Mark Wallace's Black Skiff

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Bolger's Cartopper

I'm infatuated with small and simple: especially boats. Matt Layden's Sand Flea (go here for lots of photos of it) is a prime is his Paradox, Enigma, etc. I especially like <12' (3.7m) because there is no registration required (in my state). Following is an example of small is beautiful...

Cartopper, one of Phil Bolger’s prettiest small boats… 11’6” by 4’ (3.5m by 1.2m), double chine with a bottom 2’ (61mm) wide… (one person) loaded water line width is about 3’ (91mm). She is built with taped seams from 4 sheets of plywood and weighs approximately 90 pounds (40.1 kg).

Johnny O'Neill's Cartopper

With either a boomless sprit sail (with peak vang) or a leg-o’-mutton (with sprit boom, as pictured above), both approximately 60 square feet (5.6 m), she sails well as long as weight is kept amidships. The boomless spritsail rig enables all spars to be carried inside the boat.

Phil Bolger’s comments from his Boats With an Open Mind (chapter 7) book:
“…the sheer and flare produce an exceptionally dry boat in choppy water; she can carry three sober adults over a fair-sized powerboat wake…” 
“…Cartoppers row well as long as they’re trimmed with one person… and as long as they’re not rowed hard. The short waterline makes waves rather than speed, with effort, even with a light load…” 
“…The open interior allows an adult to lie down at full length…”
The complete set of plans, including a table of offsets, are include in chapter 7 in BWOM… Included in those plans is a diagram of a full length tent that provides ventilated sleeping room for one and sitting headroom.

Overview of the Plans

Plans, along with builder notes (not included in the BWOM chapter) are available from H. H. Payson and Company.
Lane Kendall has documented with photos and narrative the building of a Cartopper... well worth the time to review for the building process for Cartopper as well as any taped seam construction.

Jim French built a Cartopper without the sailing rig (rudder, centerboard and mast) strictly for rowing.

Jim French's Cartopper for Rowing Only

He added a second rowing station to enable rowing with a passenger, and maintaining reasonable trim.

Jim French with Passenger

Grapeview Point Boatworks restored a Cartopper, adding floorboards and a stern seat.

Cartoppper Restored by Grapeview Point Boatworks

As designed, Cartopper, with the addition of a tent (as Bolger has specified) and an ‘air mattress’, would make a pretty oar/sail micro cruiser suitable for protected waters. If I were to build her as a ‘pure’ oar cruiser (as defined in this blog), I’d do the following:
  • Eliminate the sailing components (maybe)
  • Add floor boards covering 7’ (2.1m) of the bottom
  • Add fore- and aft-decks to minimize the size of the cockpit (to about 4’ [1.2m]), with flotation built-in and room for personal gear (in waterproof bags)
  • Provide for weather protection while eating and sleeping.

What a beautiful little oar cruiser she’d be!

Comments welcome...


  1. Good afternoon, Tom! Thanks for a lovely post, and for praising the work of Phil Bolger, an amazing guy whose boats and books snared me back in the late 1970s to the point that I built, around 1981, his Teal, a twelve foot rowing and sailing dory skiff. Even more amazing is that I still have that boat, and will be sailing her again in the coming year. Cheers!

  2. Hi Chris... I too, was 'snared' by Bolger's books back in the '70's... still have them and go through them periodically (for the upteened time...) Thanks for the feedback...

  3. I have just completed a cartopper and love it! It's no longer 90lbs as I went a little over-kill on modifications, but she's a great sailor for two. I changed to a standing lug.

    1. Hi Travis... Glad to hear about your build.

      Sorry to say that the link you provided doesn't work... I'd like to see how your CarTopper turned out.