BOAT REVIEW Welsford Navigator Korora

January 2018 Yacht Reviews
Words and photos by Matt Vance.
Build Quality
MODEL Welsford Navigator
DESIGNER John Welsford
BUILDER Mick Fone and Dave Johnstone
CONSTRUCTION Plywood planks on frames
LOA 4.5M
ENGINE Yamaha 2hp outboard
Mast & Rigging Gunter-rigged yawl, wooden spars
Sail Area 12.6 SqM
Ballast centreboard
  • Roomy boat
  • Good load carrier
  • Gunter rig versatile and easily managed
  • Relaxed sailing
  • Plenty of stowage space
  • Fits in a single garage
  • Comprehensive plans, easy to build
  • Low centre of effort

The elegant simplicity of the Navigator design has struck a nerve in a society flooded with high stress and hi-tech. It reassures you that the world is not such a bad place after all.

It was the first of many pleasant surprises. I put a snap of the John Welsford Navigator Korora on my How to sail a Boat Facebook page mentioning that I was doing a boat review.
Having no grip on social media marketing, my followers are normally confined to my family. The next morning I had over 1,600 views and 25 likes and a sneaking suspicion that there was a whole cult following of Welsford cruising dinghies out there.
John Welsford has been quietly designing cruising dinghies, yachts and rowing boats for over 35 years. Like many good New Zealand designers he has a popular following overseas but is less well-known here.
Jib and jigger 3_cmyk (Small)


The Navigator has been one of his most popular designs with over 700 plans sold. Its popularity has also come as a pleasant surprise. Originally designed on the instigation of Captain Tim Ridge of Westhaven’s Boat Books, the design was intended as a race trainer for a local club. She had a sloop rig and, with a crew of three teenagers, was designed to stand up to some breeze.
“But the surprise came with my friend Bob Jenner who wanted a long-range cruising dinghy just a little bigger than
his Rogue design,” says Welsford. “We sat down for a browse through my drawings for some inspiration. Bob was very taken by the hull and internal layout of Navigator but wanted a rig with very different priorities.”
Bob added the versatility of a standing lugsail mainsail and a mizzen and a cult classic was born.
Navigators are to be found as far north as Finland, Norway and Denmark, and as far south as Invercargill. Several have
done some respectable coastal passages and local dinghy cruising hero David Perrilo has cruised his around Fiji, adding
further fuel to the cult of simple dinghy cruising.
John Welsford boats have made their name due to their good looks and simple construction for the amateur builder. Most
are built that way, but the hull, spars and rudder of Korora were built by Mick Fone of Richard Walker Boat builders in Richmond, Nelson, with the fitting and finishing by owner Dave Johnstone.
According to those who’ve attempted it, building a Navigator is a straightforward proposition for anyone with basic carpentry skills. There are 11 detailed sheets of plans that include a comprehensive accounting of fastenings, materials and
hardware, as well as helpful suggestions for rigging.

Skipper Dave johnson_cmyk (Small)
Dave Johnstone.

