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About John Perry

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About John Perry
Have been interested in boatbuilding and sailing from early years, but I am not sure how that came about. My father was fond of camping, walking and mountains, but not particularly of boats, whilst my mother was dead against anything to do with the water.

My first boat was a Mirror dinghy, acquired second hand about the time that I left home. I soon started to explore the Essex and Suffolk estuaries using a camping tent rigged over the boom. Although Josephine and myself are now lucky enough to live within a few minutes walk to the lovely coast of South Devon, I still have a fondness for those muddy creeks that is hard to explain. We have been making a pilgrimage back to Essex at least once each year since moving to Devon.

A year or two after getting the Mirror dinghy, I discovered the Hostellers Sailing Club, at that time known as the Youth Hostel Association Sailing Group. I have remained an active member ever since and have edited their website for the last eleven years. When I joined HSC it was a very lively group with a wide age range and sufficient active sailing members to support sailing in members boats and in the club owned boats most weekends through the summer. There were also monthly meetings in London and training courses, as well as the walking and social weekends held at Youth Hostels through the winter months. The club is one of very few, if any, that promotes dinghy cruising rather than racing or just pottering in boats. As with so many clubs, the membership has aged and dwindled over the years, but I still find it a very friendly group and so far I have not come accross any comparable club in Devon. Although the HSC membership is now quite few, we get a high proportion of the total membership coming to most of our organised events. Our week long summer dinghy cruises are the highlight of our program and we have had some fabulous trips on those years when we have been lucky with the weather. Prospective new members are of course welcome - the days when sailing clubs have waiting lists for new members are long gone I think.

About 1974 I decided to design and build my own boat for dinghy cruising and having the use of a 'mainframe' computer at a college in London I wrote some software to generate a hull form and to develop the shapes for plywood hull panels. This was not CAD as we know it today. The computer had no screen to display drawings, all it could do was print numerical data, in my case dimensional data, on a line printer. I used this numerical data to mark out my sheets of plywood. I did do some 'back of an envelope' kind of sketches to work out how things could fit together, but there were no proper scale drawings and certainly no lofting, the design went straight from long lists of numbers to sheets of plywood that were then joined together by the same 'stich and glue' method as on my Mirror dinghy. I should add that there were errors in the software that caused some funny bumps in the bow area, apparent on the finished boat to this day. This must have been one of the very first uses of CAD in small boat design. I had a vague idea in my mind that I would use the finished boat to sail from Essex to Holland, probably returning by car ferry since the return would be against the prevailing wind and in any case my holidays were probably too short to do that passage both ways. With that trip in mind, I built the boat with a hull shape and a lead centreboard to encourage self righting, although it probably would not be totally self righting without some assistance from the crew. I also gave it a self draining cockpit and a large amount of dry storage so that I could carry plenty of cruising equipment. Since I then lived in a small flat in London, my only option for building a boat was to borrow my parents garage and that dictated the 4.5m length of the boat. I now think that was good choice of size considering that I have only a small car with which to tow it and until I met Josephine I sailed it single handed. I never did sail to Holland, at least not yet, but I/we have sailed that boat around much of the UK coastline as well as a number of passages across the middle section of the English Channel and along the coasts of Normandy and Brittany. When I built the boat I was thinking of it as a bit of an experiment and I anticipated that within a few years I would get tired of it and want to build something different and probably larger. However, even though I enjoy woodwork and would love to build another boat for that reason alone, the first boat I built seems to meet our requirements so well that I have never been able to justify another one. You can only sail one boat at any one time.

Despite the above, I have built a couple of other boats, but only as an experiment, not for regular sailing. I felt that to justify my membership of the Amateur Yacht Research Society, I should do some 'funny boat' sailing, so I built a couple of experimental hydrofoil sailing boats having just two hydrofoils one ahead of the other. This was well before members of the Moth class first tried that configuration. I think that the Moth sailors went this way through a desire to circumvent the class rules, whereas in my case the idea stemmed from thoughts about how bicycles have mainly supeceded quadricycles and tricyles. Most people, had they never seen a bicycle, would imagine it to be a totally impractical device suitable only for circus tricks, but the test of time shows that for most purposes it is actually better than human powered vehicles having larger numbers of wheels. The success of the Moth foilers confirms that the same may well be true of sailing hydrofoils, at least in the small sizes. I built two hydrofoil boats, which by chance were about the same length and sail area as a Moth dinghy and the second one even had 'wings'. The first one had no wings and the idea was to sail it using a trapeze wire, 'water starting' it in the same way as does a skilled windsurfer. Unfortunately I had never sailed with a trapeze wire prior to building this boat and although I had tried a bit of windsurfing I had totally failed to execute a 'water start'. Hence it is not surprising that I never got that boat to become foil borne for more than a hop, inevitably followed by a big splash. The next version with wings did better and although I never practised enough to properly develop the technique I did get it to 'fly' for a reasonable distance on a handful of occasions. I will never forget one occasion when I launched it at Grafam Water in a breeze that I thought was too light to do more than drift around the lake in displacement mode. There was little more than ripples on the water, but to my astonishment, when I turned onto a broad reach the apparent wind built up and suddenly the boat was foilborne and stayed that way for most of the width of the lake, perhaps a few hundred meters, much the longest hydrofoil run I ever achieved. At first my eyes were transfixed on the horizon, concentrating on keeping a steady angle of heel slightly to windward since I had discovered that letting the boat heel to leeward, like a normal boat does, lead to instant capsize. It was some moments before I dared to take a glance downwards to confirm that the hull was well clear of the water and the hydrofoils were silently slicing through the water leaving virtually no spray or wake. An unforgettable experience but I guess that my real interest in sailing has always been cruising, i.e. going places in sailing boats, so I kind of lost interest in these experiments after a while. I am really impressed seeing from 'U Tube' how the Moth sailors have refined the 'bi-foiler' concept and developed it into a craft that can beat a similar sized conventional dinghy round a race course under most conditions, perhaps all conditions.

The above covers my amateur boat design and building. My engineering career has included a large number of different jobs in many different industries, the number of jobs being mainly due to a succession of redundancies resulting from insolvency of small companies and the general collapse of manufacturing in the UK during my working life. I have worked in many different industries, eg construction, software, instrument making, vending machines, ship repair, orthopaedic implants, fibre optics and, yes, for short periods, yacht building. I designed some of the deck gear for a sloop of nearly 50m LOA, I also did hands on laminating of carbon fibre yacht masts and in recent years I have had occasional involvement in the construction of an amazingly powerful luxury motor yacht. Not the kind of craft I think should be encouraged too much, but it does throw up some interesting design issues.
South Devon UK
dinghy cruising, boat building, cross country running
John Perry
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