Friday, July 18, 2014

Wooden Boat Festival

I have been trying for years to get to the Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend, WA, but have somehow never managed to put it together. The 2014 event will be the 38th rendition of the annual festival, which grows each year in size and what it offers. It is organised by the Wooden Boat Foundation under the umbrella of the Northwest Maritime Center. In 2014 the  Festival will run from Friday 5th to Sunday 7th September.

This year I am finally going to make it to the Wooden Boat Festival. I expect to be there all three days and will be a speaker as well. I am scheduled to present on the subject "Plywood Boatbuilding Methods" from 10h45 to 11h45 on Friday 5th September, in the Discovery Classroom.

The Wooden Boat Festival boasts over 300 boats on display, some in the water and others on land. There are also about 150 presentations and demos, covering a wide range of subjects about every imaginable subject either directly or indirectly related to wooden boats.

Poster for 2014 Wooden Boat Festival
There are many wooden boats of my design in the Pacific Northwest. If you have built one of our wooden boats in the area or know someone who has, it would be great to get a bunch of those boats to the show to exhibit. I always enjoy seeing the completed boats, meeting the owners and chatting to them about building and sailing their boats. Owners generally enjoy meeting other builders and swapping ideas and experiences. This can be a great occasion to do just that. I can't arrange for the boats to be exhibited, that must be arranged with the organisers through their website.

Even if you don't have one of our boats to exhibit, I would be pleased to chat at the show. You can catch my presentation at the time and place given above and there will be time to chat afterwards. Closer to the start of the show I hope to be able to pass on info about where to find me at other times as well. Keep tabs on this blog for updates closer to the time.

Paper Jet built by Jim Phoenix, just one of a bunch of them in WA & OR.
Hope to see you there.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Paper Jet, Designed for Junior Sailors

I designed the Paper Jet primarily to be a training boat for teenagers. The thought to design such a boat started when I was on sailing committees in South Africa. One of the subjects most often discussed was how to keep the juniors in sailing. They are the future of sailing, which is experiencing a gradual ageing of the participants. If we can't keep the youth interested in boats and sailing then they will wander off into more exciting/interesting activities, to the detriment of sailing as a whole.

