From the Drawing Board
Occasional ramblings from
a Small Craft Designer

by John Welsford

On choosing your dreamboat

You will have some thoughts in your mind as to what would be a nice boat to have, and no doubt some ideas as to what you want to use it for. Some people will have seen something on the water or in print that they have fallen in love with and nothing else will do except one of “those”. Some will have been told by a friend that the only thing to own is a “Such and such” and some will be haunted by memories of the boat that Granddad used to take them out in as kids on summer holidays.

There will be those who have a lot of boating experience in one type of craft, and who don’t want to risk a change, those with no experience but who live in an area where a particular type is common and a few who are looking for something different. All of these already existing ideas have a bearing on what you might choose for your “dreamboat”

Warning: I’m going to lecture you a bit here, if you don’t like lectures, go and have a look at the rest of the magazine, but otherwise, do read on.

This well intended diatribe (thanks for reading on) is about keeping dreams alive, they have a much better chance of surviving if they are a good match with reality.

I have sold something in excess of 3000 sets of plans over the years and more than a few of the owners have ended up with a boat that, while it did what it was designed to do, what it was designed to do was not a good match for the owners environment, or was not suited to the usage, or could not be achieved with the time, building space or budget available. Nothing wrong with the boat! Just the wrong one for the time, the place the resources, the skills, or the job to be done.

How does a designer prevent those mismatches from happening?

When selling stock plans from a catalogue that’s not easy. People are making an unaided choice and I the designer rarely have an input. No problem with custom designs as I ask what my clients must think are an inordinate number of questions, some of which they must find quite odd but all of which have a bearing on some aspect of the design. I recall asking one client for his wife’s vital statistics, not the ones you might think that I’d be interested in, but in height, reach, weight and fitness. This boat would be no problem for the client himself as he was a 6ft x 200 pounder and fairly fit but they were to sail her on overnight passages where she would be on watch on her own.

She turned out to be short, well rounded, and not used to heavy work. That, as you can imagine changed the entire cockpit layout, the winches and the rig. It affected how the Anchor tackle came aboard, the lifting gear for the centreboard, how the galley was laid out and the height of the seating in the main cabin. A lot more than you would think!

So here are some suggestions:

Have a look at the area where you are going to use the boat. An ocean cruiser is not going to suit daysailing on a small lake, any more than a boat intended for running a river bar will be ideal for fly fishing the upper reaches of that same river. So have a realistic look at the water you have available to you and make some notes.

A small boat can be very seaworthy, but each person on board needs about 10 pounds a day of stores and the trip to Europe from the US east coast needs six weeks worth of stores aboard. If your crew is four people that’s getting up toward a ton of food and water plus the boat’s needs for that trip. Choose something that is designed to carry that load.

On the other hand a boat that is intended to do that trip may be mostly cabin, and have a tiny cockpit to accommodate one or two on watch, and if day cruising in a hot climate no one will want to be downstairs in a stuffy cabin so you’ll need a much bigger cockpit.

Type is important too, rowing boats are as long and as narrow on the waterline as the designer thinks they can get away with. A power boat intended to plane has very straight lines underneath that make it a poor sailor, and a sailboat is of a shape that resists the winds efforts to heel her over, and will travel at relatively slow speeds efficiently but not faster.

A cutter rigged heavy displacement long keeled cruiser wont win races around the harbour, an ultralight displacement racer is likely to be fragile, shake the crews teeth out in a chop and not carry the load needed for long cruises. 20 tons of Schooner will take 6 crew and cost vast sums to both build and maintain. A simple flat-bottomed skiff will suit an estuary or lake but is not the right boat for a high speed offshore fisherman.

A heavy motorboat may be comfortable in motion, without ever achieve planing speed, but the longer it is the faster it will run, ( a bit like the rowing boat). The really efficient displacement powerboat, being long, fairly heavy and quite narrow is likely to roll a long way which can be uncomfortable and disconcerting.

While a yacht tender is possibly the hardest thing to design of all as it has to fit into a small space on deck, carry impossible loads, row well, tow at high speeds and be stable enough to allow its occupants to stand up and scramble into the parent vessel without going for an ignominious swim.

There are so many types, each suited to a particular set of circumstances, some of which apply and some of which may not. In making a decision all of these need to be considered.

Think about your dreamboat, consider where you are going to use it, be realistic about what you are going to do with her, and think over the reasoning behind your likes and dislikes in a boat.

Even the building space and budget will have a bearing on what is realistic. Consider ALL aspects of the boat from the reason for wanting one, through the area and type of use, the building of her and the resources you have available for the project. Skills, tools, materials availability, space and the hours you have available all have a bearing on the choice. Try for something that is a good match in all respects.

If your choice is a good match with your dreams, the environment in which she will be used, and the skills and resources available to build her, then the project will be a successful one. But do think about it. A half built boat that will not suit the job is a real Albatross and potentially the coffin for a lot of well intended dreams.