Skimmer, a 24.5′ Expedition Beach Cruiser


Sailing takes place in a finely grained, nuanced Now.

Skimmer brings together elements of two of my most rewarding designs. I must say that by rewarding I mean that they have brought me friendship and priceless time on the water.

I designed and built SparHawk in the early Nineties.

Recently, after more than twenty years had passed, her new owner looked me up. He sails her right here in Rhode Island. We’ve had some wonderful adventures on fresh and salt water.

The other boat I’ve drawn on for inspiration for Skimmer is Harrier.

Here is Ben Fuller’s Harrier, Ran Tan, on a beach in Rockport Maine, waiting patiently between adventures….

Skimmer brings these two types together. She’s both a leeboard Cat-Ketch like SparHawk and a lapstrake Wherry like Harrier. All three of these double-enders are intended to explore shallow water. They can take us far in a short distance. Exploring a marsh or an estuary, sailing and either paddling or rowing in water shoal enough to see the bottom. Hell, shoal enough to just get out and take your boat for a walk!

In fact, it was just this kind of experience, walking SparHawk, now the Katherine M, across the mid-channel bar at the southern end of the Point Judith Salt Pond last summer that stirred me to begin work on Skimmer.

SparHawk is a sailing canoe and can only carry one or two. She’s also limited, at least by prudent caution, to protected waters; although it pays to remember that John MacGregor made thousand mile voyages in a boat this size!

Harrier is larger. She can take up to four or five aboard; if some of her crew are on the small side. She is more capable that SparHawk, but, as an open boat, she is limited to how quickly her crew can bail and keep going in severe conditions!

Skimmer is larger still, and decked, and, although the cockpit is not self-bailing, the cabin and the fore and aft decks do enclose enough volume to keep the boat afloat and moving in some nasty conditions. Of course, this is more of a side-effect than a driving concern. The extra space and accommodations are there to extend the duration of outings more than they may extend the range of open-water distance our voyages may cover. A skylight hatch forward gives the necessary second exit and a place to tend a snarl up forward in nasty conditions while firmly held inside the boat. The light and air it can provide also help keep this small cabin comfortable.

There are boats to ride on, boats to ride in, and boats that let us bring along an essence of home. Somehow the more pared down that essence of home is the more we appreciate it. Skimmer’s cabin is most basic: enough headroom to sit or sprawl on a bunk flat and a small cupboard and counter to Port facing a canvas seat to Starboard. Instead of a companionway slide there is a rolled canvas cover.

The cabin can sleep two. By adding the cockpit tent shown in the Accommodations drawing we can sleep two more under cover. Without a centerboard case in the way the cockpit sole can serve as a double bunk, cushioned by an air mattress. The thwart is removable.

In our usual perspective a boat like this would be thought of as a single-hander or a boat for a couple to sail. The reason behind wanting to sleep up to four has to do with another kind of use. There’s a need for a coastal expedition boat that can be built by a small youth boatbuilding program and then, once a few have been completed, used for group expeditions. There needs to be room to carry two or three young people along with a more mature – at least more experienced – counselor on each boat. Keeping the boats rather modest in weight – I expect Skimmer to displace about 2,000# underway – means that material costs and transport and other logistics are lower than they would be for a more substantial craft. This makes it possible for a program to build anywhere from one to three or four boats per winter and then have a small fleet to sail in the summer.

I see this as an exciting prospect! There’s nothing like sailing in company! Being able to cruise with two, three, or four like boats together increases the safety factor for the fleet and certainly increases our enjoyment of being on the water. On a serious and practical note, this arrangement will allow a mix of youth and chaperones that should go a long way to keep everyone feeling that everything is on the up-and-up. There’s also flexibility in moving individuals around during a cruise to deal with compatibility issues or just to change crew dynamics.

If a few programs did this across a region they could join their fleets for more substantial meets and regattas. If such programs were able to keep building boats every winter they would soon have a surplus to share with other youth groups that might not have the resources to build their own boats. This way the community would continue to expand.

To go a little deeper into what I envision for this kind of program I see it as a great way to begin to bring young people from a variety of backgrounds together with a common purpose. I feel that it is a big mistake and a misunderstanding of what is possible when we think of having some programs for “disadvantaged youth” and other programs limited to those more affluent than the rest. This kind of thinking also tends to leave many people who fall in between these two categories without viable options.

The big mistake is to think that the “disadvantaged youth” has nothing to offer and that the “advantaged” have it all. In my experience some of the most talented youths with the greatest sense of …, lets call it native intelligence; a combination of a strong situational awareness and the habits of mind to pay attention to one’s surrounding, fostering a high degree of emotional intelligence and being able to meet unusual situations – whether dangerous or merely challenging – with aplomb; in a high percentage of the young people I’ve spent time with at The Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory.

Seeing how a dozen kids ranging from fourteen to eighteen were able to present their boat at the Philadelphia Museum of Art two years running was an eye opening experience. I was already impressed with their characters and capacities from the day I arrived with a lines plan and a table of offsets. With little introduction we all started in lofting! As any of you who are familiar with all this involves may know there are few adult amateur builders willing to give it a go. These young teen boys and girls just got right down to it! Not only did they build their boats they brought one to the museum; set up the exhibit; and then spent a long day talking with all-comers about their program and sharing their experiences of boatbuilding. As I told them at the time, I have rarely seen a crew of professionals at a boat show do as good a job. I’ve also never before seen such a high level of social awareness and the capacity to relate to anyone they encountered anywhere.

