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Preview: Brilliant Small Sailboat Designs – Herreshoff 12.5, Beetle Cat, Buzzards Bay 15 & More

November 30, 2011

Whether or not you’re in the market for a small sailboat, you’ll love the chance to scan the classic small sailboat designs available as shown in these stunning photographs by Benjamin Mendlowitz.

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– [Narrator] A day or so ago, a friend and I were talking about good boats. He’s new to sailing, but is really into it. He wanted to know what sort of boat to buy that would make his kids and his wife love sailing as much as he does. For starters, I suggested he stick to small boats. If a boat seems manageable, a family’s collective blood pressure, especially mom’s, goes right down. And if it’s small and easy to handle, everyone gets a turn at the tiller. Even the littlest kid. Small boats feel responsive when you sail them. Push the tiller, something happens. Trim the sail, the feedback is immediate. I also suggested he focus his search on classic designs. Not so much for snob appeal, but because they have stood the test of time. They sail well, they’re forgiving to the newcomer and the old timer alike. And they look so good people will take care of them over lifetimes. When it comes to boats, love-ability usually equals longevity. The Herreshoff 12 and a half is the first boat I mentioned to my friend. Designed and first produced in 1914, it qualifies as a classic in every way. Great looks, responsive performance, steady and seaworthy. And after all these years, they’re still building new ones made of wood or fiberglass. With a full keel or a centerboard model, called a haven for trailer ability. Only 16 feet overall, with a 12 and a half foot waterline hence the name, she feels like a little ship under you. Especially because the seats are down low in the cockpit so crew members don’t feel like they’re about to go into the drink. But what’s best is the way a 12 and a half sails. Like a well trained cow pony that knows her job. She points where you want her to point. She doesn’t go all to pieces in a breath of air. Sailing a 12 and a half, the tiller feels like an old friend in your hand the first time out. A lot of people in New England have learned to sail in 12 and a halfs. And they still use them in the beginners seamanship course at the wooden boat school. Teachers in that program say the effect these boats have on newcomers is amazing. The first time out, everyone’s nervous of course. Sails a flopping at the mooring, and the boom is twitching, and there are all those mysterious lines around. As soon as she’s off with sheets trimmed, she finds her groove and all the students aboard give a collective sigh of relief and start thinking that a week of learning to sail in one of these little gems is about the best idea they’ve ever had. In a Herreshoff 12 and a half, it’s all about simple. All about easy. An even smaller classic, with several of the same qualities, is the BeetleCat. A boat that’s been around since the 1920s. BeetleCats were developed by a family boatyard in New Bedford who used to build whaleboats. After half a century, they knew a lot about the construction of light small craft. So when the whaling industry died, they turned to building BeetleCats for some of the first summer people who came down from the cities to enjoy the Massachusetts seashore. A BeetleCat is rigged with a single gaf sail and everyone meaning two, unless we’re talking about really small people, sits right on the floorboards. This makes sailing a BeetleCat about the coziest maritime experience you’re likely to have. It is why a BeetleCat is a perfect place to teach young sailors. Because you can put them at the helm right off in light airs, and almost be close enough to give the tiller a touch as needed or the sheet a tug. Like all good small boats, Beetles have a tight feedback loop. And because everyone is sitting down, at essentially eye level with the water, it feels like you’re tearing along even if you’re not. Another nice advantage is that you can pull up a BeetleCat centerboard and put her up on a sloping beach. Most kids like setting sail and heading out to sea. Every kid loves heading out for an island. Especially if there’s a chance for a picnic or pirate treasure. Speaking of landing on islands, an open boat like this Caledonia Yawl makes a terrific beach cruiser. It has more space in it than first appears, so you can load it with family and gear, and even a dog or two, and head out to an island or state park to camp. And rigging a Caledonia at the boat ramp is easy because of the simplicity over sailing rig. For designer specifies either a standing lug or a gunter rig. But either way, the masts don’t need wire shrouds and turnbuckles. So setup time before launching her off the trailer is minimal. An important consideration where itching to get going kids are concerned. A Caledonia is roomy and comfy, she’ll sail to windward, and with both a main sole and a mizzen, there’s plenty of strings to pull to keep the kids busy during the voyage. Probably the best asset of a Caledonia Yawl is her seaworthiness. Her design is based on tried and true 19th century Scottish fishing boats, so you can embark in one sort of weather, and come back home in another without suffering the consequences. Seaworthiness is important in a family boat. It takes a lot of pressure off the skipper. But these little yaws will stand up to about any kind of weather and you’ll feel like vikings cruising along a wild cost with tents and rations packed and maybe a mackle rig trailing over the stern. Every summer when my family was young we took several beach camping trips in a boat like this. Come to think of it, why aren’t we doing the same sort of things with the grandkids. After the sturdy practicality of the Caledonia, here’s a different boat idea. It comes to mind because besides being a practical guy with his family front and center in his mind, I know my friend also has a weakness for sports cars and black diamond ski slopes. That’s why I also suggest he look into the NG Herreshoff designed Buzzit Bay 15. A boat with a decidedly grand prix style, even though its design is over 100 years old. With her elegant overhangs, and slim good looks, reminiscent of Herreshoff’s 19th century America’s cup defenders, the BB 15 is also every bit a classic. So much so that the Herreshoff manufacturing company began building them in 1898, and you could still find new ones being built today at the Artisan boatworks in Rockport Maine. It’s amazing really how many identical objects can you think of that have been in production for more than 100 years. And as a sailboat, you’ll love her feel. Especially if you enjoy being at the helm of what will be about the most beguiling and spirited boat in any harbor in the world. In terms of sailing range, the BB 15 footer is longer legged than the other boats we have talked about. So an afternoon sail is likely to cover more ground and allow you to go more places. It’s also powerful enough to tow a small tender. So you can anchor off distance spots and roll ashore. Which brings us to a final boat to consider. The Nutshell Pram. Either the seven foot seven model, or the nine foot six. Designed almost 30 years ago by a boat builder Joel White, she’s become immensely popular as an all around family boat. A great learn to sail boat, a sturdy tender, or even something you can carry along with you on the roof rack for impromptu harbor tours further afield. Some people build them at home, some hire a builder to do the job, others keep a sharp eye out for a Nutshell on the used boat market. At the time Joel designed the nutshell, rubber dinghys had become almost universally popular as tenders for cruising boats, because their stowability aboard made them practical. This worried Joel because rubber duckies are essentially unrowable. What if they became the only small boat today’s kids would ever know? It could rob them of the sweet pleasure of learning to row on their own. One of the best things about boats is how much fun it is to discuss their fine points with others. If you’re hoping to get your children and grandchildren interested in the subject, talking about boat options with them can be a valuable process for everyone. Here’s a suggestion. Get the kids to tell you about their boat dreams. Where would they sail off to if they had a boat? Who would they bring with them? What sort of adventures would they have along the way? Then show them this slideshow, who knows. It might be just the thing that builds a lifetime fascination with boats.



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