September / October 2022

Building a Fowey River Boat

A legendary English class-racing dinghy
The 15' Fowey River Boat

The 15' Fowey River Boat is a modification—without foredeck, samson post, or skeg—of a 1939 design by Reg F. Freeman. The design was the foundation for a popular one-design racing class centered in Fowey, Cornwall, that has undergone a renaissance of interest in recent years.

In Fowey, a small town in Cornwall, England, a racing dinghy fleet was born in 1950 when a local dentist, E.W. Mogg, known to all as “Moggy,” ordered a boat built to plans by the yacht designer Reg F. Freeman. The original plans for the 15-footer, published in Yachting World in 1939, had included a foredeck, samson post, and skeg, but Moggy asked his builder to omit those. By 1965, 36 boats were built with the same modifications, and they constituted a one-design racing class that came to be known as Fowey River boats. Although interest in the class started to wane in the 1970s, a resurgence began in 1991, when an existing boat was restored and lines were taken and patterns made for the construction of a new one. More boats followed, and today, 72 boats have been built, all of them locally. More than 50 are still based in Fowey; 32 of them raced during the 2021 Fowey Regatta week.

Marcus Lewis’s career as a boatbuilder in Fowey has paralleled the resurgence of the class. In his youth, he took an avid interest in boatbuilding and restoration. He soon went to work in a local boatyard, where he remained for years. One of his later projects was the restoration of Prince Phillip’s Dragon-class yacht for exhibit at the 2002 opening of the National Maritime Museum, Cornwall. In 2003, Marcus opened his own shop in Fowey, and since then he has built 18 of the new generation of Fowey River boats. Most recently, he built two boats side-by-side with an apprentice, Toby Poultney.

Fowey River boats are built to strict rules. The class association has amassed a comprehensive set of templates for the stem, deadwood, keel profile, centerboard trunk, transom, stern knee, and construction molds. These patterns are used to check any new boat during various stages of its construction for compliance to the class rules. In addition, a three-page list specifies dimensions that must be met, most of them to the nearest 1⁄8". Before building his first Fowey River boat, Marcus lofted the lines of the original Yachting World drawing, so he hasn’t needed to do any subsequent lofting work, and over the years he has replicated the association’s templates and molds. However, he has made his own refinements, such as adding marks on the molds to record his own fair plank lines.

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