Saturday, June 28, 2014

40 Years of Wooden Boats

Dehlia and I are in currently soaking in the deep maritime history that is Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. We are here to exhibit our little Paper Jet skiff on the 23rd Annual Wooden Boat Show. We have been here every year since first showing her in 2007, when she won the Outstanding Innovation prize. As always, she is attracting a tremendous amount of attention and we just ride along on her coat tails, happy to meet and talk with those who stop by to admire her. She is just so different from everything else around her that she has to grab a few minutes out of the day from all who come by.

This year's show is something special though. It also marks the 40th year of publication of Wooden Boat Magazine, a milestone that was celebrated at a big party at Latitude 41 restaurant last night. We were rubbing shoulders with many of the major characters in the sector of the boating industry that has anything and everything to do with boats built from wood. I say "characters" rather than "players" because most of these people are indeed larger than life characters when compared with much of today's bland, washed-out and politically correct world.
Masthead from Wooden Boat Facebook page.
My direct association with Wooden Boat does not go back anywhere near 40 years but it has been nearly 20 years and I have collected the magazine from long before that. I have visited their home in Brooklin, Maine, on a number of occasions, have met many of their staff on visits to the rambling mansion from which they produce their wonderful magazines and I have had close associations with a few of them for the past 10 years or so. We have become good friends in those years. They even flew me to Maine a few years ago to be a judge in their design competition, run in partnership with the sister magazine, Professional Boatbuilder.

I have come to see this organisation as a big, close-knit family. I did not realise how big, nor how close-knit, until last night's party. All of them were introduced to us and the function of each was described. Most have worked there for a very long time. Personally, I think it is the winter snow and ice that traps them there for part of the year and the exquisite beauty keeps them transfixed the rest of the time.

In all those years I have never known who was at the head of this place that produces such wonderful inspiration to everyone who loves wooden boats and creating beautiful craft from nature's original engineering materials. It was quite funny how I found out who that person is and became lucky enough to meet him.

We were sitting at a big round table with about 8 other people, some known to me and some not. Steve White, the head of Mystic Seaport Maritime Museum, was MC and had been talking for awhile when I said to Dehlia that after all these years I still didn't know who owned Wooden Boat. Hardly a minute later Steve called on John Wilson, as owner of Wooden Boat, to come to the microphone. The man sitting just two seats away from Dehlia stood up.

John told us the fascinating story of the early years of Wooden Boat magazine. He told us of his incredible naivete, optimism and hard work that launched it. It was launched at Mystic Seaport at a boatbuilding course. On the strength of just two subscriptions sold to students at that course, he had 12,000 copies printed. The rest is history.

John told us how he could never have dreamed of how his magazine would help to revitalise such a deep interest in wooden boats as it has, how it has helped to bring back to life wooden boatbuilding and restoration country-wide. John inspired us with his passion for his company, his staff and his magazines.

Never one to stand back, when open mike time came and comments were invited, I had to say my bit. That was simply to point out to John that Wooden Boat had not only had that effect country-wide but had done so all over the world. This is a close group of people who produce magazines of the highest quality and which will forever be collector's items. Personally, I never throw away any copy of either Wooden Boat or Professional Boatbuilder. Dehlia knows better than to take her life in her hands by trying to throw out any copy that she may find lying around.

These magazines are great reading and wonderful for research. I look forward to receiving them for many years to come. Happy 40th birthday to Wooden Boat.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Paper Jet flies at Cape Hatteras

Two weeks ago I towed my Paper Jet to Cape Hatteras for a few days, for my annual Iguana Surf Club Father's Day Weekend of surfing/camping/sailing and general soul revival after a very hectic year. We camp next to the water at Frisco Woods Campground, on the shores of Pamlico Sound. When there is surf I spend much time at the beach. When the surf is not good I spend more time sailing.

This year the surf conditions weren't great and I only spent half a day surfing when the wind swung into the right direction and there was a good combination of offshore breeze and swell for a few hours. That gave me time to take my Paper Jet on a few outings on the Sound. There were thunder storms in the area part of the weekend, giving some spectacular light shows and heavy downpours, with accompanying gales that arrived very swiftly and dramatically.

