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Over the moon

Sam Devlin’s latest stitch-and-glue masterpiece is Moon River, a 48-footer designed as a pre-eminent dayboat

Building boats from plywood, epoxy and fiberglass — a method called stitch-and-glue — has historically been associated with small craft such as dinghies and kayaks. But a designer and builder in the Pacific Northwest has expanded the boundaries of stitch-and-glue, building boats as large as 65 feet. Yup, 65 feet!

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Sam Devlin’s latest boat isn’t that big, but at 48 feet overall the $1.4 million Down East-style cruiser is nothing to sneeze at. Moon River is a 32,000-pound, twin-screw yacht with two staterooms and all of the accommodations for comfortable cruising. She is the second-largest boat built by Devlin Designing Boat Builders, of Tumwater, Wash., a company that has pioneered stitch-and-glue construction (

Moon River’s profile is reminiscent of some of the well-known Down East-style boats yachts from such builders as Hunt, Sabre and Hinckley. Devlin based her lines on another one of his lobster-style boats — the 34-foot Storm Petrel, also a twin-screw diesel.

“It’s a very easily driven hull design, and it loves its midspeed range — around 15 to 18 knots,” Devlin says of Moon River. “It’s very happy with that. It’s not in the upper end of the power-curve range, so we’re not sucking down fuel too bad, and she moves through the water very well.”

Devlin employs nine workers at his 15,000-square-foot facility. Moon River required 19,000 hours and slightly less than two years to complete. “One of the hallmarks of what we do is that everything is finished,” says Devlin, 59. “Inside, outside, underneath, upside-down — wherever you go in that boat, it is done very well.”

Sam Devlin is a pioneer of stitch-and-glue building.

Requiring no ribs or frames, stitch-and-glue is less complex than traditional plank-on-frame construction or building in fiberglass from a mold, though it is labor-intensive. That helps explain the popularity of Devlin’s boat plans, which are available to other builders and do-it-yourselfers. Devlin has 59 sets of plans and has sent them to 82 countries. “Stitch-and-glue has allowed me to identify small niche markets and allowed me many times to build just one boat that satisfies that niche, and then I can move on to the next project,” Devlin says.

The main ingredients for stitch-and-glue construction are high-grade marine plywood, fiberglass tape, fiberglass or Dynel cloth for sheathing, wire sutures (the stitch part of the formula), and epoxy fillers and resin. (Search the archives at for more details about the process. Keyword: Devlin.)

Ed Shulman, of Seattle, took delivery of Moon River in March. She was splashed at Swantown Marina in Olympia, Wash. “Everything was done around the idea that the boat would be a single-handed kind of boat that has the capability of carrying more and becoming a full-fledged [dayboat],” Devlin says.

Moon River is a far cry from the small boats associated with the stitch-and-glue technique.

Devlin founded his business in 1979 and has built 426 custom boats from 7 to 65 feet. He has stitched together an eclectic fleet that includes the rowing dinghy Polliwog and the sailing dinghy Guppy; the Candlefish 16, a flat-bottomed skiff; the Scout 20, an outboard dual console with a Down East-style bow (with portholes); the Blue Blazer 25, a center console with a dual console’s enclosed bow and windshield; the Sockeye 45, a “West Coast tug-type yacht”; and the 65-foot Kitsap Transit passenger ferry. Sailboats include the 36-foot cruising yacht Peregrine, the 23-foot Arctic Tern sloop and the recently completed 28-foot Onyx sloop. He builds motorsailers, too, such as his Oysta series.

Powerboats account for about two-thirds of the boats he builds these days, and Devlin Designing Boat Builders completes about eight to 10 vessels a year. Design projects keep Devlin busy, too. He is designing a 54-foot Down East-style motoryacht (a Blue Fin 54) for a client in Russia, a 22-foot outboard-powered landing craft for an Alaskan customer, and a 32-foot sailboat for a builder in Korea — a “little cutter,” he says.

“Most of the large boats we’ve done have been in the passagemaker sort of market, and they’ve been slower displacement boats,” Devlin says. “Moon River is semidisplacement, so it’s a little faster and has plenty of horsepower. Typically, displacement boats don’t need much horsepower.”

Moon River packs 630 horses. The twin 315-hp John Deere diesels push her to a top speed of 23 knots. She gets 3 to 4 nmpg at cruising speeds. Her bow has a sharp entry and narrow forefoot that gives way to flatter sections in the after half, Devlin says. “It just does not react to punching its bow into waves,” he says. “There is a nice harmony between the right amount of sharpness to punch through the wave and maintain speed and not so fine that it dips too deep and water washes over the bow.”

Moon River likely will stick to coastal cruising because the owner wants to use her primarily as a dayboat for family outings, Devlin says. “It’s designed to be a medium-distance cruiser but also supposed to be — and I know this is important to the customer — a pre-eminent daysailer.”

An extension of the pilothouse top covers about two-thirds of the cockpit. A full galley takes up the starboard side inside the house, and the counter is large enough for two people to prepare food at the same time. Another counter and a settee are opposite the galley. Forward and to port is the U-shaped dining settee, with table. The helm sits on the starboard side, with the companionway separating it from the companion seat and console.

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Satellite communications, a FLIR thermo-imaging night vision camera and forward-scanning sonar highlight the $49,000 electronics package, which includes electronics displays and controls at the companion console opposite the helm.

Privacy is a priority on Moon River. “There’s full separation of the staterooms and two heads — one for the master and another for the guest stateroom that also functions as a day head,” Devlin says. A single berth anchors the master stateroom, and two single berths flank the guest cabin.

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“Sometimes we get lucky and can build a few boats to the same design, but for the most part all our projects are full-on custom builds,” says Devlin, who recently received a lifetime achievement award for yacht design and building from WoodenBoat magazine and the Wooden Boat Foundation. “We rarely do sister ships, and even if we build two boats of the same model, all our projects are custom. But stitch-and-glue has allowed me to do this.”


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LOA: 47 feet, 10 inches

BEAM: 13 feet, 8 inches

DRAFT: 3 feet, 4 inches

HULL TYPE: semidisplacement

DISPLACEMENT: 32,000 pounds

TANKAGE: 400 gallons fuel (two tanks), 200 gallons water, 80 gallons waste

POWER: twin 315-hp John Deere diesels

PRICE: $1.4 million

CONTACT: Devlin Designing Boat Builders, Tumwater, Wash.

Phone: (360) 866-0164


August 2013 issue