Of Dollies & Cradles

(colour photographs by Royce Powe and Chris Cleary, text by Chris Cleary).

As we all know, the natural habitat of the Australian Sailfish is the water. On shore is a harsher environment, with threats to finely finished hull surfaces from rigging area grit and passing traffic. And the lift from rigging area to water, and vice versa, is also fraught, both for the boat in the event of an unexpected gust of wind, and for ageing baby boomer backs and knees. The transfer also requires a random passer-by agreeing to be press-ganged into providing the lift.

When I started out in dinghy sailing, most small dinghies were rigged on an old blanket thrown on the ground. The visiting Victorians at the 1971-72 National Titles showed me for the first time the value of a boat cradle, both for transporting the boat on roof racks and for rigging the boat on the beach. Many of the Victorians had the same style of cradle – quite long, and fabricated from metal.


w&c_bc cadet sailfish beach
Brian Carroll, Elwood, 1968 with one of the long Victorian cradles of the time. [Carroll family album]
I subsequently built a wooden cradle for my boat.

Over subsequent decades however, the beach dolly has become predominant as both the platform on which to rig a boat and the means by which it is transferred to the water. Made of aluminium or stainless steel, they can be happily immersed in water, making launching and retrieval a one-person job. And, very cleverly, boat dolly and boat can often be wheeled directly on and off a waiting boat trailer. For a craft pre-eminently suited to car-topping like the Sailfish, however, the beach dolly is less attractive – it will take up a prohibitive amount of room in the car.

A brilliantly improvised version of the beach dolly was unveiled to the Sailfish fraternity at the Toronto Amateur Sailing Club 4OAK Regatta in March of this year by Royce Powe. Astoundingly, Royce made the journey south to Lake Macquarie from Yeppoon in Queensland, a 3000 km round trip. He competed in the event in his lovely newly built ‘Woody’. She was rigged and transported to and from the water on Royce’s clever homemade dolly shown below.

Royce's dolly 2.JPG

Royce's dolly 1.JPG
When rigged, Woody can be securely tied to the arms of the dolly

As Royce describes, it was made from an old sailboard boom he had in his shed. There is some adjustment available in the overall length of the dolly. A length of alloy tube was used as an axle.


Royce's dolly 3.JPG

Royce's dolly 4

Royce carries ‘Woody’ upside down on roof racks attached to his ute. He throws the dolly in the tray of the ute. The dolly does, however, come apart, which would allow it to be accommodated in a station wagon. For a sedan, the arms of the dolly (the sailboard boom) would probably have to be carried on the roof with the boat.

Royce's dolly 5.JPG


In no way matching the ingenuity of Royce’s dolly, the cradle I built in the 1970’s has nevertheless given very good service. With the revival of activity in the Sailfish fraternity, I decided to build a new one, slightly remodelled to fit my current car, a Subaru Outback. Brian Carroll has the same vehicle and so used my simple plans to build one of his own. Greg Barwick, who doesn’t have an Outback, also built one for the restored ‘Stanley Crocodile’ to nestle upon.

The cradle plan is shown below. Some dimensions, notably the overall width and the notches for the roof racks on the sides, are specific to the Outback and will need to be altered for other vehicles. A peculiarity of the current Outback  model is that the rear roof cross bar is at a slightly lower level than the front one. I wasn’t aware of that initially, so my boat rode a little bow high until I closed the rear notches.

The timber used clearly doesn’t have to be meranti – Brian, I think, used pine.

Sailfish cradle 2.jpeg

My battered old cradle is shown below. It has been remodelled since this photograph was taken, and is now seeing service as the cradle for a newly built sailing canoe. Note the notches for mast (port side/on right of picture) and boom (starboard side). Because the end-grain is unsupported, the outer edges of the rear notches have long ago been chipped off.

Two lengths of tubular insulating foam (available from your local big box hardware store) are slit and placed over the V of the cross-pieces. I then cover the foam with carpet tacked to the frame.

Cradle 7 (2).JPG

This is the new cradle, colour-coordinated with the boat. Note the U-shaped ply reinforcing the mast notch to avoid the problem mentioned above. This is replicated at all four notches. The elliptical plaque (seen just below the chainplate) was required to control splitting in the timber which occurred soon after I got it home. This too was repeated at each end of both sides.

Cradle 2 (2).JPG

Cradle 1 (2).JPG

The triangular stiffening at corners is shown below. The brass cleat is one of four used for tying the cradle to the roof racks – not a convenient position but is dictated by the peculiarities of the Outback roof rack design.

Cradle 3 (2).JPG

Cradle 5.JPG

In an effort to replicate some of the benefits of a beach dolly, I’ve also fabricated an axle and wheels to strap onto the rear cross-piece of the cradle. It’s not as good as a proper dolly because I’m not so happy to fully immerse it – for a start, it won’t sink – but it gets the boat close to the shoreline and shortens the carry.

