Monday 1 March 2010

A Sailing Spitfire and a Floating Caravan

The wartime fighter airplane Spitfire is instantly memorable, but perhaps less well known was the Spitfire yacht, designed by Alan Eckford.

LOA 20ft
LWL 18ft
Beam 6ft 8in
Draft 1ft 8in plate up/ 5ft plate down
Displacement 1400lbs (3 Tons Thames Measurement)
Ballast 450lbs
Sail Area 170 sq ft (195 sq ft with genoa)

“Domesticated dinghy men” were the people Alan had in mind when he designed the lightweight Spitfire. Like his other designs, Spitfire used a resin-bonded mahogany plywood shell, the strength of which was sufficient to make frames unnecessary, although there were a number of longitudinal stringers which stiffen the internal structure.

Light weight construction, made the Spitfire a fast boat, “Can be planed, if nerves are good” claimed the designer. One Spitfire raced from Dover to Calais in 3 hours 12 minutes, beating several much larger boats and winning the race overall.

The cockpit was self draining, but beneath the sole was a sealed buoyancy compartment, with another right forward in the forepeak. The price for a finished boat

Alan was an innovative designer, his Fleetwood dinghy of 1948 was described as the fastest dinghy under £100.

He later floated into outdoor legend ... in a caravan , his most usual project was an Amphibious Caravan .Released in 1955 to considerable media attention, the blue and white "Otter" Amphibious Caravan measured five metres by two metres. It was built of marine plywood and could be launched directly onto any inland waterway. Once afloat, it could cruise at four knots, holding up to six passengers; the reinforced roof doubled as a sundeck. A winch was provided with the undercarriage to haul the Otter back onto land.


Eckford and his business partner, Ronald Sams, sold about 200 of their amphibious caravan. But this venture was a sideline to the main focus of their company, based at Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, which was to manufacture small items of sports equipment, such as tennis, squash and badminton racquets, hockey sticks and billiard tables, most of which were manufactured in Jamaica.

An original film clip can be viewed here.


  1. They strike me as being neither fish nor fowl. The duck billed platypus of boats and caravans.

  2. I want one, a caravan, too!!

  3. I have an Eckford Spitfire on my drive! Restoration is on hold while my young family take up most waking hours. I have all original blueprints, a diary and photos of contstruction(1950s) even original receipts. I hope to do her justice, refitting as originally as possible to enjoy sailing with my family.

  4. The Otter in the film is the Mk I prototype. Only one, or very few were produced. There was a stern cockpit added with the outboard in a cut out, so no rudder and much easier handling.It also looked more balanced to the fordeck.I imagine the engine was a bit smelly in that internal well. An Anzani O/B IIRR.
    If G.Stephenson would like to contact me about his boat I would be happy to help him out with any stuff I remember.We had nos 1,2 & 64.

    1. Hi Andrew,

      I'm doing some research for a book on Flying Heroes, it features Alan Francis Eckford. If this person is related to you it would be great to hear from you at


    2. Hi Andrew,I have just found your site, and thought I would contact you.
      I worked for Alan in the early 60's mainly on the early two or three 'Fanfare' boats and some kits for the Fleetwind at the new premises in Conduit Lane Hoddesdon next door to Ron Sams factory A fond memory is of taking 'Fanfare 1' down to Burnham on Crouch for a day's sailing with Alan. We towed it with Alan's Bedford Dormobile bus which was hardly man enough for the job! We had to go through Rye House Sewer works to avoid going up Cat hill in Stanstead Abbotts! The boat building seemed to dry up eventually so I reluctantly moved on to other things. I remember coming to the house in churchfields on occasion so it is quite possible we may hav met then but I guess you were quite young then? I also seem to remember a young girl - possibly your sister? I would be pleased to hear from you

    3. Hi Brian
      It would be nice to hear from you.
      Try andrew.eckford(at)

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  6. these spitfires look amazing to me, think my dad is going to buy one

  7. the spitfire has always been one of my personal favourites, thanks for sharing those pics

  8. Hello Does Andrew Eckford or any other family have building plans for the Otter or the Anzani O/B IIRR, that they might sell or share? Thank you in advance for assisting me in this quest! Sunny Crowley--


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