Off she goes, Iain Oughtred's slightly foreshortened Penny Fee, at 15ft. Sails by Jeckells, spars by the wonderful Jeremy Freeland at Collars. The rest by Messrs Burke and Morgan (that's Jonny by the way...)

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

I know I'll be in Trouble for this One...

I have said some harsh thing about plywood, and have been misunderstood, sometimes deliberately. I think the stuff is great, if used in the right way. That is, honestly, by those who fully understand its strengths and weaknesses. In the right hands it can produce exceptional, useable boats. Personally I would like to see clinker boats built in solid timber, as they look nicer, and are nicer to build. I am entitled to my views, just as others are.

In short, there are good and bad and indifferent examples of boats built in plywood and solid timber. But you would have thought that the purveyor of arguably the best marine plywood might have used an example of the best use of marine plywood on the front page of their marine trade list. Instead there is an example of what I would argue is the worst example; a shiny, faux clinker boat, with a ludicrous plywood breasthook, doubling as a mast partner and flimsy and unnecessary fake knees supporting the plywood thwarts. All the end grain is there to see, and furthermore the lands have been clarted in what looks like a light brown, poo-coloured epoxy mix. The plywood itself (probably 9mm Super Elite Plus at £140 a sheet) has been lovingly varnished to accentuate the strange grain pattern.

Now this is someone's pride and joy, and he or she might read this (or have it pointed out). I apologise. It's not personal. That is the nature of criticism; it cannot take account of sentiment. The builder is clearly highly skilled, and yet there is little artistry or understanding of small boats. The strips of brass around the truncated stempost are largely decorative;  they have little purpose. I can see why the photo was used, but the boat is, quite frankly wrong. Someone's pride and joy, undoubtedly, but wrong nonetheless. Why not put all that considerable skill to work on a boat, rather than a piece of fanciful, expensive plywood furniture? There, it's done. What can I say?

Here's an example, which properly showcases the best use of plywood, in a modern Merlin Rocket.

Copyright: Magnus Smith
Rob Holroyd's new boat 'Wicked' (built by Laurie Smart, to Keith Callaghan's "Hazardous 09" design) on display at the 2009 Dinghy Show


  1. I have asked a few people lately about this topic. Seems folks like that "swirly" grain under varnish. Makes no sense to them that a plank that actually looked like that would be a very poor choice for a boat.
    There, now I am in trouble, too.

  2. I'm right with you on this one, having tried all sorts of ways to try and varnish said marine ply and hated the results - both my stitch and glue craft have ended up painted and if I say so myself very nice they look too.

    That Merlin looks incredible