Thursday, November 27, 2008

Minimalist Cruising part Seven: John Guzzwell and Trekka

Another J. Laurent Giles design, Trekka, a 20'6" yawl made sailing history in1959 when her owner and builder John Guzzwell returned to her home port in Victoria, British Columbia . Never intending a circumnavigation, John had set out  in 1955, at the tender age of 25, to sail to Hawaii. He had built her in the back of a fish and chips shop and she was his first serious attempt at boatbuilding. One thing leads to another and after four years John returned home in 1959 with the dual records of being the first Brit to circumnavigate and in the smallest boat ever, until Serge Testa broke this record in 1987 in his 12' Acrohc (see my series on microcruising).  It's an incredible story, beginning with John approaching legendary designer Jack Laurent Giles about the a design for a small cruising boat along the lines of Sopranino. Imagine his surprise at Laurent Giles accepting the project and then delivering the detailed drawings for the meagre sum of 50 pounds! John had several adventures along the way, including a nearly disastrous episode with acclaimed cruising sailors Myles and Beryl Smeeton. That story about the pitchpoling, dismasting and near loss of the Smeeton's 46' ketch Tzu Hang (and, very nearly, Beryl) is well told both in the Smeeton's book 'Once Is Enough' and John's own 'Trekka Around The World'.
 Upon his return to Victoria  John began in earnest his pursuit of what would become his lifelong career as a professional boatbuilder. His boatbuilding work was interspersed with several voyages over the years. He's built some very large boats, including the three masted 126' schooner Tole Mour, a boat built to provide health care to the Marshall Islands, but still seems to prefer smaller. In 1997 he launched a cold molded 30' racing craft Endangered Species, modeled on the current open 60's of that day, and raced her in the 1998 and 2002 Transpacs.In 1993 he built a slightly enlarged version of Trekka, named Dolly. He currently lives near Poulsbo WA  and teaches boatbuilding at Seattle's Center for Wooden Boats. There is a great interview with him on the Furled Sails site.
John Guzzwell was born to this life. His ancestor were Jersey near the coast of France. At the age of three his family cruised from England to South Africa aboard his father's 52' ketch Our Boy. During WWII Jersey was occupied by the Germans and John and his family spent some of the war in a German interment camp. Repatriated after the war to Jersey. John apprenticed as a joiner for five years and emigrated to British Columbia at age 25 where his sailing adventures really began. There's more information at the sites: The Circumnavigators by Don Holm ,Woodenboat , Transpac98 and John Guzzwell's website. He is truly an icon of minimalist cruising in particular and sailing in general. I'll leave you with a quote,

 "So beware, dear reader.  The sea has an enchantment that may captivate you and make you a misfit on land. It is perhaps the last  place on the planet which remains unspoiled, with its moods and behaviors unchanged since time began. Like a moth to the flame, the sea has an attraction that defies explanation and those of us who fall under her spell are forever changed."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Minimalist cruising part six: Sisters? Sopranino & Thunderbird

Top: Myth of Malham
Minim, after Sporanino
Sopranino plans
Thunderbird plans
Thunderbitd  full view
Thunderbird at the apex of the Chesapeake

Question: Did Laurent Giles' Sopranino and Myth of Malham give birth to Ben Seaborn's Sierra and then the Thunderbird? I think it's possible,at least in part. Look closely.  Especially at the drawings.

Steve Bunnell, who wrote about Seaborn in WoodenBoat #148 and the Thunderbird in #149, cites Myth, designed by the revered British designer J. Laurent Giles in collaboration with John Illingworth, as a major influence on Seattle based Seaborn's thinking postwar. New materials and techniques  developed during the war years were to allow new thinking and led to the development of light displacement racing cruising boats, "big  dinghies" with a cabin.

