3 Tonner 



  The building of 'Dipper', a Senior adapted for easier construction by Selway-Fisher.


Phase 1


It all started with a friend posting a picture of a pretty little boat called Minuet on Facebook. I was soon to discover that she was a Yachting Monthly Senior and immediately knew that she would be my next project. My ambition was to own a small, lightweight (compared to my Golant Ketch) centre boarder with gunter rig that allowed me to tow and launch easily from different locations whilst still being able to live on board for a few days or more if the fancy took me.

It was July 2020 and the world was in the grips of Covid.

Having discovered the Eventide group I exchanged a few emails with John before requesting a set of plans. I also approached Paul at Selway Fisher and purchased a set of drawings for Stitch and Tape hull construction.

Following a good deal of planning and the purchase of a large quantity of Douglas Fir, Sapele, Sitka Spruce and Sapele Super Elite ply from Robbins timber I set about the build.


I used some 18mm ply left over from a previous furniture project to construct a Strong back. I fitted casters as I knew that I would be building in the confines of a garage and that the ability to move the Senior whilst doing so would be a great help.
The stem was constructed from Douglas Fir and used the Selway Fisher plans for dimensions.

Temporary and permanent bulkheads were constructed from the original plans, drawn by Thames boat builder Kenneth Gibbs in the 1950’s, and they together with the stem were fixed to the strong back. A laser level was used to ensure proper alignment. By the end of September the Sapele Hog had been fitted and planed to shape.




Phase 2


For planking I decided to adopt a hybrid Traditional and Stitch & Tape approach. By that I mean that I:


a.   Scarfed the 9mm ply hull planks to achieve the desired length.

b.   Attached the first planks (garboards) to the centre line structure and bulkheads.

c.   ‘Stitched’ the subsequent hull panels together having cut them out to the Selway Fisher drawing dimensions.

d.   Did not have stringers running along the chines to attach the planks to as I knew that I was going to tape them internally as per the Stitch and Tape methodology.


At a later point in the build, I realised that this was a mistake. In my desire for perfection, in terms of the joins between the panels whilst making them fit the bulkheads perfectly, I trimmed and squeezed, clamped and forced, and ended up with a lack of ‘fairness’ to my chines. This was 100% my fault! The original Kenneth Gibbs drawings specified stringers which would have been fine. The Selway Fisher hull plans, dimensions and build technique were perfect and fair, it was my trimming and clamping that resulted in flat spots.


I was not to realise this for some time and so I proceeded as per the photo’s:


Once the garboards were fitted, I cut the centreboard slot and planed the landing for the keel. I used oak for the keel, cut the centreboard slot in it too and glued and screwed it in place. This was done prior to the rest of the planking to make it easier to reach. I then stitched the other hull planks in place before using West Epoxy to glue them together and fillet / fair the transitions where necessary.




Phase 3


Instead of taping the external panel joints I took the decision to sheath the whole of the outside of the hull, except for the transom, with a single layer of 280g twill weave cloth. This was then wetted out with Epoxy before being filled, faired, and sanded prior to painting.


Copper coat was chosen for below the waterline. I have used it previously on a trailer sailer and have found it to be well worth the expense. It is excellent as an antifoul, but more importantly for a boat such as Dipper, being epoxy based, it is as tough as old boots! Very important for a boat that will be on and off the trailer and beached from time to time.


I used International 2 pack polyurethane paints initially for the topsides but was unable to achieve the finish that I desired and so I reverted to using Epifanes 2 pack polyurethane instead. I had used it on a previous boat and, for whatever reason, found it more forgiving of my painting technique.


Note: By this point in the build I had resolved the flat spots on the hull profile that I had caused and was now happy with the outcome.








Phase 4


I was interested to note in the creation of this build diary that Phase’s 1 to 3 (hull construction and finishing) took 7 months whereas this next phase (decks, cabin, interior fit out) took almost a year.


