The Honeymoon Project

Our sailboat anchored on Lake Pepin, at sunset.

The Story

Okay, you're probably wondering how we came up with the idea to build a sailboat and to sail it for our honeymoon. Well, the answer has a lot to do with our decision to get married. Wes had built a cedar-strip kayak earlier in the year, from February to August of 2004. His favorite part of the process was the finishing touches—varnishing and rigging the boat for use—which Anna helped him with. On August 2, 2004, he and a friend took their hand-built kayaks on a 420-mile trip down the Mississippi River, from way up in Northern Minnesota down to a spot near the Iowa border.

At the time, Wes was already thinking about proposing to Anna, but to think about it seriously, he took an engagement ring along with him on the two-week trip. Kayaking, of course, is a solitary sport. There's only room enough for one person in the kayak. But Wes soon found himself spending the long days of paddling wishing his kayak had room for two: room to bring Anna along so she could enjoy the adventure with him. After two weeks of thinking about it, he was sure he wanted to marry her, and sure he wanted to build a bigger boat so that, in the future, Anna could be part of his life and his adventures. When he got home, he proposed to her right away (she said yes!) and then we ordered plans for a sailboat, which we started building as a symbol of our future together. (As we soon discovered, it's also an excellent form of "couples therapy"—a great way to really get to know your future spouse!) When we finish, we plan to sail the boat down the same long stretch of the Mississippi where Wes originally decided to propose. Read below to follow our progress as we tackle our first adventure together: sailboat building!

The Design

The design we selected for our project is called the "Pocket Cruiser" by Stevenson Projects. The Pocket Cruiser is a 14' long, 6', 9" wide, single-mast design patterned after the design of a turn-of-the-century New England catboat, with the added convenience of a small cabin suitable to sleep two. Unlike most sailboats, the Pocket Cruiser design does not require heavy ballast to weight the bottom of the boat, which makes it ideal for towing on a trailer or for running aground on beaches.

We made a few custom modifications to the original plans: The seats were modified to strengthen the hull, to increase reserve buoyancy, and to accommodate slightly more cargo. Inside the cabin, we altered the arrangement of the daggerboard trunks (mounting them on pulleys for convenient operation) and designed a very nice interior layout that provides storage and cozy sleeping for two.

Building the Sailboat

Surprisingly few tools were needed to build the sailboat. The vast majority of the process required eight sheets of plywood (of varying thicknesses), a small stack of assorted lumber, a circular saw, a jigsaw, a drill, a power screwdriver, a large bottle of wood glue, and many, many boxes of screws. These basic tools and materials yielded the body of the sailboat, which was then wrapped in fiberglass to waterproof and strengthen the entire structure. Along the way, the sailboat was fitted with the requisite trimmings, such as portholes, doors, shelves, storage compartments, lighting, ventilation, and so on. The pictures below show a basic overview of the whole process, from laying the first few sheets of plywood, to fiberglassing, to painting. Move your cursor over each picture to read a short explanation.

Building a plywood pocket cruiser sailboat Building a plywood pocket cruiser sailboat Building a plywood pocket cruiser sailboat

A Tour of the Sailboat

By mid-June, our sailboat was virtually complete. Read below to take a brief tour of the layout and inner workings of our home-away-from-home.

Building a plywood pocket cruiser sailboat

The exterior of the boat is trimmed entirely in stained, treated oak. Oak rub rails protect the perimeter of the deck from banging against docks. Oak trim protects the edges of the cockpit and cabin from scuffs and scrapes when we move equipment in and out of the boat. Oak hand rails atop the cabin roof provide a secure grip when moving around the boat. And the oak top hatch provides easier access and extra ventilation to the cabin.

Building a plywood pocket cruiser sailboat

To open the top hatch, the hatch must first be lifted out of the locked position, then slid forward on top of the oak scuff rails which are visible in the picture above. The oak scuff rails protect the cabin roof from being scraped by the hatch as it slides open.

Building a plywood pocket cruiser sailboat

The cabin doors are cut from solid oak panels to match the oak hatch. We used solid brass for the handles and locking hasp because the gold color of the brass brings out the rich, dark color of the doors. Small 6-inch portholes to either side of the cabin doors make it possible to have a conversation between the cockpit and the cabin even when the cabin doors are shut. An additional pair of 8-inch portholes on both sides of the cabin ensure that the cabin receives good ventilation and plenty of natural light.

Building a plywood pocket cruiser sailboat

Each seat in the cockpit is equipped with a watertight compartment. These compartments not only serve as convenient storage spaces, but also provide crucial safety flotation in the event of a capsize. A small, round, brass bumper protects each seat from getting scuffed by the cabin doors.

Building a plywood pocket cruiser sailboat Building a plywood pocket cruiser sailboat

Looking into the cabin, the first thing you notice is the tapered shelves to either side. Since space is limited, we designed these compartments to provide ample storage area, while taking up as little usable space as possible. The port (left side) compartment houses two 4-gallon watertanks and a hand-pump-operated brass faucet to provide water for drinking and cooking. The port compartment also houses a portable, single-burner butane stove and some basic cooking utensils. The starboard (right side) compartment houses a 38-quart cooler which can hold ice for 5 days in 90-degree temperatures. Our perishable items like milk, cheese, and eggs will be kept here. The starboard compartment also houses a 55 Amp-hour deep-cycle battery and the master fuse panel which controls all of the onboard electronics.

Building a plywood pocket cruiser sailboat

As you move forward into the cabin, you notice the entire floor is lined with a bright blue pad. The pad is made from a 2-inch thick memory-foam topper, cut to fit the shape of the cabin floor. It's superbly comfortable for sitting and sleeping, so no additional padding or mattress needs to be carried onboard. You may also notice that the front bulkhead is fitted with a watertight hatch. Just like the hatches we installed in the cockpit seats, it offers convenient storage space and provides crucial safety flotation in the event of a capsize. Spare paddles hang along either side of the cabin roof, where they are accessible but out of the way. The round flourescent light in the center of the roof provides bright, efficient, nighttime illumination inside the cabin.

