Roper 9000

Boating NZ - - Contents - BY JOHN MACFAR­LANE

A new home­built yacht is a rare find, even more so in this case where its builder is also its de­signer.

Forty years ago, the splash of am­a­teur-built yachts be­ing launched was a weekly oc­cur­rence; these days they’re a rar­ity. And if we’re talk­ing am­a­teur de­signed as well as built yachts, well that’s about as com­mon as be­ing struck by light­ning.

En­ter Al­lan Roper, the de­signer and builder of rac­ing yacht Satur­day Night Spe­cial, named after the Lynyrd Skynyrd song. A life-long yachtie, Roper grew up build­ing and rac­ing Cherubs and skiffs, and now in his fifties, he was keen for some­thing more sub­stan­tial that still got up and boo­gied.


Some years ago, Roper scored a Ross 930 mast, rig­ging and main­sail, and while he would have pre­ferred some­thing around 12m long, prag­mat­i­cally Satur­day Night Spe­cial was de­signed around this rig.

This meant be­gin­ning with a cal­cu­la­tor rather than a pen­cil, the rig’s size de­ter­min­ing the yacht’s length, beam and dis­place­ment. Fur­ther­more, Roper’s care­ful study of Bruce Farr, John Spencer, Des Town­son and Mur­ray Ross de­signs showed fast boats used a 5:1 ra­tio be­tween wa­ter­line length and beam.

An­other de­sign pa­ram­e­ter was the width of Roper’s shed, which lim­ited over­all beam to three me­tres max­i­mum. These num­bers pro­vided Roper with a self­im­posed box rule in which to draw the fastest, light­est hull pos­si­ble.


Hav­ing grown up with Spencer and Town­son de­signs, Roper had no hes­i­ta­tion opt­ing for ply­wood con­struc­tion – it’s light, easy to build, and when sheathed with epoxy, rel­a­tively long last­ing. It’s also bet­ter than most ma­te­ri­als from an en­vi­ron­men­tal per­spec­tive, be­cause at the end of the ply­wood yacht’s life it’s much eas­ier to dis­pose of than, for ex­am­ple, one built from GRP.

Roper based Satur­day Night Spe­cial’s con­struc­tion on Spencer’s well-proven stringer-on-frames sys­tem. The hull has nine yel­low cedar frames at one-me­tre cen­tres, sup­port­ing yel­low cedar stringers on 200mm cen­tres. The Mer­anti ply­wood hull skin is mostly sin­gle-skin nine-mil­lime­tre, with 6:1 scarf-joins backed up with butt-blocks. How­ever, the lower for­ward sec­tions are di­ag­o­nally planked in two skins of six-mil­lime­tre Mer­anti.

The re­main­der of the boat is also Mer­anti ply­wood, the rounded tur­tle deck is two lam­i­na­tions – one of six, the other of four – while the cock­pit and side decks are sin­gle- skin nine-mil­lime­tre. The whole boat is sheathed in 600-gram DB glass and epoxy.

As Roper in­tended to keep Satur­day Night Spe­cial on the poles at Sand­spit, shal­low draft was a ne­ces­sity, so he de­signed a ver­ti­cal lift­ing keel. The lift-keel’s case – which is ply­wood, sheathed in­ter­nally with 600-gram DB glass and epoxy – ex­tends up­wards from the keel­son to the deck­head. The keel came from a Mini Transat 650 that never made it to the wa­ter and is lam­i­nated from

ver­ti­cal-grained ma­hogany, with a cen­tral 25mm steel bolt hold­ing the lead bulb to the bot­tom.

The keel is lifted and low­ered by a trailer winch mounted on a de­tach­able steel frame. It fits over the keel slot through the deck. The keel’s ei­ther up or down, locked in each po­si­tion with a tim­ber wedge and a steel pin. Once locked, the steel frame is re­moved and stored be­low.

Roper used Trans O Marine two-pack paints, ap­plied with a roller and tipped off with a brush, for a ‘five-me­tre fin­ish’ – i.e. it looks great from five me­tres away or more. Ob­tain­ing a 500mm fin­ish, i.e. look­ing great from 500mm away, would eas­ily dou­ble or tre­ble the fin­ish­ing and fair­ing work, plus re­quire spray­ing.

Not want­ing the com­plex­ity and weight of an in­board en­gine, Roper opted for a stern mounted out­board, per­fectly ad­e­quate for the yacht’s in­tended use.

Dur­ing his years work­ing as a sales rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Harken Fos­ter’s, Roper man­aged to ac­quire nearly all of Satur­day Night Spe­cial’s rig­ging com­po­nents from up­grad­ing own­ers, which helped keep his costs down.

The project has taken Roper three years of nights and week­ends. How­ever, he did build most of the hull dur­ing a full-time, six-week stint, which gave the project a good

Satur­day Night

Spe­cial is a neat boat: fast, sim­ple and good-look­ing.

shove along. While he didn’t track his hours, the fi­nan­cial cost came to less than $30,000 – an ex­cel­lent ef­fort these days when peo­ple are spend­ing that amount on a paint job or a set of sails.


As ar­ranged, we met up with Roper, his son Tim and his other crew aboard Satur­day

Night Spe­cial in­side Kawau Bay. The weather was ex­cel­lent for our pur­poses – a puffy SW rang­ing from 8 to 18 knots and a nice chop to add some pho­tog­ra­phy in­ter­est.

Ap­par­ently, our out­ing was only the sixth time Roper and his crew had sailed Satur­day

Night Spe­cial, so they’re still on a fairly steep learn­ing curve. De­spite this, they’ve al­ready man­aged sev­eral podium fin­ishes in races with the Sand­spit Yacht Club.

