Thin water.

Title photograph : Wells harbour and creeks, Norfolk UK.

So we were aground again….in the Solent i seem to remember.

A good sailing friend once said to me ” there’s plenty of water there…’s just spread a bit thin like”

Anyway : this is the start of my new boat series which is going to be all about shallow draft boats and sailing/exploring areas where the water is there alright but just spread a bit thin.  This series of posts explores the opposite side of my thinking about boats compared with the offshore/ocean going deep fin keeled boats of the last few posts.

There is an actual purpose to this series of posts and that is that the end product of the thinking, researching and boat viewing i will be doing is to find our next boat….and it really does have to be both ‘thin water’ capable and ideally able to dry out on a beach. I know that i have talked about this kind of thing before but these new posts stem from a lot of thinking and re-evaluating my aims for the next few years while i had nothing else to do at night in the hospital.  Ideally, from this viewpoint, the boat should ideally settle on the bottom upright, or be safe on beaching legs and have a maximum draft of around 3-4 feet.   Keeping it to that would give me about the same thin water sailing ability as the Liberty as WABI”’ needs about that much to sail without dragging its board across the mud.


The genesis of these posts does ultimately go back a lot further though : in fact i remember the moment very clearly.  It was summer sailing season, in fact local regatta week in the Menai straits and we were doing the short passage race from the north end of the straits down to Carnarvon where the next races would be held.  Anyone that knows the area will know that the passage includes the difficult section between the 2 Anglesey bridges  called the ‘Swellies’.  It’s a difficult stretch of water to sail through even today as it’s a narrow channel between rocks, extremely tidal and often what wind there is gets blanketed by the high ground of the Bangor shore. On a big spring ebb the flow can be as much as 8-9 knots and the water level can be seen to ‘heap’ just before the bridges sometimes.       In recent years i have canoe’d and sea-kayaked through there and one feature that i didn’t know about when i lived there is that a small whitewater ‘rapid’ forms in there on some very large tides.   Anyway : its one of those places that still gives me the willy’s to sail through.

One time in there I was crewing on a half-tonner if i remember this correctly and we were a ‘throw-together’ crew with a local ‘expert’ driving….so we weren’t exactly doing very well.     A couple of things i remember are that we sailed the main channel withthe remnant flood tide against us, and lost the wind, and then  a mate of mine in his quarter tonner scooted past us by shooting through one of the narrow bridge arch channels in a back eddy.              The other boat that also did that and was going well was this weird looking little boat with 2 sticks….i had no idea what it was but i since found out that it was the Poacher 6.5m cat ketch, the same boat as this one, the first of it’s type, we saw in Jersey.   At about the same time i first saw a Hunter Liberty on it’s trailer at our boat yard and liked it even then.    There is somewhere on the internet a picture of a Poacher settled on the mud and shingle just there on the Anglesey shore.

Poacher 6.5m KatSou, met in St Aubyn and had a chat with her owner.


I didn’t really grasp the significance of shallow water capable boats at the time and i should have done because we were often beaten by them in the local races.  The menai straits and the whole of Anglesey are so tidal that it’s the guy who can use the tide, or cheat a foul tide, who will win the day.  On the day of that race we were sailing against the last of the flood coming north up the straits , my mate in the quarter-tonner was born and bred in those waters anyway, knew exactly where he could sail, where the back eddy’s would form……and had balls of steel anyway !    What i didn’t realise at all was the utility and pleasure of being able to beach a boat, get out and go for a walk ashore just as we did in St Aubyn. In fact at that time i had never been simply cruising anyway other than delivering a race boat over to an Irish port, somewhere on the south coast or bring one back.     I suppose that i didn’t even consider shallow water as anything bit a hazard to our deep fin keeled boats and that view only got more extreme when i started crewing on big boats.    Later on shallow water was anything less than 15 feet !   Having a small, shallow draft and beachable boat was a total revelation when i bought the Liberty and opened up so many places that we would never have tried to get into before.         Rather than doing this place by place and blow by blow here is just a short slide show to illustrate the capability of our own shallow draft and beachable boat.


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In this series of posts i am going to try and review as many shallow draft and beach-able boats as possible starting with these 2 boats that i know something about  but almost as though i was seeing them for the first time…..and then working my way up the lines of potential boats.  The first boat in the series is one that i believe was initially designed as a mini-tonner even at a time when the ‘ton’ designs were falling out of favour.

Poacher 6.5 cat ketch.

The little boat in the menai straits race was a boat i’d never heard of, let alone seen and when i did see it of course i didn’t understand it because the only boats i knew anything about were the twitchy IOR yachts i was sailing or the bloody awful fat bilge keeled Westerly’s that our yard seemed to be full of.  As i understand it the original design was intended to be a mini-tonner under the IOR and i have no idea whether one was ever finished as a true IOR sloop and raced as such.  The actual boat that appeared was this small 2 masted ketch with a lifting keel and rudder and very spartan accommodation.

