Skerry open ocean?

Does the skerry have positive floatation? Which is to say, what happens if the boat gets completely swamped? In a world without lawsuits I'd just ask if the boat was up to open ocean, but since I know questions like that are lawerbait, if anyone could speak from experience about their use of the boat, or merely what it is designed to deal with, I'd appreciate it.

Normally I wouldn't think about heading out in a boat which wasn't self-bailing, but these things are so beautiful, and based on designs of boats which went out in rougher than I ever will, so I can't help but ask. 


Thanks :) 


- James

15 replies:

« Previous Post       List of Posts       Next Post »

RE: Skerry open ocean?

What a question already!! You know the answer... "It depends".

I sail my Skerry in lake Ontario and conditions have got to be as bad as ocean conditions sometimes. I have been caught in sudden weather changes where I really had to pay attention!

After 2 seasons, about 60 times out with my little boat I have never run into a situation where I seemed ready to go under. (There is so much flotation on the Skerry you would never go under really). I have been mightily frightened but that is probably inexperience mostly.

My Skerry has no trouble dealing with big waves, 6 feet and really choppy. That is probably as much as it could safely handle. If they are breaking then no way, you would get water in.

I have been in 15 knots wind with no problems as long as there are not big gusts every which way. It gets realy tricky if the wind shifts around and if there are big waves.

If you are an experienced sailor the Skerry will be a safe reliable little boat. If you don't know what you are doing then you will be in trouble.

If you are looking for a partner to cross the Atlantic in your Skerry I think I will have to decline.

If you are looking for a safe boat for moderate conditions then the Skerry is really safe ... and fun...  and pretty. If you get caught in rougher conditions than you had hoped for then your boat will take care of you but there are limits, no boat will protect you from stupidity. 

I think most problems occur with a combination of bad conditions bad luck and most important--HUMAN error. 

I have never regretted my choice of building a Skerry. It is well described.

As I said earlier about your question... It depends.

Good Luck




RE: Skerry open ocean?

Awesome, Thanks. I'm looking for a boat to do fair weather crossings to the california channel islands. My first project is going to be the night heron, but I'm at work, and pondering boats, and was thinking for the future. 

I wasn't sure about the ammount of floatation in the skerry, so I think you certainly answered my question. I don't think there's a boat made that is safe with an idiot at the helm. I spent a long weekend in cold water repairing the damage my father did when he drove my last sloop straight into the breakwater at hullspeed because he was going to tack, but forgot. (I was below, asleep, what a wake up THAT was) 

 Thanks :) 


-- James



RE: Skerry open ocean?


I can't improve on Christine's response---bravo.

Boats shaped like the Skerry were used for fishing in the North Sea.  The fishermen were brought up in the boats from toddlerhood.  So keeping them pointing the right way up was like riding a bicycle for them.

For someone fairly new to sailing, no small sailboat will be "seaworthy" enough to save them if they get surprised.  The boat will not reach out with automated, motherly arms and shield the sailor from mistakes.  "Seaworthy" is such a dreadfully overused and imprecise term.  I'd argue for the definition to be revised as follows:

Seaworthy.  Adjective.  In a boat or ship, the condition of being crewed by sailors competent to know the limitations of the boat and themselves.

Skerry in big waves and open water.


RE: Skerry open ocean?

Thanks :)

 By way of history, my last boat was a 19' keelboat I would routinely take out to the islands in mostly sane conditions. The ongoing maintenance and costs associated with a boat kept in the docks finally got to me, and I had to let her go. I've been out kayaking a lot recently, in addition to crewing on other peoples sailboats and my first build will be a kayak, but I'm pondering, for my next project, (already, how'd that happen?!?) something I can take a friend out to the islands in. 

Like I said, I used to be a big believer in self-bailing cockpits (and still am) but the more I hang out with old salts, the more I'm finding this isn't necessarily required, and a proper sailer can go all types of places in all types of boats. The skerry is absolutely gorgeous, and I'm sure she'd draw far more attention than my old Josie ever did (even with her bowsprit!) and be a blast to sail. 

I suspect one of these may need to become my second project.... now... how on earth does on add reef points to this type of rig?  ;)

-- James

RE: Skerry open ocean?

"Seaworthy" is such a dreadfully overused and imprecise term.


Once upon a time I messed around with kit-built aircraft (started building one, owned and flew two others.)  Part of the building process is to have the aircraft inspected periodically during building, then finally upon completion, at which time the FAA issues an Airworthiness Certificate.  Thing is, the Airworthiness Certificate has nothing to do with whether the plane will actually fly or not.  It's strictly a matter of proper building methods.


My cockpit had a warning to passengers, required by law, stating that the aircraft was experimental.  I would love to have replaced that with these words from James above, and I'd use them verbatim even though it's nautically themed:  "I don't think there's a boat made that is safe with an idiot at the helm."

RE: Skerry open ocean?

