Nearly 100 years and 3,000 miles of Atlantic Ocean separate the canoe yawl Wenda from the leeboard sharpie Martha fane. As might be expected, these shoal-draft cruisers differ considerably in construction and style, but they share similar purpose and a certain quality of independence.
Implications of the name notwithstanding, canoe yawls are not canoes and need not be yawl rigged. Essentially, they are small centerboard cruisers with canoe sterns. The type evolved on the estuaries of nineteenth-century England as a logical, more able, development of light sailing canoes. Capable of substantial coastwise passages and displaying a spirit that transcends functional definition, these compact cruisers stir deep passions in many romantically inclined sailors.
Wenda, possibly the prettiest of her breed, was drawn by artist Albert Strange to meet the following criteria: "...as light a displacement as possible consistent with immunity from capsizing...fair accommodation for two persons...but within the power of one to work a passage singlehanded...speed to be kept in view, but...the extent of sail area to be very moderate." Though expressed nearly a century ago, these desires are not foreign to contemporary cruisers.
In drawing Wenda's lines, Strange carefully combined art and function. He skated along a thin edge — giving her enough bottom to carry sail while keeping her sections easy but not too soft. Her hull reveals a pervasive curvature with no hard spots or awkward transitions; she would be a joy to cold-mold. Her forefoot seems severely cut away by current standards, but her stem forms an interesting curve of changing radius. A nicely crafted canoe stern balances her profile.
Wenda's cutaway but buoyant ends, combined with relatively symmetrical waterlines and a fair amount of drag to the keel, should ensure polite behavior. It's difficult to imagine her rooting or becoming hard-mouthed. The shallow but powerful rudder will have no problem keeping things under control. Old-fashioned to many eyes, its low-aspect-ratio blade won't be inclined to pick up pot warp and eelgrass. This little yawl will scull along quite well if the tiller is wiggled properly (her skipper won't care about frowning race committees).
None of Wenda's interior arrangement drawings has survived, but we suspect two people could be quite comfortable aboard her. A sleeping flat might be worked in around her low centerboard trunk and leave enough room for a small galley and head. At any rate, there's no excess volume in these boats. In order to save space, the old British canoe yawls often had centerboards that were badly shaped, too small, and hung too far forward. Wenda fares tolerably well in this area because she is more drawn out than some of her cousins, and her accommodations are carried farther aft.
Wenda's low divided rig deserves close inspection, and perhaps some imitation. It's well suited to her slender hull. Long, light, narrow boats must keep on just the right amount of sail — a simple task aboard Strange's yawl, as a deep reef in the main would have little effect on her balance. The tiny mizzen certainly isn't a powerful device, but it provides razor-sharp control. Underway, it can fine-tune the helm or kick the boat's stern in the desired direction during tight maneuvering. Successful tacking in difficult situations can be guaranteed by sheeting or shoving the mizzen to the inside of the turn — easier and more positive than backing a jib. Speaking of headsails, Wenda's testifies that roller-furling isn't a recent invention.
The simple sophistication of the standing-lug main is most persuasive. Considerable changes in sail shape can be accomplished by varying outhaul and halyard tensions in conjunction with sliding the halyard's rolling hitch up or down the yard. The short masts will mitigate desperation when the breeze is building and you have lowered everything that will come down without using an axe.
Built with contemporary materials to her original displacement, Strange's old design has the makings of a strong and able estuarine cruiser. Wherever Wenda drops her hook, she'll improve the scenery.
Sharpies, in their simplest flat-bottomed form, hold a strong fascination for sailors and architects. They offer, perhaps, the most performance for the least investment. Martha Jane is a recent thin-water cruiser from the board of Philip C. Bolger — an acknowledged master of modern sharpie design.
Don't be misled by this little yawl's radical appearance. Almost every detail of rigging and hull design has been proven in her designer's earlier work. Bolger's sharpies always show adequate rocker in their bottoms, and the heels of their stems are carried well clear of the water. This configuration reduces crossflow at the chines, resulting in better performance — particularly in light air. The docile steering demonstrated by these shoal-draft cruisers will be appreciated by anyone who has wrestled with sharp-ended flat-bottomed boats in heavy weather.
You'll notice that this new sharpie has rectangular sections. Her sides stand perfectly perpendicular to the water's surface. Weren't we brought up to respect flare as one of nature's absolutes? We might have argued about how much was appropriate, but that there would be some flare was never in doubt. Be that as it may, arguments can be presented in favor of rectangular sections. For boats with Martha Jane's proportions, vertical sides can result in nicely drawn-out waterlines, maximum initial stability, easier construction, and slightly reduced materials cost.
