View Full Version : Laughing Gull by Arch Davis

John A. Campbell
10-01-2004, 03:35 PM
It has now been 6 months since my sweet wife Corine died (3/26/04) and I am trying to get my life back on track. Now have a new lady friend and want to do some sailing starting spring of 2005 and through the summer here in Texas. In the autumn of 2005, I want us to go to New England for some serious camping and sailing. I have very little sailing experience and she has none and can't swim. I'm finishing up "Piccolo" in glued lap construction but feel I need something a little more stable and seaworthy and "Laughing Gull" seems like a good candidate. I plan to use 6 mm Okoume and Sitka spruce to keep weight to a minimum plus a 2 hp Honda 4-stroke outboard for auxillary power. Also, I plan to use West System epoxy, Epifanes varnish on interior and trim, Kirby's marine paint on exterior of planks, and light red Honduran mahogany trim (breasthook, transom, inwales, outwales). Would appreciate any comments....pro or con....about my plans.....Thanks!!

Christopher Locke
10-01-2004, 04:17 PM

I'm sorry to hear about your loss but it is good that you are moving on. I bought the plans for Laughing Gull. If you haven't already, I'd strongly recommend that you buy the study guide first to get a better sense for the boat.

Let me start by saying that I think Arch Davis is probably the best designer out there for a first time boatbuilder. No-one else has his level of support and hand-holding.

Having said that, I'm not sure that Laughing Gull is the right boat for you. My first question is, somewhat indelicately, how much you and your new lady friend, plus the motor (and camping gear?), weigh. Laughing Gull has a maximum capacity of 400 lb. It is really a kids' boat or singlehander. I have a hard time imagining it taking 2 adults, a motor and camping gear safely.

It has large holes in the transom that are designed to let the boat self-bail. While that's great, if the boat has enough weight in it to make those holes go under water, it will swamp. You can increase the capacity somewhat by decreasing the size of or raising the holes, but then it won't self-bail as well.

Also, the boat is wide and very shallow, and made even more shallow in the cockpit by the existence of a double hull. The double hull creates a flotation deck that effectively prohibits it from sinking, which is good, but makes it a bit like sailing a really big surfboard.

If you want a more traditional style boat but still want something relatively easy to build and safe, I'd suggest Headland Boat's Green Island 15 (which is actually 15'7"). I'm building their 18, which is essentially a stretch version of the 15. A couple other people on the forum are building the 15.

Headland has a detailed construction manual that is good, although not quite as good as Arch's (they also don't have a video, and are located in Australia which makes follow-up calls and e-mails a bit more difficult). You can see it at www.headlandboats.com. (http://www.headlandboats.com.) It has fore and aft flotation tanks and water ballast tanks in the center of the deck to help prevent/right the boat in the event of a capsize.

However, if your lady friend really can't swim, then she needs to learn before she goes swimming with you. Anyone sailing any small boat needs to be prepared for a capsize. A capsize can be scary, esp. if neither of you are experienced. A life vest or even the "toilet-bowl" life preservers will not guarantee her safety. People panic when they hit the water, esp. if upside down and doing 5-10 knots. They can be covered by the sail, entangled in lines, or even hit by the mast, boom or hull. She doesn't need to be a strong swimmer, but she does need to be comfortable enough to not panic. She also won't be able to hold on to the boat while you right it, and she may need to help you, depending on how athletic you are.

I don't want to scare you unnecessarily but I'm an experienced small boat sailor and racer, and I won't take people out if they don't know how to swim. One solution might be to build a boat such as the Green Island that can be rowed or motored as well as sailed, and just motor or row it when she is in the boat instead of sailing it, and sail it on your own or with other people who can swim. That would be a good way for you to build up your sailing skills while she learns to swim and get comfortable with being in a boat.

Best regards, and good luck to you,


[ 10-01-2004, 05:19 PM: Message edited by: Christopher Locke ]

10-01-2004, 05:26 PM
Without haveing read your question too carefully it occured to me so suggest you consider the WoodenBoat School for a wonderful sailing experience. You can camp if you like but their room and board deal is hard to beat. Your inexperienced friend will get expert insturction and you will not be bored. You will both get to sail the Haven 12-1/2 as much as you like.

