The Life of Boats

By John C. Harris
September 2010

Having paid lip service far and wide, eventually I had to commit and build the boat.  Colleagues who remember my LAST adventure in proa design immediately began muttering, "So the madness has begun again," providing me with the perfect name for a 30-foot outrigger sailing canoe:  Madness.

Boats are toys, and the pursuit of a new toy by someone edging into middle age doesn't necessarily need to have Importance or Meaning, but I think this project does mean something.  I'd like to make a point about doing more with less:  more speed under sail for less money, time, and trouble.  I'd like to shine a light on a novel (if ancient) technical solution to much of what ails sailboats, especially big ones:  for all the cost and hassle, your average cruising sailboat is neither very fast nor easy to handle.

Personally, this is the extension of a lifetime obsession with narrow, efficient boats.  At a very early age I came to appreciate the virtues of kayaks:  lots of speed and capability with minimal power (yourself and a paddle) and the least cost of any small boat.  This led to a long string of teenage experiments and, not many years later, ownership of a kayak kit outfit.

My first serious proa design (discounting some clumsy adolescent outriggers) started as a kayak.  What was going through my head at that time was that when I tired of paddling, applying a sail to my kayak added speed in almost ridiculous disproportion to the size of the sail and the effort in deploying it.  Converting the tippy kayak to a trimaran certainly works to improve sailing ability, though it involves building two extra hulls.  More on the technical challenges of two extra hulls later, but suffice it for now that I am lazy and would prefer to build just ONE stabilizing hull.  So we arrive at one big hull (the kayak) and one little hull (the float, or "ama"), and we have a proa, more or less.  Proas have a lot of sail-carrying power, enough to haul several people and their gear on camping trips, so my outrigger-stabilized kayak grew in height and depth to add storage volume.  To handle the extra sail area the boat gained structure and weight.  Now it was a 450-pound proa instead of a 70-pound stabilized kayak.  That's still pretty light for a 20-foot sailboat, and much fun was had.  A number of them have been built around the world.(An extended rumination on the whole adventure of that particular design to come.)

Proa, Mbuli
Proa "Mbuli," Designed and built 1999-2000. 20' long.

At the time (2000) I got too busy with CLC to think much about proas, and ten years passed.  Along the way I met Russell Brown, savant boatbuilder and the world's most experienced designer, builder, and sailor of Western-style proas.  I'd been following Russell and his career since I was a teenager.  A brisk ride on his magnificent Jzerro in 2008 brought a lot of proa rumination into sharp focus.  I needed to revisit proas, this time with a 30-footer offering more speed and cruising duration. Generously, Russell has contributed to and collaborated on the design of Madness.

And THAT is the story behind the assembly visible to sharp-eyed followers of the CLC ShopCam.

Length overall 30'9"
Beam overall 20'
Draft 17" (boards up) 41" (boards down)
Weight:  1000lbs
Payload:  950lbs

Proa 30 Sailplan
The current sailplan. The mainsail was pasted into CAD from a Nacra, which, with its raked mast, is why the battens angle upwards. I'll fix that.
Proa 30
More or less the way it will be built. All stitch-and-glue, just like the giant kayak that it is.
Proa Hull Assembly
Carey trims cured fiberglass in the assembled lower hull of  Madness. Side panels won't be added until daggerboard trunks and other structures are in place. He's working in what will become the footwell of the cuddy-cabin.
Click here for the latest progress report.