That was also the thinking of Patrick Ellam, sailing out of Brightlingsea, when he approached Laurent Giles to design a craft to criteria he'd arrived at through  experimental voyages in his Theta, essentially a decked over sailing canoe with enough room for two which he sailed across the English channel at least four times.. He was quite surprised at Giles immediate acceptance of the project. The result was Sopranino, a name derived from a musical term for woodwinds indicating a smaller instrument achieving a higher octave ....Sopranino was really small, 19'6, with a bulb keel and reverse sheer and she definitely sounded a higher octave. Huge innovations cooked up by Ellam, Laurent Giles and John Illingworth, who consulted on the plans as drawn by Giles and is credited with being the father of modern ocean racing.  On september 6, 1951 Patrick set out to cross the Atlantic in her , with Colin Mudie, an employee of Laurent Giles and who had actually penned the plans for Sopranino, as crew. Sixteen months and 10,000 miles later they arrived in NY., effectively proving Patrick's theoretical musings. The voyage and experiment also resulted a must read little book, deserving of a niche in modern yacht evolution, appropriately titled Sopranino.

 By 1957 Ben Seaborn had absorbed the knowledge of light displacement experiments around the world yachting community and had several such designs under his belt. In that year he received a letter announcing a competition sponsored by the Douglas Fir Plywood Association. To be built in plywood, the design parameters for the competition were that it should be usable both for racing and cruising, it should sleep four, be capable of being built by reasonably skilled amateurs, be powered by an outboard  and outperform other boats in its class! Quite a list for an unfamiliar, new technology.  Initially Seaborn scoffed at this "challenge", as did most other designers receiving the notice letter.  Eventually, however, he took the bait and  consulted Ed Hoppen, a local boatbuilder intrigued with plywood construction. Their collaboration began and the result was the Thunderbird,which evolved from a previous design, the Sierra, a two person cruising boat. Needless to say the T'bird won the competition, and when completed surpassed all expectations in cruising ability, racing prowess and building techniques. Today a  universally applauded design, Seaborn and Hoppen had hit upon a building method in which the molds became permanent bulkheads. Seaborn himself was awed by his creation, never expecting the stability and speed he'd found in this  hard chine design. And she is accessible to the home builder. She was a hit. The class association reports that this is his most built design, with over1200 some odd registered boats. Plans are available for $50. from the Class Association! Reportedly this is a very fast racing yacht. Their PHRC rating has continued to move into more difficult ranges  over the years and they have been known to sail upwind with their spinnaker set and survive  60 to 70 mph winds, winning races when others had to retire. A Japanese woman cruised one across the Pacific, east to west, an inexperienced sailor sailed one from Puget Sound to Hawaii, one owner has made several voyages to Alaska. Typically, this Ben Seaborn design,like many of his  boats, has a very low windage cabin top and still manages to have an astounding amount of light in the interior.

Sadly, neither of these designers is still with us. Jack Laurent Giles was laid to rest in1969 and tragically, Ben Seaborn took his own life in January of 1960 at the age of 45, in part it's believed, because he felt himself a failure as a yacht designer. Jack passed away in 1969 after a long and successful career and his legacy lives on in his designs and in the design firm which bears his name. Ben's untimely death cut short a career which had already achieved greatness.

Both of these men were instrumental in planting the seeds which  have born much fruit in the evoluition of yacht design and ultimately leading to the light displacement racing yachts of today, from the exquisite little Mini Transat 650's to the "Open' series of maxi yachts which dominate transatlantic and around the world racing. They also had a hand in enabling small boat cruising sailors such as Roger Taylor and many others to trust  a light displacement boat to carry them safely across large oceans. All small boat sailors contemplating or making lengthy cruises owe them a debt of gratitude.

I have recently been very taken with the Thunderbird, for her speed, her seaworthiness , cruising ability and history. Found one, too, if I can figure out how to get her here.  I enquired on the junk rig yahoo goup about the feasability of rigging her junk and Arne Kverneland replied that she's an excellent candidate, but would suffer a slight loss of performance. OK!. Anyone who would like to help me get this boat from Rhode Island to PA, either by land or sea, write to me.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Seasteaders Extraordinare

Creed O'Hanlon sent me these images a few weeks ago. They're lovely. Imagine a planet where there are always placid seas, where the are no pirates (at least no real ones), a planet where peace and harmony reign serene. Now imagine our planet, with cyclones, tsunami, rogue waves, and just plain rogues. Imagine your small town, your neighborhood, your block. This is not a boat. It's a bowl. I imagine Mr. O'Hanlon could hardly contain his laughter as he sent me this. Nor his misgivings if he felt this was a real proposal.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Unpretentious Elegance