The row(s) of reef points on a sprit rig run parallel to the foot of the sail, whether there's a boom or not.  Not at all unusual to have two rows of them.  With a loose-footed sprit rig, you'd need to rig a way to quickly attach the sheet and tack to the reef clew and tack cringles of the shortened sail.  Chapelle (American Small Sailing Craft) illustrates a number of sprit rigs on traditional small craft with reef points.  Marino and Erikson (Sailmaker's Apprentice) nicely describe and illustrate making them.

RE: Skerry open ocean?


Where do you live.  I live in San Diego,  I am getting ready to buy a Dory kit, this Friday is payday that puts me over the top.  The reason I ask is that in my darkest thoughts, I too am thinking about a trip to the Channel Islands in my dory.  However, this is not a simple trip - at their nearest distance to the California coast is about 30 miles of open Ocean - with winds, strong currents pushing you out to sea, and 50 to 60 degree water.  It is a dangerous trip for a small open boat.

I do think that there are several safety features (other than don't do it) that need to be considered.

1. If you are by yourself, you need a strong place to clamp a saftey harness to that will not rip off the boat if you fall overboard.

2. Sinking or neutral floatation is not a option.  Hypothermia, can set in, with a wetsuit in about 8 hours. 

I am thinking about ways to make the Dory self bailing.  Any solution requires scuppers in the sides of the dory above the water line.  In the Dory, I am guessing that this would be on the bottom of the second plank from the bottom - right above the inner fiberglass line.  For scuppers to be effective there needs to be a floor level with or slightly above the scuppers sloping down to the scuppers.  The problem with this approach is after the floor is in place, will the dory be more like a sports kayak than a boat?

If I decide to go ahead with the scuppers, I will pour a floor, rather than build a floor out of wood.   Their are several densities of floatation foam from from 2lbs to 16lbs.  The 2 lb density has the most floatation 60lbs per cubic foot, but is too soft, up to 16lb density which is hard as a rock but has 46lbs of floatation.  I think a combination of 4lb foam for the majority of of the pour, topped off with a an 8lb layer will work the best.  I would pour the floor above the scuppers and then sand the foam to achieve shape I want - so that all water promptly drains out, and that I can limit the water that comes into the boat if a scupper goes underwater.  This floor should provide between 800 to 1000 lbs of floatation - Provided I can solve the next problem, how can I make sure that the foam floor is permanently attached to the boat - that it doesn't float away if the boat gets totally flooded and swamped by waves.  

Any way, I anticipate lots of fun ahead of me building the dory, then seeing if I want to go ahead with these customizations, or keep it as is. 


RE: Skerry open ocean?

Hey Mark,


1.) If you want to trailer up and do Channel Islands Harbor to Frenchies Cove on Anacapa, it's a short 12nm. Yes, there is a shipping lane to cross, but I've done this a number of times, and it's a really straight forward crossing if we go in sane (Read: not santa ana) conditions. Further, since the wind doesnt really pick up till 10 anyway, there's plenty of excuses for a leasurely start ;) (you are looking at sailing, not just rowing... right?)

Furthermore, I can brign along a sat phone, handheld vhf, and some friends that promise to come get us if we manage to miss the broadside of an island, without needing to resort to bothering the coasties (which can cost well more than any of these boats) 

2.) If you want a hand at any point with the building, or just someone to kvetch at about the process, give me a call, I'll come down and buy you a beer to find out about your build out to date ;) 


As for the modifications,

I would think any of the crossbraces under the seats would hold a harness fine, especially if you attached something like a chainplate to distrubute the load On my Josie, I had a line running up either side of the mast, from bow to stern, and would hook into that, which gave me the ability to move around on the boat without unclipping. Since my jib was hanked on, this was necessary for coming back in and taking everything down. This worked out really well for me, but is probably overkill on the dory. 

Regarding the scuppers, the problem as I see it (once again, disclaimer; armchair boat design with 0 experience or knowledge here) is that as soon as those sails go up, you're putting the boat on her side, which means the scuppers are going to become a liability, or am I misunderstanding the idea?

It sounds to me like by pouring the floatation what youre really trying to do is eat up interior volume, so the boat can't flood. If that's the case, I'm not sure the dory is really a great starting point. Half of the appeal is the shear volume and displacement of the thing. It sounds like you're trying to build something that has more of a pedgree with things like the laser II. 

Oddly enough, I have friends who have made these crossings on Lasers, and had no problems. They're unsinkable and really fun to sail fast, but that's not what this type of boat is going to be. 

Either way, all my internet babbel is nothing compared to building and testing, (or the internet babbel of people who actually know what they're doing) 

I am still pretty sure the Dory would be fine if you were to time your crossing correctly. 

Anyway, enough of this post. If you want a hand with any of your work, or merely want to swap ideas, hit me up and I'll swing down to SD to lend a hand and hear a story. :) 


-- James


RE: Skerry open ocean?

Jim C,

Thanks. I need to dig out my old sailing library and hunt down my sailmakers apprentice. I don't have the Chappell. I'll grab a copy this payday. Thanks :) 


-- James

RE: Skerry open ocean?


Just a couple of thoughts on the conversation that I'd like to share.

