Northeaster or Passagemaker for beach/island camping trips

Hi all,

I'm trying to decide between the Passagemaker or Northeaster for my first boat build. I've been woodworking for a few years, but I've never built a boat. The boat will mostly be used along the south shore of Lake Superior for three primary tasks.

Some background... My wife and I are avid campers (taking the 2 young children when possible). We've backpacked in the Porcupine mountains, so we're familiar with travelling light and bringing everything we need with us. What we haven't done much of is sailing. I've played around on a Laser knockoff in my younger years, and sailing has always appealed to me. It's just not something we've ever gotten into... mostly because of the cost of entry.

I have decided regardless of which boat I decide to build it will be setup with a lug rig for sailing for simplicity and reduced likelyhood of someone getting tangled in the lines.

As for the primary tasks for the boat:

First, my wife and I would like to camp on the Apostle Islands. My family has a cabin within a reasonable driving distance from Bayfield, WI (basically the closest place to put in a small boat for the Apostles), so dealing with potential bad weather isn't a big deal... if the forcast turns bad we can head to the cabin and still have a nice few days of vacation. On the other hand, assuming nice weather we'd like to sail among the Apostle Islands for 4-7 days hopping between islands to camp.

The second task the boad would be expected to perform is hauling my three young boys between the family cabin and the local park/beach. The park is ~2 miles down the shore from the (lake front) cabin. I'm fine with rowing a boat down to the beach for an afternoon of picking rocks and playing with the kids if the wind isn't cooperating, but I'll admit a small outboard doing the work sounds mighty appealing as well.

The third function of the boat would be for fishing along the shoreline of the lake, or getting hauled to inland lakes for day or partial day fishing trips. I'm not huge into fishing, but my wife and her dad are. Currently they use a small aluminum skiff to row out and fish.

So, my question is, has anyone else built a boat with similar requirements? If so, do you have any recommendations either way? Am I totally out of line thinking a single boat will serve all of these tasks?

I've been ready to pull the trigger on either of these kits plus the lug sail option for a few weeks now, but every day I look at the site and talk myself out of the boat I'd decided on and switch to the other.

21 replies:

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RE: Northeaster or Passagemaker for beach/island camping trips


Better for hauling 5 people.



RE: Northeaster or Passagemaker for beach/island camping trips

   The Passagemaker is a 12-foot boat with a 650 pound payload. The NE Dory is a 17-foot boat with an 800 pound payload. Both have a 56" beam. It seems to me that you'd have more seating positons and seating options in the dory, and it might be better at handling the potentially rough water of a very big lake. Clever people have found ways to put small motors on their dories so that is an option (though the passagemaker might be easier to set up with a motor). The dory will be easier to row when loaded and should sail at least as well.

RE: Northeaster or Passagemaker for beach/island camping trips

   One more thought. I recently had three adults and three small chidren in my dory. We were able to seat everyone and row in tandem with ease as we made our way from the boat landing to a sandy beach. I'm sure it would work well for you. . . . Sailing is a different matter. It's best as a two-person boat under sail -- unless you can do all your rigging at the dock. Rigging on the water requires a lot of for and aft movement to get set-up and underway.

RE: Northeaster or Passagemaker for beach/island camping trips

I think the NE Dory would be ideal for what you want to do and also as a first boat building project.    Adding a small electric or gas outboard would not be a problem and there are some links on the forum that show how it has been done.  As for sailing, i see no reason why you would not rig your boat at the dock and therefore not have any issues with the kids and wife. 

Here is video of the NE Dory being used on a 9 day camping trip in Maine.

RE: Northeaster or Passagemaker for beach/island camping trips

Hey Jeff,

At the risk of just agreeing with Laszlo out of habit, let's look at a few factors.

We never discussed transportation.  Are you planning on cartopping or getting a trailer?  I'm about to start construction of a take-apart PM to simplify transportation.  There's a huge difference cartopping a 17 footer vs. a 12 footer.

