A Good Boat, Up Close – The Spidsgatter PAX

May 26, 2014

OCH Guide Kaci Cronkhite is a legend in the Northwest wooden boat scene.  A circumnavigator and long time director of the Port Townsend Wooden Boat festival, one would expect her personal boat to be a knockout, and it surely is. Join Eric Blake as he and Kaci take us through the fine points of her beautiful Spidsgatter, PAX.

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Want to know More about PAX and the Spidgatters?

PAX's Specs:

LOA - 28'

Beam - 9'6"

Draft - 6'

Displacement - 7 Tons

Sail Area - 45 Square Meters

There were three spidsgatter class designers: Aage Utzon (the most prolific), M.S.J Hansen ('the perfectionist', PAX's designer) and Georg Berg.

PAX was built in 1936 by Karl Thomsen.

Want to know more about Kaci Cronkhite?

Kaci has written a book called, "Finding Pax"  about her work tracing the history of PAX.

Kaci Cronkhite is an Off Center Harbor Guide.

Read Kaci's OCH Guide Post  "Herstory Matters: The Spidsgatter PAX"

And you can visit Kaci's Website to find out more about the book she is writing about PAX.


Also, check out the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival Website

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– We’re here today with Kaci Cronkhite and her spidsgatter, PAX. Kaci I know very little about the spidsgatters. Can you give us a little tour of PAX and

– Sure.

– tell us a little bit about her?

– The class of spidsgatters was the attempt by the Danes in the late 20s and early 1930s in Denmark to get their families more interested and excited about racing and going on the longer regattas and round island races. The fishing boats and the life boats in a lot of the heritage there of the north Atlantic and the Norwegian, Swedish, Danish boats was these big, round, beamy double-enders with all kinds of different shapes of the stern. So some of the sail clubs decided to start a competition. As they drew the specs for the spidsgatter it was using those old fish boat and the beaminess for that volume but they put a really tall rig on it. PAX, for example, is 28 feet long and the mast is 46 feet above the deck.

– Wow.

– They class them by the size of sail area and this one is called a 45 square meter.

– This is a huge rig for a 28 foot boat.

– Yeah, so she’s 28 feet long, 9’6″ beam. Because of the high main, you do reef firmly. I have a 30 and a 60% reef.

– I’ve always said it’s better to have than to wish you had.

– That’s my philosophy for sure. Well, we’re at my favorite end, the back end. It was her stern that I first saw.

– It’s really unbelievable how full she is and how hollow she goes, right at the water line kind of a very hollow section there.

– Yeah.

– Two things about the stern that strike me are how that reverse creates a very full stern section which would almost lift the boat in a following sea.

– It does.

– Also the sheer mass of this rudder head, The rudder is actually from the water line up is completely unsupported and is hung by two pintles one at the water line and one at the heel of the stern post there. Just a massive rudder head which is just beautiful and elegant.

– She is incredibly easy to move forward with the lightest of wind or just a little nudge or if you loose the lines you can literally just give her a slight push and she’ll start to go forward. In the 80s the boat was severely damaged in a fire and it burned out the interior which damaged the cabin so much that they lost it. So the fire meant that this entire cabin got cut out. The cabin and cuddy are all new but they’re based on a lot of the original design and starting here you can see it’s a continuous piece of mahogany all the way up. And then from that, the woman up in Canada created the cabin.

– So was her cabin originally split like this?

– Yes, that is a MSJ Hansen.

– This makes a wonderful place to tend sails and work the lines of the mast so these two coamings you’re on the deck but you have a nice foothold.

– I’ve loved it, I throw my fenders in there I’ll throw my winch handle in there. I’ll drop line if I don’t have time to coil it real quick because I’m doing something else so it’s incredibly handy, keeps everything on the deck and yet it drains.

– I am drawn to this overhang. The house sides extend back to meet the cockpit coaming.

– So is she tender?

– No.

– She is not. Yeah, that’s just a great back rest.

– No, it is the back rest as well. The original cockpit of these boats was open back in the middle, they had a steering seat that was about here and then it dropped down so they had a couple of different levels. I had this designed for what’s comfortable for me and I left the aft section open knowing that most of my sailing is gonna be around here and it was nice for ventilation and when I’m going across the straights then I just slide a piece of plywood back inside the opening and just screw it down and then I close that and I’ve got a self-draining cockpit.

