Recently I was working on the plans for a small under 20ft. Pocket Sailor design but found during the process I couldn’t help but think about another design, one roughly the same size and in many respects similar in use, but the type I zeroed in on was a small Motorsailer. This “Litl Coot” design is the result of my musings and dreams. Now in this case, despite being my own design customer, I still needed to stay focused and set up a list of design parameters that the new design would accommodate. First of all she needed to be very trailerable with the capability of sitting on a powerboat type trailer low and compact enough to be able to be backed into a garage or storage shed without any special needs. So right away that got rid of any notion that I would need to design a deep keel for her. I flirted with the idea of leeboards but quickly realized that a couple of hardwood Bilge Keels, along with a centerline small shoe keel and aft skeg, would be just the ticket. The bilge keels also had the additional benefit that they would allow her to beach out level and upright if I got caught by a quickly receding tide in some of the shallow and very tidal bays that I was dreaming of using her on. If you are a fan of classic literature, there is an excellent novel written just before World War One titled “Riddle of the Sands”. The story is based near the Friesian Islands located off the N.W. shore of Holland and Germany. These waters are a very tidal area and the descriptions of the main character straying off the dredged and poorly marked channels and getting caught on the sands in his shoal draft boat with all the extra adventures that one would have with that scenario, has always been appealing to me. Anyway, it’s a great read. As I recollect, this is either one of the first or the very first Mystery Adventure novels written by Erskine Childers and it has had a prominent position in my library for many years.
But back to the “Litl Coot” design – once I had made the decision to give her bilge keels, that meant all her ballast needed to be in the bilge and my plan is to use recycled lead shot (I buy mine from one of the local trap and skeet shooting ranges) which is very nice to work with, all cleaned, in small canvas bags weighing 30 lbs. each and ready to be mixed with epoxy and set into her bilge. I usually plan on casting about 75-85% of the anticipated ballast (in this case 600 lbs) before launching and then finish off the final ballasting after checking her trim in the water and re-assuring myself that the weight is located where it is most needed to keep her floating level and on her lines. That reminds me of a story, several years ago my long-term landlord at my main shop (which I have rented for 28 years now) told me one day just after we had launched a new boat, that one of the things that amazed him most of all about my designing and building boats was how accurately I could predict the floating of the boat level and on her lines. Well that was quite a compliment and I think that if I remember properly that I tried to pass it off as not being that hard to do! Within just a couple of weeks we had occasion to launch another new build (different design, one that we hadn’t built before) and the new vessel floated down on her lines by the stern. We had to add some (actually read quite a lot of) extra chain in her anchor locker to get her settled down on her lines (as designed). I often wondered if my landlord had somehow jinxed me by saying that they all floated on their lines so nicely, and having missed the mark on the very next boat project, the whole experience sobered me considerably. It should go without saying that on the next design I spent almost twice as much time as I usually did on the weight study trying to not make the same mistake twice.