The storms gave some dramatic backdrops when I was sailing one evening and Dave Keegan took full advantage to take some interesting photos.
Rigging my Paper Jet on the shore of Pamlico Sound, North Carolina.
Beam-reaching away from the camera in a patch of sunlight.
Very threatening clouds but they were miles away.
Sailing on chocolate wrapper silver paper.
About an hour after these photos were taken a violent storm arrived. I anticipated it and felt it likely to be strong enough to pick up my 50kg boat and cause serious damage. I put her onto her trailer and hitched that to my car both for anchorage and shelter from the expected storm. When it came it had 40-50 knots of wind in it and later in the night there were gusts of 60+ knots recorded. Being anchored to the trailer likely saved her from being cart-wheeled along the shore.

The next evening was much more pleasant and Curtis Watson took these beautiful photos of her in the very pretty sunset.
This is a very photogenic boat.
Relaxed end to a strenuous day.
Please visit our website at to see more about this and our other designs.

Monday, June 23, 2014

New Dinghy Launches in Russia

Similar to my previous post, a new boat has also been launched in the Eastern Europe (actually two new launches). That is where the similarity ends.

This one is a thoroughly modern high-performance dinghy, rather than the small classic cruising Cape Henry 21. It is Paper Jet #65 and was launched in Moscow, Russia. Built by Konstantin Denison and Den Vakar, she is striking in her red and white colour scheme.
Ready for launch. Looks fast even when standing still.
Raising sail for the first time, with a 420 rig for training.
Paper Jet looks interesting upright or capsized.
They are using a 420 rig as a training rig for the first season before moving up to a permanent Paper Jet rig. These boats are a lot of fun to sail and can challenge the sailors to push their limits.

The other launching is an Argie 15, also in Moscow, Russia. She was built by Andrey Borodihin, who built her as a family fun boat. He reports that they have enjoyed sailing their boat, with fun and exciting sailing.
Andrey's Argie 15 in a quiet moment.
Argie 15 being chased by a smiley balloon.
Not only for calm weather, here the Argie shows her strong wind ability.
Andrey is very happy with his Argie 15 and her performance.

To read more about these designs and others, go to our main website at

Cape Henry 21 Launched in Croatia

Dean Ivancic lives in Porec, Croatia. He bought plans from us a few years ago for the Cape Henry 21. He has been working steadily on his boat and reported to me today that he launched her in April. He has sent me some rather nice photos of her under sail. She is still incomplete down below but has all that is needed to sail.

She is named "Scintilla", Italian for "spark", also the meaning of "Iskra", the Croatian name of Dean's youngest daughter.

We wish Dean and his family lots of fun and adventures in their Cape Henry 21.
"Scintilla" on one of her first outings.
Pretty from any angle.
Dean has done a nice job of building "Scintilla".
The Cape Henry 21 is surprisingly quick and has delightful manners. These boats prove that a boat doesn't have to be ugly to be fast.

For more on this design and others in our range, go to

More Argie 15 Sailing

John Read in Cape Town built himself an Argie 15  and has been sailing it a year or two. He has made a video of him sailing it in breezy and gusty conditions on Rietvlei, in the suburbs of Cape Town. John has learned much about his boat and is now very comfortable with her characteristics. In this video she shows some of the speed that these boats manage to achieve.

John is obviously enjoying his Argie 15, which is our most popular design.

The beautiful Table Mountain stands guard over Cape Town and is visible in the background of some of the shots.

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

Friday, June 20, 2014

Didi 950 Hull Skin Completed

Over the last few months we have watched as two builders on opposite sides of the world have worked on their Didi 950 projects. Mike Vermeersch in Ohio, USA, is building his boat from a kit and Fred Grimminck in Queensland, Australia, is building his from scratch.

