After a long pause the Schooner Boat design has made it to another iteration. The hull is now 32′ and the lines have been revisited and calculations taken arriving at a loaded displacement of 15,000 pounds. The sail plan has come together along with the overall deck layout and house size and proportion.
At this point we’ve arrived at a distillation of what my long meditations on the New England Fishing Schooner brings to the potential of a small, sturdily built schooner boat. We have, essentially a compact version of a schooner from about 1880.
So far, this project has been a process of getting this concept down on paper. I’ve had this boat developing in my mind’s eye for decades. As an exploration of the forms of those larger vessels from a time when these boats were developing as part of a long living tradition the important thing this far has been to capture the essence implicit in their example while adapting it to the constraints of size and a difference of usage and expectation today.
This is most apparent in the boat’s size. In the nineteenth century this would have been a sloop, or some sort of shallop with a cat-ketch or cat-schooner sprit rig. It would have been considered too small to be a schooner. This is still an open question. How small can we go with a schooner and still have it viable?
One of the keys to answering this question is to weigh the trade-offs between the complication and expense of this complex rig with the advantages it might provide. This draft posits a boat with a generous light-air capability combined with the ability to snug down to shortened, yet still powerful, reduced sail for heavy weather. It does so without relying on high-tech gear and components that cannot be fabricated locally by boatbuilders, sailmakers, and blacksmiths.
This is an important consideration in this project. One of the most vital lessons in traditional boats is the combination of resilience and strength held within a simple, robust construction that can be supplied locally. The chain between the boat’s raw material and its ultimate usage is short and does not require extensive capitalization. It does require the maintenance of the elemental skills of woodworking, textiles, and the forging of metals. The boat is made possible by a community that contains these skilled crafters and in return it supports them by providing an outlet for their work.
Efficiency, keenly visible in the logic of sailboat racing, considers robustness to be a minor factor. The boat that holds together once the finish line has been crossed was too strong, therefore too heavy, and not efficient. There is some play in this demand, obviously a certain continuity, and not having to rescue every crew after every race, does enter into it! But still, robustness is not much valued.
Here it is given great priority. A boat represents an enormous investment in material and labor. It needs to be as robust as it can be. It also needs to be as self-sufficient as can be. These requirements combine to value the schooner rig.
In light air, this rig will fly a lot of sail. The boat will move in just about no air. But the sails are small. This is a trade-off. Larger sails are more efficient. But large sails require more sophisticated fabric and the mechanical advantages of winches and synthetic lines to keep their shape and to reduce weight aloft. Such sails have limited life-spans, even though the polymers they are made of will persist and disperse in a stubbornly toxic state down to the molecular level for a very long time. These sails can be of simple cloth. They do not require synthetic fiber lines or exotic hardware.
The divided rig also provides another form of resilience. The schooner’s two masts are two chances to retain a usable sail plan even after catastrophic conditions. The schooner foremast, especially, is very strong, well stayed, and can fly a variety of sail combinations even in a jury-rigged condition. If we are not relying on deus ex helicopter then this becomes an important factor.
In a schooner 100′ on deck the forces involved in the rig are tremendous. The boat’s size does give it some resilience in bad weather, but we are closer to the limits of the materials both to resist damage and to hold up over time. In a small schooner, those absolute limits are farther away. There is a significant redundancy, not only in having two masts, but in having them small and heavy enough to last. This goes for the hull as well. It was possible to build wooden-hulled ships hundreds of feet long, but these vessels were not long-lived. Not just because of rot, but because of the limits of the rigidity possible in such a structure. A material’s advantages just don’t scale beyond a certain point. At 32′ we are well within the sweet-spot of wood’s advantages.
This isn’t going to be an exhaustive analysis of the design. But before we go, here is a glimpse of the lines.
As with the rig, this form is not simply a scaling down of any particular ancestral schooner. Such scaling never works. Factors change with absolute size in different ways and nothing reduced by 60% or more would actually be workable. These lines are inspired by the schooners but arrived at to accommodate these scale changes and also to incorporate certain features and proportions I’ve found helpful in other boats I’ve designed.
We’ll get into the hull more in the next installment. For now, I’d like to leave you to contemplate this boat and consider how it is an homage to the schooners that inspired it, and how it is also a boat that would not have existed at that time. The tensions between those views are the space in which this design develops. Looking back to look forward, working to find ways to meet future needs by drawing on the lessons available to us from the closing days of a living craft tradition.
I don’t expect boats fifty years from now will look like this. But I do believe that the way to get to whatever might be possible a few decades ahead is best served by passing this way. To be able to continue to evolve, we, and our boats, will need to reconnect with viable traditions and reincorporate them into our lives.