SMALL BOAT JOURNAL #46
The first time I ever heard of Phil Bolger was when I received the literature on Dovekie (see SBJ#39) from Edey & Duff. Dovekie encompasses everything I want in a boat but is only available in a sailaway version. I would rather build my own or something very similar. I’ve built three previous boats and enjoyed the experiences immensely. Does Phil Bolger have plans available for a homebuilt version of Dovekie?
— L.D. Blotter Ogden, Utah
PHILIP BOLGER REPLIES
Dear Mr. Blotter,
Several others besides you have asked for a home-built Dovekie, but even the prototype Dovekie was impractical for one-off building, and after several years’ development by Peter Duff, it’s out of the question.
What I take you to mean, though, is not necessarily a copy of Dovekie, but a new design with the same objectives: a very light and shallow boat combining cabin and cockpit into one large space, with oar instead of motor auxiliary, and capable of being sailed in an unstrenuous fashion. One should be able to enjoy this boat in intricate and inaccessible places afloat, as well as trailer it far and fast on the highway. It is what 1984 Sea Trials judge Jack Dunn (see SBJ #39) called a “birdwatcher” a craft “in which one might poke through a marsh or backwater in search of nothing more than a pleasant lunch and a tan.”
For home building, the sharp-sterned “instant boat” shape has a good record. The sides are prefabricated simply by sawing three 4-foot-by-8-foot sheets of plywood down the center and butting them. Wrapped around four bulkheads with flared sides, these straight-edge panels produce the sheer, rocker, and raked ends shown: a hull not at all crude or ungraceful to my eye, and one that can sail and row most respectably.
Hulls like this go best trimmed down by the stern. They’re not happy if the harsh forefoot gets in the water, but they can stand a lot of weight if it’s kept aft since a pointed stern doesn’t drag much at any depth. Sail-carrying power is less than in a boat with a wide stern, but the loss isn’t prohibitive.
A major advantage of this hull shape is that the oars can be trailed straight aft without shipping them, an advantage when passing through a narrow place or past an obstacle. This has been a problem for craft with closed oar ports ever since war galleys tried to scrape each others oars off. The closed ports are necessary in any high-sided boat meant to be rowed seriously, for an oar working at a steep angle to the water makes heavy work and little power.
The far aft placement also puts the oars where the sides are close enough together to use oars only 7 feet long. These have less drive than 9½-foot oars, but they’re easier to ship and unship and stow in the boat. They also can be worked in tighter quarters, such as narrow creeks and marina slips, and they’re much cheaper to buy and more easily replaced at short notice. She’s not meant to be rowed far or fast in any case. The 7-foot oars should move her 2½ mph in a glassy calm. With a short, quick stroke, it will be possible to move her a short distance against a fair breeze, or across a strong breeze with calculated use of the centerboard.
I know very well that these oars, or even the longer oars of Dovekie, can’t do everything a motor can. Ingenuity and patience are supposed to substitute for power. Plan routes to go with swift streams, not against them. Till the tide turns or the wind shifts, sit and look at birds or read Francis Herreshoff on yacht design (he said it all). However, if nothing but a motor will suffice, I’d suggest the yawl-boat way — in this case a small inflatable with motor fitting to push or pull the mother ship. Birdwatcher can tow it quite easily under sail, though not under oars. An inflatable would also be useful for shoreside excursions because Birdwatcher isn’t light enough to drag or carry over flats at low tide or small enough to be welcome in a crowded dinghypark. Her shallow draft doesn’t make her an adequate substitute for a tender.
No boat meant to row can afford the tremendous drag of an immersed rudder or centerboard. A swinging-blade outboard rudder takes care of half the problem. The proposed hull shape isn’t well suited to leeboards, so the centerboard is designed to come up flush with the bottom. There’s some drag from the edges of the slot, but I don’t think it will be very noticeable. Under sail, the centerboard’s broad, delta shape is designed to be effective with less-than-optimum attention to the tiller.
Now for the radical part of the concept. Live ballast, crew weight, is important to the sailing of any very light boat. Yet in this case, we want to avoid strenuous positions as much as possible. For our purposes, the best place for the crew is on the bottom of the boat. Hiking or trapeze riding is exhausting for birdwatcher-type crews, and it loses effectiveness if the boat heels sharply. Helmsmen and crew both have to concentrate fiercely to keep the boat sailing as upright as possible. But with the crew sitting on the bottom, the weight gains effectiveness with increasing heel. Crew can chock themselves comfortably in place and let the boat heel as much as she likes instead of scrambling to hold her down.