Two adults and camping gear will nicely fit in both.  The length to beam ratio makes the Passagemaker more stable for adults and kids in various seating positions.  I have a trolling motor/battery kit that I load up to take the family out with when the wind isn't cooperating.  It's a simple calculation to size the battery to the amount of puttering you want to do.  It's MUCH easier to mount a motor of any type/size on the PM because of the angle of the transom.

I was surprised to see that the PM is evidently a little more difficult of a build than the NED, but I wouldn't let that sway you.  It's a bit arbitrary/academic when you're wrist-deep in thickened epoxy.

Both take a lug rig, so that's a wash.  With a longer waterline, the NED will have a slightly faster theoretical hull speed (approximately 5.3kts vs. 4.3kts), but if you're not in a hurry to get to the next island, that's only a factor if you choose it to be.

A main factor that's very subjective is aesthetics.  The two boats have completely different looks.  This is an expensive endeavor, both in money and time.  You want to make sure you LOVE the boat you're going to build because you're going to be spending well over 100 hours and a few grand building it.  Since the PM can also be a tender for a larger sailboat, that also helped me choose.

Last but not least, we need more PM builders on here, so there's my $0.02.  I'm used to making change...


RE: Northeaster or Passagemaker for beach/island camping trips

Sorry, I was too busy to flesh out my reply the other night, but here's my rationale behind saying that the PMD is a better people hauler than the NED:

They both have the same max beam, but the NED is a narrower boat. That's because it's double-ended (or near enough). Once the PMD hits max beam, it pretty much stays there right to the transom. The NED pinches back down to almost nothing.

Same deal going forward. The PMD has that 2-ft wide or so bow transom while the NED goes to a pointy bow. So the PMD is sort of like a 12-foot slice out of a 23-ft double-ended boat. That's why it's more stable.

Yes, you can put a bunch of people into the NED, but you have to scatter them along the length of the boat, which moves them away from the center of gravity where the smoothest ride is to the narrow parts of the boat where there's the most motion and the least buoyancy. In the PMD there's enough space to keep most everyone in the more buoyant and smoothly moving area.

So if it was really important for me to move 5 people, I'd go with the PMD. If I didn't have to do that, I'd go with the NED, mostly because of the looks. And definitely the lug rig.

Good luck,



RE: Northeaster or Passagemaker for beach/island camping trips

   Hey all,

Thanks for all the replies so far. Your comments sound much like the arguement going on in my head...

I'll answer some of the questions mentioned previously and fill in some of my thoughts along the way.

My first point of clarification is that for camping it would either be my wife and me or two kids (9 and 6) and me (the 3 year old baby isn't old enough for that sort of excursion yet). I would not be trying to get the whole family into the boat for a camping trip.

Second, while I'm not a master woodworker, I purchase raw lumber from a hardwood supplier in my area and build from that, so I feel like a little more difficulting in putting parts together and/or trimming parts to fit correctly is a relative non-issue.

Third, anywhere I plan to sail this boat it can be rigged at the dock/shore. At the locations I'm planning to use the boat "busy" generally means there's someone waiting to use the boat launch after you. There's plenty of space to either rig the boat at the pier or pull it up to the beach (depending on location) to get the rig sorted out before departing.

The "Boatymoon" video is one of the items that initially drew me to CLC to begin with, but thank you for pointing it out. After reading comments I showed it to my wife and she's much more enthusiastic about this project now. I don't know what she was envisioning, but seeing a couple sail and row a boat on a similar camping trip to what I was pitching seemed to be the selling point.

Fourth, transportation will be via trailer. The car top is already taken up by a carrier for camping/cabin gear. A family of 5 with three being young boys (plus a dog) in need of entertainment (no screen time (TV/Movies/Video games) in the car) takes up a lot of car space.

My brother has already offered up a small trailer capable of carrying either boat with little to no modification.

Finally, asthetics...

This is a tough one. I really like the looks of both. I probably slightly prefer the dory, but the dinghy being Norwegian influenced is also compelling... My mother's side of the family imigrated to the USA on the family fishing boat (with very little else) from Norway ~6 generations back, and it's very much looked back on as something the family needs to remember and should be proud of. I have to admit a Norwegian influenced boat design draws me, and would get several of my older relatives (especially Grampa) out on the boat for a ride they would otherwise not consider.