I went to a library sale today and as in the past I came away with an armfull of great books. I almost passed on this little pamphlet, innocuous and unobtrusive. Then I gave it a second glance. Ok, I thought, for $0.50 just grab it. It slowly began to dawn  on me that this was a finely crafted bit of work and poring over it at  dinner I was convinced that it was the buy of the day. It's a 1951 U.S. Geodetic Survey guide ( aka chart # 1) to reading their nautical charts. What struck me was the simple elegance of its design, which looks fresh today, it's  half century plus notwithstanding. It reminded that as an art student I had purchased nautical charts and incorporated them into my work for the beauty I saw in them.  The  clean typeface choices, the often subtle graphics, but bold when called for, the straightforward delivery of vital information clearly and concisely add up to an elegant and eloquent document. Pretty close to my definition for a work of art.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Minalmist cruising part 5 : Tom MacNaughton's Coin Series

These two little gems, the Shilling and the Penny, seem purpose designed for minimalist cruising in general and the Jester Challenge in particular. There are more boats in the series, but these two are my favorites. Tom and Nan have lived aboard for at least 17 years and their wealth of experience is reflected in their thoughtful designs and in the articles and advice they share freely. On their website you'll find invaluable information born of their experiences. They are located in Eastport , Me. where they manage a boatyard and brokerage, have a design firm, a Yacht design school, a publishing effort and an online bookstore. Worth a look

I would love to hear from anyone who has built, is building or sailing one of these, or other MacNaughton designs. And photos would be posted.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Lately  my arc of interest has veered toward the Junk rig, undoubtedly because of my exposure to it via Hasler et al. It's an interesting rig with many advantages for the cruising sailor. It is easy enough for the homebuilder to craft, inexpensive relative to many other rigs, is self tacking and easy to reef or drop in a hurry. Most resistance to this rig centers around the perception that it won't go to windward. Recent and not so recent experimentation by Arne Kverneland and Slieve McGalliard, among others, have improved this function using cambered panels and other variations. You'll find much discussion on these matters on the Yahoo Junkrig Group site and at the JRA. Roger Taylor has two jibs for Mingming, a very light multi purpose Genoa and an even smaller dinghy jib he can carry up to about Force 5. Roger reports that "they make a big difference with the wind anywhere forward of the beam" but cautions that with an unstayed mast you must be able to get them in quickly.
Many designers have used the rig for their designs including Thomas Colvin, Thomas MacNaughton and Bruce RobertsMichael Kasten has an interesting discussion of the rig on his website.
I would love to hear from anyone who's had experience with this rig.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Minimalist cruising part four: The Jester Challenge

 top: Trevor Leek in the reincarnated Jester

Tim McCoy and China Blue

bottom: Roger Taylor and Mingming


By 1968 Blondie Hasler realised his creation , dubbed the OSTAR, was becoming a monster and contained the seeds of it's own destruction. His vision of a race based on self reliance and simplicity was evolving into the hyperego megabuck superyacht paegent of today. For years he proposed an alternative,  Series Two, to be a 'race' with no sponsor, no fees and no rules, for ordinary yachtsmen who accepted responsibility for their own conduct and believed in their right to cross oceans based on their skills and boats alone, without the authority or help of a governing body. Series Two never really came about. But when Jester was lost a trust was formed to replicate her. Out of this trust came not only the reincarnated Jester but also an antidote to the inflated race Blondie had never wished for. It's the Jester Challenge.  Set to run every four years with a shorter Azores Challenge every second off year, the first Challenge was run in 2006, with an Azores Challenge this year. Next due in 2010, Plymouth to Newport

Nigel Rowe (Chair of the Jester Trust, formed to rebuild the lost boat in replica) writes:

"Those of us who helped to organise and fund the building of the new Jester in the early 1990s, an exact copy of the original lost at sea during the 1988 OSTAR, did so to help keep alive the spirit of Jester and the ideals espoused by Blondie Hasler and then Mike Richey. We have also created the Jester Medal, to be awarded annually from 2006 by a committee of the Ocean Cruising Club for an outstanding contribution to the art of single-handed sailing. The creation of a new single-handed transatlantic race to further perpetuate these values was something we talked about when small boats were excluded from the traditional Plymouth-Newport single-handed races and the fact that it is now happening (due overwhelmingly to the efforts of Jester's new owner Trevor Leek and Blondie Hasler's biographer Ewen Southby-Tailyour) is a significant and welcome achievement."

