Boats like the Chester Yawl were used as working craft in 19th-century. Efficiency was critical in these human powered craft, so they evolved easily driven hull shapes. Working watermen weren’t immune to good looks, either, so these “livery boats” were often beautiful. The most famous of the type, the “Whitehall” boats of New England, are still considered a touchstone of small craft elegance. The Chester Yawl is based on the Whitehall and adopts its distinctive plumb bow and “wineglass” transom.
This LapStitch design's long, graceful sweeps of plank achieve a hull shape of striking beauty, glittering performance. At 15’ long, the Chester Yawl is about the right size for easy trailering (or even cartopping), and the payload of 450 pounds means that two or three adults may safely set out for a picnic or even a camping trip. Although 30 inches shorter than our Annapolis Wherry, the Chester Yawl has nearly twice the volume and a lot more freeboard for handling waves. For casual single and tandem rowing, we do not believe there is a better build-your-own-boat kit than the Chester Yawl.
Designer John C. Harris took particular care with the design of the interior. Traditional shin-bruising thwarts were eliminated, opening up the interior for maximum flexibility and sprawling room. This allows the crew to stretch out in a sleeping bag while "camp cruising," or simply to take a nap alongside a shady riverbank. A moveable seat and footbraces are adapted from the work of L. Francis Herreshoff. Full floorboards, standard in the kit, add even more livability. The open interior allows for easy installation of a sliding seat unit; more on that below.
With 7-1/2-foot oars the Chester Yawl has a lovely glide and can be rowed all day at an easy pace. Designer Harris hoped that builders would contemplate a cruise under oars along hospitable shores, sleeping on the beach in a tent or even aboard, on the 112-inch long floorboards.
Construction is straightforward, within the reach of anyone with a little woodworking experience. You'll spend around 120 hours, less than a strip-planked kayak.
Development of the Chester Yawl began in 2001. The prototypes were a familiar sight on Spa Creek in Annapolis while we tried different hull shapes and rowing configurations. More than a few of you tried out various iterations at two separate "OkoumeFests." Enchanted with the design, the editors of Popular Mechanics, the giant do-it-yourself magazine, commissioned Joe Provey to write a beautiful illustrated article about the process for their October 2003 edition. Subsequently, hundreds of Chester Yawls have been built around the world. You can read the article here or you can view the entire article on the Popular Mechanics Website.
Many correspondents have asked about a sailing rig for the Chester Yawl. The design anticipated sailing conversions, and a number of Chester Yawls built that way have proven to be able sailors. However, the Chester Yawl is a thoroughbred rowing craft and we do not offer kits for a sailing version. The term “Yawl,” by the way, doesn’t refer to a sailing rig but to an older definition of a small craft carried aboard a large vessel to carry the captain ashore on errands.