Fred has taken a break from his boat for a couple of weeks while delivering his recently sold Didi Mini clear across Australia by road, a formidable road trip.
Fred Grimminck delivering his Didi Mini Mk2 across Australia.
Mike has been able to continue and has now completed the fairing and sanding of the radius as well as fitting the bow capping and shaping of the forefoot. His boat is looking very nice, with the final hull shape now clear.
Radius skin completed but still to be faired.
Radius faired and sanded. The jigsaw joints of the side panels are seen below the radiused panel.
Completed stern sections.
Bow capping fitted, ready for shaping.
Bow capping and forefoot shaped and sanded.
Completed bow shape. Clean and shaped from plywood.
Faired and ready for epoxy and the fibreglass reinforced areas to be done.

There are also builds of the Didi 950 progressing in Greece and Latvia.

To browse our full range of designs, please visit

Thursday, June 19, 2014

23rd Wooden Boat Show, Mystic Seaport

Every year Wooden Boat Publications in Brooklin, Maine, hosts the Wooden Boat Show. This year is the 23rd edition of this annual show, one of my favourites. After moving around to various locations over the years, it has settled into Mystic Seaport as a pretty much permanent home.

We have exhibited our Paper Jet at this show for the past 7 years and will be there again this year. In 2007 she won the "Outstanding Innovation Award" for introducing many different concepts to wooden boatbuilding. Every year she attracts much attention, standing out as something very different among the mostly traditional craft on display by amateur and professional builders alike.
Dudley sailing Paper Jet on the beautiful Mystic River.
Paper Jet at the Wooden Boat Show 2013
Our booth at the Wooden Boat Show 2013
We will be there again this year. The show runs from 27th to 29th June and your ticket includes full access to the whole of the living museum that is Mystic Seaport. It is well worth the visit. Dehlia and I will both be at the show each day, to show Paper Jet, what other designs we have and to just chat about boats and boating adventures. We hope to meet you there.

Chesapeake Light Craft, the company that cuts and ships our USA kits, will also be there. This is your opportunity to talk to both them and us about a kit that you might like to build. More info on our plywood USA kits.

For more info about us and our boats, please visit our main website at

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Didi Mini Goes Cruising

The first boat to our Didi Mini design, drawn to the Mini 650 Rule, was built by CKD Boats of Cape Town for owner Mike O'Neill. She was named "Warlock" and never raced in anger. Mike is a superyacht captain and seldom in the same location as his little boat. Eventually he sold her and the new owner commissioned Fluid Yachts, based in the gorgeous town of Knysna, to transform her into a little fast cruiser. The photos below show "Warlock" in her original form and the transformed "iCandy".

Changes include a reworked interior with as many comforts as could be fitted into such a small hull, extension of the deck to the transom, swept-spreader rig for easier handling and a retro-fitted lifting keel to replace the 2m deep fixed keel.
"Warlock" with 2m fixed keel
"Warlock" had the old style Mk1 aft deck.
"iCandy" with lifting keel to access shallower anchorages.
"iCandy" with extended aft deck for a bigger cockpit.
"iCandy" with tall swept-spreader rig for easier control.
"iCandy" now has a retro-fitted aluminium lifting keel.
Keel-lifting tackle of "iCandy".
Looking aft from the massive forward double berth into the saloon.
The new lifting keel of "iCandy" is to our design and can be retro-fitted to any of the Didi Mini or Didi Cruise-Mini series designs. Keel-down draft is 2m, the same as the fixed keel, but it can lift to reduce draft to 1m, for access to shallow moorings or anchorages.

For more about our Didi Mini design series or our other designs, please visit our main website at .

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Argie 15 - A Boat with Multiple Personalities

The Argie 15 is our most popular design, with about 50 plans sold to builders worldwide every year. I designed it in 1988 for the Argus newspaper group in South Africa, for publication of the full plans in their newspapers around the country. The prototype was built by journalist David Biggs, who wrote their weekly DIY supplement, in which the drawings were first published. It has also been published in magazines in Australia and USA, with amateurs able to build from the articles. We can only record plan sales and have no idea how many have been built from those publications.
Newly launched Argie 15 prototype, Dudley at helm.
The Argie 15 started life as a large 3:1 dinghy, able to be rowed, sailed or motored. The design brief was for as large a dinghy as could be built from 6 sheets of plywood. To that I added the ability to be used for camp-cruising, so I laid out the cockpit to give enough length and width for two adults to sleep on air mattresses in the cockpit, under a boom tent.

