Boatbuilder and designer ROSS LILLISTONE from Duck Flat Wooden Boats talks about the evolution leading to his latest sailing dinghy design.
“What do you mean by a beach cruiser?’ inquired Briggs.
“It means a boat to cruise along the beaches in shallow water,” Goddard replied, “a boat to sleep aboard when hauled out on the beach, and I can tell you that this is an interesting and risky sort of cruising. It takes skill and experience to sail close to the shore if it is a rock region and there is a sea running, but you can visit many unfrequented places in a beach cruiser. Of course there are sheltered waters in the rivers and marshes where there is no danger....” (The Compleat Cruiser by L. Francis Herreshoff – Sheridan House 1956 Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 56-12511)
When I first read the words quoted above back in 1980 I had already been beach cruising for 15 years, even though I didn’t know that was what it was called. Being fortunate enough to have been brought-up on the shores of Moreton Bay in southern Queensland in a family interested in wooden small-craft I was blessed from the beginning.
Phoenix as she is today.
At the time of my first reading of the wonderful book from which I quote, I was spending my spare time day-sailing and beach cruising the shores near Townsville in tropical North Queensland, around places such as Magnetic Island. The conditions in the region provided plenty of adventure and some danger due to the underwater inhabitants and the robust sea conditions.
However, my initial beach cruising adventures were modest, and carried out in tin canoes, in very small sailing boats such as the wonderful Charles G MacGregor-designed Sabot, and a variety of old flat-bottomed rowing and outboard boats. As fate would have it, in 1974 I inherited a 15ft 2½ inch x 6ft cruising dinghy designed and built by my late father, Victor Ross Lillistone. She was conceived specifically for cruising and day-sailing, constructed from marine plywood over Western Red Cedar framing and longitudinal stringers. The narrow flat-bottom was from ½ inch ply and the four batten-seam planks each side were from
¼ inch ply. The glue was Resorcinol and the fastenings silicon-bronze. She is still sailing today, and is being used by the fourth generation of our family. Her name is ‘Phoenix’.
I’ve done some pretty adventurous things in my life, but beach cruising and day-sailing in simple dinghies has remained one of my greatest sources of satisfaction, and at age 66, I intend to continue the activity for as long as I am physically able. All of this can be done by just about anybody, in a boat which they have built for themselves, at a small fraction of the cost of an off-the-shelf production boat.
By about the year 2000, in the endless search for the ‘perfect boat’, I settled on the proportions that I felt were just right for beach cruising – 15ft x 5ft x 6ins (4.5m x 1.5m x 150mm). Enough length for a good displacement speed, fine entry lines to slice through a steep chop, narrow enough for light weight and efficient rowing with oars of a modest length, and shallow enough to be able to manoeuvre the boat over a reef or sand bank. A lightly-built boat with these proportions would be able to carry three adults plus gear on protected waters, be effective as a beach-cruiser and daysailer with two, and still be capable of being moved easily on the beach and sailed effectively by a solo skipper. On top of all that she should have provision for a realistic sleeping spot.
In early 2005 I was approached by a customer who has since become a long-term friend. His name is Paul Hernes, and he became the builder of the prototype of my beach-cruising/day-sailing design named ‘Phoenix III’. Since then 259 sets of plans (and counting) have been purchased, with the design having been built world-wide.
Phoenix III is constructed using the glued-lapstrake (i.e. clinker) method, resulting in a hull which has a high strength-to-weight ratio, and even more importantly, a high stiffness-to-weight ratio. The epoxy-glued hull seams remain water-tight for life, and for such a complex shape, the boat is relatively simple to build – forgiving work for an amateur who reads the extensive instruction manual, and speedy work for a professional.
Despite the quick and relatively simple construction, a building frame or ‘strongback’ must be made, with moulds, bulkheads and frames, over which the hull is assembled. Also, the shapes of the individual planks must be established using a procedure known as ‘spiling’. None of these steps are difficult for someone who reads the instructions or one of the many books available, but it seems that potential builders can be intimidated by the processes.
