where and when did Selway Fisher Design start? Here is a short history
of the company and the philosophy behind the range of designs available.
It all started with an
intense boyhood interest in ships and boats, whilst l lived on the East
Coast of the UK around Dovercourt and Harwich in the 1950's and 60's.
Aged 11, my family moved from a seaside town inland, to a small town near
Reading not far from the Thames and so, with the help of a school buddy,
my interest settled on small boats rather than larger ships. Jim Curry,
my school friend bought a succession of small boats whilst we were in
our teens - these ranged from a simple sailing sharpie to a couple of
converted lifeboats - as they got bigger (Artoo was a 28 footer) they
got progressively more rotten and derelict - the future was always full
of that "bigger boat" but funds never quite matched our dreams
and so quality and the ability to keep the water where it should be (on
the outside of the boat) deteriorated sharply.
As school boy voyagers,
we terrorized, with our awful attempts at boating, that piece of the river
Thames that ran from Pangbourne to Marlow, centred on the Kennet Mouth
Boatyard which consisted of a series of run down old shacks in the
corner of land between a railway bridge, the Thames and the river Kennet
(which runs into the K&A canal). Here, amongst a ramshackle array of
broken boats being "converted", "repaired" and
generally left to rot, we learnt from many ol' timers, the rudiments of
caulking, laying a deck and the tricks involved in "keepin' the
bleedin' water out!"
These were halcyon days -
we were young, with few cares and an ever growing interest in all things
nautical - and for some reason, Reading Library was full of boating
books - books on every type of conversion, books on boat building,
design and maintenance and several by people like Uffa Fox, Illingworth,
P.W. Blandford and Michael Verney - and we read and read and read - and
because we couldn't afford to buy copies of the books, l copied great
chunks of them into note books. Some-one gave us a whole load of old
Yachting Monthlys and l spent hours pouring over the beautiful lines
plans and construction drawings of designs they had published.
I loved drawing and so l
was inspired to buy some tech' drawing instruments and cartridge paper
and start designing myself. At the same time l saved up and bought the
kit from York Marinecraft for a PBK20 - a Percy Blandford designed
double kayak - canvas over frame which l built at school (Woodley County
Modern) under the inspiring tutelage of the woodwork master, Mr.
Greenwell - everything gelled - the building side of the canoe, the
repair and maintenance of Jim's boats and helping out the various
weekend boat owners at the KMB - the books and finding a copy of
Chapelle's "Yacht Designing and Planning" in a second hand
book shop in Reading all led me to draw up my first design - a 14'
"Ultra fast racing dinghy" - l started planning her aged
16 in 1969, finished the design work and then started building in 1970 -
I did everything - made the wood mast and spars, bought in the sail
cloth and hand stitched both sails - where l ran out of money (from my
paper round) l used wood taken from old Utility furniture.
||My PBK20 with Jim
Curry my sailing buddy - in the background are the sort of boats
we owned and worked on in our youth - "Artoo" was very
similar to the boat on the right which was eventually burnt on
the slip after l managed to pock my finger through the topside
just above the waterline whilst cleaning the boottop - go to http://www.paulfisherart.com/chapter_7.htm
hull was essentially 'V' bottom single chine and ply over frame with
elements of stitch and tape. At this time l was studying for my A Levels
at Forest Boys Grammar in Winnersh and was Commodore of the School
sailing Club under the Sailing Master "Bummer Winch" - here is
an excerpt from my book "A Slight Mist on the Horizon" (so far
unpublished) -a novel based on my boating life to describe what happened
boat designer has to be a ‘jack’ of many trades - expert in hull
design to make sure the boat will carry all the weight imposed on it and
be efficient in her movement, sail design, sail control and ergonomics
for her fit-out are just some of the subjects a designer needs to have
an intimate knowledge of, if he is to design a successful boat. There
are so many more, but one very important subject, to which the good
designer must be well acquainted, is the strength of the different
materials used and the adequate design of the structure of the boat.
Now, Le Soliel was strong, or at least the hull was, but let’s
just say that there were certain inadequacies in the strength, or at
least, in my understanding of the need for strength, in certain small
areas of her construction. But l learnt. As usual - the hard way!
Le Soliel slipped, or shall we say, plonked into the water and
sat beautifully. My fellow crew mates from the school sailing club,
along with Bummer, carried her shoulder high from the borrowed trailer
with gusto and walked her down the slip and into the water, amidst a
profusion of comments. Some quite worrying.
sure the mast is too high, she’ll tip over easy!” and “I can see
those sails flying apart all over the place!” followed by “The
transom’s so shallow, she’ll ship water and sink!”
They were an encouraging lot, my chums, but she sat upright in
the water, with no apparent problems and with only the smallest of leaks
coming from around the centreboard case!
just a little trickle that! It’ll soon take up, gosh, she floats!”
That from Bummer, who was already downing some of his hooch in readiness
for the almost certain disaster to come.
you’re actually going to sail her, Fisher!?”
good luck. Bonne
It would have been nice for the young Nichole to be there to
witness this brave first voyage. I wouldn’t have minded, if she had
been carrying her bébé and even had Napoleon yapping at my groin, but
l guess, she was back in France! Ah well, maybe some day she would read
of my sterling exploits in the French press and realise her mistaken
Willing hands soon raised the sails and Le Soliel immediately
took on the motion of a race horse, champing at the bit, impatient to be
let off the ropes holding her, so that she could fly over the waters of
the lake and hurdle over the waves. The wind was getting up and l had
sudden tremors of, not fear exactly but, a little trepidation, a slight
queezyness in the pit of my stomach. After all, here l was, after months
of planning and dreaming, sawing and screwing, about to test my very
first design, in full view of a slightly baying audience!
on, get in and let’s see her go!”
