Building and Sailing a Bolger Windsprint


Building and Sailing a Bolger Windsprint

By Jack F McKie


Back in the late 1980s I wanted a sailboat to get back on the water that is so abundant here in Western New York State. I wanted a sailboat that was easily single handled but would also carry a passenger. I couldn’t afford to buy a new wood boat and didn’t want a used fiberglass boat. I decided that the best option was to build a boat since I am fairly adept at woodworking. Having read Payson’s “Instant Boats” and “New Instant Boats” I decided to build Windsprint primarily because of the double ended design and simple no lofting construction. At the time I was leery of the offset daggerboard and lug sail but decided that I liked the look of lug sail and decided that in principle the offset daggerboard would work. I sent to H.H. Payson for plans and to Bohndel for a sail. I bought the sail first in order to have everything I needed in advance as well as to pressure myself into completion of the project. The plans arrived with the sail following shortly.


Once the plans arrived it was easier to see the plan detail. One concern I had was that I felt there was a need for floatation in case of capsize. I drew in the flotation tanks fore and aft on the plans and decided to add them. As it happened, they were to be a welcome addition in the future.

Having been around boats in the past I “knew” that I needed top quality wood. I managed to find some clear douglas fir two by fours that would be used for the chines and rails as well as some fir marine ply. For glue I decided on West™ epoxy. The few fittings required were either purchased or made. The only fastenings used were a few brass screws and bronze ring shank boat nails.

To begin construction I cut all the plywood parts per the drawings. This went relatively quickly using a circular saw and table saw. Next, I ripped the chines and rail laminations from the douglas fir two by fours on the table saw which was a fairly lengthy and dirty process. Once all the parts were cut out (except the flotation tank parts) I was ready to start assembly.

First in the assembly process was to make up the sides with their butt joints. I considered scarfing the sides but decided to stick with Bolger’s design. Once the sides were made up and the stems ripped out of fir the assembly was ready to begin in earnest. Assembly goes pretty much as described in Dynamite Payson’s description of building Teal in “Instant Boats” but on a slightly larger scale with more joints. One exception to this is the laminated rails which are fussy to laminate but not difficult. I used epoxy throughout building this boat including coating the ply with resin. Once the basic hull was built and set bottom down on the garage floor it was time to build the flotation tanks. I penciled in the location of the tank tops and bulkheads deciding to place the tank tops below the shear line in order to allow grabbing onto the rail all around the boat. The aft bulkhead was located at the aft edge of the butt joint while the forward bulkhead had to be located just forward of the mast step and mast partners. One by two fir was used to frame in the tanks with bevels being determined with the use of a batten and bevel gauge. Patterns were made from the framing and the bulkheads and tops were epoxied in place. The following two pictures show the hull at this point having just been washed prior to further construction and fitting out.

The first picture is looking forward. The holes on the bulkhead are for Beckson™ screw type deck plates to allow access and storage. Storage in the flotation tanks is limited due to the small six inch opening but it is useful for odd lines, paddle, anchor, etc. Note the level of the flotation tank top that allows one to grab the gun’l at any point on the boat. At this point the hull was ready for the aft thwart and mast partner as well as the daggerboard, rudder and rig.

I built the mast partner as a laminated piece to allow for a more simple design than shown in Bolger’s drawing. The rudder and daggerboard were laminated from one quarter inch ply per Bolger’s design though I made the daggerboard one quarter inch thicker. Building the spars was not difficult but finding the material wasn’t easy. I used clear spruce two by fours ripped for the boom and gaff. I made the gaff and boom an inch or two longer than the plans specify to assure the sail could be set properly. The mast was hollow and built of Sitka spruce as shown in the drawing. The biggest difficulty in making the mast was clamping and making sure that the mast was straight and true. I considered a solid mast but I had difficulty finding suitable two by fours and felt the weight savings was worth the effort to make the mast hollow. The box section mast Bolger designed for Windsprint is probably the easiest hollow mast you can build and is extremely strong. I glued many small triangular blocks in place on the wide staves in order to locate the narrow staves for glue-up.

Fittings on the hull are two bow eyes, one being fitted to the top inside of the stem and the other being at the bottom outside of the stem. The rudder was hung on home made brass hardware machined from brass bar stock I mounted two cleats on the sides of the mast for the halyard and one for the downhaul. The sheet requires only one block mounted on the rudder. I used chrome plated aluminum half oval strip for the rub rails.

Once the boat was ready to rig I did a dry run in the back yard since I wasn’t familiar with the Lug sail and wanted to get the bugs out at home where tools and materials were handy. Rigging Windsprint went smoothly with out a hitch. The sail from Bohndel was superbly cut and shaped. If I had to complain about the rig it would be about the time it takes to bend sail on using the lacing and again taking the lacing out when finished. Using sail track or a bolt rope to attach the sail might be an option. A better option might be keeping the sail on the spars and using a canvas cover.


After a trailer was purchased I was ready to sail the boat for the first time. I took the boat to the local boat launch and rigged her in about a half hour. Once launched it was time to take a first sail and see if my time and money were well spent.

Being used to small one design sailboats and a small gunter rigged catboat this was a new experience sailing a Lug rigged boat. Although the rig looked much different than anything I had sailed previously, I found nothing to complain about. She spun on a dime, followed through stays smoothly, and sailed about without much fuss. The relatively large rudder and daggerboard surfaces make for positive directional control. Windsprint is sensitive to crew position and weight placement. After sailing for a few minutes I found that placing my weight so it was as close as possible to the aft edge of the daggerboard made a big difference in performance. Windsprint is a fairly tender boat for her size and flat bottom but anyone who has sailed small boats before should be comfortable.

