My first project was very ambitious, too much so. Restoring a 32ft. steel hull sailboat is a costly operation. I almost succeeded. Had it not been for thieves, I probably would have pulled it off. I can’t rest on a failure. The idea of building a sailboat is too strongly embedded in me to give up. I just needed to reassess my needs and capabilities. Having worked on Dagny for so long and learned much about sailing and boat building, I compiled a list of requirements for a sailboat design that would both do what I want and be reasonable to build.
The idea is to build something that can be relied upon in an emergency, or simple during bad times, if paying a rent isn’t an option. Having a mobile vehicle that doesn’t need gas and can cross large expanses of water at no cost is very comforting. I live only 28ft. above sea level in a state surrounded by water. It wouldn’t take much of a tsunami to flood the coast..
Here is what I came up with:
Seaworthiness: I want a boat capable of crossing an ocean and cope with bad weather. Not that I necessarily want to cross an ocean, but you never know.. This will dictate many of my other requirements.
Small size: “Go small, go now.” as the saying goes.. Choosing a small boat might be the difference between completing a project and failing, or simply taking too long to complete. Cost is also a consideration of course. Each extra foot does cost a fortune in building material, time and later, maintenance. While 30 to 32ft. is an ideal size for a comfortable boat, I need to forego comfort, to some extent. The boat needs to allow my 6’2” body to sleep fully extended securely inside the cabin, protected from the elements and motion of the boat. It also needs to be big enough to allow a passenger to share the accommodations for a short period of time, say a week-end, or at most, a week. The minimum size allowing these simple requirements is about 13ft. My upper limit was set at 19ft. with a beam no wider than the inside of a shipping container. The general idea that smaller boats are not as safe as big ones is somewhat of a myth. Many pocket cruisers have crossed the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. A small boat is actually stronger than a big one and floats on top of waves like a cork instead of plowing into them. Only comfort suffers, not safety. There also has to be enough storage room for a hundred days of provisions, food and water for one person. Building space requirements are much less and a small boat can be towed on a trailer.
Junk rig: The Chinese lug sail is the simplest one to use for a single-handler. There is no need to go on deck to reef the sail, which on a small boat can be hazardous. Being flat, it is easy to manufacture and does cost less. Repairs are easier. It does not allow to sail as close to the wind as a Bermuda rig, but that is a small price to pay for it’s simplicity. There is only one sail to deal with. And of course, it looks good!
Plywood construction: Steel boats are the best in my opinion, but not possible in small sizes. Plywood is the next best thing. The hull can be covered in fiberglass for more protection. Steel prices are very high these days and tools required, like a welder and plasma cutter do cost more. Wood is easy to work with, and clean. We are not talking about the kind of plywood you can buy at Home-Depot here, but high quality marine plywood, like the British Standard 1088. It can be boiled repeatedly without coming apart. Epoxy is used as the glue and makes very strong joints. A boat can be completed with hand tools if needed..
No engine: That is a difficult and controversial choice. An engine does cost a few thousand dollars. A sailboat uses the wind, thus an engine is really used only to get in and out of port. I thought about a small electric motor, and might implement it later. A long pole can be used to get around shallow water, or an oar. In a small boat, an engine takes a lot of space.. I also don’t like the smell of diesel very much..
Full keel, shallow draft: A full keel protects the rudder, which is the single most important part of a boat. Without a rudder, you have no control, and it doesn’t take long for a wave to catch you broadside and capsize the boat. Not to mention drifting aimlessly. With a full keel, you can run aground without much damage. A shallow draft (3ft. or less) allows getting closer to shore and wade the rest of the way, or use a pole to get to a dock. Many wonderful areas are not accessible to deep draft boats.
Given all these requirements, the choices available quickly dwindled to three:
There are others, but these three had all my requirements. If money was no object, I would have opted for the Farthing, maybe. The set of plans costs around $1200, and that is way over my budget for a few sheets of paper. It is probably worth it, since it is already lofted, but I just can’t justify spending that much on the plans. John Welsford’s designs are also simpler to build.
The Swaggie is the most attractive of the three. Not too big, not too small, with a big interior for it’s size. It can accommodate a couple easily for extended periods.
Fafnir is smaller, but costs three times less than Swaggie in time and money to build. And that is what decided me to buy Fafnir plans. In the end, completing the project is more important than failing to build a bigger boat.
A junk rig version is available…
I will make no predictions as to when or even if I will ever complete this project. I will certainly try my best. I hope to get the plans before the end of the week..