But back to our musings about the “Litl Coot” – now that we’ve got the keels on her and the ballast settled, it’s time to think about that engine package. This is a pure 50/50 Motorsailer and on this size boat, I think the little 9.9 horsepower Yamaha 4 cycle engine in hi-thrust configuration is just about ideal. It’s a great little engine, barely sips fuel, is almost soundless at idle and will work on this design very well. But here I was confronted with a problem. With many small sailboats, if we make a centerline rudder and hang the outboard on some sort of scissoring bracket to one side of the stern, when sailing on the tack where the outboard is to the lee side, you will find the end of the lower unit of the outboard dragging in the water. There might be a couple of solutions to this problem, we could move the outboard closer to the centerline, but if we are not really careful then there is a really good chance that sooner or later you will hit the prop with the rudder while doing some short maneuvering in a docking or mooring situation. If you place the engine further away from the rudder you’ve exaggerated the problem of the drag of the lower unit and prop of the outboard (and I hate dragging something like that when trying to sail). So my solution for the “Litl Coot” was to place the motor on the centerline of the transom, and by using a long shaft outboard we will be able to keep the lower unit from dragging on the lee side tack (as there is no lee side to a centerline mounted engine) and both the motoring and the sailing will be without compromise. Now with the engine on the centerline that meant in order to be able to steer her under sail, I needed to find a way to either mount a rudder off the centerline or an even better solution was to use twin rudders that have tillers that tie together into a common link arm. The additional benefit of the twin rudders allowed them to not extend into the water quite as deeply as if I had used just a single rudder and conforms rather nicely with our requirement of being able to sit level and upright in grounding situations without any necessity to lift the rudders up or have some sort of swing blades on them. Once we joined the two tillers together into a single link arm then my next problem of how to allow an inside steering station to be rigged was easily assisted by having one common link with simple shackles made up to fixed lines (when desiring the inside steering station) and led through turning blocks to a fore and aft pivoting vertical tiller that will be fixed in the pilothouse on the starboard side. If I desire to steer from this inside station, I can sit in a comfortable seat on the starboard side facing forward and steer her by either pushing or pulling on the tiller. There is enough drag in this type of steering system to keep the helm steady for short periods of time if I needed to have her self steering while fixing a spot of tea or perhaps making a snack.
One of the main ideas with this design is that all functions could be done while sailing, or motoring, solo. There is room to take a buddy along but you don’t necessarily have to, in fact there might be a lot of days when just my dog “Bella” might be the perfect crew for an adventure on the “Litl Coot”. So all the halyards, topping lifts, etc. are lead aft to the sides of the pilothouse. With her little mizzen sail set up and left rigged most of the time either under sail or under power, she will have the wonderful capability to have a balanced helm under different wind and tacking conditions, and the mizzen would help to keep her steady on a mooring, or at anchor when holed up for a rest.
For easy and quick set up when launching from trailer I designed a tabernacle hinged Mainmast setting a rig that I would call a Cat Yawl (although under some definitions this might also be described as a Cat Ketch, the mizzen being stepped ahead of the rudders) configuration. This style of rig keeps the sail area where it is needed for balance under sail and is a very simple to use, with literally no re-sheeting necessary as one tacks from board to board. With the process of rigging the Mainmast simply being a matter of rotating up the mast in its tabernacle, set up the forestay on the bail above the Stainless Steel anchor roller up on the bow, and insert a pin into the bottom of the tabernacle and you are ready to launch. Keeping the mast up in the eyes of the boat also allowed me to have a top hinged window on the front of the pilothouse for sailing or motoring on warm days. This allows lots of wind in the face but reduces the chance of getting too much sun on my already overly exposed face, if I choose to be inside in the shade of the pilothouse.
So we now have a boat that can sit on a trailer, fit in a normal sized garage for berthage when we aren’t using her, an inside and outside steering arrangement, a couple of berths for doing some simple cruise/camping, and one that will sail or motor at a fairly efficient level whether the wind is blowing or not. And did I add that she is towable behind most of the small-to-mid sized SUVss or Pickups? She also is a boat that will allow me to explore the really shallow and fringe cruising areas that more conventional sailboats with their deep keels can’t even think about sailing in. I can sail her either on my own or with crew, but again all systems and setup can be done on my own if that is the way I choose to use her. In final expression I have found the “Litl Coot” to be absolutely beguiling during her design stages and my armchair cruises have been wonderful, built around her platform. My best guess is that her real life adventures might be just as good or better, and that adds a lot of spice to my life, just the ticket for a modern, busy world!
Amateur plans are $195 and consist of 16 drawings printed on 24X36 inch paper and a simple building booklet. You can either buy printed sets of plans directly from us or buy a download version and print on your own. We are now producing basic hull kits for her or we could build you the whole boat if you would like, and very soon I look forward to seeing many of these little Cat Yawls on the water.