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Anke and I live aboard WAYWARD, and wrote about it's design and construction at

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Fair winds!

Dave and Anke
triloboats swirly gmail daughter com

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Buddy Boating: Cruising in Contrast

Bristol Channel Cutter

Yeah, but you sail where no sane people go!

-- Our Sailing Buddy

Buddy Boating: Cruising in Contrast

A dear friend lives aboard - and with his sweetheart sails - a Lyle Hess designed Bristol Channel Cutter (BCC). And we all went buddy boating for a bit.

Now, Lyle Hess cutters were my first nautical love. I fell hard through the writings of Lynn and Larry Pardey who sailed SERAFFYN engine-free around the world, back when the world was a wider place.

To me, these are the epitome of Curvy Dog. Fast, weatherly, seaworthy. And breathtakingly beautiful. Over a period of half a century, they have proven themselves outstanding cruiser / sailors.

Yet we ended up taking another road. Despite a general similarity of displacement, plan area and volume, our two boats represent near polar opposites. They take the high road; we take the low... and along either road, plenty of room for thought.

Where to start? Maybe at the beginning?

These cutters’ virtues make them difficult to build. Their fine waterlines, full bilges and firm buttocks… wineglass sections, tumblehome, sheer and sweeping keels… all add up to some serious boat wrightery. That comes at a cost in skill, time, effort, materials and outlay of filthy lucre.

Us? Box it up to go, please. Cheap, but with mucho bang-for-the-buck. Heavy on boat wrongery… let’s say we travel paths seldom trod.

Deep keels and a high proportion of ballast make Hess cutters fast. But shoal waters are only available if the tides run high. That heavy ballast takes away from what they can carry.

We skim the shoals and sit flat when the tide goes out. Without all that extra lead (we get our stability from the boxy shape) we carry a literal ton more books, tools and supplies (which means we can stay out for months if not years on end).

Sailing with the wind, we were the slightly faster boat (our waterline length is about 30ft to the other’s 28). We winced a bit at their pitching, yawing and rolling in the 3ft following sea… our ride is ‘shippy’ in comparison. Still, we were quite aware that if we’d been sailing into the wind, they’d smoke us. But they'd have to work for it (junk rig tacks with tiller over... no sheet handling).

As the wind dropped, we turned inshore… even less wind, but if we needed to scull, far less distance to anchor. They stayed further out (motor back-up), and reached our destination a bit ahead of us.

We skimmed into the shallows and dropped a pair of anchors, drying out between tides. The view of the the surrounding mountains was panoramic, and that of the tidal meadows (deer, bear, mustelidae and birds) was up close and intimate.

After the tide rose high enough to clear a shallow bar, they motored in and anchored in their favorite spot, relieved it had not been taken. It had just the right depth - not too deep for their all chain rode and manual windlass, yet deep enough to stay well afloat through all tides. They had protection from wind from any direction, at the expense of a view.

It doesn’t get any more reliable than that all chain rode. But I wondered if a second anchor with nylon / chain rode might not free up their preference for just-so anchor depth and all-round protection (to avoid having to re-anchor). Well… that pointy bow… it just doesn’t allow room for doing much more.

I suppose we might contrast our accommodations at this point…

The BCC is ingeniously but traditionally laid out. Her galley is, by our standards, cramped. Her salon is two facing benches… To port a fold-out double bunk, outboard, with lounging headroom. To starboard as single berth with locker and bookshelves. Together, galley and salon make up a space about 12ft long by a social 7ft (idle bunk and lockers squeeze the active space of their wider interior). Lighting comes from an overhead hatch and small portlights. Forward is a workshop / head, which one enters via a small gangway… well separated with full privacy and standing headroom under a raised hatch... this area sees relatively little use.

Our social space is 20ft x 8ft with a generous galley / workspace, bench seat opposite a dinette and a very generous double bunk / lounging area all of which are open to one another. Full headroom in the galley, Anke can stand (but not me) in the salon, and full kneeling headroom in the bunk. Lighting comes via two overhead hatches, large galley windows and even larger windows running along the sitting / bunk areas. The side windows, especially, open the interior into the wider world for a sense of spaciousness. Our head is a composting double bucket system with little to no privacy (which can be arranged below or found on deck if our guests are shy).

