Sunday, September 28, 2008

Boyhood Literature

This copy of the American "Yachting" magazine was first read by my father three months before I was born - note the price - they are now about $15 - $20NZ. Pretty pricey really, especially if you are a boat fanatic like myself. If I was really obsessive about purchasing every sailing magazine I laid eyes on I could easily spend in the region of one to two hundred dollars a month. But I don't. I am one of those people at the magazine stand who flicks through and only buys if there is something really interesting and valuable. I have learnt to use the library. Old sailing news is still good news in my book and well worth the wait. I sometimes take a stack home from the local library and saunter my way through them.
In his time my father was a great collector of sailing magazines and our hallway cupboard was full of the Yachting Monthly, Yachting World, Yachting, Rudder, Sea Spray, Wooden Boat, Sail magazine and many more. I can still see him kneeling in the hall in a sort of genuflection to his hoard of yachting magazines. They gave him a great deal of pleasure and like a good CD or book he came back to them more than a few times. I have to say as I grew bigger and developed my own interest in sailing and sailed my own centerboard yachts on the local estuary I too spent some time kneeling in a draughty hallway flicking through a stack before lugging it off to a comfortable chair for closer examination. I remember all this with fondness. The formation of formative years is enduring and the practise continues from time to time to this day.
Today I pretty much only purchase the English edition of Classic Boat magazine on any regular basis and I get a lot of pleasure from reading this. It is full of articles about wooden boats which I am particularly fond of.
My sailing library now includes a huge number of sailing books about yachts and voyaging and almost every maritime facet in between and a fair old stack (and it is old) that I have inherited from my father.
"Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man" - I didn't have a chance - but look at me - I'm smiling and I KNOW what the wind is saying when it begins to stir in the trees.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Yacht 'Fantasy' circa 1948 Lyttleton Harbour - Photo from private collection

This is the yacht 'Fantasy' sailing on Lyttleton harbour not long after she was launched. She was designed by the English naval architect Harrison Butler.

Harrison Butler designed all his yachts to a design rule he created called the Metacentric Rule. The rule was a mathematical equation relating to proportion that was meant to create the most efficient and fast hull for a given length. I think that the rule has now been discredited. Despite this the rule did have the byproduct of producing beautifully balanced hulls. My father who sailed on Fantasy said that she would sail herself to windward for long periods without anyone at the helm.

This characteristic is not something to be taken lightly as anyone who has sailed on an unbalanced boat will tell you. Many years ago I did a trip to the Pacific Islands in a beautiful looking yacht with very very bad "weather helm" i.e. the stronger it blew the more the boat wanted to rip the tiller out your hands and round up into the wind. Weather helm can be exhausting, especially in our case where we had lost our self steering wind vane in a storm and had to steer long watches for many days.

The curiously beautiful balance of Harrison Butlers boats is ascribed to the fact that the lines of the underwater plane of his hulls are symmetrical fore and aft. When you combine this symmetry with an above the waterline hull of non extreme type you have a hull whose balance is perfect when sailed upright and does not alter a lot when heeled.

In the UK many of HBs designs are considered classics and many have been restored and are still sailing.

By modern standards some of these older yacht designs do not give the same amount of accommodation for a given length, but their charm lies in their traditional design and very well mannered sailing behaviour.