Winter Wren II - Larry Cheek
I launched Nil Desperandum, a Winter Wren II, on Whidbey Island, Washington August 5, 2011.
Construction required 3,500 hours of labor spread over nearly three years. This is about double, maybe slightly more, the time it would take a professional boatbuilder. I bloated the time not only through an amateur’s muddling and mistakes, but also by committing occasional fanciness not specified in the plans, such as curving the cabin sides and building a lattice-work mahogany cockpit sole.
Total cost including materials, paint, hardware, motor, and sails came to just over $20,000. This was a substantial cost overrun; I originally estimated about $17,000.
This was not my first boat. In 2008, I completed a Devlin Zephyr sailing dinghy and chronicled its character-building challenges in a book, The Year of the Boat: Beauty, Imperfection, and the Art of Doing It Yourself, published by Sasquatch Books. Frankly, I wouldn’t advise a Winter Wren as an amateur’s first boat unless he or she comes already equipped with decent woodworking skills and some grasp of intuitive engineering. The Zephyr was a year-long preparatory course (in addition to a lovely little boat). When I turned to the Winter Wren, I had skills and confidence that I couldn’t even have imagined three years earlier.
Nil Desperandum has also been a graduate-level course in character issues including patience, perseverance, and taming the perfectionist demon. I wrote about this in a piece published in The New York Times in 2010; here’s that article in the Times’ archives:
I made a few changes to Devlin’s plan. Cosmetically, there are four portlights instead of two, a decision I reached only after making mockups of the cabin trunk, studying two versions for several days, and even e-mailing comparison photos to poll sailor and architect friends. (The vote favored the four-light configuration 8-3, and I agreed.)
The most important change was to appropriate slightly over 14 cubic feet of what could have been storage space under the cabin sole, bridge deck, and cockpit seats for air and foam flotation compartments. Nil Desperandum now has 880 pounds of positive flotation against her 650 pounds of ballast, ensuring that she’ll stay afloat in a worst-case scenario of total swamping. Not only am I a chicken sailor, I could not envision my 3,500 hours of labor snoring at the bottom of Puget Sound.
Auxiliary power is a Torqeedo 801 Travel electric outboard which quietly motivates the Winter Wren at 3.5 knots. The paint is Interlux Lauderdale blue and Hatteras off-white. Hull, deck and cabin are all marine-grade okoume plywood. Spars are all Sitka spruce. Other wood trim and structural pieces are either khaya mahogany or vertical-grain fir.
At this early writing I’ve only sailed her twice, and in modest breezes up to 10 knots, but so far I’m delighted. She’s wonderfully responsive to a delicate touch on the tiller, sails willingly in a breeze almost too light to feel, and tacks reliably and obediently in even the lightest air. And comfortable. And beautiful—for which I give Sam total credit. He’s taken plywood boat design farther than anyone imagined it could go.
The Winter Wren shows there’s no need for big, complicated, and pretentious boats. Small is beautiful. When you build and sail a boat like this, you have a sense of participation rather than estrangement; you become its partner rather than its slave. That isn’t to say it’s undemanding or without frustration; it may be the most difficult thing you’ve ever accomplished. But it will be worth it.
—Lawrence W. Cheek
Size: 5 items