The problem as I see it is a combination of factors, some inter-connected. There are no-doubt other factors but these are the ones that are apparent to me.
  1. Boats that are pushed by clubs and national bodies but are uninspiring to young sailors, in terms of performance and aesthetics. Most of these boats were advanced designs when first developed but are now very dated and unexciting by modern standards.
  2. The high cost of acquiring and maintaining competitive boats in the Olympic program. These boats are one-design to reduce costs and maintain level competition. However, they are built to very close tolerances and with top grade hardware, sails, rigs, foils etc, all of which cost a bundle of money when new. Much of that cost is repetitive as well, due to regular replacement to stay competitive. Most families cannot make this level of financial commitment, so the boats become progressively less competitive and the sailors lose interest.
  3. The high cost of upgrading performance/excitement/challenge to move into the next class up the ladder of the Olympic track. The need to sell the older boat, probably at a loss, then buy a competitive new boat that would be faster but not necessarily much more exciting, makes this an expensive process.
  4. Too much emphasis on winning and too little on getting enjoyment out of boats. This has resulted in very structured sailing activities for the juniors. They do not have enough freedom to use their boats for fun instead of being shepherded by adults in sail-training programs that are designed only to improve racing skills, not to engender a love of boats and boating. Fifty years ago we had much more freedom to sail in the manner that we wanted. In doing that we raced informally (two boats near to each other are always racing), learned how to get the most speed from our boats, how to capsize them, how to right them, how to sail them on the limits of the boat's ability and beyond our own limits, which served to push our own limits to the next level. We went onto the lake with only the need to be home for dinner and to take total responsibility for ourselves and our boats until we returned. In the process we developed instinctive sailing abilities that can come only from doing, not from being taught theory or chased around a race course by instructors. There were no rescue boats on duty on weekdays, so we had to learn how to rescue ourselves and our buddies. We became totally self-sufficient, self-reliant and confident in our own abilities. We learned to take responsibility for our own actions in a way that is missing from much of modern society. We also learned to love our boats and sailing so intensely that most of the guys in my group moved on to careers in the boating industry.
  5. Too much emphasis on windward-leeward racing. This may be good for emphasising the need for improving technique in slow boats but it produces the most boring type of sailing imaginable, either to participate or to watch. The most fun and exciting experience of sailing happens on reaching courses and the sailing establishment seems to have colluded to remove this from the racing.
What has all this to do with the Paper Jet? The concept of this boat developed in my mind and then in my computer, with these factors in my mind. I was developing a boat to solve some of those problems. No boat can fix everything that is wrong in junior sailing but I wanted to draw a boat that would have the ability to at least help with the problems. It produced a boat with the following characteristics.
  1. Very modern and exciting to look at, it looks fast even when standing still. Wherever I take it, people come to admire it and talk about it. Juniors love the aesthetics of this very sexy-looking boat.
  2. It can morph from a very basic free-standing una rig for single-handing with minimal strings to pull and understand, through a conventional sloop rig for double-handed sailing with a few more strings, to a powered-up double-handed skiff with fathead mainsail, asymmetrical spinnaker and trapeze, simply by adding or removing components from the modular rig.
  3. This happens without changing boats and at moderate cost. One family can sail the same boat in different formats to suit the people who are sailing it. Or the same crew can vary the power of the rig and speed of the boat to suit wind, water and personal mood, from relaxed unpressured cruising through to very challenging maxed-out adrenaline-producing low-flying. It can morph from one rig to another in minutes, then back again.
  4. Planing high-performance hull with low drag at all speeds. It accelerates smoothly, with no bow-wave hump to overcome in order to plane at high speed. This means that it can plane in moderate breezes even with the smallest rig.
  5. Proportioned for teenagers rather than adults, so that juniors can potentially get more performance from the boat than their larger and heavier parents.
  6. Hull and deck weight of under 45kg (100lb), easily manhandled by young crew.
  7. Able to be built by amateurs with basic woodworking skills to reduce the cost of getting afloat.
  8. Traditional rig details to reduce expensive purchased hardware.
Paper Jet rigs, deck plan & cockpit section. Click to enlarge.
The drawing above shows the overall concept of the Paper Jet. In the plan view, you can see that it has two mast positions, linked by a plywood X-structure that spreads the rig loads into the hull and holds the jib sheet fairleads. The una rig at right has the mast free-standing in the forward mast position, which rakes it aft for good helm balance. The sloop rig at centre has the same mast moved to the upright aft mast position, with only the standing rigging and jib added. The skiff rig at left keeps all of the components of the sloop rig except for the removable topmast (there is a socket with locating bolt at the hounds) and mainsail, which are replaced by a taller topmast, fathead mainsail and spinnaker gear. The retracting bowsprit is linked to the spinnaker halliard so that one line hoists the asymmetrical and pushes out the bowsprit. The other end of the same line retrieves the spinnaker and pulls in the bowsprit.

The cockpit section shows that this boat has a narrow waterline relative to overall beam. That produces a boat that is very responsive and needs fast reactions and agility. It is not a boat for beginners, who should first learn to sail on a Sunfish or other less challenging boat. After that they will have the skills needed to sail this boat with the una rig then progress to the other versions.
Dudley single-handing with skiff rig. Billy Black photo.
The wooden mast that I designed for it is sealed and buoyant. If capsized it lies on its side instead of turning turtle. Most dinghies that lie on their side will blow away from the crew in strong winds if they lose contact with the boat. They can't catch up with the boat when swimming in a lifejacket. Not so with the Paper Jet, which stays right where it capsizes, with the immersed wing serving as a sea-anchor.
Andre Siebert and daughter with sloop rig, saluting the club commodore during the opening cruise.
Dan Siegal sailing with the una rig at Mystic Seaport. Billy Black photo.
Righting from a capsize is not difficult, using the righting lines under the wings. Hanging from the righting line and pushing with feet against the immersed bottom of the hull pulls it upright, generally without a need to get onto the daggerboard.
Two Paper Jets capsized. It lies and waits to be rerighted. Billy Black photo.
The  Paper Jet is well-suited to club use, with boats able to be built by amateur or professional builders, working from plans (supplied with full-size patterns of all plywood components) or from pre-cut plywood kits available from suppliers in various countries (Click for suppliers). That makes it suitable also for club, school and community woodworking projects to build up local fleets.
Two Paper Jets are a compact load on a shared trailer.
I have no aspirations for the  Paper Jet to become an Olympic class. What it can be is an affordable, exciting and versatile part of the training route toward much more costly skiffs like the 49er. For those who don't have aspirations to Olympic skiff sailing, the Paper Jet can be all that they need.
Dudley single-handing with asymmetrical. Dave Baxter photo.
Although intended for junior sailors, this boat has attracted a different type of sailor. It has earned a following of men in their 30s and 40s, sailing both crewed and single-handed. At time of writing, we have sold plans and/or kits for this design to builders in 18 countries, with numbers rising in North America and Europe.

To see our full range of designs, please visit our main website at

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.