Hey-Presto !

A Rocket post.


It’s November 2020 and i’m boatless for the first time in many years, it’s possible that i won’t have a boat again or at least not one that i have to keep on a mooring ; rather that as i have been saying in my recent posts that any future boat will be something that lives on a trailer at home. 

At around this time last year i was talking to a mate of mine who was just about to start on his own boatbuilding project in rural New Zealand , i got quite excited about that and starting working on a series of posts about the project ; the design itself, the build set up and so on. I was even working on one of the alphabetical design series posts that would have had to leapfrog from what i was working at ‘H’ (Herreshof) all the way to ‘Y’ for Jim Young…..who i knew nothing about.

  I was going to then run a much smaller boat modification project myself and what i had in mind was a relatively small but fast sailing dinghy with the Everglades challenge in mind : although it might sound a bit bonkers it was going to be something like an old Merlin Rocket converted to lug just like a converted National 18 design which used to be on this coast.     So what happened ?….well, the pandemic happened and my mate wisely held back on his project because there are other things going on in the same country that makes him doubt the wisdom of building a big project at this time.  I took a look at Jim Young’s work and we tried to track down a boat called Camp Freddie in the UK which we think was the original version of the boat that my mate Al has the plans for.

What follows is the 4th post in that series and no….iv’e never finished and released the first 3 about the actual projects : either Al’s or mine because Al’s is on hold and mine had to wait until i had sold WABI”’. My own project almost did start with an older and non-competitive Merlin as it would have been a relatively inexpensive way of testing out the concept of using a small and fast boat as both my ‘bushcraft’ boat and as the pocket-rocket for the Everglades challenge.

The 4th post….

I thought for the 4th post in the rocket series that i would do something that iv’e been wanting to do for a long time in my blog but never found quite the right place to slot it in and that’s to talk about my own fantasy boat alongside Al’s actual sporty boat project. Both of us have talked about the kind of boat that isn’t quite pure fantasy but actually just within the realms of possibility for both of us : in my case i could have probably coped financially with the costs of a self-build as long as i kept the costs low with a simple boat and by using a building method that i understand.  What i did do almost at the end of my own sailing life is to work out what i really wanted a boat to do and the result of that is very much as i have said before except that i wanted to also go up on the comfort and living space such that the 2 of us could happily spend more time aboard.  In short, the shape of my own project would have been WABI’s big sister…..variable draft so that i could get into all the same places as i did with my own boat, a similar ability to settle on a bottom upright and a similar unstayed and split rig.


Al’s choice was radically different to mine but then the conditions which he has to deal with are very different to mine, also, as Al said himself , he wants something that is ‘big grin’ and stupidly fast at times.  It was interesting to both of us though that we were both thinking about boats of the same overall size (30 feet) and also that’s the same length of boat that many very experienced couples have chosen as the bottom end for functional, long term cruising boats…..i’m thinking here of the Pardey’s ‘Taliesin’ at 28 feet but heavier displacement, Margaret Dye’s ‘Wanderer’ at 30 feet and right up to Troy and Pascale’s ‘Mirrool’ .  At that size it’s possible to separate a dry sleeping area from a sometimes wet working area, have a functional galley and so on and at that size to carry enough stores for long offshore voyages.

For all the life of this blog and for many years previously iv’e spent countless hours thinking about the kind of boat i would have if i had the time and funds to build it, and like Al’s choice, my own comes out at almost the same size but is a radically different boat to his choice.  I have to say right at the outset that i don’t think this one will ever happen….unless perhaps my book project proves to be wildly successful in which case here’s the boat i would like to build…..but….dream on eh !

When i left big boat sailing i realised that one of the main problems with fin keeled yachts is that they radically restrict the sailors cruising area, especially the really interesting shallow water bits and the almost empty drying anchorages that i can access with the Liberty.  I didn’t know any of this at that time but i found straight away that i was drawn to the world of thin water boats such as commodore Munroe’s ‘Egret‘ design and Sharpie’s generally and then at about the same time i came across L Francis Herreshof and Meadowlark .      For a long while i wanted to build a Sharpie : perhaps one of Bruce Kirby’s Norwalk Island Sharpie designs or a modern version of Egret.  Quite a bit later i returned to Munroe’s designs and his earlier ‘Kingfish‘….what he called a ‘Presto’.

The reality is that Egret was a tiny boat inside with barely sitting room only and that over bare soleboards, equally i could never convince myself that a true Sharpie type would be right for a stiff beat up the English channel.  To this day i don’t think any British designer has created  the kind of boat that i really want….except perhaps Nigel Irens and his Roxanne design so….

