ONE WINTER IN THE EARLY 1980s I was sent to England by the American magazine WoodenBoat. The editors gave me a pocketful of travellers' checks and a chit for a hire car with unlimited mileage. They told me to research a couple of specific articles, and then poke around for a few weeks and see if the English might be having a wooden boat revival similar to the one that had been underway in America since the early 1970s.
I bounced all over the country - Poole, Portsmouth, the Isle of Wight, Exeter, Truro, the Scilly Isles, Bristol, Liverpool, Windermere, Redcar, Whitby, Lowestoft, Ipswich, Mersea, Henley, Chatham, and no end of tiny backwater towns between. Not much was happening. Fibreglass was king. It was a period of nautical despair.
There was, however, a pocket of activity in Maldon, and one day, while exploring the waterfront in that town, I met Fabian Bush, a young boatbuilder. Fabian was of a type not uncommon at that time in America but an anomaly in England; a university graduate with a predilection for working with his hands. Through him I met Iain Oughtred, another anomaly; an aspiring designer of wooden rowing and sailing skiffs, double-paddle canoes, and other small, non-powered craft in an era when mainstream designers were concentrating on larger fibreglass motorboats and sailboats, preferably for cruising. While the mainstream designers worked in offices with assistants and the latest drafting and calculating conveniences, Iain had no fixed working (or living) address. He worked wherever he was at the time.
At that time he and Fabian were living in semi-poverty on Osea Island in the Blackwater River and building two Acorn skiffs, the design that would make Iain's reputation. Of lapstrake construction, planked in plywood, it was a fine-lined rowing and sailing craft that was beautiful in its simplicity. Yes, it was derivative - it owed much to several American boat types of the late-19th and early-20th centuries - but it was a step beyond anything that had come before. For a long time I couldn't put my finger on what made that skiff so striking, but after getting to know Iain both in England and in America, where he spent a year in the late 1980s, I came to realize that it was art that made it so.
chapter 1 A CHILDHOOD NEAR THE SEA
IAIN ON Full-length Battens
chapter 2 NEW BEGINNINGS
IAIN ON Making a Moth
chapter 3 THE DESIGNER AS ARTIST
IAIN ON Asphodel
chapter 4 AMONG FRIENDS IN MAINE
IAIN ON The Lug Rig
chapter 5 A HIGHLAND FLING
IAIN'S Top Ten
chapter 6 THE EPOXY CONNECTION
IAIN ON Sprit Rigs
chapter 7 BACK TO THE ROOTS
IAIN ON Boatbuilding in Australia
chapter 8 EPILOGUE
appendix 1 A COMPLETE LIST OF OUGHTRED DESIGNS
APPENDIX 2 THE PLANS (A SELECTION)