Posted on Leave a comment

The Isla del Mona Expedition

By Reuel Parker

The author’s first cruising sailboat, FISHERS HORNPIPE

On June 7th at 1830, we left Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, to continue our long beat eastward. Our destination was Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. That first night—perhaps you have noticed that we almost always began voyages at night—was a very rough beat in 20 knots of ESE wind. An hour out we blew the tack pennant on the genoa jib, and had to wrestle it down in the moonlight, then put up the yankee and the stays’l. We were carrying a lot of sail, driving the boat very hard, trying to make good time and close tacks. Early the next morning the wind eased off a little, and the sailing was gentler. We beat to windward for three days, having all kinds of wind from calms to squalls, and finally tied up to the Commercial Wharf at Mayaguez. The Mona Passage had lived up to its notorious reputation—rougher than shit and full of freak waves, unpredictable winds and dangerous currents.

The Mona Passage, between Hispaniola and Puerto Rico—a place of strong winds, powerful and often unpredictable currents, and rough seas. Boquerón, which we visited longest, is in the SW corner of Puerto Rico, just above Cabo Rojo.

The reasons for night departures are several: Often a passage is likely to be longer than twelve hours, making it impossible to enter a new, unknown harbor in daylight. Entering in darkness is manifestly risky—even if a harbor has well-marked channels with lighted buoys, the mariner simply cannot see all possible dangers. Also, port officials do not generally work at night, and in some countries, it is frowned upon, if not illegal, to enter a port without clearing in almost immediately. Finally, night winds, in much of the world, are gentler than day winds—hence seas may be smaller and gentler too.

We were all immediately intrigued with Puerto Rico. The people are proud of their reputation for hospitality, and they certainly proved it by us. Virtually everyone we met was kind, warm and generous. People seemed to always go out of their way to be helpful, and this was true of everyplace we went on the island. Quite a contrast to some of your New York City ‘Ricans! (I say this having had a knife to my throat, having been robbed, and having been beaten up because I couldn’t speak Spanish—all in New York.) What was also intriguing was knowing that we were Americans in America—sort of—and that Spanish was definitely the national language. I fell in love with Puerto Rico, and will always return there.

On the 12th we sailed down the coast to Bahia de Boquerón, and anchored off the village. We had wanted to visit quaint Puerto Real—but the harbor looked too narrow and shallow to me from sea, and I chickened out. Some of our cruising pals were at Boquerón—Satisfaction and Allonz-Y—and we soon made friends with the people on boats that were new to us.

Everyone was talking about Isla del Mona, in the middle of the Mona Passage between Hispaniola and Puerto Rico, and I wanted to go visit it. None of the other boats had dared attempt a visit—in addition to the rough, potentially dangerous passage, Mona has no real anchorage. The island, roughly seven miles in diameter and more or less round, consists primarily of steep, rocky cliffs. Only on the west side—usually the lee side in the easterly Trade Winds—is there a beach, protected by a small reef which forms a tiny basin. There is a single, narrow break in the reef, through which it is just possible to run a small vessel. Once inside, you must round up and anchor immediately, and there is only room for two or three small boats. If for some reason the wind shifts to the west—which it can do during storms—any vessels in this anchorage find themselves right on a lee shore, with virtually no protection from storm seas which sweep over the narrow reef and break across the basin. You can see why no-one goes there. So we had to!

As we talked about our proposed adventure in the anchorage and in the village, we soon found many others who wanted to go also, but had been afraid to. So we put together an expedition crew, which consisted of the following:

Fishers Hornpipe     Paul, Loretta, Stacy, Reuel

Satisfaction            Shawn, Cheryl (12-year-old twins)

Allonz-Y                 Irene

Nail Cakes             Jim

Blue Boat               Ross

Boquerón Village    Minerva

Ten people was quite a large crew for the Hornpipe—but the tropical weather was such that most of them would sleep on deck. If it rained, we had the settee in the great aft cabin, which could sleep three, and we could sleep six in our cabins, assuming people didn’t mind sharing berths. I admit that I wanted Minerva to share mine, but she wasn’t interested. I later learned why, possibly, when I met and became friends with her ex-boyfriend and father of her son. She was still working things out with him, it seemed. Or perhaps she just knew better than to get involved with a transient hippy sailor who would soon sail away. Finally, there is the distinct possibility that she was only interested in becoming friends with me, and nothing more. I asked her if she had any interest in cruising, and she replied that it just wasn’t something she wanted to do then, particularly with a six-year-old. 

