In collaboration with small boat sailor Mike Newport we take a look at the John Westell designed Yachting Monthly Y Emma, an eight foot dinghy that can be built at home with minimal outlay and sailed rowed paddled or poled, all things that encompass the ideals of affordable and fun sailing. What I particularly like about the Y Emma is the basic materials needed 2 - 2.5 sheets of ply. Her shape is similar to the Mirror which came 20 odd years previous, and like her she is forgiving. She also has built in buoyancy which is a safety feature both of my punts lack although in fairness my punts are a very specialized craft not intended for mass production and this is easily remedied by the addition of a buoyancy bag or two.
The Smaller The Boat by Mike Newport -
I HAVE FOUND THE OLD SAYING “The smaller the boat, the more the fun” to be absolutely true and have been proving it to myself over the last thirty years. Recently Tony and I found ourselves down at Goldhanger, a couple of hours before high water with time on our hands. Swallow was already ashore, layed-up a few days earlier during the warm October sunshine, and Tony had decided to go rowing amongst the saltings in his dinghy; I said I would follow in mine once I had rigged her for sail. We eventually met up in Wilkin’s Creek saltings, which were quickly flooding on what was forecast to be a high spring tide. Reaching the far sea wall we managed to change craft and for twenty minutes or so Creeksailor enjoyed the simple pleasures of an even smaller boat than his beloved Shoal Waters.
|Creeksailor Tony Smith sailing Swallow’s Tail, a Yachting Monthly Y Emma. I hadn’t realized she looked so good.|
At the time I acquired my cruiser Swallow, I had an aged and tired plastic pram dinghy that served as a tender and was looking for a suitable replacement. It just so happened that Yachting Monthly had been running a competition for the design of a safe, stable, sailing yacht’s tender, capable of being home built from two sheets of 8ft. x 4ft. x ¼” plywood. The winner was the Y Emma, first shown at the 1982 Southampton Boat Show. I saw and read a follow-up article showing details and decided that would do for me. Having previously put Swallow together from a kit, I then wondered how suitable would it be to build her tender.
I sent off for a set of plans, and, reading the article again which I still have, cost me £10, and I vaguely remember the plywood and epoxy costing another £40 - Oh those were the days. I had previously built a stitch and glue Unicorn catamaran, so Y Emma’s construction was quite straight forward in comparison. The most time consuming part was scaling up the drawing details to full size on the plywood. It’s very important to get this part correct and accurate, as it determines the final shape of the hull. Once drawn, you cut out these strange shapes that develop up into your tender. The hull is built on a very simple jig and starting with the bottom outline, then wiring the various ply shapes together along their edges and hey presto, in no time you have a dinghy in front of you.
As you can see from the above photograph my Y Emma is still going strong after thirty years and she is only built from exterior grade ply. Provided you attend to any “dings” quickly with anything that will seal the damage and keep the water out, she will last a life time. She has proven to be a very good tender capable of carrying three adults carefully in flat water and has proved to be very stable giving you a confident feeling when the children are aboard. I built the sailing version and as the picture shows, she sails well. Although she has seats aft, it is more comfortable to snug down with your bum on the bottom in light conditions. In heavier winds you can swivel round to windward and trim her down by the bow when tacking. In these conditions I’ve had the lee gunwale under without problems; however she can be a bit wet in the old “Blackwater chop”.
|Mike sailing his newly built Y Emma|
My “spare “set lingered almost forgotten in the garage roof until last winter. During the summer before I watched one of our club members sail their high tech, mass produced dinghy and was surprised by her performance, which set me thinking, how would her rig work on my dinghy? I borrowed the rig and tried it, but was unsuccessful as the increased mast leverage damaged my mast step. The only way to really find out would be to get those old shapes out from the garage roof and build another dinghy. That’s what I did last winter, raising the foredeck and strengthening the mast step for the bigger rig. I made an aluminum mast and boom, and had a similar sail shape made. The new sail is 10 sq.ft. more than the original gaff lug, but the new combination works well and she appears faster, but that will need proving. She is still undergoing “sea trials”, and I haven’t had her out yet in big winds. I can’t reef her as is, but after researching the Solway Dory following a near miss at our recent Small Boat Rally, I may make some minor rig modifications during the coming winter.
TS: I asked Mike why the diversion from the balanced lug on his new Y Emma.
MN: Well, I'm experimenting and though I mention speed in the article the main point of this tall rig was to pinch more wind from 'up there' while sailing in the creek, as you know, we often get caught in the lee of the seawall with a small dinghy's short rig.
TS: Looking at the new boat she appears quite different from Swallow's Tail 1. Her mono sail demonstrates the evolution of gaff rig in one sail if ever there was. No waggling stick to fall down and doing you on the 'swede', alloy spars and that fore deck - a consequence of raising the mast supports that has helped in fending off shipping green. I adore the Y Emma. And why not it reminds me of my first Mirror dinghy but is even smaller and lighter, packing in more fun per pound. An eight feet bundle of joy. And, it really is time I stopped cadging a lift back to shore in Mikes. I will be building one over the coming months. Mine will be a lug rig version and I'll be asking Mike for any useful tips during the process.
If you would like to know more about building a Y Emma Mike can be contacted through the comment feature or the email address top right of the page.