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by Jim Betts - Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey - USA

This is not so much the story of a boat, but a story about a member who knew what he wanted and got it by designing his boat himself. Not everyone is able to do this, but everyone is capable of giving it a try. The first step is to see how it looks on paper.

When Richard Ellison's company relocated him from the Chesapeake Bay area to Tennessee, a look at the map showed quite a few lakes. So his bluewater 24-foot, deep-keel sloop went with him. The only trouble was that all the lakes are formed by TVA dams and offer any sort of depth only in the main channels. In addition, the water level varies depending on how much water is released for power generation and flood control. In short, this was no place for a big boat!

Ellison, now 67 and retired, has a strong engineering background as well as wildlife biology. He saw that the lakes were not suitable for his background of sailing relatively large boats. He set about designing his own boat which would be "fitted" to the conditions.

Desired Features Are Listed:

1. It must be easy to trailer, rig and launch with minimum effort and in a short time.

2. The boat would have to be extremely small, but comfortable for an older person, and quite stable under sail. As he puts it: "At my age, I no longer consider riding the rail and hiking out to be exhilarating. Nor did I want a boat where my knees were up to my chin all day. In short, I reasoned that the smaller the boat, the more sailing I would do, but even a small boat had to be comfortable and safe."

3. The ideal boat would be rigged to carry an inventory of sails sufficient to provide most of the sail combinations found on larger cruising craft. This is to make it possible to maximize the sailing experience. Call it blue-water sailing on a puddle.

4. The boat would need high freeboard and high bow in order to take waves up to 18 inches, which is what you can get in 15 knots of wind on shallow water. This would also allow for high seats.

5. She would have to be extremely sensitive in light air and yet capable of handling winds of 15 knots or better with shortened sail. A lot of sail on a small boat. As they say, "You can always take sails off but you cannot add ones you don't have."

6. This little boat should be able to carry two 200-pound men with ease and in rough water and be able to carry a small outboard motor. There was no stock boat nor any design that met all of these requirements.

A Do-it-yourself Design

And so the project began. The name CYGNET (a little swan) was chosen and the general requirement was that it should mimic the offshore experience in miniature on small bodies of water where a force 4-5 wind on an 8-ft boat would be similar to force 7-8 on a larger boat in open water.

It soon became apparent that, for minimum size and maximum buoyancy, a pram would be the best hull configuration. But Richard's experience told him that their bows go down in anything more than a modest breeze. To counter this, he figured on a pronounced "rocker" shaped bottom with a fulcrum well forward of her center of gravity might create a situation where in order to push the bow down, force would have to lift the weight of the helmsman near the transom, thus forcing the rocker fulcrum deeper into the water, increasing her effective displacement and shifting the center of buoyancy forward to a point where the daggerboard would be located and, if properly designed, would - under these conditions - be the deepest point or the hull. A high upward curve at the bow would continue to maintain a relatively high entry even in heavy air.

What's a Bottom For?

In order to maximize buoyancy in her primary load carrying area (the cockpit) the hull was designed with and semi-v bottom with a 10 degree angle from its deepest point (the daggerboard) forward to the bow and from the daggerboard aft shallowing out to 5 degrees at the transom. Each half of the v-bottom is designed to be 5 nearly bilaterally symmetrical with a pronounced upward curve at the bow, which would reduce the ski-like planing effect at a heal of 5-6 degrees.

It was reasoned that such a design would likely produce one of two possible results. She would lay over 5-6 degrees and stabilize on plane on her leeward half of the hull or more likely the planing effect would merely lift her back on her feet until that bilateral symmetry at her half bottom would help negate any tendency toward adverse helm on a heel.

Maximum depth of the hull is 22" at the daggerboard. The transom depth is 19" and she is 12" deep at the bow. With two 200lb men aboard, she maintains a freeboard of 15-16" drawing 6-7" board up and 27-28" board down.

