By Wayne Johnson - Steubenville, Ohio - USA

- How We Picked Our John Welsford Navigator

When my wife, Maria, and I decided to build a sailboat. We had to first decide what boat to build. We came up with a list of rather exacting requirements. It needs to be trailerable. It needs to be built on a modest income. It needs to be built and stored in our single-car garage. It needs to carry our entire family. It needs to be pretty. (My wife was particularly adamant about this point.) It definitely needs to be novice friendly. My previous building experience was a kit RC sailplane. This would be a much bigger project.

The first challenge was our family. We currently have three children, ages 1,3 and 5. The boat needs to be able to carry all of us and maybe a friend as well.

A second challenge was the garage: 12 x 20.5 feet from the walls to the door. This would be our boat building and storage space; anything we built simply had to fit here. No exceptions.

Our building space. That’s all, folks.

The third challenge was associated with the second: finances. Fortunately, small boats generally cost less than big boats, so the space constraints went hand in hand with the checkbook constraints.

The third challenge was mast height. We wanted to store the mast in the garage with the boat. Realistically, this ruled out any Bermuda-rigged boat, and consequently, almost any used sailboat (certainly the least expensive option for acquiring a boat). Gaff and lug rigged boats can have masts not much longer than the hull, so we started looking in that direction. Besides, the older rigs just look classy.

This brings us to the fourth challenge. We wanted a pretty boat, a unique boat, a boat that would turn heads as it goes cruising across a lake. This means different things to different people, but to us it translates into a lapstrake hull and a traditional-looking sail rig, a little tumblehome and some curves. As simple to build and practical as they are, we really didn’t want a boxy-looking boat. No single-chine skiff, or plastic barge thank-you-very-much.

Finally, we were looking for something forgiving. Confession time: I have never sailed. My wife has ridden on a sailboat a couple times as a kid. Both of us have gone canoeing. We learn quickly, but for now, we’re as green as pond water on this point. Therefore, it needs to be more forgiveness-based than performance-based. This criterion eliminated a LOT of other boats. Anything designed for sail and oar is necessarily a bit tender under sail (or so research indicates). We don’t want to be turning heads, as people wonder what the Coast Guard is doing in Ohio, retrieving a family of water-logged landlubbers and their overturned boat!

After pouring over designs by Iain Oughtred, Paul Fisher, Arch Davis and Michael Storer, we took a closer look at John Welsford’s boats. Pathfinder looked promising, but a little tight in the garage. So we figured out international time zones, called John and he directed us to Pathfinder’s little brother, Navigator.

At his suggestion, it was time to look a bit closer at Navigator. The boat is only 15 feet long. As a result it should fit in the garage quite comfortably, both in construction and afterwards, on a trailer. We won’t even have to unmount the bowsprit.

The bottom panel on the building frame, with the stem mocked up. It will certainly fit. Once the bulkheads are installed, the beam will roughly double.

The Navigator can be built with two different sail rigs. The original rig was a racing sloop. The other rig is a lug yawl. This rig has a mizzen mast just forward of the transom (about an inch). As a result of this, the main mast is shifted forward to less than 4 feet behind the prow. This gives us a cockpit over 10 feet long, allowing space for all our children in the boat without undue ‘coziness.’ As much as they love each other, I know mischief increases with proximity.

This “boat” would be WAY too small.

The lug yawl rig also fulfills our mast length requirement admirably. The main mast is just under 14 feet, and the mizzen is even shorter. These should be very easy to transport and store. The yard and both sprit booms are equally manageable in length. The boat uses a bowsprit to allow the sailplan to extend forward of the stem, but the bowsprit should very neatly overlap the tongue of a trailer. There is also a bumpkin to sheet the mizzen, but that is easily removed for transport or storage along with the rudder.

Finally, Navigator, especially with the lug yawl rig, is a very attractive little boat. Maria loves the pointy bits sticking out of both ends. I like the practicality and quirkiness of the standing lug main, especially with its sprit boom. Who can resist a line called a snotter (used for tensioning a sprit)?

After doing further research, I have discovered a number of other interesting tidbits about our boat. Over 600 sets of plans have been sold to date, and no small number have been finished. There are a number of very well done build logs on the internet, in varying stages of completion. John Welsford has an active Yahoo group, where he graciously answers questions from experts and novices alike (I fall very firmly into the latter category). Many first-time builders have built her successfully.

So far, this first-time boatbuilder hasn’t run afoul. We have the bottom panel up, have mounted the centerboard trunk and are just starting to erect the bulkheads. Ask back in another year or two and we’ll let you know how she sails!

Progress to date: so far, so good!




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