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The Little Big Ship

The Little Big Ship

Three men are admiring a bright red classic-looking small sailboat next to the boat ramp. I recognise one of them immediately. It is 10 years since we last met, but Scruffie Marine owner Derek Ellard has changed little. Even without one of his trademark classic-looking boats next to him to give him away, I would recognise the boat builder anywhere. I have come to see him and the Sienna Mark II at the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron in Manly.

“G’day, Derek,” I say. He turns, beaming. “Caroline!” We hug, and start chatting excitedly about the last time we met. Derek has been busy in the intervening years, and the 19ft Sienna Mark II is only one of many boats he has produced. He has even built two widely acclaimed solar electric ferries.

This boat was built for a South Australian client, Leo Davey, who wanted a sailboat that would be easy to sail single-handed and stable enough to handle challenging offshore conditions. Derek took the opportunity to make some significant modifications, including a 200-litre water-ballast system to supplement the lead-ballasted keel, foam-core GRP decks, raised seating to accommodate a portable toilet, and extra space for five 200 amp-hour batteries and a house battery. He has tagged the new version “a little big ship” because of her extended cruising capabilities.

Looking her over, I like what I see. The Sienna is a happy combination of new and old. The fibreglass hull and deck promise low maintenance, but the lugsail yawl rig and timber trim give her a classic feel.

The cockpit is large enough to seat four comfortably and the separate forward cuddy cabin area has a removable cover, two berths over 6ft and extra stowage room. I love this area – it is probably the best containment area for small children on a sailboat this size.

There is no ugly outboard on the transom. Instead, there is a 2hp retractable electric saildrive engine, which Derek says will push the boat at 4+ knots, and has a range of 12 hours at 3.5 knots.

Launching goes off without a hitch, courtesy of the purpose-designed Oceanic trailer. As we motor out from the jetty, the breeze catches the mizzen, which pushes us back in. But a little more throttle and we are underway. The electric engine is music to our ears – wonderfully quiet compared to a petrol outboard.

The main was raised before launching, so all proud new owner Leo has to do is release a brailing line and the sail billows out. A brailing line is a rope you pull in to depower a sail. It means you can raise the main on the mast while on the hard, so you do not have the hassle of doing so on the water. The headsail is also on a furler, so this takes Leo only a couple of seconds to unfurl. I am an instant fan.

The breeze is only 4 knots, but the Sienna still slides along well, and clocks a top speed of 3.5 knots. In the light winds, she is beautifully balanced, and we have no trouble tweaking the sails so she self-steers. Having no boom also means we can relax without worrying about hitting our heads.

Our brief outing is over all too soon, and once back at the jetty, it is all hands on deck to get the “little big ship” ready for her long road trip to her new home in Adelaide.

Derek looks happy but wistful as he watches the Sienna leave. “Much as I like to think of all the adventures ahead for them, it’s always just a tiny bit sad seeing a boat go,” he says.


By Caroline Strainig



  • Power version available
  • Proven performance in winds over 25 knots
  • Optional rowing kit for forward standing or seated rowing
  • Fresh water can be used in ballast system for extended cruising
  • Whisker pole system to pole out genoa and main
  • Self-righting with self-draining cockpit
  • Can be built to CE survey
  • Canvas cuddy over cabin area doubles as a cover on road
  • Four berths (two under boom tent)
  • Under 20 minutes to rig and launch

Price: $50,000, plus trailer





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