A Boat on the Side

The More Things Change . . . . .

Over twenty years have passed since I began researching the market for trailerable boats. My proposed business had to fulfill some pretty demanding criteria, not the least of which was that I had to sell enough to make a living.

One of the questions we asked people at launching ramps was pretty straightforward. “Want don’t you like about trailer sailers?” Among the many replies that stood out loud and clear was “It takes two or more people far too long to rig and launch them.”  Why was this so? The answer was simple, the universally held assumption that the boat had to have a bermudan rig with its proportionally long and unwieldy mast.

Norfolk Broads Cruiser with Lead Weights

Now raising a long mast can be done – Thames barges used to do it frequently. Their solution was a heavy duty windlass and industrial strength blocks and tackle. There are a few trailer sailors who have similar arrangements, including screw on spars to provide leverage but too many of them rely on too many hands. Over the years many ideas have been tried with varying success. The traditional Norfolk Broads cruisers had a robust tabernacle with lead counterweights on the mast heel which swung under the deck. Others simply had big steel affairs with the pivot point as high as possible. I designed a sliding sleeve system to enable the mast to slide forward for trailing but never bothered to do one – in the end, in my experience, a shorter mast is the best for a trailerable boat. Enter the lugsail or gaff mast on a small tabernacle – the one we’ve used for twenty years.

Scruffie Marine Mast Tabernacle

Annette took an enquiry today from a man who is selling his 26-footer because “It takes three of us to get the mast up!” He’s after a Scintilla 24, offering hassle free single-handed rigging and launching. So why do so many trailer sailers still have long masts and over complicated gear? Mine don’t, I suppose I’ve always looked at things with a questioning mind.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Vintage National 12

We did a sailing demonstration some years back at a beach clubhouse for a local yacht club. There was a retired man there also giving demonstrations, with a rather nice simulated clinker glassfibre 12-footer, a bit like a softer National 12 I sailed as a youth. She had a three quarter rig, main and jib, spreaders, stay adjusters, hanks on the jib, boom vang, mainsheet on a traveler track – in fact everything you could ask for. He’d bought the moulds and rights as a retirement project and we wished him well. He arrived before us but we rigged our Shimmy 12 and launched her in about ten minutes – the Shimmys don’t even need a tabernacle, the unstayed mast drops straight into a slot. So off we went on the first of many demos.

Shimmy 12

It was a fresh onshore breeze so the Shimmy was in her element – straight off the beach, no worries. Came back, went out, came back and the man’s still fiddling with various bits. Finally he got the sails up and launched the boat. Trouble was he couldn’t get the centerboard down far enough to get sufficient grip – the little boat just kept going sideways back on to the beach with every wave. Heads were banged by the wildly swinging little boom. Tempers were fraying, more hands joined in with two blokes wading out waist deep to hold her head to windward while two more stood by to give her a shove. Eventually she made it and yes, she sailed very nicely. But it took over an hour to rig and get in the water and it took four people to help get her off the beach.

I felt really sorry for the owner and I’ve never seen the little open sloop again. Our little Shimmy 12 is still going strong and still selling well and the basic concept is just as viable now as it was a decade or two ago.

I bless the day I decided to seriously question why trailer sailers had to be the way they are.

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