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Thread: The Perfect Boat (For This Time And Place)

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2022
    Keyport, NJ, USA

    Default The Perfect Boat (For This Time And Place)

    I’ve been lurking here for a while, soaking up the collective knowledge, and getting a sense of what’s involved when it comes to acquiring The Perfect Boat.

    A little (admittedly self-indulgent) history, for context.

    I had as much to do with boats as most 70’s kids in New England. Homemade rafts. Canoes. Ridiculously heavy and unmaintained fiberglass v-hull rowboats dragged to the lake. Some indifferent sailing (as crew) in college.

    But I’ve always wanted to learn to sail, and so with iron-willed drive and discipline, I put off learning for more summers than I can count. In my defense, things like work, family, and deployments got in the way at times.

    For the year or so, I’ve been living in New Jersey, about a half-mile from Raritan Bay, and the aforementioned obstacles are no longer relevant. Last summer I looked out on the virtually empty bay and decided to learn to sail.

    I went out and picked up an 11’ Minifish with a homemade dolly, which allowed me to walk the boat down to the shore and take it out for the day. And I had a *lot* of fun, learning to recover from several dozen knockdowns, and getting down the basics. Yes, it was more like swimming with short bouts of sailing mixed in, and yes, it was pretty dumb to take it out in near-gale conditions, and yes, my girlfriend is beginning to suspect that these sailing urges are just another way for me to indulge my inner adrenaline junkie without being shot at, but I *did* learn a lot.

    All the same, I eventually decided I’d like to spend a *little* more time in the boat, which would also allow me to extend my ‘sailing season’ a bit.

    And yes, I understand that a somewhat waterlogged Minifish may not be the *best* choice for an open-water boat. I don’t mind a bit of a workout with my sailing, but I’m in (ahem) in my fifties and crouching in the tiny footwell of the Minifish while ducking the boom was getting a little old. So I looked around to see what everyone else was doing.

    And I found I was pretty much alone.

    This area has a long and rich boating history, but at present, at least to the semi-casual observer, local boating culture has, for the most part, settled on fiberglass powered v-hulls, the bigger the better, launched from a ramp from a trailer.

    It’s understandable. It’s a vicious circle. The waters here can go from placid to choppy (and worse) fairly quickly, so an enormous deep-draft powerboat is, for most people, a basic safety consideration. After all, if you’ve gotten the time off from work for a day or two on the water, and it ends up being rainy or gusty, you’ll need all that seaworthiness to stay out anyways, plus a cabin to keep things dry, etc., etc. And since launching a good-sized boat from a trailer at a busy ramp is such a pain in the @$$ to begin with, who’s going to kibosh the weekend just because of the weather?

    So people work like maniacs to afford the boat that will allow them to get out onto the water and get the most out of the time they have to spare, given how hard they have to work to afford that boat. Thoreau would be doing barrel-rolls.

    But I’ve read up on the local history, and I know that a hundred years ago, this almost empty bay was the home of almost *a thousand* small wooden working sharpies, whose crews fished and worked the oyster banks for a living. Those boats were designed to be built cheap, yet fast enough to get to shore if things got dicey. Almost exactly the reverse of what’s become the norm today.

    My circumstances lend themselves to this older way of getting on the water. I don’t have a lot of ’disposable’ income, but I have free time. So I can walk a light boat down to the water and launch from the beach, and if it gets rough, I can head to shore and call it a day.

    What I have in mind at this point is a small row-and-sail open boat. Something I can launch from my rocky and rotten-piling forested beach, row out in whatever direction I want, catch whatever wind I find, and drop the sheet, strike, and row in if it gets to be too much.

    I’ve considered the historical local designs, following Chapelle’s reasoning that boats like the Sharpie, the Garvey and the famous Sneakbox evolved in these local conditions, and worked well. (David Clark of ‘Estuary’ fame disabused me a little of that notion, informing me in his deadpan straightforward manner that I’d probably get killed trying to sail a sneakbox out on Raritan Bay.)