Poking around, their 7ft dinghy (which fits well on their cabin top) takes a few minutes to launch and retrieve. It does very well with one person, but drags a bit with two. Her beautifully fashioned oars really grab the water, but shoals - especially cobbly or rocky ones - threaten their exquisite varnish which is quite a chore to restore.

Towing our 16ft shorey costs as much as a knot to windward, but is ready to go any time, and rows fast and far, even when heavily loaded. Her oars are fugly; their simple ply blades are worn from years of grinding bottom and most of the paint has left them. But free for 20 years with no maintenance prorates pretty well.


Looking across at one another’s boats and despite seeing the qualities of the other, we each, I think appreciated our own all the more.

Our boats very much reflect the way we roll, both on the front end - we choose a boat to match our purpose and style; and the follow on - our boats determine how we go forward.

Know thyself, my friends, and to thine own selves be true.


  1. A beautifully written ode to sweet contrast in a coastal scenario.

    The BCC will be sturdier out on the truly "big blue". But, given that "gentleFOLK don't sail to windward", your blue water triloboat variant blows that advantage out of the oceanic water and would negate the awful wallowing effect of keelers rolling sickeningly downwind in a swell).

    Very telling is most sailors who go shoal never go back to keelers. Thanks for a nice contrast piece reminding folks of the wonderful advantages/ambience of ultra shoal draft liveaboards. And of how fast/inexpensive to build and operate they are too!!

    1. Hi Tamara (B, is that you?),

      Thanks for the kind words!

      I don't even know about 'sturdier'... All depends on the build.

      I've heard that deep keel boats 'shoulder' their way through waves, piercing them with their fine bow, but absorbing the impact of the wave.

      Shoal vessels, especially with blunt bows lift over waves and 'skitter away' from them, without absorbing most impact.

      Accordingly, some build the shoal draft hull a bit lighter (not counting ballast). But a square (vs curvy) hull, I think, should be well re-enforced and joined as the flat planes concentrate stress along edges and across chines. Result, I think is just as sturdy.

      But yeah... sailing to windward in a blue water gale doesn't sound like fun to me, and I doubt a TBoat would be the right choice for much of that. Not gentlefolk conditions at all! 8)

      Dave Z

    2. T's with ya in spirit anyway. Yes, probably a ordeal to endure hours of pounding to windward and wonder how a roll-up bow would lessen that a bit. For the true wanderer who is underway a large % of the time probably better to go on and accept a long slim wave piercing weatherly machine from the git-go. But for those who will do a passage then spend long periods of time at anchor (or dried out!!) much better to have a shoal draft, open, spacious abode with great views and lots of outdoor living space. Maybe why Bob Wise just posted a ode to a luscious scow design he likes (Parkers 33 scow) and why Orlovs Quidnon is a bashing pig but aimed at long term living once to the destination. Personally I see great value in the middle: a longer, leaner barge hull with roll-up bow that might pound a bit less, go to windward more efficiently, etc. but still have the wonderful barge advantages once there. Bolgers AS39 does well at 5:1 L-B ratio and why not a triloboat? Such romantic beasts, these boats.... in the end it's what boggles your scrotum (in the immortal words of Barflys Henry Chernaski).

    3. Hi Roberto,

      Yes, I think that the "Advanced Barge" type mods to a straight box barge would pay off if spending any significant time off-shore. (I wrote about these mods toward the end of this post:

      And yes, the possibilities are mind boggling... just gotta ride herd on which organ is doing the thinking. 8)

      Dave Z

  2. Dave,
    I've spent time off shore, sailing to windward on a BCC and didn't appreciate it at all. A rolling, wet ride with green water running down those beautiful wide decks, directly into the cockpit. For my money, I'd rather admire them at a dock and someone else can own them.

    1. Hi Doryman,

      Huhn... that's news to me, though I suppose I can see it. They certainly have very low freeboard. Rafted together, the top of their PH comes about to our sheer. So heeled over under a press o' sail...?

      They're sure fast, though!

      Dave Z