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by Grahame Harris - Tauranga - New Zealand

It took just over 3 years – including almost 9 months of inactivity for one reason or another, to build my John Welsford designed ‘Tread Lightly’ called GRACE.

The original design was for a 14 footer, but I wanted more cockpit and cabin space, so I stretched her 20%. Now she’s a bit under 17ft on deck, with plenty of room for two to overnight or cockpit area for 4-5 people on a day trip.

GRACE first hit the water unfinished on top, but seaworthy, on 24th January this year. Initial motor trials had her floating high and a little ponderous at slow speed. By just dropping the centreboard down a quarter, she steered really well in slow speed, tight turns. Although she bobbed like a cork without her water ballast of almost 200 litres and ‘rode high’ in the nose, she still got to hull speed quickly with less than ½ throttle from her inbuilt Yamaha 15hp outboard. I wanted more speed from her, but that is a story for another time.

Two weeks after launch was the annual Lake Rotoiti Classic & Wooden boats Parade, about an hours trailering from my home in Tauranga, NZ. In those 15 days, GRACE was hastily readied for the occasion. Stripes, rubbing strips, cleats, hatch lid and electrics were all installed over this time. Ralf Schlothauer had his Welsford ‘Penguin’ at the trailer park on Rotoiti, but I was glad of his company when he chose to ride ‘shotgun’ with me for the event. I had ridden shotgun for Ralf in the 2014 event, so it was time to return the favour. I motored GRACE for the parade – along with 80+ other yachts, launches, runabouts, dinghies and steamboats. As usual the day was a very enjoyable event with a 30min parade along the foreshore and quick trip across the lake to a picnic area for lunch, story swapping and boat ogling.

A Rotorua local (10 miles away) Alan Hooper with his Welsford Navigator, had made plans to rendezvous with us after the parade and GRACE would go for her maiden sail in excellent company. To cut to the chase – a Navigator is a yachting ‘sports car’ – my Tread Lightly by comparison is a yachting ‘campervan’. Alan literally sailed rings around us in the light 5-10 knots breeze. GRACE moved along deceptively smoothly – Alan’s ‘Nav’ raced! He would pull maybe 500 metres ahead of us, go about and sail back to 500m behind, then go about again and catch us up – again and again and again! Those 3 sails on his boat push her along beautifully.

GRACE on the other hand showed she needed some tweaking before any form of performance could be had. There wasn’t time to do much that weekend and I was due for surgery on my left arm 10 days later, so any changes would have to wait. I did however manage to stay overnight on 2 lakes during the following week and was able to make some minor adjustments.

GRACE was easy to launch and super simple to rig. I have a 2 piece carbon fibre mast on her with a 130 sq ft balanced lugsail and carbon fibre spars. I chose not to build the mizzen JW’s plans called for, possibly a rash decision (more on that later). As it is, she takes no more than 10 minutes from arriving launch ramp, to step the mast, attach parrells for spars and sail, connect downhaul and mainsheet, back the trailer down the ramp and push her off, ready to motor/sail away. 10 minutes! On the water the sail up-haul is 30 seconds work, centreboard lowered, down-haul and mainsheet tightened in 30 seconds more. You’re off. Simple. Quick.

It was over 3 months after surgery before I was back on the water again and able to try and analyse how my delightful little boat performs. With her blunt ‘praam’ like nose, GRACE makes great progress in any of the water conditions I’ve tried her in, so far. Steep choppy waters are simply cut through, or her noise just ‘hoists’ itself a little and she floats over top of the crests, with a minimum of fuss. She will not be pushed into the back of a wave downwind, simply ‘hoisting’ her nose again and floating over it, she just keeps going on an even keel.

Launch Day
So easy to rig and launch
Skipper in the roomy cockpit
OLD Timers
Prime example
Mega Dollars
Classics lined up
Alan Hooper and Navigator
Alan's Navigator races away
Sail and gear stowed
Tons of cabin space
10am in the morning - Frosty!
Sailing well
Lake Tarawera - Excellent trout waters

Downwind she’s great. Beam-on she’s excellent. The water ballast really comes into its own, keeping her rock ‘n’ roll to an absolute minimum. I have 2x ballast tanks – 1x either side of the centrecase, under the cabin floor. They both flood naturally with seacock valves to control intake and close off the tanks when full. But the tanks can be pumped out whilst on the water, if required. Should I need to motor any great distance, emptying the tanks removes almost 200kg (400lb) from the hull weight that the motor has to push. An empty boat is easy to retrieve onto a trailer at the ramp, too.

Up-wind however is Grace’s undoing – so far. A well set up ‘Lug’ acquits itself very well against Gaff, Cat or Bermudan rigs. Just check out the multitude of PDRs and GIS boats. My lugsail doesn’t fall into that category – yet. This is where I concentrated my attention next.

In scaling up the hull length and not fitting a mizzen, on advice, I shifted the mast rearward approx 18 inches. I thought this would be enough to regain the balance of ‘drive’. It appears not. Speaking to a local mast rigger and a sail maker, the solution seems simple. Since GRACE seems to push her nose down, when under sail, but is perfectly balanced at rest, the centre of effort is likely too far forward, still. Under pressure however, she doesn’t try to round-up, but remains very neutral - if a bit nose heavy. It’s not going to be easy to shift the mast, so I’ve been advised to hang the sail the sail further back – say 4 - 6 inches – especially at the foot. This should also help her point a little more up-wind, too. Watch this space. If all else fails – I’ll add the mizzen she was designed for and go from there.

Sailing niggles aside - GRACE is a joy to be aboard. The cabin is roomy, the cockpit spacious and her sea-keeping abilities are excellent. 3 weeks before winter solstice, I was able to get away for a couple of nights on Lake Tarawera. The lake has plenty of sailing room and a number of natural geothermal pools lakeside to help warm the body. Especially useful so close to the shortest day! My second night sleeping aboard, the outside temp dropped to minus 2 degrees and the cabin temp got down to only 1 degree above freezing. In the morning, the inside of the windows has a thin layer of frost on them and there was still frost on the coach roof and sail at 10 am. Inside though, I was super snug in doubled sleeping bags and a ‘onesie’ fleecy suit bought for the occasion. I’ve made plenty of storage space and lockers and there’s loads of flat surfaces (especially in the cockpit) for cooking, etc which make life aboard comfortable. I had a great time – even caught a nice trout.

More progress reports on GRACE as she develops and we have more adventures together. Roll on Summer...

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