Thursday, 14 January 2010

Post War Classics

The piece by Tom over at 70.8% about the Bell Woodworking Seagull got me thinking about these post war plywood yachts. As Tom explains the Seagull was built by Bell Woodworking in Leicester. Boats were supplied complete or as kits, the Seagull at 3Tons T.M was 18'6", designed by Ian Proctor of Wayfarer fame. Also from the same stable was the Seamew, larger at 22'.

Both were designed with the "four plank" hull which gave something between multi-chine and clinker built boat. Each had an early lifting keel, which raised more or less vertically and had a bulb at the lower end, a seaworthy design which was able to explore shallow creeks and rivers.

One of the better known yachts of the type and era was the Debutante, with the less well known sister ship the Escapade, both were designed by Robert Tucker and built by Blanks Boatyard in Hertfordshire. Although very similar in hull form the Debutante at 21' was a bilge keel sloop, whereas the larger Escapade at 25'9" sported a fin keel and double head sail cutter rig.

In 1964 you could buy a Debutante for £650.

I have never seen one, but this Robert Tucker designed Mystic looks like a very practical and sweet design. The raised coach roof is a good way to create interior volume on a small yacht and does so without the reverse sheer which was popular at the time, but which to some people can look unsightly.

Also from Robert Tucker was the 18'6" Caprice, built by "Nobby" Clark of Cowes, one example "Shrimpy" was famously sailed around the world by Shane Acton. Although generally regarded as a bilge keel cruiser, the Caprice was offered in fin keel form as a JOG (Junior Offshore Group) racer with a larger sail plan.

I admit to a fondness for the Caprice, which was the first yacht I owned. Although mine was a late model Mk V built in fiberglass, you still had to open the fore hatch in order to use the toilet.

You can still find examples of these plywood classics, this is an Escapade getting a coat of antifoul before the summer season last year.

This sloop has the look of an early Robert Tucker Caprice, but is sadly looking a little neglected.


  1. hi there. thanks for helping to raise the profile of these fine wee boats. i still sail Boaby an early Seagull.
    Johnny Seagull

  2. That last one is a Tucker Princess - an exceptionally pretty 20 footer. Dont think many were built though, but they had a lovely sheer.

  3. Really interesting stuff, especially about the Robert Tucker designs. I would like to use the photo's of the Caprice, and Debutante on my site if you would permit it. Something of RT here:

    Let me know if you get a chance.
    Thanks very much.


    Randy Browning
    Norwalk, CT USA

  4. just bought my first yacht - a caprice 19 ft. am excited to have it, havent much clue how to sail and looking forward to the adventure. am located in co down n ireland. any advice?


  5. The sad looking sloop you think is an early Caprice, I'm sure is a 19ft 6ins Robert Tucker design called a Princess. It is in an early Bristows catalogue drawn in profile with an adjoining photo taken in pond like conditions. It has a central keel that carries the ballast and two small plate twin keels The copy says there will be a larger version soon at 23ft 6ins, and I notice this evening there was a 24ft Tucker for sale on the web that looks very similar.(28-11-10)
    Regards Malcolm White

  6. I agree with Malcolm, this is a Princess from around 1965. The large gunwale scuppers give it away.
    Probably the most famous of Tucker’s small plywood designs was the Silhouette. There are hundreds of these little yachts still sailing. They started off Hurley Marine and led to George Hurley moulding them in GRP, one of the pioneers of GRP.
    Ian Anderson designed the Felicity as a larger family version of the Silhouette in 1964. For the first few months they were built in Plywood but later built in GRP. The Hurley 20, with rounded hull rather than chines took over in 1967.
    Robert Tucker designed the Silhouette, Caprice, Ballerina, Princess, Mystic, Mistress, Fantasie, Fiesta, Escapade, Debutant and Contessa (not the Jeremy Rogers 26, 32 and 38 Contessa)
    All had pretty names that he chose as he liked to wear women’s knickers and all were famous brands of lingerie during the 50’s and 60’s. If he was designing today I’m sure that one would be called Victoria’s Secret.
    Tucker designed Gallant and Magellan Cloud had tougher names.
    Many of Robert Tucker’s designs were built by Blanks Boatyard, Hertfordshire.
    Nick Vass

  7. i am a live aboard in a caprice a friend purchased the boat for me i will pay later to live in for one is perfect the space is right i have yet to sail the boat as work needs to be done i work in south wales but my home is in cornwall i plan to sail to cornwall on my holiday time well built solid boat basic can be very cheap good construction recommend fiber glass

  8. I owned Escapade 15, which i lived and cruised on for more than 2 years,from the UK, down to the med, canaries, cape verde and across to the Lesser Antilles. A very good seaboat for a single-hander.

  9. My first boat was a Caprice Mk II - all plywood with the extended coach roof. If I remember rightly the sail number was C199. I bought it from her first owner - Robert? deCourcy who had her built by Nobby Clarke in Cowes.

    I raced her around the Isle of Wight in the owners association annual race for the 'Cornubia' Cup which I won as the first and only finisher.


    John Mills


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