This post continues the theme of me exploring my own interests and enthusiasms in the world of small craft.   Recently i introduced Sharpies which, aside from the racing dinghy  here, are hardly known at all in the UK.  In this post i want to begin to expand the theme of small craft used for bigger adventures than would at seem first seem feasible or seamanlike.     There are several, almost separate threads to explore here from the early canoe-yawls which were more canoe than yacht, to the small ocean-going cruising boats and racing boats that seem to ‘break the mould’ somehow.   At some time i would like to do a complete post on just one of these categories notably the canoe-yawl because they are possibly just about my all time most desired small boat.

Because there are so many separate potential  threads and themes here i quickly want to lay these out in some order and then at a later date cover each category in more detail.

So : the categories.

1.Sailing dinghy’s as cruising boats.  In this country the logical place to start as there is a small but active dinghy cruising association.  Most of those boats are modified sailing dinghys, modified to a greater or lesser degree.  In this category i have previously mentioned the late Charles Stock and his boat Shoal Waters which is truly a miniature cruising boat built from a cold-molded dinghy hull originally designed by the late Uffa Fox. Shoal Waters is still in good hands and still at the centre of an entire blog about sailing on the Uk east coast.   : http://creeksailor.blogspot.co.uk/   If you don’t already have a copy i would thoroughly recommend getting a copy of the late Charles Stock’s book ‘Sailing just for fun’.   In my own sailing of course my long term boat is likely to be the modified Devon Yawl that is awaiting attention in my drive.


2.Small ocean going yachts.       My first mention must go to a current practitioner of the art of taking a small yacht into high latitudes ie Roger Taylor and ‘MingMing 2’ which is a converted 24 ft Achilles production boat but heavily modified to Junk rig and extreme simplicity.   Last time i saw a clip from Roger’s website he was somewhere way up north exploring an island glacier.  The remarkable thing about Roger Taylor is the amount of time he spends at sea solo at high latitudes , he talks about voyages of around 7 weeks in very austere places.

Mingming II

3.  Small long term liveaboard sailing boats.     There are a few to choose from in this category but the one that had the most influence on my own long term (planned0 cruising boat was the 24 foot Lyle Hess designed Serrafyn, beautifully built by Larry and lin Pardey and cruised for many years as well as being their near permanent home during that time.



Serrafyn was clearly built to be a maximally simple ocean going boat and long term home.   The Pardeys wrote extensively about their voyages in Seffafyn and their experience based ideas about long term and self-sufficient voyaging.



4.Very small experimental ocean going boats, which is where it all gets a bit odd .  My first example is a small but still conventional looking boat built and sailed by Emanuel and Maximilien Berque from the Landes region of south-west France.   This is the second of their boats : ‘Micromegas 2’ a 14 foot, home designed and home built lug yawl which they sailed across the atlantic.   http://www.creartisto.com/sansboussole/equipage_en.html

Their story is very unusual and is something that i picked up from being a regular visitor to the same area in France.   They seemed to have lived a naturist and surf life on the beaches around Contis and then spontaneously decided to become ocean going adventurers.  After the small dinghy-like lugger i know they went on to build and sail a small proa and crossed the atlantic without charts or compass.


My second example in this category is Sven Yrvind and ‘Bris’



Sven Yrvind is definiteley and by his own admission a complete eccentric and oddball : his video ‘challenge everything’ i think shows him as he is. ‘Bris’ as photographed at top isn’t the first ocean going boat that he has built.   His first boat i think he built in the cellar of his mothers house  and i believe that he is currently working on a new boat ‘Exlex’ with a plan of sailing it from Ireland to New Zealand.  Yrvinds boats seem to me to be about the smallest viable ocean going boats : after that the ocean/micro-cruiser concept seems to descend into ever smaller and ridiculous attempts to sail somewhere in the smallest (shortest) possible craft.  I’m not going down that route at all in this thread and to some extent even see Yrvind and Bris as a dead-end of boat development.


5.Small offshore/ocean racing boats.   In a recent post (Exe boats) i highlighted the little ‘E’ boat offshore one design that was one of the first generation of mini-transat race boats.  Many modern small offshore race boats derive from the ‘Barchetta’ design of 1950 drawn by Laurent Giles and sailed across the atlantic by Colin Mudie and Patrick Ellam and later raced very successfully against much larger boats.   There was a more recent replica built about 10 years back which i briefly considered putting an offer on .    The original Sopranino has i believe been restored and is now on display in the US.   It is often held that Sopranino encouraged the inception of the Junior Offshore Group (JOG) of coastal and offshore racing although most JOG boats are now much larger boats.


6.Sailing canoes.      The direct link with Sopranino is that Patrick Ellam who had the boat designed had already done several cross-channel voyages in a decked sailing canoe.  Its possible that the decked and half-decked sailing canoe was the first small multi-purpose cruising boat.  In at least one history of canoeing that i have at home one thread of canoe development was as a small sailing craft that was then taken up and developed into the later canoe yawl.   I am considering canoe yawls as a separate category but their early history in the Humber Yawl club suggests that these little boats did some very adventurous trips before they gradually morphed into larger ‘true’ small sailing yachts.



7.Canoe Yawls.   There does seem to be a direct developmental link between the larger sailing canoe and the later canoe yawl .  Some time ago my partner asked me what boat i would have if budget wasn’t an issue.  My fantasy boat isn’t a superyacht or supermaxi but something like this : a canoe yawl.   There was one time when i was still living in the Hamble and searching the yards for a small boat when the broker pointed me at a little double-ended yawl in the yard.  I remember climbing aboard and sitting with my feet up in the near perfect small cabin.  The boat as i remember it was clinker built and very basic : even a bit raw inside a bit like the famous ‘Sjogin’ but with a little galley and a tiny woodburner she was as comfortable as i needed.  Today i could fantasise about kocking on Nigel Irens door with a whole heap of cash and getting him to draw the perfect canoe yawl.

image (1)


These are all potential future post subjects that i want to cover when i can take time out from building bathrooms, garden walls etc etc etc.


    1. Lots of small and very good value cruising boats out there. I used to do a regular feature for another website where i would feature good value budget boats. I might start doing that as i cover some of these posts later on. There has been a strong tendency in the sailing industry to larger and larger boats, where it was normal when i started sailing to have a sub 20 footer….now ‘first’ boats are often over 35 feet.


      1. Only reason I’m looking at 20+ footers is carrying capacity over certain conditions. But that’s still some time in the future. Would be nice to see those sorts of posts, a “road test” sort of thing too if you will.


      2. Yes indeed size matters when you need to carry stores and people. Small boats can be far more capable in this regard than is often realised…..take for example the sea-kayak, few years back me and partner did a week trip in an 18 foot sea kayak carrying everything we needed for the trip with lots of spare volume. My own boat at 23 feet is almost a perfect size for a single sailor or couple. Enough space for both people to sit, sleep, cook etc and enough stores capacity for at least 2 weeks.


  1. Just wanted to let you know Sopranino is on display at the Classic Boat Museum on the Isle of Wight. She’s been mostly rebuilt with very little of the original boat left. I used to visit her when she was at the Museum of Yachting in Newport, Rhode Island in the 1990’s.


    1. That’s good to know, thanks. For some reason i thought Sopranino was in the national maritime museum in Falmouth which is just down the road compared with the IOW. Iv’e often thought that i should run a few posts on boats in our museums and iv’e been a bit remiss not to visit the Falmouth museum even when i was walking around outside searching for a boat in the marina there.


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