The Perfect Mini-Micro-Cruiser
by By David "Shorty" Routh
I have always been obsessed with "doing more with less". Probably started when I was a boy playing war in the neighborhood. My friends would run around with cap guns and snap them at each other, then play dead for 30 seconds. My mother never let me have a cap gun, but I did have a G.I. Joe doll that came with a small 1 inch long plastic gun. I would run around with them and hold the little plastic gun between my fingers and shout "Bang Bang, your DEAD!". Seemed to work because they would lay down and count to 30 - and so was born a life long obsession with trying to do the same as others, only using smaller and simpler equipment.
My first attempt at a minimal cruiser was a Bolger Brick. If you are not familiar with them, they are the simplest of all sailboats to build. Basically a plywood box with a curved bottom. At only 8 foot long by 4 foot wide, it would seem on paper that it is too small to do anything in, but when you build one, you become suprised at how much volume it has. So much space that I could setup a small tent inside it and lay down to sleep. The Brick has a few problems, first is the rocker. With 8 inches of rocker in that short of a water line, it really does a number on your back in the middle of the night. It also is a very slow sailing boat, and can't handle the soupy water very well, so any adventures will probably be very close to shore and in very protected waters.
I have had several of the smaller pocket cruisers like the Potter 15, Peep Hen, Guppy 13, and are all very nice boats, just much larger than the "minimal" boat I was searching for. So I started looking for a small daysailor that had a long enough cockpit for me to lay down, and a simple enough rig that I could setup in 5 minutes. In a stroke of luck, I learned of a pile of hulls that were waiting to be destroyed at the local boyscout camp (see Shorty's article "Back from the Dead"). I rescued one which was a Holder 12. It is sort of shaped like a Laser, but it is 2 feet shorter and has a 7 foot long by 30 inch wide cockpit. Just the type of boat I was looking for, and I couldn't beat the price. The hull was completely stripped of all hardware and had several large holes in it, one big enough for me to put my entire arm into. I repaired the holes then added another layer of glass on the bottom and along the centerline from the bow for extra abrasion resistance. Sanded it down with 120 grit and painted with Walmart oil based porch and floor paint. That is some wonderful paint, if applied in light coats with a foam roller, it looks pretty good.
This little Holder 12 quickly became my favorite and most used boat. I made a special gate in my side yard to store it, so when the weather looks right and I have time off work, I can quickly roll her out, hookup and go sailing. A boat that easy and quick to use turns 1 hour into 50 minutes of sailing. Like most board boats, she can take the waves and choppy water very well. Some times I leave the sail rig at home, put a beach umbrella in the mast step hole, and row my kids around the lake. Talking about umbrellas, while sailing on sunny days I carry a small umbrella as a poor man's bimini. Might look like Mary Poppins, but having that little bit of shade sure is nice.
Next I started working on the problems of converting her into a cruising boat. Biggest hurdle is figuring how to carry large amounts of water. If I get stuck somewhere, sure would be nice to have a few gallons of extra water. Looking around the boat, there isn't much storage space in the cockpit, but the bow deck is a large cavity, so I mounted a couple of the 6 inch screw in deckplates. Just the right size so that I can slip 2 liter soda bottles in there. To keep the bottles from rolling out of reaching distance, I put them in a fabric bag and secured the draw string to one of the deckplate's mounting bolts. Some minimal cruisers use hand pump reverse osmosis machines to generate fresh water.
My original solution for gear, clothing and food storage was to use duffel bags with a custom made construction plastic insert, but I had a couple of 5 gallon buckets with locking screw top lids that I picked up for free from a pool cleaning company. Gave them a try and they work better. So much easier to dig through when looking for that one piece of gear, and seem to store gear in a more compact fashion. Doubles as a chair for when you are at the beach. To keep them on the boat, I drilled a couple of holes in the gunnel and tied a rope across them. If they were to break loose, they would float and are highly visible so would be easy to retrieve. If things became really desperate, I might lash them together and use them as an emergency raft. Before you laugh at this notion, you should know that at the last messabout, we had a $50 sailboat race where all the boats had to be made with $50 or less of materials. Several of the entrants used buckets as their main source of floatation.
