In Praise of Frank Dye, the Wayfarer Dinghy, And a Bit of Bully Pulpit

I try not to write about the same type of boat here two weeks in a row, but this is a person, and a boat class, who and that are special to me.  And I don’t really consider the Wayfarer and the OK as “similar” types of boats…

Frank Dye, RIP

Frank Dye, RIP

Frank Dye passed on May 16.  I hope many (most?) of you have read his first book, “Ocean Crossing Wayfarer: To Iceland and Norway in a 16-foot Open Dinghy.”  [SCOT:  We don’t carry this at The WoodenBoat Store?  Sorry, go to Amazon…or, better, your local book store]  I first read this when it was published in 1977.  In it, for example,

“Offshore cruising in an open boat can be hard, cold, wet, lonely and occasionally miserable, but it is exhilarating too. To take an open dinghy across a hundred miles of sea, taking weather as it comes; to know that you have only yourself and your mate to rely on in an emergency; to see the beauty of dawn creep across the ever restless and dangerous ocean; to make a safe landfall – is wonderful and all of these things develop a self-reliance that is missing from the modern, mechanical, safety-conscious civilised world.”

Frank made these two separate trips, the UK to Norway and UK to Iceland. Doing quick calculations, it looks to me (and I can’t actually remember his precise points of departure or landfall), UK to Norway would be almost 800-1,000 miles, and the UK to Iceland, about two times that, both through treacherous conditions.

Let’s see what the boat looks like:

Wayfarer Dinghy, Courtesy US Wayfarer Association

Wayfarer Dinghy, Courtesy US Wayfarer Association


Here are her specs:

Wayfarer Specs

Wayfarer Specs

I remember at some point in his book, he wrote something like “I told the crew to go below for some sleep.”  “Below” in this context meant to crawl under the thwarts.

I admire the British for many, many things — primary among them great dinghies, great mystery writers, and great rock and roll.

I had the greatest pleasure and good fortune to meet Frank and his equally intrepid wife, Margaret, at the Wooden Boat Festival when it was still held in Greenwich, UK.  They, of course, were the stars of the show.  At nights when the show was closed, Frank went “below” on W48, pulled the boom tent over his head, and sheltered himself from the nightly torrent of rain.

Some years later, Frank cruised W48 up the east coast of the US, and I suffered the misfortune to miss him upon his arrival in Brooklin.

I’m not sure there are many made of the same mettle as Frank any more.  To read his books reminds me of what we all possess, inherently, within us.. if only we’re so bold.  I know *I’m* not, but I am in constant admiration of those who are.  I raise a glass to you, Frank, and thank you for your inspiration and awe-inspiring courage.  I owned a Wayfarer for many years and still consider the class as among the best ever designed and built for its purposes.  And now I will go into my “Bully Pulpit” mode…


A few years ago, Matt Murphy asked me to write about the Wayfarer for our annual publication, Small Boats.  I was only too happy to oblige… until I remembered that one of our criteria is that plans must be available….

My rant:  One-design historical classes that STILL don’t make plans available for do-it-yourself builders.  The list is a long one…

And we wonder and complain why some classes are dying out?   Give your collective heads a shake.  What better way to reinvigorate a class than to let real, not just “licensed,” builders pay their fees and bring new energy and interpretation to these wonderful, proven classes.

Perhaps you disagree?  I’d love to learn why.  Please comment below (at “Leave a reply”).

Let’s all praise and honor Frank Dye……………..

Next time:  I’ll take on the Optis, Lasers, and 420s, and challenge you all to design and build better boats in each category.  Only the Laser has been a great boat.  Chilling that the other two are still around.


and Frank’s obituary:

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2 Responses to In Praise of Frank Dye, the Wayfarer Dinghy, And a Bit of Bully Pulpit

  1. Dave Tew says:

    When that book came out I was impressed. I’d sailed Enterprises (essentially a 13 foot Wayfarer) from Cape Cod to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket as a boy and was stiff and nearly crippled, not to mention exhausted, after those mere all day passages.

    To Iceland and Norway?!? They were gods.

  2. Bill Platt says:

    There is nothing stopping anybody from building a Wayfarer from measurements, rather than plans. The class is dead as a doorknob in the US anyway. This goes for all the classes which don’t allow amateur construction. Having plans per se won’t do a lick. The GP-14 used to be popular in the Philadelphia area, and it has plan available. Nobody wants it anymore, plans or no plans.

    For many reasons, only some of which we think we understand, dinghy sailing has evaporated in the US. Sailing in general is down over 50% from 1970; I’d estimate that dinghy racing is down more than a factor of 10.

    If it is just sailing, and not racing, then the class aspects are meaningless, though the boat’s characteristics are of course important. The problem we have in the US is that with dinghy racing dead, it is really difficult to cross-pollinate and to try different boats. In England, you can go to a sailing venue, and hop a ride on a dozen different designs in a weekend. You’d be lucky to arrange that many trials in a whole year in the US.

    As for cruising in a dinghy, it is a great adventure. I used to do it with my father and brother, in a GP-14, and later with my wife. Now we don’t do it any more. For me at this point it is been-there-done-that. I always thought Ian Proctor’s Wayfarer looked like a nice boat–it does look like a mini Enterprise but having never sailed either, I don’t know how it handles.

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