Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Building the Goat Island Skiff "Sisu"
My friend David Graybeal is a proud owner/builder of a Goat Island Skiff, designed by Michael Storer.
David built Sisu with an old friend and his two sons so the four of them could learn to sail. I've heard a lot about the virtues of this boat from David, and a lot of other people as well. The Goat Island Skiff is an all around little boat, as David will tell you, a big little boat.
David sent me a note about the process involved in learning to love a boat and I'll share it with you:
“Why did we build a boat?… and why this particular design? Since the former drives the latter, let’s talk about what inspired us to build a boat.”
“Growing up in Astoria, Oregon and spending a lot of my youth at a summer cabin on Eld Inlet (Puget Sound, near Olympia, Washington), I spent a lot of time on power boats, some in rowboats, some on rafts of our own devising, and a lot of time in the water. There was a sailboat at the Eld Inlet house, but for some reason, I never learned to sail it. I was more interested in the raw excitement of hydroplanes than the subtle nuances of dancing with the wind.”
“As a professional woodworker, I’ve done some boat projects in my shop. Spars, and foils, coamings and companionway doors, tillers and bowsprits, hatches and ceilings. I’ve completely gutted and refitted the interior of a couple of boats. I’ve contracted to restore and maintain the brightwork of a few boats. But I had never built a boat from scratch, but for quite a while, I’d had a niggling urge to do so.”
“Then, one fateful day, my two sons commented about how it would be cool to learn to sail. I said it was a great idea, and how we ought to build a sailboat of our own. Humoring ol’ dad they agreed. Hearing of our plans, my best buddy, Jerry, said he wanted in also. So we had a building team of four.”
“But what boat to build?”
“Knowing very little about the current state of small boat design, I threw myself into an Internet search. What a rich vein awaited the pickaxe of my curiosity. We seemed to be experiencing a renaissance of small boat design which included elder draftsmen Wes Farmer and the Atkin duo and the modern geniuses like Bolger, Storer, Devlin, Welsford, Gartside, Swan, Fisher, Hill, Oughtred, and many more.”
“Way too many choices!"
"It was time to narrow the search by creating a design brief. From this brief emerged the Goat Island Skiff, by Michael Storer of Australia. This is what we were looking for, and how well the GIS fulfilled our wishes…”
WE WANTED: a boat that would safely carry the largest number of boys & gear and would still be light enough to cartop.
WE GOT: darned near that. A bigger boat, for its 16' length, than we expected. A very stable boat. A boat that can be cartopped (we did that for a while - not recommended, it's a chore!) We rigged a trailer for her.
WE WANTED: a boat that'd be a balance between sailing, rowing & motoring - weighted slightly toward sailing.
WE GOT: a hull form that's primarily a sailing boat. We hadn’t sailed it yet, though the sailing rig was almost complete, and we were looking forward to it. Reports were that she sails "like a witch".
Rowing, I really enjoy. As designed, she doesn't really track that straight - better for a slalom course than for a straight shot across the lake. I think I'll be adding a small skeg (or two) to help in that respect. Motoring is quite nice also. We use a Nissan 4stroke 5hp. That's probably more than she needs, but seems to work fine and offers some reserve. My only (minor) complaint is that she squats under power with only one occupant. That's the compromise of using a sailboat hull, with its rocker aft, as a motorboat. With more bodies, we can shift weight forward, and she trims well.
WE WANTED: a boat that'd be dead simple for my 11 & 16 year old boys to build (along with a bit of help from Jerry my publisher/accountant friend, definitely not a woodworker - and myself, a professional woodworker).
WE GOT: just that. Very simple build. My three compatriots did the bulk of the work, and it turned out quite well. I tarted it up a bit with a canarywood transom cap, ipe gunwales, and mahogany knees and breasthook.
WE WANTED: a beautiful boat. Despite all the other requirements, it wouldn't be just a utilitarian scow. We wanted something simple that would turn heads.
WE GOT: far more than we expected. Simply stated - I was very pleasantly surprised at the final outcome. Pete Culler said, "Straight is the line of duty, curved is the line of beauty".
I have to agree, and that's what we got. This boat is much more salty and curvy than the photos suggest. She consistently garners compliments at the ramp and on the water.
“The bottom line is, We Love This Boat!”
“We’ve sailed her a good bit. Jerry uses her a few times a year. The kids have moved onto other interests, but they’ve sailed with me several times a year and on at least one boat/camping outing each summer.”
“It’s amazing the amount of gear she’ll hold. With that dory-like shape, she just settles deeper into the water, getting more stable all the while. I use her a lot. Turns out she’s as good a sailor as advertised. More sailboat than I know how to take full advantage of, but still loads of fun.”
David Graybeal can be found in Portland, Oregon as Harbor Woodworks. He has 35 years of experience in all types of wood work, but what interests me the most is his passion for wood boats. He is willing to tackle any small sailing, rowing, or power boat project, up to approximately 25 feet. He also manufactures wood boat accessories; spars, foils, tillers, companionway doors and interiors.
So if you are in range of Portland, Oregon, Vancouver, Washington or anywhere in the Pacific Northwest - Harbor Woodworks offers a wide range of services.
If you would like a quality custom boat built, or help with those tricky details on your own build, David can be reached at: 503-860-3160 or on this page. Give him a call, or send him a note. He loves to talk about boats!
All photos contributed by David Graybeal. Photos of Sisu under sail by John Kohnen.