I can see nothing all around me. Georgian Bay is slow to warm this season, hence the thick fog. It is cold and damp in the exposed cockpit with a storm in the forecast. In spite the cold, I’m wearing just a ‘T’ shirt! You see, I’m not sailing from the cockpit but from inside a warm cabin. Snacks and controls at hand, I’m enjoying this bad weather in comfort. The ability to sail from inside with a 360° view is just one of the cool features my new Camp Cruiser design, Crow can boast!
Forgive me if I continue to ‘Crow’! At 15’, 8” x 6’, 8” beam and drawing just 10”, Crow offers a lot in a little sailboat. The pram bow deserves much of the credit. There is a bigger list of features to share but first let me explain how Crow came to be ... After surgery, I was going stir crazy, a friend suggested making a model. Great idea! A cereal box was soon transformed into a tiny boat. The idea had been in my head for some time. Refined after 20 plus years enjoying our old sailboat, I saw improvements that could be made. Crow would address Whisper’s short comings but keep it’s better features. So why name it CROW ..? because they are cool birds often underestimated.
The model complete and looking great, a full sized version had to be built. There was little money available for materials but no matter, cheap builds in our Can Am Dinghy Group, has members out enjoying their boats. This gave me hope. Old pressure treated deck lumber was salvaged free, exterior grade ply at $20 per sheet with drywall screws and construction adhesive keeping it all together, works. Wetting out fibreglass cloth and filleting was done with epoxy as polyester resin is going too cheap for me. Better building materials would be ‘better’ but putting off the build until affordable was not an option. That risks having a dusty model as the only evidence of a dream wilted. The lumber was sound, all looked good as the build came together. To further enhance the look, Teak veneer was added. Thanks Lynette, your generous gift helped create a classier boat. I’d recommend a ‘cheap build’ after this experience.
After two seasons of testing, high lights stand out beyond some great sailing. On one cool spring trip, my 6’ 4” buddy and I long tacked up the bay, rarely needing to touch the controls. Out of the wind and with a small candle lamp to keep us warm, we were in the cabin, enjoying food and conversation. He expressed surprise, specifically noting the ample head room. Another fall trip, I looked forward to sleeping in the cozy cabin. We (Crow and I) tucked into a protected nook, thanks to her shallow draft, waves crashed near by and snow fell outside. It was cold! My candle lamp warmed the insulated interior for a luxurious night.
Crow frames assembled.
So why not boast sooner? Designing prototypes require experimenting. Seeing what works, what doesn’t and adapting. Crow did have a couple of issues to perfect!
Firstly, I was overly optimistic how well the shallow bilge keels would work. I wanted to avoid a centre board, while keeping shallow draft. The good news was the shallow keels worked well enough to sail ‘to wind’ and few boats can do so in just 12” to 14” of water, but to be successful, Crow needed to point higher in deep water. After time to debate, a leeboard solved this problem perfectly. It does not divide the cabin’s interior, is an easy appendage to add and there is no need to fuss when tacking. Staying down on both tacks, it only kicks up when in the shallows or is raised for less resistance going down wind. Simply reset when needed. Draft when board down is about 36” but becomes a bit deeper as the boat heels on one tack, then becomes less deep and more vertical on the opposite tack. In practice the difference balances out nicely and pointing on both tacks is equally good.
The second problem was getting good sails on a budget. Can Am to the rescue, thanks Peter for the used Albacore 15 mainsail. A confession, I painted it. I know what you’re thinking but I had a vision in mind! I re-sewed an old blue mizzen also painting it. Blue was not part of the colour scheme. Rolling on thinned red metal paint then rubbing it off worked surprisingly well. The sail’s blemishes and the blue were gone, magic. I had a newer jib but will still look to upgrade sails in future when affordable options present themselves.
Crow is not a hare but carries her house like a Tortoise! With these upgrades now sorted out, this camp cruiser is sailing nicely and is finally ready for her reveal.
Unique features; EYES (‘bird’s eye view’) ... pram bow ... shallow draft (two shallow bilge keels and skeg/rudder combo) ... single leeboard (weather board) ... comfortable cabin with, 54” interior height, large windows, queen berth, two 32” settees and a portable toilet ... spacious cockpit ... unique hull shape (generous rocker fore and aft, arched across and hard chines)... skinned with large ply panels (easy when shown how!) ... yawl rig with Gunter main (mast in tabernacle) ... positive flotation (six sealed chambers) ... electric drive ... and sail to windward in just 12”-14” water.
Eyes on ships are old fashioned and keep a sharp look out for the superstitious sailor. I need it in the rock strewn areas of Georgian Bay. They see better because they open. Made from a half moon piece of 1/4” Lexan, these hinged lids overlay the main windows, doubling as port lights. Wide open, a screened ‘pupil’ (cut out) ventilates the cabin even in rain and can seal tight as needed. Traditions are cool, this one ensures cool breezes flow inside.