These young people would share these qualities with anyone they spent time with. Qualities often sorely lacking in many schools today no matter how elite or expensive. If young people like these were part of a program along with others from a variety of backgrounds it would be clear to all that these youngsters are not defined by their circumstances. Not only would this help dissolve stereotypes, it would create a place where, in microcosm, a truly integrated community might develop.

We commonly use the term integration to mean the joining together of people across racial lines. This is essential, but it is also a limited understanding of what integration entails. As with all other virtues, integration starts with the individual. It’s no surprise that those who suffer from intolerance – and by suffer, I mean that they feel intolerance towards others – suffer greatly from a disintegration of the self. This is also hardly surprising since so much of what drives our society has to do with destroying the individual’s capacity to come to some level of peace and understanding so that they can be kept fearful and easily manipulated by those seeking to take advantage.

The levels of fear and reactive anger and violence this breeds shapes our time. Countering this is not something we need to do to so as to, “help those less fortunate than us.” It is something we all need in equal measure.

I’ve had a lot to say over the years about the values of boatbuilding and sailing in the development of saner attitudes towards life. This is also something we all need more of.

What I envision as a boatbuilding and sailing program built around boats like Skimmer is an opportunity to act on these realities. Those with the means to fund such a program would do so. Those who have other talents, skills, and energies would contribute these. Together, everyone would benefit by this joining of forces. Together everyone benefits.

These benefits would not only flow downhill. Everyone involved, from the students to the adults entrusted with their care, everyone would be learning from everyone else. Everyone has something to contribute and in an integrating atmosphere these contributions would be shared with all.

I’ve gone on a bit long with these matters some might consider extraneous in a post about a new boat design. I look forward to teasing out these threads further at another time. I also welcome any opportunities to talk about this with anyone who finds these possibilities intriguing. Over at Boats for difficult times this kind of thing goes to the heart of the matter of what I consider to be implicit in our relationship with small boats and sailing.


To get back to Skimmer, I envision the boat built traditionally with a minimal use of plywood and epoxy. The hull would be planked in Cedar or Cypress or Hackmatack over steam-bent White Oak frames. The planking would be riveted in copper. The bottom and the deck and house-top would be marine plywood. I see the bottom sheathed with a sheet of 3/16″ or 1/4″ bronze plate. This would act as ballast and also provide a strong chafe-proof surface on which to haul the boat about on rollers with the help of a sturdy block and tackle.

The rig is intended to fly a substantial spread of canvas without having to resort to a large inventory of light-air sails. The Main and Mizzen would be reefed early and often. The Mizzen Stays’l would be the one extra sail I think worth the cost.

The cockpit is similar to the stern sheets on Harrier. In this case the narrow boxed coaming outboard does the job of providing a comfortable place to sit while hiking out – yes, Skimmer is in essence a large sailing dinghy. Best performance results from a lively and dynamic crew dealing with each puff and lull as it comes. There are no passengers on this kind of sailboat!

The mizzen is set-up so as to limit its intrusion on the cockpit and take advantage of having a stout spar to hold onto and to hang the cockpit tent or an awning from. Unlike Harrier’s yawl rig Skimmer’s Mizzen is more than just a riding sail. It does aid in driving to windward some, but it really comes into its own when the sheets are started. Off the wind the Mizzen and its righteous Stays’l can pull!

All of the halyards and sheets run to the cockpit. No need to go forward to raise or lower sail. The foredeck is recessed and scuppered. It provides a secure place to work the ground tackle and, on a fine day, makes a great spot for a young, light crew-member to lounge with their feet over the side! It’s also a place to board or disembark dry-shod since Skimmer can be brought right up to the beach.

Of course, Skimmer’s shoal draft comes from a shallow, wherry hull form, but what makes Skimmer really a shoal-draft boat are her leeboards. With this rig a boat like this can go to windward in just enough water to float in! Even without lowering the board deeper than the bottom the leeboard provides some lateral resistance since it bites the water right from the surface on down.

The advantages in interior space have already been mentioned. Beyond that, the lack of a slot in the bottom increases the hull’s integrity and does not attract shells and stones to jam the board’s case each time we touch bottom. The leeboard and drop-rudder are also of plywood construction and the leeboards have a roundel of lead in their lower ends to make sure they sink.

While Harrier’s rudder-blade is simply held down by friction, raised by contact with the bottom, and lowered by pushing it down by hand; Skimmer’s rudder-blade will have an uphaul and downhaul belayed along the tiller. The tiller would also be fitted with an extension so the helm can sit out to windward along with the crew.

Well, we’ve gone stem to stern and truck to…, well, not keel, but flat bottom. We’ll leave Skimmer now. After one last look, imagining what it will be like to walk across a sandbar in eight inches of water; one hand cupped over the fore-rail or holding a painter; the other free to reach down for an interesting shell or just to trail in the water. Off to the side a couple of fleet mates shadow our boat and the sound of soft conversation and laughter ripples down the breeze.

Skimmer’s Project Page

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