Twenty Small Sailboats to Take You Anywhere
Twenty Small Sailboats to Take You Anywhere
It might seem a little strange at first to be recommending to
Duckworks readers John Vigor’s excellent Twenty
Small Sailboats to Take You Anywhere. After
all, you all are a bunch of individualists dedicated to frequently
building your own boats, likely as not from plywood and epoxy,
and with unstayed masts and unusual rigs. Vigor’s book details
20 boats, almost entirely stayed Bermudan sloops, with the odd
ketch and cutter thrown in. All are fiberglass, although one also
has been built in wood.
But then Duckworkers tend to be dreamers who find ways to make
their dreams come true. This book is for those who dream of long
distance sails, crossing oceans, and maybe even a circumnavigation
– and perhaps are looking to do more than dream.
Vigor is an experienced sailor who has crossed oceans and raced,
and has written for several publications, including Good Old
Boat, the magazine that advocates the joys of going to sea
in well found, older boats that don’t cost more than your
home. Indeed, Good Old Boat publishers Karen Larson and
Jerry Powlas wrote the foreword for this book.
As Vigor explains in his introduction, the purpose of the book
was to find 20 seaworthy boats capable of crossing oceans and
are reasonable in size and price. In this case, the boats range
from 20 feet to 32 feet. When he wrote the book in 1999, prices
for the boats used (a couple were available new for considerably
more) ranged from $3,000 to around $50,000. Given recent economic
vicissitudes, those prices may still be reasonably accurate.
Here’s how Vigor described his choices: “Few are
as sleek and flashy as most modern sailboats but they all come
from highly pedigreed stock. They represent the work of some of
the world’s finest yacht designers. . . You may wonder why
the virtues of each boat greatly outweigh her faults. The answer
is simple: This is the cream of the crop.
“There are no
Boats range from the Cal 20 and the Flicka (another 20 footer,
but with much more hull volume) to the Westsail 32 (one of three
32-footers but the one with the most interior volume). If you’re
an avid marine reader, you’ll probably have heard of most
of the boats, but I’m betting there will also be some surprises.
There were for me.
Each chapter covers a boat and includes a general discussion
about the history, design, manufacture, and other lore. That’s
followed by quick but thorough descriptions of accommodations,
the rig, and performance. There’s a list of known weaknesses
and then, for most of the boats, Vigor summarizes an owner’s
experience with the design. There are line drawings of the hull,
rig, and accommodations. The boat’s vitals – length,
beam, draft, sail area, etc. – are in a separate box. A
second boxed summary gives Vigor’s rating of that boat’s
seaworthiness compared to the other 19 boats in the boat, its
PHRF handicap rating if it has one, and a quick summary of it’s
“Ocean Comfort Level.” For the Cal 20, Vigor says
of its OCL, “No comfort whatsoever, but she can accommodate
two adults with their elbows in each other’s faces. A good
candidate for singlehanding.”
As that comment shows, Vigor has not regurgitated advertising
copy for his boats. Rather he has cast his experienced eye on
the boat and tells you what he likes and what you might want to
address before taking one of these across an ocean (he recommends
some beefing up for a couple of them). If there’s no bridge
deck, he’ll advise making sure the lower companionway slides
can be secured fastened in place to prevent water running from
the footwell into the cabin. If there’s no compression post
to the keel under a deck-stepped mast, he’ll let you know.
If the galley is hard to use, Vigor says so, and he has high standards
since he figures eating is rather important to passage-making
(may he never see what passes for a galley on my 30-footer . .
.). He’ll also let you know if access to the inboard engine,
if the boat has one, is adequate. On that subject, he had this
to say about the Pacific Seacraft 25: “Access from the cabin
is minimal; if you remove the companionway step you can peer at
the engine hopefully and wipe its little face, but that’s
Which demonstrates one of the best aspects of the book, namely
Vigor’s humor and good writing. While he doesn’t pull
punches about shortcomings he sees, he writes with great affection
about the boats and frequently uses humor to make his points.
After all, these boats are in the book because he thinks they’re
superior. I enjoyed his observation that an alcohol stove “produces
little heat at great expense.” There are many more such
wry nuggets, but you’ll have to buy the book to find them.
Observations like that are one reason the book is a good value
even for people like me, who probably will never own another stayed-rigged
sailboat. Vigor’s views on layout, seaworthiness, and a
bunch of other topics apply to almost any boat. You might not
always agree but you’ll have plenty to think about. For
example, despite the modern preference for propane galley equipment,
Vigor recommends kerosene stoves. For him, the pain of having
to prime them is offset by their burning much hotter than alcohol
stoves and avoiding the explosive possibilities of propane. Plus
the fuel is cheap and readily available anywhere.
He pounds away on the importance of bridge decks and you’ll
learn a lot about what size motors are just adequate and what
you’ll need to punch into a breeze and chop. Do you need
a storm trysail? For these size boats, Vigor advocates a third
reef in the main instead. And there’s much more.
I do have one nit to pick. I wish there could have been some
photographs included in addti8on to the line drawings, and in
one or two cases a couple more drawings would have been appreciated
to show alternate deck or cabin layouts. (The Morris/Frances 26
has flush deck, short truck cabin, and long truck cabin versions,
but only the flush decker is drawn.)