Building a plywood pocket cruiser sailboat Building a plywood pocket cruiser sailboat

Just in front of the starboard storage compartment, close to one porthole, we installed a small but powerful electric fan. The fan is wired to the master fuse panel which is also visible in the picture above. The fan can be set to oscillate or to hold at a fixed position. Its position in front of the porthole allows it to pull in plenty of fresh outside air and to circulate it throughout the cabin. On hot days, it makes a remarkable improvement to the comfort level inside the cabin.

The portholes were made from round, watertight inspection hatches with removable clear plastic centers. Inspection hatches are normally used on larger boats to provide visibility and access to engine equipment or bulkheaded compartments. But for our purposes, they serve as outstanding, low-cost portholes. We covered each porthole with screen in order to keep out insects. That means we can leave the portholes open for ventilation all night long. If the waves kick up or the rain starts falling, we just screw in the clear plastic centers and they become watertight, weathertight windows!

Building a plywood pocket cruiser sailboat

When you lay inside the cabin, it's surprisingly roomy. The floor is approximately 8 feet long, which is more than sufficient to accommodate a very, very tall person. And at over 6 feet wide, there is enough shoulder room to accommodate three or four people, all laying next to each other. The storage compartments on either side reduce the footspace to be just comfortable enough for two people, but we designed them to stop halfway forward into the cabin so that none of the shoulder space would be lost. The result is an incredibly spacious interior for two people—about the same usable floor space you would find inside a typical 3-person tent! The roof is just high enough to allow us to sit up comfortably, and the numerous nooks and crannies along the edges of the cabin provide plenty of space for stowing necessities like the fire extinguisher you see mounted to the front face of the port storage compartment, or the removable porthole windows you see stacked in front of the starboard storage compartment.

The rigged mast The mast folded down

The mast and standing rigging were built from aluminum to keep the weight low, and the strength high. To make the boat more convenient for trailering, we designed a folding mast which folds down quickly for transportation, but sets up easily on the water. We owe a lot of thanks to Jerry Breuer of Breuer Metal Craftsmen for providing the aluminum materials, to the folks at the E.J. Voggenthaler Co. for machining and fabricating all of the necessary fittings, and to Jim Riedl of Driveline for patiently welding everything together. Thanks guys!

Taking measurements by tarp The finished sails

Here you can see the enormous mainsail and jib, hoisted and ready for sail. We built a set of test-sails first from an ordinary tarp. This allowed us to glean accurate measurements for the finished sails. We were tempted to sew the finished sails ourselves, but constructing a proper sail requires an assortment of specialized tools and years of experience in order to get it right. Not wanting to skimp on such an important part of the boat, we decided to have our sails professionally cut and sewn by Steven Mink of Liberty Sail Loft in Philadelphia. As you can see, the finished sails fit perfectly and they look beautiful! Thanks Steven!

Most sailboats carry a triangular main sail known as a "Bermuda rig"; ours carries a four-sided main sail known as a "Gaff rig." "Gaff" is the name of the rigid upper beam which supports the top edge of the sail. One advantage of the gaff rig is that it spreads a tremendous amount of sail area to the wind, but allows for a shorter mast and a lower center of effort to help keep the boat stable and upright. If the wind gusts beyond the comfortable or safe range, the gaff can be dropped at a moment's notice to quickly de-power the sails. These features are crucial for a lightweight sailboat like ours, which carries no ballast to counterbalance the heavy forces that may be exerted on the sails in high winds. Additionally, we had Steven sew in two sets of "reef points" which allow the height of the main sail to be shortened, reducing its sail area by 15% and 30% respectively. With these reef points, we should be able to sail our boat comfortably in winds up to 20 knots (24 mph). Beyond that, conditions get much too rough and dangerous for a small, flat-bottomed, unballasted boat like ours.

The bowsprit extends our boat's overall length to 17 feet and allows us to carry a jib (smaller, triangular front sail). The jib helps to increase the total sail area and to balance the boat's natural tendency to turn into the wind (called "weatherhelm"). With so much sail area, our boat can catch a ride on extremely light winds. When the wind blows at 6 or 7 knots (8 mph, or just hard enough to feel it pressing on your skin), our boat will scoot along at approximately 3 knots (3.5 mph)! Top speed seems to be somewhere around 5 mph, which is slow by powerboat standards, but very good for a fully equipped sailboat.

Sailing Sailing

And here's Wes scooting along under full sail, as the breeze puffs up on Lake MacBride. Our boat draws a host of compliments and questions from other sailors every time we take it out on the lake.

The Honeymoon Adventure

On July 31, we drove up to South Saint Paul, MN and set out on the Mississippi for our honeymoon. We spent 6 days making our way down to Dubuque, IA, passing some gorgeous scenery and many wonderful little towns along the way. There's something indescribably charming about river towns, and the towns along the Mississippi are no exception. Warm people, good food, quaint houses and stores, and intriguing local history... it's a terrific place to go for a honeymoon!

Below are some of our favorite pictures and memories from the trip. Move your cursor over each picture for a quick description.

South Saint Paul Lock & Dam Anna, locking through Sunset over Lake Pepin Replica of the Nina Lake City, MN Lake Pepin Early morning mist Swan trash sculpture in Alma, WI Alma, WI Winona, MN Nostalgic memories Waiting to lock through Relaxing on the beach Lansing, IA Dragonflies En route to the Gulf Marquette, IA Sunrise Guttenberg, IA Finley's Landing

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