Are old, cheaper or free boat plans good value? 100 plans on CD?

A question was asked about Hartley Designs.  The answer applies to the general discussion about what has changed in plans and designs over the last 50 years and some of the advantages of modern plans.

I also lament about the enquiries we get from people building from a 60 year old magazine article and how we are unable to help them much.


Richard Hartley’s work as an example of older plans
Hartley was one of the great designers of his time. Many of his boats are perhaps not great masterpieces, but they are workmanlike (work as advertised) and his plans set a benchmark for many years.

The radical for its time Hartley TS16

My feeling too is that his TS16 (the first really popular trailer sailer) is the transition point for the performance of modern yachts. It was one of the very first well known cabin yachts with a hull drawn more from sailing dinghies, so it had sensational performance for the time and made a lot of boats that were to come later possible (Farr, Young, Davidson, Whiting). All these New Zealand Designers come from the same tradition, but Hartley was the first one to get commercial success for the concept

However that was 55 years ago.

David Payne’s work as an example of modern plans.
I agree with much of the discussion about David Payne’s designs.

Modern plans are better than old plans? storerboatplans.com

He is a great designer – nearly all his boats have a “rightness” about their appearance. and because he has a long small boat racing background they all work very well. He knows how to get performance without making the boats hard to sail.  His boats will end up being modern classics, as I hope will some of my own.

Real Designers vs Not so Real Designers and the “Download 400 free plans” for free guys

Hartley was definitely a real designer. As is David Payne.

But there are huge numbers of old boat plans from publications like Popular Mechanics that are just awful boats in every way.

Some good ones too, but so many stupid or awful boats. And you need to be a designer or very experienced boat user to know.

Heavy, too small rudders and centreboards, articles designed to make them look easy rather than make them easy to build.

Prime amongst these are the “hundreds of boat plans for free” for download or on a CD for a small fee. Just out of date magazine plans from 40, 60 or 80 years ago. Good luck if there is an important detail missing. The guy selling the plans is into internet sales rather than into boats. He or she won’t have a clue.

A living designer is a nice resource. Or in Hartley’s case a living community of people who know the boats intimately.

On the other hand there are old designs from boating magazines like Rudder, Motor Yachting and others. Often by some of the greatest designers in history.

But there are significant construction details that have changed in 60 or 80 years that significantly reduce labour time and materials cost.

The Construction Differences – lighter/stronger

It is an interesting point to contrast designs from each designer – it shows some of the changes in technology over the intervening years.

The Hartley hulls are largely self supporting – there are enough ribs, floors and deckbeams to hold the boat’s skin rigidly.

However with David’s boats (and many modern designers – Kirby, Bolger, Oughtred, Holt and others) much of this additional timber; ribs, floors, deckbeams, stringers are eliminated with large savings in cost. The loads are carried by the interior fitout of the boat. There is a gridwork of support from all the furniture bonded directly to the hull.

For example the seat tops support the sides of the hull, the seat fronts support the bottom of the hull. The galley structure and berths all have these stiffening and strengthening effects providing a hugely strong network of parts.

In a Hartley the furniture can be left out almost entirely and the boats will still be strong enough – the furniture is not expected to make much of a contribution.

The difference is largely in the effectiveness of modern adhesives – notably epoxy. It allows any part of the boat to be effectively mechanically connected to adjacent parts in a structural way.

Reliable Glues – little need for nails and screws

Hartley relied on his current technology of glues that were not particularly gap filling which were backed up by lots of screws and nails.

As a boat repairer I have seen a lot of boats from this era with gaps where glue has let go. This doesn’t happen at all with epoxy.

older boats built with non gap filling glues. storerboatplans.com

See this article on how much things changed 30 or so years ago when epoxy started to be widespread for dinghy and catamaran construction

The modern designers don’t use many screws and nails – the glues are much more effective than fastenings by a long chalk – many of the modern boats may use fasteners to hold parts together while the glue sets up, but then are often removed.

For example fibreglass boats don’t use nails and screws – even where they use timber for bulkheads or furniture – it is simply fibreglass taped in place – and the modern epoxy timber boats are put together in the same way.

Plan Choice: So what to build?

Hartley has a huge range of plans with few gaps in sizing – if you want a 17ft half cabin outboard or inboard – Hartley has a plan for it or something very close.

It may be hard to find a more modern design with modern construction that fits in the same gap.

But wherever you can find a modern boat plan that is from one of the better of the modern designers (like the names above) it will have significant savings in timber cost and labour and also be much easier to build (eg you don’t need to notch everything in the interior to fit over all those ribs, floors and stringers for example).

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About boatmik
On the "round Australia trip" I found myself employed by a tiny business in Adelaide - Duck Flat Wooden Boats in Adelaide.It was an eye opener - It became clear that one could build a boat for a fraction of the cost of current racing boats.My ideas hinged around high performance, easy building, fun to sail and reasonably cheapToday Storer Boats are built in all countries and we have active groups on Facebook for the following groupsGoat Island Skiff Open Goose Storer Boat plans Really Simple Sails