Water Craft Magazine Review: Kittiwake

This review for the Little Awk appeared in Water Craft magazine no. 24 on Sunday, 10 December 2000 and is reproduced here as it appeared on Swallow Boats’s original web site.

If you want to know how good a boat is, don’t ask the skipper, ask the crew. Peter Williams has the scuttlebutt on:

The First Kittiwake

Since graduating from a Wayfarer to a more stately 20 foot gaffer with cabin, some of the spontaneity had gone out of the Captain’s sailing. The answer was to be a new boat she could take on short breaks in the car, but towing a boat is hardly spontaneous. It slows you and everyone else down, makes parking a nightmare, adds to ferry charges, and generates serious anxiety in anyone who finds reversing an articulated vehicle challenging.

 So we started looking for a car-toppable, “serious”, sailing dinghy able to carry a crew of two (one of them generously ballasted). We read a review of his Little Auk in Water Craft, and called on Nick Newland of Swallow Boats to see, and maybe sail one. As the “incompetent crew” in this partnership, Little Auk looked pretty good to me. One simple sail, not much string, no jib sheets to get tangled around your feet, and a tried and tested design.

Nick mentioned to the captain that he planned to build a slightly bigger version again in 3/16″ (4mm) marine ply and epoxy, with decked ends, and seating down either side of the cockpit but with the same simple rig. In view of the crew’s circumference, this seemed likely to provide greater comfortand better all round capability. The decked ends would provide dry stowage for picnics and other necessary stimulants for the Crew. The Captain decided to commission the new design: the Kittiwake. Halfway through the process, Matt – sailing master at Swallow Boats – secretly agreed with the Captain to add a mizzen “to give you more things to do” and almost at the end persuaded her to have an optional storm jib “so you could sail in most weathers”.

Perfect Conditions
And that’s how we came to be driving up the M6 in late June, for a week’s holiday in the West of Scotland, with the first of a new class of 11’6″ foot yawl on the roof. Berkeley the Kittiwake has a mizzen, and either a mainsail, or a jib depending on conditions. The Captain had sailed the boat for about an hour at this point, while the Crew stayed ashore to give exact bearings to the rescue services of where she went down. I wasn’t concerned, because I knew we’d probably only get one day’s sailing – I’ve been to the West of Scotland before. With the boat on the roofrack, I was pleased to note that Berkeley was having little effect on the car’s handling, and less effect on fuel consumption than I had anticipated. This, I am sure, is the real reason why Nick Newland designs double-ended boats, although he has plausible nautical and constructional reasons as well.
Crinan is on the seaward side of the Mull of Kintyre, and at one end of the canal which is a major shortcut to the Hebrides for West Coast yachts. Our cottage was on the harbour front, next to the slip-way. We arrived about 6 in the evening, but it doesn’t ever get dark in Crinan at the end of June and the sea was calm with a slight breeze blowing on-shore, so Berkeley and the Captain were hot to trot. Since such close to perfect conditions might not obtain for the rest of the week, I could not afford to veto the voyage.
Previous trial sorties in England had been in relatively gusty conditions, and the Captain had opted for the mizzen and storm jib formation. She chose the same rig for her first Scottish voyage, which went well enough for the Captain to return in short order to invite the Crew aboard. The onshore wind and state of the tide made sailing off a challenge, so we needed to row out a few boat-lengths. The Kittiwake is light, which means that portly people need to stick close to the centre-line. Our holiday companions, a pair of waifs by comparison, perfected a side-by-side rowing technique, but we have yet to discover whether Berkeley’s generous beam matches that of its regular crew. As it happened, we didn’t do much rowing that week.

As soon as the sails took over, Berkeley set off at a sprightly pace. Tacking with the jib is exactly the same for the Crew as on any other boat , but it is important that the helmsman prevent the mizzen acting as a weathervane and holding the boat dead into the wind. It helps therefore, especially in light winds, to use the jib to bring the bow round. Nick had warned us that double-ended boats tend to stay in a straight line and be more reluctant to tack than their flatter-sterned sisters. This subtle point was, of course, completely lost on the Crew, being at this stage cooped up at what he could no longer refer to as “the sharp end”.
Pretty soon, the Captain decided to rig the main sail instead of the jib. Rowing off with the mainsail rigged is, if anything, slightly less elegant from the Crew’s point of view, but Berkeley’s boom is not the murderous thing you find on larger boats. The only thing you need to fret about is keeping clear of the mainsheet as the boat tacks. Under mainsail, we moved along much more quickly, so the Captain decided that conditions were right for a circumnavigation of the island in Crinan harbour called Eilean da Mheinn. This epic voyage of well over half a mile (1km) was accomplished without mishap, and (we later learned) attracted a good deal of local attention and admiration. On our return, the Captain said the onshore wind demanded that we lower the mainsail while offshore but the precaution was justified as we sped in to a safe landfall under mizzen alone. With the boat safely out of the water, the Captain declared the decision to bring Berkeley fully justified.