The upward curve of her bottom toward the transom requires a 4" skeg in order to maintain adequate directional control under power without daggerboard or rudder. In this configuration, she is a very stable, little fishing platform and, because of her high freeboard and great buoyancy, she is very safe for such use especially when the weather turns bad and forces you off the lake.

The Building Details Spelled Out

CYGNET is 8' (2.44m) LOA, 6'-2" (2.07m) LWL, 4'-6" (1.37m) beam, 4' (1.22m) wide at the transom, and 4'-9" (1.22m) wide at the bow. She was built of Yellow Poplar planks 1/4" thick edge-glued as if they were sheet plywood. The poplar lacks the strength and impact resistance by itself and requires that the hull be sheathed with fiberglass. The boat can be built more easily using plywood. The plans show both methods and also the stitch-and-glue building method.

A Minimum "FulI-Rigged" Ship

One of the criteria was that CYGNET must have a wide variety of sails, so a sloop rig was needed. This may be the only sloop rigged 8-ft. pram around. In order to achieve this, a 25" bow sprit is necessary to create a fore-triangle of sufficient size to provide space for the the jib. This puts the fore-triangle almost entirely forward of the waterline, requiring a substantial mainsail in order to locate the combined center of effort far enough aft to balance the sails to the hull. For this reason, she has a 7' boom extending 1' beyond the transom. The mainsail has a 6'-6" foot and a total area of 38 sq. ft. The smallest working jib that the designer considered to be efficient is 90% which in CYGNET's 48" fore triangle yields a sail area of 18sq. ft., for a total of 56 sq. ft. Since most boats her size carry only 35 to 40 sq. ft. of sail, one could be concerned that she is overpowered. In the design, this was not considered a major factor, since excess air can be spilled, but it cannot be created. ["You can make a fast boat go slow, but you can't make a slow boat go fast."] CYGNET may well be thankful for a little extra sail in light air.

Pile On The Canvas Boys, We're Off!

As it turned out, with her 56 sq. ft. of sail in 8-10 knot winds she was incredibly stable. With full side forces acting on her, she was unable to pick up my 180-lb. weight, sitting on the windward cockpit seat unless I shifted my weight well toward the center-line to help her out. She was just "lounging" on the Windward "cheek" of her V-hull stifling a yawn. Since larger headsails would overlap the main, little increase in heel producing side forces could be expected from the small increase in exposed area. Even so, the designer decided to approach the addition, of sails with caution and went with a 130% mule jib for her next sail. With the new sail up in 10 knots of wind, CYGNET's resistance to heel was virtually unchanged. In puffs, she would come up on her feet, but still refused to heel. When she tried to lay over on her leeward half bottom she would lift right back on her feet. This was obviously the planing effect Richard was striving for. When this was occurring, she was making about 5 knots. Since this effect is primarily a function of speed, he was hoping that CYGNET would retain this stiffness unless winds exceeded that which were required to bring her to hull speed, or, heaven forbid, she broached. He was so encouraged by this performance under 65 sq. ft. of sail with the mule jib, he threw caution to the wind and outfitted her with a 150% topsai1 of 31 sq. ft. and a 150% staysail of 17 sq. ft. With these sails plus the main, she now carried 86 sq. ft. of Dacron with only slight additional effect on heel, but significantly increased drive. She was still comfortable in 10-knot winds.

At last, when the wind was 10-12 knots and the boat was quartering into a 10-inch chop, Richard got what he wanted, spray in the face!

The Chicago Yacht Club once did a survey of the winds. Of all the sailboats responding, they said the wind was too little 75% of the time, just right 15% and too much only 10% of the time.

So now it was time to add light-air sails. This included a 150% genoa/drifter of 3/4 oz. nylon and a cruising spinnaker of the same. Kits for these sails were bought from Sailrite at a price very little more than the cost of the materials alone.

Well, there are many more details, but this about tells the story. Do you have your "perfect boat" in mind? The first thing you need is pencil and paper!

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