– It’s kind of the best of both worlds really.

– Yeah well, for me, for this boat, that’s what I needed. If I was going offshore, totally different story.

– Right.

– And otherwise I’ve got fuel, batteries, line storage and fenders and then just extra stuff, you know here.

– An incredibly safe feeling cockpit. I mean, this is a 20…

– 28 foot boat.

– 8 foot boat.

– I mean I feel like I’m sitting in the cockpit of a 40 some footer.

– Yeah.

– I mean just as far as you’re down inside, below deck, nice footwell, but just this. This almost feels like a hard dodger


– in front, you know? Kaci, the non-skid on PAX’s cabin top and side deck is really coarse. Can you tell me about what you used there?

– The cabin especially is so steep, that I was having trouble keeping my footing up there. And with this big main, that’s important, even more important. So we taped the pattern that we wanted and then where the non-skid goes we painted first so we used Interlux Brightside and then using a flour sifter, shook on Silversand. You do it really evenly but it’s okay to have too much. You let that dry and the next day you vacuum up what’s left. Then the day after that, or a couple days after that, you switch out to your, outside of your runway and paint again and again. So I think this was, in total, four coats with the sand going into the first coat of the Brightside and then three coats after that. That covers all the area. I was hesitant because, when I was on boats in the tropics, and you don’t wear as many clothes, then you’ve got this coarseness on your bare skin but in the Northwest and with this steepness and really really not wanting to fall in the water up here.

– Can you talk to me a little bit about the rig?

– It’s a fractional rig but with this really tall mast. The running backs are here but I’ve sailed on boats in the races in regattas in Denmark, in Copenhagen and they never use them. They fly spinnakers and they don’t use the running backs. I’m more of a chicken and so I have them and they’ve also been, as we were talking about not having life lines there just a little bit of something to use as a transition between getting out of the cockpit and going forward. When you’re off the wind, it’s just nice to have that extra because there’s so much sail and so much rig up there. And it does help trim the boat a little bit.

– Oh, Kaci. You can see from the stem to the sternpost inside this boat which is just not something that you often see in a boat these days

– During one boat festival I’d have sometimes 8 people sitting down here and it’s not uncomfortable. And the whole forepeak is still open.

– A big double berth in the forepeak.

– Yeah, and that’s 7’2″ plus the center portion which you could put your head here or put your head at the other end. I just would use, we’d just use a bucket and a camp stove at this point for the, with those nifty little enviro-bags and so I’ve kept it simple that way too. I sort of did things as my budget would allow and sort of in priority for me so the chart table was the first thing for me. Then my instrument panel so that I had the basics I needed to go anywhere and there was a camping interior in here so we sort of just started on one side and once I talked to Diana and quite a few shipwrights, other shipwrights in Port Townsend about this idea of rather than a full bulkhead for strength could we do with just partial bulkheads. And then when I mentioned the double like this I realized I could then also get storage out of it. So I’ve got my courtesy flags, some quick things that are sort of what projects I’m working on right now. So my Dolphinite and my wood glue and my tape measure because I just took measurements for a winter tarp I wanna make, things like that. And then if I had a little desk drawer, that’s the stuff that’s in the bottom there. Rigging tape, little waterproof notepad, my sail twine and needle. So things like that are just right there. And then up under the forepeak is where I put water. So I store water in small containers up there. It adds some weight up forward. Under those bunks I’ve got hatches that I can open so there’s storage underneath the entire forepeak. As well as access, it’s not built in as cabinets so it’s the hull there so you can see everything. This side I’ve got spare line and food and that side I’ve got emergency gear.

– I love this use

– Leaving it open? Yeah.

– And how, I mean it is a very hospitable interior of a 28 foot, I mean, I feel like we’re in a little ship.

– Isn’t it crazy?

– It is.

– I mean, you probably should crawl up there and just see what that feels like up there. It’s crazy. Just watch you head in the transition zone.

– Oh my goodness, so just the v-berth, you know underneath this whole bonus cabin here. You just get this whole other space.

