I was glancing through some old photograph albums and I came across a photo of two of my daughters messing about in a Prout folding dinghy. That would have been in 1971, when I sailed my Torbay Class 2 Racer to Alderney. (See link below.)
Prout and Sons started producing their 6 foot version of the canvas and plywood dinghy after the Second World War when they set up their business at Small Gains Corner, Canvey Island. These very tiny dinghies were sought after by yachtsmen for use as tenders. I bought a second-hand one for my Torbay Class 2 Racer. She was just large enough to accommodate two cooperative people who didn’t object to being in close proximity, but using her in anything above a force 2 would have been folly. She did not have internal buoyancy, and had she become flooded she would have provided no useful floatation to her floundering crew. There was no way the crew could have got back aboard her.
Folded Prout on Phillida
Despite her limitations, she had a number of attractive features, i.e., she folded flat, took up very little room, was quick to set up, and she was light. Great care had to be taken to avoid damaging her canvas bottom, but her long narrow keel, capped with a length of half-round brass strip, helped in this respect.
The design was simplicity itself. There was a central narrow plank that acted as a keelson, and attached to it at either end there were upright supports: an internal curved stem for the bow canvas and a straight stern post for the transom canvas. The sides of the boat were made of plywood, and waterproofed duck canvas was tacked to them to form her bottom, transom and bow. To prevent the structure from collapsing there was a hinging crossbar near the stern, and at the bow there was another. Floorboards were laid on the crossbars to keep the crew clear of any bilge water. She didn’t have a thwart, which meant the occupants had to sit on the floorboards. This was a good thing, because it kept the centre of gravity low. The upper edges of the bow and transom canvas were strengthened with rope which was sewn to the canvas, and nailed to the plywood sides.
As far as I know, there is nothing like the Prout dinghy on the market today. The Origami has to be built from plans, and she is far more complicated than the Prout. Seahopper manufacture a folding dinghy, but it is much heavier than the Prout and takes up more room.
Cruise to Alderney
Wooden Boat Forum – discussion on Prout Dinghies