Saturday, November 23, 2013

Time to Order for Winter Projects

The weather is getting colder in the north and our minds move to thoughts of staying inside to keep warm. Staving off cabin fever from being trapped inside becomes a problem, particularly if you have children. Keeping them interested and active can become a problem as the cold months go by.

Building a small boat in your workshop or basement can do wonders in this situation,. It draws the young ones away from computer games and cell phones, teaching them new skills that they can use throughout their lives. They will be helping to create something with character, something that would not have existed without their work, which will give them a lot of fun in the warmer months and which they will appreciate more and look after better because they helped to create it with their own hands. We all take more care of things if we had a big hand in creating them.
Argie 10 built by 2 young brothers while Dad was away
We have designs that are well-suited to building in small and cozy spaces. Some of these boats have been built in bedrooms or dining rooms, even apartments or basements that have only standard doors through which to remove them when completed. They can be built with basic hand tools; you don't need a well-outfitted workshop nor to be a woodworking craftsman to produce a small boat of which you can be proud.

Louis de Lassus built his Argie 15 in his Paris basement
The plans to kick off a project like this make a good Christmas present, whether for a husband or one of the children. If this is your plan, please order soon to ensure that you have the package before Christmas. We will soon be closed for a few weeks and will not be able to supply from 10th December through to 14th January.

To see our full range of designs, please go to and our pricelist.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Didi Sport 15 - A Family Boat with Juice

Some of my supporters have been waiting for this boat for a long time. I have posted sneak previews of the Didi Sport 15 (or DS15) but the design was taking its time to reach completion. It was leap-frogged in the design queue by designs that were much more demanding of my time.

Now the plans are complete aside from some minor details and the prototype is into the final stages of build. This boat is looking very good, with interesting finishes and excellent standard of finish. The builder is creating a work of art of which he will be justifiably very proud.

This design, like the Didi 950 that I introduced last week, is a development from the Didi Mini Mk3. It has a modern hull shape with topside chine aft, built from plywood.

Didi Sport 15 hull, radius chine with topside chine.
The concept of the DS15 is a boat that can be stable and safe for family sailing and raid type racing, exciting as a little ballasted sportboat and super-fast as an unballasted trapeze dinghy. Choose your style of sailing or switch back-and-forth depending on conditions or who will be sailing with you.

Didi Sport 15 rig
The rig combines a reefable square-top mainsail with self-tacking jib, as working sails, with an asymmetrical spinnaker on retracting bowsprit to supercharge it downwind. It also has a light drifter/reacher Genoa for light airs when your wife is aboard and doesn't want the excitement of the asymmetrical.

Didi Sport 15 Prototype, round bilge from plywood.

Didi Sport 15 plywood framework ready for stringers.
It can be built by amateur or professional builders, from plans and offsets, from plans and full-size Mylar patterns or from plans and a CNC plywood kit. Go to our pricelist to order plans or plans and patterns. Go to our USA kits page to order a kit of all plywood components, accurately cut by CNC router.

Please visit our website at for more info on this and our other designs.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Kits for our Plywood Boats

Kits for our plywood boats have been available in USA for more than 10 years. This has had mixed success, depending on who was cutting the kits. Following on the sale of the company that had the rights to cut our kits, the quality of service deteriorated to a level that was no longer tolerable, so I rescinded the cutting rights. That brought us to the current arrangement of marketing the kits ourselves and sub-contracting the cutting to Chesapeake Light Craft in Annapolis.

This has worked out very well. The quality of the kits supplied to date has been excellent and the shipping has been both economically priced and efficient. They have cut numerous dinghy kits, including the Dixi Dinghy  and the Paper Jet.
Plywood Dixi Dinghy, fun little 3:1 dinghy to row/motor/sail.
The are currently preparing to cut a large kit, comprising 61 sheets of plywood, for a Didi 950 that will be shipped to a builder in Ohio. This is a radius chine plywood boat with topside chine that is designed to the Class 950 Rule and makes a very nice fast cruiser, in addition to its primary racing purpose.
3D image of radius chine plywood Didi 950
We have also sent them an order for a smaller but nevertheless substantial kit. This is for a Didi 29 Retro that will be shipped to a builder in North Carolina.This is also a radius chine plywood boat but without the topside chine. It is a development, in classic image, from our popular Didi 26 trailer-sailer design and will be rigged with the cruising rig option of the two gaff rigs that we supply with the design.
3D image of radius chine plywood Didi 29 Retro
I have reworked the panel files for these large kits so that all parts that are larger than a sheet of plywood are jointed with jigsaw joints. These joints are easy to assemble and produce very accurate panels.  Click to read about jigsaw joints.

The range of plywood kits that we can offer in USA is expanding fast. Click to see the full list. If there is a plywood design for which you want a kit, please email Dudley and ask for a price. It may take a week or two to rework the panel files to suit the Chesapeake Light Craft format then get a price for the kit but we will get that info to you as speedily as we can.

If you are outside of the USA, you can still order one of our kits from our suppliers in other countries .

