The Joy of it All
Small Craft Advisor|July - August 2021
Choosing a Boat Design
Ian Kirk

Sometimes a design is chosen because of familiarity, or in the case of sail, as a boat to participate in class racing. Some folk choose a design seen in a magazine such as Small CraftAdvisor because they admire its looks. Others may choose a design because they’ve been on the water in one owned by a friend. Then of course there is the Internet with its huge array of designs and general information. Sometimes large numbers of a particular design convince us they must be good, or because they have an active class association or builder/designer with excellent marketing skills.

Is the above criteria sufficient or should we carry out further research before committing to the building?

I had never built a boat but had owned and sailed Australian VJ’s, 16-foot skiffs, trailer sailers and keelers. I always felt that maybe I didn’t have the woodworking skills to build a boat from scratch. But then I’d always managed to greatly improve all the boats I’d owned, so there was some acquired skill in place. My wife Robbie and I had cruised the Queensland, Australia coast in a 25-foot Tophat keelboat. We then repeated the trip in a different manner in an 18-foot Investigator trailer sailer, covering a section of the coast, then backtracking on land to collect the car and trailer. The simplicity of little Sherlock resulted in Rob’s book, Keep It Simple, Sailor: Easy recipes for small boats without a fridge.

One of the benefits of the book to me was the realization that one could cruise in even smaller boats than trailer sailers. We live on an island in Moreton Bay, Queensland, so we continued to cruise locally for a few more years. But the ongoing desire to build a boat and to downsize even further led to the sale of our last trailerable, Bliss, a Clifton 23.

For many years I had been interested in the concept of dinghy cruising with the ability to explore new places in an affordable and simple way. This would also allow us to visit rainforests and surf beaches in our planned sailing trips to lakes and bays not explored before. Now, we’re not that young so we replaced the trailer sailer with a small motor home and began to research boat designs. I have no intention of convincing you to build the same boat as me, as my needs are quite specific. What I wish to do is relate my criteria to show how important it is to think outside of the box when choosing a design.

Maybe hopeful builders can follow this philosophy and create their own criteria to get the design choice right. The old saying ‘measure twice, cut once’ should also be backed up by ‘choose carefully, build once’ in my view.

The first thing I did was to join the Wooden Boat Association of Queensland as I felt they would be a great source of information. How right I was! They also provide fantastic camaraderie, help and social interaction. I had previously met Ross Lillistone of Bayside Wooden Boats and had a sail aboard his Phoenix design, which I greatly admired. The required lapstrake building skill looked way beyond what I felt I possessed, so Ross suggested I explore designs by Jim Michalak, who he said had accurate plans that might suit my perceived skill level. I promptly purchased Jim’s book, Boatbuilding for Beginners (and Beyond), and began to list the requirements I believed were essential in the boat to be built. (Incidentally, in the past when purchasing a used sailboat we always had two lists. One was “must-haves” and the other “also desirable” features. When looking at the prospective boat, we tried not to give too much weight to emotions of the heart, focusing more on logical and practical matters. In this way, we managed to avoid what might have been some bad decisions.

This listing of my requirements led to the following criteria, which I stress are specific to my needs only.

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