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09 - MkIV: The Designers Tale

Webmaster - note this piece originally appeared in the December 2005 edition of the Class magazine.

About July 2005 I, Phil Morrison, was approached by Richard Hartley to look into revamping Ian Proctor’s Osprey design. This was unexpected, but not a complete surprise as I had some years earlier worked on a similar exercise with the Kestrel, which Richard and his son Mark’s boat building company had successfully revived from a semi-stagnant state.

The Kestrel was one of the first dinghies designed for GRP production and had a usable, if somewhat tired, hull mould, so the exercise was largely to bring the deck styling and overall construction up to date. I approached this new project with some trepidation, as it seemed an almost irreligious intrusion into a great designer’s work. Ian Proctor had designed most of the early Nationals and Merlin Rockets in which I started my sailing, and subsequently, designing career. After a meeting with Richard and all of Ian Proctor’s children, who were my age or older, I was myself reassured, and in turn reassured them, of my respect for the great man’s works. As with the Kestrel, they gave their consent to modernizing Ian’s Osprey design for today’s market and building methods.

For the Osprey, the exercise was a little more drastic, as the boat had originally been designed for amateur wooden construction, with the customary measurement tolerances to allow for building variations. As the class mould was not in a good enough state to use, Richard would have to invest a considerable sum in tooling and equipment in order to complete the exercise to his usual high standard.

We would have to build a new hull mould, and this I drew up on the basis of the following:  in common with many classes of a similar era, the Osprey hull shape and layout has been “tweaked” within the class rules over the years such that many of the newer boats are slightly faster or at least considered to be faster than the original. It would be pointless therefore to produce a middle-of-the-road hull shape that would potentially fall victim to the already established “fast boats”. No one would want a boat from that mould, and the whole point of the exercise and success of the project to breathe new life into the Osprey would be defeated. Consequently, with Richard’s permission I have attempted to “optimise” the new hull shape within the original rules in order that the new boats would be competitive with the best of the existing boats but not outclass them, except naturally, because of their greater age.

This exercise is not exactly rocket science and consists largely of ensuring the boat is as long and fine as possible within the rules. Most of the classes from the 60’s and 70’s have settled into an optimised shape, which ironically makes them more “one-design” than they were originally.

In our initial discussions, held standing over an accepted state-of-the-art Osprey, I suggested a number of changes that would facilitate the construction, and improve and simplify the boat:

  • moving the original thwart position, which seemed to be largely redundant now that all the controls and mainsheet had been moved aft, mainly to allow more space for the crew, who seemed cramped in what was, after all, a large boat by dinghy standards
  • removing the bilge keels, a nuisance with foam sandwich construction
  • integrating a small stern tank as the best structural and building solution to finishing the stern of the boat

Whilst not directly affecting the boat’s performance, they did require rule changes, all of which were, I am relieved to say, recently approved (AGM August 2005).

I decided simplicity should be the overriding maxim for the deck layout. There is always a temptation when designing boats for GRP construction to add fiddly little plinths and recesses for equipment. Whilst this looks “cool”, temporarily at least, what happens when that particular fitting goes out of favour? Keeping the basic layout simple means that different layouts can be introduced as fashion and technology change. Also, existing boats can be brought up to date. It makes foam sandwich construction much easier, stronger and lighter, as all discontinuities are a source of more work and a potential for faults or errors.

Unashamedly the construction around the mast and shroud area is based on the standard GRP 505, which has remained virtually unchanged for 20+ years. It’s strong, light, stiff and simple.

In general the fit-out has been developed by Richard and Mark Hartley, with a large measure of input from Tim Rush, and occasionally my three-penn’orth; again simplicity and ease of operation have been the key words.

My brief was “to produce the best modern Osprey possible whilst maintaining the inherent nature and spirit of the class, to be competitive with the best boats in the class but not render the old boats obsolete.” You, ladies and gentlemen, will have to be the judge of whether, between us, we have achieved that aim!

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