This is the underside of the structure:-

Chris' dolly 2

A length of galvanised tubing was bolted to timber with U-bolts to serve as an axle. Alloy tubing could also be used. The wheels are 25 cm in diameter, with pneumatic tyres. The timber can be a piece of pine, say 70 mm x 35 mm (I used 90 mmx 45 mm, but it doesn’t need to be that heavy). It was 118 cm long, but this will vary with the width of the cradle built.

This is the top view :-

Chris' dolly 1.jpg

There are simple wooden cleats that receive the outer portion of the rear cross-piece of the cradle. Shock cord then holds the components together. Note the aluminium strap on opposite sides of both ends of the dolly to prevent it capsizing around the axle when it is awaiting the placement of the cradle. They are then rotated out of the way.

Chris' dolly 6.jpg

Chris' dolly 4.jpg

All of this is quite easy to build, but it is nevertheless quite complicated in comparison to the brilliant simplicity of Royce’s wonderful piece of improvisation, which is very light, very strong and very easy to dismantle. Congratulations to him.









San Francisco Update

After a few delays caused by work, travel and the cool, damp winter that settles over San Francisco, Kellee is once again pushing ahead with her build. With the bottom going on the next step will be to turn the hull over and start to think about footstrap and traveller reinforcing block positions.

When it really starts to turn into a boat, always a great time in a build. [By Kellee Kimbro, San Francisco, 1 June 2018]
Lots, and lots, and lots of clamps makes things so much easier, and what build could go wrong when there are a couple of cases of beer involved! [By Kellee Kimbro, San Francisco, 1 June 2018]

If you’re going to San Francisco . . .

Yeah, I know it was corny, but how could I resist?

In August last year we sent a plan to San Francisco. Kellee has been in touch a couple of times for advice and information and has now started  building. You can follow the progress on her blog here:

San Francisco Australian Sailfish Build

Don’t be scared off by the sight of an Alcort Sailfish in Kellee’s first post, that is where her journey started, so it does belong there. But when you look a bit deeper, there is Brian Carroll on Jack’s Toy.

Really looking forward to seeing the finished product out on the water.

News Flash! News Flash! (Again).

Last week, a newly completed Australian Sailfish was launched into the tropical waters of Keppel Bay at Yeppoon in Queensland. It was the second Sailfish launch in the space of seven days. Given the demise of the Australian Sailfish as an active class in the late 1980’s, this is extraordinary.

The new boat is ‘Woody’, built by Royce Powe. It is the lovely boat featured on this website in the Queensland section of the Gallery.

The proud builder with his boat on the impressive rigging area at Keppel Bay Sailing Club [By Royce Powe’s father, Keppel Bay, Qld; 12 Oct 2017]
IMG_2020 (2)
And on the gently shoaling beach. Looks like boating paradise. [By Royce Powe’s father, Keppel Bay, Qld; 12 Oct 2017]

Congratulations to Royce. Such a beautiful example of the Sailfish class might inspire other builds in the Sunshine State.

It is interesting to note that, in the early 1960’s, Queensland was the first state to which the Australian Sailfish class spread after it originated in Victoria. This blogmeister can feel in his bones the stirrings of  a Northern Sailfish Revivalist Tour, a caravan of baby-boomer Victorian and New South Wales disciples travelling north, probably in mid-winter.



News Flash! News Flash! Unique event at Paynesville.

Yesterday, Saturday 7 October, in a breezy 10 to 18 knots of gusty wind, Brian Carroll launched his newly built Australian Sailfish on the Gippsland Lakes at Paynesville. In a lovely tribute to his father, the new boat was named ‘Jack’s Toy’.

This boat would have to be the first Sailfish built in Victoria since the 1980’s. The sail was made by Brian, proprietor of Unique Sails, Paynesville.. He reports that it is a light hull, requiring lead correctors  to meet minimum weight.


Jack’s Toy, Sailfish 3461, rigging photos. [All the above by Brian Carroll, Paynesville, Victoria, 7 October 2017]
Congratulations Brian! The boat looks great. It  will be wonderful to see her at the Classic Dinghy Classes Invitation Weekend at Cairn Curran Sailing Club at the end of next month.

Brian on board Jack’s Toy at it’s launch at Paynesville. [By Danuta Sowa, Paynesville, Victoria, 7 October 2017]

Plans! Plans! Plans!

Over the last year we have had well over 40 requests for plans of the Australian Sailfish. Just quietly, this blew Chris and I away, you have exceeded our wildest expectations.

If you requested a set of plans and have started, or even completed a build, we would love to hear from you. It doesn’t matter if you are here in Australia, or in Canada, the USA or Europe, if you have a story to tell about your build, or photos to share please get in touch via the Contact page.

Brian here in Victoria and Royce in Queensland have been incredibly generous with information and photos of their builds, and each time we can put up a new blog about a build or add photos to the Gallery it supplies guidance and inspiration for others.

So go on, we would love to hear about how your build is going.

Cheap Clamps!

I knew that would get your attention.

