A design to teach students to sail classic rigs

by John MacBeath Watkins

I've been thinking through the logic of a new sort of sail trainer, the object of which is to get people to learn to sail with traditional rigs.

As some of those who follow this blog know, I helped start a sail training course called Sail Now at the Center for Wooden Boats. As the classes have evolved, more and more the classes are taught in Blanchard Junior Knockabouts, 20-foot spoon-bowed keelboats that are tractable and pleasant to sail. Unfortunately, some of the students come out of this feeling that the only boats they can sail are those like the BKJ.

The Center for Wooden Boats is a museum founded to preserve, not just the objects, but the skills, associated with classic boats and wooden boats in general.

Near the end of his life, Dick Wagner, who founded CWB, wrote a letter to the Collections Committee complaining that the fleet was becoming too homogeneous, with plenty of sloops about the same size, but fewer and fewer boats with traditional rigs. It occurred to me that part of the problem is that the boats that get used are the boats we train people to use, feeding a cycle that causes fewer and fewer people to use the great little classics we have on the dock.

Here's my proposed solution, which I am tentatively calling the Adept class:

These are the criteria for the boat:

We need a boat that has room for an instructor and two students that has a traditional rig. This boat should be self-rescuing, with a cockpit that drains itself if the boat capsizes, adding a level of safety absent in most of our fleet. We also need a boat that performs well enough to interest sailors and keep them coming back to use them.

The boat should increase volunteer engagement. I propose that this boat should be designed to be built stitch and glue, so that unskilled volunteers can build it. This will also decrease costs, so that the boat can be built for the materials cost of about $1,200 - $1,500, including sails (possibly volunteers assembling a kit from Sailright.}

The boat should perform well enough to reward good sailing with good performance, but be forgiving if the sailor makes mistakes. 

It should be easy to reef at the dock, for strong winds or light crews, and should be easy to depower if the wind comes up.

To this end, I propose that the boat should have certain characteristics.

It should have a sprit rig, which, with the snotter led aft so that the crew can easily adjust it under way, can be depowered by scandalizing the rig.

It should have sufficient displacement to carry three people, a weight of around 500 lb., and a sufficiently sturdy hull for livery use, at least 300 lb.

It should have a fairly broad beam, around 6'. Length should be about what can be achieved with two sheets of plywood, to minimize cost, which means less than 16'. Waterline beam should not be excessive, so that the boat performs well, but something close to the full beam should be reached not far above the waterline, so that as the boat heels, it quickly gains stability. Most sail training boats have flare closer to the deck line, a practice more suitable to racing boats.

To achieve a sufficiently large cockpit with a 15' boat, it should have a single sail rig with the mast well forward.

I envision setting this boat up like a Woods Hole spritsail boat, with a long, open cockpit running almost the length of the boat. I'm hoping I can convince the folks at the Center for Wooden Boats that this project is worth while.

The lines for the boat allow plenty of displacement, one of the major differences between this and racing classes, and a narrow waterline flare to a chine just above the waterline, so that the boat will feel lively, but stiffen up as the boat heels. The bottom is a warped plane, which should help it hop on a plane now and then. A monohedron hull, with the same V most of the way back, would offer better control when planing at high speeds, but I don't expect this boat to plane all that often or all that fast. All panels are developed as a section of a cone, so that the boat can be built stitch and glue.


  1. I'm from Montana and when I got an hour of sail time at CWB I took out the Beetle Cat. It was a bucket list thing for me and it made me sad there is not a Small Boat rating for the livery. Take out all those wonderful small boats and then step up to the BJK if one desires.

    1. I love Beetle cats! We've got to get more people sailing them.


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