20 December 2020 | Motu Murimahora
I love dinghy sailing. Growing up in Ohio, there were no opportunities to sail in cruising boats. I didn't even consider sailing anything other than sailing in small boats. Uproar is a great sailing boat. She has amazing performance for a cruising boat. This came as a bit of a surprise to us. We bought Uproar to go world cruising. We already had Veloce, our race boat which we loved for 25 years. That first summer we kept both boats.
“If Uproar doesn't satisfy us by the way she sails, we at least still have a boat we love.” Lisa and I were on the same page. Uproar had to prove herself before we would sell Veloce. At the end of the summer, we were certain Uproar met our expectations. We sold our beloved Veloce.
But Uproar is no dinghy. Lisa grew up sailing mostly on larger boats on Lake Michigan. We were on a “business” trip in Cancun and took out the resort's Sunfish for a sail. She just loved it. In Maupiti, Slingshot, a fellow cruising boat, let me borrow their Byte dinghy to go for a sail. What fun!
For sometime now, I have lusted after a performance dinghy to keep on Uproar. But a 12 foot dinghy takes up a lot of space. The PT 11 is a dinghy that disassembles into two pieces that nest together for storage. Cool! That design has been in the back of my mind for years.
But the PT 11 is very expensive. And it is what I call plywood and play-doh construction. The plywood components are CNC machined. You tie the panels together with wire or zip ties and fiberglass and glue with epoxy putty the joints. To me, that's not woodworking. Plywood is an amazing product but not real wood to me. Real wood is something that you cut, plane, sand and join together. OK, some fiberglass holds things together but I want my efforts to be more wood than play-doh.
Strip planked canoes are what I consider fine woodworking art. I wanted a performance, nesting dinghy with striped plank construction. I surfed some boat design forums and read a great book by Frank Bethwaite on performance dinghies. At Purdue, I was able to take two courses in naval architecture, the only ones offered.
One contributor on the boat design forums, Jean Francois Masset, had some interesting ideas. I contacted him and discussed my project. He is quite skilled in some computer design programs for boats. More importantly, Jean Francois was interested in my project and offered to help.
I asked, “How much will you charge for your services.” He replied, “Russ, just seeing the boat sail on Youtube will be enough.” Deal! We collaborated for six months before the final design for Velocette met both our approval. But transforming a computer model to a real boat was beyond my knowledge level.
Fellow cruiser, Derek Bretherton, came to the rescue. Derek has a software company that produces a high-end CAD program, Caddie. His program is prominent in architectural design. Derek gave me a license to his full program! And he and Leslie tutored me through enough of the basics to turn JF's design into a CAD model. Derek then helped me draw a 1/6th scale model, pull off the forms and print them. I transferred the form to balsa wood, assembled on a plank and had the mold necessary to strip plank the model.
That was actually the hard part. Cutting the balsa (I stock on Uproar) into strips and strip planking the hull was simple and fun. It took only a week for the hull to take shape. I then fiberglassed inside and out, added centerboard trunk, mast step and decked the forward section. The center bulkhead was two pieces of balsa. With a fine, Japanese saw, I cut the boat in half. Talk about a leap of faith!
The gunwale trim and stem are local mahogany. I installed bamboo alignment pins and screws to fasten the two sections together. Apart, the forward section fits nicely in the aft section for compact storage.
Jean Francois even did calculations for how the boat would float, capsized and various options for floatation chambers. The final version may have a double bottom in the aft section to be self-draining. JF told me the scale weight of the model should be about 600 grams. I'm sure the hull is much lighter.
Today, we launched the Velocette model for the first time. She floated like a leaf on the water. I added a piece of coral estimating the weight to be about 600 grams. She floated perfectly on the waterline with the bow and transom barely touching the water.
My initial plan was to build the full size Velocette in New Zealand. NZ is a land of sailors and my friend, Bill Kuntz said he would help me find a space and tools to build the boat. But since Covid, we are not allowed to enter NZ. Instead, we are shipping Uproar to Florida and resuming our cruising in the Bahamas and Caribbean. Now I will have the chance to build Velocette in my own garage!
I can't begin to express the pleasure of working with Jean Francois on this design. Our correspondence has been far more than dinghy design. Jf lives in Nice on the French Riviera. His normal routine of coffee and pastry in the morning and Campari in the evening has been interrupted by Covid. He misses his friends and the view of the harbor for his daily pleasures. We have established a close relationship about our lives in these difficult times. His enthusiasm for Velocette certainly matches mine.
Derek's generosity with his CAD program and patience with a stubborn student has also played an important roll in the birth of Velocette. Now I must confess the cradle I built during Covid confinement in Tahiti was a trial build. Sure, I wanted to build a cradle/dinghy for our grandchild, Sylvia Violet and it served as a practice project for Velocette.
Jean Francois, Derek, Liz and Victor (for having Sylvia Violet) and most importantly, Lisa have all supported and assisted me in this project. I have always believed that inanimate objects have a spirit. The spirit comes from their creators. I have had a lot of help from others to create this spirit. And today, I was amazed by the spirit that floated in the beautiful Huahine lagoon.