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by Mike Machnicki - London - England

Choosing the Right Boat

The saga continues! Those of you who read my previous article Think long and hard before you build will know that I am inclined towards sailing catamarans but also want to have a boat for retirement holidays and days out fishing. Having had over a year to think things out since the last build, a motor cruiser seemed to be a better option as I cannot see my wife hauling up sails. The big question is which one?

As usual, the list of requirements is the place to start. Having been rather sparse on the previous list I decided to approach this list in a more comprehensive manner to achieve a comfortable boat for extended holidays:

  1. Must be trailable, legal limits are 9 foot beam and 3.5 tons including trailer
  2. Must have standing room in head with hot shower
  3. Must have a double berth with storage space for clothes
  4. Must have sufficient space in cockpit, 6 ft x 8 ft preferred
  5. Must have an inboard diesel with calorifier and hot air heating
  6. Must be pretty, (sorry, salty and pleasing to the eye)
  7. Must have room for 4, the children and their partners will want to come too
  8. Must have a steadying sail
  9. Must be designed for river, lake and offshore
  10. Must have full standing headroom, I am just under 6 ft
  11. Must be light coloured for summer conditions
  12. Must be economical to run, boat fuel here is currently £1.05 per litre
  13. Must be sea kindly in rough conditions
  14. Must be sturdy and easy to build

Having completed the list of requirements, the thing that I noticed most was the Must at the beginning of each line. In short, I was unwilling to compromise on any of the requirements. It was at this time I suspected that I was in for a tough time trying to make the decision of which boat to build, but I didn't know that it would take over a year of searching and agonising to find the right plans.

I wanted a boat with the potential for some speed if I was caught out in bad weather, so I considered Tom Lathrop's boat Blue Jacket 24. It certainly had the right amount of space, but I eventually rejected it because it didn't have the reliability of an inboard engine to provide heat, and required more power than I could afford. For a long time the favourite was John Holtrop's Hilda 26. I liked the lines and the building method and also what it offered, but I eventually decided that it was definitely the reliability and economy of a diesel engine that I wanted and so I rejected this for the same reason.

At various points in the search I was seduced away from the list of requirements by boats like Chesapeak Marine Design's Trailer Trawler 28 and Kasten Marine's Boojum Tug 25. These are two of the cutest boats you could ever wish to own with enough to seduce even the most level headed sailor, especially with the allure of their lines, but not trailable due to weight. So take a cold shower and back to the list of requirements to remind myself of what I am trying to achieve.

As a slight aside, there seems to be quite a few boat builds that don't get to the launch point and I wonder how many of these are due to unavoidable factors such as lack of funds or ill health, and how many are due to the builder realising the boat that is taking so much of his life he will not fulfil his (or her, not to be sexist) expectations. Just the same as history of wars is written by the victors, only the successful builds are the ones documented and available on the web.

Anyway, back to the search! It was at this point I decided that if I couldn't find the right boat as a stock design, I would commission the boat myself from a well known local designer. I made up a document of all the boats I liked the look of, including Michael Karsten's Greatheart 36 (I don't know where this came from as it is totally the wrong size?) and of course the list of requirements and drove to see him. After a two hour meeting, I left with a feeling of great elation that I had finally found the boat of my dreams, all I had to do was wait the two weeks for the initial plans, pay £250, and then pay for the full plans £1,200.

Two weeks later the eagerly awaited parcel arrived and I opened it and on first study I was a tad disappointed as the boat was 10 ft wide (too big to trail) 3.5 tons (too heavy to trail) and too boxy to be really pretty (sorry, salty). So I folded up the plans with a resolve to re-read them tomorrow when they would look more like what I wanted. When I looked at them the next day and they hadn't changed, I decided to look elsewhere. The only comment I got from my wife was and how much did you pay for them? Needless to say, I felt really bad as we try to be economical and not waste money. On a different note, two months later when she came home from a shopping trip flashing a large yellow sapphire ring, I had sufficient sense to say it really suits you. I still don't know how much it cost!

