What comes next

We talk to Phil Morrison about his current projects

Friday March 30th 2007, Author: Toby Heppell, Location: United Kingdom
Few designers in the world have a portfolio as diverse as Phil Morrison. Based in the West Country Morrison has worked on the America’s Cup, Open 60s, racing multihulls, keelboats, but his first love remains dinghies. Here he has designed many boats from National 12s to International 14s to more recent single manufacturer one design boats such as the RS200, 400 and 800. With a number of new projects currently on the go, life, for Morrison at least, does not look likely to get any quieter soon.

Most recently Morrison says he has been working more reactively, doing jobs that come to him. Currently he has nine projects on the go and it is a case of who asks first. One of the main projects he is involved with is the design of a new Development Canoe.

The International Canoe class is effectively split at the moment with some boats going asymmetric and a number of people building boats to a new development rule, the future of which will be decided on at the next World Championships in 2008 (to read more about the Development Canoes read our article here).

Morrison was approached some months back by Canoe sailor, Phil Robin, to design a new Development Canoe to be built by Andy Patterson of Bloodaxe boats - whos own Development Canoe is shown below. “Phil [Robin] asked me to design one, so I just sketched one out. He and Andy [Patterson] are meeting about now, I have sent him the first draft of the lines so they can chat about it and he seems fairly happy with what I have drawn so far,” he explains.

A number of people are currently designing new Development Canoes and while these are on the more extreme limit of what it allowed by the new development rule, Morrison has gone for a more conservative approach. “A lot of [the other designers] have gone really narrow but I felt what I was being asked for was something that isn’t too extreme,” Morrison comments. “Phil [Robin] wanted an all-round boat, so my design flares out a bit more than others. It is actually slightly wider than the minimum. It is 850mm wide at the deck – the minimum is 750mm. Partly this is because it helps with actually physically sailing it - you have to have something to put your feet on and if the hull is too narrow there is not much to land on! Also from the point of view of supporting the rig it gives a decent [shroud] base.”

Morrison says he does not feel extra flare on his Development Canoe design will slow the boat down and an interesting aspect of it is that it makes the boat look like a Morrison design. “People who know my hulls will probably be able to see a stretched similarity between the Canoe and my International 14 and even National 12 designs.” This similarity between designs from the same designers is something that has been commented on by a friend of Morrison. “A rather cynical friend of mine a long time ago said the problem with designers is they only have one shape. I said ‘it is a bloody good job mine is a good one then!’”

The Development Canoe is Morrison’s first foray into the International Canoe class, aside from some sail making he did when he was younger. “I either have a fresh perspective on [the Canoe] or I am totally out of it. In some ways I prefer not to be involved in the class. When I am designing, it is nice to draw something first and then look at what everyone else is doing. With this boat, that is how I approached it and so far I have not seen anything that alarmed me,” he reveals.

On the relatively conservative nature of his canoe Morrison says in addition to wanting a practical boat there is an element of sticking to tried and tested designs. “With this boat you are already sticking your neck out turning something that already works into something else. You have to be a bit careful of what you are doing.”

While the Canoe is a new class to Morrison he current has other projects in classes where he does have more of a track record. Arguably the boat Morrison is currently best known for is the International 14. His current International 14 design, the Morrison 12, has become one of the top boats to have in the 14 class where his first design was back in 1973. Recently Morrison’s involvement in the class has gone slightly quiet, but the prospect of future designs are now re-emerging. “I did some work for some guys a season or so ago. In fact I did the drawing of one for Chris Turner who works over at Ovington Boats now. He has actually built the plug but has not had the time to get round to doing anything with it yet,” Morrison explains.

Stevie Morrison sailing a Morrison design International 14

This new International 14, when it gets built, will of course be the Morrison 13. “I do not know if they will stick to calling it a Morrison 13 but I decided, sod it I will fly in the face of convention and call it 13 instead of skipping and going to 14. Whether that is good or bad, again I do not know,” he states. Echoing our conversation about the Development Canoe, he explains the new International 14 design is not particularly radical. In fact in many ways the new design is less radical than some previous incarnations. “The 13 is really just a refinement. It is actually a bit of a back-pedal as the last one that got a new name but was more of a ‘cut and shut’ than a design. We wanted to just adapt a few things here or there with the 12 which is good fun but when you do that you can lose track and I think we went a bit too far.”

Exactly when we might see a Morrison 13 International 14 on the market is somewhat of an unknown at present. Currently the mould is sitting at Ovington Boats and has not been touched for a while. “I was up at Ovington Boats with Stevie - Morrison’s son and well know 49er helm - picking up a 49er not that long ago. I saw Chris [Turner] then and he showed me the plug but he made it a while ago and it has sat there gathering dust so obviously it will need a bit of a polish before they could use it. He said they were planning on doing something when they get a moment, but they are flat out with 29ers and such at the moment,” Morrison explains.

Recently Hartley Laminates’ owner – and soon to be builder of the Cherub Daemon see the article here – Richard Hartley has bought the rights to many of the old Ian Proctor designs and Morrison has been brought onboard to update a number of these classic boats. “I have worked with [Richard Hartley] going back to when he started building the Kestrel several years ago,” he recalls.

Both Hartley and Morrison have been steadily working their way through a number of old classes together, modernising both the design and the building techniques. So far they have done the Kestrel, the Osprey and are just putting the last few finishing touches on a new Wayfarer. “We were trying to make it easier to build and bring it up to date without losing the flavour of the boat. Richard [Hartley] wants to do the Wanderer as well so that is up next,” Morrison confirms.

On top of these projects Morrison was also involved in the redesign of the RS800 - above - for the Women’s High Performance Dinghy Observation Trials next month and will be out there for the event, come April. “The Trials for the Women’s Olympic boat is like a designers’ competition which is always fun. I genuinely think the 800 is pretty close to what is needed, I think it would be more or less ideal but obviously I am biased,” he admits.

Finally it is not just sailboat designing Morrison is involved with. He has, for a number of years, been designing long distance rowing boats. “I designed the rowing boat they used for races a long time ago. That was a sort of plywood kit, and I have done a few since,” he explains. “The latest one is for a guy called Ollie Hicks who has already rowed across the Atlantic from the US to here when he was about 19 or 18. Now he would like to row around Antarctica so I am designing a boat for that.” In addition to this Morrison is designing a boat for what he calls the “warmer run” from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean. The boat for this run is much smaller and more like a rowing skiff. “We call it a Solo Sprint. It is not really that small but it is a sort of rowing skiff with a bucket and a bowl of cornflakes. You hope to get there before you run out of food,” he concludes.

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