Building instructions have just enough detail to point novice builders in the right direction, while allowing them to make
decisions based on personal preferences. The Navigator can be a functional workhorse or a work of art depending upon
your inclination. Korora is definitely in the latter category.
The Navigator fits nicely in a single-car garage; perfect for the amateur builder who may be building on borrowed time and space. The hull is put together upright on a strong back. Bulkheads and frame stations are cut and assembled from marine plywood and attached to the bottom panel along with the keelson, stem and transom.
Longitudinal stringers connect the bulkheads and frames and provide the builder with glue-andscrew landing places for the plywood plank edges. The amidships frames anchor the centreboard trunk, while the compartments in the bow and the cockpit seating provide flotation to both ends of the boat.
Once the hull is planked up, the boat is flipped upside down for fibre-glassing up to the waterline, the addition of
the keel, skeg, false stem – and outside finishing work.
David has gone the extra mile with Korora (Maori for the little blue penguin) and finished her in wooden spars and immaculate detailing.
Originally rigged as standing lugsail with sprit boom on both mainsail and mizzen, Korora has recently been converted to gunter-rigged yawl with fixed boom. Some version of the yawl is what most Navigator owners prefer, as it spreads the sail plan and allows options in more breeze.
Sail proportions are organized so the boat can balance with either main alone or with the full complement of jib and mizzen. In windier conditions, or where low speed control is required, she can be sailed under furling jib and mizzen, or “jib-and-jigger” as the old sailors referred to it.
jib and jigger (Small)
The mizzen is also handy for heaving to: just sheet it in and drop everything else and she will sit quite comfortably head to wind while you sort yourself out.
While the Navigator is a small boat, her relatively generous beam of 1.8m and flat sections means that she can carry quite a load. She has ample stowage space for camping gear and chilly bins.
There is plenty of buoyancy with inbuilt tanks under the foredeck, the side and stern seats. These compartments, the openness of the cockpit, and the space under the side decks provide ample space for camp cruising and will still leave room for four adults to enjoy an afternoon’s sail.
The Navigator has a near-vertical stem giving way to a sharply-curved forefoot and a very fine entry, enabling the boat to slice through a stiff chop with a minimum of fuss. Forward sections have a nice flare above the waterline and the hull’s flat bottom and firm bilges provide for excellent stability. The sheer strake curves gently upward and inward to meet the slightly raked transom with a touch of good old fashioned tumblehome.
On the foredeck there is a small anchor locker to keep the dirty anchor rode out of the cockpit and, on the transom, the mount for a 2hp Yamaha is tucked to starboard out of the way of the port side, offset boomkin that holds the mizzen sheeting system.
Part work of art; part sensible practicality would be a fair assessment of Korora. Her artfulness attracted many admiring looks while her sensible design meant sailing her was a dream.
The upper reaches of French Bay in Akaroa Harbour greeted us with ideal conditions for the review: 12 knots of southwest harbour draft. To add to all that we were surrounded by the fleet from the Akaroa Classic Yacht regatta so we had plenty of traditional cruising dinghies for comparison.
First impressions of Korora are of room and lots of it. The beamy nature means there is a lot of boat packed into her 14 feet. Even with three of us aboard she didn’t feel crowded. The cockpit layout offered multiple combinations of crew placement without affecting the trim.
all halyards lead back to the cockpit_cmyk (Small)
The bottom profile has a flat, dory-like form bent into a fore and aft curve for strength. This helps with the load-carrying capacity and her sea kindly motion. With the addition of a relatively high freeboard for her length she a surprisingly dry in the short chop that developed later in the afternoon.
She drove easily to windward with the gunter-rigged mainsail opening the leech in the puffs. Sail controls – including all throat and peak halyards, jib furling line and sheets – are all within reach of the helmsman which makes single-handed sailing much easier.
Out hail arrangement_cmyk (Small)
Having the sail area down low and wellspread meant the puffs drove her forward rather than over on her ear. With plenty to tweak on the yawl rig it was the equivalent of a 16-speed gearbox with plenty of modes to match the variations in wind strength.
In a short beat to windward I found two of the useful gears. A little tweaking of the mizzen allowed me to put her in a light helm ‘sail all day’ mode, or with a little over sheeting, a highpointing racing mode.
Classic Bronze mainsheet block_cmyk (Small)
Downwind the low aspect rig came into its own. On a reach the venetian blind effect of her yawl rig provided good speed and on deeper angles the gunter rig provided plenty of power. With the combined centre of effort kept low, Korora remained upright, dry and light on the helm.
This was dinghy cruising at its best; the crew quietly discussed the problems of the world, lounging in relaxed fashion around the commodious cockpit while sliding downwind. It was just the kind of conditions for pleasant sailing and was also the kind of conditions in which religions and cults are often formed.