A Boat That Will Get Used – Part Two

What’s not to like about this summary from the designer?

“I’ve spent many hours pondering how you might optimize a small, easy-to-build boat just for “beach cruising.”

Coastal cruising in tiny boats has always been fringey but it’s nothing new.  We might date the invention of recreational open-boat voyaging to the publication, in 1866, of John MacGregor’s “A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe.”  A gentleman cruising in an 80-pound canoe just for the sport of it must have seemed like pure savagery to the Victorians.  The book and its sequels were bestsellers. For a hundred years MacGregor was a primary source of inspiration to people who wanted to cruise in very small boats.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time here selling you on open-boat cruising.  Other writers, including MacGregor, will do a better job.  Meanwhile, European-style “raid” events are finally, delightfully, becoming popular in the US.  More people than ever are overnighting in and out of tiny boats. By mainstream yachting standards this is still aberrant, and probably always will be. I present as evidence a recent Cruising World Magazine review that described a Beneteau 34, with its hot-and-cold running water, as a “pocket cruiser.”

Which brings us to my latest personal project, in which I asked myself the question, “Just how small can we go and still have a solid camp-cruiser with good sailing and rowing qualities?” The appeal of these tiny boats includes the low upfront cost, the magical way in which small boats make small voyages feel like big ones, and the ability between adventures to store the boat maintenance-free in the backyard or a corner of the garage.  After my last personal project, a cheap little boat that was easy to use and to pack away was imperative.


The very first priority is the ability to sleep aboard.  Such accommodations should be compared not to the usual cruising yacht but to a hiker’s bivouac.  Just a flat place to lay down, with provision for a tent to keep the rain off, nothing more.  The reason this is so important is that very few coastal cruising grounds in the United States afford a place to camp ashore at small-boat-friendly intervals of 15 or 20 miles.  The Maine Island Trail is about it;  otherwise, you’re either trespassing or breaking National Park rules.

So I started with a 6’3″ flat space for sleeping, and added just enough bow and stern for good sailing lines.  That brought me to 10’6″, microscopic enough to make storage and transport a cinch but with enough waterline to carry a heavy load without digging a hole in the water. To really test the lower bounds of storage space in a long-duration camp-cruiser, I made this a nesting dinghy.  The bow and stern unbolt at watertight bulkheads and store in the center section.  If the spars are sleeved, in theory everything packs into a 75″ x 43″ x 36″ cube.  The whole unit could be stored in an apartment. Or my garden shed.  It will fit through a 31-1/2″ wide door, and can be transported in the bed of a compact pickup truck. There are distracting daydreams about shipping the Nesting Expedition Dinghy to far-off cruising grounds, like the estuaries of Britain’s East Coast, or the River Shannon in Ireland.

To maximize volume, stability, and performance in a shrunken footprint, the hull assumes the shape of the well-tested “Bolger Box.”  The sides are dead-plumb; the transom almost square. As it sits in the shop right now, lacking the outwales, leeboard mounts, and the strategic height-reducing paint scheme, the thing looks monolithically wall-sided.  I’ve had to reassure my colleagues that everything will eventually fall into place, with neat proportions and a satisfying look of utilitarian fitness.  One is reminded of Mark Twain’s remark that Wagner’s music isn’t as bad as it sounds. N.E.D. (an appropriately gawky name) isn’t as ugly as some views suggest.  You could get to about the same place functionally with a more traditional hull design, but it wouldn’t sail as well and it’d be harder to build. (NanoShip shares a very similar design brief, and with elegant hull lines.  But it’s larger, will cost twice as much, take twice as long to build, and it doesn’t “nest.”)”

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OK… so the designer’s thinking is perfect for me.

  • I might be able to car-top it, and if not, it would be a very light trailer load.
  • Storage would be relatively easy.  No more messing up my driveway with boats sitting for months at a time.
  • A boat that sails well, is small, but you can sleep aboard?  That ticks the boxes.
  • Relatively affordable to build.

What am I missing?

2 Comments

  1. I hope you build it I would be interested in the plans.

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