Bolger on Storm Petrel

From Small Boat Journal Number 16 (11/80-1/81)

I define seaworthiness as the ability to keep the sea in all weathers in reasonable safety. Design and construction are only part of it. Quality of handling and gear are, if anything, more important.

I admit to skepticism about the possibility of a foolproof boat, and when politicians and bureaucrats set out to prohibit the other kind, the first thing that happens is that they make boats a lot more expensive without making them much safer. The second thing is that when making boats more expensive doesn't get results, they start restricting their use and end up by locking everybody in padded cells where they'll be quite safe.

However that may be, what the designer can do about seaworthiness is to lay out the boat in such a way that it can roll over and over, be totally submerged and come through rightside up without a disastrous amount of water inside. He can also do a good deal to help the builder make it strong enough to stand these things.

The Storm Petrel is supposed to be the absolute minimum seaworthy boat. The overall dimensions are somewhat misleading because over four feet of the bow is just shrouding to protect the flat bow transom of a 12' scow. The real boat, the watertight part, is six and a half feet long plus a 5-1/2 forked tail running aft to sit on. Inside there's just height enough (18") to roll over if you're not too wide in the shoulders or hips, with three feet under the hatch to allow sitting upright on the bottom of the hull. There's no room for any amount of supplies; she wasn't meant for long passages. The idea is that if she got caught by bad weather offshore, she could do the corked-bottle act, protecting one or two people from the storm for a few hours or even days. I don't think that there are many designs around with that capability that can be built complete from eight 3/8" x 4' x 8' sheets of plywood, and as little else as this one.

The keel is just a 3/8" steel plate cut out to profile. It doesn't have a full flange, let along a bulb, as the rocker of the bottom offsets the bolts enough to brace it against a side thrust. It weighs about 170 pounds, enough to make sure she'd always end up with it under her in the long run. It's also about as cheap lateral plane as any, strengthens rather than weakens the hull, and as she only draws 1' 8" of water in normal trim, it's not much of an obstacle to getting ashore. If she were driven against a lee shore, it'd be hard luck if she couldn't be aimed into some spot from which the crew could jump and run inland.

The anchors would be kept in the free-flooding bow. I haven't tried it under appropriate circumstances, but it seems to me that letting go one or more anchors with all the warp available, in no-bottom water, ought to be at least as effective as most sea anchors. I don't understand why drogues are designed to float, as the deeper they go the less they'll be in the surface drift, and the nearer vertical the warp tends, the more resistance it will have and the more effective it wll be in steadying the bow of the boat.

The rig is relatively cheap for its effectiveness and allows the mast to be so short that it can be inordinately strong without being too heavy for the boat or beyond a woman's strength to lift out and lay flat. This rig is that of an H.H. Payson Zephyr, plans and descriptions of which can be found in Instant Boats (International Marine Publishing Co., Camden, ME 04843). The design was made for Payson's Instant Boat series, but so far he hasn't gotten around to building the prototype. The rig is certainly too small for this boat, which would be a dull sailer with it in light or even moderate weather. The boat was meant for peace of mind, not for high performance. She was to have a motor in any case, and the historical record is that when a motor comes on the scene, light-weather canvas tends to disappear. As shown, Storm Petrel has to be regarded as a motorsailer, though she'll sail respectably enough when there's weight in the wind. Contrariwise, she could be thought of as a low-powered outboard skiff with an auxiliary rig to stretch her range and get her home with engine trouble. The hull shape and the keel design are not the kind that would reward a very powerful sail plan.

In spite of her modest performance, maybe partly because of it, I think one could become very fond of a boat like this. For the materials and labor involved, she's remarkably able and roomy for a family outing or for children to practive cruising on their own. She's incidently a good-looking boat to my eye.

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