Iain Oughtred obituary


In the course of the winter of 1981-82, in a chilly draughty shed in Cookham Dean on the River Thames in Berkshire, Iain Oughtred, who has died aged 84, constructed a ship that may change the world of small boat constructing. The craft was simply 12ft lengthy and based mostly on a standard Whitehall design constructed within the hundreds within the US. However, whereas the American boats have been made in stable timber held along with screws and rivets, Iain selected to construct his in plywood and epoxy – the supplies of the long run, as he noticed it. Up till then, boat designs for novice development, reminiscent of the favored Mirror dinghy, tended to be intrinsically purposeful (learn ugly); Iain proved they may very well be lovely too.

His Acorn skiff was picked up by the US journal WoodenBoat, which described it as “a sweet-lined, slippery little jewel”, and added the drawings to its checklist of inventory plans available for purchase. It was the earnings from this design, in addition to dozens extra added to his checklist through the years, that allowed Iain to pursue his chosen profession as a ship designer. Over the following 40 years, he would draw greater than 100 designs – for boats starting from 6ft to 30ft lengthy – which might be constructed world wide by amateurs and professionals alike. Though not all the time the best to construct, his designs have been thought-about the top of the sort and endowed him with virtually cult standing within the picket boat neighborhood.

Iain Oughtred helming his Ness Yawl design Albannagh on the River Shannon, Ireland, 2012.
Iain Oughtred helming his Ness Yawl design Albannagh on the River Shannon, Eire, 2012. {Photograph}: Nic Compton

In the beginning of his profession, Iain was in awe of the normal boats of the US, which had been completely documented by maritime historians reminiscent of Howard Chapelle and William Gardner. Not surprisingly, his early designs for dories and skiffs have been impressed by this dominant American heritage, and even his canoe designs have been variations on a well-liked American kind. That every one modified within the mid-Nineteen Eighties, when British picket boat fans woke as much as the truth that the UK had its personal wealthy custom of indigenous boat sorts to attract upon. The publication of Eric McKee’s seminal guide Working Boats of Britain in 1983, with its free-flowing modern illustrations, was a turning level in that motion.

Iain responded by producing one other landmark design. The Caledonia Yawl was loosely based mostly on the working boats of Shetland, the sixareens: these hardy beasts of burden that have been themselves impressed by Norwegian workboats. However Iain didn’t merely copy the design. He stripped it again to its essence, took out what was pointless (primarily plenty of weight), and reimagined it for the late twentieth century. What emerged was a superbly fashioned little sea boat, constructed out of contemporary supplies and due to this fact extra suited to trendy dwelling, which was without delay completely conventional and but recognisably his personal design.

Iain defined his method to me once I visited him on the Isle of Skye whereas researching my biography Iain Oughtred: A Life in Picket Boats (2009): “I had no intention of attempting to design an precise Shetland sixareen,” he mentioned. “The fee was for a glued plywood boat, with a very totally different goal to the unique. It needed to be lighter, extra versatile and with higher all-round crusing efficiency – and easy to construct. On the similar time, I wished to retain the swish character and extraordinary seagoing skill of the normal boats. The problem was tips on how to evolve custom, and the way far you must go. It’s simple to begin with a Shetland boat, see methods to make it go sooner after which lose the entire level. However on the similar time, when you’re designing a special boat for a special goal, then it ought to look totally different too.”

Born in Melbourne, Australia, Iain was one of many seven youngsters of Douglas, the supervisor of a scientific devices firm, and his spouse, Jean (after whom Iain would later identify two boats). The household moved to Sydney when Iain was 9, and he discovered to sail on the Mosman Beginner Crusing Membership on Sydney Harbour. As a younger man, he designed and constructed a number of race-winning dinghies and ultimately bought a job as a draughtsman at a naval architect’s workplace in Sydney.

Iain Oughtred drew upon Britain’s rich tradition of indigenous boat types, and said: ‘The challenge was how to evolve tradition, and how far you should go.’
Iain Oughtred drew upon Britain’s wealthy custom of indigenous boat sorts, and mentioned: ‘The problem was tips on how to evolve custom, and the way far you must go.’ {Photograph}: Nic Compton

Feeling a misfit in Australia, he first visited Europe in 1964 and spent the following 17 years shifting peripatetically between his homeland, Britain and the US, and dealing at momentary jobs together with furnishings removals and musical instrument-making, earlier than lastly settling within the UK. To mark this new starting, he modified his identify from Ian Outhred, as he was identified in Australia, to the unique Celtic spelling: Iain Oughtred.

In 1989, two years after designing the Caledonia Yawl, Iain lastly did what he had been which means to do for years: he moved to Scotland (“I had been on my strategy to Scotland for a very long time,” he instructed me, “however I saved getting caught in London.”). A string of Scottish designs adopted, together with a number of variations on the Caledonia Yawl idea (larger, smaller, sooner, extra secure) and two commissions for duplicate Scottish galleons (AKA birlinns), neither of which have been ever constructed.

However the final accolade as an honorary Scotsman got here when Iain was 70, and the Scottish Fisheries Museum requested him to design a ship based mostly on indigenous craft that is perhaps used to encourage coastal rowing. It was a worthy concept that appeared sure to founder like so many different well-meaning neighborhood initiatives, but the 22ft St Ayles skiff took off past anybody’s wildest expectations. Because the first boat was launched in 2009, greater than 400 sister ships have been launched world wide – all constructed, maintained and raced by native communities. By way of numbers, the boat is now Iain’s most profitable design.

All through his life, Iain struggled with the on a regular basis calls for of life – he described himself as autistic – however the St Ayles skiff lastly gave him a point of economic safety. His legacy was assured lengthy earlier than that, although.

Iain is survived by Haig, his son from an early relationship, and 5 of his siblings.


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