Wooden boats and their environment

Ireland has a rich tradition of boat-building, both working craft and racing boats. These boats were designed for specific purposes and particular places, local weather, materials and craftsmanship were incorporated into their designs. Sometimes the designs came from abroad and were adapted for local conditions. Many of these designs are still preserved and active today.

This course is about designing a wooden sailing boat for Lough Derg (County Tipperary) referring to the history and traditions of local construction and water use. Students will learn about the history of boat design and construction, the processes of design and the methods of construction. There will be visits to boatyards and boatbuilders with a particular emphasis on techniques of wooden construction. The final objective is the creation of a new design of sailing craft.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

End of Semester Review

Final Review 10th December

Ed and Iolar

We were kindly joined for our final review by Reggie Goodbody, John Parker and Geoff Brouder.
Four group designs were presented and discussed, as this is a blog, the earlier parts of the brief and precedents are quite a few posts back, here is the link to the brief.

Thanks to all those who assisted with the module this semester.


Hugo Hickey
Gillian O'Connell
Patrick Carey

A wooden catamaran for a mixed crew, fast, wet, modular and transportable. A box rule class for home builders, crew 2-3.


Ralph Hale
Robyn Marren
Ed White

A narrow, long arrow of a boat, modest sail area but low drag. Composite construction for light weight. A racing boat with different colour jibs for clarity of racing. The distinctive winged hull form and high aspect rig are intended to be particularly associated as a new class suitable for the inland waterways.

Lough Derg Adventurer

Aoibhin Egan
Colin Keith
Michelle O'Byrne

The adventurer is a boat suitable for racing and cruising, raid style racing and supporting a few days of self-sufficiency. Sociable sailing and rafting-up were intended from the outset as well as comfortable crew positions for sailing and sleeping.

The Mayfly

Maeve Counihan
Margarita Kaplun
Sean Hughes

The Mayfly is a fast shallow skimming dish for young people and light winds. To be raced with two crew but large enough for three. Cedar strip.

Architects and sailing - Part 1

Why teach architecture students about traditional boat design?
There are a variety of benefits to exploring parallel design disciplines, particularly those that operate within similar strictures to architecture. The design of a boat considers the environment and context that a boat will sail in, climatically, economically, socially and in terms of the available local materials and skills. Those elements are brought together to design something that will be used in that specific area. This is how traditional boats were created and how many racing classes came about, they are some of the elements that are close to architecture and distinguish the exercise from industrial design.
The design of a boat is a master-class in the drawing of curves, architects are often quite crude with curves, dynamic curves are refined, practiced and purposeful, every aspect of a sailing boat and its performance has refined curves. The process of designing a boat, from first sketches to outlining and sanding a half model to preparing balanced lines plans requires an attention to dynamic curves that have a direct consequence to both the behaviour of the boat and the ease of its construction. Some curves are better refined in 2d while others benefit from a three dimensional appreciation. Every plan, section and elevation of a boat are necessary to describe the complex curves of a boat’s form. In practice the students struggled with controlling curves during early surveys but have become more adept and confident with splines and the balancing of volume and stability using manual and computer based tools, new tools to them.
Sailing boats as structures are a balancing act of competing forces all delicately counter balanced against each other, a kind of ever-changing model of timber, shells, beams, ribs, stringers, braces, knees and laminates. But the crucial difference with most forms of architecture is that they are dynamic structures subject to changing, unpredictable, sometimes extreme forces. In dynamic structures the weight, strength and elasticity of materials all have different consequences not only for the use of the boat but its longevity, maintenance and safety. Oversizing of structure, ‘to be on the safe side’, often does not work. The use of bracing or reinforcing with steel, common practices for strengthening buildings tends to work against the unity and flexibility of a boat design.
On another level it is about learning about wood, when you learn about wood for architecture you are told things but you don’t feel them. You are told a timber is durable for 60 years, ok....you are told a timber is suitable for reducing spread of flame or will have a suitable core strength if seasoned, ok.....but when you go sailing in a timber boat and you lean out against the heel of the wind and the boat twists beneath you, creaks but doesn’t break, and you go through a wave and the bow rises you feel the qualities of the wood, if you feel it you’ll remember it. Sometimes it takes the senses to activate the imagination, there is fun, risk and a romantic quality to taking to the water that changes one’s perspective on life. Space and comfort are minimal, every movement is defined by the design of the parts around you, visibility and balance are vital, you are relatively in control but subject to the conditions you find yourself in, a conditional vehicle.
Carlo Scarpa said that as architects we should concern ourselves with what we touch, there’s a lot of touching in boats.

Renzo Piano is a keen sailor and this seems to influence some of his buildings, he also designed interesting boats for himself, Kirribilli (I & II) with some novel details.

Some of Renzo Piano Building Workshop's buildings with naval architecture references, refined curves, hull forms, rib structures, chines:


We have discussed chines and their ability to provide a possible better planing shape for downwind sailing but the possible disadvantage of greater wetted surface area particularly in light air. They are much used in offshore reaching machines and powerboats and off course they are quite fashionable in production cruisers now too. Good article at the bottom of this page from Dave Hollom, who often writes for Seahorse on the subject.



For dinghy construction the issue is as much about choice of material, ply/fibreglass/cedar/composite as about drag or stability. That said there are some fundamental weaknesses to chine construction (having put my foot through the floor of a mirror...)



Team SCA's Volvo 70 and 65 showing their distinct chines

New Dinghy Design - Precedent studies part 2

Margarita - Swift Solo

Issues discussed:

Composite construction
Does wood have inherent beauty, colour, texture, feel?
Is single handed sailing sociable?
The value of home building to loyalty to a class.
Importance of weight to performance

Michelle - Norfolk Punt


Issues discussed:

Boats that suit their enviroment
Strange historic origins of many modern boats, shooting/sailing
Handicap system for dinghy sailing. Portsmouth Yardstick.
Structural benefits of a decked design.

Patrick Carey - C Scow


Issues discussed:

Benefits of low freeboard, low drag, lighter hull etc
Benefits of simple rig, low cost, simpler structure, safer, less intimidating, more tactical (?)
The value of links to historic hull forms, updated heritage?
Mixed age/ability crews

Ralph Hale - International Canoe


Issues discussed:

The pleasure of sailing slender hulls, particularly upwind, sensitive helm feel.
Stability and power, sliding seat vs trapeze
Uffa Fox and canoes (for cruising...)
How classes can splinter into different tribes
Historic classes, how to develop.

Also discussed - raid sailing, long distance inland water-way sailing, growing in popularity usually using a mix of existing boats.