Interview with Frank Smoot

by Frank B. Smoot - Florida - USA

When did you become a boat designer and what was your first real design?

I guess those things both happened at the same time, because I couldn’t find any boats like what I wanted – a quick little ultralight trimaran. I was kayaking locally in the Gulf Of Mexico when I discovered that a quick little sailboat went faster with zero effort than my kayak went with maximum effort. So back in 2009, rigged my Pungo 140 kayak for sail, and as a small trimaran, since they’re so inherently tippy.

Pungo 140 kayak as trimaran.

That little rig was fun, but not very quick, not at all dry, and time-consuming to set up. So after discovering the limitations of a kayak with a sail and two outriggers, I started to build a “real” boat that I hoped would outperform the sailing kayak. Needless to say, I had to design it before I could build it. Actually, I kindadesigned it as I went, which I imagine is how some people become boat designers.

I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to end up with, and that’s how my very first build – “No Commotion” – came into being. No plans, no drawings, just a mental image of what I wanted to sail. I also had to figure out how to build and attach the amas/outriggers, the sail, the rudder, some kind of leeboard arrangement. Amazingly, it all worked!

 Trimaran “No Commotion” with Laser II sail rig

The sail rig on “No Commotion” in this video came from a Laser II, though I had started with a much simpler freestanding sail rig of 85 sq. ft.

“No Commotion” with Laser II rig, (March 13 2011)

Trimaran “No Commotion” with freestanding mast & 85 sq. ft. sail.

Which designer(s) had the greatest influence on you?

Too many to mention. I had Gary Dierking’s book early on, and that is probably still the all-around best book for ultralight boat construction. I loved Cross’s small trimarans, and read a couple dozen other books on boatbuilding. Generally, I just absorbed as much information as I could from everywhere. I guess my best teacher was the seemingly-endless trial and error of building something and then seeing how it sailed.

While “No Commotion” was a great boat – so named because it just zipped effortlessly through the water – I had also created a different hull design for my wife’s trimaran. And as it turned out, this new 5-panel hull design turned out to be even quicker and more nimble than the 4-panel hull design of “No Commotion.”

The superior “5-panel” main hull is born.

This new design simply was known as “Laura’s Boat.” Here’s a shot of it after it got folding amas/akas.

“Laura’s Tri” upgraded to folding amas and akas.

How many boat designs have you drawn in total?

How many have I drawn? Only about 25% of my designs ever actually got drawn. I really don’t build that way. I’m more of a visualizer. Also, I have no CAD skills, and my drafting isn’t that hot. So I just use my “mental CAD program” and that seems to work out. I have built literally dozens of boats this way, some of which were simply “learning experiences.” But to actually give you a number, I’d say there are drawings of some sort for about 6 of my designs – 3 of which are currently for sale on Duckworks, and all of which are based on the very effective 5-panel hull design of “Laura’s Boat.” .

Which of your designs is your best seller, and which is your personal favorite?

People seem to be about equally interested in all three of my small trimaran designs: the Slingshot 16 Solo, the Slingshot 16 Tandem, and the Slingshot 19 – which can handle 3 people. Here’s a link to a video featuring my personal Slingshot 19 being sailed pretty darn fast by its current owners, Tom and Jules Williams, of Jacksonville, FL.

Slingshot 19 being sailed at 15+ mph by current owners, Tom and Jules Williams of Jacksonville, FL

Slingshot 16 Solo with radial-batten 118 sq. ft. polytarp sail.

Slingshot 16 Tandem with “more interesting” color scheme.

Slingshot 19 Tri with 128 sq. ft. vertical-batten freestanding sail rig.

My personal favorite is my Slingshot 16 Solo, which originally had 14’ amas and a simple freestanding radial batten (polytarp) sail of 118 sq. ft.  I later added a “real” professionally made sail, bigger 16’ amas, a crank-up mast, and a jib, just for experimental purposes. And it really zoomed along, as you can see in this video. But the base rig actually performed just about as well and was much simpler to set up and sail.

S-16 w Doyle sail and 16’ amas (Mar 8, 2016)

Slingshot 16 Solo with professional sail (huge improvement!)

Slingshot 16 Solo with bigger (16’) amas and added jib.

And of course, I should also include a bit of info about my biggest boat, this 24’ cat-ketch tri knows as “Loco Motion” because it was so amazingly quick even in light air. People say cat-ketches don’t point, but this one sure as heck did. We clocked it at 9 mph 45 degrees off the wind in a 12 mph breeze. And yes, I always state my boat speeds in mph because (a) that’s what my GPS read out, (b) all US boat speed limit signs are in mph, and (c) boat speeds in US inland waters are properly measured in mph.

24’ Cat-Ketch trimaran – amazingly quick.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any plans available for this boat simply because I would have no clue how to tell anyone how to build the sculpted foam/glassed hull that was responsible for making the 24-footer such an amazingly quick and smooth boat.

Sculpted foam hull of 24’ tri – a nightmare to fair!

Do you have a design philosophy – certain themes or principles your adhere to?

Absolutely. Keep it simple, keep it light, keep it inexpensive, make it go fast, make it nimble, and – above all – make it a blast to sail! I’m a lazy guy, so I also favor super easy and quick set-up and launch. Any of my boats can be sailing 10 minutes after you get to the water.

What key tips would you give to builders of your designs?

Don’t get creative. You can’t mess with a designer’s “final” version of his design. And that’s especially true of a boat where you will be sitting in a fixed location. All of the bits are designed to work harmoniously so that the boat stays in balance as much as possible in all conditions.

What do you have on the drawing board now?

Nothing, actually. I’m content to just offer the three designs I mentioned above. Though many folks have suggested they might be interested in a 14-footer and even a 12-footer. But for now, that’s all on the back burner.

My web site:

“Frank Smoot Designs” sales pages on Duckworks web site: Frank Smoot Boat Designs Page –

Slingshot 16 Plan Sales Page

S-16 Tandem Plans Sales Page

Slingshot 19 Plan Sales Page

My email:


  1. For “plans” for the 24′ sculpted foam boat, I’d suggest making templates of the bottom every two feet or so. Using cardboard and a compass, one could attempt to scribe the shape onto the cardboard and cut it out until the template fits well. The template could then be measured to come up with a table of offsets at each station. Another way would be to re-make the template in thin ply or MDF. It could then be traced onto paper and sold as a template. Either templates traced by Frank and mailed, or perhaps somehow scanned to be printed full scale at a print shop (include a scale on the scan so the printer/buyer can ensure they got it printed at full scale).

    The builder would then have to sculpt the foam until an acceptable fit between the template and the hull is achieved.

    • Thanks for the feedback. It’s a very complicate build, and the problem has always been that I wouldn’t know how to explain to anyone how to build it. The templates would be a great help, I’m sure, but since I no longer have the hull and don’t plan on building another one, it probably won’t happen. If I had CAD skills, I could make it happen. But since I don’t – oh, well 😉

  2. Homebuilders there is a material out there called “SeeTemp”. It is a semitransparent sheet of thin plastic. You lay it over your Bulkhead or other shape, score the see temp with a sharp exacto knife, and then break the shape from the sheet. This gives you a great template for your part. Easy peasy. Google it. You’re welcome.

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