Small is Beautiful
(Some call them crazy, but this special group of sailors have one discovery in common: it’s not necessary to invest an entire life’s savings to obtain a world cruising yacht. ) - from 1984 article in Australian magazine, Modern Boating.
beside the glamour boats in
Claude and Genevieve Desjardins
are French Canadians from
“In a little boat like this,”
said Claude when I spoke to him in
Claude and Genevieve say they are often dubbed crazy, but a close look at their boats shows a meticulous approach to safety. Genevieve calls her husband affectionately “this crazy perfectionist”.
Pere Peinard was designed by
Bruce Roberts as a trailer sailer, but Claude made a host of changes as he built
her. The hull is cold-moulded
timber. He added a bowsprit, made
the cockpit smaller, changed the keel, the coachroof and many other
details. Mindful of the tiny boat’s
vulnerability Claude has made it virtually unsinkable. There are no through-hull fittings, not
even a hawsepipe; the anchor is carried on deck. The aft section of the boat is sealed
with an airtight bulkhead, and spare corners are filled with foam. “We can make the boat airtight, “says Claude.
“And it will float even if full of water.”
Claude was a student when he
began building. His philosophy in
opting for such a small boat was to spend his few dollars on the best equipment
he could afford. The windvane
system is the well-proven Navik and he carries one and half more in spares. There’s nothing below in the way of
luxuries, not even a head, but he carries a comprehensive set of electrics and
hand-operated carpentry tools which have enabled him to earn money working on
other peoples’ boats. Auxiliary power is a 6 hp outboard motor, and
charging for the vessel’s small electrical needs is from a solar panel.
Below there is sitting [head]
room only. There’s a single bunk
each side with double in the forepeak.
A tiny kerosene cooker slides out onto one bunk from beneath the cockpit
seat and a few navigation manuals peep out from the other. When you ask about
things like two–way radio and Satnav, Claude and Genevieve laugh.
34-year old Terje (pronounced
Terry) Dahl was an advertising executive in
It took only 18 months of
full-time work for Terje to buy the boat and save enough money to live for 10
years in the Pacific. Unlike the Desjardins whose chief
motivation is love of sailing, Terje likes arriving in port and getting to know
the locals. When we first met him,
his yacht tied to the copra wharf at Ahe in the Tuamotus, he was on first-name
terms with half the people in the village.
Most evenings you’d
hear the sounds of guitars and ukeleles from Coco Loco, and most days Terje was
out fishing or lobstering or otherwise living off the land with his
His auxillary is also an outboard, his reasoning being if it breaks down seriously he’ll drop it over the side and get a new one. His navigation gear consists of two plastic sextants and a wristwatch. He has a radio receiver for time checks, a primus stove and, like Pere Peinard, solar-charged electricity. Terje says the boat sails well, behaves well in bad weather, and is missing only three things: headroom, a toilet, and a place to hang his good going ashore clothes.
32-year old Manuel Earisoan was a
Manuel’s boat is pretty basic as
far as creature comforts go. There
is no auxiliary motor, no head (of course), no radio, no electric light, just a
little tape recorder for music, powered by a battery which he recharges
ashore. However he has a
high-quality chronometer and barometer and no fewer than 11 sails to cope with
all ranges of weather.
Like the other small-boat people I spoke Manuel has made surprisingly fast passages. During his Atlantic crossing he frequently did 140 miles per day and his best run ever was 170, which I find scarcely believable for a 25 footer. Did the home made windvane cope with this? He shrugs, “I am here.”
Other small-boat skippers report surprisingly fast runs too. Terje in Coco Loco frequently cracks 120 to 130 miles per day in tradewind conditions, while Claude and Genevieve in Pere Peinard left the Galapagos at the same time as two Westsail 32s and beat them by two days to Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas.
Claude is proud of his boat’s
performance in boisterous weather.
“At one time,” he says in his mild way, “we averaged 6 knots for 10
hours, 2 knots more than our hull speed. The speedo was stuck many times on 10
knots but the boat was quite controllable.
A 40-footer in the same area filled its cockpit three times but we never
shipped any heavy water. Taking in
a reef is a laugh. My feet never leave
The only time size is a crucial
factor, says Claude, would be if he had to beat off a lee shore in severe
weather. But Terje on Coco Loco has
a different view. “Beating off a
shore in 45 knots, a big boat can have as many problems as a small one. It
depends on the shape of the waves.”
One thing every small-boat
voyager must guard against is overloading.
Pere Peinard now has less gear than when she started out. Two 22 litre jerry cans lashed to the
deck make such a difference in trim that Claude always keeps them on the weather
posted home most of his library because when he moved the box of books around,
it noticeably altered the trim.
A certain camaraderie exists
among the small-boat sailor; even if they haven’t met they all know about each
other. Claude thinks eight or nine
boats under 25 ft are on their way around the World. He contemplated starting a club with three
conditions of entry: The boat must measure less than 25 ft overall (7.6m), have
no standing headroom, and no head.
Compared with ordinary yachts,
these simple little craft cost practically nothing to run. Other cruising yachtsmen arrived in port
with a list of spares to buy and maintenance jobs as long as their
waterlines. The small boat skippers
simply go ashore and enjoy. Manuel
says, “The only thing I spend money on is food. The boat costs practically nothing.”
The three in whom I spoke all freely admitted that their prime reason for thinking small was economy, but none was in a hurry to change. Clearly if it meant the difference between going to sea or staying at home, a small boat was better than no boat. Manuel summed it up nicely when I asked him why he sailed. “There are three reasons,” he said. “I like to travel, I like the sea and why not?”