NormsBoat - The Replacement of a Dovekie
 by Norm Wolfe

(click here for Normsboat plans)

After the wonderful spring cruise this year (2000) I had an opportunity to sell my Dovekie, and I did. Why? I have enjoyed Dovekie #119 for about 12 years (at least when I was living in DC), and have enjoyed the invitations of John Zohlen, Phil Sampson and others when I have crewed for them on their Dovekies. I like everything about the Dovekie, but recently my knees are objecting to crawling forward.

So... After selling my Dovekie, I began searching for a replacement which would be comparable with Shallow Water Sailing. I wanted a boat in which I could walk from stern to bow without crawling, and secondarily, self rescuing. (after my capsize on the 1988 Elk River Spring Cruise, I feel as if I have not sailed as aggressively as I would like). I did not need a boat as big as Dovekie for my single handing, and if it was under 20 feet, perhaps it would fit in a garage with room to spare for working on it. 

I looked at Bolger's Camper, an 18 foot design based on his Birdwatcher. I had seen (but not sailed) a Birdwatcher built by Jim Michalak, so I also considered a few of Jim's designs. (found at I also corresponded with a few people who had built Michalak designs, and thought his AF3 would almost suit. But at 15 feet long, I thought it could be a little bit bigger. So I sent the following letter:

Jim Michalak
118 E. Randle St.
Lebanon IL 62254
re: AF “2.5"

Dear Jim,

Thanks for the fax concerning your terms for modifying AF2 and AF3 for me. The arrangement you describe is fine with me. Therefore, I have enclosed a check as payment in full for design of a sailboat similar to your designs AF2 and AF3. I understand that the resulting plans and instructions are for me to build one boat only, and that you will try to sell copies of the plans to others. 

To recap my design requirements: I previously owned and sailed a Dovekie; this boat is to replace it with two major improvements: 1) no crawling necessary and 2) self rescuing. I also want a boat slightly shorter than the Dovekie so it will fit comfortably in a 20' garage.

- Boat and trailer 20' or less overall, so perhaps an 18' boat. 
- Slot-top to allow walking upright from cockpit to bow.
- Enough flotation areas to allow self-rescuing.
- enough ballast for single-handing, but without water ballast.
- cabin length 6'4" or more, for sleeping.
- Two oar ports, port & starboard
- two offset stern sculling points so I can stand on the centerline while sculling.
- provision for motor mount for small outboard. (your suggestion.)
- kick up rudder and lee board(s).
- stowage rack for oars while under sail; and for spars while rowing. Perhaps a cradle on one side of the cabin top.
- Rig: I liked Dovekie's sprit rig; I have sailed gaff rigged Bay Hen which has too many strings when striking the rig. I like the idea of your standing lug, but I need windward ability to short tack on the narrow estuaries of the Chesapeake. Can a sprit rig work?

Please provide me an estimate of when the plans might be ready. I plan to build it over the winter for a 1 March 01 launch.

Sincerely Yours,

My new boat will also be called "Piilu", as was my Dovekie. It means Duckling in Estonian, my wife's heritage. But there is a temptation to call it "John Chewning" in memory of the great Dovekie tinkerer.

I considered building it myself, but I have never built a boat and I do not really have the space to do so, so I looked for a builder. I found Richard Cullison was only about 30 minutes away on the North side of DC. Richard built John Gerty's Martha Jane for himself, so I had seen his workmanship. I accepted an invitation from him to ride to the Wooden Boat Show at Mystic Seaport, so we had several hours to talk boats. I found that he and I share many ideas about small boats, and that he would have time to build "NormsBoat" in the autumn, after finishing a project currently underway. He was also familiar with Dovekies, having attended at least one Spring Cruse and also storing Dean & Mary's "Heron" in his yard (along with about a dozen other boats). He also sailed "Heron" on the Magnum Opus to the North Channel this year, so he knows the boat which is my frame of reference.

Jim took about a month to draw the plans. As soon as I received them, I built a crude cardboard model of NormsBoat, using the same scale as the plans, 1 inch = 1 foot. It has been a real help as it allows me to try out ideas. John Zohlen, Ken Murphy, and of course Richard Cullison have also examined the model and contributed some suggestions.

Richard has expanded his workshop for the project, and plans to build a boat for himself when NormsBoat is completed.

Richard bought plywood and other materials and began work in late December. Shortly after beginning, he reminded me that he works in wood, not canvas, so I should order a sail. I had two recommendations, both of whom you have seen advertised in "Boats". 

Jim Michalak recommended Dabbler Sails in Wicomico Church, VA, about three hours south of Washington, DC. I called him and discovered from our conversation he was quite knowledgeable about lug sails. I faxed him a sail plan and he sent me a quote, three sailcloth samples, a page of color photographs, and instructions on measuring the deflection of the yard. I was ready to send him a check but hesitated due to the 10 week delivery.

