The Potty Story

4 of us Brits attended the Americas Landsailing Cup at Ivanpah in 2000 and witnessed the launch of Seagull's Ludic miniyacht. 2 of us immediately ordered one each, 1 took the measurements off our Ludic and made the Yorker Bootlegger, and the 4th made his own version.

The first Bootlegger was delivered to the Cefn Sidan Sand Yacht Club at the Pendine Regatta in 2001. The idea had been that the Club would use the Bootlegger as a Demonstrator to attract new members, and replace it with a new one whenever anyone wanted to buy it.

The Bootlegger was not a pretty yacht - the seat was twisted, with one side nearly 2" lower than the other - so we asked if this was a prototype, or the finished article. It transpired that it was indeed the finished article so, later that night, 3 of us - Mark, Andy and Dave - decided we could do a better job ourselves, and MAD Designs was formed.

Mark was a Professional Photographer and would do the Marketing; Andy - myself - was already a fanatical sandyachter and willing test pilot, and Dave was a Blacksmith with a fully equipped workshop in a farm barn in the depths of rural South Wales. The 3 of us raced Class 5 sandyachts and had nearly 50 years of sandyachting experience between us.

The Receptionist in Andy's Estate Agency business in Haverfordwest volunteered her toy-boy partner - who had just finished a boat-building course at the local College - to make the seat, and Dave began making prototypes that were rigorously tested on Cefn Sidan Sands in the Pembrey Country Park, near Llanelli, in South Wales.

The whole yacht was designed so it assembled in seconds, with no tools, and fitted in the back of the original Ford Fiesta. One was even collected by a buyer in one of the first tiny Smart cars.

The first Potties were designed to split in half, linked by a piece of spring steel under the front of the seat, which enabled the chassis to twist. The mast was 4 pieces of aluminium that slotted together, and the sail - originally made by Goacher in Cumbria, then by R&J in Clevedon, purely to save the VAT - had the battens at right angles to the mast, so the sail rolled up into a nice tight bundle, the longest part of which was the longest batten, which fitted snugly in a bag that was under 4' long, complete with the mast and 2-piece boom. The combination of a soft, bendy mast and a chassis that twisted, meant that the rig leaned over a lot, particularly in stronger winds. This was a good safety feature, as it meant that sudden gusts - that would otherwise tip you over - were simply spilled, by the rig bending away.

The vital piece of spring steel in the middle of the yacht looked like part of a leaf spring from an old-fashioned car or trailer. It was 7" long, held in place by "cross head knobs" that located into dents drilled in the ends of the spring. The twizzly knobs had to be done up tight - by hand - or the yacht would come apart, usually when you pushed on the steering pedal to turn the yacht. This happened to everyone, at least once.

The balance of the yacht was exquisite. You could throw it sideways, and it would behave impeccably. I was showing off at the Brean Regatta in a strong wind when no one else was out sailing, and threw the yacht into a tight turn at full speed ... only for the yacht to split in half. I'm told it looked horrific, as I went cartwheeling down the beach, along with the two halves of the yacht which were kept together by the sheet rope.

The making of the springs was desperately unscientific. You take a piece of mild steel, heat it so it is red hot, then "quench" it - stick it in a bucket of water - then do it again. The amount of twang in the spring was absolutely critical - if the spring was too soft, it would bend - and if it was too hard, it would snap. The first batch of springs were absolutely perfect, but the 2nd batch wasn't, neither was the 3rd, nor the 4th. The springs all looked the same, so they all got muddled up, and the supplier then told us to go away, so that was the end of that design.

Dave did try making his own "twix" springs, using two bits of spring steel bar, side by side, with welds at either end and in the middle, but they were not a success as they were too stiff.

The original yachts were only 170 cms long, and I am 6'4", so I was sailing with very bent knees ... which was no problem initially, but my knees were suffering, so Dave made me a longer yacht. My yacht was non-adjustable, ie "rigid", as I had a van to keep it in, and it was both faster, and more comfortable.

When the local Activity Centre at Pendine wanted some yachts, we decided the "rigid" design was better suited to their needs, as they would not be taking them apart. We offered a 4" longer version, and the non-adjustable yachts were much easier for Dave to make, so we were able to offer them at a lower price. The design was so simple, clean and strong. We sold them to other Activity Centres, some Sandyacht Clubs, and even the Army, but the Army removed the Potty stickers from the back of their seats.