Over the years that followed, many builders added side seats to make it more comfortable to sail than was possible with the thwart-type seating of the original design. Eventually I added information to the drawings for building with full-length side seats, which added another two sheets of plywood. These also increase safety for sailing in rougher water by reducing splash water entering the cockpit and adding flotation. For camp-cruising, the seats add watertight stowage compartments for clothing and food.

The Argie 15 has proven to be a very versatile boat, well beyond the scope of the original design. It was intended as a large open boat for family fun but has proven capable of so much more.
This photo of Nick Fairley's boat shows the capacity of the Argie 15 pretty well.
The late Colin Farlam, a larger-than-life character around the yacht clubs of Cape Town, liked to tell the story of his first sail in an Argie 15. He was visiting a friend at Zeekoevlei, the lake where I grew up and did most of my small boat sailing. The Zeekoevlei Yacht Club fleet was on the water, racing in quite strong conditions. There was an Argie 15 on the lawn and the friend said "Come, lets go race the Fireballs". Colin's response was "We can't race them in that". They did "race them in that" and Colin was shocked. He told me that they could hold the Fireballs on all headings except that they sailed a fraction lower to windward. Not bad for a 3:1 family dinghy. But this 3:1 family dinghy can pick up it's skirts and fly like no 3:1 family dinghy is supposed to do. Colin immediately bought one for himself and later declared to me that the Argie 15 was the best dinghy that he had ever sailed.

The Argie 15 has classic styling, with a springy sheer and good freeboard. That makes it a dry boat in lumpy water and well-suited to fishing in moderate coastal conditions. This was the plan of Pete Frielinnghaus when he fitted a centre console and 30hp outboard to his Argie 15. He reports that it can do more than 20 knots. Pretty good for a 3:1 family dinghy.
Pete Frielinghaus in his Argie 15 centre console fishing boat.
 After the 2004 tsunami, I was approached by a church organisation from California, asking if I had a design that could be used to help replace the decimated subsistence fishing fleets. I donated the Argie 15 design for as many boats as they needed to build. They cut plywood component kits and supplied the kits plus all other materials needed, as well as training, to allow fishermen to build the boats on the beach in India. I have no idea how many were built this way.

The Argie 15 would be a great boat for raid-type adventure sailing events. It has the load capacity to carry the crew plus stores, camping gear etc. It is fast enough to get there ahead of most of the competition. It is light enough to be portaged over short distances or trailed on a dolly for longer overland legs.

I have been promising myself for years that I will build an Argie 15 for myself. Somehow there has always been some other project or adventure in the way, so it hasn't happened. This would be a good boat to take to the Wooden Boat Show at Mystic Seaport. I must pull finger and build one to take to the show in the next year or two.

Construction is the most basic of basic boatbuilding methods, stitch-&-glue plywood. It uses 6mm plywood that is jointed mostly with fibreglass tape and resin. This method sometimes produces rather boxy shapes but the Argie 15 manages to be quite elegant. It can be built from plans only, with components drawn full-size from dimensioned diagrams on the drawings. An optional extra is to order full-size patterns that save the measuring work by supplying printed patterns of the components, for the builder to transfer onto the plywood.

Pre-cut kits of all plywood components are also available from suppliers in a few countries. Our USA kits are cut and shipped by Chesapeake Light Craft in Annapolis but must be ordered from us direct. For suppliers in other countries go to our kits page.

There are many sailing videos on-line of the Argie 15. A new one by Justin Philips of Nick Fairley's new Argie 15 sailing in about 12 knots of breeze, shows how responsive and quick it is, tacking on a tickey and accelerating very quickly out of turns.

To see our full range of designs, please visit .