Designs by Jay R Benford Commentary by Joel White

Although I have never had the inclination to be a live-aboard — to use a boat as my residence — should the urge overcome me, I would certainly consider Jay Benford's 35-foot Packet, or his Tramp. If the "Suzy Q" were to be my home, she must have more space — elbow room, that is, both real and psychological — than the average cruising sailboat. I always loved cruising on my 35-foot Nielsen cruising cutter Northern Crown, and I was content aboard her week after week. But, when the cruise was over, I was glad to get home to a tub or a shower, a comfortable armchair, and the golden retriever.

Benford's approach to designing boats that are to be used as houses (for these are true houseboats) is to maximize the volume by every trick he can think of. I applaud his single-mindedness.

Packet and Tramp have virtually identical hulls. The beam is 15 feet 4 inches, which is 3 or 4 feet more than might be expected on most 35-footers. The stern is elliptical, while the bow is bluff and full. The topsides are vertical, so the width at the chine is equal to the width on deck. The topsides continue up to form the walls of the lower superstructure, with only a small well deck on each side for access to docks or dinghies. The fo'c's'le is raised above sheer height (the sheer is the line of the heavy fendering that carries right around the hull; everything above that is superstructure). Although it is only 8 feet long, the fo'c's'le is roomy enough to contain a double stateroom.

Above the lower deck structures is the second tier of accommodations, but here the deckhouse sides are moved inboard enough to allow for an all-around walkway on the upper deck. The pilothouse floor is raised about 2 feet for better visibility and traditional looks. The height of the boat deck is 14 feet above the waterline, and the pilothouse roof is 2 feet higher! No place for sailors with a fear of heights. Launching and loading the dinghy over this cliff would be a bit scary for me. But all this beam and height adds up to interior volume, which translates to elbow room, and leads to marvelous spaciousness and comfort in what is essentially a small boat.

Another unorthodox approach to comfortable living is Benford's choice of systems. He says: "We've eliminated the need to use 'marine' hardware and equipment wherever possible. All the kitchen, laundry, bath, heating, and airconditioning equipment can be good-quality house equipment." This makes sense for long-term living aboard. Much of the time will be spent tied to a dock and plugged in to the shore-power system, so dependence on 110-volt electricity is no drawback. A generator set of ample size will keep things running while away from the dock — albeit with considerable noise and greater cost. I would want two lighting systems, one 110 volt and one 12 volt, so I could spend an evening reading without running the generator.

I find the lines plan for Benford's houseboats most interesting. In plan view, the deck line is shaped much like a Dutch shoe — wide and full ended. In profile, the lines remind me of a shoal-draft tugboat, with a deep-chested look that concentrates displacement amidships. The chine line (for, this is a chined hull) rises steeply toward the stem, while aft it rises gradually

LXVIU Two Plywood Cruising Houseboats and shows a distinct hook at the stern. The hull sections are virtually flat aft and have a moderate 10-degree deadrise amidships. Forward, because of the high chine, the deadrise is steep (it reaches about 45 degrees at the first station abaft the stem). Because of the hull's extreme beam, she will have excellent stability at low angles of heel. No figures for displacement were given, but I ran my planimeter around the midship section and came up with an estimated displacement of 33,000 pounds, which is large for a 35-foot vessel.

This seems to be a good place to talk about the seaworthiness and stability of such a craft. I would not consider this an oceangoing boat, and I doubt that Benford does, either. While I had the planimeter out, I also ran it around the above-waterline profile of Packet. The windage (or sail area) came out to be 432 square feet, about what we might find in the rig of a 28- to 30-foot sailboat. A 25-mph breeze gives wind pressures of about 2Vi pounds per square foot, while at 35 mph the pressure is nearly 5 pounds on each square foot. Thus, in a 35-mph gale on the beam, a force of more than a ton will be exerted on the superstructure, centered about 8 feet above the waterline. The boat will not capsize by any means, but she will heel some, and her action in the water will be affected. Because of her shoal draft she will certainly crab sideways in a beam breeze. If this imaginary gale were accompanied by heavy seas, as it surely would be in anything but the most sheltered waters, I would prefer to be elsewhere. But, as Benford says, the competent sailor waits for good weather whenever possible, even in the most capable craft.

