By Tim Rumbinas:
Some shantyboats that put the emphasis on the shanty, and others on the
boat. There is an entire class of shanties and houseboats that are only meant
to be moved on an occasional basis, and may lack the ability to propel
themselves. That’s fine if one has a a place to moor or tie up for an extended
However, just across the border from where I live, there’s a waterway that
stretches down to the mouth of the Hudson at Manhattan, the Great Lakes to
the wast, and northward to the St Lawrence Seaway and the Trent-Severn
and Rideau waterways of Canada. Literally thousands of miles of protected
cruising are available. These waters are for a boat in motion. The New York
Canal system has many towns that offer gorgeous facilities for transient
boaters for free or for a minimal charge. Two of my favorites, Whitehall and
Fort Edward have “town walls” in attractive park-like settings that include free
water and electricity. Many of the locks have tie-up areas also. However, most
areas limit a stay to three consecutive days. This is to insure that the facilities
are not used as permanent moorings.
While Europe developed a special class of canal cruising boats, nothing of the
sort evolved here. We have no equivalent to the British narrowboat or the
Dutch barge. On the North American canals, one sees everything from
pontoon houseboats to cabin cruisers to sailboats carrying their masts on
deck. None are ideal canal cruisers.
Many older houseboats are too big and too thirsty for economical cruising,
which is why most of them spend their time docked. A trawler or cabin cruiser
opens up the Great Lakes and the Intercoastal waterway, but good trawlers
don’t come cheap, and can be very thirsty also.
I’ve spent quite a lot of time in a dismasted sailboat on the canal system.
Used sailboats can be purchased cheaply, don’t require a lot of power, and
can be used as a “terminal trawler.” Unless one invests in a boat over 25 feet
or so, however, accommodations tend to be on the cramped side, visibility
forward can be an issue, and sitting in an open cockpit in the blazing sun or
pouring rain gets old in a hurry. Also, there’s the issue of draft. Many keel
sailboats can draw over four feet of water, which limits their usefulness.
I wanted a design that combined shallow draft, good weather protection,
excellent forward visibility, and at least one cabin with standing headroom.
The boat should have a reasonable galley, enclosed head, and at least one
berth that could be left set up during the day. A center-cockpit arrangement
came to mind because it makes handling the lines and the helm far simpler,
particularly if cruising solo. Two cabins lend some privacy if more than two are
There are quite a number of European boats that fit this bill. I didn’t find many
on these shores. The classic Albin 25 and 27 aft-cabin models come close,
but the 25s are very hard to come by (and all are over 40 years old). The 27s
are a bit younger, but tend to command high prices.
I decided to design my own boat. I’m no fan of racy-looking “gin palaces.” I
really like the solid, “shippy” looks of the tugs and work boats that are
operated by the NY Canal Corporation. Many of look as if they were stuck
together in a back lot by people who had no pretensions toward appearing
“yachty.” The canal workers had a job to do, and built their boats to do it.
For a canal barge, a scow hull makes a lot of sense. It’s simple and
inexpensive to build, can be built ruggedly, and offers a lot of volume for the
labor invested. However, scows pound in any sort of chop, and aren’t speedy.
This one isn’t going to win any races. It’s also not suited to exposed waters, or
waves much over a foot or two. The speed issue doesn’t bother me. In many
places, the speed limit on the canals is 6 mph — the speed of a walking mule.
40 miles or so is a good day’s work. This is a modified scow, so pounding
shouldn’t be an issue unless you’re in over your head. If she pounds, turn
Often, when thinking of this sort of build, people think of pontoon boats. For
my money, unless you’re given a set on free pontoons, they’re not worth the
biscuit. They set the superstructure up one or two feet higher than an
equivalent displacement hull. Remember, air draft is not your friend. Batteries,
fuel tanks, water and practically everything else that can be used as ballast on
a conventional hull can become “anti-ballast.” If weight’s above the waterline,
it’s working against you. Many “party barges” are more stable upside-down.
It’s a point to consider.
Editor says: Tim wrote me earlier and said:
Tim Rumbinas here, the fellow that’s sent you several designs. I’ve been
hard at work on the last one — I believe I called it a “canal sampan.”
As it’s not truly a sampan, I’ve renamed it ACB – the American Canal
Boat. I have various renderings almost ready to send, and an
accompanying article on the progression of the design. Although it has
fixed berths for two, I’ve developed pipe berths for two more folk,
after reading a great article (somewhere) about the simplicity and
comfort of this style of bunk. I also realized that two more hardy folk
could be slept in hammocks strung from the bow and stern railings.
I don’t recommend six adults on a boat under 30 feet for long, but it’s
possible for a three-day weekend. After that, the group would probably
be either gibbering or homicidal. However, as the ACB is as much a
creature of land as water, a mutiny would only consist of walking down
the towpath to the next town. Really, it’s a boat for a couple — or a
couple with younger kids.
Some changes since the last revision — I’ve managed to increase the
interior volume slightly while losing at least six inches of “air
draft.” Of the many things Phil Teil and Phil Bolger got right on their
designs was keeping the superstructure low. While a ten-horsepower
high-thrust motor is enough to power a thirty-footer in calm air, coming
into a lock in a stiff cross-wind will make one wish for a jet engine.
I’m aiming for confidently cruising on about 25 hp. There’s room with
slight modifications for an inboard diesel either amidships (preferred)
or astern with a v-drive. I’m pretty sure most people would opt for the
outboard, though, for reasons of simplicity and cost. If I meant to
power around every day, I’d fit a diesel. It would pay for itself. There
is ample space for tankage, so carrying enough fuel for a week between
stops wouldn’t be an issue.
I was inspired by Morten Olsen’s designs over at
http://www.boatplans.dk/. Morten does some lovely, simple small boat
designs, including quite a number that qualify as shanties or
mini-cruisers. Morten is an honest-to-goodness naval architect who
happens to like small boats, and a very friendly person. His egg-crate
hulls are ingenious. I’ve adapted his thoughts for this design. The hull
structure is heavily overbuilt. On the open water, one rarely comes into
contact with solid objects. On a canal boat, it happens many times a
day. Canal boats need to be tough.
Originally posted 2016-10-27 17:39:49.