This 'race' seems to me to  embody the essence of why people cruise (alone) and would want to challenge themselves, singlehanded, on the open ocean, and embraces the spirit of many, from Slocum to Moitessier,  David Lewis, Val Howells, Blondie and Mike Richey and today is carried forward by Roger Taylor,  Bill Churchouse, Trevor Leek  and all those entering the 2010 event. I really do not have the experience, nor the boat, nor the money to join the 65 hardy souls who have signed for competing in the 2010 Jester. But I wish I did and if I make it a goal, maybe I can. Little else could please me more.  How 'bout you?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Minimalist cruising part three: Mike Richey

By the time he bought Jester from Blondie Hasler in 1962 when she returned from her second OSTAR, Michael Richey had already led an interesting life. Born in Britain, he spent his youth in Albania, Switzerland and France before returning to England to finish his education. Upon leaving school he apprenticed with sculptor Eric Gill. A pacifist by nature, he joined the war effort in 1939 doing duty on the minesweeper HMS Goodwill. She was "blown up" in 1940, Mike then trained as an officer and was commissioned, and spent most of the war at sea on anti- submarine patrols in the North Atlantic, but also other missions which took him from Antarctica to Russia. He spent a year with the Free French Navy, a year aboard an armed merchant ship and became adept at astronomical navigation, which became a passion. He left the Navy in'46 and in '47 was appointed chief executive of the Royal Institute of Navigation, serving there until 1980. He also founded the 'Journal of Navigation' and was editor until 1985.

Michael took up ocean racing in the 1950's and found success. In 1964, with some urging from his friend Francis Chichester he bought Jester and continued her campaign in the transatlantic race until 1988 when he had to abandon her during the crossing.  A trust was formed to replicate the boat, this time with a cold molded hull and Mike continued to race her in the OSTAR (which chaged it's name to the Transat). He was entered into the Guinness Book for crossing the Atlantic in the  at the age of 79. Or 80. Accounts vary. Jester also ran the OSTAR in 2000 by special invitation, as the minimum length had been raised to 30'. 

Trevor leek, current owner of the second Jester, reports that Michael Richey is now 92 and very much with us. Roger Taylor allows as how he sees Mike about once a year. I asked him about Mike and he replied that "Mike shows us that, with the right yacht, age is no barrier. He did his last Transat at  age 80, I think." Hope for the rest of us.

Thanks, Mike.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Knockabout Sloops

Bill Evans has a beautiful boat and a equally pretty weblog about her and other boats named Knockabout Sloops. He has restored his Sparkman and Stephens Sheilds One Design with a lot of help from Tim Lackey of Lackey Sailing .Built in the mid 60's, this boat harkens back to the golden era of racing yacht design in the early 20th. Century.  Bolero is 30+  LOD and was designed by Olin Stephans, with the original concept coming from Cornelius Sheilds in 1965. Bill has added a cuddy cabin to make more extended cruising possible. The lower picture is of an equally elegant boat on Bill's site, perhaps one of my all time favorite designs, and one that impressed Uffa Fox as well, the elegant and graceful Tumlaren Annalisa, designed by Knud Reimers and owned by one Larry Pardy, pre Seraffyn. You'll enjoy this site. And do not miss Bill's rant on sailing without engine.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ships at Sea

There's a lot of big boats out there. They're supposed to post a bow watch to lookout for small boats, among other things, but it's not foolproof. My friend Jasper sent me a link to this site which has realtime global mapping of shipping, though with a lagtime of up to one hour. "Not to be used as an aid to navigation" or some such disclaimer, but if you are coastal cruising, or crossing oceans, this could be a great boon! The site is Use it.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Minimalist cruising part two: Blondie and Jester

