Copyright 2017 - Woods Designs, Foss Quay, Millbrook, Torpoint, Cornwall, PL10 1EN, UK
  • home built Flica 37

  • plywood Romany 34

  • lightweight 14ft Zeta mainhull

  • Strike 15 trimaran at speed

  • 28ft Skoota in British Columbia

  • 10ft 2 sheet ply Duo dinghy

  • 24ft Strider sailing fast

  • 36ft Mirage open deck catamaran

From-Multihulls, 2000 By Tonnae K. Hennigan

We visited our new sailing catamaran today at her moorings on the Fraser River in Vancouver. I found myself inside the forward hull lockers unscrewing nuts, washers and backing plates and putting them back on; while my husband called instructions and held the screws tight from our dinghy outside the boat. I felt right at home, and relished "getting down and dirty" to do the job. Three years ago, such a task would have been unthinkable for me. These things were done my husband, assisted by his buddies, if need be. Certainly not by me! How times have changed. I was press-ganged into the job because I couldn't resist the lure of having a shiny, new boat three times the size of our monohull that would give us more than twice the speed while providing comfortable, even luxurious, accommodations.

Here's the story of a boatbuilder's wife, a boatbuilder's assistant. It was a beautiful sunny day, the day after New Year's, and we were in the boat shed, applying the final exterior paint to our boat. And as my husband put it, "How many couples do you think are boatbuilding on a day that's really still part of the Christmas holidays?" the thought being that we two are unique, and special. We had devoted almost every week night and every weekend for a year and a half to working on our new getaway vessel. Each Friday night before our weekly dinner out, we felt compelled to put in at least three hours to earn the treat. We figured we had definitely set ourselves apart from the masses and the herd instinct along with the shared 'flus, shopping frenzies, media-driven judgments and mass hysteria over national and international silliness.

It all began in 1996, when Garett started with the Chinese torture, dripping into my unsuspecting and highly prejudiced mind detailed explanations of the irrefutable advantages of multihulls a slow but persistent process of sedition. By the end of the year, I was ripe for a boat revolution but hadn't considered the possibility of buying another boat seriously. We had acquired as our 25-foot Northern monohull for a song, and Garett had made extensive renovations, improving her safety, comfort and solo-sailing capabilities tremendously. More space, speed and conveniences would be nice; but even to move up to an older, 30-foot Catalina we were looking at a debt of about $30,000. No thanks. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, Garett had been looking at multihull designs he could build quickly without spending a fortune. Slowly, the drawings and specs came out, along with Chris White's book Cruising Multihulls and a video on Derek Kelsall's designs.

But building our own multihull suddenly seemed possible when Garett got the study plans of Richard Woods' newest design, the Gypsy a 28-foot cruising catamaran. According to Woods, who designs and builds in Plymouth, England, it could be built in 1,200 hours for about $12,000. As Garett had tripled the value of our monohull with his ingenious improvements, we calculated that even if materials were a little more expensive for us than they were for a professional builder with years of contacts and sources, we could build the Gypsy for only slightly more than what we could get for Wave Dancer, and we could handle the extra cost as we went along. As it turned out no surprise to anyone who's ever built a boat we would spend almost three times what we expected.

But eventually we would launch a beautiful yellow and white cat with more than three times the space of our last boat and more privacy than a 50-foot monohull. One of the beauties of the Gypsy is its three separate living spaces the cuddy cabin and two hulls. Thus, the head, placed amidships in the starboard hull with Garett's "workshop" forward and a spacious berth aft, offers complete privacy from the cuddy with the galley and saloon-cum-double bed, and the port "bedroom hull" with its two roomy berths.

The rubber hit the road in February, 1997. Living in central Vancouver in a small "view with a suite attached" fits our land-based needs just fine, but you can't exactly embark on a major construction project on your roof deck! The neighbours might object. So we rented a nearby garage and Garett began sawing, drilling, mixing epoxy, filling, sanding and coating to build the cuddy cabin, nacelle, rudders and cockpit. Now, almost two years later, I viewed my job as boatbuilder's assistant as relatively easy and undemanding. I measured, mixed and strained the System Three paint for the Lemmer turbine sprayer and, while Garett sprayed it on, I cleaned the measuring cups, stir sticks, strainer and containers, and prepared the next batch. No, I was not a "sissy wife" doing typical Suzy-homemaker type jobs. My tasks since we had moved our base to a large tubular shelter we built in a boatyard 30 minutes from our downtown Vancouver home included mixing resin and epoxy; wetting out roving and matting; filling umpteen screw holes; meticulously painting the underside of the cuddy cabin and the interiors; hand and power-sanding; and filling, sanding, filling, sanding endless pinholes while applying primer. Added to that was the never-ending tidying that kept our workspace sane and made it so much easier to tackle the jobs.

Three years ago, I would never have believed I would spend over 900 hours helping my husband build a boat. I was not a "handyman" woman. I could just barely handle a hammer and a basic screwdriver. No mechanical inclinations whatsoever. Even after two years of boatbuilding I still had problems connecting several long extension cords. ("Hmmm... lemesee...this end goes to what end???") At home there was a clear delineation of duties: I did the grocery shopping, prepared food, cleaned, decorated, and lusted after new furniture and renovations; Garett maintained and improved our sailboat and home. We own our condominium; and have a new kitchen, bathroom and refinished hardwood floors thanks to his engineering capability, know-how and attitude of "If a thing's worth doing it's worth doing well and as quickly as possible." He doesn't mess around or get distracted. Until a project is complete, he puts his total energy into it and works long hours on it.