Phyllis and I did that in July, she with no sailing ability and I with some. We both profited. Don't know if it is for you folks but there ya are.

Best wishes.

Steve Lansdowne
10-01-2004, 08:00 PM
Ocean waters back east, especially up north, are COLD. Folks don't last long if they capsize and can't get in the boat fairly soon. Hypothermia. It is much different than the warmer waters in Texas. I'd say you'd want to consider a larger, more substantial boat to go sailing as you plan if your goal is to sail back east. Not to scare you unduly, but I've heard stories of folks falling in the drink and drowning before they knew what hit them, perhaps at least in part due to the shock of hitting the very cold water unprepared for it, even with a PFD on.

I second the vote for the WB School. You'll have a blast, and you can even stay together in the Black Flye Inn next to the WB location where meals are served. You can take a basic sailing class or one on basic boatbuilding, try out various great boats on the waterfront, and decide from there what you want to do. Sign up as soon as you can in January, as the most popular courses fill up fast. Registration generally begins first thing in January.

Don't miss a trip to Mystic Seaport in CT. I've been back east several times and generally fly to Providence on Southwest, then do a car rental to see various sights on the way up north. The Maine Maritime Museum in Bath is also worth a stop.

[ 10-01-2004, 09:03 PM: Message edited by: Steve Lansdowne ]

Scott Dunsworth
10-01-2004, 08:17 PM
Check out BandByachtdesigns.com Their Coresounds might be just what your looking for.

10-01-2004, 09:49 PM
I second the motion that Laughing Gull would not be the most appropriate choice for reasons already mentioned. Very cold water around here, too. A beamy, stable, boat with some freeboard and self bailing cockpit might be better for you. Since its New England you have in mind what better than a Cape Cod catboat, one of the easier to build designs for plywood construction such as the 15 footer offered by Wittholz? Something like that sounds like a much more fitting choice.

John A. Campbell
10-01-2004, 10:23 PM
Gentlemen, thanks very much for the input. Want to make it very clear that I don't plan any offshore cruising.....that's not in the cards for me.....fresh water lakes only and just a nice breeze, if you please! I really don't like the catboat design.....don't care for anything that's short and fat! And I've also been to Mystic Seaport and want to return....really love that place. I have Steve Redmond's plans for "Whisp" which are quite similiar to "Laughing Gull" from an appearance standpoint. Redmond says outboard engine is not recommended....I have to believe a 2 hp Honda could be clamped on just about anything that floats. I really think I should concentrate on something that's more appropriate for Texas fresh water lakes since that's where I live and forget the New England application although I will still be making that journey next fall but perhaps without a boat. Whatever I build must be able to complete between November 1, 2004 and May 31, 2005 at the rate of around 30 hours per week........around 800 hours total. I much prefer glued lapstrake plywood construction, I enjoy lofting but in this case, would just as soon have patterns ready to go, a small outboard is a must, 16 feet about right.....20 at the most.......keep it slender as practical, should be very easy to handle. I'm 65 years old, 5 ' 10" and weigh 175 and physically fit.....lady love is 60, 5'5", weighs 135 and also physically fit (and damned good looking, too!)......NOW I KNOW YOU GUYS KNOW WHAT I'M LOOKING FOR SO OUT WITH IT!!!!and thanks so very much to all of you.....a great bunch of people, you are!!...............John Campbell

10-01-2004, 10:40 PM
John, sounds like you want a Gondola with lotsa cusions :D

John A. Campbell
10-02-2004, 08:58 AM
Jim, you're not too far off the mark. I just like a boat that is long and lean. I think the Viking warships were the most stunning of all boats.....and when it comes to powerboats, Hacker's "Rosita" as covered in Woodenboat issue no. 45 of March/April 1982 gets my vote. As a matter of fact, I've got the "Rosita" plans and have toyed around for many years with the idea of building her. I did build a 1/5 scale model of her several years ago. Anyone out there in Forumland know of anyone who has built "Rosita" with the exception of Jim Forrest and Jeanette Denby of the Woodenboat article?

10-02-2004, 11:09 AM
Do you like double enders? That extra pointy end tends to make them look long and lean. Selway-Fisher has a few very nice ones that look about right. For example Kon But Puck is 17'3" long by 5'8" beam. A bit heavier than you're after but you need some weight for safety. Also maybe check out John Welsford.

