A Curious Boat For Questionable Adventures
 Kellan Hatch  khatch@incognitostudio.com 

After sailing the strange waters of the Great Salt Lake for three or four years I started to realize that my West Wight Potter 19, wonderful as it is, is not the one and only boat for me. I was beginning to hear the call of far-flung places, some of them totally devoid of launch ramps or even convenient beach roads. When vacation time came around, I found myself having to choose between the boat and the tent trailer; I couldnít tow both, could I? Alright, yes I did consider it, but I knew that what I really needed was a simple, lightweight beachable boat that could be rowed or paddled. And I wanted to build it myself, mostly for reasons of economy, as I was totally and naively unaware at the time of the life-altering consequences of contracting the boatbuilding bug.

A convertible kayak/sailing trimaran
(click pictures  to enlarge)

It eventually came down to a simple choice: should I build a canoe or a lightweight car-toppable sailboat? When someone suggested that I investigate sailing canoes, I thought he was joking. But then I stumbled across a drawing of a John Bull designed outrigger sailing canoe. My head did a full 360. I had never seen anything like this! I had to have one. But would it fit the (admittedly ambitious) list of criteria that had been forming in my head? 

My criteria:

  • 1. Must be within the range of my skills, schedule and resources
  • 2. Must be built in my 8íX18í basement shop area
  • 3. Removable from my basement shop (up stairwell, through door, 90 degree turn)
  • 4. Car-toppable with single-handed load & unload
  • 5. Light enough to be carried or dollied by one person .
  • 6. Safe, stable and reasonably fast sailor
  • 7. Superior thin-water performance
  • 8. Convertible, with removable sail rig that leaves nothing to inhibit paddling.
  • 9. Size: Large enough for the whole family (self, wife & two small boys) or two people with minimal camping gear.
  • 10. Quick setup, breakdown

Building the outriggers

Deep down inside I knew the outrigger canoe would be a small boat for a family, but it was just so strange and wonderful, and I was determined to make it fit my criteria - with a crowbar if need be. After a frustrating period of trying to round up the John Bull plans I discovered that Chesapeake Light Craft sells plans and kits for a similar open-cockpit kayak, and even had plans for an outrigger sail rig. To make a long story short, I ordered and built the CLC Mill Creek 16.5 from a kit. As it turned out, my whole family did fit, although snugly. It gets to be pretty crowded when both boys want to help paddle. It turned out to be the largest boat I could have built in my basement anyway; I was able to get it out of the basement, but with less than an inch to spare after removing the washer and dryer at the top of the stair well. Two years have passed since I started the project. The boys are bigger now, the boat is tighter and now Iím planning my next project. But thatís another story.

This was to be my first boat building project. I found the stitch-and-glue method to be a good building process for someone with limited spare time. A lot of the work could be broken down into 20-30 minute jobs that require epoxy-setting time in between. Epoxy is wonderful, forgiving, and - best of all - odorless stuff. I could build in my basement without fumigating my family. I built the main hull over the first winter and started working out concepts for the sail rig. 

I didnít care for some details of the CLC rig. For one thing, the akas (outrigger beams Ė you gotta use the Polynesian terminology if youíre playing with multihulls) appeared to have high-stress points where they bolted to the main hull, and the amas (outrigger pontoons) used problematic sockets for attaching to the outer ends of the amas. I saw a drawing of James Wharramís method of lashing his catamarans together and decided to try a similar approach. This would allow the connection points a degree of flex that would help distribute loads across the entire system.

After paddling the boat for a season I set aside the next winterís spare time to build the sail rig. I bought the CLC plans and built twelve-foot amas to their dimensions, with some modifications for my own attachment hardware.

Ama-to-aka lashings with 2-phase cleats

Now, I donít claim to be an engineer by any stretch of the imagination and I donít advocate modifying a designerís plans in any way, shape or form. But that didnít stop ME. I eliminated the ama sockets altogether and designed cleats for lashing the akas to both the hull and the amas. As a side note, I have noticed that CLC recently released their Mark 2 sail rig, which has no sockets and uses lashings for the ama-to-hull attachments. I guess I was ahead of my time. If only Iíd thought of some of the more elegant solutions they came up with. 

I bought a used dinghy sail and mast and cobbled together the sail hardware, rudder mechanism and leeboard out of odds and ends gleaned from West Marine and the hardware store.

The first launch was made with little fanfare and even less wind. Everything seemed sound and well placed. I could operate all features of the boat, including reefing without moving from the rear cockpit seat. I quickly realized that a single paddle was a lot more practical than my usual double paddle for maneuvering with the sail rig attached. A few weeks later I had a chance to put her through her paces on a three-day Easter camping trip to a lakeside campground. The wind was fickle and gusty, but when it picked up my little boat took off like a rocket! All of the weak links showed up almost immediately and I made temporary fixes until I could get back to the shop for some more permanent modifications. The most rewarding lesson I learned on that trip was about the incredible freedom of being able to sail right up onto the beach anywhere I wanted to explore.

A remote Great Salt Lake beach
 (yes, the water is really red

How does my little trimaran stack up to my list of criteria so far? Well, the jury is not entirely in; Iím still learning and making improvements. I havenít been able to log as nearly as much sailing time as I had hoped, but I have been able to make a couple more outings this season. The real shake-down was a 20 mile out-and-back sail to a remote island in the Great Salt Lake. Not only did the little boat prove herself to be fast and versatile, but she was stable enough for my crew and I to stand up and move about easily while under sail. The kick-up leeboard and rudder really helped her excel for thin water sailing and she passed the test for transportability and remote launch and recovery. 

The lashings worked well, but the Dacron cord I used was a little too stretchy at the hull connections. Iíll replace it with no-stretch Spectra cord. I also plan to simplify the attachment at the amas. With twelve lash points to secure, I totally missed my goal for a quick and easy set-up. 

My clever (at least I thought so at the time) two-phase cleats worked great except they sit too low and actually pierce the waterís surface on the leeward side, causing unnecessary drag. Bozo engineering at its finest.

Kick-up, balanced rudder
with push-pull rod for steering

I learned that tacking a lightweight, jib-less trimaran is an art unto itself. I have yet to achieve it without a couple of paddle strokes, but Iím still experimenting with the size and placement of foils. The balanced rudder feels like power steering, but my attractive all-mahogany rudder mechanism has proven itself more pretty than practical, suffering from some degree of stress damage every time Iíve used it. The lesson here is: donít underestimate the stresses that might be placed on your foils. I plan to go back to good old pintles and gudgeons. Iíve also rebuilt my leeboard to make it stiffer.

My conclusion? All things considered, I think I was pretty successful. I built a boat that I can be proud of and I actually pulled off a reasonably good sampling of my criteria list. Is it perfect? Nope. Is it the last boat Iíll ever build? Not by a long shot. 

One thing that I love about this boat is its versatility. Not only do I have a nice decked canoe for pure paddling fun, but at the wave of a wand it converts into a fast, stable sailing trimaran.

The entire package fits neatly on my roof rack

Whatís next for me? For one thing, Iíd like to build a second, ultralight sail rig that I can stow on board, for on-the-fly conversions between sail and paddle on shorter trips. And my boys are getting bigger, so Iíll still need the family-sized beach boat. Then thereís that larger cruising trimaran out there somewhere in my futureÖ But I donít have time for any of that now. Iím too busy finishing the new boat shop in my backyard.

Iíll be back.