The catch is that even on the bottom the weight is not very effective unless it’s well over to the weather side. And if the boat is open on the weather side to allow this, it’s normally open on the lee side as well and will ship water if she heels a lot. Raising the sides high enough to come clear above the heads of crew sitting on the bottom, with enough deck overhead to allow the boat to float dry flat on her side or beyond, would make the boat uncapsizable, except in a breaking sea. The upper sides would be transparent plastic for an all-around view, with enough transparent panels in the top to watch the sail. The open center keeps most of the advantages of an open boat —mainly being able to move around without clinging precariously on top of the boat. As the cartoon section shows, an adult is waist deep for almost the full length of the boat.
To keep this “standing room” clear, I’ve located both mast and centerboard off center. The off-centerboard case is still far enough inboard to have its top open with no risk of flooding her through it. The space outboard of it forms a big bin for general stowage, even real mattresses. Since I want the weight kept aft in this hull shape, I don’t mind blocking off the bottom there. Underway, the crew would sit just abaft it, where they should be for best trim.
The tiller is hooked up to be comfortable for a helmsman sitting under the deck but pivoted so he can stand up with it still in hand. The connections are a little busy but can be made strong and positive. If I do working plans for this boat, I intend to add a triangular cap on the outside of the sternpost to reduce the rake of the rudder axis and tiller stock.
It’s possible that sometimes, in some places, this raised deck arrangement will be intolerably hot. I hope there will be an eddying air circulation through the centerline opening, but that remains to be seen. Opening panels in the sides would be complicated to build and degrade security. (The oar ports are bad enough, but even if one of them were caught open at the wrong time, they’re not big enough to flood her suddenly.) Using plastic with ultraviolet filtering, either the usual “black glass” or the outside mirror material sometimes seen in vans, should help by giving some shade and ought to reduce sunburn and eyestrain. Unless the wind is very strong, one could stand up now and then for a breath of fresh air. At any rate, if the ventilation turns out to be bad on a hot day, the shelter will be good on a cold one.
The long standing room can be covered by a tightly-stretched hood unrolled from end to end, with a stiffened section over the slope at the stern that could be swung up to get in or out with a minimum of drip. With this cover in place, she’d be highly streamlined for very low drag at highway speeds or for riding out a gale at anchor or on the beach. It would also be easy to design a full-headroom tent (see “Shallow Draft Boat Tents,” SBJ #44) or awning and put the hibachi on deck.
The rig, disregarding the ballooner shown, is the most docile and foolproof there is. There’s no halyard, allowing the mast to be slender at the top and eliminating expensive track or messy lacing. The sail is rolled from the clew toward the mast, keeping the leech tight inside the roll. Despite a little trick of angle and tension to avoid leaving a loose flap at the top, this arrangement reduces the temptation of leaving the mast standing under oars or at anchor. Except when actually sailing, mast and sail are supposed to lie in the racks on deck, as shown, except that I drew it with the wrong end to — the heel ought to be forward. To sail, drop the heel into the step and walk it upright —no feat, given the secure footing and waist-high coamings.
The sail could be reefed by shifting the head lashing before putting the mast up, but I don’t think reefing will be necessary. The size of the sail is modest. By swaying on the snotter, the sprit boom will flatten this sail out all the way up, so the sheet can be eased without letting the head of the sail flog. The pull of the snotter will bow the mast forward to take draft out of the sail. With such effective feathering, in a hull that can heel any amount without problems, she can “lug what she can’t. carry.”
Off the wind, the sprit-boomed sail swings out without twisting forward at the top, so she won’t roll much, let alone threaten goose-winging. Since such a sail is very light to sheet in all points, the single-part sheet shown is perfectly adequate, saving tangles as well as expense. And the self-righting boat allows it to be cleated without qualms.
I doubt the balloon jib is worth the cost or space. Set from the offset mast, it would work noticeably better on port tack. It would set best tacked on a pole, spinnaker-fashion, but that involves the extra spar and two guys to control it. I’d rather relax and look at the scenery.
— Philip C. Bolger