Jesse Oke

Jesse Oke

How it got started This is my first model and also my first excursion into RC. However I have been sailing very similar real boats for 35 years. These old timers often need months of rig and sail revamping to get them back to original performance, apart from all the repairs and maintenance.

(LH) Kathleen (Tony Longstaff) – Jesse Oke (RH)

The idea to do it came from an older mentor, now retired from big boat sailing, who scratch built an excellent replica Skipjack (Chesapeake oyster dredger).

Skipjack –

A year was spent considering and researching what to build. For me it would have to be from the time of sailing fishing boats, pre WW1. YouTube research into model planes showed me that the closer the scale ratio, the more realistic the behaviour. For models of traditional boats, the more mass, the more realistically they behave. It became clear that I must build the biggest possible model I could, of the smallest possible boat that had a deck, or at least a “half deck”.

I was also aware of the complete lack of skill in my hands, so the bigger the bits, the more chance I had. It was equally clear that I would need good access below, as the RC equipment would likely be the subject of much messing and tweaking. From the outset I knew that this would be a “1000 hours to build, 100 hours admiring it, and a 10 hours sailing it” type of project, so I needed it to have a display mode as it sat somewhere in the house, never dreaming that one could actually exhibit these things.

Finally, I had a stock of mahogany laths left over from laminating frame repairs on a wooden river boat we used to own. These were 38mm x 4mm thick and 1150mm long. These would plank a chunky boat with plenty to spare. I trawled through the photos and descriptions of my “The Chatham Directory of Inshore Craft”, and came across a picture of the hull, short description, and crucially, lines plans of a Plymouth Hooker (longliner, so hooks, not nets).

The craft, “Dayspring”, was a 30ft boat, very deep, with foredeck and narrow side decks and a big open cockpit. The mast was stepped in the cockpit so could be removed and laid down for transport of the model, and this would give access to an RC control module of receiver and three foresail winches that comes out in one from under the foredeck, where it is dry, and aft of this, room for a mainsheet runway and steering gear that would be covered by both the cockpit floorboards (sole) and all the fishing gear when in the display mode.  For sailing a watertight hatch cover would be essential.

Dayspring PH339 Plymouth hooker 1935

Dimensions Reading old books on RC sailing boats, the advice was that for displacement boats the keel depth should be increased if no fin keel was to be used, and the rudder should be 10% of the underwater lateral area. This has been achieved by raking the keel bottom to give a deeper draft aft at the heel, adding about 70mm. This would give 150mm draft forward, 305mm draft aft, on a hull length of 1100mm and beam of 420mm. The displacement is 50lb or 23kg. 28lb lead, of which 5lb is mounted under the keel, and the rest internal, gives a 56% ballast ratio.

I was aware from messing with real boats that, with the draft aft twice that of forward, provided the leech of the mainsail extended a little aft of the back edge of the rudder, then no sail would be necessary forward of the stemhead, but that the boat could still carry a modest jib out on a bowsprit.

This works very well, a straight rudder gives a straight line, but when pressed close hauled, a little weather helm develops, and the tiller must be pulled 10 degrees or so up to windward. 

Building the hull The drawings were completed early 2017 and the hull started in the November, and completed in March 2018.

The centreline is 18mm mahogany and the frames are from 15mm mahogany marine ply. The planking is cut from those 4mm mahogany (Sapele) laths with no butt joints, and the whole is fastened with stainless countersunk wood screws and glued with a waterproof resorcinol wood glue. The deck is 4mm marine ply. No steam bending was required, sapele is more flexible than utile.

I did not completely sand out the planking on the hull. Old wooden fishing boats are rough and ready and you can see the planks. It’s no good building in wood and then looking as smooth as fibreglass! The whole thing was done using a Makita jig saw, Makita drills, a set of chisels and files, a set of miniature files, tenon saw and a hacksaw for fine cuts, and a junior hacksaw for the smallest cuts of all. Everything was hand sanded as an orbital wouldn’t touch it.

There was one terrible fright when, having built the hull in the damp garage at the bottom of the garden, bringing it into the house with the beast from the east outside, the humidity dropped to 20% and the planks dried quicker than the frames. The glue started splitting with loud reports in many places, and the frames were pulled apart 20mm at the top where the cockpit was to go. the only thing to do was buy 3 sash clamps quick and wind the frames back to shape gingerly, let it all settle down and re-glue the splits.

So far so good, but I think a hot car in summer could give trouble.

Spars B & Q Redditch had some wonderful straight and close grained long dowels or poles, white pine, and these were used for everything except the mahogany bowsprit. I used my current boat, an Essex smack yacht replica, to give me all the diameters.

The mast has a very fine taper up to the hounds, above that rather steeper. The boom has a compound taper, thinner at each end, thickest a third from the mast. The gaff is untapered. All the spars and almost all the rigging and blocks are exactly as my real boat, just scaled down. The topsail yard is a very fine bamboo from the garden. Much bigger ones are still used on traditional vessels, they give the best stiffness to weight ratio. Bigger bamboo poles are hollow.