So you can appreciate that once the boatbuilding started in earnest, according to average standards, we didn't have much of a life. But the way I see it, we had a much better life. Now that Light Wave is launched and we have been cruising on her for 52 days, I recall those glory days of building with a pang of nostalgia, just like empty-nesters who look back fondly on their early years of struggling and sacrificing to house and feed their kids. The fact that we actually created a cruising catamaran with our own four hands seems to both of us a miraculous accomplishment, as in fact it was, considering the time it took and the fact that we both had full-time jobs and other commitments. I am still amazed at what I learned and the skills I developed. I now know how to use a hammer and power screwdriver. Not only do I fix things myself, when we visit friends I actually head straight for the workshop to snoop around and examine the tools.

Garett put in most of the 3,500 hours it took to build our vessel to his exacting standards. I hate to take any credit, but I'm sure my constant reminders (a.k.a. nagging) "I don't want a home-made looking boat!" had a big influence on this. I contributed 900 of those hours, and friends an aggregate of 100 when we sought objective opinions or needed help in turning over the hulls, aligning the components or joining the cuddy cabin to the hulls.

I've gained tremendous confidence in my ability to tackle mechanical jobs that had always before seemed insurmountable. Now I know I can do it myself, or find out how and do it, and that assuredness is reflected in my mental and physical well-being. But a most unexpected benefit has been the effect on our marriage. My mate and I worked closely for 24 months, with one worthwhile objective. Starting work on a boat after a hard day's work is a challenge for anyone, but Garett always found it much easier to get down to it when I was with him, even if I didn't do as much as he did.

Many times I'd arrive at the shop to find him working away in a rather ho-hum fashion, but within an hour he'd be moving around energetically measuring, screwing, sanding or painting. The synergy generated simply by my being there in the shop with him mixng epoxy or paint, painting the interior, underside, or sliding hatches, going for last-minute supplies, or running and fetching provided the extra oomph and boost to energy that he needed. If Garett had had to do it all alone, we both agree it would have taken a lot more than an extra 900 hours or one year's time that I put in, as he just wouldn't have had the same impetus to keep at it. So, I gave him my support and also my (extremely admirable) efforts to learn something I had no inclination whatsoever to learn, in addition to the physical tasks I accomplished. Our marriage is stronger as a result, our mutual respect greater.

So, here we are, having enjoyed our vessel for a year, getting ready to go on a 10-day cruise to Desolation Sound before school gets out. Our first winter of weekend cruising with Light Wave on the mild West Coast introduced us to the beauties of a well-equipped catamaran cruise on the mild West Coast. Now that I don't have to "go below" to get warm or prepare food, I find I enjoy sailing even more. I have yet get to seasick, something which was a fairly regular occurrence on rough days in our monohull. The almost 360° view from inside our cozy cuddy cabin, warmed by a lovely catalytic heater, is something a sailor would never expect; and on days when I'm not up to braving the elements it's just lovely to sit in the saloon by the heater reading or watching the sea and sky backed by our coastal mountains or Gulf Islands through the forward windows.

Light Wave offers a powerboat's panorama and comfort with a sailboat's low-cost and relatively quiet driving force. As the winter winds drive up the West Coast, we experience the sheer joy of speed, and now look forward to trying a new/used spinnaker on our sail north in the lighter summer winds. We haven't put any electrical "perks" on Light Wave yet we don't have a knot meter, depth sounder or GPS but through dead-reckoning, watching our wake, and gleefully comparing ourselves with monohulls and even the occasional multihull that eat our dust, we know we're flying. It's wonderful!

But best of all is the sense of accomplishment and pride of ownership we experience every time we sight our pretty vessel neatly tied to the dock at the foot a street in the upper-class Vancouver "horse district" called Southlands. Palatial houses on a small island lie across the rivulet from her moorings; while horse paddocks and a grassy meadow form the land boundary. This seems fitting: the gracious homes provide a magazine-cover backdrop to our beautiful vessel; the horses offer good company, cadging the occasional apple or carrot when we pull in to unload provisions; while the meadows and untamed surroundings somehow suit a vessel built to capitalize on the forces of nature.

It took two and a half years a long time, some would say. But the time would have passed anyway, and look what we've got to show for it: an attractive, seaworthy boat that gives us the space and safety we need to enjoy cruising in comfort and occasionally take friends along on day-trips to the islands on idyllic, sunny summer days; a getaway vessel that provides the speed of a powerboat with the grace and cost-savings of a sailboat; a decided increase in our net worth; a deeper, truer bond in our marriage; a lifestyle of living in greater harmony with nature with the wind, waves, tides and currents; a vessel that is such a joy to sail that she beckons us like a Siren out beyond the confines and craziness of the city to find that incomparable, priceless peace only a cruising sailor can know.

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NOTE: A few years later this boat sailed from Vancouver, down to Mexico, and then to Hawaii before returning to Canada