Richard Cullison recommended Douglas Fowler of Ithaca, NY. I called him and had a similarly satisfactory conversation. I faxed him a sail plan and he sent a quote, three sailcloth samples, and two color photos of a Caledonia Yawl with a mainsail about the same size as NormsBoat. His price was identical and his delivery much quicker. I sent Douglas a deposit.

Realizing I didn’t know much about a balanced lugsail, I went to the Michalak web site and found an article he wrote in his Nov. 15, 1998 newsletter on lugsails.

By this time Richard had some plywood cut and was making bulkheads, so one weekend John Zohlen, Ken Murphy, and I visited the boatyard. Richard has erected a temporary shelter in front of and as an extension to his workshop shed. The next time I visited the sides had been attached to the stem and were spread in a “V”. I helped Richard install each bulkhead, including two temporary ones which help hold the shape until the bottom is on. Richard is taking digital photographs and posting them to his WWW site: 

Later, with John Zohlen’s help, we installed the bottom. I say we, because John and I pounded at least 10 nails each, while Richard did the other 99% of the work.

Now the boat has a painted bottom and is again upright. Richard and I have had several conversations about location of cleats, trailer eye, lazarette cover, and lots of other details. I can see that I will have to live with the boat for at least a year to figure out where things work best. 

About a month later, it was finished, as much as a boat is ever finished. It took Richard Cullison about 225 hours of work. I contributed about 25 hours building the rudder assembly, leeboard, sprit and yard. I spent about $4,000 on materials, including sails, cordage, and a used trailer. We used quality materials: okume plywood, mahogany trim, and WEST epoxy.

Richard and I first wetted the bottom a week prior to the Spring Cruise at the Tridelphia Reservoir, just North of DC on New Hampshire Ave. Fresh water, no gas motors, but light wind the day we launched. User fee is $3.00 per person; the boat is free.

The boat is rigged as a balanced lug, so the leading edge of the sail is suspended forward of the mast, tensioned between the yard and the boom. The mast is free standing, so there is no forestay. We rigged the sail and tweaked it to find the right attachment point for the halyard on the yard, and for the downhaul on the boom, and for the right amount of draft in the sail. It took some doing. We did not install any lazy-jacks yet, but I can see they would help in lowering and furling the sail.

We also mounted a temporary oar lock on the stern to try out the sculling oar and find the right balance point and the most comfortable length. I expected to cut off some of the 12 ½ foot length, but did not. The seemingly long length is not hard to handle. It balances well while sculling. It is stowed on the starboard side on the cabin top, and the oarlock is also on the starboard side, so it is a simple matter to slide it from the cabin top back to the stern and into the oarlock. (Any other actions bring to mind an old cartoon with a man carrying a ladder ... you get the idea).
We also found some adjustments needed for the trailer, trying to balance it so about 100-150 lbs. are on the tongue. It is still a little heavy on the tongue.

Overall, despite the light winds, the first sail was a success.

The Shallow Water Spring Cruise, 4-6 May, was the first test in front of witnesses. I arrived before noon and exchanged greetings with lots of friends at the ramp. I launched without incident and, after some fussing, I got underway and sailed to Church Creek (off the Little Choptank) in the company of Leo Smith and Sandy Loeman in their Dovekie “Waterbed.” I wanted to be ahead of the crowd so if I got into trouble, someone would be following me. I was pleased to find that I could pretty much keep up with Leo and Sandy, who are good sailors. I could “lash the tiller” (using the Dean Meledones style bungee like I did on my Dovekie) and quickly walk forward, adjust the sail, and return to the helm. If I did so in less than a minute, the boat stayed pretty much on course.

I was pleased to see that neither the off-center mast nor just one leeboard seemed to have any adverse effect on performance. The mast is offset about eight inches to port, and the single leeboard is on the starboard side. The leeboard is deeper than the Dovekie’s, so it will adversely affect my propensity to sail in very thin water, but I will adapt. I do miss an easy indicator to show when the leeboard has shifted up. On the Dovekie you see the inside leeboard handle move when you touch bottom. 

When we entered Church Creek, we had to beat into the wind and I found I was tacking through about 120 degrees! Not good. I knew that a standing lug was not as good to windward as a sloop, but I hoped it would be able to tack through the same as a Dovekie. Then I noticed that the leading edge of the sail was a little slack. I ducked into the lee of the shore and really hauled down on the downhaul, pulling down the boom about eight inches and thereby tightening the leading edge. Underway again, I found tacking much better, but my trial horse Waterbed was nearly out of sight by then. I also realized that with the mast off-center, the close-hauled position of the boom and sail was more over the cockpit on the starboard tack and more away from the boat on the port tack. An hour later I lowered sail in a dying wind and sculled to the dock at the church. The sculling oar worked great, but I need to reduce the diameter of the oar lock stop on the oar. It scraped the topsides under the oarlock.

