Design Musing: Padre Island Skiff

A Design Idea from Tim Rumbinas –Respectable nautical architects have tried their hand at shantyboat design. It’s a  compelling field. For one, it allows the architect to relax a lot. The most volume one can get in a hull is by constructing a big, square box. To slap living quarters above the first box, just build a taller box on top.

Unfortunately, a box doesn’t go through the water particularly well. Many designers solve the issue by cutting a 45 degree angle on one plane of the bow and calling the design good. This will go through the water better than a cube, but is far from ideal. There are plenty of designs for such “chuggers” out there. They’re basically a scow that would have be used to haul sand, gravel, grain or cordwood, and have. Unfortunately, they have poor hydrodynamics, and will pound in a light chop. Where I live, the waters are rarely still. There are cat’s paws, williwaws, cross chop, and plenty of wind. There are also locks, docks, narrow channels, and fellows in power boats that have had too many beers and don’t really know where their 250 hp missile boat with a six-foot wake is headed.

Padre Island Sloop 24 floor plan annotated

My brief is to design a “Crusing Shanty” — a boat that will cruise at about six to eight knots with minimal power, keep one person or a couple comfortable for a cruising season, and not cost the world. This vessel shouldn’t have all the yacht bling that makes owning a boat so difficult. Brightwork is lovely, but it’s hell to maintain. Try for a clean workboat build, or as my furniture master James Krenov said: “Make it look handmade, not homemade.”

I started out with a proven hull form — that of a sailing scow drawn by Howard Chapelle. The hull has been scaled to make it easily trailerable. While there is much discussion about scaling hulls, I know that this hull has been scaled by as much as two-thirds and sailed successfully.

While the original scows were of wood-planked carvel construction, many have been made in plywood. It’s not a particularly daunting form to build, particularly with the epoxy adhesives available today. One can combine both old and new methods in a mix-and-match fashion.

Yacht designer Jeff Spira at Spira International,, has some great information on this sort of build. As a matter of fact, his Puchie Special Garvey seems an ideal design to adapt for a shanty of this nature. Jeff’s plans are very reasonably priced, and there is a vast quantity of free and useful information on his site.

I designed this craft to be powered by a small diesel inboard that I happened on for reasonable money — about a fifth of the cost of a ten-horsepower outboard.

I like diesel —  it’s much safer than gasoline, and is very economical. George Buhler claims that 10 diesel horsepower are worth 20 in a gas engine. I own a 26‘ motorsailer that will quite happily cruise all day long at six knots on about a liter an hour. That’s about eight bucks a day where I live. In comparison, a houseboat I rented in Ontario this spring guzzled between $60 and $80 in gas to make six knots. My diesel is a slow-speed engine. I find that the sound of an engine thumping along at 2000 rpm a lot easier to bear than the dental drill whine of an outboard. Besides, diesels live a long time if properly maintained.

The diesel will be mounted under the central steering station, with plenty of room for maintenance and oil changes.

I won’t be  taking everything along. You can’t bring your McMansion onto the water, at least not cheaply. There’s about 100 square feet of living space aboard. That’s adequate for two people, or four for short periods, but is only the size of a small bedroom ashore. The forward cabin is dedicated to sleeping quarters, and has a queen-sized berth. There’s sitting headroom, and plenty of room for storage. The aft cabin has standing headroom, and houses the head, galley, and dining area. I would not build in a dinette. For this boat, a folding camp table would be lighter, cheaper, and more practical. It could also be used for picnics ashore. Likewise, a few folding chairs would serve for seating. This way, a guest couple could be accommodated on queen-sized inflatable bed in reasonable comfort and with a modicum of privacy.

Padre Island Skiff Top Perspective

This boat is is a creature of land and water. In the environment I’m thinking of, you’re rarely far off shore, and never out of sight of land. It’s for exploring inland nooks and crannies, not rounding the horn.

I’ve consciously tried to avoid dual steering stations, which is why the station is close to mid-ships. Dual stations are lovely on a larger boat, but eat up square footage and add complexity. In inland cruising, a central steering station makes locking through and tying up to docks far simpler when single-handed.

Padre Island Skiff 24'top rearI drew in a top over the cockpit, but I’ll likely use a bimini top and side curtains for weather protection instead. It’s a lighter and simpler solution,  doesn’t add to trailering height, and weighs quite a lot less. Weight up high isn’t a friend. There’s a low underpass just down my road, and dragging something with ten feet of air draft down the road requires more tow vehicle than I own. Side curtains can be made of PVC/Dacron raft material that will be secure and durable. The central steering station also helps with locking and docking, as a single person can handle the lines.