Hopefully, the series of photographs are relatively self-explanatory but a few things to note are:

The turning cradle allowed the hull to be rolled over relatively easily before the hull was lifted back onto the strong back once again for fit out.
You will see that I had originally planned to follow the plans concerning the aft locker and construct it ‘full height’. That was until Mat Gravener pointed out the benefit of doing away with the top half of it to enlarge the accessible cockpit area.
Once the internal panel seams were taped and the bulkheads etc. were epoxy filleted the whole of the inside was coated in 2 coats of epoxy.

The fitting of the centreboard case was the next step. If you look closely, you will see that the centreboard case has a layer of melamine on each side internally to improve wear resistance.

The ‘box’ in front of the centreboard case is for the 12v battery.

The void behind the cockpit seat backs and the hull have been filled with 2 pack closed cell expanding foam for buoyancy.

Sections of solid timber have been incorporated where necessary to allow deck fittings to be attached at a later stage.

I did as much as I could internally before putting the lid on to allow easier access.

The cook box, that was made following inspiration gained from other Dinghy Cruising Association members, is removable allowing cooking in the cockpit or bankside if desired.





Phase 5


Dipper is a centreboard version of the Senior. But I wanted her to be able to take the ground, level, when the situation arose. I was also conscious that some mention had been made of the Senior being quite ‘tender’ by other owners and that she might benefit from additional ballast. With this in mind I mocked up a pair of small ‘keels’ that were slightly shallower than the hulls keel and asked a local fabricator to make them up from steel and have them galvanised.

Each ‘keel’ weighed 15kg. Tot 30kg.

As far as other ballast is concerned, I cut roofers lead in ever increasing sizes to match the hulls profile, enclosed them in plastic, epoxied them together and fixed one on either side of the centreboard case well forward. Each weighed 26kg. Tot 52kg.

The centreplate (donated from a broken-up Senior) weighs 33kg.

The primary 12v battery weighs 25kg.

The back up battery weighs 10kg.


Total ballast = 150kg







Phase 6


Whilst the build was underway, my wife and I had made the surprise (to us and many others) decision to move from Bristol to the East Coast. We decided not to put our house on the market until Dipper was finished. And it was now the end of February and the spring house buying season was not too far away. I called in the cavalry in the shape of Martin! He too was a graduate of the wonderful Boat Building Academy at Lyme Regis, and luckily for me:

a.   Lived within 10 miles.

b.   Is an excellent craftsman.

c.   I had another shed available in which he could work in order that we were both suitably separated.

I machined the Sitka Spruce for the Mast and Yard and the Douglas Fir for the Boom, and he made the spars for me. This left me free to concentrate on finishing Dippers hull.

Points of note:

I used Hempel Anti Slip Pearls mixed into a final coat of varnish to create a non-slip finish where necessary.

Dipper has a through hull transponder for monitoring water depth, USB electric points in cockpit and cabin for an at-anchor shroud light, cabin light, phone/tablet charging, port and starboard navigation lights and a solar panel for 12v recharging once moored.

Her name plate was made by Geoff Bowker of Bowker Marine Services (another BBA graduate).

The jib utilises a Rob Helyar roller reefing system recommended by and supplied with her Jeckells sails. The key point about this is that the luff spar is a plastic or nylon type extrusion that bends without being damaged. So much better for a trailer sailer than the sectional aluminium tubes I have experienced previously.

By the end of April 2022, and 21 months since I built the strong back, I was ready to launch.




Phase 7 –


Dipper was launched into Cardiff Bay on 5th May 2022. The first 3 pictures are from that launch.

The two final pictures are from the Old Gaffers Association Queens Jubilee Rally that took place in early June 2022 on the river Deben in Suffolk. As I sailed onto my mooring in front of The Maybush Inn at Waldringfield the Jubilee flypast, that had formed up over the North Sea, flew over. Wave after wave of Lancaster bombers, Spitfires, Hurricanes, and so much more. It was magical!


The end 😊

 Keith  McIlwain

May 2023



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