The Small Boat Designer Hit Parade

The stroll down the beachfront small craft museum that is lunchtime at SRR, combined with a careful perusal of the SRR fleet guide, reveal some of the leaders in this arcane corner of boat design. I counted the following number of boats in this year’s SRR by designer. Here’s the hit parade:

#1 Iain Oughtred: 13 boats. The Australian/Scottish old man of the sea is the clear granddaddy of glued-lapstrake traditional small boats. He was a pioneer in glued-lapstrake construction, and a prolific interpreter of classic boat styles into glued-lapstrake plans and kits. In this year’s SRR fleet there are 8 Caledonia Yawls, an Arctic Tern, a Ness Yawl, a Penny Fee, a Fulmar, and a John Dory. Wow!

Geoff Kerr in his Oughtred Caledonia

#2 John C. Harris of Chesapeake Light Craft: 7 boats, including 3 Northeaster Dories and 2 Skerries. CLC is the volume leader in this little niche, and is probably responsible for turning more complete tool-newbies into boatbuilders than anyone else. My first sailboat build was a Northeaster dory, and the first rate kit parts (including all the solid timber pieces, pre-cut, milled and planed) and super-detailed instruction book made it easy to turn out a beautiful, high-quality boat. John has excelled in rendering classic boat types such as the Swampscott dory and the Whitehall into damn-close replicas with much-simplified “LapStitch” construction.

Two CLC Northeaster dories. Full disclosure: this photo is actually from SRR 2017

#3 John Gardner & Howard I. Chappelle: 5 boats (not counting the many other designs they inspired). I’ll group these two names because they were the guys who recorded the lines of all of these old small traditional craft so that we could re-create them after all of the old ones rotted away. They weren’t designers, they were preservationists. I think it’s safe to say that the Traditional Small Craft Association, and all of us traditional small craft nuts, wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Gardner’s and Chappelle’s work.

John Gardner literally “wrote the book” on dories, and this is one of them

#4 Michael Storer: 5 boats, all Goat Island Skiffs. The Aussie designer was onto something when he designed this poor-man’s racing & daysailing dinghy. He kept the design simple, inexpensive and super easy to build (all flat plywood panels). With its light weight, hard chines, nearly flat bottom and prodigious sail area, it’s fast as can be until big chop makes the flat bottom suboptimal. It probably doesn’t row as well as some of the more round-bottomed boats, but life is a series of trade-offs.

#5 John Welsford: 3 boats — a Navigator, a Pathfinder, and a Scamp. Welsford’s designs are built for cruising, and have more features incorporated for cruising than a lot of the other totally-open boats. At 12 feet in length, but with a cuddy cabin and ample freeboard, the Scamp must be the smallest pocket cruiser in existence that really deserves the name.

Lagniappe, a Welsford Pathfinder

I’ll stop counting at #5 but mention just a few other names. I was surprised not to see more Francois Vivier designs. They are beautiful and highly traditional in inspiration, but innovative in their construction design. The usual 2 or 3 Ilurs that have graced prior SRRs weren’t present this year…

I was disappointed not to see more Clint Chase designs, but that was partly my fault because one of them is Grey Fox and we didn’t manage to get the boat to Maine. Clint was represented by one of his Deblois Street Dories, and as kit-provider by some of the Goat Island Skiffs, for which he is the kit-cutting agent in the USA.

What Grey Fox would have looked like had it been in Maine for SRR…

And the Chuck Paine-designed Norseboats were the most prevalent factory-built boats in the SRR fleet. They seem to combine a traditional-inspired hull design with some decidedly modern features including a high aspect full-battened mainsail and a cockpit dodger. One even had a bimini top.

Norseboat with a decidedly not-too-Norse (more tropical really) bimini top

One of the coolest things about the SRR fleet is the incredible variety of boats. You could (and I did) learn a lot by scrutinizing the details of design and construction of all of these boats. And one of the most impressive things about the fleet is the quality of workmanship in the boats. Many of the owner-built boats are just gorgeous, and benefit from a level of detail in the finishing of the boats that would be beyond what is economical for a production boatbuilder to do– certainly for a small boat that wouldn’t have a market if the price were too high.

Author: Larchmont Jim

A 50-something investment banker from Larchmont, New York (about 15 miles from midtown Manhattan). Amateur small boat sailer, boatbuilder, kayaker, musician. I grew up spending summers sailing the New England coast on my grandfather’s beautiful 47’ 1952 Sparkman & Stevens wooden yawl. I’ve lived in Larchmont, a major and historic sailing center on Long Island Sound, for 25 years, but career and family obligations kept me off the water for all of my 30s and 40s, and only about 7 years ago did I get back on the water, first in sea kayaks, and then in small boats.

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