One final wrench to throw into the consideration... does anyone think I should consider a sloop rig vs the lug rig on either of these boats? Or, alternatively, is either easier to setup for one initially then rig for the other later... easily switching between the two based on the current adventure?

RE: Northeaster or Passagemaker for beach/island camping trips

   Lug v Sloop...boy you are going to get a lot of opionons I think.   I have gone back and forth trying to decide and in the end I think it is going to be a sloop rig with a roller furler on the head sail.  Why?  My boat will be primarily a sailor versus rower.  I like the looks, it will perform marginally better, point higher and allow for unobstructed  movement to the bow.   Others will no doubt make the case for the lug and at the end of the day, either will do a good job.

RE: Northeaster or Passagemaker for beach/island camping trips

My $0.02.


RE: Northeaster or Passagemaker for beach/island camping trips

   Not quite sure of the point of Laszlo's posts, other than point to the fact that he was unprepared for the gybe. I have sailed all my liffe in sloops and yawls, most of them off-shore and open ocean and have gybed many times and in some quite severe conditions.  Gybing is always a challenge, no matter the rig and the key is preperation.  Practice is the best way to lean how to do it safely and quickly.    Also there are some times when a gybe is simply too dangerous. the skipper may consider a gybe is not possible and will choose to do a 'granny' - take the boat in a full circle the wrong way round so that one tacks the boat instead of gybing. Alternatively, a prudent skipper  may simply head into the wind, drop the sail and row to shore.  Lug or Slopp, a gybe can be dangerous if you don't know what you are doing is the bottom line.

RE: Northeaster or Passagemaker for beach/island camping trips

Personally I like a sloop rig better.

I'd say build the one you think looks nicer. If you build it and it doesn't work out, then order and build the other one. Nothing says you have to stop at one boat. 

Here is another idea. (chamber of commerce moment) Long about February they will pack up some boats, haul them down to Florida and do demonstrations. Last time they brough both boats you are considering. Go to the Merit Island, Kelly Park east demonstration. Paddle, or row the boats. Have some sea food, visit the Kennedy Space Center visitors center, take the lauch pad bus tour and escape some of that nasty northern tier winter. Then you will have placed hands on the boats, talked to George and Joey about how easy/hard they are to build and seen more of the country. Just sayin......................



RE: Northeaster or Passagemaker for beach/island camping trips

I think I can make your decision even more complicated and baffling. Why not consider making the NE Dory with the Gunter Sloop Rig (and, of course, the self-furling jib)? This would give you the easiest and fastest rowboat, with huge hauling capacity. The "coolest" sailing set-up with the largest sail area, best pointing ability, and quickest boat speed. And perhaps you would still have the ability to drop sail on a whim (or when becalmed) and row where you are going.  

Having said that, I still prefer the absolute simplicity (and "cool" factor) of the lug rig. It is a perfect setup for camp-cruising, and I'm quite satisfied with the performance on all points of sail. . . . If you haven't yet seen it, have a look at John Harris's article on lug rigs.

RE: Northeaster or Passagemaker for beach/island camping trips


That was 1/2 my point - I was caught unprepared. The other 1/2 is that the balanced lug is so robust and forgiving that even with my ham-fisted gybe it survived with no damage and the boat stayed upright. A sloop rig would not have.

You are absolutely correct that I need more practice with that boat (and I've been working on it), but until then it's good to know that the rig will help me out of a jam.



RE: Northeaster or Passagemaker for beach/island camping trips

   I'll second your 1/2 point, Lazlo. I usually won't jibe in a high wind, but for some reason I decided to do so in my lug-rugged dory not long ago. I misjudged things. The boom slashed wickedly above my head. The boat lurched. And maybe I whimpered a little. But we didn't ship water. Nothing was broken. And I sailed off, somewhat the wiser.