    I like the faering-derived boats like the Skerry and the various Oughtred designs. I’ve even considered Clint Chase’s Drake 17: the ability to sail a bit without a centerboard appeals to me.

    So there’s where I am. I’m currently doing a bit of house renovation, but I get to the end of the day thinking I’m a day closer to putting a boat together and heading out to the water.

    I’ve done some homework, but I know I have a lot to learn, and that nothing beats experience, and there’s a lot of it in these forums. Any thoughts? Are my instincts realistic? I’d especially love to hear from anyone with experience with these waters, since it seems like most people I meet think the answer to rough water is more boat.
    The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking done by cowards. - General Sir William F. Butler

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 1999
    Hyannis, MA, USA

    Default Re: The Perfect Boat (For This Time And Place)

    There are designs that sail well but row poorly and almost all boats that row brilliantly are dogs to sail. To do both you must make some serious performance compromises on both sides. Then more performance compromises is you want serious seaworthiness. Add in if you want tradition . . . selfrescue, comfort.

    A got it all in Leeward, the 18' Gunning Dory I built from the materials in John Gardner's "Building Classic Small Craft". Also in his "The Dory Book".

    I saved hull weight by cutting plank thickness from 3/8" to 1/4". Promptly tossed that advantage by putting in a deck about 1/2" above the empty waterline, foam in between, so that elfstrom bailers prevent rain from accumulating on the mooring or spray underway, foam to the gunnels in the ends, sailing rig with center board. All totaled, I upped the weight from under 250# to maybe 500#.

    I used big cylindrical fenders to roller it on the beach and a conventional light trailer to tow or walk the rig down the road from house to harbor. While the tongue weight was not a problem, it was much easier to use a little 2 wheel dolly with a trailer hitch.

    So, moving about solved we did some fantastic beach cruising both coming in through the surf to a secluded Oregon coast cove and back here to trips out to Monomoy or over to Nantucket or down by Cuttyhunk.

    I did a practice "capsize", the quotes because the hull has little initial stability but fantastic ultimate stability and it was lots of work to get her swamped. The Elfstrom's were ok but would have taken an hour to totally self-bail so I essentially swam over one rail and used a big bucket.

    Swimming over the rail - on Leeward I could depress the rail to almost water level and do a sort of horizontal version of a muscle-up on the high bar. Easy entry after a cooling swim.

    Helpful tip learned the awkward way - have a tether to the boat or be anchored if the current's not stronger than your comfortable swimming speed.

    Better tip: With the board down and rudder locked as needed, I could row to weather against some horrible winds - like wind I could not make any progress rowing straight against - by 'oar tacking' up with. At about three points off the wind I could move without excess stress, tacking as needed. That made nearly 60 degree tacks or equilateral triangles up wind - twice the straight line distance but beat not getting there at all.


  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2013

    Default Re: The Perfect Boat (For This Time And Place)

    Jim Michalak has a book out called BoatBuilding For Beginners and beyond

    in the book(lotsa good pics) he goes thru the entire process of building a very capable 14footer called the MayFly 14 which is descended from the sharpies of old you spoke of

    the book is $17 and plans for the MayFly 14 are included along with plans for several other craft that take advantage of Jim's simple design features and basic construction methods

    anyone with simple carpentry knowledge n skills will feel quite at home building one

    over the last few years i have enjoyed watching/following along with several of these little boats and been amazed at their capabilities and sea worthiness

    the vast majority of those i have watched have been sail n oar though a couple have sported small(2hp-3.5hp) outboards for extended periods of dead calm w/ great distances(10-20miles±) to go


    they sail well in everything from ghosting conditions(full sail) up to breezes in the mid 30's gusting higher(reefed way down)

