Mark Wallace's Black Skiff

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Why Small...

For me, I’ve always felt that the amount a boat is used is inversely proportional to its weight. I like ‘small’.  This post is about how others feel about ‘small’.

Robin Lee Graham, who, starting at age 16, sailed alone around the world in his sloop, "Dove":
"At sea, I learned how little a person needs, not how much."

RLW of the Boat Bits blog posted March 31, 2017:
 “…for me what makes a perfect boat to go cruising in is really quite simple...
  • It floats right side up
  • It does not leak to excess
  • It sails well
  • It's simple
  • It does not require you to go into debt to buy or maintain it
  • It's owner fixable”
I especially love the last point... if you can’t fix it, or can’t replace it with something else, maybe it shouldn’t be on the boat.

Howard Rice, November 2016, “Sometimes Small May Be Better”:
"Small boats in the hands of a conservative sailor may offer a few advantages larger boats cannot.

  1. They are affordable whether new or used.
  2. They can be kinetically controlled by movement of body mass by the sailor when underway.
  3. They can be easily self rescued if set up properly.
  4. Perhaps most importantly they can be hauled on shore when nasty weather looms.
“I have chosen to voyage aboard a small boat for a number of reasons primary of which are, ease of use for the type of voyaging I prefer (some open water crossings to remote and interesting shorelines). Ocean passages are fine but in my experience they can be a bit boring. Most passages aim at getting boat and sailor somewhere to explore. I prefer to get there more quickly, perhaps by trailer and get right after the exploring part. In my case with this voyage (sailing among the islands of Tierra del Fuego) … my boat (a Welsford SCAMP) is being shipped… 
“I also prefer small recognizing ease of handling given my “theory of thirds”* approach and resultant higher degree of safety. Safety is often equated with larger boats but if one stops to consider the question it may be argued that for some applications small may be better than large and this is particularly true for some solo sailors. Safety ranges from handling while upright to the ease and ability of righting the boat if capsized. My boat does feature an inflatable cuddy cabin aimed at keeping her at least on her side when she goes over. I believe she can withstand a 360 roll. 
“*(Theory of thirds)… I think of small boats in terms of thirds, me, the hull and the power generated by the sail rig. In the smallest of boats I can kinetically over power and thus control the hull and power generated by the sail rig.”

Mark G. from Ottawa wrote to me in response to a post requesting thoughts on cruising in small boats (used with Mark's permission):

“What are the positive aspects?"

  • easily handled by one person
  • can be cartopped (no trailer required)
  • great for poking around in thin water
  • can carry at least 2 weeks worth of supplies for one person (can probably push to 3 weeks)
  • agile/nimble and responsive to rower inputs (I've taken mine through rapids)
  • can be pulled from the water at the end of the day (esp. if bad weather threatens)
  • low maintenance
  • easily righted after a knockdown
  • no trailer required, no launch ramp required
  • no motor needed
  • allows you to get to some great areas that have no marinas
  • very buoyant and stable in rough water

"The negatives?"

  • rowing speed is about 2 - 2.5 knots
  • not really suitable for more than 1 person
  • difficult to sleep aboard
  • need to find a way to rig a sun shade

"Is the slower speed (due to shorter water line length) an issue for you?"

  • not really as I'm not out to get from A to B as fast as possible; I'm there to enjoy the surroundings and the experience of being out on the water
  • I can keep up with boats in the 16-18' range

"Do you feel they are practical for ‘weekend’ cruises in relatively protected waters?"

  • absolutely!
  • I think they're good for 2-3 week cruises as long as you like camping

"Would you want one?"

"Why, or why not?"

  • Even though I'm planning to do a lot of extended (1-2 months) cruising in my Marsh Hen over the next 10 years, it won't beat the simplicity and ease-of-use of the Shellback.  I can reach a lot of areas more easily, faster, and cheaper. In that regard it's a great boat for exploring.  A good step up from sea kayaking, which I also do.”