A minor point. This slender volume (131 pages, not counting
the bibliography) is well worth the reading. I normally devour
books, being a fairly avid reader. For Twenty Small Sailboats
to Take You Anywhere, I forced myself to slow down, limiting myself
to a chapter to two a night. Sorta like limiting yourself to a
piece or two at a time from the box of chocolates. It’s
enjoyable to stretch out the pleasure.
And when you are done, you’ll probably find your way to
or a similar site. I did that with a couple of the mid-sized boats
in the book, and found a used model of one for $19,900, and another
model for $9,900.
That’ll start some serious dreaming.
Small Sailboats to Take You Anywhere is available
from Small Craft Advisor (www.smallcraftadvisor.com),
Good Old Boat (www.goodoldboat.com),
and, I assume like most of the world that isn’t nailed down,
Review Two: Tolman Alaskan Skiffs
||Book Review: Tolman Alaskan Skiff
I bought a copy of Renn Tolman´s book "Tolman
Alaska Skiffs" and I´d like to tell
you a bit about it. First, I have to say that I am a sailor at
heart and don´t give much thought to power boats. I bought
the book because I wanted to make a nice V bow and couldn´t
figure it out with cardboard and the Tolman
Skiff has a beauty of a bow on it, so I figured
to let Mr. Tolman do my work for me. I also figured that anyone
who has built over 100 boats using the same method must surely
have something to say worth hearing, and I was right! This is
a good course in composite (wood, epoxy, fibreglass) boat construction,
and this man builds a serious boat.
When the book arrived I started at the "Introduction"
with Tolman discussing the development of his design from a traditional
flat bottomed skiff to the present shallow-V construction, a nice
history of the Tolman Skiff and a bit of insight into Tolman´s
way of thinking. Then I started chapter 1, "Defining the
Tolman Skiff" which talks about the actual construction and
the pros and cons of the Tolman skiff, the cons being mostly that
an aluminum skiff is a bit easier to maintain but is heavier,
therefore needs a bigger motor and more fuel.
But, hey, I bought this book to learn how to shape the plywood
bottom, so I start flipping pages untill I find the bottom plywood,
and, wouldn´t you know it, there it is, just what I wanted.
Now I can play with this for a small sailboat I´d like to
build. The problem (if you can call it that) is that now I´m
hooked on this book, so back I go to chapter 2.
Chapter 2, "Design Choices", discusses the three models
of the Tolman Skiff, their development, and why you would build
one or the other. Cabins are discussed, how big, what will it
be used for, sleeping accommodation or just a wheelhouse out of
the weather. Motors are also discussed here, which model of boat
uses what power and why, 2-stroke and 4-stroke motors, how the
weight of the motor affects the performance, all interesting stuff,
even to a sailor.
Chapters 3 and 4 talk about shop space and shop set-up and ALL
the tools necessary to build a Tolman Skiff. Let me say here,
for those of you who maybe wouldn´t otherwise figure this
out, that a book like this one, dedicated to one particular craft,
will have a bit of information pertinent to these boats only,
although it is very little. Some of the tools discussed here may
not be necessary for your boat and your boat may need something
that you don´t need here. Personally, I like the tool parts
of books because often the author has found a use for a tool that
I haven´t thought of.
Chapters 5 and 6, "Choosing Material" and Material
list" are self explanatory and with good ideas. Chapter 7,
"Using Epoxy and Fibreglass" is a short course on this
work and well worth the reading be you a first-timer or multi-timer.
You just can´t know too much. From here on the actual construction
is explained. Tolman claims to have built over 100 boats, and
I don´t doubt it for a minute. As you read the instructions
it becomes more and more clear that a lot of thought and development
has gone into these boats. It also becomes clear that Tolman´s
method is dedicated to building the best skiff he can within the
limits of the material. The book was written in 2003 and he claims
that the first Tolman Skiff, built in 1980, is still going strong.
If it was built to these standards, I´m not surprised.
All the information you need to build one of these boats is
in the book, just as is claimed, although some of it is not laid
out with absolute clarity. I find myself going back over parts
looking for information, which is really a good thing because
I´m reading the instructions 2 or 3 times and clarifying
everything. I think what happened is that after building so many
of these, most of what I´m having trouble finding, and it´s
all basic stuff, is info that Tolman has found to be self-evident.
A case in point- the three cross pieces for the building jig are
drawn but only the front piece is marked front. When you go to
another drawing it becomes apparent which goes where, but for
a short time there is confusion.
About half of the book discusses cabins and decks and other
things that can be built into your skiff. I am not interested
in this work at present, but I did browse the sections and they
seem to be as complete as the rest of the book (and why not?).
There are parts about painting, fixing dings and dents, making
a cover for winter storage, maintenance of a composite boat (yes,
there is maintenance, maintenance free boats are a myth), making
and installing Lexan windows and windshields, and just about anything
else you might want to fit to your boat, even to self contained
under the deck fuel tanks.
So, what do I think as the reviewer? First, I would very much
like to sit down with Renn Tolman and get to know this man whom
I feel I know from reading his book. I like his approach to boatbuilding
and would probably like him as well. Second, although I´m
still a sailor at heart, the more time I spend with this book,
the more I want to build one of these boats. I guess that pretty
much says it all, eh!!
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