These are the improvised clamps that were used along with a few conventional models by Brian Carroll in the building of his new Sailfish. And there is an update on that as well, so scroll down and have a look at some really nice work in the latest photos.

But now, back to the clamps. First, get a length of 100mm diameter plastic waste pipe with a wall thickness of around 8 – 10 mm. Then cut this into roughly 30mm wide sections, so you end up with lots of little waste pipes. Then cut with a fine blade, like a hacksaw blade, each section along the 30mm length. Even with this split the section will be quite hard to open, thus creating a strong grip, a clamp.

If you are concerned about marking the deck slip some scrap pieces in between the deck and the plastic, and if any of the above is unclear check out the blog below on “A New Carroll Boat” dated June 25 and have a look at the picture roughly six down as of this writing to get a visual.

So Jack rang last night . . . . . .

Jack Carroll, class co-designer, specifically wanted to ask me to add his comments on what an excellent post, titled More on Boat Building, Chris Leyland had written last November about building a Sailfish.

Jack thought that Chris had really encouraged first time builders and had also captured the essence of what the boat is about, simple to build, fun to sail, easy to transport and, in the right hands, a very competitive boat for teenager or adult.

So have a look at what Chris has to say, look for his entry in the November posts or select Boatbuilding under Blog Topics, check out the information on the builds we know about, and have a go!


A new Carroll boat

It has been a very long time since one of the Carroll clan has built a new Sailfish but it is now officially time for the rest of us to start worrying, Brian has made a start on his new boat, and the sail is already done! If you are building or thinking about building keep checking out the photos on this blog, you really won’t get a better guide.

Latest update now at the top, Brian is racing along!

So here it is! New boat, new sail, new cradle, original Ockerfish mast sleeved to straighten and add the height it always needed. Note go fast hammer and water bottle. [By Brian Carroll, Paynesville, 29 July 2017]
I am blown away! I didn’t think you could get ply that looked this good anymore. Check out the grain pattern and the detail on the nose. [By Brian Carroll, Paynesville, 19 July 2017]
Hull turned and bottom epoxied, looking very nice. [By Brian Carroll, Paynesville, 19 July 2017]
Deck epoxied. [By Brian Carroll, Paynesville, 17 July 2017]
Check out the gunwale detail, overlapping the ply like this makes for a stronger and more watertight fit, and rounding the edge makes it just a LOT more comfortable. [By Brian Carroll, Paynesville, 14 July 2017]
And the clamps come off. [By Brian Carroll, Paynesville, 14 July 2017]
And the deck is on! No more secrets to be revealed about construction techniques then. [By Brian Carroll, Paynesville, 11 July 2017]
Centreboard case detail. [By Brian Carroll, Paynesville, 11 July 2017]
In the above photo note the blocks for the traveller and for the footstraps.

Chainplate and side detail, see my comments below. [By Brian Carroll, Paynesville, 11 July 2017]
For those playing close attention to Brian’s progress there are a few thing to be aware of in the above photo. Firstly, the use of plywood sides, this keeps the weight down but does require the recalculation of frame sizes due to the reduced width of the sides. Also note the reinforcing around the chainplate for strength and rigidity and that the inside has been epoxied to seal the ply.

And turned over! Note the extra stringers for added strength and stiffness. Gunwales to go on tonight I am told. [By Brian Carroll, Paynesville, 5 July 2017]
Bottom ply on, edges trimmed, Rana (the dog) inspecting for faults. [By Brian Carroll, Paynesville, 5 July 2017]
Port side fitted, I don’t think the carpet roll or the fan in the background are a part of the same project. [By Brian Carroll, Paynesville, 4 July 2017]
Starboard side fitted. Note the keel shaping and that at least some of the deck stringers are already in. [By Brian Carroll, Paynesville, 4 July 2017]
And today’s helpful hint for all you budding boat builders out there – do both sides on the same day, DO NOT do one side and think you can come back tomorrow to do the other. You might find you have a slightly twisted hull.

Centreboard case detail. [By Brian Carroll, Paynesville, 29 June 2017]
Transom fitted over frame 6, keel has started to be shaped. [By Brian Carroll, Paynesville, 29 June 2017]
Bottom stringers and keel plank fitted. [By Brian Carroll, Paynesville,29 June 2017]
Six days ago, Brian said progress might be slow, if that is the case I would be stunned to see what he could do when he was in a hurry! The three photos above were received this morning.

You might like to review Chris Cleary’s comments below about how fast a build can be!

Frame set up, looking from the stern. [By Brian Carroll, Paynesville, 26 June 2017]
And there has been progress, today’s photo update is above.

Deck plank with centreboard slot cut out and set up on strong back. It does seem a bit minimalist so far. [By Brian Carroll, Paynesville, 23 June 2017]
Chris Cleary has seen the photo above, his comment . . . . “But a Sailfish can go from next to nothing to a completed hull in a very short time. Good on ya Brian. See you at Cairn Curran”