Pulley blocks Using brass sheaves from Deans Marine, the blocks were made in rakes of 6 or 8. This allowed for extra wood at each end so that two saw cuts were necessary when the blocks were parted from each other. The advantage was so much less fiddly gluing up. Just a matter of short lengths of plank glued between two longer planks. Then clean out the slots, drill the holes for the sheave pin, peen the pins each side once the sheave (wheel) is installed, then shape one end of the block, cut it off and shape the second end, then repeat for each block in turn. Then strop the blocks and give them an eye, gosh that was fiddly.

Controls Once it looked like I could actually build this thing, I took advice and went to Ali’s Models of Milton Keynes, and took the part finished hull with me. They were so helpful. I went in knowing nothing and came out with a plan, and the gear, that worked.

The controller is a 9 channel Futaba, modified for boats, and upgraded to 2.4 Ghz. 6 channels are used:
Rudder: Hitec 755HB mounted amidships swinging a yoke that pulls on kevlar lines to swing the tiller from close to the tiller base.
Mainsheet: the traditional runway with another Hitec 785 winch between two pulleys, pulling on each end of the mainsheet which goes around a single block under the boom.
Jib: a captive drum winch with double spool, the port sheet wound one way, the starboard the other, with a slack or deadband between to allow this narrow sail to slack sheet when off the wind. Elastic bands pull the slack out and it always works.
Staysail: the tricky one; this uses two captive drum winches, one each side, so that I can slack them both when off the wind, and also so I can back the staysail to help the boat through the wind. I must say that models seem to manage this much better than the real thing, but a long keel takes time to turn, so holding the staysail back once head to wind pushes the boat through.

Yes, despite using 50lb fishing line which doesn’t jam in the turns but does still get in the tiny gap between the spool and the cover, this can still end up with it winding the wrong way and locking. Given sufficient wind, and enough care when tacking not to feed a slack line but make the other winch pull the slack out, this shouldn’t happen, but it does, once or twice a session. (End stops have helped a lot with this).

Bilge pump: because of the cracking problem thought I ought to have one, plus it would tell me if it was taking water. The pump is on two wires and wants to run full time, so must be controlled by a float switch. So far so good.
Rigging: After false starts I settled on Kevlar painted with grey alum primer for the galvanised rigging, and a 50/50 cotton linen three strand and four strand natural laid rope, beautiful stuff from Syren Ship Model of Rutherford, New Jersey. All rigging, sheets and blocks tested to 20lb.
Sails: The boat had to have cotton sails and these proved to be far from easy. in fact at one point it looked as though we would never do this. We bought a 1941 Singer on Ebay and it runs like a – – – –  sewing machine!
My wife Shirley used YouTube to work out how to thread it and trouble shoot it, so she solved the hem stitching. Material was an old white pre-stretched fitted cotton sheet that had been a dust cover for 10 years. We dyed this terra cotta using Dylon dye. Topsails are cut from the underside of an old duvet cover, which is even finer.
YouTube tutorial from Sail Tails gave a head start to the principles, and a short book from Sails Etc of Essex added more, but we made plenty of mistakes. The second jib was a keeper, and the third attempt staysail is usable but that’s all. I couldn’t go for a fourth without a mutiny in the sewing dept., but another will have to be attempted soon.

In trepidation we started on the mainsail, a good 7 day’s work. It is usable and not bad, but we could improve.
Topsails are comparatively easy!

Bolt ropes are the key to all of them, and the pre-tensioning of each must match the tension it will be set under: a lot for luffs, a bit less for gaff heads, rather less for foots. The leeches are not roped except for corners and reef cringle tablings (second thickness of cloth reinforcement), but the web of the cloth must run parallel to the leech – or is it the weft? Anyway, it’s the one with least stretch. The one that runs along the mill, not across it.
The sails would suffer from “blow through” so to seal them we eventually hit on Barbour wind and waterproofing compound, a clear lightweight wax, but this had to be mixed with silicon tent waterproofer to flow, 50/50. It does not really mix, but a stiff paintbrush will churn it into an emulsion. This compound makes the sails lovely and soft and much less prone to creasing.

Paint: The hull is painted Sandtex satin mid grey, below the waterline red oxide, which is a bit soft. Bulwarks khaki green, American Rustoleum, fabulous paint. Rails; Crown cream, spars; Blackfriars matt black ends and stained with Ronseal water based matt light oak. This is very wear resistant, hard as hell, but does abrade easily, if that makes sense. Decks were done the same, and inside the bulwarks.

Launch: The boat was launched in the garden pond on April 10th 2018, but was not ready to sail until August Bank Holiday, the boat proving to be better at it than her builder that day.

Finally the name: JESSE OKE. I had made so many changes to “DAYSPRING” that I couldn’t bring myself to use the name as I had intended. Philip Jesse Oke was a man who, in the 1930’s, photographed and took the measurements and developed the lines plans of many of these old craft as they were dying out. I am very grateful to him for doing this one. Why just Jesse Oke, well, whoever heard of a boat called Philip?

Tony Judd

February 2019