Interested amateur builders of the Nigel Irens 14ft Western Skiff design will benefit from rig dimensions, the PBO guide to building an outboard engine well and further illustrative building images

Four weeks on from the relaunch of the Nigel Irens designed Western Skiff, we offer our first round of updates.

In addition to the 39-page set of A-zero paper plans (and an accompanying set of scaled down A4-printable pages), we can now also offer:

  • A set of rig dimensions and specifications, including the sail area and shape
  • The PBO guide to building an outboard engine well on a Western Skiff (by Nic Compton)
  • Further images by Nic from his 1997 skiff build, which featured in Classic Boat magazine.

All this material is available to download from

The Western Skiff

The Nigel Irens Western Skiff, originally designed 22 years ago, is a slender 14ft clinker plywood dinghy, with an upright stem and elegantly raked transom.

Although primarily a rowing boat, it was fitted with a modest lug rig (just 61sq ft/5.7sq m), complete with daggerboard and rudder.

In fact, the sweeping tiller (in two sizes: a long one for sailing and a short one for rowing) was one of the defining characteristics of the designs.

There was no provision for an outboard, and the transom was deliberately raked at such an angle to make it very difficult to fit one – although I eventually found a way around this!

Much of the detailed drawing work for the boat was done by up-and-coming young designer Ed Burnett, who was working for Nigel at the time.

Ed, who died in 2015, went on to design a string of highly regarded ‘contemporary traditional’ yachts, including the Queen’s ‘rowing barge’ Gloriana, which led the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee pageant on the Thames.

The Western Skiff was and still is the only dinghy designed by Nigel and is typically uncompromising, designed to be efficient on the water (or ‘slippery’ as Nigel would have it) rather than merely functional.

The boat was very much aimed at the amateur builder and the kit made in such a way as ‘to ensure that the average person can assemble a boat to a high standard with no more than handyman skills and some common sense.’

The plank joints, for example, were made up of long fingers, designed to maximize the glueing areas, which were slotted together in batches before being popped out of the sheets of ply.

This not only speeded up the process but also ensured the planks were lined up correctly. Likewise, the traditional bevel (or ‘land’) where one plank is jointed to the next was disposed of.

Instead, the angle between the planks was filled with epoxy, creating a series of incredibly strong and foolproof joints which also helped to stiffen the boat fore and aft.

Western Skiff plans now available

The original drawings were specifically intended to be fed into a CNC cutter to produce parts for the kit and it was no simple matter to convert them into a set of construction plans, writes Nic Compton.

Nigel didn’t have the time to do that, and I didn’t have the technology or the knowhow. So the drawings stayed buried in a computer, and the idea of relaunching the design remained just an idea.

It was the response to my skiff restoration article in PBO June 2018 that provided the impetus to get the idea going again, and this time we found a willing partner in the shape of Jack Gifford, a former GL Watson draughtsman who had recently set up shop on his own in Falmouth.

Jack agreed to turn the drawings into a set of PDF files, complete with full-size templates for many of the parts, which could be sent out to aspiring amateur builders.

Nigel generously suggested making the plans available free of charge for personal use only, in the spirit of ‘open source’ software, which Jack willingly agreed to.

PBO has also agreed to distribute the plans free of charge. The only thing we ask is for you to make a voluntary donation to the fund set up in the memory of Ed Burnett (see

Anyone wanting to build the boats for profit, will need to contact Nigel directly (at to pay a royalty.

Pre-cut kit available from Jordan Boats

Even with large-scale and full-size PDF drawings to work from (free to download from, cutting the parts for a 14ft dinghy can be a daunting task.

To make the boat even more accessible to the amateur builder we teamed up with Alec Jordan of Jordan Boats to produce a MkII kit – as was originally intended.

Unlike the original kit – which comprised everything including the timber, epoxy, spars, sail and rigging (and was correspondingly priced) – Alec’s kit contains just the plywood elements, which has allowed him to keep the total price under £1,000, at £992, plus delivery, to be exact (there is a row-boat only version that comes without daggerboard and housing for £52 less).

This nevertheless includes 6¼ sheets of ply and 2½ sheets of MDF (for the jig and various patterns) – to give a total of nearly 70 parts and patterns, as well as a 28-page building manual.

This approach means the builder can source the remaining parts and materials according to their budget and inclination.

Some might like a simple, painted rowing boat, others might want a bright finished sailing version, with the corresponding difference in build time and cost.

For the full story and access to the latest downloadable material, see: