Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sparrow Takes Wing in Port Townsend

19’ Clinker Built, Double Ended North Shore Dory

The original design for Sparrow is from Ed Davis' Tropic Bird, as described in "WoodenBoat" magazine #163, which in turn is developed from the North Shore Surf Dory as documented by John Gardner.

Ed Davis, in his search for a design he liked for a small, open cruiser, came across the North Shore Surf Dory documented in John Gardner's "Building Small Craft", which he modified to carry a sail rig of his own design.
Davis further credits the development of the surf dory to William Chamberlain, renowned builder of dories in 19th century Massachusetts.

Laingdon Schmitt is the proud owner of Sparrow and has generously offered to explain his choice of this double rowing/sailing design and helpful details about how she was built:

"Builder Kees Prins lofted the boat, converted the original batten seam design to lapstrake, and increased the scantlings from 1/4" plywood to 8mm. Drawing on his experience with open water and open boats, he built double bulkheads fore and aft for floatation chambers in the extreme ends with decked over stowage forward of the main mast and abaft the mizzen. Kees designed plywood lazarets that run the full length of the cockpit. These are excellent for keeping gear and two sets of oars out of the way, but they do limit the space in an already narrow boat. The benches also strengthen and stiffen the boat enormously. It's possible that if we had had that aspect of the design in mind when we began building that we might have gone with lighter planking. I've discussed this with Kees, and he's still more comfortable with the boat as built, but I feel that she's on the heavy side."

"Kees also designed the steering gear. In the original design, the boat is steered with a symmetrical yoke on the head of the rudder post, from which runs a loop of line that circumscribes the cockpit, with two whipstaff-like levers at the gunwale, one to a side that, moved fore and aft, steer the boat. Once we'd gotten as far as the lazarets, it became apparent that this system wouldn't work very well in the boat we were building, and further, we preferred traditional tiller steering. The result is the intricate and effective steering gear of Sparrow. Another traditional solution to the conflict of tiller and mizzenmast is a yoke on the mizzenmast. Kees developed the pivoting tie rod arrangement you see. The pivot on the mizzen became a bronze mast partner and the geometry of the mechanism needed to accommodate the existing after hatch. There is a limit for the throw of the arms, and hence the range of movement for the tiller. This last is the only drawback to this setup; you can't throw the tiller over and kick the stern around or stall the boat as you can with a conventional, stern hung rudder."

"Thus, the boat is a bit slow in stays. This winter we're going to bring her into the shop at the new Northwest Maritime Center (Port Townsend,WA,US), where Kees is now the shop Director, and give her a new, higher aspect board, hoping this will improve her maneuverability and windward performance."

"After Kees fabricated and shaped the steering gear, he turned the parts over to Walt Tisdale of Haven Boatworks, for welding. Walt did a wonderful job and the result is the eye-catching beauty of the finished gear."

"The rig on Sparrow is much as Davis designed it. Since we increased the weight of the hull without scaling up the rig to suit, she's now somewhat underpowered in light air. I sewed a lightweight drifter that hoists to the masthead and boosts her along in lighter air, as well as a mizzen stays'l. Both were cut from old spinnakers, and though their shape is not ideal, they were easy and inexpensive to make."

"The peak of the mainsail has been redrawn to more closely match the mizzen, which has a fuller roach, for purely aesthetic reasons. I built the sails at Sean Rankins' loft, Northwest Sails. Sandy Goodall, of Victoria (BC,CAN), computer drafted the full shape and offered suggestions for refinements. The cloth supplier cut the panels and I built the sails under the tutelage of Sean and his associates at the loft. Davis' original rig included a small gunter yard on the main to accommodate the fractional jib and batwing style battens. At Sean's suggestion, we converted it to a pole mast and track, which proved problematic in raising/striking sail, and did not allow the sail to set to best advantage. At present, I have lacing and a small stiffening yard that keeps the upper part of the luff close to the mast, but I am considering going back to a true gunter design, reconfiguring the battens and enlarging the main to improve light air performance."

"Sparrow is inherently tender, since she is narrow for rowing efficiency. I recently sailed in company with a Caledonia Yawl, which is almost exactly the same length and a foot wider, and the difference in relative stiffness was clear. When the rising breeze had me up on the rail and playing the main sheet in gusts, the skipper of the other boat simply had his crew move up from the leeward side to windward and carried on."

"I have enjoyed this boat enormously in the last three years. The tenderness contributes an athletic quality of sailing I've not enjoyed since I grew up sailing Lasers on Long Island Sound. I have a boat that I can comfortably and enjoyably row in a calm, and that crossed San Francisco Bay in a breeze that was clocked on shore at 35 knots."

"I can set a tent fly over the cockpit and, sleeping on the floorboards, have a comfortable enclosed camping space."
"A number of people have mistaken my boat for a Ness Yawl, which is not surprising, given that they are almost exactly the same size. Kees asked at the outset why I didn't want to build to a fully realized design."

"The answer is; I grew up in New England, and have a personal and regional connection to the boats of that area, and to dories in particular. Dories are part of my background in a way that Scottish yoles are not. I also wanted something unique, something that would be very much it's own kind of boat, and that, I certainly have."

Adam Bays and Brad Seamans worked with Kees Prins variously during construction. That's Adam sanding the hull.

Kees Prins told me he had participated in RAIDs with Iain Oughtred and his work is obviously influenced by that experience. A small boat that offers a good compromise between sailing and rowing characteristics is hard to find. As with Sparrow, preferences for one or the other will inevitably dominate the design.

Laingdon and Kees participated in the Shipyard School RAID in 2006 with Sparrow and have attended the Sucia Island Rendezvous in Washington State’s San Juan Islands with this fine boat, where it was my pleasure to meet them last summer.

The obvious advantage in a dory design is its seaworthiness, not to mention inspirational beauty. It is for these qualities that Sparrow is now featured on the header of this website.

Photos of Sparrow under sail and during construction courtesy of Laingdon Schmitt.

Thank you very much Laingdon!


Anonymous said...

Michael B.,
Thanks again for featuring this very attractive craft.

Thanks very much for the description and additional photos of Sparrow. Your candid comments are highly informative and remind me of Bolger's lucid writings about his boats. I hope you continue to enjoy her for many more years, as well as have the proverbial fair winds and following seas wherever you sail her.

Michael H.

doryman said...

Michael H.,
It was my pleasure. The folks from Port Townsend are hosting a gathering at Fort Warden State Park a week from now and I hope to attend (it's a long drive!). So if all goes well, I'll have more photos of Sparrow, Feather and much more.
Laingdon has much more to say about his lovely boat (I edited some of his more technical comments) so maybe we'll come back to Sparrow another day.

Unknown said...

That is very beautiful.

doryman said...

Good of you to stop by. Sparrow is indeed a fine boat and it's obvious Laingdon is very proud of her. I'm not too good with the video function on my camera, but I'll try to get some footage of her in motion this weekend.

Bernie Amell said...

I have also built a boat based on Ed Davis' Tropic Bird plans with quite a few fitting and woodwork modifications. Have sailed and rowed her (The Avocet) on lakes in Alberta and Wisconsin so far. I'm biased of course by being the builder but she is a fine handling boat even in a respectable breeze. Can I post photos and more detailed description?

doryman said...

I'd love to post something about Avocet! Sounds very interesting. You can reach me directly at:
mbogoger(at) (replace (at) with @).
Hope to hear from you soon...

michael b.