We were now into April and getting to prime building time with no plans selected. It was not possible to begin work this year and have a secure hull before winter, given that I also had to build a boat shed. Throughout the past year my eye had been drawn back to the Glen-L  BoJest. It had the right look and was definitely trailable, but that was about all from my list of requirements, so I started searching the rest of the Glen-L website yet again, revisiting some of the other boats I had previously looked at. I definitely liked the Ken Hankinson designs, they had some indefinable quality in them that was very appealing and I ended up with about four of them as definite possibilities.

Coastal Cruiser 25
Hercules 24
Noyo Trawler 24
Titan Tug 21.5

All were very appealing for different reasons and all with some feature I felt I could not live with. The Coastal Cruiser was a planning boat requiring a larger engine, having an excellent wheelhouse, but the space was too fragmented. Hercules was a semi displacement with an economical engine, but no fixed berths, bunks didn't appeal and I didn't fancy having to move the table every time I wanted to go to the cockpit. Titan Tug had beautiful lines a little bit like BoJest, but the engine was obtrusive and the space a bit small. I also didn't like the low freeboard for offshore conditions. Noyo Trawler had a fish hold instead of accommodation and the wheelhouse was too small. I wasn't sure I could design an attractive coach house roof that would work correctly. The best option was to get a set of study plans for each of the design and see if that would provide illumination.

The study plans provided excellent information and useful extra details but didn't make the task any easier so in desperation I went to the Glen-L forum. Generally people on theses forums are very welcoming and willing to comment and offer advice. The problem is that not many are experienced naval architects with an in-depth knowledge of the boat you need to ask questions about, so the advice while being the best you can get from like minded people may not necessarily answer your questions.

Lets try a different approach. Glen-L must surely be able to answer the questions I have! I phoned them and spoke to Gayle. Most companies you approach are only too willing to help with advice on their products in the hope of getting a sale and Glen-L was no different. Gayle was very helpful in the general details and was quite adamant that the engine should not be moved, but could not answer my technical questions. What about the team of qualified naval architects waiting to answer questions? Well it was never explicitly asked nor answered but I got the impression that the team was probably more sales and admin assistants. It wasn't until I had later bought a set of plans and required clarification that I spoke to the designer. When I visited the local designer I don't know what I was expecting, but his office was in his home and didn't give the impression of being a thriving business. Even John Welsford states that he has a day job. So reading between the lines one can surmise that selling plans at $180 a time does not provide for a superstar lifestyle and these hard working guys have to cut costs somewhere when trying to earn a living. If you have a business with a mature portfolio why keep highly paid experts on hand. It is obviously different if you buy the plans from the designer himself he will know his intentions when he designed the boat and will know its characteristics and limitations.
So what did I learn from this long arduous search? Apart from the lesson learnt from the previous build which I reiterate, Think long and hard before you build, I came to several new conclusions:

  1. Information may not always be readily to hand, if it is even available.
  2. You will not get all your requirements in one boat, so some sort of compromise is always necessary. I didn't compromise on the main list of requirements but did on the list of a hundred or so minor expectations.
  3. The best piece of advice I got along the way was to pick a design you like and see what adjustments you can make as you build. Extra bits can always be fitted in or swapped around, even if you need to adjust the ballast slightly to make it float level.
  4. Ensure your wife is happy. If your wife is not happy I can guarantee you won't be happy either.
  5. If you don't get what you want in a boat, its very difficult to be satisfied, so try and get it right first time (or in my case second time). Especially difficult if you have several years of expensive work ahead, and you are beginning to doubt the final results.

In the end I chose the Noyo Trawler. I think this will be the closest to what I had in mind with modifications that other builders have made.

As far as the sailing catamaran goes, that will be the next boat, but don't tell my wife!


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