Title photograph : Cape Henry (Dudley Dix) river Exe, UK.
Note to regular readers : this is the new version of an old post and follows on from the series that discusses small ocean going boats, small cruisers and most recently the story of ‘Shoal Waters’ and the late Charles Stock. This post replaces the original post of the same name which will be archived as this one is published. This post is also an experimental model for future posts in that i have embedded 2 of my early video clips that help to illustrate the subject matter. My plan for new posts is to film a short clip for each one once i have got my new camera and sound set up.
I was inspired to write a new post about micro-cruisers after re-reading some earlier posts in which i tended to throw a whole load of different boats and ideas into the same post. In the re-writes i have tried to focus more closely on just one boat, size range or sailing concept so in this post i am going to set out my current ideas about micro-cruisers. I would like to begin by defining my concept of what micro-cruisers are and what i think they should be capable of doing, at least in competent hands.
So….i am defining a micro-cruiser as the smallest viable sailing boat that will : sail well in it’s cruising ground, that suits ‘fits’ it’s owner (and crew) , that provides shelter in which to sit, sleep and cook and can be moved by muscle power when needed. Secondarily i also have some ‘ideal’ requirements for the micro-cruiser : for instance that it would be best if the boat could be kept on a trailer at home thus reducing cost and that trail-ability itself is a very desirable characteristic for the boat. Thirdly i have a kind of personal test for the micro-cruiser and that is to compare any other possible and slightly smaller boat and ask whether that boat would do a better job than my own current boat….so far i’m glad to say that at the budget i can’t find a better micro-cruiser for my needs than what i already have.
You might ask the question “isn’t this just a small cruising boat” ? and i would answer both yes and no. It is definitely a category of small sailing boat but, we would all probably agree that my previous boat, the Frances 26, was an excellent small sailing boat although it didn’t fit it’s everyday cruising ground as well as my current boat and it definitely wasn’t a micro-cruiser. In fact , until that boat went ‘coastal’ or offshore i was over-boated when it came to the cruising ground that i sailed in most of the time. I might add that it wasn’t even a micro-cruiser when it came to it’s coastal and offshore passages but just a nice comfortable and actually quite large boat when set against my needs.
Now then, i know that i tend to be a bit of a wordsmith these days and you might be thinking that i am just playing around with words so today i want to set out the case that more sailors would do more sailing and be better off with a micro-cruiser than with some ugly monstrosity with 8 berths and all the gear…..and all for just a sailing couple. The reason i say that is that aside from the racing sailors it is the small boat sailors that i see a lot more out there and actually sailing. I’m not the only sailor to mention this but the big boats do seem to do a lot of motoring rather than actual sailing.
Before i do that though i would like to expand on my own definition of a micro-cruiser. I realise that i have spent far too much time on the internet recently and that i have absorbed some very suspect modern slips of language so today i am going to ‘unpack’ that, and yes : please feel free to now vomit copiously to leeward in a thoroughly seamanlike manner.
First then : the minimal boat. The minimal boat is the smallest and simplest one that will do the job required of it in it’s normal cruising ground. In the boats that we have met so far in this series i would say that Shoal Waters is clearly a micro-cruiser and so was the Cornish Shrimper with it’s lady owner. I would add that the little Shrimper was also an excellent fit for it’s petite lady owner. Shoal Waters seems well suited to it’s east coast rivers and creeks and the Shrimper just ‘man-enough’ for it’s coastal passages between ports and then excellent in the west country rivers. Go up a couple of scales in terms of environment rather than boat, and Roger Taylor’s 24 ft Achilles is a viable ocean going micro-cruiser of that environment. The minimal boat doesn’t have to be a cheap and rough dog of a thing either or be a loggy sailor : it could even be a new build or a small performance boat. I know that i tend to focus attention on the cheap and cheerful because they are the boats that i might be able to afford myself but in this post i am also going to include some modern , higher budget boats and new builds.
Big Al’s little rocketship. The design is by Jim Young, the boat’s home waters are around Whngarei (NZ) and the Bay of Islands. Called ‘Little Boat’ she usually lives on a trailer in Al’s big shed. This was a complete rebuild by it’s owners.
Photograph courtesy of Alan Smith.
Shelter….it’s my view that a micro-cruiser should have a lid and that it should be possible for it’s crew to get inside the boat and have space where they can sit comfortably, lie down and sleep, cook, eat and navigate. It can be argued that a dinghy cruiser can have a living space although what i have seen of dinghy cruisers so far is that it’s first necasary to put up a tent or tarp over the boat, get all the gear out and then pack it away before making sail again. Nothing wrong with that but it’s not the same as dropping the hook on a cold , wet day and diving straight below and getting a brew on. Local dinghy cruiser and blogger Steve (Plymouthwelshboy) , in a recent video, said that it took him about 40 minutes to pack all his gear away, take the boat tent down and get sail on. That’s about the same amount of time it used to take us to pack up camp and get going when we were out on the trail. Packing up a rucksack , packing a sea kayak and packing up a sailing dinghy all seem to take about the same amount of time. There’s nothing wrong with any of that but i also know that on the times i have over slept or am missing a tide i just want to ignore the mess below and just get moving.
