John Welsford's designs
A few of John's designs:
From the Drawing
(occasional ramblings of a Small Craft
Not a word that I would have associated with boating . A
good word though, in itís broader sense of questioning our institutions,
but the connection with boating was not one that I would have made, at
least until last week.
I had the privilege of being asked to give a talk to a group of community
college students, adults all, working part time to learn boat building.
They are building two of my Navigator design and six of My Tender Behinds,
a huge compliment in itself so I was keen to go and have a chat. My friend
Richard Williams came with me, as much to see what the social interaction
was like as anything. Richard is a very respected Barrister and Solicitor,
one of the few Lawyers I've come across who has a real social conscience,
and a very enthusiastic small boat enthusiast getting close to beginning
his first building project. (Possibly a "Truant": a small and simple boat
that suits both his lanky frame and the notoriously windy area in which he
So I gladly shook hands with all of the 20 odd students, darned if I can
remember the names but they are as varied a bunch as you could find, with
the common factor being a real enthusiasm for what they are doing and a
respect for their Tutor master boatbuilder Bernie Perano. Their awed
demeanour toward me the designer is something that I always find
discomfiting but I figure that they and I will get over it as we get to
know each other, and it was with this in mind that I stood up and spoke
for half an hour or so.
I talked about the design process that had led to the boats they were
building, gave them insights into the people for whom I'd originally drawn
the boats, and spoke at length about my philosophy in building and using
The talk went down a treat, and after looking the boats over we left them
to get on with the building. I was on a buzz as I left, the energy and
enthusiasm was contagious and my parting promise to return on launching
day (its about a six hour drive) was totally sincere.
Richard and I were talking on the phone a week or so later, and he
remarked upon my ďpreaching sedition to the masses". ????????? The tenor
of his remarks suggested that he thought it a good thing. ????????
Now Richard, English born and English University educated; a student of
the English language and a man who makes his living by using words
absolutely in context, is a man whom one should listen hard to. But
sedition? Images of the gallows springs to mind, our government is not so
barbaric as to execute those who don't follow its laws, but you never
He laughed at my puzzlement and reminded me of my insistence that the
student boatbuilders did not have to pay through the nose in order to
achieve their boating goals; I'd told them of the process of design that
had made the Navigators Yawl rig achievable from simple alloy tubing.
To explain, in most parts of the developed world there are manufacturers
of alloy sections, the sort you see around windows and so on. These are
made in lengths that ship conveniently in a 20ft container, in New Zealand
they are typically 5.2 meters long and the range invariably includes drawn
seam tubing of various grades and sizes.
These mass produced general purpose sections are a fraction of the price
of the custom designed and extruded specialist mast sections from your
local (if you have one!) rigging shop. To give you an idea, I got prices
from both and have converted them to US$ for you.
The "yottie rigging shop" with its rockstar sailor staff all preoccupied
with the Americas Cup challenge starting here in a couple of months ( I
have some thoughts on that too, not all negative) quoted me US$725 plus
tax and freight for a mast, mizzen, main yard, main and mizzen booms.
That's and arm, a leg and two fingers on my budget! And the delivery was
Jock, the storeman at my friendly Ullrich Aluminium shop quoted me US$128
00, tax included, and he not only had it in stock but would cut it to
length for me. No contest, especially when I have serious suspicions that
the "yotshop" would be buying the stock from the likes of Ullrich
I also mentioned that by reinforcing a nice straight length of bamboo with
some epoxy and glass cloth, the neighbours hedge could be a really useful
source of spars, and that winning races with such spars was not only
possible but was worth the effort just to see the expressions on the faces
of the other skippers.
My philosophy on boats and boatbuilding is to question the conventions
that set our perceptions, the ethic that suggests that we have to be
members of those elitist groups that comprise some of the yacht clubs,
that tells us that those wallet emptying establishments called Ships
Chandleries are the place to buy our boating needs, that convinces us to
buy wet weather clothing that looks like Liquorice allsorts and costs like
gold plate when what we need is the stuff that the road repairmen use.
Those guys don't care what they look like, as long as they are warm and
dry and that's how I feel about it as well.
Magazines are, for the most part in cahoots on this, they are, through
their need to pander to their advertisers, busy telling you the readers
that you cannot possibly go boating without spending a whole lot of money
on this that and the other ( expensive) thing.
The whole boating image thing has got well out of control, out of the
hands of the ordinary guy or guyess with kids and a mortgage and a car
that needs replacing yesterday. It has been hijacked by the compulsively
conspicuous consumer who goes boating to show off his success and wealth
(I like to remind myself that in most cases the bank owns most of it, it
makes me feel less envious). People like these don't have as much fun as
we do, they are not there to enjoy the boating, they are there to climb
some invisible ladder of pecking order and social status based upon how
much they can afford to spend on something not immediately connected with
getting a meal on the table.
It doesn't have to be like that. The aluminium people (and Chuck here at
Duckworks Magazine) sell amazingly cheap
stainless steel screws
that make a really good job of holding wood together and thatís only one
example of an alternative supplier of useful things.
And on the subject of plywood, (here we go again) almost all plywood mills
that make BS1088 or other certified marine plywood also make a very
similar "exterior bonded" product that is significantly cheaper. It can be
much more economical for them to make the certificated grade only and just
leave the stamp off the product that will be sold at the cheaper price.
The cost to the factory of running two veneer selection criteria, two "prebooking
lines" two sets of grading and stacking bins and so on far exceeds the
savings, so, many just run one line making all "good stuff" identifying
the "different" grades with a rubber stamp (Iíve worked in a couple of
plywood factories and helped one reduce costs by developing this very
policy, another example of "seditious" thinking).
I note that an increasing number of small boat owners are making their own
sails from "polytarpĒ Great! I have tried the stuff and its limitations
brings to mind my friend Nick Skeats who sailed his 32ft steel Wylo II
from New Zealand to England several times on a suit of sails made from UV
Stabilised Polyester Awning cloth, about 30% of the cost of "real"
sailcloth so if your boat is a bigger one there is an alternative.
There are many, many analogues of these alternatives, for some the
differences may make boating possible, bringing a modest craft within
their reach. For others, it may mean the difference between a boat that is
only enough to get them around the bay, and a boat that can stay out
overnight. But whatever your situation is, question the conventions,
challenge the institutions, wear your hardware store rubber boots and your
bright yellow slicker, pull on the hairy reduced price fishing boat rope
running through the galvanised iron blocks and get out there on the water,
think about how much the stuffed shirts in the millionaires row houses
along the waterfront had to pay to watch you enjoying "their" water, and
Sedition? Letís have more of it.
John Welsford Small Craft Design.