    35486481_10156584709151941_851486345992863744_n.jpg 94708409_10216257255004335_5397950399812468736_o.jpg


    store boughten sails w/ up to & including 3 rows of reef points from along with most everything you need to get sailing

    most of them are campaigned solo while a few carry 2 full grown men or couples along with gear and provisions for a week


    the advertised weight is 200#

    they utilize a leeboard so no trunk needs to be built(or leak) and they can enjoy really skinny waters

    the entire rig is designed to be used solo/no fancy rigging

    some of the pics i have included were stolen from other sites of boats sailing in the Laguna Madre/ICW along the Texas Coast in June where/when the breezes can go from dead calm to REAL SPORTY in a short period of time

    all the sailing pics were taken during the Texas 200 ( and on FB)which is a RAID where/when a large group of like minded folks gather on the southern tip of Texas and sail 200± up the ICW to Magnolia Beach, Texas meeting ± at camp sites along the way

    just another option


    "we are the people, our parents warned us about" (jb)


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    northwestern Wisconsin

    Default Re: The Perfect Boat (For This Time And Place)

    Welcome to the WoodenBoat Forum, DW.

    You are in the right place to hear from lots of folks who know their stuff.

    I'd also say you are in the right place mentally/philosophically. I started out sailing keelboats on the Great Lakes, but rather quickly moved to smaller and smaller boats, and find them much more satisfying to sail, and much more interesting and rewarding. A good small boat, either traditional or by one of the many fine modern designers, will handle anything Raritan Bay will throw at you. (Note well that it may take some time and experience for YOU to be able to handle it, but a good small boat will do just fine handled sensibly).

    One of my favorite sources for plans is the Duckworks "Plans by Designer" page. Not sure how familiar you are with small boats of the type you seem to be after, but some of the designers I'd pay attention to are:

    John Welsford (famously sturdy, capacious boats designed for camp cruising)
    Jim Michalak (mentioned above, simple, cheap boats that can do a lot if you like the simple/cheap aesthetic)
    Gavin Atkin (his Light Trow is appealing, and the plans are free)
    Ross Lillistone (his Phoenix III might be the best small boat I've ever sailed, and I've sailed it lots and lots and lots)

    Iain Oughtred is, of course, also a great designer--his double-enders are extremely popular for this kind of thing.

    One last thought: you mention how people like to believe they need a big boat that's "capable" of handling conditions. Well... That reminds me of one trip I made in the Phoenix III--10 days, remote cruising on a big lake with big (40-mile) fetches and cold water. My last day I ran back to the ramp, double-reefed, in very windy winds. The lone dock was filled up with powerboats, so I dropped the rig and rowed to a little beach to unload. I had sailed, probably, 25 miles that day--very windy, but I wasn't even nervous about it--the boat did just fine.

    But as I was unloading, one powerboater (who had decided it was too windy to launch that day) approached to give me some advice (I think he assumed I was loading the boat rather than unloading it, having already sailed 20+ miles that day). He told me it was "much too windy out there for a little boat like mine" and sternly warned me not to launch my boat.

    "I wasn't planning on it," I told him. He probably thought he "saved" me from doing something stupid. In fact, a good small sailing boat will handle waves much better than most powerboats.

    So, I'd say you're on the right track. And it's a cheaper track, too! (At either end of the social spectrum there is a leisure class). Enjoy the process of picking out a design to build, and start a thread here so we can follow your progress. Good luck,

    You don't have to be prepared as long as you're willing to suffer the consequences.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jun 2004
    Marblehead MA

    Default Re: The Perfect Boat (For This Time And Place)

    Keep an eye on the various boats for sale websites, you might find a sharpie that way. I'd make a plan to build, but it cannot hurt to keep a lookout.

    Leaotis has a nice sharpie and posts about sailing with some video. You might enjoy the results of searching for his name on the forum.
    Yachting, the only sport where you get to be a mechanic, electrician, plumber and carpenter

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
    Portland, Oregon

    Default Re: The Perfect Boat (For This Time And Place)

    David G
    Harbor Woodworks

    "It was a Sunday morning and Goddard gave thanks that there were still places where one could worship in temples not made by human hands." -- L. F. Herreshoff (The Compleat Cruiser)

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
    Sound Beach, NY

    Default Re: The Perfect Boat (For This Time And Place)

    Welcome aboard!
    Plenty of good advice above. Building and launching your own boat is a rare thrill. Keep reading and dreaming until you find a good one for you. Shop craigslist, Ebay, Facebook marketplace. Sometimes good boats come up for good prices. You can learn to sail small boats in choppy waters, I've done it in a canoe, a Melonseed, a dory etc. You might consider a canoe for simplicity and portability. With outrigger floats or an agile sailor they can handle a reasonably large rig. For light weight and a quicker build, look at SOF (skin on frame) designs. In books, I suggest Payson's Build the New Instant Boats.
    Be careful, have fun, keep us posted.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Apr 2022
    Keyport, NJ, USA

    Default Re: The Perfect Boat (For This Time And Place)

    I appreciate the (unexpectedly) rapid responses! As I mentioned in my post, I’m currently up to my eyeteeth in a floor-leveling project, so I haven’t had a lot of time to respond anywhere near as quickly. Also, I like to mull things over a bit before responding, and the responses I received provided plenty of meat for mulling.

    Ian McColgin:

    Your description of your beach launching process was a real eye-opener. My rough plan going into this ‘learn to sail’ thing was to start with a very small, light, simple and abusable boat that I could easily walk down to the beach, reasoning that if the bug wore off quick on actual contact with water I wouldn’t be out much dinero, so I’d ruled out anything that would require a trailer hitch and trailer. The latter I’d also ruled out on the grounds that I would usually be launching from the beach down the street.

    That step completed, my next step was to move up a bit in size to something a bit less twitchy than an 11’ Minifish, and then if I was still enjoying it after a year or two, finish with a serious boat for cruising and gunkholing and such.

    I realize now that I’ve been unreasonably averse to anything but the lightest boats, thinking that a boat that I couldn’t toss onto my rooftop would require a commitment to ramp-launching. Your post clued me into the existence of Aeré rollers, and I realize now that I can skip the second step entirely, which opens up a lot of options.


    Your lovely pictures of Jim Michalek’s Mayfly led to me getting his book and looking at his designs online. I agree that his Mayfly does look a *lot* like the working sharpies that I’ve read about, with some changes that make it a more comfortable boat.

    I suffer from delusions of grandeur, though, and if I went with something like Mayfly I’d want it to as close the to original as possible, so I could tell the hoards that approach me on the beach that their forebears worked these things by the hundreds less than a hundred years ago, and so, by my example, spark a groundswell of interest in relatively cheap light fishing boats, and single-handedly launch a renaissance of working sail, and turn Raritan Bay into the American Morbihan.

    Wisconsin Tom:

    Fortunately for me, following your link to Duckwork’s ‘Plans By Designer’ page, I see that Mr. Michalek has been working on the plans for HC Skiff which would suit my mission admirably, so I’ll likely be writing him to see how he’s coming along.

    Your ‘one last thought’ also provided a much needed reality check. I observed a long time ago that many gun owners fall into the error of confusing the price of the tool with the performance of the user, whereas anyone with experience of combat knows that having solid functional tools is a part of the equation, along with things that never seem to cross the day-dreaming minds of many shooters. Things like physical fitness, spatial awareness of the terrain, automatic responses born of lots of training, the ability to overcome physical discomfort, etc.

    And here I’ve been doing the same thing with boats. So much thanks for the insight that I should spend more time actually sailing.

    Tom Hunter (‘The Other Tom’)

    Which brings me back to the present. Having gone through Jim Michalek’s book, I appreciate that while I likely can build the perfect boat for this time and place (and user) it likely won’t happen fast enough to get me onto the Bay when and if I ever climb out of this flanging gods-forsaken New Jersey crawlspace. So I’ll take your advice and go interwebbing for something I can get in the water right away. I still have some money constraints, of course, but the weight/’seaworthiness’ issues are a much smaller burden on my mind.

