January / February 2021

Iain Oughtred at 81

A fertile mind and a growing design catalog
Iain Oughtred

The boat that launched a movement. Iain Oughtred stands beside the original St. Ayles Skiff, CHRIS O’KANNAIRD, at the 2019 Skiffie Worlds. CHRIS O’KANNAIRD was built by the kit manufacturer Alec Jordan and launched on Halloween 2009; since then, more than 350 boats have been built to the design.

It’s strange how our lives so often run in circles. The last time I interviewed Iain Oughtred—back in 2008, when I visited him at his home in Scotland in preparation for the biography I was writing about him—he was fussing about one of his new designs, the 30' Haiku, his interpretation of the famous Commodore Ralph Munroe sharpie EGRET. The new boat had just been launched, and he was concerned that the builder hadn’t exactly followed his design, making it heavier and more yachty than its lightweight, simple forebears. At that point, Iain was living alone in a small cottage on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. He had no computer, and thus drew all of his designs on a drawing board, with a photocopier to help.

When I ring him 12 years later, much has changed, but much hasn’t. He now has a computer, but is still struggling to come to terms with that technology, so we eventually give up trying to talk via Skype or Zoom and settle for the good old-fashioned telephone. My call is prompted by the launching of LUELY, only the second Haiku ever built, this time closely following his plans (Barnaby Scott’s LUELY, featured on the preceding pages). While he acknowledges that the original Haiku turned out just fine, he is obviously excited to see how this lighter (though also fairly yachty) version of the design performs. For, despite what anyone else might think about traditional wooden boats, Iain is concerned with performance. Not for nothing did he win the Gwen 12 National Championship in his native Australia in 1964, and not for nothing do his designs regularly win the Caledonian Raid in his adopted country of Scotland.

Regular readers of WoodenBoat can’t fail to have noticed Iain’s enormous contribution to epoxy-plywood boat construction, starting (appropriately enough) with his Acorn design, described by Maynard Bray as a “sweet-lined, slippery little jewel” in the January/February 1984 issue (WB No. 56). Since then, Iain has designed a comprehensive range of beautiful epoxy-plywood boats, mostly aimed at amateur builders though also produced commercially by professional yards. His back catalogue now numbers 118 designs, ranging from the 6' 9" Feather pram to the 22' double-ended pocket cruiser Grey Seal. The others are dories (for example, Amberjack), canoes (MacGregor), rowing-sailing dinghies (Tammie Norrie), and a very successful line of Norwegian faerings (Arctic Tern and Caledonian Yawl, which are his two best-selling kits at Hewes & Co. in Blue Hill, Maine). The 30' Haiku is his largest available design to date.

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