Blondie Hasler is an icon in the annals of singlehanded sailing and a large contributor to the experience and definition of minimalist cruising. His accomplishments are legendary. Lt.Col.Herbert George Hasler DSO,OBE first achieved sailing notoriety in 1932, the year he was commissioned as a marine for sailing a 14ft. dinghy singlehanded round trip Plymouth to Portsmouth and back. He was awarded the  Croix de Guerre  for heroism in Norway and was the motivation and facilitator of Operation Frankton. He designed the folding kayaks used in this ''raid" , most likely from German models. A film chronicling these exploits, was released in 1955 and named the "Cockleshell Heroes" and a book of the same name soon followed. After the conclusion of the war he turned to blue water cruising/racing as his field of inquiry. Taking his que from Uffa Fox and bucking the convention of the day he first turned to the 30 square meter Tre Sang, a light displacement "toothpick" considered unsuitable for offshore racing. He was winning races and being convinced that his instincts about light displacement were on target. Some sources indicate he also was influenced by the J.Laurent Giles design Myth of Malham, also of light displacement and sporting a bulb keel. These early achievements notwithstanding, Blondie Hasler is probably most remembered for what came next. An indefatigable experimenter and tinkerer, Blondie had an overwhelming desire to"design and build the smallest yacht that could be sailed in safety and with the minimum of effort". Across oceans. He achieved his goal with three bold strokes. First,  in the early 1950's he commissioned a Folkboat, a noteworthy Scandinavian design of about 25'9",  but his with no cockpit, completely decked over except for two small hatches, and began experimenting with rigs. He eventually 'rediscovered' the Chinese junk rig and found it to be an aerodynamic jewel. Meanwhile he was also exploring various configurations of windvane self steering. He eventually resolved the problem to his satisfaction inventing the Hasler self steering. To publicise and spread word of his discoveries and decisions toward manageable simplified ocean cruising for the singlehand sailor, the next light bulb for the Lt. Col. was an Atlantic crossing race, defined thus: "A sporting event to encourage the development of boats, gear, supplies and technique for single-handed passages under sail." There was a dramatic lack of rules—no handicaps, no compulsory equipment, no marks to round. When asked about safety and the need to carry a radio transmitter, Hasler merely replied "It would be more seemly to drown like a gentleman." This was 1956 and his first taker was none other than Francis Chichester who eventually won the race, with Blondie in second. They had reportedly made a bet of a half crown as to who would get there first. A few other daring souls became interested, but it took until 1960 to bring the idea to fruition. Blondie eventually found a sponsor in the English newspaper the Observer and thus was born the first OSTAR. With this brilliant move Blondie Hasler had created the world of modern singlehanded ocean racing, with all its permutations. The race proved the validity of his innovations and inheritors of his mantle are stil racing today (ie: Roger Taylor). He eventually sold Jester to Michael Richey who continued racing in the OSTAR through 2004.  The original jester was lost  in 1988 andwas rebuilt through the help of a trust. To a tee. More on Michael later. Blondies inventions revolutionised the popularity and viability of singlehanded sailing, with repercussions far beyond the OSTAR. Creed O'Hanlon says:"The competitors in the first singlehanded transatlantic race – not  just Hasler and Chichester, but David Lewis, Val Howells and Jean  Lacombe – were my earliest inspirations to sail offshore. They were,  all of them, smart, bold and eccentric and had lived big lives in  which the race was just one more interesting episode. There was  nothing fancy about their boats which, with the exception of  Chichester's, were tiny and only basically equipped (Lacombe's  especially). The Jester event is an homage to their spirit and guys  like Roger Taylor are very much the rightful heirs – as opposed to the  commercial gladitaors such as Macarthur and Joyen – of Hasler's  tradition. To be part of it is, for me, maybe, a way of reclaiming  what is really interesting about racing in small boats, unsupported by  sponsorship and too much technology." Creed is referring to the Jester challenge, also of which you'll get more later. I also asked Roger Taylor to comment on the influence of Blondie in his sailing philosophy and he replied: "belief in the power of lateral thinking, not following received wisdoms and, more practically, his proof, via Jester,that ocean sailing does not have to be a mad, machismo thrash - a warm,relaxed and dry skipper who never has to exit the hatch will do a more seamanlike job than a skipper wrung out and exhausted from constant deckwork."

Blondie Hasler retired in later years to a home in Scotland where he pursued organic farming and  the reinvention of agricultural methods until his death in 1987. He is well remembered.