10-02-2004, 02:18 PM
Get hold of Iain Oughtred's catalog from our hosts over in the WoodenBoat Store. His Gannet & Fulmar should fit your needs. 14' & 16' transom boats to make the motor attachment easy.

Then go to B and B Yachts as suggested before. Take a look at the Bay River Skiffs in 15' and 17' foot versions. Simple to build and quite capable for lake sailing.

Or, you could go crazy and build Iain Oughtred's Caledonia yawl. It can handle a motor with a little thought and the 2 hp Honda is just right. It can be built in less than 800 hours. You can take a whole herd of folks and beer out sailing too.

Good luck!

In the Swamp. :D

Steve Lansdowne
10-02-2004, 05:10 PM
Whisp is a tender sailer and quite narrow, more like a sailing canoe than a sail"boat." Don't think she would be a good choice for you.

Don't know if you've ever been in a small catboat, but if you haven't you might be in for a treat. Very stable and plenty of space for two. See the Jan/Feb 2004 WoodenBoat for details of Tom Cat. This may be a considerable undertaking, though.

Another popular boat that is fairly stable and sturdy is the Penobscot 14 by Arch Davis. Lots of good building advice/documentation, so I hear. He also has a building video.

[ 10-02-2004, 06:15 PM: Message edited by: Steve Lansdowne ]

10-02-2004, 11:37 PM
The Penobscot 14 may suit your needs, after a fashion. Arch Davis shows how you can modify the transom, by way of a tongue and groove cut-out, so you can add a gas motor. The downside is that the cut-out is in the center of the transom, so you can't sail and motor at the same time. I tried to get around the problem by mounting an electric trolling motor(40 lb thrust) off the side of the rudder.
http://www.imagestation.com/picture/sraid138/p75c718baca1c477c22cd92bb0bd8b5e2/f7259625.jpg It works, sort of. The motor is plenty enough to propel the boat, as long as you don't want to go fast, but the combined weight of me, the motor, and the battery all in the aft end leave the bow sitting a little higher than I would like. I supsect you'd have the same problem with the gas motor and fuel tank. The other down side is that when I tilted the trolling motor up to sail, the front of the motor interfered with the traveler, and the lower unit still drug in the water. I'm solving that problem by learning to do without the trolling motor.
If you could be happy with motoring the boat one day and sailing it the next, I think it would work. Check with Arch Davis to be sure, he'll give you honest advice.

Another option to consider is a Swampscott Dory with an motor well. L.W. Baxter recently built one, do a search thingy and you should find some threads/pictures of his craft.

[ 10-03-2004, 12:44 AM: Message edited by: almeyer ]

Christopher Locke
10-04-2004, 01:19 PM

If you want to build a glued plywood lapstrake boat, I second the nomination for Arch Davis's Penobscot 14.

If you want still more plywood suggestions, Glen-L's 15' (www.glen-l.com) looks stable and has a huge cockpit. Glen-L also provides a general instruction manual that isn't specific to that boat but covers their method of construction; they also have full size patterns, which eliminates lofting. They also sell a good book, "Boatbuilding with Plywood," which I have. I almost ordered plans for this boat before I found the Green Island.

Finally, Doug Hylan's 15' Chesapeake crab skiff (www.dhylanboats.com) is a good looking boat. Hylan doesn't provide any instructions but "The Sharpie Book" by Parker has a construction chapter that gives you the basic outline. I think there are a couple of people on the forum who plan to build this.

John A. Campbell
10-04-2004, 09:09 PM
Current issue of THE MAGAZINE has a nice article about the Melonseed skiff......a really beautiful boat......what do you guys and gals think about that boat as a possibility for what I'm trying to do. Only thing I don't like about it is the apparent absence of a small outboard for auxillary power......sure would feel better if that little 2-horse Honda 4-stroke could stay in the picture. Would really like to hear from anyone who has built and/or owns a Melonseed......what's good, what's bad about them? How prone are they to capsize and how easy are they to right? I'm looking at the larger of the two that Marc Barto has drawn. Many thanks to all in advance.....all advice is much appreciated.

