By Jeffrey Carter
It was with a bottle of scotch from the Orkneys that she was christened in the all-but-forgotten language of those isles. The bottle was not broken but a dram was sprinkled on her prow and into the waters of the Sydenham for good luck.
Little Samwise had taken a couple weekends to build, the 16-foot Radagast four years and the 20-foot Min Piri Dokka five years, working spring through fall on the weekends, on weekday evenings and as winter weather permitted.
Dokka means “darling” and the term Min Piri reflects her size. Though far larger than Samwise or Radagast, she is still small; a vessel for which maintaining sight of the shoreline is a prudent course of action.
Wooden boats have a mystique about them, and rightfully so. Wood has been the go-to material for their construction for millennia, only being displaced over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries as various metals and then fiberglass became the new standards.
Radagast, apart from the white ash gunwales and backbone and black spruce masts, was built with imported exotic woods, solid mahogany and okoume marine plywood.
With Dokka, a decision was taken to use as much wood originating in Ontario and Canada as possible. Black spruce from Northern Ontario was used for the spars apart from the main mast which was built from an expensive 20-foot plank of Sitka pine from BC. True white oak for the keel, cleats and other parts requiring added durability, white ash for the gunnels and sassafras for much of the rest, seats, flooring, centreboard case components, mast partners and more.
Sassafras, incidentally, is an under-appreciated wood. I acquired my supply, and many of the other species, from the Goodreau Sawmill near Tilbury. It is a rot-resistant hardwood, relatively light but stiff and durable.
Dokka is built to Iain Oughtred’s Caledonia Yawl design which recalls the traditional double-ended boats of the Orkneys and Shetland Islands. However, today’s modern construction methods produce a far lighter boat with the same sturdiness as her forebears.
Construction, as with most wooden boats, didn’t begin with the boat itself but with the structure onto which the inner keel, stems and hull is laid. The hull was made from quarter-inch, four-foot-by-eight-foot plywood sheets joined or “scarfed’ together to form lengths or “strakes” long enough to reach from stem to stern. Strakes are laid in pairs, glued with marine epoxy together along their edges and once all were in the place the outer keel, stems and gunwales were attached.
At this point, the boat was about a third of the way to completion and was ready to be turned. It had been built, to this point, in an upside-down configuration.
Oughtred, like many other marine designers, has plans available and a manual for individuals with the patience and determination to build their own vessel. There are literally hundreds of steps to be completed and so the old adage – one step at a time – rings most truly.
You can buy a professionally-built Caledonia Yawl built to the demanding specifications of the design but it will cost you – around $30,000 Canadian – a price that does not include the cost of the sails, trailer or little outboard motor that fits into the motor-well near the boat’s stern.
There is far more satisfaction in having built it with your own hands and intelligence.
Min Piri Dokka – ‘My Little Darling’ – is an inch or so broader at the beam than Oughtred’s seven-strake design and her rudder, though functional, isn’t quite as pretty as the rest of the boat.
She sails reasonably tight to the wind with her drop-down, lead-weighted keel in place, can hold her course in the right circumstances without a hand on the tiller and has, on occasion, left far larger sailing vessels of the fiberglass kind behind in her wake. ◊