This one was for sale in Emsworth when we were first there with the Liberty. I took the exterior photographs but had to borrow the interior picture.



Same boat although not my photograph.  Lifting keel and case.  The owner of Kat-Sou said his keel banged about a bit in a seaway.


There is very little actual available information about these boats and to the best of my knowledge very few were built.  The boat-data site has the boat as being built in the USA and that around 30 were built : i’m pretty sure that the original boats were made in the UK and i know of only about 5 or 6 actual boats.

I believe that the boat i saw in Jersey (KatSou) is the original boat of the class and was being refitted by it’s owner.  Like most IOR mini-tonners it’s not much more than a big dinghy with a lid and tiny inside….really just about big enough to lie down and make a cup of tea !    The boatdata site actually shows the boat as having 4 bunk spaces, sadly i can’t find the interior photographs that i took but the centre of the boat is taken up by the keel box , there was a ‘just about’ bunk space ahead of that and supposedly 2 aft …i can’t even remember any functional galley space aboard KatSou although there does seem to be a galley box aboard the Emsworth boat.   For each of these boats i am going to try and find the ‘numbers’ so that we can see true comparisons so :

LOA 21.8ft   LWL 18.00 Bmax 7.5ft Displacement 1800 lbs Ballast 550lbs and SA/DISP 24.7

Obviously ultimate hull speed is going to be limited by that short waterline, i calculate a theoretical hull speed of 5.7 knots so slightly less than my Liberty.  The one i was racing against was doing better than we were in a big and heavy half-tonner but it was light downwind and he was out of the main tide.  The sail area/displacement ratio does suggest a potentially quick boat : the owner of KatSou did say that his boat sailed well, i suspect that with the relatively heavy drop keel compared to the Liberty it might be a better upwind boat.


Although i have mentioned this boat before in the blog i wanted to cover it again because this is a boat that i tried to chase down and buy at least twice in recent years : once after my professional sailing career and again after we had bought the cottage and i was looking for a basic micro-cruiser.  I did eventually track one down locally but only after i had bought the Liberty.

Anyway : now for a completely different take on sailing.

When i left big boat sailing i left it completely for a couple of years and instead concentrated on other things in the outdoors that i could actually afford to do…it was a bit of a ‘bones of arse’ situation for a while financially so i couldn’t afford a boat, especially while i was  living in the Hamble . I wanted to sail or at least get out on the water but i didn’t want to race or crew for a bunch of shouty blokes on a Saturday afternoon.     Instead of sailing i got straight back into long distance hiking and started practicing bushcraft really seriously.   Within a few years i was teaching the subject and by then had taken up sea-kayaking and open canoe : in fact i had become a canoe coach, bushcraft instructor and first aid instructor.  This kind of thing had a strong appeal for a while.

Sail assisted Kayak.


I wont go into the bushcraft side in detail here except to say that it isn’t exactly what a lot of people think it is.  My take on it is of a ‘mindset’  and then skillset that underlies all other outdoor practice.  Next on from the generic skillset is then the environment and then the specific skills, knowledge and ‘tool-set’ that goes with that environment.  In the Uk most people immediately assume that bushcraft is only a set of woodland/forest skills and it isn’t….in the Uk it should include all the different environments we have and that includes mountain and moor, river and lake…..and of course  the seashore/estuary….even the sea itself.   Expanded out that way it requires a much broader skillset and a much gains a more varied set of environments.           My particular strand of bushcraft skills, and there are several, is the journey through and into each of those environments and not just in the Uk but for example the high mountains of California and the deep bush country of New Zealand.     You might now wonder what any of this has to do with a micro-cruiser but it is that i considered the Poacher cat ketch as my potential bushcraft tool for the journey into the river/estuarine and seashore environment rather than strictly a ‘cruising’ boat.  To work in the way i wanted it the boat had to dry out on a beach and be small enough to push along with a sweep-oar but just big enough to sleep inside.

My core concept was that i needed a load carrier for the mixed maritime environment that would be good enough to go on coastal voyages but then crucially get right up to the shoreline and up the tidal rivers.  What it had to do was sail because i already had the skillset and  ideally move under manual motive power (set of oars) and if possible have just enough space to sleep and shelter inside although the main plan would be to carry my usual camp/bivouac kit and where possible beach the boat and camp ashore.  That concept does rather shout out ‘dinghy cruising’ except that i wanted something slightly bigger and with a lid such that i could get inside the boat without having to set up a tent on the boat first.  Remember also that i have never been a dinghy sailor and was still stuck slightly in the mindset of boats that i knew and that IOR mini-tonners were the smallest boats that i was familiar with.   I thought at the time that the Poacher would make a viable BOA boat (bones of arse) and i think you can see where the Devon Yawl might have gone as well.  The project was well advanced except that i never did manage to track the boat down until after i had already given up and bought the larger liberty !   The Liberty is much further towards a ‘normal’ cruising boat because it is genuinely comfortable inside and i have never felt the need to camp off the boat.  I really still like the ‘bushcraft boat’ idea though especially as it would have been a light and easily towed boat and we could carry a normal car-camping kit in the tow vehicle.  In the USA i think this concept of sailing has a lot more traction and many more different small boats, regarded as beach-cruisers or beach-camping boats doing this kind of thing.


