John Taylor gives a new meaning to the term ‘self-build boat’. With its handmade stainless steel fittings, strip cedar planks, engine system and far more besides, his stunning wood-and-epoxy catamaran Ocean Swift is a feat of expert engineering.
To help him get his beautiful 44ft catamaran through customs overseas, John Taylor has written a book all about how she was built. “If customs approach you, you’ve obviously got to prove that you’re the owner but all I have is receipts for materials like wood, screws and glue. That could have been used for anything!” he says. “So to prove that she was a true self-build, I published a book.”
He decided to build virtually every component of Ocean Swift himself
Take a look at John’s background, and it becomes clear that he’s always been resourceful and incredibly determined. As a mechanical engineer, he’s used to working in some of the most unforgiving landscapes of the world, including Antarctica, the Sahara desert and the jungles of Borneo. Building a boat from scratch in West Cumbria could have been a simple task by comparison. However, John threw himself into it with his usual vigour, as he decided to build virtually every component of Ocean Swift himself.
Passion and perseverance
The planking is made from a job lot of Western Red cedar and Douglas fir 4×2 lengths, which John and his father cut into strip planks themselves and kiln-dried; with an estimated six miles of planking needed, this labour-intensive process required incredible vision. All the stainless steel fittings are also made by hand, as is the mast. John has even built an ingenious dual outboard motor system which extends and retracts through doors in the undercarriage near the stern; this gives the boat excellent manoeuvrability.
Of course, behind every passionate project is a source of inspiration and in this case it was John’s friend David Southward. “David designed and built the ‘Southward 35’, which was the first lightweight composite catamaran,” says John. “I was hugely impressed by his design and his approach, plus how fast the Southward 35 is; she’s easily capable of 20 knots.” John took David’s original hull frames and spaced them at 22” instead of 18” to extend the size to 44ft, with David carrying out all the necessary hydrostatic calculations so that the new boat would balance effectively.
An efficient cat with long legs
The construction of Ocean Swift was carried out in four-month stints over several years, to fit in with John’s overseas engineering projects. The rugged Cumbrian countryside and its relentlessly wet weather provided a constant backdrop as John and his father built sections of the boat in different locations. In the early days, construction took place at an old pit-head building and, later, on a friend’s farm. “Occasionally we’d put the boat-building on hold to help out with the calving and the lambing,” smiles John.
Epoxy was used throughout the build
Epoxy was used throughout the build, including for the Israeli Gaboon plywood beams and the strip-plank hulls and decks. Building a lightweight, efficient structure with ‘long legs’ was a top priority. “A professional boat-builder wouldn’t use cedar like we have, as you can’t quality control it; there’s no guarantee that the finished weight and efficiency of every boat would be the same,” explains Carl, John’s father. “But we know we can make our boat as lightweight with Western Red cedar and epoxy as we could by using a foam.”
The combination of wood, ply and epoxy also delivers excellent strength. “The two hulls are set a long way apart, with the mast in the middle. There’s a lot of propulsion and downward thrust, so the beams must be strong,” says Carl. “By positioning the ply grain at 45 degrees to the beam and using epoxy, we get maximum strength. There are no mechanical fastenings; it’s purely epoxy holding everything together,” he adds.
Epoxy was also used for glassing the boat. The outside of each hull was treated with epoxy and then 600g/m2 biaxial glass cloth was applied at 45 degrees to the planks. “This takes the twist out of the hulls,” explains Carl. “It was David Johnson at WSI who recommended this technique. He was an enormous help on the whole build.”
Indeed, WEST SYSTEM® Epoxy Products are the only ones John and Carl used. “I think we’ve used pretty much everything they sell!” laughs Carl. “They also gave us advice on using their products, which has been invaluable.”
From Cumbria to the Caribbean
Ocean Swift made her debut journey from Cumbria’s river Esk in 2015, set against the stunning backdrop of the Ravenglass mountains. Having since been thoroughly tested through several trips across the Irish Sea, she is now making voyages far further afield.
At the time of writing, John and his friend Emma, have just sailed from Cumbria to Portugal and from there on to the Canaries, Cape Verde, Barbados and the Grenadines. Much to John’s delight, the journey has seen Ocean Swift achieve speeds of 22 knots.
The plan is to sail up the Caribbean chain and the east coast of America, before returning to the UK in mid-summer 2016. Carl laughs, “When I last spoke to John, he said the weather was too hot to stand on the deck!” As a man who’s used to working in extremes of weather, John’s bound to take this fully in his stride.
For more information about the full range of WEST SYSTEM epoxy products, visit the West System International website.