by Ian Henehan – Dallas, Texas - USA. Sail Oklahoma photos by Dan Rogers.
Last winter my father and I started building two Oz Goose sailboats. We got one of them finished up in the spring and have spent the summer and fall learning how to get the most out of the boat. Our initial requirements were pretty simple. The Goose had to sail well enough to be entertaining and also be a good platform to start teaching the kids in the family how to sail. We were initially talking about building Puddle Ducks, but I ran across Michael Storer’s versions of the box boats and discovered his design for the 12 footer. The larger boat seemed like a better choice for our intentions, so we bought the plans and got started.
When I was initially asked to put down a few words about our boat, I intended to write a piece about how we built the Goose. I would have covered the ins and outs of the construction process and the choices we made along the way. Tonight, I decided to go a different direction. Most folks here are already familiar with box boats and building boats with plywood. Michael Storer’s plans and instructions are so thorough, there isn’t much to add. The build was pretty simple. Instead, I’d like to tell the story of what happened after the build and how we discovered what a great little boat we had.
The Goose was launched on the first possible day it could happen. The previous weekend was spent finishing up the sail and rigging the boat for the first time. The balance lug rig was an unfamiliar animal. We knew a bit about Bermuda rigs, but this was new territory. We rigged it according to the plans and started watching the weather forecast. Weather can be a tricky thing during the spring in Texas. It is temperamental and can go from mild to severe in a hurry. We found a place to launch and headed there on Saturday. There was plenty of wind, which we found out later was pushing twenty knots. It was sunny, warm and the water not too chilly. We decided to launch off of a lee shore as a safety precaution (yes, you read that right). The plan was to launch into the wind, so that we could get back easily if something important broke.
We launched as planned, into fairly determined chop and managed to climb our way upwind while staying off the bars and out of the fishing lines. The Goose accelerated quickly and handled the rough water well, if not noisily. The bow was pounding across the chop, but we were moving well and everything was (mostly) under control. We had our hands full with an unfamiliar craft and the rough conditions, but it was obvious that we had a decent boat. We just had to learn how to sail it well.
We spent about 45 minutes of tacking back and forth. The Goose was cooking on a big gust when the throat grommet tore out of the sail. Bang! Our rig blew up. We quickly doused the sail and took a look around. We were sitting about a half mile off of our launch point, but happily, directly upwind. I pointed the Goose at the beach while my dad held up a couple square yards of sail. We arrived back at the beach in a few minutes and picked up speed during most of the run. We got the Goose on the beach, examined the damage and unanimously declared victory. The torn sail was but a speed bump. We now knew the Goose was a fun and capable little boat.
The sail was repaired easily and we managed to get the boat on the water nearly every weekend for the next couple months. After the first outing, I immediately cleaned up the lines and rigging and made everything a bit more tidy. We continued to launch from the same ramp. The water was usually rough, but the wind backed off to a more reasonable 10-15 knots on most days. We got better at tacking the boat without stalling and learned a little more about setting up the balance lug. The kids and wives got their first rides and everyone was having fun in the new Goose. Our confidence was building quickly.
The first pleasant surprise came when sailing singlehanded for the first time. The Goose has loads of stability with two or three people on board. The handling gets a little more lively with just one. It was still easy to sail, but quickly led to the addition of a hiking strap and a tiller extension. This is when I first noticed that the Goose could really get moving. Even in light air, the Goose responds to every little gust and just accelerates away. The sensation of speed was present in all types of conditions.
I eventually found a better place to launch. It was on a sheltered cove with the prevailing south wind blowing off the beach. I took the Goose out to the new spot by myself and was happy to find flat water and a strong breeze. The next couple hours of sailing changed my entire outlook about the Goose. It is no longer the stable little boat that sailed well and would happily do 5 or 6 knots in moderate wind. This is a rocket, with some real performance potential. I spent the day flying back and forth across that cove, hiking out hard with the Goose obviously planing. Loads of power, eye-watering acceleration and still easy to sail. At the end of the day, my hand-held GPS told me the Goose has topped out at 10.3 knots. This was fun!
By this time I had been pestering Michael Storer with questions about boat setup, sailing techniques and any other information I could get. He patiently answered all my amateur questions and was very generous helping me tune up the boat and my sailing. I have a background in flying and we went back and forth about the aerodynamics of sailing until I started to correlate my experience to the new regime. This was invaluable feedback over the summer as I tried to get more out of myself and the Goose. As an Australian Dinghy Racer (I think that’s a formal title), he steered me towards the performance end of sailing. It has taken some time for the lessons to sink in (still working on it), but gradually, I have been able to apply some of it to sailing the Goose. In return, the Goose responded by performing better and going fast more consistently. The learning process has been extremely engaging and more fun than I ever expected.
Teaching the kids
A big part of our original mission for the Goose was to get the kids on the water and learning to sail. My youngest is six and she has two cousins that are just a little older. Dad and I finally got them all out to the lake at the same time and we got them started. They had all had a couple rides, but this was our first try at purposefully teaching them a few things. We started with capsize practice. Before rigging the boat, we pulled it out into waist deep water with just the mast stepped. We started with the boat floating on its side with one of us holding the mast on our shoulder. The Goose floats high on the side air boxes. Tipping it over is one of the fastest ways to empty out any water in the cockpit. We set the kids in the boat, sitting on the airbox panel. Then we could right the boat and end up with all the kids in the boat. They aren’t big enough to climb in by themselves yet. This saved boosting them in after righting the boat. We practiced this a few times and rigged the boat to go sailing. After some quick review, I took each of them out into deeper water and we did a real (planned) capsize and recovery, just like we practiced. This accomplished two things. First, we now had an easy way to get the small kids back into the boat and they knew the drill. Second, it removed all fear of capsizing for the kids. Kids having fun equals kids learning.
