Some say "when something is well designed then the sum of the whole is greater than the parts". The second view is the common saying that “all design is a compromise” with the feeling that you can never get everything that you want.
Sometimes “beauty of function” overwhelms “surface beauty” but the beauty of a Micro lurks just under the surface
click images to enlarge
So how do these two views reconcile?
My feeling is if you enter into boat design with the spirit of compromise, then you probably will do just that. The chance to create something extraordinary is lost.
There are a couple of modern designers that I think produce something extraordinary fairly regularly. Phil Bolger would be one, Iain Oughtred another, and my fellow countryman David Payne yet another.
In general their boats are beautiful - remembering that Bolger can design beauty as well. Sometimes “beauty of function” overwhelms “surface beauty” but the beauty of a Micro lurks just under the surface: “handsome is as handsome does”.
There are many other designers too that manage it from time to time as well, but most boats are, yes, a compromise because that was the plan from the start.
So, here, I want to talk about one of my designs, the Goat Island Skiff (GIS) and how I have tried to avoid making compromises. I'll leave the reader to decide whether I have been successful.
This is the first priority – performance is not huge sails and carbon fiber or white-knuckled speed. It is the ability to cover real ground without trying too hard. That's whether the ground lies upwind or downwind and whatever the water conditions (within reason).
The Goat Island Skiff is, simply, FAST. Sailed hard against a conventional raceboat and it is hard to shake off.
Marketing code for many designs is their “surprising” turn of speed – decoded it means that if you don't compare it too carefully to anything else it seems OK.
The GIS is, simply, FAST. Sailed hard against a conventional raceboat and it is hard to shake off. It points high upwind, isn't slowed much by chop and lightly loaded it planes downwind. The raceboat will come out on top but the difference is not great and the raceboat guys keep looking under their boom and wondering why that traditional looking boat is still there.
Loaded up with four people and a picnic the GIS still covers ground but starts to build up a great reserve of stability. And the Goat might cost around a fifth of a raceboat and carries more than two people – WITH EFFICIENCY
Recently we did a video of a GIS with me and two other adults aboard (below). Particularly significant is the last half with the boat trickling downwind. It looks like it is trickling, and felt like it was trickling, but look at the water going past the boat's side.
Among racing designers it is well understood what creates speed but they buy into the whole carbon fiber and Harken ball bearing mindset. The GIS uses the same thinking, with a single sail, timber and plywood a few ropes. The total number of blocks (pulleys) on the freestanding lugsail rig is 4. Six if you want to go crazy!
The last raceboat I had used around 35 – do the math on $35 each for the fancy ones. The Goats can use the cheap ones. This reflects my arguments in the last month's article. The raceboats use all those blocks to increase their speed maybe 5% over not having them at all. Is the extra $1000+ worth it? Is their racing better than it was when their boats were simpler and cheaper three decades ago. That 5% has a huge cost for the person and for our sport/pastime.
Recently we did a video of a GIS with me and two other adults aboard. Particularly significant is the last half with the boat trickling downwind. It looks like it is trickling, and felt like it was trickling, but look at the water going past the boat's side.
Performance can also be added in the non-obvious (the best) way. Take a leaf out of the racing book but don't tell anyone that you have done it. They just make the boat to plan and the speed gets added without their awareness.
Reliable, no-fuss performance is guaranteed by efficiently shaped and adequately sized rudder and centreboard – taking some pains over the shape adds about 3 hours to the overall labor but probably adds around 20% to upwind performance. Australians proved that by measurement three decades ago.
While on centreboards – the reason many traditional dingies and traditional wannabees are such poor sailers is because their centreboards are way too small. They have been designed to some non-existent "rule of thumb" that results in smaller boats having way too small centreboards.
Another non visible racing tweak is that the spars have the correct taper so the rig/sail combination depowers properly in a gust. The boat accelerates, rather than staggers, and then as the gust passes the rig powers up again. Less effort, less panic and more performance.
This sort of thinking can help ANY boat – we incorporated it in our OZ version of the PDRacer class. And if it makes that box go, think of what it might do for something more curved. Those $20 plans are a huge resource to someone who wants to improve their own boat to be lighter, simpler and more effective. Finally a rudder that will REALLY steer in shallow water and will simply raise itself over most obstacles before resetting itself at the right height.
In the '60s and '70s there was a huge boom in small sailing boats around the world. In the USA and Europe took the form of fiberglass dinghies, but in New Zealand and Australia we continued with wood. It was an “economy of scale” thing; our small population means you can't defray the costs of tooling for fiberglass boats across a large production run.
The hullweight of the first GIS was 130lbs – and that was just out of 1/4” plywood. Just to compare, this is the same weight as a Laser cartop dinghy, but the GIS is two feet longer with a huge hull volume to take up to 4 adults.
So modern wooden boatbuilding, in plywood, continued to develop here with the result that us Antipodeans developed the most sophisticated wooden racing boats in the world. Fiberglass boats couldn't even start to compete at the hullweights we accepted as standard – they were too flexible and short lived until they went high tech.
In general the European and North American dinghy classes had weights around 20 or evon 30lbs per hull foot. In Australia most boat hulls ranged between 8 and 10lbs per foot. That's with complete reliability in our, on average, stronger winds.
The hullweight of the first GIS was 130lbs – and that was just out of 1/4” plywood (the builder did choose Occume/Gaboon which makes up some of the difference too). Just to compare, this is the same weight as a Laser cartop dinghy. But the GIS is two feet longer with a huge hull volume to take up to 4 adults.
I don't pursue lightweight for its own sake but it has some great benefits. Not only does it make the boat faster it makes it CHEAPER. For the same standard of construction the GIS will cost much less than many similar looking boats. A second advantage is it keeps the hull of this almost 16 footer down to the point where two adults can move the hull on the beach.
As we have seen, performance feeds into Lightweight. Lightweight in turn feeds into the construction method.
Every piece you can leave out of a boat reduces the cost and labor of building the boat.
There are a remarkably low number of parts involved in the GIS hull – a total of 11 panels. One bottom, two sides, four frames and a transom and three seat tops. No ribs, no floors, no additional framing.
There are a remarkably low number of parts involved in the GIS hull – a total of 11 panels. One bottom, two sides, four frames and a transom and three seat tops. No ribs, no floors, no additional framing. There is just enough solid timber to hold the bits of plywood together and some structure around the sheer and that's it.
The timber list is reduced and the labor of cutting out all the excess bits is eliminated. The GIS is a remarkably empty boat but everything you need is there – down to a pair of rowlocks and the ability to put a small outboard on the back to use it as a motor boat for fishing or like one owner, for carting gravel to his new island home!
As I said, whether the Goat Island Skiff is greater than the sum of its parts (or lack of parts) is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. Most of us think it is pretty, fun to sail and can see that it gets places very quickly whether loaded up or not.
Most of the reasons for this are not my original ideas (including the rudderbox) but are informed by the Australian and NZ wooden boat building tradition – this is our natural view of boats.
Plans for the GIS are highly detailed (80 pages) and are $100 available through Duckworks Magazine. https://www.duckworksbbs.com/plans/storer
My website at www.storerboatplans.com has lots of information that backs up “Antipodean type thinking” right down to practical articles on boatbuilding or how to set up any lug or sprit rig for low cost performance similar to modern racing craft. There is no good reason why sailors of more tradionally rigged boats need settle for second best.