WATER CRAFT - NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2000
JOHN'S SHARPIE™ REVIEW
While evaluating the ease of building and rowing of the Annapolis Wherry - see #22 - Alan and Beryl Bright also tried out another of the Chesapeake Light Craft range from Fyne Boat Kits.
This cat-ketch rigged sharpie was designed by John C Harris, CEO of Chesapeake Light Craft, with a distinctive rig which may be unfamiliar to sailors this side of the Atlantic. He based the sharpie on the oyster-tonging boats of New England and the Chesapeake Bay and in particular the highly evolved sharpies of Connecticut: "I aimed to combine the graceful symmetry of the old New Haven boats with modem performance".
With an overall length of 18' (5.5m), you could be forgiven for thinking this is a large boat which would certainly be the case but for her slim 4'6" (1.4m) beam and light construction, enabling a fully rigged weight of just 300 lbs (136 kg). This combination results in a craft that is no more difficult to handle ashore than the average sailing dinghy and one which floats in just a few inches of water. The two unstayed wooden masts are 20' (6m) long and although a substantial 3" (75mm) square at the base, heavy tapers reduce their weight considerably; I was certainly happy to step them single-handed. They support two high aspect sails, both 54 sq. ft (5 s.m.) in area, which I suppose makes her technically not a cat-ketch but a schooner.
The hull interior is divided by a substantial bridge deck amidships which supports the daggerboard case and mizzen mast. Seen out of its case, the daggerboard looks, quite honestly, big but I agree with her designer that daggerboards are lighter and easier to construct than centreboards. John also explains that the CLR has to be quite far aft to properly balance the cat ketch rig, which would necessitate positioning a conventional pivoting board off-centre alongside the mizzen and restrict space for the helmsman. In fact, the helm position is well forward due to the substantial stern buoyancy compartment; no bad thing as it automatically prevents the helmsman from sitting too far aft and causing the stern to drag. Like the daggerboard, the rudder is a good size and I suspect also moves that all-important CLR aft. Unusually, the rudder dispenses with conventional gudgeons and pintles, utilising stainless eyebolts connected by a stainless steel rod; a very simple and cost effective solution.
The afternoon of our sail on Coniston water had a distinctly threatening look about it, with a black rain squall advancing from the south up the beautiful valley but Hugh Stanistreet of Fyne Boat Kits agreed to crew. Aware of the strong gusts at regular intervals, we erred on the cautious side - water temperature here in April is not far above freezing! - reefing both the main and mizzen very simply and easily completed with the reef points fitted to each sail. I should mention here that while the Fyne Boat kit includes all the timber, epoxy resin and hardware including top quality Harken blocks, it is up to the builder to supply sails, paints and varnish. Our sails, made by local sailmaker Steve Goacher, were beautifully shaped and well made.
Hugh took the helm first, enabling me to appreciate the boat from a crew's perspective. The forward cockpit area provides a very safe haven and should make her a popular choice for family sailors with young children. Our boat was completely standard and so the helmsman controlled both mainsheets; sailing with an experienced crew or perhaps in a teaching role, the foresheet could be led to a block on the bridge deck. Sitting in the hull, I was able to appreciate the internal floor space available and with few modifications, the sharpie would certainly provide a capable camping cruiser. John Harris makes the point: "the spartan interior is mostly a matter of economy for the builder". While Hugh helmed, I very quickly found that with her open bridge deck, it was comfortable to relax stretched out on the flat floor. Before I had a chance to nod off; Hugh suggested I take over the helm!
The wind had moderated and I wanted to assess her sailing ability and stability, so we let out the reefs. What becomes immediately apparent is the relative stiffness of the hull form which is able to stand up to a breeze without any undue acrobatics by those on board; this is in spite of her narrow beam by modern dinghy standards. I had wondered if the helmsman would have his hands full, handling effectively two mainsheets but this is not the case. Model beat sailors will be aware of synchronous sheeting, by which two or more boomed sails are controlled by arranging that the distance between gooseneck and the sheet attachment point along the boom is the same for both sails. When the combined sheets are hauled in or let out, they control both sails equally. With our sharpie, the two sheets were simply tied together close to the helmsman's position.
Beating to windward proved a revelation to someone who always associated windward performance with large headsails. By using prominent marks on shore, we were able to estimate tacking angles and confirm that this is a very close winded boat: The sharpie is so very well balanced that very little helming is required to keep her on course, especially if the sails are correctly trimmed. The stern is fairly narrow, assisting in providing a well-balanced hull, especially when heeled; a conscious decision by her designer a aiming for high average speeds as opposed to high ultimate I speeds, which might be attained only on rare occasions. The hull has considerable rocker, which both reduces wetted surface area, aiding light wind performance and importantly for a long light hull, improves tacking ability. Certainly on the day of our sail she tacked with perfect manners, even compensating on occasion when I chose to admire the scenery instead of adjusting the sheets!
In the now-moderate conditions, the most comfortable helming position was sitting on the bottom. Although fitted with comfortable side decks, I believe both helmsman and crew would spend a lot of time like this and thus bottom boards would make a useful addition to comfort. Our sharpie was equipped with a very long tiller extension which we felt to be superfluous; a slightly longer tiller would be adequate and less hassle. The large daggerboard and rudder, combined with the balanced hull, promoted excellent manoeuvrability on all points of sailing. My only criticism and one easily remedied has to be the noise generated by the unusual rudder fitting; if she was mine, I would fit conventional gudgeon and pintle fittings.
Discussing with Hugh and Paul Stanistreet how owners might further personalise the sharpie, I appreciated that they resisted imposing their own personal preferences on this demonstration craft so that prospective customers can see the basic kit boat. It was noticeable that the various ideas we volunteered to make her suit a particular role - dinghy cruising, day sailing with the children or taking friends out for a sail - were all minor alterations. It is a tribute to John Harris' successful combination of the various design requirements that none of us felt anything but total satisfaction with the basic overall concept, her sailing performance or elegant appearance on the water. If you are looking for such a boat that can be built easily at home, you can buy the building manual and set of plans at £70 or the pre-cut kit including spars which is very competitively priced at £1,850. If you doubt your boatbuilding abilities, you can build her at Fyne Boats' workshop at Coniston for a further £1,250 or buy her fully finished for £4,000 [all prices have changed since printing]. Whichever option you take, I thoroughly recommend John's Sharpie.
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