Pondering one’s future afloat
Trying to evade transferring my waning energies from finishing basement boatwork to housework late this winter, I turned to Annapolis Classic Watercraft for a boating story.
At Sarles Boatyard on Spa Creek, Bill Donahue, the only commercial builder of sizeable wooden boats left in town, usually has some interesting project under way. But his current project is one I never thought would interest me as a sailor: putting together a classic 24-foot powerboat from scratch, more or less.
The bare hull, of western red cedar, was built for Donahue by Joe Reid at Mast & Mallet Boatworks, a wooden-boat builder in Edgewater, Md. Donahue and Dave Hannam are finishing off the boat at Sarles, a colorful boatyard with covered sheds that has been around for a century. Donahue is a tenant at this time capsule, which has the last marine railway in town and a potbellied stove in the workshop. I’ll be observing the progress of this Homewood Landing 24 from time to time as it approaches a spring launch.
I suppose I should explain why a small-boat raghauler like me would be interested in a small powerboat under construction, so bear with me. As my sailing years roll on by and aging matures me (nautically), I am slowly beginning to consider a fate that befalls many of my fellow senior sailors. Oh, but it is a cruel destiny fraught with negatives, which I have long avoided even thinking about as a continuing means of cruising Chesapeake Bay single-handed in my 22-foot Sailmaster, Erewhon.
After a severe shoulder strain ended my season early last October, I rushed off to a specialist. I chose physical therapy at home over shoulder replacement surgery, which would have restricted me for many months. But pulling the starter cord of my 4-stroke Honda under high compression has been a two-handed job in the recent past, so we shall see …
Here’s the dilemma: An electric start is unavailable for this size outboard, and anything larger will not fit in my lazarette. I refuse to hang a large, clunky outboard on the transom and ruin the classic Sparkman & Stephens lines of my full-keel sailboat. One option is to sell the low-hours Honda and replace it with a used 2-stroke with lower compression that’s easier to start. I still have a lot of control lines to pull, but what if the day comes when I can’t?
I must then look to the sunny side if I’m forced to the “Dark Side.” The Chesapeake, of course, is the largest estuary in the nation, but many of its enticing rivers are long, narrow, winding and shallow. The lack of wind has kept me from fully exploring them because when I enter a river and run out of wind in my sailboat, I am faced with the only means of propulsion left. In order to always reach a predetermined cruising destination, power is usually an unavoidable choice, and proceeding toward any headwater under sail is ruled out.
Looking at it another way, if I am in a mini-cruiser without sails I have no other option, which will not torment me with decisions. It will, in fact, open up a new watery world to explore, especially if my replacement boat draws only 18 inches. The Bay, after all, has 48 rivers and more than 100 tributaries flowing into it.
Back to the Homewood Landing 24. I admire the traditional lines of this boat, and since it is not mass-produced, an owner can contribute ideas and have a hand in outfitting it, beyond the hull and deck construction. Designed by the late Thomas Connolly, the original HL 24 was built by the late Fred Touchton, a talented amateur boatbuilder and creek crawler who lived near Annapolis. That boat is stored at the Sarles yard.
Donahue’s son, Jonathan, is responsible for the redesign, and Annapolis marine architect Mike Kaufman, who has worked with Reid on such designs as their successful Thomas Point cruiser series, helped with structural changes.
This composite, wood-epoxy hull will be an open boat with a teak deck and all-teak interior, including the center console helm station. A convertible forward canopy will shelter the U-shaped seating area. Power is a 75-hp Yanmar turbo diesel. Displacement will be about 3,500 pounds. Estimated price is $95,000, which puts it out of my league.
The owners, Dan and Penny Yates, have a second home in St. Michaels, Md., on San Domingo Creek. They will cover the vessel on a dock lift and use it mainly as a creek crawler. Previously they had a 21-foot Bayliner bowrider.
“We wanted a boat built from scratch, something traditional and unique and with character,” says Dan Yates. With its dark green hull and red bottom, the HL 24 will fit in nicely with the lovely Broad Creek area off the Choptank River on the middle Eastern Shore.
Now, if this were my boat, I would want a cuddy cabin with a V-berth, one or two companion seats, a mini-galley, and a concealed Porta-Potti. I might choose a regular tiller or a stick tiller like some Chesapeake crabbers use, but with a comfortable seat and backrest and a raised place to stretch out my lazy legs. A cruising speed to drive me along at 7 or 8 knots — double my usual sailing speed — would serve my needs.
Facing reality, however, my choice might have to be consulting with Donahue while I search the classifieds for an open fiberglass 24-footer to convert and customize. I am an eager but amateur backyard boatworker, with little professional equipment. I do have boating friends, however, who allow me access to heavy-duty saws and such. As for Erewhon, I suppose she would go to my youngest sailing son, Scott, although he is not aware of that. In that way, I could keep watch over her maintenance.
For details on the HL 24, visit the Annapolis Classic Watercraft Web site at www.uncommonboats.com, or call (866) 263-9366.
Jack Sherwood is writer at large for Soundings.
This article originally appeared in the April 2009 issue.
Jack has been cruising Chesapeake Bay and writing about the region for more than 25 years. His critically acclaimed book, "Maryland's Vanishing Lives," was published by Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University Press and is now in its second printing. Before joining Soundings, Jack was a feature writer at the Washington (D.C.) Star for nearly 20 years and a senior editor at Chesapeake Bay magazine from 1995 to 1998. His monthly Bay Tripper column focuses on the Chesapeake.