barry and "Spailpin" cruised the fjords of Patagonia. These photos are from that voyaging to some of the most incredible scenery in the world.

Look carefully and you will see "Spailpin" in the middle of that sea of ice.

Moored to ice.
Serene but very cold near to the bottom of the world.
Two weeks ago Barry and I exchanged emails when "Spailpin" was in port in Ushuaia, Argentina, the most southern city in the world. Barry was preparing and stocking her for her voyage back to Antarctica while waiting for two crew to join him. Since then they have reached Antactica and are anchored in the sheltered waters of Enterprise Island.
Wind patterns over the Southern Ocean on Christmas Day 2019, showing the track of "Spailpin" from Ushuaia, at the top, to her location at the red dot, at Enterprise Island.
Their crossing last year was very rough. This year they had much calmer weather, with only a few hours of gales. When passing Cape Horn it was calm enough for them to anchor and go ashore to visit the lighthouse and memorial. You can follow the travels of "Spailpin" at

See more about the Dix 38 Pilot and our other designs on our main website or our mobile website.