I first saw Minerva sailing across the Bay (Boquerón is quite large) on her Sunfish in a 20-knot trade wind breeze. She was wearing a bikini, and was hiked way out to windward to hold the hull of her little boat flat to the water so it would plane. She was leaning way back over the water—so far that she could dip her head and long black hair into the sea. She was so alive and so beautiful and so totally a sailor that my heart jumped into my throat and thumped like hell. I was out sailing in Gandy Dancer, and though I tried, I couldn’t catch her.

On the 16th at 1915, we departed Boquerón with our crew of ten and sailed to Isla del Mona. The passage was rough in confused seas, and we rolled heavily running downwind wing and wing, although the winds were pretty light—around 10 knots. At 0340 we came right up on Mona—having never seen the tiny light on the cliffs—and had to jibe quickly to run north around the island. As we ran along the vertical gray cliffs that encircle most of the island, we could see, even in the dark, that they were riddled with caves. Above, there was verdant tropical vegetation pouring over the cliff tops. At 0640 we carefully entered the tiny basin and anchored. The view we saw with the rising sun was one of the most beautiful imaginable.

Isla del Mona (Puerto Rico). We anchored in Anclaje Sardinera, off the ranger station. The island is riddled with caves, giant Iguanas, and is a National Park. 

Since I had been up all night, I went below to my cabin to get some sleep. We had caught a fish on the way in, and someone was cleaning it on deck above my cabin, after which they dumped a bucket of salt water on the deck to rinse off. Fishers Hornpipe has portlights set into her hull just below her rubrails, and the one in my cabin was open to get some fresh air. I woke up with a shock, screaming bloody murder as several gallons of salt water, fish guts, blood, and scales came cascading all over my naked butt—to say nothing of my bed!

It took two trips in Gandy Dancer to ferry everyone ashore—though a couple of people swam in to the crescent white-sand beach. On shore we met the island’s Puerto Rican park-caretaker, who was fluent in English. Paul—a lifelong fan of iguanas—immediately wandered off in search of some. He quickly came back, holding his hands as far apart as they would go, looking a little dazed and muttering strange imprecations…. The park ranger started laughing—he knew Paul had seen a legendary giant iguana!

The ranger (only inhabitant of Isla del Mona) took us to see several of the famous caves. This time we remembered to bring flashlights! The caves were huge, amazing, and plentiful. Indeed, the whole island was riddled with caves, and we later heard of a legendary secret expedition in which some geology students from Puerto Rico had traversed the whole island underground through caves, having to accomplish large parts of the journey with scuba gear.

We took long walks in the jungle rainforest, and the plant and animal life were astounding. I felt as though I had stepped back in time a million years. I remember looking into a huge bromeliad, full of rain water, and seeing a tiny multi-colored frog the size of my little fingernail. I realized that each bromeliad contained its own miniature eco-system.

During all my travels to remote places in Fishers Hornpipe, I became more and more convinced that the most important challenge facing humanity is the preservation of the Natural Earth, of biodiversity, and of wilderness areas for their own sake. These feelings were not new—they were fundamental to everyone at Starhill—but they were growing ever more important, ever more urgent, in my mind and spirit. [They continue to do so.]

At 1805 we regretfully left Isla del Mona, and began the long night sail to windward back to Boquerón. Just as I started the Hornpipe’s diesel, the raw water pump died, spraying salt water all over everything in the engine compartment, and I had to shut it down. I explained to everyone that we had just become a “true” sailing vessel. We would have to leave this very tight spot under sail alone, and beat back ‘home.’ We raised the main, paid out the main sheet so we would be able to turn downwind to get out, and had crew ready to raise jib and stays’l the moment our anchor broke the surface. Which turned out to be a problem, as the anchor wouldn’t let go of the bottom! This time Paul was spared, as Shawn immediately jumped overboard. Not only did he free the anchor, but he also came up with a large “bug” (spiny crayfish), proclaiming excitedly “they’re all over the place down there!” We slipped the “bug” surreptitiously into a bucket and I told Shawn to leave the others in peace—we were, after all, in a park, and all wildlife was protected.