    Much thanks to all!

    The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking done by cowards. - General Sir William F. Butler

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2017
    Loon Lake, Washington

    Default Re: The Perfect Boat (For This Time And Place)

    Something you can get on the water right away with??

    Nothing is easier to build than the "200 dollar" verion of the Bolger Featherwind that Dave Carnell came up with.

    I made mine outside over two weekends. I used two pounds of galvanized roofing nails for fasteners and Bondo polyester resin to fiberglass the bottom. My total outlay for materials was 211 bucks.

    Now, I don't recommend you go quite as cheap as I did - I used 12 dollar a sheet underlayment plywood which soon delaminated so the boat only lasted two seasons. Use good exterior grade 1/4" AC plywood and it will last as long as you want it to. It takes four sheets of ply and a few clear 2x4s to build, a quart of Titebond III glue and a little fiberglass for the bottom. I think poly resin is fine for a boat like this, no need for epoxy at all. So it's probably cheaper than anything you can buy.

    In addition, this boat was specifically intended to car-top. It's as light ( a bit over 100 pounds) a boat as can be with this capacity. I always car-topped mine, using a dolly connected to the transom.

    Rip the plywood sheets down the middle and butt-block the pieces together. Then stack the two sides, lay out the shape to be cut on the top sheet, and cut 'em both out at once with a circular saw. -


    Rip the outwales and chines, make the frames, stem and transom and we're ready to assemble a boat -


    bend the sides around the frames and suddenly it looks like a boat!


    I used a 100 sq.ft. lug sail which was to big for the boat (but boy could it move in light wind!)
    It is intended to use the lanteen sail from a Sunfish, which is probably the cheapest sail you can buy.


    The boat is just a simple, big skiff, but it was drawn by someone who knew what he was doing and it works surprisingly well.

    Don't take just my work for it -

    My Featherwind is a very high performance boat, rows like a dream, and can carry at least 4 people, 2 dogs and large cooler...along with other junk! The bare boat weighs in at 105 pounds. The oars were made from 1-1/4 inch Fir closet rod with 1/4-inch plywood blades. They work great!

    I would highly recommend this boat for the first-time builder since no special tools are needed other than basic shop tools. She can be rowed, motored (electric recommended), or sailed. You can go fishing too, or just putt around if the wind is calm. The average person should be able to build this boat in less than 50 hours. And while everyone else is talking about can be having a lot of summer fun with your family.

    The Fantastic Featherwind (

    My Featherwind thread is here - Featherwind (

    Plans are 30 bucks from;

    Thomas Vetromile

    499 Camp Bay Rd.

    Sagle, ID. 83860

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jul 2018
    Boston, MA

    Default Re: The Perfect Boat (For This Time And Place)

    Not a concrete suggestion, but just a general one: you'll probably learn a _lot_ building the boat, and may also realize, after having become a better boat builder, that it isn't quite the boat that you want/need. So choosing something simple to build first may be a smart move, as it may not be the last boat you build

    Building a Campion Apple 16.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Apr 2022
    Keyport, NJ, USA

    Default Re: The Perfect Boat (For This Time And Place)

    I have to say, you make a pretty compelling argument…when I said I’d be keeping an eye out for something to “get in the water right away” I meant “as opposed to learning how to build and then build” something. I’m STILL dredging through replacing two beams and sistering most of the joists in a hellish New Jersey crawlspace, and since I’m not a builder/framing carpenter by trade, I’m a little averse to having to learn new skills just now. At some point, I may well take pleasure in the alchemy of epoxy or the natural joys of fiberglassing, but I don’t think it’ll happen before the summer is over.

    Although I’ll admit, your post, along with your account of building yours does get me wavering. I think it’ll depend on how quick I bounce back from this dog of a project.

    But thanks!

    - D.W.
    The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking done by cowards. - General Sir William F. Butler

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