Considering Autumn Leaves

Considering Autumn Leaves

Designer John C. Harris of CLC believed he’d set out a design that pleased him but would interest few others.

Autumn Leaves, is probably an answer to a question no one is asking except me.  And thus the resulting hours spent drawing up Autumn Leaves are billed to personal amusement and recreation.

Let’s take a closer look at this design, as at BoatBuilding.Shop his efforts tick quite a few boxes on our list of desires in a boat, so it pleases us! More on that later.  First… the boat itself.

CLC says (the highlights are ours):  “The attributes of a good canoe yawl include excellent sailing qualities on all points, the ability to make coastal passages in safety, snug but comfortable accommodations, and shoal draft

Autumn Leaves is intended to be straightforward and cost-effective for amateur construction, capable of coastal cruising, and handy enough under sail that an engine is not missed. She measures 18’5″ long, 60″ wide, draws just 8″ with the twin bilgeboards up, and weighs about 1500lbs on the trailer.  She’ll be easy to tow behind medium-sized cars. 

525 pounds of lead beneath the floorboards of Autumn Leaves keeps the easily-driven hull upright and will help her carry momentum in tacking.  Even in very light air, this double-ender can coast from puff to puff in a way that will help keep the oars stowed. A thousand pounds worth of foam flotation beneath the cockpit, beneath the forward end of the berth, and outboard of the bilge board trunks more than offsets the lead ballast in the unlikely event of a swamping. 

The cabin is small, as with all of the famous canoe yawls.  It’s unusually ergonomic…

There’s a palatial single berth. The aft end of the berth flips up to create a luxurious “throne” for the singlehander.  All cooking, eating, and contemplation may be done from this plush chair.  Someone used to traveling light could make themselves at home for weeks at a time. The cabin could probably be rearranged to accommodate two adults, but the boat was designed primarily for singlehanders.

The small self-bailing cockpit is proportioned to allow the skipper to row the boat standing up and facing forward. 

Construction is a bit of a departure from Chesapeake Light Craft’s preferred stitch-and-glue approach. No mold is required, but the plywood hull is reinforced by a series of stringers, rather than epoxy fillets and fiberglass cloth. This will speed assembly for most builders and will save a lot of money in epoxy and fiberglass.  (A light sheathing of fiberglass is suggested for durability, but not required.)

The straight-sided hull eliminates at a stroke innumerable beveled joins;  I think the basic hull shell could be built in two weekends. A thousand dollars in epoxy is saved by employing chine logs and sheer clamps, minimizing filleted joinery and structural fiberglass. 

It should be plenty stiff enough for coastwise cruising in the hands of a good boatman. 

I don’t see the skipper working the foredeck much, although there’s enough stability to walk around up there.  The jib would be on a little roller-furler.  All mainsail handling would be done standing in the chest-high safety of the companionway.

It would take some very bad luck to swamp this boat.  Though a little initial tenderness is to be expected in a 5-foot wide sailboat, and you’d be pulling in the first reef when white caps appear, the boat should be safe for coastal cruising as long as the skipper has the sense not to cleat the mainsheet.  You won’t ship water in the cockpit until knocked down to 74 degrees.  Water won’t reach the companionway until you’re past 100 degrees.

If you use good marine-grade materials throughout, and I hope you do, the cost savings won’t be remarkable compared to buying a beat-up old pocket cruiser on CraigsList.  

However.  It’s very hard to find a boat with sailing qualities like this at any price.  And don’t discount the psychological value of such rapid hull assembly. While the glued-lapstrake builders are still setting up their molds and lining off the planks, Autumn Leaves builders are already fitting the cockpit and interior. 

I would use the time-savings of the simplified construction to focus on the outfitting. Those details – things like working out an ergonomic system for storing gear below, the leads of sail control lines, designing a simple trailering scheme, and so on – are what add up to relaxed and pleasurable cruising.  Having that extra hundred hours or so for your fit-out means Autumn Leaves will arrive at the launch ramp a much more refined cruising machine.  

The self-bailing cockpit is large… Unfortunately, two overweight adults sitting there would probably upset the boat’s trim.  Perhaps I’ll draw a bigger sister, with an identical layout, but with accommodations congenial for two extra-large adults.”

Well, they sure had us until that last line.  Doh!  The lead builder here is solidly plus sized, though his life partner is not.  Hmm.  The capacity of the boat is 2200 pounds!  This should allow us to balance things out a bit by moving some other weight forward.

One can only build and store so many big boats… probably just one.  Could this be our one big boat?  Along with another one or two smaller ones.

Our checklist from the lead builder here:

  • I can build this one.  I can afford it.  I have the skill set.  I have, more likely than not, enough time.
  • Plans are affordable.  That is a factor.  I’ve bought lots of plans under $100 and one plan for more than $400.  I believe in supporting designers… big time… but I’ve always thought you’d sell four times as many plans, at least, for $100 than for $400.  Probably more.  I considered and rejected a boat with plans at $400.  I do have mixed feelings about this, though.
  • I’m not too heavy for it.   Not with 2200 pounds payload I’m not.
  • I have the space to build it… just, no more.
  • I can tow it.  Our capacity is about 2200 pounds total tow weight.  This fits at 1500 pounds, with trailer weight of another 500 pounds.  Just don’t add too much STUFF!  Local launch ramp capable.
  • Don’t overwhelm myself with too big a project.  Well… compared to some boats, this is “easy”, but there are others that would be far easier and accomplish SOME of these goals.  Hmm.
  • I can sail this one.  It is relatively easy, safe, and capable.  I’ve sailed, but I gotta be realistic about my skills… and advancing age.  Suitable for variable wind conditions.
  • It is adventure capable, within reason.  Don’t try to sail the Pacific.  Our local 22-mile long lake…Puget Sound in Seattle… even some rivers if you add a small outboard?  Yes.  Space to sleep, sit, cook, room for a porta-potty, protection from weather when needed.  Sufficiently able to handle most conditions if you keep an eye on the weather.  Yes, adventure capable, on my scale, at least.
  • Can my wife join me for some of the adventures?  Well, not really.   Daysails, yes.  The rest, no, though it would take a remarkable boat to be able to check this box along with all the others.  OK… daytrips.
  • Standing headroom?  Well, no.  I swore my next boat would have it, though that was for long-term stays on my local slough.  Hmm.  It could go into the sloughs, and do it well, but… no check here.
  • Is it too “normal”?  Not at all.  I have an odd quirk in that I’d rather go pretty far off the beaten path.  It needs to work for me, but just as importantly, it must create an unusual experience. When I sail this thing, I want the experience to be a joyful break from the norm. THIS boat is that.  I am what I am!
  • I like attractive boats, though it can, and probably should be, in a slightly unconventional way.  More runway model than prom queen, more Hudson than Corvette, more Brussels Sprouts than green beans.


Some of the places to sail nearby our shop:

I just bought the plans.  Will I build it?  I own a lot of plans and I believe my friends are weary of such talk… but… this really has promise.

Additional Resources:

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