A 16’ boat is small but add a pram bow and it becomes much bigger. Intended as a comfortable camp cruiser and not a racer (I’m in no hurry). Crow’s shape has no pointy ends and with help from hard chines, this makes for a very stable ride. The bow is ‘stuck up’ (attitude) running over chop. Ample buoyancy forward easily lifts her over larger swells giving passengers confidence. I’m pro pram, while speed may be slightly less, prams have many pluses to like.
Bilge Keels are long, running to the bow and are placed well out to the side. They have more surface area forward where the hull bottom rises, keeping draft in the mid section to just 10”. Adding 5’ lengths of 11/2” angle iron to each keel further helps with leeway prevention. The rudder has a bottom plate adding ‘grip’ as well, with a skeg to protect it. All this balances so well Crow can self steer. 1/4” Stainless caps the appendages and Crow literally can ‘hit the beach’. Abuse? No, my boats need to be built tough as when sailing the shallows, it is more likely to hit bottom.
Arched/rocker bottoms are not normally built with large ply panels. This shape softens the ride, no pounding. Generous rocker, fore and aft, nests Crow nicely between swells, while arched from side to side, helps her move smoothly in the chop. The design work and flexible 3/8” plywood makes this shape easy to build. The plans explain in detail helping the builder with step by step instructions, like a manual.
Leeboards are old fashioned and Crow has one, just one. Working in concert with the bilge keels, the single board can be smaller and is just 55” long. Only 3’ projects below the hull’s chine but when folded up like a wing, it blends in nicely with the hull and is not ugly. With this leeboard, she now gets to wind almost as ‘a crow flies’ (can’t resist) and the interior benefits in a big way.
The cockpit fits four to enjoy the outdoors but more can be entertained aboard if including the cabin space. Door open and with large windows, guests inside feel part of the fun. While intended as a couple’s boat, a young family will find her roomy.
A yawl rig has three manageable sails, making single handling easier. A Gunter main keeps spars smaller, this and with a tabernacle, trailering is convenient. To raise, I keep the main mast’s side stays attached, just pull the fore stay, clip to bow cleat and tension, the mast is up. Raise the yard with mainsail, adjust the boom, plug in the mizzen mast with boomkin, hank on a jib and go. Set up time is about 25 minutes. This rig also helps to balance Crow when self steering.
POSITIVE FLOTATION FOR SAFETY
There are six sealed chambers. If the worst happens, Crow still floats. A high cabin top and ballast in the form of batteries, plus heavy gear secured low, will help her self-right from a 90° knock down. Crow is intended to be a stable, safe boat that will get you home.
Shallow draft opens up new areas off limits to most! Enjoy secure shelter in storms, privacy in crowds and explore close to shore enjoying the scenery thanks to this key feature. Crow gets bonus points for sailing into the wind in these shallow places.
A queen berth feels just like home. Young families can also drop settee cushions creating an extra large ‘common bed’. Two 32” long ‘couches’ are for sitting, reading and relaxing. Even if 6’ 4” tall, there is no knocking your head when seated. Enjoy the scenery a 360° view offers through the windows. Sailing from in the cabin is practical with a clear roof hatch for checking sail shape aloft and control lines run inside! I’ve really enjoyed this feature, staying warm and dry when it is cold and wet outside. But Crow is not just for the cold. Well ventilated and insulated, the cabin is cool in hot weather. Enjoy the shade and the breeze blowing through the cabin. Now let’s take care of business as a portable toilet is needed if my bride is aboard.
The cockpit cross bench has room under that’s accessible from the interior. This is not under your nose when sleeping and curtains snapped on provide privacy. It does not disturb. Cooking is camp style with counter made simply by flipping a ply backed cushion or use the cockpit. Electric drive is a 4hp gas motor. Four batteries and solar panels will power an electric motor. Crow should be sailed most times, the electric motor only fills in with oars as emergency back up. This is the plan ... but I need more time to make it happen.
Frames slip together like old styled egg creates, same technique as our houseboat, no forms needed. Level, square and add ply. There are some compound angles to keep track of but this is detailed in the plans, which help the builder through the steps. Finally I used cloth saturated with epoxy to make her last.
I see Crow as my ‘forever’ boat (that’s three now). Not too small or too big. Too small and owners want bigger. Too big and boats risk becoming a burden, ending up as ‘dock ornaments’. Crow is manageable, no bother to own and quick to launch. Costing about $1000 CAD to build by ‘free cycling’ much of the material. It will cost more if buying new but this unique boat deserves the investment. Once built Crow won’t cost much to own. She will live happily on her trailer and store under a tarp in your yard, just flip off tarp, hook up trailer and go. Checking time sheets, the build took about 500 hours. A commitment, yes but my thinking is that time goes by regardless, why not start a fun project and have something to be proud of in the end