Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Lysander Sailing Boat


Percy Bandford, not a huge name in yacht designing, but a real revolutionary in his day. I mention him because I came across two examples of his designs the other day, sadly too small for my requirements and probably too far gone for me to renovate. One in particular attracted me because she was gunter rigged. I don’t want to bore readers with my passion for this rig, but for new people to this neck of the internet, a gunter has arelatively short mast in a tabernacle, which makes mast raising and lowering easier. An extra spar is attached to the sail. It is raised when the sail is hoisted, thus increasing the length of the mast. This means that the total length of mast is shortened when you reef the mainsail, so not only do you shorten sail, you shorten the mast as well. This lowers the centre of gravity – thereby increasing stability as the wind rises. Another advantage is that both the mast and the gunter spar sit inside the overall length of the boat with no overhangs when she’s on a road trailer.

So there she is a Blandford designed beautiful pocket cruiser called the Lysander. Percy was one of a small band of British designers who popularised sailing in the 1950s by developing plans and kits for very small cabin cruisers which could be built at home using marine plywood in a geodesic kind of way. That’s to say the tension developed in the ply when it was bent to take up the shape of the hull were the boat’s real strength. By bending sheets of ply in tension against each other you could do away with heavy expensive framing. He also, took advantage of the emerging use of bilge keels to make sure that these designs were happy on cheaper half-tide moorings. In his own words (reflecting attitudes of the day) a Lysander kit could be put together by a ‘man and a boy’ in about ten weekends.

I sailed an old Lysander about ten years ago, she was light, fast as a dinghy and very comfortable. Most were 17 feet in length; this one was a 19ft stretched version, a big boat for me at that time but this was lake sailing not sea sailing. At sea maybe I wouldn’t like her so much.

There are downsides to purchasing this type of boat though, especially for anyone purchasing one second hand. The quality of construction depended on the skill and patience of whoever put the kit together; some were built of inferior exterior ply which was significantly cheaper than marine ply but much more prone to rot and delamination.

That shouldn’t be a problem anymore because the exterior ply versions will probably have rotted away after all this time. Find one in good condition and she must have been made out of the real stuff. Sadly the one I looked at the other day was just too far gone for me to repair and, in any case, it would have required a transom hung outboard for auxiliary power, and that puts her firmly on my ‘no thank you ‘ list.

Looking at her though, I was reminded of Joshua Slocum’s famous book ‘Sailing Alone Around The World’.  Joshua was the world’s first solo circumnavigator and he did it on a shoestring. In the book he describes rebuilding an old boat for the trip. She was called the Spray, and he points out that in law the Spray remains the Spray even if there is only one original plank left after the renovation.  My task, if I had bought the Lysander would have been equally drastic. 

One other interesting low cost cruising gem from  Joshua’s book, is that when he was ready to start the voyage he didn’t have a chronometer so he bought an old alarm clock and boiled it in oil. It kept good time and worked perfectly through the voyage. 

So, a while back John (the Unlikely Boat builder) commented that he feared the list of boats that suit my wish list – ‘good sea boat, shallow draft, gunter rig, good accommodation’, may be a very short list indeed. In truth, I think he suggested that there may be no boats at all which would meet my requirements.  Well, I’m still optimistic because if the Lysander had been in better repair she would have met three of the four criteria listed above. Actually I’m not being entirely truthful here – she was far too small! But this brings me back yet again to the Westerly boats. Apparently, Denis Rayner, the originator of the original Westerly boats did build a shallow draft, GRP gunter rigged vessel with inboard engine options – the Westerly 22, Mmm need to have a look at one.

Seaward