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By Frank B. Smoot - Florida - USA

Part One - Part Two

My goal was simple: I wanted to get 15 mph out of a boat that would cost me less than $1500 to build. Am I there yet? Not quite, but pretty close. I still need to wring 2 more mph out of this little 16-foot trimaran.

Frank's tri

Even so, my best current sustained speed of 13 mph beats the heck out of the 6-7 mph my first homemade boat could manage. But now, two years (and numerous "learning curve" boats) after my first stumbling efforts, hitting 12 mph is routine, and that elusive 15 mph goal is clearly in my crosshairs.

Why do I want to go 15 mph in a sailboat? Because, as some wag once said, "Nobody will ever convince me that sailing slow is more fun than sailing fast." Amen, fellow speed freak! Plus, when your boat is quick, you can cover a lot more ground, you can go a lot more places on your day trip, and you can get back to safe harbor faster when the weather turns nasty.

The downside is that quick boats can also get you in trouble more quickly. For example, it took me less than one second to discover that the step for an unstayed mast needs to be really well attached to the hull, or it can (and will) blow out - right through the side of a fiberglassed 3mm plywood hull.

And if you happen to be going, say, 13 mph when this educational experience takes place, it will quickly dampen your spirits - not to mention your clothes, your GPS unit, your cooler, your towels, and everything else in your boat. Then, as the water level in the boat rises up from your feet to your knees and ends up at mid-chest level, you get to contemplate at a somewhat slower pace the quality of your engineering. So this is the origin of the expression "sinking feeling"…

The good news is, my sinking boat was a trimaran. So even as the main hull filled with the waters of Terra Ceia bay, the amas (outriggers) still kept me very nicely afloat. In fact, I had recently finished making a new pair of "planing" amas, which provide about 800 lbs of flotation apiece. That's some mighty nice security!

Planing Ama
Laura's tri

Fortunately, my wife Laura was also sailing with me that day in her 16' tri, so help was not long in coming. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing about 12-15 mph, and we were 3 long and choppy miles - downwind - from our launch point. But that's a whole 'nother story ...

So Frank, you may ask, why the heck didn't you just buy a 15-mph boat? Because I don't have five, ten, or maybe fifteen grand to spend on a brand new boat, and none of the used ones I could afford met our needs. (Yes, I know you can get used beach cats that will do 15 mph and more for under $1500. But I never want to work that hard to sail, or get that wet!)

I also was very clear that I wanted a multihull. Laura and I had previously bought a used Laser II so we could "see if we really enjoyed sailing" before getting a bigger boat. Now, in hindsight, I have to admit that a Laser II was not a great choice of learning boats for a couple in their early 60s, especially since Laura had never sailed anything, and I had only been sailing for less than a year (in my own, pathetic-handling, home-brew boats).

Long story short, we dumped the Laser II in the middle of nearby Lake Manatee first time out, discovered the joys of treading water as your boat slowly drifts away from you, and learned that having the dagger board only halfway down makes it a lot harder to right an upside-down boat.

We got rid of the Laser II within a week. Does that make us wimps? Probably. But we were both very clear that we wanted to sail flat, and that falling out of boats (and then struggling mightily to get back in) definitely shouldn't be part of our sailing experience.

So off I went to build my own quick but non-tippy boat. And truth be told, I saw building a little boat as a personal challenge. See, I had spent much of my working life as a remodeling contractor, and I had designed and built several houses and lots of additions, both large and small. So I figured building a little boat should be a piece of cake…right?

Well, sort of. It's not that building a boat is so hard, but it's nothing at all like building a house! In fact, my first boat (a catamaran) was so overbuilt (and so poorly designed) that it would have been more appropriate as a parade float.

Parade float cat

It handled very much like a truck with flat tires. (BTW, just about every step of my sometimes-embarrassing boat-building history is chronicled at [link to my site] If you're in need of a few good snickers, some of my early efforts were pretty darned amusing.)

To be continued ...