Over the years I’ve been approached by a substantial number of people who asked whether a CNC-cut (Computer Numerically Controlled) kit of parts is available and until recently the answer has been, “No”. I have produced hand-cut kits for several of my other designs, but not for lap-strake/clinker hulls.
Phoenix III with the Balance Lug rig. image Paul Hermes
But here is where fate stepped in once more … In recent years I have been in collaboration with the management and staff at Duck Flat Wooden Boats in Adelaide. The current team are firmly focussed on quality design and construction, accompanied by a broadening of their product range and service offerings. My involvement has been on the design and consultation side.
As part of this vigorous approach to being the ‘One-Stop-Shop’ for wooden boat enthusiasts, Duck Flat Wooden Boats are in the process of developing a truly comprehensive range of CNC-cut kits for amateur builders, with the latest version of the Phoenix range, Phoenix 15, being the first new kit to reach the workshop floor. I am very proud to have been part of this ambitious project and I have enthusiastically worked on altering Phoenix III to incorporate what I have learned since the first Phoenix III was drawn in 2005. Also, I have incorporated construction developments to make best use of CNC cutting and construction techniques.
Phoenix 15 kits will soon be available in a range of modules from printed plans for home building through to complete boats ready to sail away. In-between those two extremes will be kits with the parts CNC-cut, including all of the lap-strake/clinker planks, all frames, bulkheads, stem components, transom, transom doublers, decks, seats and tank-tops, rigging components, quality fasteners, epoxy, glass cloth, rudder hardware, sails and more.
If you would like someone to do the hull construction for you we at Duck Flat Wooden Boats will make a professionally-built bare hull which you can finish at home. Best of all, the kits will be available in modular component packs so that you don’t have to purchase an entire kit at the beginning if that doesn’t suit you. All the way through the construction, assistance and advice will be available from the Duck Flat Wooden Boats team.
The differences between Phoenix III and the new Phoenix 15 are minor in terms of hull shape, proportion and size. I would expect that no-one would be able to tell them apart if two were floating side-by-side, and performance should be just about identical. In the case of Phoenix 15, the keelson and two garboard strakes (i.e. the lowest two planks abutting the keel) have been replaced by a narrow flat bottom panel of 12mm marine plywood. This change removes the two most difficult parts of construction – bevelling the keelson into the stem and fitting the garboard strakes. In addition, the resulting narrow bottom panel allows for easier fitting of the centreboard case, frames, and bulkheads, and for a substantially stronger bottom.
The Sprit rig with a jib set flying is powerful and close-winded.
Other changes include a slight increase in breadth (beam) to 5ft (1.524m), a length between perpendiculars of 5ft 2ins (4.630m), and the addition of three very light frames. Although these alterations were introduced to make the construction better suited to CNC-cutting, I believe the boat has been improved slightly compared with her sister.
No matter whether you have a Phoenix III or a new Phoenix 15, the boat is a versatile, capable and pleasant vessel in which to enjoy our watery world with all of the accompanying beaches, headlands, rivers and creeks. She will carry any of six different rigs, five of which use the very same mast, allowing an enthusiast to mix-and-match rigs. Better still, four of the current rig options do not require any standing rigging, so no need for stays and shrouds. This saves plenty of money in the first instance, and makes for super-quick rigging and un-rigging.
The matter of rig choice is something which could take up a whole book, so I am not going to get into detail here. However I will say that in the days when most sailing was done by people engaged in a struggle to make a living (fishermen, smugglers, ship’s pilots, ferrymen, pirates and so on), rigs needed to be cheap to build, able to be maintained by their owners, reliable, versatile and easy to handle with the smallest crews possible. Racing has altered the evolutionary path of sailing boat rigs, and the need to gain every last second in the world of competition has seen enormous increases in the cost and complexity of sailing gear.
Cruising and recreational daysailing is less about saving two seconds on the up-wind leg at all costs and more about elegant simplicity, reliability, lack of clutter, ease of maintenance, speed of setting and striking the rig, versatility, independence from shore-based repair organisations, and low cost. There is also great satisfaction to be gained from using your initiative to tweak rigs and experiment. The boat I started beach cruising in during very early 70s is now on her seventh different rig and we are still making experimental changes – the satisfaction is profound. With Phoenix 15 all of these delights are at your fingertips.