Practicalities Afloat 
The Kittiwake is a good looking boat, and attracts admirers both for its looks and its performance. Rigging the main mast is simple, but since the mast step is inside the forward buoyancy chamber, it takes a bit of practice. The mizzen mast step is forward of the rear buoyancy chamber bulkhead and so simpler to step, although it does not lock in place like the main mast does. The oars stow neatly either side of the keel, being exactly the same length as the “cockpit”, which is an optimal arrangement for sailing. When you might need to row the boat at a moment’s notice, they can also be stowed in the rowlocks with the handles resting on the foredeck, giving the boat the appearance of a settled bluebottle.
There are seats along both sides and a removable thwart between them for rowing or sitting centrally while sailing. Provided crew weights are balanced, there are any number of comfortable and practical seating arrangements for two. In such a light boat, the relative positions of the crew make quite a difference to the trim of the boat and even to the steering. The sheeting of the two sails also makes quite a difference to the steering, and Berkeley can often be steered quite effectively with the sails alone.
When tacking the boat, it is important to let the mizzen free until the mainsail or jib has powered up on the new tack. Close-hauled in stronger winds, timing this incorrectly can lead to the Kittiwake sailing elegantly backwards. This, of course, is something that a double ended boat does particularly well, and it is the Captain’s ambition to master this technique fully in due course, so that deliberate reverse sailing becomes part of her repertoire.
The Kittiwake is fast and efficient in light airs. On this holiday we had nothing above a force 3, and had wonderfully calm waters except for the wake of passing fishing boats. A light boat like the Kittiwake can be easily arrested by any sort of swell, and so it is important in more robust conditions to have a crew of ample proportions to provide the necessary momentum.
Lacking the necessary instruments, I can’t report how close to the wind a Kittiwake can sail. The Captain seemed impressed, and even claimed to detect the difference between the Berkeley’s pointing ability on port and starboard tack; I couldn’t. The mizzen clearly makes quite a difference to performance, and with so many variables to tweak, the Captain was in her element tuning it.

And Ashore 
At 88lbs (40 kg) the Kittiwake is light enough for a single healthy person to lift unaided, but manoeuvring the hull would be difficult unless you had simian arms. She can be carried easily by 2 people, though you wouldn’t want to go any great distance. Hoisting the boat on and off the top of a car is practical for two blokes reluctant to admit to the effort, but feebler crews may want to invest, as we have, in some mechanical aids.
The first of these is a side loader which enables one person to lift the boat and slide it on to the roof rack using simple leverage to reduce the effective weight by at least 50%. You do have to be able to turn the boat on its side and lift it a couple of feet in the air to start the process, but this is nothing like as challenging as trying to lift the whole boat to shoulder level. It can even be done single-handed with the aid of a sleeping partner like, say, a plastic dustbin, to hold one end of the boat in the air while you manoeuvre the other.
One useful side-effect of the side loader is that it raises the boat a little hight above the car. The Kittiwake with her “saucy sheerline” is much higher at the ends than she is in the middle and when upside down on the roof, the extra height mean that you can still open the boot and see the sky though the windscreen.
Our second very valuable investment was a miniature collapsible launching trolley. This fits in the car boot, and has plastic wheels with pneumatic tyres that bounce over indifferent terrain. It makes it very much easier to launch Berkeley on slip-ways and beaches, and means that if necessary the boat can be moved considerable distances by one person.

The Crew’s Verdict
Our first week of sailing with Berkeley proved little short of idyllic, and I fear we may have used up our lifetime ration of good weather in the West of Scotland. However, as we had hoped, this boat enables us to sail sheltered waters anywhere, and have a lot of fun doing it. So far, she has been sailed on a reservoir in blustery force 4 conditions, at Salcombe in very light winds, in Milford Haven in perfect force 2-3, and over the week at Crinan. We’ve already cased a number of other possible launch sites. Loading and unloading the boat is something that we need to practice before we reach our goal of “spur of the moment” sailing whenever and wherever the weather and fancy permit. I sense we are going to get the practice!