Once again in the Mona Passage, we had a rough ride in the intersecting cross-seas and swirling currents. But Jim took that bug below and made lobster crepes! He was a real trooper to cook under those conditions, and I wasn’t surprised when he hurried on deck and tossed his cookies. Jim was a commercial fisherman—you know it’s rough out when a commercial fisherman barfs! We tacked into 15 to 20 knot trade winds all night, and at dawn, as we approached Puerto Rico, the wind died. We were 20 miles from Boquerón, and we couldn’t get there! We would catch a puff and start sailing only to have the powerful currents carry us away. We tried different approaches—went back out in the Mona Passage and tried to find lasting wind. We tried to find less current. Nothing worked. It took us 15 hours to cover the last 20 miles! Finally, at 1820, we anchored off the village, and a very tired—but not unhappy—crew went home for a long sleep.

Loretta had a troublesome love affair in Puerto Rico, and ran out of money at about the same time. She left us to go work in San Juan, the capitol city on the north coast. She was gone, but not forgotten, and we got back together later, thousands of miles away.

Puerto Rico, Isla Culebra and Sondo Vieques. Isla Caja de Muertos, which Paul and I explored, is in the middle south coast. We cruised all but the north coast.

Paul and I had been eyeing a very beautiful 30’ sloop beached by one of the previous year’s hurricanes—and we were so reminded of Tony’s Malabar Jr. Imagine that we started planning how we might save her. The boat was rough, but structurally sound, as the storm surge had simply put her up on the beach unharmed. It turns out she had been the last boat built by an elderly master shipwright in Puerto Real, who had since died. The little sloop had been used as a commercial fisherman, and had a large diesel engine in her—and nothing else. After asking around town, we located her owner, who offered to give her to Paul if we would remove her diesel and return it to him. Someone else had taken her sails, and told us we could have them back. Another man who had a restaurant nearby told us we could restore her in his yard—for free—and that he would help us buy materials for the work. I made some drawings for converting and restoring the sloop as a pocket-cruiser, and Paul became very excited about having his own boat. Unfortunately, when he called his folks back in the states to ask for money to finance the project, they said absolutely not. We sadly had to thank everyone for their kindness, and leave this rare jewel to rot on the beach.

The new raw water pump for my diesel cost $130 to replace—and I was lucky to find one. We stayed a month in Boquerón, and became so comfortable there that it was difficult to leave. We even left one time, spent the night in La Parguera, and came back, as Paul became sick.

While in Parguera, we met up with a woman introduced to us earlier by Minerva, who was attending the oceanographic institute there. She gave me a guided tour of all the marine biology projects, and that night she took us to Bahia de Phosphoro—the most phosphorescent place on Earth—in her outboard-powered skiff. It was a dark night, with no moon, and I stayed on the bow watching the lightning flashes of fish darting out of our way. Then she anchored, and we all took our clothes off to swim. I will never forget the beautiful glowing image of her naked body as she dove into the crystal clear water.


Posted on Leave a comment


By Reuel B. Parker

The Commuter 325 PANTHER

Determined to downsize and hopefully simplify living on a boat, I decided to adapt one of my Commuter powerboats for my own use. I had to sell my 57-foot motorsailer PEREGRINE because I went broke completing her build. She was meant to be my ‘final solution’ – my retirement home. But she is a big boat, and in my 70s I found that she was more than I needed. Also, finding crew had become more and more difficult, particularly in the time of Covid 19 and its aftermath. After a year of trying, I finally sold her at a grave loss, but at least I sold her to the right man for her.

          In early 2022, I modified my Commuter 32 design for my personal needs. I lengthened her six inches, increased her beam and draft slightly, modified her galley, cockpit and helm, and added a modest pilothouse. I deepened her forefoot, adding more V to the bow sections, and added bilge keels (which had previously only been optional).

          I began construction that same winter, completing the basic structure in my shop in Fort Pierce, Florida. I had a custom trailer built, and when the Florida weather became unbearable, I towed the boat to my shop in Brooklin, Maine. There I installed her outboard, completed basic systems (electricity, batteries, refrigeration, plumbing, electronics, solar array, fixtures, through-hull fittings, ground tackle, etc). I made and upholstered cushions and mattresses, installed all windows, portlights and hatches, and finished all tanks. I primed and painted the hull, decks and house. I installed deck hardware, stern davits and rubrails. I painted her interior and started on her mahogany trim.