For ordinary coastwise cruising, careful weather-watching will allow Packet/Tramp to go safely to her next destination. This sort of boat would be especially suited for cruising the big river systems of America — up the Hudson, into the Great Lakes, down the Mississippi to New Orleans, and across the Gulf to Florida, with many side excursions along the way. What a great way to see our country!

These boats are designed to be built of lumberyard materials. From the specifications sheet: "Good-quality plywood with fir framing is the basis for the whole boat. The sides of the houses are all double wall, with insulation built-in. The whole structure is glued and sealed with epoxy, and she is sheathed with a skin of Dynel or fiberglass cloth set in epoxy for abrasion and impact resistance." The hull is drawn with developable surfaces, so multiple skins of plywood can be glued together over the frame to make up the finished planking thickness of VA inches.

Benford has also designed a version of this hull to be built in steel, with the superstructure and pilothouse of wood. The steel hull will have integral tanks for 300 gallons of fuel and 500 gallons of water, versus 250 and 400 gallons in the wooden version. Large liquid capacity is a boon to the liveaboard, reducing the frequency of fill-ups.

The specifications call for a Yanmar 50-horsepower diesel as standard power, with twin 30-horsepower diesels as an option. Benford says he would prefer a single diesel with bow thruster to twin diesels, and I agree with him. Twin screws mean twice as much maintenance, and twin propellers are more vulnerable than one on the centerline.

A 12-volt electric system, powered by three 8D batteries and a battery charger, is standard. Hydraulic steering, a pressure freshwater system with hot-water heater, and manual and electric bilge pumps also are included on the list of basic equipment. Optional extras include a 110-volt, 8-kilowatt generator, central air-conditioning, electronics, and phone and TV wiring.

Let's take a look at the accommodations offered in the two versions of this design. Packet has a small cockpit aft. Tramp does not, but she has a full-width well deck forward of the superstructure. A large hatch in this well deck leads to a cargo hold below. These differences in deck layout force certain changes in the accommodations: Packet has an amidships dinette with a small dining table opposite and the kitchen aft. Tramp has a lovely elliptical seat right around the stern, with a dropleaf table for eating and drinking, and the kitchen is farther forward. In both boats, the bathroom is on the main deck level under the pilothouse. A tub or shower is indicated on each boat, as well as a washer/dryer.

Climbing a set of stairs brings us to the upper deck. Each of these vessels has a roomy pilothouse with a raised settee for those who would keep the helmsman company and enjoy the view. Aft and down two steps is the master bedroom with double bed, dresser, and, on Packet, a washbowl. On the afterdeck under the canopy, there is room for a table, two chairs, and a small settee for comfortable, shaded lounging and dining outdoors. With the double stateroom in the fo'c's'le, each layout will sleep, feed, and seat four people. The only real drawbacks to these floor plans are the distances from the sleeping areas to the bathrooms — in each case, one must climb or descend a set of stairs to reach the facilities. It would be nice if a small head could be fitted on the upper deck. But there is no doubt that these boats can cruise four people nicely for long periods of time, and that a liveaboard couple would be very comfortably housed, whether tied to the dock or roaming free.

Benford has created a large number of designs on the houseboat theme. I have before me his booklet entitled "Small Ships" that includes many of this type, ranging in length from 35 feet to 100 feet. So Packet and Tramp have a long ancestry from which he has

Pilgrim Tug Plan

Particulars Packet and Tramp

Trawling Vessel

35'0" LWL Beam Draft

A plot of Packet's righting arm vs. heel angle (right) indicates that she gains stability as the superstructure dips into the water — provided, of course, that the windows are closed. Her hull lines (above) were drawn with plywood in mind.

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10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90100 TIO 120130140150160170180 HEEL ANGLE (degrees)

10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90100 TIO 120130140150160170180 HEEL ANGLE (degrees)

LXVIII Two Plywood Cruising Houseboats selected the best features and added improvements while drawing these floating houses.

"Houses," Arthur Ransome wrote in Racundra's First Cruise, "are but badly built boats so firmly aground that you cannot think of moving them. They are definitely inferior things, belonging to the vegetable not the animal world, rooted and stationary, incapable of gay transition."

Here is your chance to have a house that is easily uprooted and fUlly capable of moving over our watery realm.

More information from Benford Design Group, P.O. Box 447, St. Michaels, MD 21663.

More information from Benford Design Group, P.O. Box 447, St. Michaels, MD 21663.

Jay Benford Design GroupJay Benford Design Group
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