Padre Island Skiff 24' top front Padre Island Skiff 24' quarter rear Padre Island Skiff 24' quarter bottom

The luxury of having a tall enclosed cockpit is offset when the winds come up on the northern lakes. There are many conditions where I’d rather put on rain gear and brave the elements in a responsive boat than battle it out in a tall, pitching craft. Much of the game on northern lakes is beating the weather. I’m still searching the quote from Kenneth Robert’s “Rabble in Arms,” which states that if you can sail Lake Champlain, you can sail anywhere.

I was at the Shelburne Shipyard yesterday afternoon, and conditions were full.

There’s room for a head. I’d use a composting head. They are simple, and work well. Properly tended, there’s no odor. This makes plumbing a great deal easier. A porta-potti could also be used, but I find a composter less trouble.

I  wouldn’t build in a shower. In a vessel this small, they are really a hassle to deal with, and contribute to mildew and rot. If you really need a shower, the pressurized solar shower sold by Duckworks that is a pretty trick item for the price. On days that aren’t sunny, you can add some hot water from a kettle. I washed this way while working on the Appalachian Trail in NH years ago. Two gallons of warm water make a pretty good shower, so long as you are judicious and don’t choose soap that’s hard to rinse off.

 In some jurisdictions (Vermont, New York, Ontario, to name a few) any discharge overboard is strictly verboten. This can easily be taken care of by adding a small shower pan and holding tank that serves both the sink and shower. Rather than dealing with a pressurized water system, a simple foot or hand pump would serve in the galley, with a single cold-water spigot. A kettle of water warmed on the stove will take care of the dishes.

Shore power and land power ? It seems that wiring a boat can be about as difficult as building one. If you don’t need a microwave, TV, and air conditioner, I’d keep the wiring very simple. I’d limit it to several 12 volt ports for charging electronics, a run for the duct and fan that carries heat from the aft to fore cabin, and another for the vent to the composting toilet. I don’t think I’d even bother with 110, although I’d probably carry a battery charger and an extension cord in case the batteries needed to be topped up and there was shore power. A few solar panels would go a very long way to maintain the charge also.

I owned  a camp that had no electricity, no running water, and a composting toilet some time ago. It was heated by a wood stove, and lit by kerosene. It was a wonderful place, and easy to live in.

For lighting, I’d rely on the many good, battery operated LED lamps and rechargable batteries and a number of kerosene lamps. The new generation of LED lighting is a miracle. I have several headlamps and lanterns that work off AAA batteries, and they will throw good light for weeks on a few AAA batteries. Kerosene lamps are nice in that they throw a mellow light and last for a good, long time on a single fill. Buy ultra-pure lamp oil. It’s much costlier, but doesn’t stink up the cabin. Another nice thing about kero lamps is that they throw a bit of heat. On a chilly night, a couple will take the edge off.

 On a really chilly night, which can occur any time of year where I cruise, you’ll want a bit more heat. My recommendations are for either a Tiny Tot stove or a Dickenson solid fuel heater. Either will make a space this large positively sweaty on a handful of wood scraps or a few charcoal bricks. You really won’t need heat during the night. A couple snuggled up in a good sleeping bag throw plenty of heat to stay alive and even frisky at any temperature where there’s liquid water. I have a two-person bag by The North Face that is good to 25 degrees, and hot above 50.

No tiny stove will last the night, but they heat rapidly. Once you’ve  sparked up the stove, you’ve also dressed and boiled the water for the morning cuppa. The cabin should be warm and comfortable. You’ll learn to buy a newspaper every few days, or to ask for paper bags at the grocery. Keep dry paper in a plastic bag. It takes only a few minutes to light a solid fuel stove with practice. If you’re solo, you may want a warmer bag, or at least the skills get someone to share one with you. I’d suggest the latter. It’s more fun.

Keep it simple. That’s the primary thought behind the shanty boat lifestyle. Some years ago, a really wise woman I knew –who had lived aboard a sailboat in southeast Asia for a number of years said, “The easy way is hard enough.”


Tim Rumbinas is a journalist, writer, motorcyclist, former printer and graphic designer, and woodworker who studied fine woodworking at The College Of The Redwoods in Fort Bragg,CA. He has degrees in Philosophy and Literature. He is currently studying yacht design with the McNaughton Group of Eastport, Maine.

Originally posted 2014-11-02 19:09:37.

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