Microcruisers : roads not taken.

Part 2 of my post ‘the microcruisers that got away’.

Fantasy boats and reality land.

In the first part of this series i took a quick look at 2 of the boats that were high on my list of designs that i seriously considered to build but which didn’t make the final cut. We could say that that approach, the new build one, is one of 3 that i could consider with the other 2 being ; first , to find and buy a complete boat secondhand that would be as near to my requirements as possible and second to buy a hull or boat that had potential and do a major conversion and refit. Because of the cost of new boats iv’e never even bothered to look at that route and even recently designed and built boats that i really like are way beyond my budget : that leaves older secondhand boats as either buy and just sail or buy and convert.

In this post i’m going to take a look at some of the buy and convert/refit options that i considered and as much as anything this post is about what i learnt from my previous boats , both good and bad, and how i could apply some of those lessons in my next boat. As it is my choice was always going to be shaped by the fact that whatever boat i built or converted next was going to have to live on a trailer at home and if i built then it would have to be within tight size parameters : with the Pathfinder build i’m just about at that size limit and one of the main buy/convert options is only a tad larger.

A friend recently asked me what boat i would just go out and buy if i had an unlimited budget and where the boat didn’t have to live at home so…..very few modern designs hold much appeal for me but just to mention 2 then. First would have to be one of the boats that iv’e most admired over the years and that’s the Nigel Irens designed ‘Roxanne’ Lug Yawl at around 28 feet but which has shoal draft capability and is just a sweet sailor all round : i went aboard the original boat way back and i think i saw the same boat sailing in St Peter Port, Guernsey a few years back. For a smaller boat that i could trail then i think i would go for a Baycruiser 23 which iv’e also seen up close and sailing and i thought was going well. For a pure fantasy boat it would probably have to be a custom built Dudley Dix design : his lengthened and classic’d 28 foot rocketship based on an earlier 26 foot race boat design.

Grey Merlin : the only Gaff rigged ‘Roxanne’ hull.

If there’s any similarity with these boats it’s that they sail well , the Dix design would plane downwind for example, and they all would have or be converted to a true shoal draft and sit on bottom capability .

Dudley Dix 28′ classic : photographer unknown.

Back to reality land though but…..

Clearly neither Iren’s Roxanne or Dix’s 28′ classic are microcruisers and even a Swallow boats 23′ is just a small but neat cruising boat and in this series i’m trying to cover boats in the approximate range to the one i’m actually building…..give or take a couple of feet.

One boat that iv’e always kept an eye out for is from the same era as my 22 foot Hunter Liberty except a tad smaller and lighter and also based on an IOR mini-tonner hull and that’s the 6.5 meter ‘Poacher’ cat-ketch just like the one i found parked on the sand during our Jersey trip some years back. Iv’e written about the type a few times and even took a punt on one when it came up on Ebay, i failed on that one but just recently another one came up locally that might even have been the same boat : i was tempted sore as we say but with my project already happening i deliberately didn’t go and see it.

While a bit shorter than the Liberty the IOR mini-tonner hull form actually has higher initial stability and is maybe the slightly better boat upwind, inside it’s less of a small cruising boat that can be lived in and more of a camp aboard experience….inside in fact is a bit poky and awkward and when i had a clamber aboard and wriggle around inside i found that the lifting keel was even more annoying than the centerboard on the Liberty and both of those features got me thinking : i’ll come back to that.

Like many old GRP boats the one i saw on the sand at St Aubyn needed a major refit – her new owner told me that she’d had so many fittings put on and taken off , and not sealed properly, that she had deck leaks everywhere : i also think that at 40 years old both the Poacher and Liberty need their spars replacing because they are only thin walled Aluminium alloy, and we all know what happened to one of mine in the last year that i sailed it !.

Like this :

KatSou….the original Poacher i think.

You can see where i was going with these boats and it partially explains why and how i ended up with the 22 foot Hunter Liberty and in a way why i got so much out of that boat including all of the lessons i learnt from pushing an inshore/sheltered waters craft way beyond it’s design parameters : they were never intended for long choppy channel crossings and going really offshore yet i was always confident in my one, the only time i wasn’t being the time i sailed out of the Exe into a spring gale and blizzard !.

The ‘road taken’ with those boats then was that they were lightweight boat with shoal draft/variable draft, simple unstayed rigs and ‘just enough’ boat to get inside and be comfortable – having said that though i can be comfortable in a bivvi bag under a tarp so as long as i can sit and lay down somewhere dry and make a hot drink and a meal then i’m happy.  The ‘road not taken’ that i thought about obsessively in those days was in the form of a question : how far could i push this kind of boat concept and just how functional could i make it ?

For a long while i thought i would go off cruising long term when i retired and i seriously considered starting almost from scratch with my concept boat which was to have been based on an older half-ton design, the GK29 which had loads of space at it’s size because it was a real porker of a hull.  My concept was to have the IOR fin keel right off and build a lifting keel and kick-up rudder….the hull being wide enough to still be useable with a keel box inside.  Cost would have prevented me from doing much with the rig so it would have just become a simple cutter with hanked jibs….those old IOR rigs have plenty of space to get rid of the big genoa and have smaller split jibs.  I even had a plan for the interior which was to be based on designer Danny Greene’s modular interior on his cruising boat.  What put us off is that i went to see one and we both instantly disliked the boat once we climbed inside -ok so it didn’t help that it stank like an old and hard used IOR race boat but if felt dark and gloomy in there , a bit like a cave my partner said.

Instead of a life lived cruising long term i made a shorter retirement cruise of just 3 months in the little Liberty and thoroughly enjoyed the experience and partially i think because the boat was all we needed and mostly we were the smallest boat that actually got anywhere. I always kept the concept boat in mind though so during that trip i sketched out a couple of different ideas also using retired race boat hulls but going full radical with the rigs and foils : one, just as an example, would have started with an old and heavy J24 hull but would have become a cat-yawl at least and lost it’s fin keel for leeboards and ended up with a Liberty-like cabin space….sounds bonkers perhaps but i felt that i could solve some of the problems with the Liberty and Poacher designs.

Really what i should have done at that stage is simply to accept that the work i intended to do was most of a boatbuilding project – after all, the only piece of the original boat would have been the hull and that’s one of the easiest parts of a project to build and i wouldn’t finish with new spars and gear on a weak old GRP hull.

In the 3rd and final part of this short series i want to cover the project i almost did take on in that i found a boat that i would have liked to start with and i knew of another boat in the same class that had the same conversion as i was thinking of and that would have been a do-able project and a boat that could live at home.

Until next time…..

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