Straight up, Satur­day Night Spe­cial’s a quick lit­tle boat. The GPS on Boat­ing New Zealand’s Haines Hunter 660 showed up­wind speeds bet­ter than seven knots, with over 10 knots achieved down­wind un­der spin­naker.

After roar­ing around the yacht tak­ing pho­to­graphs – a bumpy ex­er­cise – it was

time to get aboard Satur­day Night Spe­cial for some first-hand im­pres­sions.

Given the chop and the dis­tinct pos­si­bil­ity of end­ing up in the drink, I opted to leave my DSLR cam­era safely aboard the Haines Hunter, hence the lack of in­te­rior and on-board pho­tos.

Helm­ing Satur­day Night Spe­cial proved very re­ward­ing and lots of fun – she sails like a big dinghy. As can be seen from the pho­tos, most of the sail area’s in the main­sail and I soon learned the main needs ag­gres­sive trim­ming to keep the yacht on her feet in puffs. How­ever the wide main trav­eller makes this fairly easy.

To max­imise crew weight to wind­ward, Roper’s crew trim the jib sheet on the wind­ward winch, with the lee­ward winch act­ing as a de facto turn­ing block. The winches, like most of the other deck gear, are Harken.

There’re plenty of strings to pull, but the lay­out works re­ally well and Roper’s ex­pe­ri­ence showed through­out. The blocks and other fit­tings are all min­i­mum size, but noth­ing’s bro­ken yet, so they’re ob­vi­ously all too heavy, right?

Satur­day Night Spe­cial has a rel­a­tively nar­row wa­ter­line beam, and while she heels eas­ily in the gusts, once the chine and top­sides im­merse she stiff­ens con­sid­er­ably. How­ever it was no­tice­able that she’s quicker when kept to more mod­est heel an­gles, which comes down to the trim­mer and helms­man work­ing as a team.

The helm was slightly firmer than I’d ex­pected, but Roper men­tioned he’d raised the blade 200mm to give it bit more bite. Ap­par­ently, with the rud­der blade fully down, the helm light­ens. Even with the blade up, Satur­day Night Spe­cial went ex­actly where she was pointed and bal­anced well.

In best am­a­teur-built tra­di­tion there’s still a few things left to do, most press­ingly footrests to stop the main­sail trim­mer and helmsper­son slid­ing to lee­ward in the gusts. While a stan­dard spin­naker pole was used dur­ing our test, this will be re­placed with a slid­ing prod. The fe­male hous­ing for the prod has al­ready been glassed into the hull be­low the forestay fit­ting and it’s an­gled up­wards so the prod end-fit­ting will fin­ish at deck level.

The other mi­nor change will be the re­moval of the al­loy half­moon from the leech of the ex-ross 930 self-tack­ing jib, which was a dan­ger to hu­man health and boat paint when tack­ing.

A Ross 930 rig is hardly renowned as hav­ing the most ro­bust sec­tion, but there’s plenty of wires hold­ing it up on Satur­day Night Spe­cial: forestay, six shrouds, top­mast back­stay, run­ning back­stays and check-stays at the goose­neck. That’s 14 wires to ad­just, which should keep Roper busy tweak­ing for a while.


Satur­day Night Spe­cial’s in­te­rior is fairly ba­sic, but it con­tains all you’d need for a week­end away. The dag­ger­board case dom­i­nates

the in­te­rior vis­ually and, no ques­tion, a fixed keel ver­sion would be more hab­it­able, es­pe­cially if com­bined with the cabin that Roper orig­i­nally drew.

From the com­pan­ion­way to port there’s a two-burner Origo meths cooker and a sink, with the star­board side left free for ac­cess for­ward. Two plas­tic tanks re­side be­neath the sink, one for fresh­wa­ter and the other for waste, which com­bined with the chem­i­cal WC means no skin fit­tings. Great idea.

While Satur­day Night Spe­cial can sleep a race crew of five at a pinch – twin set­tee berths, twin quar­ter-berths and a very snug dou­ble up for­ward – two or three would be far more re­al­is­tic.

Due to the rel­a­tively nar­row wa­ter­line beam, the bunks are set fairly high in the hull for width. The only down­side of this ar­range­ment is that, while there’s com­fort­able sit­ting head­room un­der the blis­ter deck when sit­ting up­right, head­room is com­pro­mised if you lean back against the hull.

One of the more in­ter­est­ing fea­tures is the an­gled-v main bulk­head. The apex of the V forms the mast com­pres­sion post as well as the for­ward sup­port for the lift­ing keel case, while the out­board edges of the bulk­head are an­gled far enough aft to bolt the chain­plates to. That’s a smart idea.


Satur­day Night Spe­cial is a neat boat: fast, sim­ple and good-look­ing. Iron­i­cally, keep­ing things sim­ple can be one of the hard­est things to achieve, but Roper’s done an ex­cel­lent job, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing his mod­est bud­get. It’s more proof a clear vi­sion, an abil­ity to work the num­bers, good de­sign and build skills and the dis­ci­pline to keep things sim­ple can pro­duce a re­ally cool yacht.

And should any­one be in­ter­ested Roper would love to de­sign a 12m ver­sion. BNZ

LEFT Roper 9000 as orig­i­nally drawn with cabin. OP­PO­SITE Roper driv­ing Satur­day Night Spe­cial un­der spin­naker.

LEFT The Roper 9000’s skiff-like hull lines.

ABOVE Alan Roper helm­ing with son Tim call­ing tac­tics. BE­LOW Close reach­ing at al­most 10 knots.

FAR LEFT Satur­day Night Spe­cial stiff­ens con­sid­er­ably once the chine’s im­mersed.BE­LOW Sim­ple yet ef­fi­cient deck lay­out. Note the slot for the lift-keel abaft the mast.

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