GOOD OLD BOAT - MARCH 2001
EASTPORT PRAM: FOUR TENDERS FOR SALE by Scott & Barbara Thurston
[Models Reviewed: Walker Bay, Fatty Knees, Tinker Traveler, and Eastport Pram]
A Pretty Pram
Chesapeake Light Craft's new sailing tender nearly didn't make this test, and wouldn't have without the lucky intervention of an anonymous truck driver. The logistics of getting the boat finished on time and delivered to our test site seemed insurmountable as the deadline loomed, until a delivery driver allowed as to how he just happened to be heading from Maryland to New Hampshire and that he would be glad to drop it off.
There was no doubt about which boat was the favorite of the beachgoers when we pulled up to do our photo shoot. In the last rays of sunlight, the deep-red varnished wood, offset by the contrasting white paint, seemed to glow from its own inner light source. One of the beachgoers referred to it as sculpture, and Barbara and I immediately gave it its name, "Art".
Chesapeake Light Craft is an Annapolis-based company specializing in making plans and kits for do-it-yourselfers to complete. They started out with designs for sea kayaks and have a whole stable of those craft. Several years ago they started branching out into other designs: rowing gigs, sharpies, skiffs, and this one, the Eastport Pram™.
Most of the designs are built using the stitch-and-glue method of boatbuilding---flat precut panels of wood are held together using short twists of copper wire and tape. Once the epoxy has set, the wires are cut off, the joints are filleted, and the holes are filled using thickened epoxy. It's a quick, relatively simple method of building small boats that are very strong and usually very light, as the panels create a monocoque structure without the need for the weight of internal bracing. It's a technique that's perfect for getting folks with the most basic of tools and skill levels afloat in vessels they've built themselves, boats they can be proud of.
With the exception of a few bits of hardware for the rudder, and so forth, there's almost no metal in the whole boat---a couple of screws to hold the cleat the towing eye in place, and that's about it. It's details like this that make the Eastport the lightest of the bunch, weighing in at just 55 pounds. It's also the smallest of the four, measuring just 7'9", with a beam of 48". It spreads the same 39 square feet of canvas as the Walker Bay and carries the same load as the Fatty Knees. It also looks like a lapstrake, and has some of those virtues, but because the individual panels are wider, it is more correctly a multichine hull.
The stiffness and lightness, coupled with the lowest wetted surface of the four, means that "Art" was the most easily driven of the boats, noticeably so in the light winds we encountered. Rowing from the center seat with the spoon-bladed oars moves the boat with a minimum of effort, and it sails in just a ghost of a breeze. It punches through chop and boat wakes more easily than might be expected from such a light boat, particularly with that flat pram bow, a benefit of all that stiffness. The bottom panel is shaped and wider in the middle than it is at the bow, which helps with buoyancy and tracking. The Eastport is not the fastest of the bunch ---it's got too much rocker for that---but that rocker makes it very nimble. The rocker also makes it a little more conscious of fore-and-aft trim than the others. It really likes to have the weight in the boat centered. I found it happiest when I sailed it from atop the center seat, though Barbara was able to sit in the normal spot quite comfortably. It does come with the option of two rowing stations and still leaves some room for cargo between the passengers' knees.
The lug rig was the best balanced of the boats without a jib, the portion of the sail forward of the mast helping to balance the helm. The boat reached and ran well, as is to be expected with a big square of canvas set high on the one-piece mast. During upwind work the boat sailed flat though we noticed that heeling it intentionally helped prevent leeway. We had problems with the daggerboard wanting to levitate out of the slot when sitting still in the water, though once water is moving past it, it's not a problem. Tying it in place wouldn't be a bad idea, especially in the event of a capsize.
All in all, the Eastport proved itself a fun little boat that's enjoyable to sail and has working capabilities that belie its size. As a tender to a yacht, it will fit on the foredeck of all but the smallest of cruisers. As a sailboat in its own right, it'll satisfy all but the most demanding. And as a piece of "Art" that you can make yourself, well how satisfying is that?
Nice touch: The two wear strips on either side of the skeg on the bottom. They keep the boat upright and stable on the beach, and help the boat track in the water. (Perhaps they could be faced stainless-steel rubrail, to save them from wear, too?)
Could be better: The mast is too long for easy storage aboard the mother ship. Perhaps a two-piece take-apart stick, like the Fatty Knees/Walker Bay, or better yet, a two-piece sliding mast would be more appropriate.
Return to the Eastport Pram page.