Lets get to it….

The boat is a Presto 30 and designed by Rodger Martin in the USA, and if you’re thinking that there’s a family resemblance with my little Hunter Liberty then there is because they are both cat-ketches and both shallow draft centreboard boats but that’s where the similarity ends.  Many yachting writers make the mistake of calling boats like these ‘Sharpies’ and they’re not although the Presto does derive from the first boat of that name which was Commodore Ralph Munroe’s ‘Presto‘ design of the late 19th century and almost directly following on from his true Sharpie designs ‘Kingfish‘ and the more famous ‘Egret’ ; for accuracy i have to point out that his ‘Presto’ precedes Egret by a year.    Both of those boats are recognised as true Sharpies and developed from the New England Sharpie which was a simple, flat bottomed, extreme shoal draft open boat originally intended for the oyster fishing trade.

Egret. (Wm Munroe)

Egret 003

A simplistic way of understanding the original Presto design is that it’s a round bilged Sharpie with many of the same features such as shoal draft capability, usually a centreboard, often a low aspect split rig and all round simplicity. To stretch the idea a little further L Francis Herreshoff’s ‘Meadowlark‘ is along similar lines . I could equally imagine sailing Meadolwlark but i think that the modern, Rodger Martin designed  Presto would be the better boat so it gets the nod from me.

Meadowlark (L F Herreshoff)


So lets take a look at the boat, these have been built and there is some youtube footage of one named ‘Thorfin’.    Obviously none of the photographs, drawings and films are mine ; the sailplan below is quite clearly the work of the designer and all rights go to their original authors….i’d love to have my own photo files on the boat but i only know of boats to this design in the USA.

Presto 30 (Rodger Martin design)



What the designer says.

The Presto 30 ™ is designed to be trailerable & beachable, thus the very shoal draft (13 inches – 330 mm) and the smooth, clean bottom. The hull is lightweight and relatively narrow, both factors reducing drag. Ballast is internal lead built into the bottom and the split rig is used for maneuverability and for its low – (as in close to the water) heeling effect. The combination of a low-heeling force from an efficient sail plan and a light, slim, low-drag hull make these boats fast and very controllable reaching and running. The deep, high performance centreboard and rudder help the boat go upwind effectively, very nearly as high and fast as a good sloop rig.

The split rig is self-tacking. Crack off 5-10 degrees, and a boat of this size will out-sail keel sloops quite a bit longer! This sail plan doesn’t need expensive and difficult-to-set spinnakers to sail at breakaway speeds off the wind. If wanted, a light ‘mizzen staysail’ can be set between the masts and a drifter set at the end of a removable bowsprit but these sails are not needed for normal fast sailing.  The sealed, lightweight, free-standing, carbon-fibre masts fit within the length of the boat for trailering and, at under 40 pounds (18 kg) can be stepped or struck by two people.”

Those readers who follow my blog would most likely recognise that Rodger Martin’s design appeals to me because it’s almost exactly what i’m looking for in a boat based on my experience with the little Hunter Liberty….it isn’t quite, but almost is, a very grown up and more muscular version of WABI”’ and i can totally imagine it going everywhere iv’e been in WABI”’ and further afield , and of course being a lot faster and having a huge amount more space.

For those visitors who really enjoy the tech and the numbers i pulled them from the sailplan above to do what i often do and that is to first look at the theoretical hullspeed and it’s a good one because the hull is almost all waterline so :

Length 30 feet.  LWL 28.79 ft.   Beam 8.49.  Sail area 400 sq ft.  SA/DISP (fully loaded) 20.3

I get a theoretical hull speed of 7.2 knots using √LWL x 1.34 …..i can well imagine this boat running up the English channel or back from Brittany at hull speed.

There’s so much i like about this design, iv’e always liked the idea of Sharpies, which this isn’t quite but almost is, but iv’e always been aware of the practical problems that come with traditional ones like Egret for example.  Now, i’d love to sail an ‘Egret’ in it’s home waters but i don’t think it would translate at all into UK and Brittany sailing conditions but the modern Presto i think would do.  For sure there are things i would like to alter just as Al needs to do with the rocket.  I would try and talk the designer into re-drawing the plans for cedar core and veneer construction, would alter the cabin/cockpit proportions to give me more cabin and less cockpit and i would go with a very different execution of the design ; the ones built, while clean and functional look like plastic fridges inside !

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s