It's been 12 years since I last attended the annual Cedar Key small boat gathering, but the 10 hour drive from North Carolina was well worth the effort as there were many interesting watercraft to look over and plenty of like minded sailors to swap sea stories.  In the past Mindy and I towed one of our micro-cruisers along, but on this trip I chose to bring only a folding dinghy.This worked out fine in the end because my wife had to stay home for work reasons and I only needed to paddle the half mile stretch of water in between Cedar Key and Atsena Otie Key to reach the beach where most of the boaters congregated throughout the day.

Over that first weekend in May,  I was fortunate enough to go aboard several nice boats like Simon Lew's beautifully crafted Goat Island Skiff. At around 140 pounds rigged, this 15 1/2 footer has to be one of the fastest lug rigged sail boats that I have ever had the pleasure to crew on.  Compared to our heavy sharpies, the GIS is so much more agile and quick to maneuver, but you do need to be alert in gusts to shift your weight promptly to windward and ease out the mainsheet to avoid shipping water.

(Goat Island Skiff in the foreground)

I also got to try out Matt Layden's 8' cruising pram, Sand Flea, which he guided to a 1st place finish in the 2012 Watertribe Ultra Marathon.  I had never sailed this boat before, and I found it performed similarly to our own sharpies eventhough it has a leeboard and it is proportionally wider.  With it's simple lug rig, handy roller furling boom, and familiar wrap around rope-to-tiller steering, I was right at home!

(Getting some advice from Matt on how to set up the leeboard)

(Matt (yellow shirt) answering questions about his pram)

After sailing the pram, I then climbed into Matt's 12' plywood expedition kayak in which he scored a second place finish in Class 1 of the 300 mile 2005 Everglades Challenge.  I found the boat weatherly and dry in the 10 knot breeze and 2 foot chop that I encountered on my paddle down wind of Atsena Otie key. When I got back to shore, I was curious to see if it was possible to sleep inside since I heard it had been done.  As I am only 5'5" tall and of slim build, I managed to lay flat inside the 24" wide kayak, but I'm not sure I could remain comfortable there for a whole night. Nonetheless, I think this feature could be helpful in an emergency when no dry land is available for some rest.   

(Expedition kayak and folding dinghy)

Of course, the highlight of the event for me was Matt Layden's talk about his boats and how he arrived at his latest design, a 9 foot micro-cruiser called Elusion. To a packed dinner crowd, Matt began the presentation by showing a picture of him sailing aboard his father's keel boat as a youngster. However, he was quick to note that the boat had shortfalls which made it slow in club races; and despite their continued efforts to make it more competitive, these changes only made it more complicated and not any quicker. 

Then he moved on to show off his very first cruising boat, a Zip class keel boat that drew 2 feet.  Unfortunately, after sailing this boat for a while it soon became apparent that this craft also was not optimal for his needs. Therefore, he made the decision to design his own first micro-cruiser, a 16 foot catboat with leeboards and a fully battened mainsail. This turned out to be a definite improvement over the one design class before it.  Drawing less than a foot of water, it was fast and weatherly, and the mast lowered easily on a tabernacle. However, while cruising the waters off of Maine, the leeboards tended to catch lobster pots along the way which proved annoying.


So the next boat came along and she became known as Swamp Thing. He showed a picture of this 13' sailboat which appeared in the book, Beach Cruising and Coastal Camping, by Ida Little, who by the way was in attendance.  It was with this micro-cruiser that Matt first used a tapered chine log that later became known as a "chine runner". He then proceeded to show several pictures of some lifting body aircraft which inspired him to apply some of their aerodynamic properties to his own sharpy boats with their flat bottoms and narrow beams. At this point an audience member requested a more technical explaination of how the chine runners functioned and how the boat worked as a whole. Things got a bit advanced for me over the next few minutes with Matt showing pictures of hull cross-sections and how water flowed across the bottom. But from what I understood, the chine runner acts as a hydrodynamic fence with low pressure on one side and high pressure on the other which enables his sharpies to sort of "fly" upwind through the water with the aid of a big rudder to reduce leeway.


Then he went on to talk about Paradox in which he won the 300 mile Everglades Challenge in 2003. A few years later, his needs changed again- this time for a lighter boat and the 12'sharpie Enigma was born.  In this craft he successfully completed the 1200 mile 2006 Ultimate Florida Challenge, which included a 40 mile overland portage. Eventually, Matt required an even lighter micro-cruiser that could more easily be carried on the roof of a car. The 9' Elusion was designed and built and then triumphantly raced in the 2010 Ultimate Florida Challenge.

Now one of the things Matt repeated throughout his speech was that he felt that the sailboat was one of man's most perfect inventions because it converted wind into motion with a minimum of moving parts. The other thing he mentioned was that a boat needs to be designed for a specific purpose.  In his case he required a simple to operate vessle that could sail in shallow water and that could easily pass under the many bridges along the East Coast of the U.S.A. Therefore, he conceived his micro-cruisers to have short masts that could be lowered quickly along with a rig that was easy to manage. He also suggested a few times that people should try to design and build their own boats or they should find someone to do it for them if they were not up to the task.  

In the end, I had a great time in Cedar Key looking at a myriad of small watercraft, a few of which I got to try out.  I also enjoyed exchanging ideas with alot of boaters that I look forward to seeing in the years to come.  Hopefully, a bunch of you readers who didn't go will join us next time!