Christopher Locke
10-05-2004, 12:10 PM

I agree it is a beautiful boat. I haven't read the whole article yet - been busy ordering epoxy for my Green Island 18! However, it does look like a boat that you sit "on" rather than "in." I could be wrong but it looks too shallow to have seats - you sit either on the rail or on the hull. That's fine if that's what you want. It will make getting around the boat a bit more difficult.

There's a recent posting in the "Designs/Plans" section by a guy who owns a Melonseed - you might want to contact him: http://media5.hypernet.com/ubb/ultimatebb.php?ubb=get_topic;f=2;t=003750


[ 10-05-2004, 01:13 PM: Message edited by: Christopher Locke ]

Steve Lansdowne
10-05-2004, 09:48 PM
Here's a shot of the 16 footer from the Lake Union boat show in Seattle a few years back. Oars for auxiliary power. Fairly stable but intermediate skills needed to build.


David Toner
10-06-2004, 10:02 AM
Hello John. I would be happy to answer questions that you may have about the construction of the 16' Melonseed skiff from Marc Barto's design. I have built one and am part way into a second. In fact the picture of the Melonseed skiff at the Lk. Union boat show which Steve posted here is of the first one I built. Unfortunately I built that boat for another person and have not been able to take it out in much of a breeze so my analysis of its sailing vertues are minimal. It is a very pretty design though and it gets alot of positive response at the shows I have displayed her in. Good luck in your pursuit of just the right design.

John A. Campbell
10-06-2004, 04:43 PM
My God, that Melonseed is one drop dead gorgeous boat if there ever was one!! "Drop dead Gorgeous" is a gentleman's term reserved for only the most beautiful of women! But there appears to be no way to provide any kind of auxilliary power and I understand the planking is glued lap over steamed frames which seems a big unusual. And the Penobscot 14 (or 17) is also another one to LUST after!! Methinks the Penobscot 17 may be the way to go and use a small Honda 4-stroke clamp-on of 5 hp on a more-or-less permanent basis........I like the leaner look of the 17 and the yawl rig (isn't that right?) as shown on Arch Davis' web site really adds sooooo much elegance but what does that do for handling? By the time I would be facing that music, I would have had some experience sailing Piccolo on Lake Belton's sheltered waters. I think I'll order the study plans for the 17 right away quick!........thanks for all the input!.......John Campbell

10-06-2004, 05:20 PM
2 hp is plenty for the Penobscot 17. Ask Arch how to modify/reinforce the transom for the Honda 2 hp motor. The Honda 5 hp is gross overkill for this boat and reportedly a bone shaker to boot.

I'm basing my statement about the 2 hp motor on my experience with a 2 hp motor on my 900 pound Caledonia yawl with Wayne North and Wayne South aboard. All up displacement around 1,300 pounds and speed of 5 knots with the throttle just off idle.

In the Swamp. :D

[ 10-06-2004, 06:22 PM: Message edited by: Venchka ]

Christopher Locke
10-06-2004, 05:27 PM

The Penobscot 17 is my dream boat. I'm building the Green Island to get some experience and have a boat I can put in the water in a reasonable amount of time but would love to tackle the 17 someday. I do note that Arch says this is a good deal bigger project than building the Penobscot 14. Good luck!


10-07-2004, 06:51 AM
When I ordered the study plans for the Penobscot 14 a couple of years ago, it also included plans for the '17. Such a deal! I thought seriously about the 17-foot version, but stuck with the 14 footer. Yes, the Penobscot 17 has a lot more parts than the 14, and should take a while longer to build, but doesn't look any more difficult. If the instructions and plans for the 17 are as well done as they were for the 14, even a relative beginner ought to be able to turn out a fine boat, as long as you have plenty of patience.

10-07-2004, 03:29 PM
I'd really take a close look at Selway Fisher (http://www.selway-fisher.com) dinghies and dayboats. A lot of them seem to be in the category of your interest. In general his boats are easy builds and he's very responsive to questions on their email list.

I've always liked the 16' Islay Skiff. But I also like his "Lillie" in the double-ender section. If nothing else just enjoy perusing, I do. smile.gif

Chris Kottaridis (chrisk@quietwind.net)

[ 10-07-2004, 04:32 PM: Message edited by: chrisk ]