The Scruffie Story
The Scruffie 16 is the boat that gave the business its name. Designed in 1990, it was our first boat and it is still very much in production with nearly one hundred now built. When asked by a journalist what sort of boat I had designed I replied “a scruffy, knockabout family sailboat.” “A scruffy boat,” he summarised. “And why not?” I thought........and I changed the spelling to “Scruffie” to make it a bit less scruffy.
The boat was the result of a comprehensive study of small boat sailing in our evolving society. Social and economic trends played as much a part of shaping the boat as did practical design considerations. The perfect small cruising sailboat – the Holy Grail – will always elude us, yet I reasoned I could get a little closer than what was already on the market. From the beginning I put practical cruising capability on top of the list, then came simplicity, safety and seaworthiness. Once the basic criteria had been established I was able to work on the hull form and rig design. The ultimate shape was the result of many influences, mainly Mediterranean workboats and the many varied craft I sailed from childhood on, but most of all it was form following function.
I settled on around sixteen feet in length with a generous beam – big enough to take a large family out for the day, yet small enough for one man to build, launch and sail. From the beginning I rejected a flat-bottomed hull. They do have an advantage with minimal draught, but the disadvantages are many and most flat-bottomed craft are obviously suitable only for rivers and quiet waters. I had plans for serious voyaging. In the end I drew a single-chined displacement hull with a gentle rocker, shallow deadrise, flared bows and raked stem. I gave her a long shallow fixed keel – simple and safe, but in doing so traded in some upwind performance. Built-in ballast added stiffness and, on later models, self-righting. The absence of a centreboard resulted in a huge uncluttered cockpit with room to boogie. Scruffie Number 1 was half decked, however I dispensed with the stern deck on the following boats and apart from minor but significant upgrades to keel and rudder sections, today’s boats are essentially the same.
Construction issues were settled very early on – ply and timber were the only real contenders with fibreglass versions pencilled in for later. The main reason for ply/timber construction was that I had decided to manufacture kit versions of the boats. I thought about strip planking - at the time cove/bead planking was beginning to be used in the UK but it didn’t lend itself to the kits very well. The flat ply panels were curved as much as possible and the laminated chines rounded off and fibreglass taped. Most boats are now fully glassed and epoxy saturated. The boats have proved themselves to be tough and long lasting with even the earliest boats, now well over fifteen years old, still in good condition.
The standing lugsail was chosen because its virtues far outnumbered its vices and even loose-footed, it worked very well. Nearly 20 years on we’re completely convinced it’s the best for the boat, its only real drawback was “folding up,” on a run, but that’s easily solved with a whisker pole. The sail originally had parallel sides at 90° to the foot to make it easier for amateur sailmakers but no-one seemed interested and it was soon replaced by a more efficiently shaped sail. I initially wanted an unstayed mast but they need to be much heavier and once they’re over, say eighteen or twenty feet long, they are extremely difficult to manhandle into position. A simple three-stayed mast works well enough, although all of our mizzens remain unstayed, as does our Shimmy’s main.
Easter 1990 and Scruffie Number 1 took to the water. She sailed straight and true clear across the bay – straight out of the box. In the years since they have proved themselves over and over again as safe, well-balanced and stable boats, being both dry and sure-footed. They are popular with schools and cadets with numerous variations have been built. The current MKIII Scruffies are now fitted with roller furling genoas and a storm jib, their keels are deeper, are faster, point higher are all self-righting, so coastal voyaging in settled weather is quite feasible. They can be supplied as camper or cabin boats in addition to the standard models and the lightweight versions, if sympathetically helmed, can out sail a surprising number of “regular” boats.
Did you know?
- One Scruffie 16 has been built as a mini research vessel by a marine biologist.
- We have designed a “stretched” Scruffie as a mini sailing cargo boat with a payload of up to one tonne.
- A 6-foot by 3-foot dining table will fit in the cockpit of a standard Scruffie 16, allowing dinner for eight under an awning, under sail.Not many other small boats can do this!
- There’s an electric powered but otherwise standard version in Canberra whose performance figures rival similar sized but purpose- built boats.
- Many Scruffies have been built as pure motor boats with inboard, outboard and steam power.