After leaving Church Creek, the wind piped up and I tied in the first reef, then the second. I was pleased to find the boat behaved well when reefed. The center of effort does not change much, nor does the boom position. I missed being able to heave to like in the Dovekie (bow c/b down, every thing else up) to reef. (But see below).

After the raft up, I arranged my bed with my head toward the bow, which, due to the slight rocker of the bottom, is uphill. I didn’t want to sleep with my head downhill. In the morning, I stowed the still laid-out mattresses and sleeping bag in two slings against the side of the boat. No kneeling to roll them up. Great for a quick nap! 

The hatch cover I developed from translucent white sailcloth is still in the engineering stage. It is essentially a piece of canvas covering the 2' x 6' hatch opening, held down by bungee sewn into the sides and clipped over four hooks on each side of the hatch combing. Four battens sprung under it provide water-shedding camber (another Dovekie idea). So far, it only works when the mast is stowed. Other changes from the plans include omitting the oar ports, since I expect only to use the one sculling oar, and erecting a Dovekie-like gallows at the aft end of the cockpit. I will also develop a larger tent to enclose the cockpit, too, and provide mosquito netting enclosures where appropriate. 

Sunday morning after breakfast I accepted a tow from John Zohlen back to the ramp, due to the high winds and waves. I now wish I had tied in the third reef and sailed, but then I also wanted to see how the boat behaved being towed. I needed to stay at the helm as it did not track well, even with the helm centered and lashed. The leeboard was up and I did not try to lower it. This misbehavior may be in part due to the high winds and sea state.

On Memorial Day weekend I accepted the kind invitation of the John and Vera England to the Urbana Small Boat Meet at the waterfront of Christchurch School on the Rappahanack River. I left early Saturday morning of Memorial Weekend in the rain, drove three hours south in the rain, and arrived in the rain. We talked and during pauses in the rain, bailed the boat (no cockpit drain yet) and prepared for launching. But it just rained more, so we gave up and ate instead. The next morning the rain had stopped, so Richard and I launched Piilu with the mast stepped but no sail, in preparation for capsize testing. I secured the anchor in the bow well, and added a five-gallon jug of water (about 40 lbs.) to the outboard well to simulate stuff I would normally carry. I did not empty the lazarette of cushions, fenders, drinking water, etc., but had no cooking or camping stuff stowed below in the cabin. 

I sat, then stood on the edge of the cabin top but my 160 lbs.could not tip it over. Richard joined me, adding about 150 lbs. more, and it came over easily. Water sloshed into the cockpit, but the boat floated with about an eight-inch “draft,” not deep enough for water to enter the lazarette or the cabin. The mast provided flotation preventing the boat from turning turtle, with the tip of the mast about three feet below the surface. I should mention we were standing in about four feet of calm water, so this was quite easy. I went around the boat and climbed up the bottom, using the 1x4 “keel” as a step. As I grabbed the edge of the bottom (outside chine logs) and leaned out, the boat came upright. Later tests showed us that we could balance the boat in the water at about a 45-degree angle.

Then we raised the sails and capsized it again, first on one side, then the other. After several tests, every thing in the cockpit was completely drenched (I was also testing some supposedly watertight containers), and there was about 6 inches of water at the bridge deck. It took about 10 minutes of unhurried bailing to empty. No water below nor in the lazarette, and none in the self draining anchor well nor in the open outboard motor well, which is wider than the anchor well. The motor well drain holes shown on the plans have not been drilled yet.

Although the tests were made in calm water and no wind, I am comfortable that, even in rough water the wooden mast would prevent the boat from turning turtle. Without the mast it could turn turtle, but due to the weight of the bottom, would be less stable than if upright. 

Later, while sailing alone, I wanted to see what the boat would do if I lashed the helm and let go of the sheet. To my delight, it fell off to a slow beam reach with the sail drawing very little (no shrouds to hold the sail back). I had discovered my “hove to” position for adjusting the sail. Now I need jiffy reefing, because the end of the boom is too far outboard to reach when in this position.

I was also able to heel the boat comfortably, knowing that it would go to about 45 degrees before capsizing. I doubt I was anywhere near 45 degrees, but I had no apprehension of capsizing. 

Since then I have arranged a winch and tackle to raise the boat and trailer up into the loft of my double garage, so I can park a car underneath. That’s another story.