          Because PANTHER (as I named her) was now heavier, I hired professional truckers to tow her back to my Florida shop for completion. When I got there myself, I finished her interior, including many details which I hadn’t completed in Maine before it became too cold to continue working there.

          On December 21, 2022, I launched PANTHER at Riverside Marina, and moved her to a slip. I had never owned an outboard-powered boat anywhere near this size, and I admit there is definitely a learning curve to be mastered regarding maneuvering in tight spaces. Fortunately, I made it into my slip without any damage, but I was definitely shitting bricks!

PANTHER being launched at Riverside Marina – the author at right

On the 28th I took her on her first sea trial, beginning the process of perfecting running gear and finding the right propeller. I ultimately added spray rails forward (she already had rails aft), electric trim tabs, an aftermarket cavitation plate, and a transom wedge.

          Around this time, I took her on a real cruise – the circumnavigation of South Florida. I ran the Intracoastal Waterway down to Miami, greatly enjoying not having to stop and wait for bridges (there are over twenty-five of them!). I anchored in Lake Wyman (near Jupiter) that first night, and in Key Largo off Pumpkin Key the second night.

Miami from the water

On the third night I anchored behind Lower Matacumbe Key, off the Lorelei bar and restaurant, which had been a popular hangout for me when I lived on nearby Windley Cay in the mid-1980s. Because of notoriously poor holding, I dragged anchor all night, having to re-anchor in the dark, and then awakening before dawn to find myself in an altogether different place! I have always had great luck with Lewmar Delta Plow anchors, but the Danforth might have worked better in that situation. I was also carrying a large grapple, because Bahamian fishermen use them to anchor on slick sandstone.

The Lorelei, on Lower Matacumbe Key

I worked my way down through the Florida Keys, staying north of the islands until nearing Key West – then running south (outside) in the Hawk Channel, after Bahia Honda.

I took on fuel at Cudjoe Gardens Marina on Cudjoe Cay, which was tucked up a narrow, twisting channel I had trouble finding. Getting there, I crossed places where I had to tilt my motor up, and still churned my way through coral mud – very shallow!

Cudjoe Gardens Marina, on Cudjoe Key

Later that day, after getting lost briefly, I arrived at Safe Harbor Marina on Stock Island (just east of Key West), where I used to live many years ago. I rafted to SOUTHWIND, which my late boatbuilding partner Bill Smith had worked on previously. She is owned by my close friend Wayne Fox, who runs three schooners I designed as charter boats for Danger Charters. Right next to SOUTHWIND’s slip, my boatbuilding apprentice Chelsea Ragland was living with friends. We all had great visits – but after many fun days, I departed and anchored at Boca Chica Key, just north of a bridge for The Overseas Highway, which I was just able to squeak under. I had wanted to continue north, but felt that conditions (wind and seas) were a little too rough.

PANTHER, like many powerboats, ‘searches’ wildly at anchor, veering back and forth in strong wind and current, and jerking hard at her anchor. I tried rigging a bridle, which didn’t help, and eventually ended up using two anchors set as far apart as possible to ameliorate the problem. I also found that paying out more scope — until all the chain was out and the nylon rode was on the bow roller — helped immensely to reduce the jerking.

I cruised up through Florida Bay, weaving among beautiful tiny keys through numerous shallow channels, to Cape Sable and the west coast of Florida. Later that day I reached the Everglades. I had never been to there before, and after seeing just a little of them, realized it would take much more time to really appreciate the wild beauty of the intricate bays, rivers, estuaries and channels. That first night, I anchored in First Bay, at the entrance to Lost Man’s River.

Rare white pelicans, in The Everglades

The Everglades – Lost Man’s River

The Everglades – Lost Man’s River

          Continuing on my way north, I stopped at Hamilton Harbor for gas. I was continuously shocked by gas prices at South Florida fuel docks, which ran as high as $6.15/gallon. On Jan 31st I anchored in Iona Cove, near Fort Myers, and entered the Okeechobee Canal the next morning. Crossing Florida via Lake Okeechobee was an adventure, as I had to pass through three locks getting to it, each raising PANTHER progressively higher, to reach the lake, at 18 feet above sea level.

