Bayside Boatshop
By Ross Lillistone

Keep it Simple

When it comes to boatbuilding, dreams don’t always come true. Those of us who are afflicted with this boat addiction know the cycle – thinking about one boat leads to thoughts about another and so on to eternity. The dreams are necessary, because without them nothing would ever get done; however they need to be kept under control.

Mike Rowe and his friend Ian were both dreamers. However as youth gave way to middle age, the dreams had become more realistic – the size and complexity of their dreamboats had reduced in inverse proportion to their experience.

As they relaxed in the cockpit of Mike’s little cat-yawl, the conversation had turned to this very subject…

“Why is it,” said Mike, “that there are so few decent cruising dinghies on the market?”

“Because people automatically assume that if you are going to sleep aboard a boat, you need a cabin,” answered Ian. “Look at the boom in production trailerable yachts during the seventies and eighties – everybody wanted the convenience of a trailer boat with the accommodations of an H28. But what they got was a very small cabin boat which was difficult to launch and retrieve, heavy to tow, too big to store in a garage and took too long to rig and unrig. No wonder the bubble burst!”

Mike stared thoughtfully at the wake before answering. He was remembering that some of his best boating experiences had taken place in a 15-½ foot cruising dinghy, sleeping on the floorboards under a makeshift boomtent. But he was also thinking about sand, clutter, wet clothes and mosquitoes.

“You’re right, Ian, but to be fair, lots of people did lots of sailing in those trailer-sailers. To make dinghy cruising successful one has to be better organised than we have ever been.” was his response, “Let’s take a look at what is required.”

They talked well into the evening, enjoying the easy companionship which came from common interests and a friendship which dated from high school. It would take too much space to record the entire conversation, but a number of points kept cropping up: -

  • Simple projects are more likely to be finished than those which are large and complicated;
  • Small boats get used more than large ones;
  • Small boats are easy to store in a garage;
  • We live in a wonderful country for boating;
  • It is liberating as well as challenging to leave the motor at home;
  • Shoal draft boats have access to cruising grounds denied to keelboats;
  • Cabins don’t get used as much as cockpits, so we should think twice before trading cockpit space for a cabin;
  • There are very few open boats on the market which lend themselves to daysailing and overnighting. This is especially the case if spirited sailing performance is a high priority;

The irony of this line of conversation was that it took place in the cabin of a particularly comfortable and capable keelboat, measuring only 15-½ ft LOA. She was relatively light, had been simple to build at home, carried not one inch of standing rigging, and got to windward better than most. This sparkling performance was due to brilliant design on the part of a designer who was blessed with an open mind. His deep understanding of hydrodynamics allowed him to wring good performance from his designs – even (especially) those with rectangular hull sections. He had been schooled by such greats as Lindsay Lord, L. Francis Herreshoff, and Howard Chapelle. Although known for his rectangular boats, about ninety percent of his published work was classic and conventional.

In the following week, Mike continued working on a group of three boats in his workshop. All were capable open boats ranging in size from 12ft to 18ft length-over-all; two were cruising dinghies of the very type which he had been discussing with his friend. He hoped that this situation was an indication that the wheel was turning a full circle.

These days, as always, building a small boat is a fine investment of your time. Whether it be a sailingboat, a powerboat, a beautiful rowing craft or a canoe, the result will be worth the effort. But effort and application are required – dreams are only the first bit. Dreams, like so many other things, can be addictive. Pick a simple project and start!