From the Classic Marine site, in an article entitled Small Can Be Beautiful, the author first identifies the reasons that people don’t use the boats they have. He then proposes an answer that responds to virtually all of the reasons people don’t use their current boat. His proposal is to buy/build a small boat… here’s why:
  • “Lower initial outlay, or higher quality for the same outlay, or, a solution a number of people find rewarding, a “bespoke” boat for the same outlay. There has perhaps never been as wide a choice of custom - or semi-custom - built boats as there is now. Many are the sort of craft which can give real pride of ownership. 
  • Lower maintenance costs - partly because you will need smaller quantities or sizes of items which need replacing - i.e. rope, rigging, paint and so on. It may also be that many of the maintenance tasks could now be done yourself, even if time is short. 
  • Lower storage costs - especially if the boat is car-toppable or trailable since you might be able to be based at home, in which case finding the time for maintenance becomes that much easier. 
  • Fewer things to maintain, so the boat tends to be easier to keep in good shape, thus increasing seaworthiness and eventual re-sale value. 
  • Shorter trips seem more adventurous in small boats , and you can explore smaller creeks impossible for larger boats. Short trips are good for involving the family - if you reckon on 15-20 minutes per year of age maximum per trip for children, you stand a good chance of keeping their interest and enthusiasm, even if you do lose them to the racing circuit for a few years! 
  • Finally, the consequences of a minor error of judgement such as unscheduled contact, either with terra firma or someone else’s belongings, are usually less serious in a smaller boat.”

Dave and Mindy Bolduc talk about cruising in small boats in their Micro Cruising Guide, in their case, Matt Layden’s Little Cruiser. The whole guide is well worth reading for its insight on two people cruising over 10,000 miles in a boat 15’ (4.6m) long. Following are excerpts from the Guide related to ‘why small’:
“…Though many people would consider this fifteen footer to be a little Spartan for two, we've found that the boat's small size is one of her strongest virtues. We've trailered her long distances with our aging four cylinder Honda Accord, and we've found it easy to launch the boat at any ramp due to the boat's 9-inch draft. Little Cruiser is simple to sail and to maintain, and her flat-bottomed hull along with her robust construction has proven itself over 10,000 miles (16.100km) of sailing in all kinds of weather. Most importantly, this miniature yacht has carried us safely six times to the Bahamas. We have enjoyed gunk holing in the shallow and incredibly clear waters in this sailor's paradise, and we have explored many pristine islands and beaches not easily accessible by larger craft.” 
“They track straight, and they will pretty much take care of themselves. Things don't tend to happen too quickly either. If you make a mistake, like an unintentional jibe, nothing horrible occurs. Nothing breaks, and nobody goes for a swim. In addition, these boats don't seem to make a lot of fuss while going through the water. This is probably because they are so narrow, small, and frankly, pretty well designed. What we find most amazing, though, is that we regularly have an easier time going to windward than larger cruising vessels. Because we are so short, we can often fit in between the wave troughs that larger boats aren't quite able to bridge.” 
“Over the years we have thought about moving up to a larger boat to get a little more elbowroom so to speak. However, after watching other sailors handle their big sailboats, we probably won't change a thing because it looks like too much hard work. Cranking on those big winches while tacking back and forth could give us some real nasty blisters, and hauling in those heavy anchors might strain our backs. Moreover, coming into a dock with a large boat could be a real nightmare when there is a foul current running or a strong breeze blowing. You'd better have your fenders and lines ready when you need to stop a few tons quickly. We usually just fend off with our feet and hold on with our hands. Running aground looks like another real headache too. If you can't get free right away, you'll have to jump into your dinghy, lay out an anchor, and kedge off while using your sails to heel the ship over. If that doesn't do it, and you're not in any danger, then you have the pleasure of sitting out the tide on the side of your boat. No, we prefer just stepping off our tiny craft and pushing.” 
“Over the years, one of the nice things we've noticed about having such a small boat is that you simply use it more while you are out cruising because it is fun to sail. These boats handle as easily as a dinghy, and the shallow draft is perfect for exploring up creeks and rivers. Running aground is never a problem when a simple push is all that you need to get going again. We can easily pass under low bridges by dropping our mast to reach new cruising grounds, and we can even land on deserted beaches for a picnic. We've noticed that the typical forty-foot cruiser one sees in the Bahamas tends to drop their anchor and to stay put until they make their next passage. And who could blame them? It's a lot of work to get all that ground tackle down and then back up again. We often move around daily to enjoy the scenery, and we have the luxury of choosing any anchoring spot we like most of the time. In the end, we'll probably just keep cruising along in Little Cruiser because she's easy to handle and she gets us where we want to go with the minimal fuss, the lowest cost and the least effort.”

How do you feel about ‘small’?

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