An anchored sailboat completely surrounded by huge lily pads in the Okeechobee Canal

          I anchored the next night off Moore Haven, in the west edge of the Lake. I anchored and backed up to tie PANTHER’s stern to a piling, off to the side of a very narrow channel surrounded by miles of freshwater plants growing in shallow mud. On the lake shore was a small boatyard by Alvin Ward Park.

My anchorage on the west edge of Lake Okeechobee

I crossed Lake Okeechobee through miles of fresh water and lily pads to reach the canal opposite, descending to the Saint Lucie River. Lake Okeechobee is the third largest natural lake in the U.S, covering 448,000 acres (730 square miles), with an average depth of eight to nine feet. The Lake is 45 miles in diameter with 135 miles of shoreline. There are protected canals around parts of the Lake’s perimeter, which I didn’t use, as the weather was calm. In the middle of the lake, I was out of sight of land.

Starting across Lake Okeechobee

I rode down three more locks that day, having a couple of long waits for maintenance. At Port Macaya Lock they were cleaning manatee sensors, and the Indiantown Railroad Bridge was temporarily closed for repairs. I stopped for an hour at River Marina for a visit with my friend David Halladay (Boatsmith) in Stuart. That night I anchored in beautiful Peck Lake, a nature preserve, before returning to Riverside.

          Engine running time for the trip was about 750 hours, for a cruise of over 700 miles. Total fuel consumed was about 180 gallons, at a cost of nearly $950. I was learning that cruising in a small outboard-powered cabin cruiser is an expensive mode of travel. Nevertheless, the journey was unique for me, with many new sights (as well as familiar ones), and some special visits with dear friends. It was a great adventure!

July 2, 2023 – Reuel B. Parker

Posted on Leave a comment

The Shoal Draft Alternative


By Reuel B. Parker

The author’s first designed and built shoal-draft cruiser—The Exuma 44 TERESA beached at Paradise Island, Bahamas in 1986

I began designing shoal-draft cruising sailboats in 1983, specializing cold-molded wood/epoxy construction, and I have consequently designed more than fifty over twenty-one feet in length. Of these I have built twelve, and been involved in the construction of another five. The first of these was the Exuma 52 SARAH, which I built in Fort Pierce, Florida, in 1984, for the Polvere family. From the hundreds of plans I have sold for big cruising boats, dozens have been built, varying in length from 21-feet to 75-feet. For shoal draft boats under 21-feet, hundreds have been built all over the world. Most of these are sharpies, plus a number of scows, periaguas, Sea Bright skiffs, prams, garvies, and dories. 

My first cruising sailboat was a heavy-displacement deep-keel cutter. I built her on a California beach in the mid-1970s, and sailed her some 35,000 miles to twenty foreign countries in the Pacific, Caribbean and Atlantic oceans. When I sailed to south Florida in late 1980, I was very tired of running aground, and ran aground more than ever cruising the east coast, the Bahamas and the eastern Caribbean. I decided to try shoal draft for my next boat, and I never looked back. 

FISHERS HORNPIPE, the author’s first cruising sailboat, demonstrating the woes of deep draft at Norman’s Cay, Bahamas, in 1982; 

She was destroyed by Hurricane Maria at Isla Vieques, Puerto Rico, in 2007 

My first personal shoal draft cruiser was the 44-foot cat schooner TERESA. I built her in cold-molded wood/epoxy, in Islamorada, Florida Keys. She was absolute simplicity, and I lived aboard and sailed her extensively for several years before selling her. She was fast, weatherly, dry—and had a draft of 2’ 8” board-up and 6’ 1” board down. With her free-standing masts and cat schooner rig, and only two working sails (plus a light-air “kite”), she was easy to sail single-handed, and is the only boat I have ever owned that steered herself downwind. By letting the sails out forward of the beam, whichever sail caught more wind pushed her back on course. On a trip during a norther—returning to Florida from the Bahamas—TERESA steered herself in 25 knot winds and 6- 8-foot seas, making an average speed of 10.4 knots against the Gulf Stream.