I have a simple philosophy when it comes to food: I am there for the environment, not the gourmet meals. Anything that I can open and eat is fine with me. I also have a small sterno stove and steel cup if I really want to warm something up. Made a neat discovery, there is a type of fuel called "Magic Heat" that comes with a vented cylinder that sits on top of the fuel can, and has a small set of cross bars for the pan to sit on. The magic heat fuel really stinks and makes anything I cook on it stink, so I threw it away and use the cylinder and cross bars on top of a sterno can.
My wife does a bit of travelling for business and always comes home with the hotel miniature shampoo and conditioner bottles. They are the perfect size for a few days worth of toothpaste, underarm deodorant, camp soap etc. Getting the underarm deodorant into the tiny bottle wasn't that hard to do, I put some into a small plastic bag and then cut the corner. Squeezing the bag it made a small stream that was directed into the bottle, sort of looked like what professional cake decorator use. For napkins and TP, I cut 1/3 off the end of a paper towel roll. Silverware was cut in half and carried in a small plastic bottle, for cleaning them I can fill up the bottle with soap and water, shake it and rinse till clean. When lending a spare fork to a friend, hold it up so they can't see the handle. Watch their face as they pull the fork from your hand and see that the handle is only a couple of inches long, very amusing. Sort of like they drew the short straw.
Anchoring in the Holder is a much simpler affair than with a typical pocket cruiser. I have a heavy duty plastic tent stake that I use on the beach, and a folding grapnel anchor for out in the water. Used in a Bahimian Mooring fashion, it will keep my little boat the perfect distance from the shore. Must note that if you just put the tent stake in the top sand, it won't hold very well, so I dig down a bit and push it into the deeper more dense sand. Why anchor you might ask? Well, beach cruising is great, but if you are going to a new area, you might arrive and discover grass and mud right up to the water's edge, or possibly a rock and shell beach that won't make for a very good bed. Also there is the legal aspect of whether you have permission to setup camp on the shore. Being able to anchor out offers you more flexibility in the areas you can explore.
For a cockpit tent, I bought a small tent and cut the bottom out of it, then installed a few snaps to attach it over my cockpit. The tent was just a little too short, so I sewed a small piece of fabric on the end to cover the rest of the cockpit. The only real problem is that it presents a blunt side to the wind and when the wind is blowing over 5 mph, it tends to sail around at anchor. Probably should sew a new tent that has a fine or wedge shaped entry to it.
There is a large variety of sleeping mats out there, but the one common problem is they all take up a lot of space. Back down to Walmart, I picked up an air mattress that is meant to be used in a swimming pool. It pretty small but does the job well, and at $1.50, it is a good bargain. The inflatable pillows aren't that great though, at least not for me. Something about them just doesn't feel right, so I tried making a few different types of regular stuffed pillows and taking them along. In the end, I found the most comfortable pillow was my life jacket.
I have a couple of strings and bungees to hold the blade of my rudder up and my tiller folds back. That keeps it from banging on the bottom at night. I don't have a good place to put the dagger board though. Have put it along my side in the cockpit, but it seems to work it's way down and under me as I roll around at night. Might try to bungee it to the mast next time.
Making a phone call to mother nature in the middle of the night is actually a bit easier to do in the Holder than in some the pocket cruisers I have owned. After a bit of study and experimentation, I discovered that I prefer to have 41 vertical inches to fully function on the potti. The tent has 36" plus the cockpit walls are 10" high, so that makes a very spacious 46" of headroom for me to maneuver around in. For #1, I have a simple chlorox bottle that is clearly marked so it doesn't get mixed up with the fresh water bottles. The other guys in my sailing club have a variety of bottles, the most popular seem to be the liquid laundry detergent bottles. For #2, I have used a conventional chemical porta potti for a while, but switched to a simple bucket with kitty litter in the bottom. Figure that my cats use it every day, is easier to clean, and the bucket has a gasketed sealing lid so if it gets flopped upside down, it isn't going to leak like the porta potti did.
That Holder 12 sure is a fun little boat. There were about 6000 of them made, so if you wanted to get one, should be easy to find, especially in the summer months when they show up on ebay. It wouldn't be that hard to glass in a long cockpit into another type of board boat, would be a fun project too. The way I see it, sail boats are toys, and they sure are fun to tinker with.
Fair winds, and I'll look for you out on the water....Shorty