a Cruising Dinghy for the
Maine Island trail
"Walkabout" as in "He's gone Walkabout"
Australian term meaning "a journey undertaken without
notice or warning, of no fixed duration, with no particular
destination in mind and usually undertaken for reasons of
spiritual well being"
I flew over almost the full length of the Maine Islands
a few years ago, on my way from WoodenBoat's wonderful office
on the shores of Eggemoggin Reach, to Europe to do some seriously
humdrum non beating work. I'd had a couple of days of the
worst hay fever I'd ever had but that didn't stop me from
almost climbing out on the wing of the little twin jet to
get a better view of the wonderful sea and landscape unfolding
I'd read Pete Spectre's story some years before, about the
Maine Island Trail and the prospect of a series of miniature
harbours and camping grounds that would run for several hundred
miles. It would never be too far from one island to another
for a small boat, always have a sheltered cove or a beach
and tentsite within reach, and having a mix of the completely
unspoiled, the inhabited once upon a time and the occasional
I think that some parts of my native New Zealand are pretty
good places for cruising an open boat, but this, at least
in summertime, was unreal!
Some years and a lot of miles in my own boats later, Stephen
Paskey who lives an hour or so from the Chesapeake ( My
plane landed at Boston so I didn't get to fly that far south,
pity) wanted a camping capable cruiser. It had to row well,
sail well and have room for one to sleep aboard.
Unspoken but also a criteria is Stephen's family. It would
be a dirty trick to have a boat so specialised that he could
not take three or four crew out for a picnic on that "perfect
beach just around the point" so she had to double as
an effective family daysailer.
(click to enlarge)
That coastline is Dory Country, every little port had their
own variations on the theme, and I wanted to produce something
that would at least look as though it belonged, so a lapstrake
dory style hull was the starting point for the pencil and
graph paper sketches that are the beginning of all my designs.
In correspondence with Stephen I asked about his build, and
just as well I did. This guy would stand out anywhere except
in an NBA dressing room so the boat got wider to accommodate
not only those long legs but the wide shoulders as well.
To explain, sleeping in a small boat is too often a fraught
affair, requiring the sleeper to balance on rickety contraptions
of floorboards balanced across seats, his centre of gravity
too high, no headroom under the saggy tent, and no possibility
of turning over in his sleep without tipping the boat, sliding
sideways and getting wedged under the gunwale as the water
pours in over the side. This is supposed to be fun?
(click to enlarge)
With some experience in that line under my belt, I drew the
sleepers position on the plan, added a couple of inches extra
for the sort of shoulders that go with that height, and swore
a big swear that I would not trespass on that sleeping position
no matter what. I even put the centreboard offset into the
face of one of the side seats so the boat is clear right down
Other considerations were the rowing position and the sailing
qualities. To move a biggish boat for hours on end , no matter
how slippery she is the rowers position has to be near perfect,
so that too was an inviolable premise and this sometimes does
not work well with the boats requirements as a sailing craft
but we've managed here to get a really effective marriage
of the two.
I also needed to consider how a tent might be best organised,
the boats sailing qualities maximised considering that some
of the passages that might be attempted would be long enough
for there to be a good chance of being caught out, and seaworthiness
had to be toward the top end of what is normal for an open
So a preliminary drawing was done, Stephen said don't change
a thing so I was off and running.
I made more than a passing nod to John Gardner even though
being for amateur construction and dry sailed she is plywood
over stringers and epoxy rather than cedar planks and copper
rivets. I stood the stem and stern up straighter to gain waterline
length, rolled the sides out like a Swampscott for heeled
stability, decked her ends over to keep her dry both under
way and at anchor and made the ends long and fine so she would
row well even when loaded up for a month away.
Masts in the middle of the boat are an annoyance. They get
in the road, especially in the light of the other functions
that the boat has to fulfil, so I put one at each end of the
cockpit. The balanced lug on the main mast is one of the easiest
and most efficient of small boats while the mizzen, a "sharpie
spritsail" is also very simple. This cat yawl rig is
one of the best small cruising rigs about, its directionally
stable, close winded and self tacking, has no stays and very
few strings to pull. That mizzen is big enough to hold her
head to wind while the coffee brews, the chart is consulted
or a reef is tied into the main. Both masts can be struck
while at sea, both rigs can be stowed within the boat without
interfering with her rowing position, and she can be rigged
and unrigged injust minutes.
She has lots of buoyancy built in under those decks, and
in under the side seats that run the full length of the cockpit.
Its all accessible for storage of food and equipment. I put
a tunnel in under the afterdeck and pivoted the tiller on
the mizzen mast step in much the way that the Royal Navy's
Montague Whalers did, then ran tiller lines back through the
tunnel to a removable yoke on the rudder head. The tiller
folds up against the mizzen when not required, and will not
need to be dismounted when unrigging the boat for trailering
or storing her.
To row, there is a seat which simply drops in between the
side seat tops, and an adjustable foot stretcher. There is
room to set her up for two pairs of oars if you want. For
sleeping simply lift them out and roll your airbed and sleeping
bag out in a space almost 10 ft long by 2 foot, 6 inches wide.
Room for the tall one and his gear without being at all cramped!
A tent, vexed subject! I've noted with interest that dingy
tents have not kept pace with their land based counterparts,
most look like a cross between a Hong Kong apartment on washing
day and a dismasted square rigger in a gale! So this one,
designed as a part of the boat rather than an afterthought
uses a pair of those carbon/fibreglass springy poles in rowlock
sockets, a specially tailored cover with enough headroom to
sit and row, and roll up side curtains that double as ventilation
and rowing ports. A clear section is built in forward and
another roll up curtain aft, and I can imagine rowing quietly
into a cove while the misty rain drifts down, sheltered and
comfortable under the flexible roof, and within a few minutes
having the stove roaring away and the bedding organised.
I imagine a night at anchor with the spruce looking ghostly
against the almost black water, the clatter of a pair of ducks
getting up and perhaps the curious sharp cough of a deer the
only sounds. Memories of a booming reach with both sails pulling
like a train and the boat riding like a duck over the long
ocean rollers, of rowing silently a few yards off the shore
in glassy calms and of the crunch of tiny waves on a shingle
beach, memories of sunsets, of deserted island and unspoiled
coves, of morning birdsong and the splash of a fish all combine
to make that other world seem very far away.
Going Walkabout? You bet.
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