I cruised the Bahamas in TERESA twice—in the winter season of 1985/86 and in April/May of 1987. I discovered that with her draft of 2’ 8” she could navigate mangrove creeks, small-boat channels, and cross sand bars that were dry at low tide. Running aground was no problem because she remained upright. I often beached her using the centerboard to hold her in place while we went exploring. The degree of freedom and safety this gave me was nearly a religious experience. 

The cat schooner TERESA sailing wing and wing on the Bahama Banks

TERESA had two Yamaha 9.9 horsepower four-stroke outboards in wells for power, and when they were tilted up, she had plugs for the hull which made her counter stern completely fair. With nothing dragging in the water, her speed under sail was phenomenal. With the outboards she cruised under power at 8.5 knots, and we tended to pass everything we encountered in the Intracoastal Waterway. People were shocked to learn that she was powered by small outboards. I sold her in May of 1988, and she was destroyed in 2019 by hurricane Dorian at Man’O’War Cay, Bahamas. 

Cruising the northern Bahamas, I discovered that TERESA could run through the inside passage for the infamous Abaco Rage, saving having to go to sea to round Whale Cay in rough conditions. Sailboats with even 5-feet draft cannot do this, and must either wait for fair weather or beat to windward in powerful Tradewinds and large seas. All my subsequent shoal draft cruisers were able to repeat this remarkable feat. 

The author’s pilot schooner LEOPARD effortlessly making 12-knots on the Bahama Banks

My next shoal-draft cruiser was the 61-foot (75-foot LOA) Virginia Pilot Schooner LEOPARD. She was to be the epitome of cruisers for me—I intended to sail her back to the Pacific—but in early 1998 I was diagnosed with stage four cancer, and had to give her up. Her draft was 4’ 0” board up, and 10’ 6” board down. She was very powerful, very fast, and was also surprisingly weatherly. She was all the proof I needed that shoal-draft cruisers could do anything I could possibly want a sailboat to do. She routinely sailed at 11- and 12-knots, and even hit 15-knots GPS a couple of times. She won the Chesapeake Bay Great Schooner race in 1994. To prove her seaworthiness, I took her out into the North Atlantic in a full gale with stays’l and double-reefed fores’l and mains’l, and drove her to windward in 8- to 10-foot seas. She ran fast and dry until we punched into a large, breaking freak wave above a sea mount—but by then she had already proven herself to me. 

I sailed LEOPARD to the Bahamas in 1995, ’96, and ’98. She survived Hurricane Georges in her slip in Key West while I was undergoing radiation treatment for cancer in Maine. My third cruising sailboat, IMAGINE, which I had sold, was destroyed in that storm. (She was a 1926 Alden Malabar Junior sloop, which I had restored—see “A Story of Priorities” WB #65.) 

Taking LEOPARD through the very shallow South Bight of Andros in 1996;

Crew from left to right are Amy McGee, Scotty Folger and Christine Parrish

During LEOPARD’S first trip to the Bahamas, I navigated the South Bight of Andros for the first time, and was impressed by how unique an experience it was. The Bights of Andros are estuarine channels that completely cross the largest island in the Bahamas. The Bights are over 25 miles long, very shallow, and require playing the tides carefully. It was during my first few passages through South Bight that I determined four feet was the absolute maximum draft for a versatile cruising boat. Andros has the world’s third longest barrier reef, but exploring it from inside requires a draft of considerably less than four feet. LEOPARD could not do it. 

The author’s third shoal-draft cruiser T’IEN HOU on the Maine coast

(Photo by Tom Lokocz Adams)

When it became evident that I was going to survive cancer, I designed and built a 52-foot cruiser (65-feet LOA), with a retracting wing keel. T’IEN HOU was by far the most comfortable home I have ever had—on land or on sea. I originally designed and built her as a three-masted junk-rigged “lorcha,” but when I figured out that I was neither Chinese nor Portuguese, I converted her to a ketch, with twin heads’ls, gaff main and sprit mizzen. She was dry and weatherly, and performed very well in everything from light air (being easily driven) to gales at sea. Her hull design was based on the large Sea Bright Skiff models of the early 20th-century. 