To see our full range of boat designs, please visit

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Racing to Rio - A perspective on Crossing the South Atlantic Ocean

I have crossed the South Atlantic under sail four times. Three times it was with full crew from Cape Town, South Africa, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in the Cape to Rio Race. The other crossing was double-handed and going the other way. I will do it again in January but this time the build-up is proving to be very different.

First, I am not there to prepare the boat for the race myself. I have always been there to take charge of the preparations, with much able assistance from my crew and my family. This time I must rely on someone else to sort out any issues and to ready "Black Cat" for her 3,250 nautical mile voyage. That distance is nearly 3800 land miles and more than 50% longer than the famed Trans-Pac Race.

This voyage is small compared with a round-the-world voyage but it is, nevertheless, a major voyage and it is across waters that see very little traffic. Aside from commercial fishing ships and the boats that are racing, there are very few vessels crossing this ocean at any time. We have to be self-sufficient, to take care of whatever situation fate and the weather gods might send our way. We can't make a VHF call to the Coast Guard or US Towing to come fetch us. Each boat has to rely on its crew in an emergency and vice-versa; boat and crew are totally inter-dependent and both have to be fully prepared.  And, in the traditions of all seafarers, all boats are ready and willing to assist each other if needed.

I am very grateful for the work that is being done in Cape Town by Dave Immelman in preparing "Black Cat" in my absence. Dave will be my navigator for this race and was her skipper for the 1,800 mile Governor's Cup Race from Simonstown to St Helena Island in December last year. He is the only one on the crew who lives in the Cape, so a big load has fallen on his shoulders ahead of this race. The Cat is now 18 years old and Dave has been charged with upgrading anything that needed upgrading, from structure through to finishes, rig, systems, equipment and sails. In many respects the St Helena Race served as a good shake-down to highlight any issues that have developed in the years since I handed her over to her current owner, Adrian Pearson.  I look forward to test-sailing her on Table Bay with all the new goodies that she has gained since I last sailed on her.
Racing under spinnaker into inky darkness.
Sean Collins & Adrian Pearson in the cockpit.
 The other difference is that for previous races I lived in Cape Town and  this time I live in USA. In Cape Town I was always surrounded by people from the sailing community. Cape Town is a beautiful place to sail, one of the best in the world. It can also be one of the toughest places in the world to sail, with sometimes violent weather and extremely testing seas. In that environment the fact that I was soon to cross an ocean on a small boat was of passing interesting but not considered to be too much out of the ordinary. After all, if you can sail in Cape Town you can sail anywhere, so what could be special about an ocean crossing?

This time it is very different. My neighbours know that I design boats for a living. They have not seen the big boats that I have built, only the little Paper Jet that took shape in their neighbourhood and drags around faithfully behind my minivan when I am going sailing. They have not seen the boisterous to wild conditions in which so much of the Cape Town racing happens. Here I am a bit of an oddity because I just don't fit into the mould. They are very supportive of what I am doing but don't really comprehend it; the who, where, what and how of sailing across an ocean. I must admit that I do enjoy explaining to them what I will be doing, where we will sail, the beauty of Cape Town and Rio, the good and bad experiences of sailing a small boat across thousands of miles of open water, through good weather and bad and the real or imagined dangers. In their view I fit in somewhere between eccentric and totally crazy, leaning mostly toward the crazy end of the scale. They worry mostly that it is a very dangerous thing to do.

The truth of a voyage is really somewhere between how it is viewed by my friends in Cape Town and those here in Virginia Beach. In each of the races that I have sailed we have had to cope with at least one big storm and another one or two smaller ones. Yes, it is dangerous; but we do what we can to reduce the danger. As far as I can recall, only one person has died during the Cape to Rio Race in the 42 year history of the event. Thousands have participated, two boats have sunk on the race, two have sunk on the return voyage and only one person has died. That was from a heart attack that would likely have happened on land anyway.
Gavin Muller repairing sails during the 1996 race.

We all take precautions because it is dangerous to be on a small boat way out of sight of land. The boats are all fully equipped with a wide range of safety equipment, which has to be maintained according to mandated schedules. All boats are scrutinied before being allowed to start. All boats have to prove a high level of experience and/or certification among the crew before they are accepted. That experience and certification is for ocean experience, navigational and seamanship skills and the ability to take care of medical emergencies with the very comprehensive medical kit that we carry with us.

Additional to those documented requirements, every skipper sets his/her own standards for behavior on their particular boat. I can't vouch for other skippers but on "Black Cat" we go into safety mode in bad weather and from dusk to dawn, when no person is allowed on deck without first putting on their safety harness and clipping onto one of the many secure points on deck before exiting the interior of the boat. Along with this, a clear head is always required, 24/7, so there is no drinking of alcohol except for one optional drink at happy hour each day. There will be plenty of time to imbibe in Brazil.

An ocean crossing like this does not need to be dreaded but neither is it a cakewalk. We need exciting activities in our lives to build the memories that we cherish. They help to remind us that we are alive and have a purpose in our lives, they give us the material with which to tell the stories that will entertain our friends and grandchildren in the autumn years to come. If we don't reach those autumn years we still come out ahead because we have had a lot of fun and excitement along the way.