Firebug

The Designers and FBHQ

Two friends, well known New Zealand designer John Spencer (the one with the red whiskers) and Peter Tait are responsible for the Firebug. The idea was to come up with a small boat which could be home built at low cost, ie to make the wonderful pastime of sailing more accessible and also to foster amateur boatbuilding skills - the grassroots of sailing.

Promotion has been mostly through magazine writings in the following publications: Boating New Zealand, Practical Boat Owner (UK), Windling World (NZ), Messing Around in Boats (US) and The Australian Amateur Boatbuilder. The idea has been an instant success. Planpacks are already in 29 countries around the world. Hundreds of Firebugs have already been built!

John, well respected around the world for his innovations with planing dinghies and lightweight keelers, was best known amongst dinghy sailors for his Cherubs, Javelins, Flying Ants, 18 and 12ft skiffs, but also designed a large range of keel yachts. A champion of the amateur builder he disliked off-the-shelf performance boats where the high price limited access to the pleasures of sailing.

Unfortunately after a period of not such good health he passed away in 1996. However, one thing is for sure, had he stuck around he would have been absolutely delighted to have seen one of his favourite boats becoming so popular.

After the successful launch of Firebug No1 John wrote the following letter to a friend:

"Success at last. Firebug 1 launched yesterday - a perfect day for it. It's a great little boat and not so little. Light conditions with strong gusts - typical Russell wind pattern, and the 'bug sailed happily with crew weights from 4.5 stones to 15 or more.

Is very buoyant and seems very forgiving. Heeled seemingly beyond point of no return by a sudden gust she seems to accelerate and right herself. Neil (on his own) capsized once only and righted her easily. Had quite a few near misses that would normally have been capsizes - is a combination I think of the balanced shape when well heeled and good freeboard.

Had Andrew 'boat test it' and he pronounced it perfectly balanced and no need whatever for stack straps for larger sailors. This means that we have only to concern ourselves with the smaller ones - have yet to sort this out with Neil but even he was able to hang well out without any fitted as yet.

Some fairly large people had a sail and has ample room for adults so that as I predicted would be a great 'fun' boat for adults as well as the kids. One thing very noticeable after the usual problem with most, particularly kids, was that instead of sitting too far aft and dragging the stern, the tendency was to sit naturally in position for light weather bow down trim.

Watching this sailing is accentuated by the straight shear parallel to L.W.L. in level trim. She really looks a picture both in and out of the water and the flat deck looks right, I am pleased to be able to say. Sail looks great - am pleased that Fred Martin talked me out of using the old F.A./P Class sail. Thought I may have made sail too full but seems fine. Andrew did not think it too full and I think it just needed a good stretching in after laying around for years.

I'm really convinced now that this will be a great boat, and that the 'bug's bow shape is right. While we had no chop whatsoever (offshore breeze) the bow action was pretty to watch, even when trimmed too far forward. Will be interesting to see how it handles a good chop. Certainly in flat water if partly immersed it has no tendency to push water up - simply curls it neatly back. Is bound of course to knock a bit of spray around but that should blow away to leeward.

The solid bottom looked like a very good idea yesterday. I don't know what they have been teaching these Optimist kids but if there was nobody there to catch them they just sailed up the beach. After all the effort I did not have a sail in it myself. I think perhaps I wanted to wait for no 2 and let everyone else have a go in the first of the fleet and hear what they thought of it."

FBHQ/Firebug Yachts

FBHQ looks after the class, attends boatshows, sends regular newsletters, supplies planpacks, kits, advice etc. The planpack contains 25 illustrated pages of building instructions and 9 sheets of plans and full size paper patterns.

The plans are continuously updated and will eventually be published as a book "How to Build, Rig and Sail a Firebug'. Don't build from outdated plans.

In Australia and New Zealand hull building materials (ply, glue, paint etc) are available at special prices, details with the plans. Kits which include mast, boom, sail, fittings etc can be delivered to most parts of the world by courier without problems, email for a price sheet. Delivery of kits overseas is not a problem. The Firebug has enjoyed excellent support from the local marine industry, "What took you so long?".

The Firebug promotion is intended to foster amateur boatbuilding skills and get people, especially children out sailing at reasonable cost. FBHQ is funded primarily from planpack sales. Donations or any additional support would open new avenues for promotion. It’s a good cause!



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  John SpencerPeter Tait62 schooner Black Panther

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