Len Randell is likely to be the first professionally qualified Naval Architect to work full time in Western Australia. In the early 1950s he started his own practice in Perth, Western Australia. Prior to this he had prepared a number of designs for yachts and other craft, working on the projects in his spare time. He designed a wide range of craft over a 50-year period before retiring as a well respected figure in both the recreational and commercial fields of watercraft design.
From an early age Len spent much of his spare time around the Swan River and associated waterways, building canoes and improvising with home made sails. As a teenager in the 1930s he visited Perth boatyards on the banks of the Swan River. Seeing a boat being built inspired him, at just 15, to design one himself. This 16 foot (4.9m) hard chine boat was a success and encouraged him to continue designing craft and to become involved with yachting where he was a regular crew.
His early amateur design work was done in spare time away from his job in the Public Works Department of WA. As his major interest was boats, he submitted examples of his work and a thesis to the Royal Institution of Naval Architects in London. In 1952, he was accredited, becoming an Associate of the RINA and a qualified professional Naval Architect.
His title was a novelty at the time in WA and no one there initially understood what it meant, but undeterred he set up a commercial practice working from his home, and gradually received commissions. The early design work consisted of yachts and low powered launches.
Amongst this early work, he designed the 14 foot DARKIE series for the owner-skipper, Syd Corser, who dominated state and national titles for a number of years. Throughout his career, Len designed a number of racing and cruising yachts in wood, aluminum, steel and fibreglass.
However, it was fishing boats that launched his commercial career. For decades they had been low powered craft modeled by builders based on their experience and their eye for what was right. The introduction of higher powered diesel engines was a significant change and needed someone able to calculate the power and propeller requirements, along with the best hull shape and construction if the craft was to achieve its desired performance. Randell had the technical expertise to capitalize on this need and soon started working with builders to produce good designs. This work then expanded into prawn trawlers, cray boats and carrier boats, and this combination of craft formed a significant part of his career's output. The heavy displacement craft were built in wood, aluminum and steel.
Other commercial craft included a small number of ferries, patrol boats and tugs. As one of the few qualified naval architects in WA and well known for his quality work, Randell was well positioned to take on new commissions as the industrial strength of WA grew from the 1960s onwards. New ports, expanded operations and new concepts meant there was a continued demand for new craft all around the WA coastline.
High speed power craft were another area of success. From his early days he had been involved in the design of recreational power craft, often in light weight plywood construction. They were both semi-displacement and planing hull forms. The introduction of fibreglass construction gave Randell the opportunity to develop production designs built from moulds. This work included a successful association with Precision Marine in WA during the 1970s and early 1980s.
He also pioneered the introduction of high speed craft in the cray industry, firstly with plywood construction. The operators realized the value in being able to get to and from their cray fishing areas much faster, and Randell designed a great number of craft that could move quickly between port and the cray fishing areas, and also function well as stable platforms for laying and hauling cray pots. Some later designs used production fibreglass hulls.
His self taught background enabled him to be very self sufficient, working through his designs in a logical fashion which always covered the significant issues of weight, trim and stability, propulsion and scantlings. Randell erred on the side of adequate strength, and was careful to ensure each vessel met its target requirements for strength, speed and stability, even in the earlier days of vessel design when there were no set official requirements to be accounted for. All Randell's designs had a handsome appearance, and he considered the artistic side of the design process was just as important as the technical side.
A very early design was a yacht called REBEL, which he and his fiancé built and owned for about 5 years. Also early in his career were the DARKIE 14-foot skiffs of the late 1950s which lead to champion 16-foot skiff designs as well. Another yacht which he raced with success winning the inaugural Cape Naturaliste race was RUGGED, a 23 foot long boat which became a class of sorts after a small number were built by amateur builders. Later in his own yacht KAREN he won the Bunbury event twice. A number of his yachts have cruised around the world. One of his most interesting sailing vessel projects was the steel barquentine LEEUWIN for the Sail training Foundation in WA.
BINGARRA was an early motor cruiser design and one of the first semi-displacement plywood hulls in WA, while his fibreglass designs for Precision Marine were sold around the country in the 1970s and 80s.
IRIS was a large plywood carrier boat for the crayfishing fleets, while the NOR boats, 1 - 7 started the prawn industry in Shark Bay. When Geraldton became a compulsory tug port Randell designed a compact steel 75 foot long tug for the authorities to use for handling the iron ore carriers. FLINDERS was Fisheries Research Vessel designed in the mid sixties, along with two Rottnest Island ferries around 140 feet long. Another interesting ferry from 1974 was the 72 foot plywood and aluminum HYDROFLIGHT, a fast ferry for Rottnest Island The only big commercial shipping project he was involved in was converting KOOLINDA into a cattle carrying ship.
Amongst the many clients that sought out Randell for a design were some of the major fishing boat families and companies, and in some cases he designed many craft over two generations of the same business or family.
Len Randell was born in 1925 and lived at Inglewood Perth. He attended primary and secondary school, but had to leave in his mid teens to get a job to help support the family. He took an electrical apprenticeship with the Public Works Department, and soon after completion he then became a staff supervisor, with responsibility over a large area of the state.
When he setup his own naval architecture practice he used a home office to work from. He did this for almost his entire career and for only a short period in the 1960s he tried taking office space at Fremantle. He also worked alone for most of the time, only employing another NA for a brief period, before becoming a one man practice again as this was more economical to maintain, especially when there were periods of low activity in the marine industry.
Prepared from a transcript of a 1996 interview with Len Randell by Bill Leonard, Manager Watercraft Collection, Maritime History Department, Western Australia Museum.