I think you will all understand that the ‘estuary’ boat project absorbed a lot of my time back when i couldn’t do much about it practically until my finances stabilised a bit.  I like to think that it was a well thought out project that didn’t happen because the right boat never became available.  I did consider other boats and for example another mini-tonner with a lifting keel might also have done the job : the E boat….optimistically deemed an ‘offshore’ one design.     You might throw up some comments and objections quite easily…i did myself, for example why not just buy an old Wayfarer ? and become a dinghy-cruiser.  Whilst i admire the dinghy cruising scene today i actually think that many of them get it wrong in focussing on setting the boat up as ‘camp’ when it’s far easier and a lot more comfortable to make a comfortable bivouac ashore…..even around here i have scouted out dozens of micro-bivvi sites that can only be accessed easily from the water , have enough space for a basha and firewood nearby.

While i am here can i also give a bit shout out to another local sailor, blogger and video producer.   When we were sailing home up the Tamar we were a few hundred yards behind what looked like a lugsail dinghy and the next day the same boat was at the yard. I kicked myself for not having a camera with me because it was another Steve known for his blog as Plymouthwelshboy and sailing a John Welsford dinghy that he built himself.


You won’t be able to see it but there is a sea-kayaker and his camp in the shoreside tree-line.


When i first approached this project i couldn’t locate a boat but that was a few years before i had internet access.  Later, when i came back to the project i had the internet and searched extensively but still couldn’t find one of these boats.  What happened instead is that i had the Hunter Liberty still in mind as a second choice and as you all know that’s the boat i bought.  It has very much the same capabilities as the smaller Poacher except that it’s a hell of a lot more spacious inside and comfortable to be aboard so i very rarely felt the need to get ashore and have a more comfortable camp.  The one time that i very nearly did land and camp was in very cold weather when my bushcraft experience told me that i would be warmer next to an open fire, even under a basha than in the boat.

Today i simply use the story of that project to start the thread of posts that i intend to write about this line of thinking and the boats that go with it.  I hope it also gives some degree of explanation as to why shallow draft and the ability to beach is so important to me.               This , first post, has become a lot longer than i originally intended to i won’t continue on to review the Liberty as well.  Readers who come here often will know a lot about the boat already but i will come back and cover it in a future post. Owning the Liberty did take me in a different direction anyway : not the bushcraft boat concept but that of shallow water capable boats as proper little cruising boats.   Today if i was seriously considering the same bushcraft boat project i would do it with a different craft and that is because of the existence of craft such as the ‘raid’ boats…many of them are close to my concept.  Since that project i did a lot more reading and research about sail and oar craft.     This is a very recent one that i really like.

This is the sailing version of Angus boats ‘Rowcruiser’ (angus boats picture)


And second is this one.

This is the ‘Faering’ design from Fyne boat kits



  1. I am very happy with my bilge keel Newbridge Corribee shoal draft competent cheap to moor takes the ground with stability


  2. Damm you dirty wet dog! As a current owner of a 25 ft hunter delta with a lift keel I have been looking at some yachts in the 30ft range, due to view one next week, your articles not only have the ability to make me appreciate the boat I have but also destroy the dream of a larger craft. The ability to lift the keel opens up an entirely different world. Thank you for both destroying my dream and giving me a strange sense of contentment!


    1. There are a few boats in the above 30 foot range with the same kind of ability to beach and dry out but they are quite rare and tend to be a lot more expensive. One, for example was a very racy looking Limbo 9.9 with a lifting keel which i think would have gone like that stuff off a shovel downwind. When it comes to larger boats i would say ‘go for it’ if you genuinely want the extra space or waterline length and then come back to smaller boats later on. One general sense that i get from older sailors is that the smaller the better, easier to handle and just more manageable financially.


  3. Take a look at the Beneteau First Class 8, I had one for a number of years. Lifting keel (no banging in the box), fast obviously and spacious below. But still a light/fast boat and not a cruiser. They’re cheap now as fashion has moved on but their still as good as the day they were launched.


  4. I built up an Aquarius 21 for blue water cruising with a retractable keel. I took It around Vancouver island and the Channel Islands of the California coast. I dumped 12,000 into it and it paid off in droves. It’s watertight as a mason jar and solid as a brick. I had it out in 45 Kts of wind and it never suffered a tad. You can see it on my YouTube page under JEAN Mondeau. I beached it soo often that the inflatable dinghy I carried was only used once. Almost not worth having.


  5. I have a poacher, they were built in Hoylake by Blakes I think and my fathers company made 10 kits of interior furnishings which I varnished before Blakes fitted them, I think they built 30. I have just bought mine and not sailed yet, a touch apprehensive as I have only sailed dinghies.good to read your blog thank you .


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