Bummer crossed himself and raised his eyes to the heavens in
quiet supplication, followed by the bottle to his mouth! Ropey Haze
tugged at the straps on my lifejacket to make sure l was adequately
strapped into my only safety device and the remaining boys bore me up
and into the Le Soliel’s cockpit.
She was slippy, slidy and rocked with the need to get the wind
under her heels and go. The rudder was in place, the sheets ready, to
control the sails and without further ado, my ‘support crew’ pushed
me out into the lake, with a great heave.
Clear of the jetty Le Soliel wobbled alarmingly, whilst l fought
to get the centerboard down. It seemed to stick in the up position so l
drifted sideways towards the bank-side. The shore was covered in bracken
and creepers which l knew to have underwater roots that would ensnare
the unwitting and close by were overhead branches in profusion, just
right to entrap masts and rigging. Having spent many a lost afternoon
trying to untangle myself, or some unfortunate junior from that shore, l
wanted to keep well clear. I tacked the bow the other way hoping to gain
a short leg in the opposite direction. My throat was dry, but
fortunately, a kick to the top of the centerboard made it go down and Le
Soliel immediately responded. And a tweak to the rudder and a push down
on it’s blade sent us forward in the direction l had pointed her,
allowing us to get away from my waiting observers and the tangled bank.
Le Soliel started to respond as she was designed to do and clear
of the little inlet that led from the jetty, l tacked out and into the
lake proper. Water creamed from her bow and l experienced the
indescribable thrill of sailing forward in a boat of my own creation. I
settled back as we raced forward. There were a few ominous creaks from
various parts of the hull and rigging, but nothing seemed to want to
actually give way and so l tacked again, to get further into the lake.
Soon, l was able to turn a corner in the bank and put her on the
fastest point of sailing, a broad reach, with the wind coming from just
aft of the beam.
She was fast. Very fast, and responded like a thoroughbred,
surging forward and, l swear, starting to surf onto her bow wave and
plane. Cheers came from my crew mates mixed with Bummer’s hearty deep
guttural roars of appreciation and l guess, relief! I disappeared
towards the opposite bank of the lake in a welter of spray.
My school mates later told me, after l had been recovered, that
Le Soliel and myself were traveling at a fair rate of knots and looked
‘real great’ as we were enveloped in spray ‘flying all over the
place’! But this was little comfort, having had to swim, choke and
finally walk away from what happened!
The further lake side emerged quickly into view and l had to make
a turn. Before l could do so my attention was taken by seeing the screws
holding the lower mainsheet block to the hull, start to pull out under
the enormous tension of having to control the massive area of the
mainsail. Then, to my horror, l could see that the back piece of the
mast, which had been glued together out of four pieces of knotty Pine to
make it light and hollow, started to part from it’s neighbours, just
above where the boom attached to the mast!
This was all recoverable, if l could just let the sail out, spill
the wind and turn her round. I could then drop the sails and paddle back
to the jetty to effect some repairs – fine, if l had had a paddle!
But this was not to be. l got it all arse about face! Stupidly l
used the rudder to turn the boat, before taking some of the pressure off
the mainsail, by letting out the sheet and reducing her speed. Le Soliel
started to turn. At speed. No problem. Until the pressure on the rudder
snapped the rudder blade clean off with a massive crack, leaving me with
no steering control! The released part of the blade shot into the air
and spun back to float uselessly in my wake!
I can remember thinking, as Le Soliel started a fast twist and
eventual catastrophic capsize, that l now realized why the wood grain on
the rudder blade should run along the length of the blade and not across
it! Unfortunately, the only way l could cut it from the old wardrobe
door l had used, was to have the grain horizontal and this was a major
weakness. With the blade now detached and floating somewhere astern of
us, Le Soliel did the only thing a sprightly lady of her sort could do,
once allowed out of control, she deposited me into the water and turned
completely upside down, the shards of her knotty Pine mast sticking
firmly into the lake bed!
I doggy paddled, choking to the edge of the lake, but strangely
happy! My creation, now looking like some water feature gone very wrong,
stood before me, a monument to my lack of structural knowledge and,
perhaps, to my lack of adequate funds. But, l had succeeded. I had
designed a boat in my mind, drawn it down, planned it’s construction
every step of the way and built it. And having launched her, she had not
only floated the right way up but, with her homemade sails, had actually
worked. Not for long mind! But she had sailed forward and had shown
great potential. I was a boat designer and not out of my teens yet!
(Go to www.paulfisherart.com
for more excerpts from the book).
|My first design! -
Le Soliel at an early stage in construction in 1970.
Jim and l parted company
- he went to art school in Bristol (and eventually lived on a succession
of boats including a Mounts Bay Lugger around Millbrook near Plymouth)
and l went to the University
of Newcastle upon Tyne to study Naval Architecture & Shipbuilding -
from 1971 until 1974 when l graduated. My small boat interests were
somewhat curtailed by the study of super tankers, warships etc although
l managed to design a succession of large yachts in my private time and
design a National 12 for a fellow student ending up doing a comparison
of various different construction methods for 1/4 Ton rated racing
yachts for my final year thesis.