In this day and age most of us are subject to time pressure when it comes to recreational activity, and so auxiliary power is an important consideration when setting out for a day on the water. From the very start of my adventures in small boat design, I have paid close attention to rowing geometry. Not too many people seem to be interested in rowing these days, but that can be blamed on the disgraceful quality of the rowing equipment and the oars which one can buy from chandleries and marine retailers. In addition, most rowing seems to be done in boats with hulls designed to run at planning speeds under the urge of outboard motors. Attempting to row a tinny or an inflatable is discouraging enough, but combining it with the use of badly shaped and un-balance oars ensures that the experience of rowing is most unpleasant.
Phoenix 15 has a hull shape which is very well suited to rowing – so much so that leaving the rig at home and rowing for the pleasure of it is something I do regularly. The relationship between the location of the oarlocks and the rowing thwart must be designed properly, the standard of oarlocks and sockets should be high, and most important of all, oars should be correctly proportioned and well made. If all of those elements are in place, you will find a boat such as Phoenix 15 will allow you to row fast and far. True, it will take time to develop skill, but the results will pay-off for the rest of your life!
Despite my enthusiasm about sailing and rowing, auxiliary outboard power is sometimes a necessity for a variety of reasons which everybody can understand. Phoenix 15 is equipped with an outboard motor mount on the transom, including a self-draining splash-well mounted to port of the rudder. This particular arrangement has been thoroughly tested in half-a-dozen or so of my designs, and is much less obtrusive than the disgusting-looking metal outboard brackets which are so common.
Tom Pamperin, an American professional writer, teacher and well-known small boat adventurer has covered many, many hundreds of miles in a Phoenix III. Here is rowing close to the Canadian border. The sailing rig is neatly stowed in the cockpit. image Tom Pamperin
Phoenix 15 has a slippery hull specifically designed for displacement speeds, and as such she needs very little power to run efficiently. For the last 21 years I’ve been using a four-stroke Honda 2hp (the current model is rated at 2.3hp) which weighs only 12.5kg/27-½lbs. I usually run at about one-third throttle at which speed the sound of the four-stroke is quite soothing and the boat runs at displacement speed (about 5.2kts or 9.6kph). Light-weight is my primary consideration when it comes to an auxiliary outboard.
More recently I have been conducting tests to determine the practicality of electric auxiliary power. Electric trolling motors have proven to be unsuitable due to the large diameter fine-pitch propellers used in their primary function. However, for nearly a year now I have been using a Torqeedo Travel 1 03CS which is designed primarily as a propulsion motor rather than a trolling motor. The propeller technology comes from modern cargo ship design, and the integral lithium battery provides me with all the power I need. Intelligent operation is necessary because if you try to push past the displacement speed of the boat the electricity consumption increases exponentially, but at my boat/motor combination’s sweet-spot of about 4.2kts/7.8kph, I get around six hours endurance from a single battery which weighs 6kg/13.2lbs. Use a solar panel and the range increases substantially.
On the subject of the Torqeedo, I have been experimenting with e-motor-sailing, and the results have been spectacular. I’ve motor-sailed with internal combustion outboards, but the noise is always there, and as the wind picks up the motor increases in revs and then decreases in revs as the wind moderates or you encounter some chop.
With the Torqeedo Travel 1003CS the situation is very different. On calm or fluky wind days I set out with the rig up and the electric motor set to an input wattage of about 54 watts. This gives me a speed in a flat calm of about 2.7kts/5kph with total silence from the electric motor. As the wind increases the motor rpm stays almost constant (and silent) but the electricity consumption drops in inverse proportion to the wind speed. So the boat gets along as though under sail power alone and you can get through the frustrating calms. Once the wind gets to the strength where the motor is consuming zero watts, you can lift to motor at your convenience. On a recent outing where I was e-motor-sailing for about three and a half hours with two people and gear aboard, I still had 90% battery capacity when I returned and had been able to cover a substantial distance instead of being held back by the calms. A perfect motor for your Phoenix 15 – a motor which is also IP67 water-proof!
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