RE: Northeaster or Passagemaker for beach/island camping trips

   The nice thing about the lug rigs is indeed fewer strings, although as I'm finding, getting it to perform to weather requires more careful trimming, and more rigging, than the standard manual implies.  That said, I come from performance keelboats, so my standard for weatherly performance may be skewed. 

On jibes, they have their place, and are not as scary to me as reputation makes them. There are times, either with light winds or strong winds and seas, when "wearing ship" works better than a tack.

RE: Northeaster or Passagemaker for beach/island camping trips

���For those keeping score, I've ordered the PMD. I'll eventually (to reduce the dirty looks from my wife) order the gunter sloop sailing rig for it. The PMD just seemed like it was the most versatile without extra work or retrofitting. Being able to drop a small outboard on it without building a mount or modifying the boat was the tie breaker. I somewhat suspect I'll eventually end up building both boats, because I really like the look and capacity of the Northeaster. The PMD is just the better option as a working boat initially.

RE: Northeaster or Passagemaker for beach/island camping trips

You were in a NO-LOSE situation, either boat will do the job.  Good luck to you, you are going to have a ball building it! 

RE: Northeaster or Passagemaker for beach/island camping trips

I'm going with the sloop rig on my PM.  I need more windward performance.  My EP leisurely makes way to weather.  There are more strings (both standing and running) but that's part of the fun for me.

Please keep in mind that you can't just switch between the two.  The mast step and partner are in completely different locations to handle the different sail geometry/center of effort.  So you have to make up your mind once you get to a certain point in the build and never look back.  It might be an interesting experiment to try and build both into a single boat.  Hmmm...  I also really like the look of the gunter sloop and once again, I already have an EP with a lug rig for my son.

RE: Northeaster or Passagemaker for beach/island camping trips

We went with the balance lug rig for our PMD, primarily because it seemed the best choice given that rowing was to be the primary propulsion for how we meant to use the boat.  The rig stows quickly and easily our of the way.  It is even possible to strike the mast (child's play) and stow it with the heel in either corner of the transom and the masthead laid off to the side over the gunwale so that it doesn't interfere with the rowing.

That said, we've been very pleasantly surprised by how well she sails, especially to windward.  Given careful attention to location of halyard and downhaul along the yard and boom and appropriate attention to downhaul tension (critical with this rig), she gets along quite nicely, including hard on the wind.  Having tried it, I'm a believer.


RE: Northeaster or Passagemaker for beach/island camping trips

Hey Gramps,

Thanks for the update.  It's a common theme for people to ask about what boat to build, but it's rare that we get such great feedback later.  I'm about to build a gunter-sloop Take Apart Passagemaker, so this kind of info is valuable to me.

RE: Northeaster or Passagemaker for beach/island camping trips

   I ended up building the PMD with the sloop rig. I'm quite pleased with the boat and its performance.

I have three key points I didn't expect/believe before i started using my boat.

1. I really need to make sure everything is rigged and tensioned correctly at shore before I start the trip. It's a real pain to climb up to the bow (potentially over people) on such a small boat to attempt to adjust the tension on something or re-tie a knot once we're out on the water.

2. Space/comfort of passengers. When I'm out on a large lake where I can sail in one direction for an hour+ I can put 3 adults or an adult and 3 kids on the boat relatively comfortably. There's a surprising amount of space to stretch out and rearrange without putting the boat off balance. On a small lake with a lot of tacking/jibing it' pretty much shrinks to 2 people, or it's a very short trip because they get tired of having to duck under sails/lines and shift around and/or rearrange every few minutes.

To be fair, I expected this... it's a 100 pound boat that's less than 12' in length. There's only so much space and seating position is important as people are the balast. I live in central WI and sailing isn't really a big thing in much of the state, so my passengers tend not to expect/understand that. Setting expectations is important.

3. Realistically this boat isn't car-topable. I did it for the first part of the summer, but it's a real hassle and it means all of the gear goes inside the car... mast, boom, anchor, oars, etc. Just expect to need a trailer. Most of the equipment can be packed into the boat if it's on a trailer, and I can pull it with my sedan rather than having to take the family car without room for any of the family.

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