After the capsize drills were over, we set out in the Goose with all five of us on board. Each of them got a few turns at the helm and trimming the sail. We even tacked a couple times with the kids running things. The plan was coming together! The Goose sailed just fine with the large crew and behaved the same as always. It was still stable, easy to steer and trim and even continued to accelerate nicely in the puffs.
Learning more about performance sailing helped me learn more about our Goose. I began to realize there were a couple things that needed to be better if I wanted to see the Goose improve. The foils are everything on a sailboat. Both the foils in the air and the foils in the water. We stuck to the plans on both, but our execution on the wet foils was much better than the execution on the sail. Leech control was a problem on our sail. No amount of tension between the boom and yard would tighten the leech. As a result, it fluttered constantly. The time came to build a new sail. I was more careful and accurate making the second sail and it was worth the effort.
In a departure from the plans, I adopted a common setup from Michael Storer’s Goat Island Skiff. First was changing from a laced foot on the sail to a loose foot. This required making a new boom that could handle the loads. In addition to changing the footing, I followed the lead of developments worked out on the GIS setups. The downhaul was moved back on the boom to work more as a vang (sometimes called a ‘vanghaul’ by Goat drivers). I upped the purchase to 6:1. Still pretty light compared to modern rigs. The boom parrel was converted to a limiting line to keep the boom from sliding forward on the mast. This has come to be known as a ‘bleeter’ by the GIS folks. The outhaul was changed from a static setup (tied with a line) to an adjustable rig with 2:1 purchase. This allowed easy depth control on the lower sail while on the water. Combined with the loose foot, the new controls allowed more and finer adjustment while sailing. It also allowed us put some of those high performance techniques into practice. Lots of practice.
This combination of improvements changed the character of the boat under sail. The leech was now quiet. The rig could be adjusted for conditions from almost no wind up to a stiff breeze. The boat could be configured quickly for beating, reaching and running with fewer compromises. This revealed more performance under a range of conditions and speeds. With the leech under control, the lift to drag ratio went up. Less heeling for similar power and speed. The cost of these improvements was minimal and it only took a few days work to make the new sail and boom.
The next few outings after the rework proved to be interesting. It was now early fall and available wind starts dropping off in this part of Texas. We got out on a couple 3-5 knot days. Speed was clearly better than before with similar air. Trials were run of various settings until we had the right range roughed out for different points of sail. Interesting and useful endeavors, but we were waiting for a day with a breeze to see what the Goose could do with the new rig. I did manage 10 knots in a decent gust one afternoon, but that was short lived. The opportunity to fully test the boat came while attending Sail Oklahoma 2014.
Sail Oklahoma is an amazing gathering of water folk. Most boats are built by their owners and most are sailboats. I don’t have the space here to tell all the details of that week, but if you have the chance to attend, you should. It was a great time and there was lots of sailing.
Conditions on Lake Eufaula were moderate most of the week (except when the cold front came through). Thursday morning was the strongest wind of the week for me. It was blowing just north of 10 knots, but the gusts were close and strong. A few may have been pushing 17-18 knots. On a two hour sail, I spent a fair amount of time above 8 knots and several excursions over 10 knots. The boat was behaving beautifully. Finally, on a reach in the middle of the lake, I got a couple gusts that really let the Goose wind up. By bearing off in the gusts and hiking moderately hard, the Goose registered 12 knots on the GPS. The box boat made from Home Depot plywood and lumber was solidly in the double digits. Last Sunday, in a nice stiff breeze on the home lake, the Goose hit 12.9 knots and was in double digits almost half the day. Think about that for a minute.
A yahoo from Texas with no real sailing experience, built a box boat for a few hundred dollars. The materials were all local and came from Home Depot. Pine plywood, pine and cedar lumber and as a bit of icing on the cake, using a sail made from Tyvek homewrap. The boat floats and sails. With the help of Michael Storer’s ‘Learn To Sail’ online correspondence course, it even sails well. Add the shallow pond of experience gained over a summer and some adjustments are made. The boat now sails extremely well.
It performs well in light wind and is stable and safe in strong winds. The Goose is a load of fun single-handed, but still fun with a pile of kids on board. Inadvertent capsizes are rare, but recovery is quick and easy. Plus, it comes up almost dry when righted. It has the controls needed to start learning some advanced sailing techniques, but can also be set and forgot for simple cruising. This is some serious bang for the buck. It requires approximately the same building skills as constructing a dog house that will keep your dog dry.
We could not have picked a better boat for our first build. It met and then exceeded everything we wanted to accomplish. It would have been difficult to pick a boat better suited for learning to sail. Certainly not for the time and money invested. Puddle Ducks are a great option. They can also sail very well and have some of the same benefits as a Goose. If you want a little more room and a lot more speed, the Goose is worth a look.
When we started the build we had a pretty low bar for success. It just had to sail and maybe not be a barge. I can’t express how much fun we have had discovering what this humble boat has to offer. I can only encourage you to get in on the fun. It is an excellent choice for a first sailboat.
Michael Storer Boat Design - Oz PD Goose – plans available from: