Five times, (now seven) Dave and Mindy Bolduc have crossed nearly 65
miles of open ocean between Florida and the Bahamas aboard "Little
Cruiser," their 15-foot, Matt Layden-designed sailboat. Each time they
explored the islands for over two months, all the while living aboard
their tiny boat, before sailing back to Florida.
This is exceptional performance for any 15-footer, particularly one with a flat bottom and only four and a half feet of beam. At times the Bolducs encountered waves large enough to depower their sails, yet they never felt they were in danger. Obviously we had many questions for them.
SCA: The number of voyages and the miles you've traveled in LITTLE CRUISER seem quite a testament to her design. Just how far have you sailed her, and were your voyages possible only because of the unique design of LITTLE CRUISER, or do you feel other 15 foot sailboats could safely make the same trips with careful preparation?
BOLDUCS: In the five trips we've made to the Bahamas, Mindy and I have
sailed an average of eight hundred miles during the two and a half
month long cruises. We believe that other small boats could make the
Bahama trip provided they were handled by experienced sailors and that
these boats were well proven. We feel comfortable about traveling in
our boat because we understand its limitations and our own. We respect
the ocean and the weather, and we try not to tempt fate by venturing
out when conditions are too severe for us or our tiny craft. We've
found prudence is the better part of good seamanship.
SCA: Elaborate on some of LITTLE CRUISER'S unique features that make relatively long voyages practicable in a boat of this size (water catchment, stowage, etc).
BOLDUCS: LITTLE CRUISER is uniquely suited to making long coastal
passages and short island hops because of her sturdy construction and
efficient design. Her one-inch thick bottom can take the abuses of
regular groundings and the occasional encounter with a coral reef.
Moreover, the boat can be safely handled completely from within the
cabin, which is especially important during inclement weather. LITTLE
CRUISER also has a tremendous amount of stowage capacity in her bilges
because of her flat bottom design.
SCA: Tell us a bit about how your boat was outfitted, electronics,
safety gear, lights, solar, etc. What outboard do you use, and how
reliable has it been?
BOLDUCS: LITTLE CRUISER has the usual safety equipment required by the
Coast Guard such as flares, navigational lights, a horn and life vests.
In addition, we carry a hand-held VHF, a GPS and a parachute anchor. We
consider the anchors our most important safety equipment and our only
insurance. Therefore we carry three, which might seem like a lot for
such a small boat. They consist of a 4-pound Fortress, a 9-pound
Danforth, and a monster 25-pound take-apart Luke storm anchor. When not
in use, the two heavy ones are secured in the bilge where they serve as
ballast while the third is on the bow ready for immediate use.
Our electronics are powered by two gel-cell batteries which are charged by three, ten-watt solar panels. When the wind refuses to blow, we rely on our trusty four-horsepower, two-cycle Evinrude outboard. Someday we'll replace it with a less polluting and more efficient Honda four-stroke engine.
SCA: What special equipment, supplies, or features did you find
indispensable for living aboard so small a boat for months at a time?
Things that might not occur to the first-time voyager, but that you
learned from experience.
BOLDUCS: One of the most important is to be as self sufficient as
possible and keep things simple. We carry almost everything we need to
make repairs ourselves. Our boat is relatively simple, and we have no
refrigeration or ice chest. We've found most produce keeps quite a long
time in baskets. The rest of our food is in cans or dry form. Whenever
we want a treat, like fresh meat or ice cream, we buy it locally and
eat it right away.
We don't carry any special or unusual equipment outside of our homemade folding dinghy, but we do carry a lot of smaller-sized equipment to fit our tiny boat. In our search for the most compact gear, we've found backpacking equipment suits our needs best. One of our favorite pieces of gear is our GAZ propane stove. It uses compact one-pound cylinders for fuel, and these fit perfectly in our bilge. Ten cylinders get us through a whole winter trip!
SCA: How were sleeping conditions given the weather and the bugs? Did
you always sleep aboard?
BOLDUCS: Because LITTLE CRUISER is fully insulated, sleeping aboard is
quite comfortable. When it's hot we're cool and when it's cold we're
warm. If biting insects are about, we fit the hatch with "no-see-um"
netting and let the wind scoop pump fresh air below. We've never felt
the need to camp ashore, because we're very comfortable aboard, and
everything we need is close at hand.
SCA: Were you able to carry adequate stores, water and fuel? Did you
have to restock, and did it ever become a problem? Did you often fish
for your dinner?
BOLDUCS: LITTLE CRUISER can carry up to two months' stores for two
people, but we often supplement our supplies with local produce, which
is a welcome change. We occasionally fish, but we have mixed feelings
about this since we're killing the very fish we've traveled so far to
SCA: What advice do you have for other small-boat cruisers
contemplating similar voyages?
BOLDUCS: Be cautious and use common sense. The ocean can be a very
beautiful place, but it also can be quite treacherous when conditions
are wrong. Always be conscious of the weather. If it looks as if bad
weather is on the way, stay in port until it's over. There's a big
difference between venturing out in ten-foot breaking seas and sailing
along comfortably in 4 foot swells a day or so later. It's better to
postpone one's trip than become a statistic.
SCA: What do you consider LITTLE CRUISER'S most significant safety
BOLDUCS: Her robust construction and positive flotation. LITTLE CRUISER
is heavily built; some might say overbuilt. This construction has
allowed us to survive impacts with natural and man-made hazards
including unmarked jetties and runaway powerboats. Should we ever be
unfortunate enough to be holed, we feel confident her two inches of
foam insulation will provide sufficient buouancy to keep us afloat
until repairs can be made or we're rescued.
BOLDUCS: LITTLE CRUISER is ballasted with several hundred pounds of
lead along with an equal amount of weight in gear stored securely in
the bilges. To keep the boat sailing her best, we store our gear
according to weight with the heaviest items down low and the lighter
SCA: It sounds as if you've experienced some violent sea conditions
aboard LITTLE CRUISER. We're you ever concerned you might be in serious
BOLDUCS: Though we have been in some moderately heavy seas, we've never
been in any real danger. Most of our passages are short, and we watch
the weather carefully to avoid going out in anything really horrible.
However, if we were ever caught out in severe weather, we could sit on
our sea anchor and wait for conditions to moderate.
SCA: Have you ever been knocked down, rolled or pooped in LITTLE
BOLDUCS: LITTLE CRUISER has never been knocked down or pooped, but this
is not to say it couldn't happen. Given the right conditions, anything
is possible. The designer and builder of LITTLE CRUISER, Matt Layden,
was once knocked down in a much smaller boat SWAMP THING, in heavy
breaking seas while crossing the Gulf Stream. He was standing on the
deck when a large wave hit. The partially decked boat went over, and
Matt went into the warm ocean. When he grabbed the rail, SWAMP THING
came right up, even though she was flooded. After bailing her out, Matt
went on happily to cruise the Bahamas for several months despite the
loss of a few items in the capsize.
SCA: Are you confident stores and water will remain in place in the
event of a rollover and act as necessary ballast to help LITTLE CRUISER
back to her feet?
BOLDUCS: All the heavy stores and the lead ballast in LITTLE CRUISER
are securely locked down under the floor boards. According to the
designer, this weight should provide sufficient ballast to right our
type of sharpie to an angle of heel of 165 degrees, which is better
than many modern offshore keel boats.
SCA: If LITTLE CRUISER rolled, couldn't the weight of the skipper and
crew on the cabin roof tend to offset the effect of the ballast and
prevent her from coming back up?
BOLDUCS: It's unlikely she would stay upside down even if the crew were
on the cabin roof since the deck is heavily crowned, and the design is
very unstable in that position. However, if it were necessary we could
right the boat by swimming out and pulling her over like a capsized
SCA: How effective is the water ballast when the tank is only partially
BOLDUCS: The effects of water ballast will be diminished as the tanks
are depleted. We store our water in individual square water cubes that
fit our bilge space. This allows us to fill the vacant space with
ballast, and it ensures we don't pollute our whole water supply should
we take on some tainted water.
SCA: Tell us of your scariest moments aboard LITTLE CRUISER.
BOLDUCS: Getting caught between two big freighters one dark night in
the middle of the Gulf Stream! We found that even with their lights
shining brightly, it was difficult to tell exactly where they were and
how fast they were going. We prefer to make this passage during
daylight hours whenever possible.
SCA: What features would you incorporate in a new, improved LITTLE
BOLDUCS: The only improvement we would make would be to lengthen the
design a few feet to give the boat a separate sleeping area. Presently
the floor also serves as our bed, and it is difficult to keep it clean
SCA: What's next for the Bolducs and LITTLE CRUISER?
BOLDUCS: Future adventures might include a trip up the Inside Passage
or a sail down Baja California. On the other hand, it might just be a
weekend trip on our local lake. In the end it probably doesn't really
matter where we go, but that we have a safe and fun time doing it.