Dave then made some adjustable yachts, with 3 different length settings. The front tube with the mast foot on it had 2 captive nuts welded inside it, and it slid into a larger diameter tube under the seat which had a series of holes drilled in it, with 2 bolts to lock it in place. It was difficult to make, and then the galvanising process would cause Dave endless grief as he would spend many hours making everything fit together easily again. It was equally fiddly to assemble on the beach, as wet sand would prevent the two halves slotting easily together, and it was too easy to cross-thread the bolts. When stress cracks started to appear around the bolt holes, Dave abandoned the design and started using box section stainless steel instead.

50 mm box section stainless steel for the front half of the chassis - with the mast foot on it - was readily available, but we had to get the bigger box section under the seat made specially. Initially the length adjustment boxes were made from flat sheet by someone who put two folds in it, to make a U-shape channel, onto which Dave would weld a top. This welding had to be done very carefully, to avoid any weld getting inside the box, as it would then have to be filed out again. Dave also liked a neat, clean weld ... so would grind off most of the weld after he'd finished, to give a neat, bevelled finish. We had endless problems with the length adjustment boxes - the welding on the box would pop if it wasn't perfect - and I must have popped nearer 20 boxes than 10. One batch of 10 boxes were hopeless. Dave would replace the box on mine, and send me out again ... only for the new box to pop ... and this carried on until there were only two or three left, at which point he took them back to the chap who made them. Eventually Dave found someone else to make the boxes properly - and he still adds some extra reinforcing welds in critical places - and, for all that I popped a lot of them, I think only two customers have ever had them fail.

Dave is one of life's genius inventors. He thoroughly enjoyed all the Research and Development, and was never happier than when I would call at his workshop on my way back from the beach, to drop off something that had cracked or broken. He would then get stuck in to improving the design, to make sure the perceived problem did not recur.

It did, however, become obvious very early on that Dave loved the design and problem-solving aspects of making the yachts, but could not bear the thought of making lots of them. If I wanted 10 or 12 yachts, they simply wouldn't happen. I'd find him busy making remote controlled gates, ornate weather vanes, or secret stuff for the military, instead of making Potties. I soon learned to ask for no more than 4 or 6 at a time, as 4 or 6 was possible, but more were not - which meant we never had enough stock for Mark to do any marketing - so we were never able to offer the yachts to scout groups, schools etc.

We started making the stainless Potties in 2010, and - despite the problems with the length adjustment boxes - the design has not changed significantly, and - frankly - The Standard Potty is as good as it gets. It combines simplicity with strength and incredible longevity. The performance is outstanding, too. The Original really is the Best.

When the Miniyachts started racing in 2011 and there was talk of the Minis becoming a new Class of landyacht with it's own Specification, Dave surprised me by agreeing to make a Race version of the Potty. I had previously asked him to make me one the same size as the Blokart, and he had declined, hence my surprise.

Developing a stretched version of our little Potty was great fun. The new yacht was bigger, so it could take bigger sails, but the simplicity of the original design was lost. A 4th pulley was added, behind the pilot's head, which meant the mast could bend even more. The yacht was a lot longer, so the footpegs had to be moved further back. The seat was much lower, with the chassis frame running inside the lip of the seat, and the seat was tilted back. The sails - developed by R&J Sails, who have a long and chequered history of making winning sails for Class 5 yachts as well as our Minis - have the battens parallel to the boom. The battens are tapered, with tension adjusters, like the Class 5 sails. The Potty Max - so called because we stretched the design to it's absolute Maximum - really does look the business, and it goes very nicely, too. If you see our standard Potty go sailing by, you might think Oooh, that looks like fun ... but if you then see a Max go past, you'd think Now that is more like it !

The Max is faster than the Blokarts, which cost almost twice as much, but it is not competitive against the modern race Minis - which cost three times as much - mainly because the modern race Minis are based on Class 5 yachts that have been reduced in size.

As at January 2019, the supply of Potty Minilandyachts is uncertain. Dave was "old" when we started making the Potties in 2001, and he's even older now, which is why the supply of yachts is drying up.

You are welcome to enquire, to see what is available.

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