Move by muscle. I do have an engine on WABI”’ and it’s just about the worst arrangement possible for noise in that it’s in a well in the back of the cockpit and the round stern reflects all the engine noise into the cockpit. Besides that i actually like the challenge of sailing the boat as much as possible and when it’s not i also like moving the boat by manual power. It just happens that the Liberty is quite easy to move with something as simple as a long canoe paddle….it could do with being a bit longer and one of my next practical projects is going to be to build a specific boat paddle. I do think that it’s a whole lot more pleasant and challenging not to use the engine though and play a great game with wind-shifts, tides and tidal eddy’s just as though i was racing the boat. Even on the Frances i had a long lifeboat oar/sweep which, once i got the boat moving, i could move her along at about a knot and one time ‘rowed’ her most of the way up the Fleuve Odet in south Brittany. I happen to think that deliberately not using the engine , rather using wind, tide, anchor and muscle power makes me a better sailor and using the engine when i don’t really need to just makes me a lazy and impatient one.
Paddling….needs a longer blade.
The cruising ground and the micro-adventure. By all accounts what many (most) British cruising sailors do is leave one marina and sail/motor to another marina….and then sail/motor back again. Very few seem to anchor out and even fewer seem to explore a sailing ground once they get there…places like Falmouth, Fowey , Plymouth and the Dart come to mind where it’s most usual to see all the cruising boats crowded around the entrance marinas and sometimes moorings and then see none or very few a couple of miles inland. All of those areas have large and quiet sheltered cruising grounds inland, even in high summer i have been the only sailing boat in some of those creeks or just had one other yacht for company. The micro-cruiser, especially the ones that can sail in very little water can access huge cruising grounds that larger boats can’t (or can’t be bothered to). Going coastal with the micro-cruiser feels like much more of an adventure than the donka-donk motoring milk run that larger boats do yet so often don’t sail because their big boats don’t have basics like good downwind sails….or the crew can’t handle them.
Joy…near Bow creek River Dart. Not a micro-cruiser but a beautiful spot all the same. With WABI”’ my Hunter liberty i can get right up Bow Creek and many other small creeks and when i am there i can pull the boards up and settle on the mud.
Ghosting up the Tamar in WABI”’ at the end of a micro-cruise
The Tamar and the Dart : just 2 out of the many excellent rivers in the west-country that are ideal for micro-cruisers and micro-cruising. Both have accessible slipways for trailer boats. I note that while the east coast rivers have their many enthusiasts and bloggers, like Creeksailor for example we hear little about the much prettier wooded valley rivers of the west-country.
You don’t need me to tell you that a smaller boat is always going to be a lot less expensive to run than a larger one. Small boats also span a lower budget range although new builds can be relatively more expensive per foot of boat. I tend to concentrate on the cheaper secondhand boats because they are much more likely to be the ones i could afford so lets have a look at some on the market right now, and some types that i haven’t covered before…. but lets also look at some much newer designs.
Lets begin today’s selection of boats with one that i haven’t featured before and that i think is a lovely micro-cruiser for the money. This is a Freedom 21 with twin lifting keels and a freestanding ‘Freedom’ rig. : https://yachts.apolloduck.co.uk/boat/freedom-21/585005 There are several different keel options, this one has a pair of short lifting keels, one each side, and there is a fixed keel version and another version with a Warwick Collins twin plate keel.
A little story here is that during the time i spent with Inanda in Ipswich i was moored right next to one of these called ‘Black Sheep’, most days i was there the owner would come down to the boat and slip out for a couple of hours sail in the river. He didn’t know the story behind the original name but it did seem to fit the boat. From what i saw of her sailing Black Sheep is a great little sailing boat. They are pretty small inside but the 2 berths in the main cabin are certainly long enough for adults and i could just sit in comfort in the cabin.
Freedom 21 for sale (£2500) Brokers photograph.
I have mentioned the excellent Cornish Shrimper in this post and before in earlier posts, i checked today and found several for sale with the cheapest and oldest at around £8.000 and then going up from that usually depending on the engine and specification. I won’t cover the Shrimper today but rather i would like to introduce a more modern similar design by Dudley Dix : the 19 foot Cape Cutter. I found 3 today with the least expensive of the 3 at just over £15,000. I know that’s a lot of money for a small boat but it is a high quality option and i know they sail one having seen one out in the Exe river several times while i was based there. I get the impression that the Cape Cutter is a more powerful boat than the similar sized Shrimper and has more space inside.
From the same designer is the larger Cape Henry 21, i couldn’t find one for sale today but here is a video from the ‘my classic boat’ series filmed and narrated by Dick Durham. These might look like a boxy little gaffer but i can tell you they can easily keep pace with a well sailed Frances 26 with new sails and a very smooth bum….because i had an impromptu race against one a few years back.
Dick Durham video.
Cape Cutter for sale : https://yachts.apolloduck.co.uk/boat/cape-cutter-19/577295
Similar boat on the Exe from last year.
When i was covering boats in my ‘thin water’ series i wrote about a boat is the logical development from my own boat : the Red Fox. So today the next one is a variant on the boat that i couldn’t find on the market at the time : the David Thomas designed Red Fox. There is one on the market today although this one is regarded as the day-sailor version rather than the cruiser version. It still seems to have a cabin and space for 2 people to sleep but not as much interior space as the cruising version. This is an unusual boat with it’s twin asymetric bilge boards but it’s also a strikingly similar concept to the Freedom 21 and it’s similar retracting bilge keels.
The last one of today’s batch is the rather cute looking Winkle Brig, for some reason even the name makes me smile. I have never sailed one of these although i did see one chuckling along down the Lynher last year. Once again it comes with a trailer, has a small but viable cabin and looks good to go.
As cute as….