– You can see the sawn frames and those are on 23 inch centers which would, I’m saying 23 inch but it’s sort of mas or menos because they of course were doing everything metric and I haven’t measure it that way. But those are the sawn frames and then with two bent oak ribs in between. And those are copper riveted, the sawn frames were iron fastened and the planks were larch. For eight years I’d been ocean sailing and six of those, doing a circumnavigation so I had sailed around the world westabout with Nancy Erley as a full time first mate and co-instructor. And we were teaching women on ocean passages. I ended the circumnavigation here in Port Townsend. September 11th happened and got stuck in town. That winter was asked to run the Wooden Boat Festival. How I approach life is you never really know for sure what it is but if the opportunity feels right and you can go there, go there. And the rest will come. I went on one passage and it turned into a circumnavigation. I worked for one festival and it turned into 10 years. Every year a little different. I don’t have radar, I don’t have a chart plotter, I don’t have a big load of battery banks so for me, just having the charts and the compass and the barometer, those are the basics.


25 Responses So Far to “A Good Boat, Up Close – The Spidsgatter PAX”:

  1. Robert Miller says:

    Wonderful boat!

    • Thanks much, Robert! I’m as smitten now as when I first spotted her. If you’re on Instagram, follow along with the latest bit or restoration–partial deck, spur beams, grown oak knees. I still pinch myself to have her in this community of boatbuilders.

  2. Stewart Simpkins says:

    The piece about the Spidsgatter Pax is a fine example of what keeps me coming back.

    Stu Simpkins

  3. John Wujack says:

    Hello Kaci, I love your Pax. Some time has passed since the last OCH entry. I sail my Stone Horse, Kittiwake, out of Poulsbo, Liberty Bay and will be attending this year’s, 2016 Wooden Boat Festival. Is Pax still in the Port Townsend/Puget Sound area? I’d love to see her. Kind Regards, John

    • Hi John.
      Great boat name! Yes indeed, Pax is still in Port Townsend. I’ll have her at the Festival, along with my new book about my 7 year search to find her 70 years of history in Denmark, Canada and California. Hope to meet you and by all means – yes – come aboard! I have a Facebook page called SPIDSGATTER PAX and will have the book at the Festival, too.

      Will watch for you if, by chance, I get to sail her to Poulsbo before the end of the month. Winds willing, of course.

  4. Klavs Lyholmer says:

    It’s not that I want to nitpick, but the three spidsgatter class designers were, Aage Utzon (who was the father of Joern Utzon who later did the Sidney opera house), Marius Sofus Johannes Hansen (the perfectionist), and Georg Berg. Just for the record, Lyholmer, Denmark

  5. David Tew says:

    Wonderful! Love that stern.

  6. Rick Robinson says:

    Another fine video that makes me want to get out on the water…or just be in and on my boat. Thanks Kaci, PAX and OCH for making such a fine video.

  7. Eigil Rothe says:

    Beautiful. The fire turned out to be a great opportunity to create a wonderful interior layout. I used to spend my summers growing up in Denmark, near Humblebaek harbour. Lots of spidsgatter and folk boats. My father had an engine-less 6 meter.

    • Thanks so much Eigil. Of course, I wouldn’t wish a fire on anyone, but boy-oh-boy I agree. It gave me the chance to be creative in the space without the guilt or challenge of working around or taking out any of the original wood and craftsmanship. I am near Humblebaek right now.. meeting with spidsgatter people from the DAEFL on Tuesday night. The next best thing to Danish boats is my Danish friends. Love ’em both;)

  8. karenlsullivan says:

    Great video, Kaci and OCH! Pax’s lovely lines and Bristol condition are going to be matched by the story you are writing, of the lives she’s touched in Europe, Canada and the US. Can’t wait to see it published and read it.

  9. Clyde Davis says:

    Eye candy for me for years at Wooden Boat Festival, plus day trips by ferry to Port Townsend for lunches.

    Folks, see Paul Gartside’s 24 foot design #199 for instant addiction.

    Thanks much Kaci for this and the Festival! I go Fridays and Saturdays. See ya in September when I’ll ask permission to come aboard, then dream of a future build!

  10. Dean Wilson says:

    Beautiful lines, thanks for sharing

  11. Livio Muench says:

    Thankyou Kaci for giving us a look at your beautiful craft. I Very much like your ethos, simplicity and grace, reflected in Pax. Her lines and interior make her very appealing little ship. What a truly interesting herstory.

    • Thank you Livio! I am forever grateful to the designer, boatbuilder, shipwrights and owners who’ve come before me. I’ve certainly tried my best to keep her beautiful and loved every minute of it. Happy to share her with the world via OCH.

  12. Craig Hohm says:

    a big grey seal.

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