Performance matters

It was perhaps my very first design that set the seal on my future thinking. For reasons totally baffling to me in hindsight, I designed a long-keeled 27 footer to be built in ... ferro-concrete. Before the hull had been completed I knew it was mistake. Tremendous weight and performance? That didn’t seem a likely road to fulfilment. With both my hand and dreams in tatters from wiring together all those steel reinforcements, both myself and my companions in this unfortunate adventure saw the future and it was exceeding slow. The hull was sold and provided the material costs for our next venture ... by contrast a 24ft (7.3m) trimaran.

If that seems an unlikely change of tack you would be right. But, from the start, I knew we were on the right track and the launching of Shangaan in 1968 proved a revelation. Although quite simple by modern standards, she was the fastest boat I had ever sailed, scorching past the opposition of that time in a manner that was, quite frankly, embarrassing.

I still thing speed is important. You can sail a fast boat slowly, but you can’t sail a slow boat fast. But there’s no doubt that multihulls are not exactly marina-friendly and that’s an important consideration for cruisers who, even if they more usually prefer to anchor, must leave their boats occasionally, preferably in places where there’s adequate security. To arrive at a marina in a boat 25ft wide is to see panic in the eyes of the Harbour Master.

Three Fingered JackThe boat shown here is not Shangaan – for which no acceptable quality photos exist. Instead, it's Three Fingered Jack, a slightly longer version built for the 1970 two-handed Round Britain and Ireland Race, in which myself (standing on the foredeck) and Mike Ellison finished about halfway down the fleet against larger and considerably more substantial boats.


Sloopy - the first of three built to this designAt 28ft 6in (8.7m) LOA, this design was the first to be built by us in foam sandwich. Sloopy sailed off to Germany and we have lost touch, but her sister ship and immediate predecessor Paradigm is still afloat in Poole Harbour— not bad for a 40-year-old lightweight boat.

'Whisky Jack'

Whisky Jack website lo resThis foam sandwich 35-footer (10.67m) was built for my own use and was originally intended for the 1974 Round Britain Race. Unfortunately, the winter of '73/'74 saw the miners' strike and the immense difficulties of the three-day-week when Britain was effectively starved of electricity — a charter for many companies to go bust. Seeing little future for boatbuilders in the UK, I sold up, loaded some of my more treasured possessions onto Whisky Jack and sailed for Texas to start building boats there. The photo (right) shows us anchored in Funchal, Madeira, the departure point for our Atlantic crossing.

Whisky Jack eventually returned to Britain and went on to win the multihull class in the two-handed Azores and Back (AZAB) race of 1979.

Shifter 32

Shifter 32 beached in Galveston BayThis 32ft (9.75m) trimaran design emerged in 1975 and was the first to be built in moulded glassfibre rather than the more labour intensive custom techniques we had used previously. The boat could be disassembled for transport overland — an important consideration in the US.

Of all my multihull designs, this was the one that gave me the most satisfaction. She proved fast and well mannered, handling beautifully and with an exceptionally comfortable motion at sea. Unfortunately, the complexities of the construction made it difficult to compete on price in a market awash with cheaply produced monohulls. Only six Shifters were built before production ceased.

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