Building a model skiff racer

David's skiff in action.

David's skiff in action.

The delightfully comical proportions of racing model skiffs are rather confounding for many people. How does something so short, so wide, so deep – and with all that sail – actually work?

Why can’t it look more normal? Why aren’t they just scaled down from an 18 foot skiff to the specified length of the model class, of one or two feet (30.48 or 60.96 cm)?The really simple answer is that these are not models in the first place. They are yachts in their own right, and subject to the same principles that shape any vessel. A study of these principles, and the way they are calculated, fills books. Indeed it is a university course, and becomes quite complex rather quickly.

In contrast, model skiffs have traditionally been created by eye, drawing solely on the maker’s experience – but the factors that govern a big yacht’s ability to sail still apply to these little model skiffs.

I am a yacht designer (and a curator at the museum) and have created my own model skiff plus some plans to show other enthusiasts how to build a traditional 12 inch skiff. Download them here (add link)

The range of sizes of skiffs built to the 12 inch (305 mm) length varies considerably. The plans prepared for this 12 inch skiff will produce a model that is towards the smaller size. This is a good starting point for a first model and the builder will end up with a skiff that can be comfortably displayed inside, fully rigged.

It is possible to build larger craft and they can be based on these lines by enlarging the hull sections or body plan on a photocopier, while keeping the length to 12 inches (305 mm). It will be necessary to redraw the waterlines to the new widths at each two inch (51mm) section or station.

This will increase the volume, but the amount it goes up by is equal to the square of the enlargement. For example, if the boat is enlarged by a factor of 1.15 (or 115%) on the photocopier, the width and depth are increased by the same amount, and the volume is increased by 1.15 squared. This equals 1.32, so the displacement of 1.5 kg to waterline No. 3 is increased to almost two kg.

The advantage of a bigger boat is that it can carry more ballast and a bigger rig, which should make the skiff faster than a smaller one in some conditions.

It is necessary to keep the hull light and make cut outs on the inside of the lifts. Choose lightweight timbers to build the hull, such as cedar. The skilled model makers who originally built these craft managed to have remarkably thin skins that measured less than 5mm thick. This may not be practical for a first time builder, but with care and patience the hull can be cut down towards the minimum amount of timber required.

The original craft were a true representation of the individual builder’s ideas on hull size, shape, rig and fittings. They would carve the shape by eye, estimate a rig size and then think out their own answers to the all the fittings details. This process evolved for each builder as they produced a series of skiffs.

These plans show enough detail to construct a basic model. Builders are encouraged to look at other 12 inch skiffs and figure out ways of fabricating their own fittings, or even build a different shape.

Download plans, they are in three sections:
1.    Plan one (2 KB)
2.    Plan two (1.4 KB)
3.    Plan three (1.7 KB)

View images of a traditional 12 inch model skiff.

– Story and plans contributed by David Payne, a yacht designer and curator at the museum.

12 thoughts on “Building a model skiff racer

  1. Pingback: Model racing skiffs make a comeback «

  2. Dear Sir,
    I could submit some photos of say my steam bending gear for the hull planks and other tips if they would be helpfull. Is any person interested? Can I insert a photo?

  3. Pingback: Two-footer recollections «

  4. Pingback: History of the model skiff racer «

  5. I m really impressed with your work. I m glad to have read this article. It was a great way of putting forward your ideas on this subject I m relieved to find such good work after going through such pains in searching for the appropriate matter for my project. Congratulations.

  6. Wow this is a really good article. I m glad to have read it. I m looking forward for more of your articles. I really enjoyed reading it. Its good to know that there is much more knowledge to gain on this topic. Just keep posting your good work and keep enlightening your readers. Thank you..

  7. I m amazed to know how much of information I gained on this subject. I m so very thankful of you. One thing I can say that, after reading this article I got saved from the entire useless search I should have conducted on this matter. Your article is a real blessing in disguise.

  8. I build replica vintage sail boats and sail Braine gear, then I discovered the “bug”, was hooked and I’ve eventually found this wonderful treasure trove of information. I will build a bug and sail it this year, here in the Isle of Man. I’m a member of the VMYG [Vintage Model Yacht Group] so can access “the Turning Pole” and get some more information. I know its years since the last entry, but here I am.

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