Some plumb-sided skiffs and canoes have earned reputations as ugly, bad-tempered monsters. These very small craft are usually unballasted, and the crew often weighs much more than the boat. If, as the load increases, the depth of the immersed rectangular section becomes too great compared to its width, there are problems. When the boat is heeled, the center of buoyancy can slip to the wrong side of the center of gravity with alarming suddenness, causing almost instantaneous inversion. With her predictably lighter relative loading and greater beam producing shallow immersed rectangular sections, Martha Jane, carrying 500 pounds of seawater ballast, should display a reasonably friendly stability curve.
You might object to vertical sides on aesthetic grounds; perhaps they — along with painfully dry white wine, black olives, and your favorite music — represent acquired taste. Bolger summed up his feelings about this controversial matter in a letter to a British boatbuilder: "I'm convinced that these rectangular-sectioned boats are functionally superior as well as highly economical of time and material, but it's hard to get the point across...as most people can't grasp that the behavior they like is due to the looks they don't like."
Martha Jane's construction plan shows Bolger's usual clean and clever way of working with plywood. A few bulkheads combine with stringers to produce great rigidity without the clutter of extensive transverse framing. Virtually every element in the design adds to the boat's strength — sliding hatch rails serve as supporting girders for the deck, and supporting guards strengthen the sides. Assembly is "instant boat" fashion, a refinement of traditional skiff-build ing methods. Bolger provides drawings showing the real or expanded shape of the sides. These are recreated at full scale directly on the plywood, cut out, and wrapped around the molds. True lofting and building jigs aren't needed. This is easy work for rank amateurs and fast work for experienced hands.
Leeboards have become a trademark of Bolger sharpies. Because they live outside the hull, the boards don't intrude on the accommodations. The boat need not be holed for their installation, and the single biggest maintenance problem for shoal-draft wooden boats — the centerboard trunk — is eliminated. A leeboard need work on only one tack, and it can be oriented for maximum efficiency on port or starboard. The working board angles away from the hull, presenting a perpendicular face to the water as the boat heels. A small amount of toe-in relative to the boat's centerline increases lift (some designers specify asymmetrical foils for the same reason), but Bolger cautions against overdoing it. In extremely shallow water, leeboards will remain effective long after centerboards must be fully retracted.
Because they are ballasted only enough to make them sink readily the immersed working leeboard "weighs" virtually nothing. At the same time, the other board rides completely clear of the water; its full weight in the air helps keep the boat on her feet. In effect, you have an uncomplaining crew member who is willing to hang 6 inches outboard of the weather rail forever.
For this sharpie, Bolger specifies traditional Flemish leeboard "hardware," consisting of stout rope. As the boards are lowered the loops tighten, holding them firmly in position. Yet the weather board can "broken-wing" (swing away from the boat) if it's left lowered. For shorthanded short tacking, both boards can remain down. They're quite happy that way, and—because the rig is self-tending — the skipper need only point the tiller properly.
The kick-up inboard rudder is a new Bolger creation. Unlike blades that retract into trunks, this arrangement should permit steering even when it's partially lifted. The designer describes its geometry as being the outcome of "excruciating mental effort."
Martha Jane shares the virtues of Wenda's sail plan, and adds a few of her own. Her unstayed rig can be struck in minutes — handy for trailering and comforting in a blow. The mainmast stands in a tabernacle; with proper counterbalancing (about 90 pounds of lead), swinging it should be a one-handed operation. Measuring just 16 feet in height and 3 inches square at its partner, the mizzenmast will present no problems. Both the sprit-boomed mizzen and the balanced lug mainsail are more or less self-vanging and reduce concern about sheeting angles.
Built as drawn, Martha fane should be self-bailing, self-righting, unsinkable, easily trailerable, and fast under sail. She's a most significant sharpie.
Wenda's plans are available from The WoodenBoat Store, P.O. Box 78, Brooklin, ME 04616; 800-273-7447.
Martha Jane's plans are available from Elrow LaRoive, 11765 S. W. Ebberts Ct., Beaverton, OR 97008.
Martha Jane's plans are available from Elrow LaRoive, 11765 S. W. Ebberts Ct., Beaverton, OR 97008.
Particulars, Martha Jane LOD 23'6"
Martha Jane: a simple but refined Bolger sharpie. A solo skipper can lower her mast in minutes.
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