Once I sailed Windsprint in about a thirty mile an hour + wind. A fellow had been watching me sail earlier that week wanted a boat ride. I took him for a sail against my better judgment. The experience was interesting. This fellow was pretty heavy duty and I am not exactly small. I think our combined weight was about 400 lbs. We went out of a sheltered cove on a beam reach across Long Lake in the Adirondacks. When the full force of the wind hit as we came out of the cove the boat heeled only slightly and began to really fly. The rig was pulling hard on the sheet and there was visible flex in the mast. The boat was on a plane a few brief moments and we flew across the lake. Water boiled in her wake. The centerboard and rudder sang as they vibrated through the water. We came about and flew back to the cove. My main concern during this adventure was breakage with bringing the boat about at the end of the reach with out capsizing being a close second. Windsprint did this under strain but with out mishap.

Looking at the plans initially I was concerned with the offset daggerboard which from the standpoint of balance and lateral resistance seemed just as efficient as it would be in the center. I was also concerned about the ability of the lug rig to go to windward. I think that the rig goes to windward about the same as a gaff cat and in practical terms does quite nicely.

One unexpected negative aspect of the Lug rig was running in a strong wind. Under this condition the boat would roll side to side in an uneasy manner. I found that this was eliminated by sheeting in the sail more than normal for running keeping the gaff perpendicular to the centerline of the boat. Another drawback to the rig is that in any wind it can be difficult to set sail in open water due to the gaff and loose sail flailing around. Windsprint is best launched with the sail set from a beach, shallow water, or dock.

Reefing the sail was ok on the first reef but the second reef destroyed her windward ability almost entirely. I don’t know if this was the fault of the type, sail or skipper but I found the second reef useless. One nice thing about the lug sail is that if the spars have a little flex you can flatten the sail a little by tightening halyard/downhaul which makes for better performance in strong winds.

Only once did I capsize. I am embarrassed to say that I fell asleep at the helm on a very calm day and the boat jibed and….. Needless to say it was a rude awakening! I was thankful for the flotation. First thing I did was get a life vest on and try to right the boat. I got the vest on ok but righting the boat alone was another thing. I ended up pulling the rig, righting and bailing the boat, and re rigging. The toughest part of getting the boat back under sail was re-stepping the mast. If the mast had been solid I would not have been able to do it because it was tough enough with my light hollow mast.


My Windsprint was built very close to Bolger’s plans with the only major deviation being the flotation tanks. As designed, Windsprint is a nice boat indeed and sails well. That being said, Windsprint has some weak points that I would address if I were to build another. Using 20/20 hindsight I would make the following changes.

The first change I would make is to use cheaper materials in general utilizing wood that isn’t perfect. I wasn’t all that impressed with the quality of the marine ply I used and think spruce from the lumber yard would have been adequate instead of the expensive clear fir. I would still use the epoxy for glue but might skip coating everything. I would use ordinary house paint rather than marine paint. I would make all the fittings and consider use of figure eight lashing instead of rudder hardware.

The one quarter inch ply bottom as designed is way too flexible. If I were to do it again I would opt for a scarf jointed three eights inch bottom with grain oriented across the bottom in order to strengthen the bottom. In addition I would add a one by eight cross section center keel set flat on the center of the bottom and eliminate the “skids” shown in the plan.

Although the big open cockpit may sound desirable, I found it a problem. In rough water and some wind there simply isn’t anything to grab onto or get a foot hold on. Add some water in the bottom to this and you will slide around the bottom. There is no where to sit in this boat, other than the bottom, which can be fatiguing at times. I am familiar with the typical one design centerboard in the middle with hiking straps which make for a more comfortable and safe sail in some wind. I would move the daggerboard case to the middle of the boat and add a rowing thwart. This would also help stiffen up the bottom. I asked Bolger about a centerboard but he vetoed that saying that the daggerboard would perform much better. I still wonder about the centerboard because I have seen it in a drawing of a Chesapeake crab boat of similar in form to Windsprint that has a centerboard. A centerboard would probably spoil Windsprint’s agility and would certainly add to her weight.

The mast was fine but that was before I knew about the bird’s mouth mast building technique. I would opt for a bird’s mouth mast on about the same taper shown for the hollow mast in the drawings. I would probably use ordinary spruce or linden rather than the expensive Sitka.

The sheeting arrangement as in the drawing can be hard on the hands. I would try to work out a way to use a cam cleat for the sheet and maybe add some mechanical advantage to the sheet.

The sail I bought was outstanding but I would tell the sail maker to forget the second reef and save the labor.

One thing I was originally against was adding oars. Now I would add the rowing thwart and definitely add oars to add to the versatility of Windsprint.


To my eye, Windsprint is one of Bolger’s finest designs. With a few modifications this boat is an outstanding day sailor for protected waters. Although great as a trailer sailor this boat would really make an ideal row/sail boat for a cottage on a small lake. This would be a great boat to teach a youngster some basic woodworking skills and how to sail. I also wouldn’t rule out doing some fishing on a quiet lake with Windsprint.

Jack F. Mc Kie
Freshwater Models
97 Alpha St
Rochester, New York