March 11, 2024

Meet Phil Morrison - our esteemed boat designer

Phil Morrison is without question the most experienced ocean rowing boat designer in the world and has worked with Charlie at Rannoch since 2007, creating the now iconic fleet of production ocean rowing boats we manufacture in Burnham on Crouch.

Charlie’s story

I’ve always known Phil Morrison as the man famous for designing the fastest boats – our paths crossed several times through mutual friends as far back as the 1980’s. So it was only natural for me to go to him in 2007 and ask for his help in designing my first ocean rowing boat.
We’ve developed a great working relationship co-designing all the Rannoch boats. I come up with the concept (some may call it a wacky idea!) of how I want the boat to handle, the parameters and dimensions, and Phil uses his vast experience to turn these concepts into fully tested, naval architect designed boats. I regard him as the ‘headmaster’ – he often pulls me back down to earth when it comes to ideas and sometimes it works the other way around and he’ll say ‘have you thought about doing it like this? Its real teamwork - our design strengths play to each other and the end result is a great, unique Rannoch design.
Phil Morrison

Phil’s story

It all goes back to 1982 when Spud Rowsell, who later became my business partner, sailed in the Round Britain Race against Chay Blyth, amongst others. The nature of the race meant that the boats spent 48 hours in several ports around Great Britain which meant much banter and yarning was enjoyed!
13 years later, Chay suddenly appeared in our workshop, declaring that, according to Spud, I was the best small boat designer in the country and asked me to design a rowing boat. It took me a while to cotton on that he wasn't talking about the local boating lake. Chay was planning a rowing race across the Atlantic to be organised by “Challenge Business” – the Atlantic Rowing Race (later to become the Woodvale Challenge, Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, World’s Toughest Row).
Chay wanted the “Challenge” boat to be a flat pack kit boat for ease of shipping and capable of being assembled by amateurs. The original prototype was designed and built by our firm Rowsell & Morrison Ltd. in plywood and was subsequently converted into a CNC cut set of plywood parts using the relatively new technology at the time - CAD.
Fast forward to 2007 and a “young” Charlie Pitcher appeared at my door asking me to design the fastest singlehanded ocean rowing boat ever. It could be as radical as I liked, as long as it was fast! I subsequently learnt that Charlie was highly competitive and had enormous experience of the ocean so was emboldened to look at my original concept again.
When designing the original Challenge boat, I had oscillated between a layout with the cabin forward or aft, settling for the aft cabin in the end for no greater reason that it would offer some protection from the trade winds and waves which were to be expected on the east-west Atlantic route.
My vast experience of ocean rowing (one short trip out of Dartmouth harbour on the original Challenge prototype) taught me two things: 1) I had no ambition to be an ocean rower and 2) it was very hard to row a boat with a large flat cabin bulkhead into even a gentle head wind. Hence the forward cabin and its bullet shaped forward profile, inspired by those old full depth motorcycle racing fairings. This is a theme that has been continued to the present day and easily recognised as the Rannoch marque.
Throughout my career I have always found it most satisfying to work with and exchange ideas with first class companies, sailors and builders. It always produces the best result.
The Rannoch fleet, all co designed by Charlie and Phil

Phil’s career highlights

Phil Morrison grew up in Eastbourne and learnt to sail National 12 Class racing dinghies at the Pevensey Bay Sailing Club. The National 12 is a Development Class where anyone can design and build new boats within specific restrictions, such as length, beam, weight and sail area.

Aged 18, Phil designed his first racing dinghy, a National 12 called "China Doll" which was built by Spud Rowsell, who later became his business partner. He went on to design several successful National 12 designs.

He qualified in Naval Architecture at Southampton College of Advanced Technology and early in his career went on to design a range of racing dinghy fittings which are still in production today. His career developed further designing dinghies, yachts and multihulls and he is noted for blending innovation with elegant, well-engineered, high performance structures.

After his success in the National 12’s Phil also produced designs and raced successfully in other Development Classes. His designs won every Championship from 1972 to 1988 in the Merlin-Rocket Class and had numerous successes with the International 14’s.

During the winter of 1981-82 Phil was invited by Spud and Mark Gatehouse to design and supervise the building of a 53ft trimaran for them to race in the 1982 Round Britain & Ireland Race. This was Phil’s first major commission. Exmouth Challenge finished 3rd, within hours of the much larger and more expensive trimarans of Rob & Naomi James and Chay Blythe & Peter Bateman. Following on from this collaboration, Phil and Spud combined their businesses forming Rowsell & Morrison Ltd.; designing and building many more racing dinghies plus offshore mono and multihull projects up to 60ft in length.

With all his experience Phil was continually being asked to “optimise” various One Design classes within the bounds of the Class Rules. Perhaps the most notable of these was the Devoti Finn, the standard model used for Olympic competition for many years.

In the late 90’s he was approached by several dinghy manufacturers to design boats specifically for them. Performance Sailcraft Laser 5000, 4000 & Stratos. Racing Sailboats RS200, 400, 500, 800, Vareo, Vision, Venture and Elite keelboat. He was also asked by Hartley Boats to upgrade and modernise their stable of Ian Proctor Classics, namely, Kesterel, Wayfarer, Wanderer, Osprey not to mention the single handed Supernova and a series of roto-moulded training boats, the H10 and 12.

Phil continues to be involved in the development of Rannoch boats on a regular basis (there is no other designer we’d rather be working with!). He is currently working on two more Rannoch projects – the 3 person R35 which will hit the water in 2025 and another very different and exciting project for the future – watch this space!