First, if you pour the foam onto epoxied wood, the problem will be trying to get it off where it spills, not trying to get it to stick,

Second, bare foam by itself is  a lousy floor surface. It should be covered with a layer of wood or glass.

Third, trying to make an unballasted boat self-bailing is a very bad idea. Besides the scupper problems that James mentions, there's a bigger problem with stability. Putting in a raised cockpit floor would also raise the center of gravity by elevating the crew/ballast. You'd be making the boat dangerous.

Rather than trying to get the water back out quickly, consider keeping it out in the first place. Adding some decking and a coaming would be much more reasonable. Properly designed and built it could be light (possibly as simple as stretched canvas, if you'll be sticking to reasonably good weather) and easily balanced by a bit of ballast. The ballast can be in the form of an electric bilge pump and its battery.

Finally,  take a deep breath and just build the boat as the plans show it. Take it out sailing on Mission Bay in all sorts of weather. Once you're bored, even in a Santa Ana, start heading out between the jetties, maybe down to the OB pier. Once you're comfortable with all that in various kinds of weather, then start thinking about what kinds of modifications the boat needs to face the Pacific

Be safe,




RE: Skerry open ocean?

More experience as a dreamer than a sailor, but a few thoughts:

  • There was talk of an "expedition" skerry based on mods made by the gentleman making the "great circle." It included a partially closed in deck.
  • As for self bailing, a battery operated bilge pump could be tucked away somewhere.
  • When I finish my Skerry I am hoping my children will learn to sail. I have envisioned slitting pool noodles and putting them on the gunwales. Although an act of obscene defacement, it would increase freeboard somewhat and ad flotation. I would have to play with the Skerry first to see if this even makes sense though.
  • Ask Santa for an EPIRB.
  • I like the "practice sailing" advice, but you should also find some warm water and flip the Skerry and practice re-entry. This drill could be rather important since you are looking at cold waer and big fishies with nasty teeth.
  • Tie a bucket and/or sponge securely to the boat
  • List the Okoumefest Beer Fund as a beneficiery on any insurance policies. ;<)

RE: Skerry open ocean?

You might be interested in John Guider's facebook page at     

John built a CLC prototype of an expedition Skerry  and sailed and rowed it down the Mississippi and trough the Gulf.  There are some pictures of his being caught in a storm in the Gulf that  are in some really heavy seas.  The whole trip is really interesting, especially if you are a Skerry builder.

RE: Skerry open ocean?

The Skerry is pure magic in plywood and I've loved everything about it for the past 5 years. That said I would not do 30 miles of open ocean unless I had a friend in another larger boat that could assist in the event of a capsize.

RE: Skerry open ocean?

Hello James and Mark. I'm new to the forum and am preparing to start work on my skerry this fall. Just curious if you guys ended up making any modifications to bulk up your skerrys for bigger water? I'm in long beach ca and hope to row and eventually sail beyond the breakwall. Thanks. Hope your boats turned out well.


RE: Skerry open ocean?

For my 2 cents, I'd go back to seamanship. I sail, row and paddle on Lake superior in the Apostle Islands.  I built my Skerry as a rowing model as its design makes it very competent in large sea conditions.  She can be taken in through breaking surf without  broaching and rowed safely in all but gail conditions.

 When I added a sailng rig I chose a lug because releasing the halyard brings the sail down quickly and reliablely without moving around a lot in the boat(CLC has info on different rigs for Skerry).  If I am in an open boat in threatening conditions I don't want to be sailing; I want to be able to control the boat physically with oars in the case of the Skerry, so I can respond to the wave and wind conditions effect on the hull and not have to deal with estimating direction and force of wind on the sail.

I find weather forcasts pretty good at telling when it is really going to blow; not so good when winds are to be light and variable.  When I plan a trip I estimate time based on a conservative estimate of my rowing speed as to be safe I may have to row if there's little wind or a whole lot.  

Where  I sail I seldom do crossings of more then 5 or 6 miles; sailing or rowing that is 3 hours tops; 12 miles we're talking 6 hrs, good weather forcast necessary; 30 miles 15 hrs, very good weather forecast and some conditioning/ training trips necessary before hand.

Any open boat will take on water: rain(amazing what a thunderstorm can put in your boat in a dead calm; spray from breaking wave tops and green water in a bad chance.  Its been said that the best bildge pump is a 5 gallon bucket and a motivated boatman.  Fine if you are not trying to control the boat and bail at the same time.  Several "Gusher" type pumps are designed for small boats that can be opperated by foot; While I haven't installed one yet I've thought about it while thinking about trip like you are considering.  On a calm warm day, fill your boat 25% with water and see how she handles-a real eye openner.

Finnaly a couple of spray skirts, bow and stern are saftey equipment in these circumstances and as has been mentioned, a wet or dry suit and practice(especially with currents)  and training leading up to it.

Also do a search on this site on capsizing and rescue of the Skerry; with stock floation she will float but with wave action she may not float high enough to bail out if she's completely swamped.


« Previous Post     List of Posts     Next Post »

Please login or register to post a reply.