A life with small sailing boats… and no engines, ever

(Published in Seahorse August 2012  p.44-45)


1946, at the age of 16, I decided to design and build my own sailing boat. My reasons will be familiar; when I was ten years old I had got my first sailing boat, a 13ft fisherman´s dinghy with a spritsail. I tried it out in a local regatta, and finished last. I blamed the outcome on the boat´s full bow profile which seemed to barge, rather than glide through waves.  I wanted something faster.

So the start point for my design was a sharp forward end. In a recent sailing magazine an aerodynamicist had also written about the importance of dynamic forces on a sailboat, of balancing a  boat and its rig properly to ease  its passage through the water. I liked that idea. I also came across Colin Archer´s writing regarding the distribution of displacement – or buoyancy – that it should follow a theoretical wave, a sine curve balanced about the point of maximum beam, and that ideally this should be 60 per cent back from the stem. Archer also believed that from that point aft the curve prescribed should present a trochoid (the curve prescribed by a point on a circle as that circle rolls along) back to the transom. That was real science!

During the winter I drew the lines, bought the material – larch for the hull skin, 1in fir for the frames and 2in for the keel. My streamlined outer keel was designed as a stubby aeroplane wing, and made from two curved plates of 4mm steel, welded together by a local blacksmith. The rudder was on the back of the keel, following the then fashion of heavy rake, having an asymmetrical trim tab effect would, we all felt, lift our boats to windward…

The rig was first planned as masthead, to maximize span for the slot effect. But my early spruce mast could not withstand the tip forces, so I compromised with a headstay set at about 75% (my slender topmast did provide one unexpected advantage by flexing nicely in the gusts).

Of course the sails were of cotton in those days. To flatten the exit on the main and also make it less prone to distortion I oriented my leach fabric at right angles to the rest of the panels. The work took most of my time during spring 1947, also necessitating many illegal absences from school. The total cost was about 300 SKR (20 euros).

In hindsight the project was ridiculous. A first design, no boatbuilding experience of building, everything done completely on my own … and with no advice from anyone. The local experts looked on in horror – that way a boat had never been designed, and even less built. But it worked, and the performance exceeded even my own hopes.

  The first proof for “Jazz”, as my boat was named, was an encounter with an established racing daysailer, a “Stjärnbåt”, same size, same sail area. I could sail in circles around it. In what was then the biggest sailing event in southern Sweden, the Hanö Regatta, I outsailed the competition (including a down scaled Star copy and several slippery sailing canoes) both on the water and on handicap. That winning run went on for the three years I owned “Jazz”, on the Hanö Regattas, but also including all the local regattas.

As you would (still) expect other competitors strongly objected to my boat. The local paper even published an article about Jazz being the antithesis to sailing boats, calling it a masked U-boat, which should not be allowed to compete with True Sailing Boats. However, to their credit, the sailing committee was impressed, and I was rewarded a special trophy for “the most outstanding achievement” at my first event.

Maybe I was expected to make a career in boat design. But it was not to be. I became involved in the fight for survival in other areas. But I kept thinking about boats, and also designed the occasional sailing dinghies for family use. One such boat, a nice little 14ft centreboarder, made some record open sea sailing via Gotland (rounding mark for the Baltic Offshore Race), once sailing 113nm non-stop.

In all my life I have never owned a boat with an engine, only sails, and oars as auxiliary. During my 70 years of sailing I have probably saved the earth hundreds of tons of CO2. Today that may be an argument for sailing small boats. To me it is just a bonus.

I prefer to sail because of the intimacy with the natural forces involved, and for the economic freedom. But sadly I have noticed that small boat sailing on a family level, the very breeding ground for a broader engagement in the sport, has and continues to decline disastrously. The modern small sailing boats that come to the market are ever more specialized for racing on an ever more extreme level.

I know that Seahorse is aware of the problem, and highlighted it as long ago as April 1999.In fact, that article was one inspiration for my latest design.

One thing that works against small boats is that they are comparatively expensive. Furthermore, the only truly advanced small boats on the market are designed for racing, useless on the family level. So I got the idea for a boat that would perform nicely as a general racing boat – but that could be easily converted for daysailing, and even as the family´s summer home-away-from-home… with the potential for some longer distance cruising for the most dedicated.

Bengt Jörnstedt, a legendary Swedish racer of Whitbread and Fastnet Race fame, more recently  editor of  Swedish magazine ”Segling”, liked the idea and presented it in his magazine as a new rule class, the “SK 2000”, one based upon functional requirements rather than mathematical formulas.

For the prototype I used the combination of a lifetime in small sailing boats, and the latest in theory and material ideas, with an eye too upon some of the work done on distance-sailing dinghies by Uffa Fox. I also threw in a bit of current International 14, including the use of a fat-head mainsail (something I first tried in 1990). Having no time to build my own mast, I bought a 49-er spar, adding a fathead main with a heavily angled top, adding sail area higher up given my limited hast height. Another advantage of this “pointy” top is that it helps get rid of tip vortices and so reduces drag.

The heavy mast rake is there for several reasons. Overall balance, of course, plus giving the sail the longest possible leading edge and reducing the trailing edge. And, I must admit, because it looks good. The rig plan also bear a resemblance to a modern aeroplane wing, which I imagine is not a bad thing.

For the centreboard and rudder the choice was a refined NACA 64 section created in Computer Keels (computerkeels.com), being the most practical solution as I had to make it all on my own.

The sharp hull entry is tailored to the short, choppy waves and the frequent motorboat wakes that are common in the Swedish archipelagos. The wide foredeck has several functions – sunbathing, to provide storage space under the deck and o keep the cockpit dry. The thwarts are removable for racing or camping onboard.

So if we  have got  things about right, the SK 2000 should have the best racing for a non-extreme  dayboat and – based upon personal experience with the  prototype – will also be  equally at home  as a  proper family sailboat.

For our own needs (now aged 82 and 80) with crew stability a rather reduced option, we carry 60kg internal ballast plus 30kg in the composite centreboard.  As the Swedish East Coast Archipelago is rather shallow and “mined” with underwater obstacles we decided on an aft-pivoting board – but his could be switched for a retractable fin and bulb if preferred. Anyway, it seems to work fine.

Our new boat gives us a 1.85m long cabin for overnighting, a comfortable bathing ramp, a proper table to eat off, plus a foredeck suitable for sunbathing! And of course, she is easily driven with paddle and oars when the wind drops or for maneuvering `in port`.


(Scotsman John Scott Russell (1808-82), co-designer of “Great Eastern”, first invented the Solitary Wave Theory for flow, later developed as the Wave Form Theory by the Norwegian naval architect Colin Archer (1832-1921) to help solve the distribution of displacement)


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