So what is it that helps us choose a boat design to build? For some, it’s the desire to build a boat for competition, or to learn to sail. It could be that we want something we can use with the family, or to meet the urges of mid-life to do something different – to show that we still have something worthwhile to give!

Marg and me? We wanted to go fishing!

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I scanned the internet for possible candidates, listened to advice (mainly ignored) from friends, and eventually decided that the Rifleman was the boat for me. Yes, as I have confessed before, a large part of my choice (initially anyway) was that I really liked the boat’s appearance, and just as many of our choices in life are based on what we can see on the outside, so it was with the Rifleman. Fortunately, just as with the Margaret, the things I learned after making my commitment have all been good.

So what was it about the boat that influenced my choice?  I liked the (to me) classic lines, the sheer of the hull, the tumblehome at the transom, and I really liked John’s story of why the boat was designed. I know that most of you can check out the truth for yourselves at   But I’m going to let you know what John said, anyway!

“The lapstrake sides and classical looks of “Rifleman” were an accident more or less, Frank Perry had been on the beach at a popular resort when He had seen Roger Davies in his beautifully presented “Rogue” sailing dinghy.  Intrigued by the boat, Frank was soon talking to the owner and boatbuilder Roger, keen to make a sale soon had him out on the water. Frank bought a set of Rogue plans from me and intended to have his new friend build the boat the following winter but after some study decided that a craft intended primarily for sail and oar would not be fast enough to get him to and from his favourite fishing spots along Wellington's ironbound, windy coast, so after several to’s and fro’s on the phone we decided to design a completely new boat to suit.

My client described himself as “not as young as he once was” and arthritis means he cannot tolerate a cold, cramped seating position for long. His boat needed to be faster than Rogue could be pushed with an outboard, her shape being wrong for planing speeds with a bigger outboard motor. But the advantages of the unusually light weight with the consequent ease of handling was to be retained, along with the practical interior, ease of building and not least the lapstrake or “clinker” sides. So, starting with a blank sheet of paper I started drawing up Rifleman, an outboard motor powered planing hull with a designed serviced speed under normal conditions of 18 - 20 knots. This should mean a top speed in flat water of about 25 knots, not super boat performance but a comfortable cruising speed for a fisherman who doesn’t have to cover a huge mileage to his pet spot.  To obtain this performance with the modified dory hull form I used for Rifleman a 20 hp motor should be adequate for those cruising two up, while a “25” should be quick enough for most even when loaded up a bit. ……

An oversize planing shoe enables the boat to carry a large load at planing speed on moderate power, or to plane under full control at comparatively low speeds. This gives low fuel consumption and easy handling, even in quite rough conditions.  The steeply rising bottom panels soften the ride, and give good directional stability while the long fine entry eases through the waves and keeps the spray down in a way that the more common wide beam can rarely achieve.

Inside there is room for four to ride in comfort, and to fish without tangling lines. There is adequate storage under the foredeck and under the centreline of the seats, while the space under the side seats and forward thwart is sealed off providing sufficient air tank buoyancy to float her stable and baleable fully swamped. This space can be accessed through plastic hatches if required and is a good place to keep spare clothing, matches, food and other essential small items. ( Don’t put the bait in the same one as the food!)  Steered from the console on the centre thwart the boat is easier to trim, and generally will provide a more comfortable ride with the weight out of the ends. With the motors normal remote control kit and a simple cord and pulley steering system it is possible to rig the controls without having to spend too much on hardware….  

Two years or so later, and after selling quite a number of plans I heard from a very apologetic Frank. He had been talked into a more conventional 14 ft deep vee from a very well known designer. They’d built it and it turned out that the thing had been less than adequate in the conditions that prevailed in Cook Straight [sic]! There was nothing really wrong with the boat, it was just the wrong one for the job!  With several “Riflemen” in the water by then I was able to reassure Frank that the boat performed pretty much as advertised and sent off the plan set. He’s building this one at home by himself and I hope to hear from him sometime to see how she has performed. 

So you can see the appeal. Good looking, speedy, economical to run, the right size to fit into my carport, and specifically designed for an older bloke like me!

I bought the plans, John's book “Backyard Boatbuilder”, built a “Joansa” to learn the craft, and spent a lot of time examining Chuck Weinberg’s construction photos on his website “Duckworks”.  It took about 6 months for me to build the Rifleman, and where I was uncertain about some detail, I found John to be a friendly and helpful bloke.

rifleman1So how did it turn out? Well when I went to buy my 9mm gaboon, the supplier talked me into a much cheaper 10.5mm hardwood ply which has proven to be tough indeed, but was hard to work with when I had to create a very wide compound curve at the bow.    rifleman2 

The advice I received from my outboard supplier to widen the transom cut-out turned out to be rubbish, and I’ve since had to fill it in. Naturally there was lots of unsolicited advice – but you have to learn to roll with the punches!  The design and construction of the centre console in the plans didn’t suit the exotic array of instruments I purchased, and so Capt. Nemo and I spent many days in producing potential solutions until the final acceptable version emerged – but that’s boat building, I suppose.

On the positive side, am I happy with the boat?   My word! It’s proven to be safe and predictable, usually finds the fish, and even at times when Port Phillip bay spits the dummy and makes things very awkward, has got us home ok..

Of course there are always changes that come along, and although John had predicted the shape would keep the spray down, I eventually gave in to the complaints of my crew and had a custom rifleman3weather shield fitted, and also equipped the boat with an anchor winch (which now works successfully after only 18 months of trial setups).  I well remember the first time we skipped across the bay, with the hull pounding on the chop, and thinking “it’s made of plywood … and it’s only glued together” – but clearly it’s been up to it.

Just this week we kicked the goal through the opening that pretends to be the entrance to Mordialloc Creek, and the boat (with a bit more throttle) carried us safely in.  As John predicted, it’s economical, can do 25 knots in the right conditions, and is often pushing its narrow confines with a crew of two, plus 3 (or 4) steadily increasing in size “anklebiters”.  I must also confess that I like the attention the boat draws from those at the ramp, and other passers by – and even the police seem to want to motor across for a chat!

Of all the boats I have built, this and the Joansa, are the favourites of the family’s three generations, and I suspect that if I can’t get out on the water at some stage, they will want the boats to remain in retirement in my crowded carport/front lawn/backyard/garage – etc..

By the way – check out the rego.. Keen observers will notice that not only is registration number the same as the classic plates on my car, but also ties in nicely with the name – “MaggieAnne”.

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