Finding the Boat Of My Dreams, Part I

Over the years, I spent a great deal of time visiting boat building Web sites and forums. Ignorant of just about everything related to the building process I didn’t get a lot out my wanderings. But I did, over time, gain some general insights about boat building culture and the various philosophies and factions that inevitably exist in this world.

I learned to divide boat builders into two camps. On one side are the purists. They are the folks who use traditional materials and traditional building techniques. They talk confidently about “lapstrake,” “steam bending,” and “carvel” construction. They are craftsmen who make boats that show up on the cover of Wooden Boat magazine. They do amazing things and I greatly admire their skills.

In the other side are a bunch of creative folks who also make some wonderful boats, but are willing to use modern materials and unconventional building techniques. Their conversations are sprinkled with references to “stitch and glue” construction and “instant” boat building. Some make boats inspired by traditional designs and along recognizable lines; others are willing to design outside the box and challenge our preconceived assumptions about boat designs. Many (although not all) of these builders like to use simple and inexpensive materials. Their owners clearly believe it is better to build something than nothing, even if the boat won’t last for a hundred years or lead to an invitation from the yachting club.

For a variety of reasons, I instinctively gravitated to the latter faction. I liked their philosophy of simplicity and economy. But at a more practical level I found their boats to be more novice-friendly. I didn’t need an engineering degree to read their plans, nor special equipment and experience to bend boards into complicated shapes. Instead, I only needed some plywood and my carpenter’s tools to build, if photos were honest representations of their work, some remarkably elegant craft.

But even within these parameters, the choices are nearly overwhelming. A quick search of “ plywood boat building plans,” for example, yields hundreds of possible designs, from sailing canoes to forty-foot cruisers, and from sloops to catamarans. For someone who did not yet know the difference between a catboat and a ketch, it was too much to absorb.

Knowing that I wanted a small cabin helped narrow my options considerably. I learned that some people cruise in open sailboats, erecting canvas shelters for the night, but my fantasy included an enclosed space for sleeping and protection from the weather. I also wanted a boat that could be trailered. This meant that I was looking for something under twenty-five or thirty feet in length; anything larger would be too heavy and unwieldy. The desire to build the boat as quickly and economically as possible reduced the size further. Ideally, I wanted a boat under twenty feet.

These requirements led me to a subcategory of sailing craft called pocket cruisers, which are also called microcruisers or pocket yachts. The general consensus is that a pocket cruiser is a small sailboat with a cabin, generally between fifteen and twenty feet. They can be quite seaworthy and some have sailed around the world, but most live close to shore and are used for short trips.

They sounded perfect, but more work remained. Which of the many pocket cruisers should I build?


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