The retracting wing keel was a design experiment that worked incredibly well, but lacked the important quality of a centerboard to be pushed into its trunk when running aground. The wing keel was made from welded steel with lead ballast inside, and weighed 3,500 lbs. It increased draft from 3’ 2” to 5’ 1”—which was much more effective than one would expect because of the delta wing. With the keel deployed, weatherly ability was excellent, and when retracted the keel lay flush to the underside of the wide box keel. Both the fin and delta wing were designed to NACA 0009 foil shapes, with the delta wing “upside down” to pull to windward when heeled. 

T’IEN HOU’S retracting inverted wing keel

Twin ATV winches on deck to raise the wing keel;

The device between them is a Dorade ventilator/skylight

I sailed T’IEN HOU to the Bahamas in 2002, ’03, ’04 and ’05, as well as to Maine and back several times. I explored the North and Middle Bights of Andros for the first time, and have used these beautiful estuaries many times since to access the southern Exuma chain of islands and beyond. I sold T’IEN HOU in February of 2007, and her new owner has sailed her extensively in the Caribbean. 

The author’s forth shoal draft cruiser, IBIS, in Joe’s Sound, Long Island, Bahamas

Because boatyards and marinas on the American coasts are gradually disappearing (being turned into condominiums), I decided to design some shoal draft cruisers—both sail and power—that could be trailered on generic 3-axle 15,000 lb capacity trailers. These would have a maximum beam of ten-feet, and a maximum “dry” displacement of 14,000 lbs. I decided to build one on speculation, to promote the concept, in 2007. The result was a 45-foot (53’ LOA) sharpie schooner based on the Straits of Juan de Fuca halibut fishermen of the late 1800s. IBIS is a true flat-bottomed sharpie, strongly built of marine plywood, epoxy and Xynole fabric, with a hollow box keel filled with lead. Her draft is 2’ 6” board up, and 7’ 10” board down. She is self-righting and a stiff sailor, with single-halyard gaffs for simplicity. Her masts are in tabernacles to facilitate trailering and exploring inland waters. I designed and built a new type of centerboard for her, on the principal that it would be ballasted and function as a fin-keel when fully deployed. I built it from steel, filled with lead and polyester resin, for a finished weight of 1,350 lbs. It required an electric winch to raise it, and it had a unique shape to facilitate its ability to function as a vertical fin keel. 

The centerboard required that a substantial part of it remain inside the trunk for lateral strength. The design exceeded my expectations during sail trials, and I have since designed several new versions based on the same principals, including several made from marine plywood instead of metal. I eventually redesigned the underwater shape such that it would have a true foil shape in any cross-section, regardless of how far it was deployed.  

The Sharpie 45SJI IBIS by the author showing her ballasted fin-keel/centerboard

I sailed IBIS to the Bahamas in 2010, ’11, ’12, and ’16, and was happy to learn that a modernized 19th-century fishing sharpie was well suited for cruising both in shoal water and the open ocean. In 2015 I scrapped IBIS’ steel centerboard and replaced it with a modified plywood one, somewhat lighter and with a more versatile shape. 

With a draft of 2’ 6” I felt I had finally reached the minimum draft practical for a cruising sailboat large enough to live aboard, make ocean passages, and shallow enough to go places few other boats could go. During those four cruises in the Bahamas, we encountered plenty of rough conditions in the winter Tradewinds—and in crossing the Gulf Stream eight times. IBIS could motor-sail to windward under jib and reefed mains’l, punching into 6- to 8-foot seas and 25- to 30-knot winds. And yes, she does pound pretty hard in those conditions, but it soon became evident that she could withstand more abuse than I could! 

A second-generation centerboard/fin-keel for IBIS made from lead-ballasted marine plywood

I sold IBIS to a family in North Carolina in 2016, and took them sailing in the Bahamas to teach them what she could do. With my first mate Rebecca McCleary, we sailed to many beautiful and remote places, and caught lots of fish trolling with Cuban “Yo-yo” reels and lures. IBIS was inexpensive and simple to build, and an absolute delight to sail. 

   Left: first mate Becky with a black fin tuna   Right: The author with a dolphin

In late 2016 I began construction on what I was certain would be my last big cruising sailboat. I sold my house in Maine to finance the build, and it took longer and cost much more than I anticipated. I chose a deadrise hullform (V-bottom) inspired by Chesapeake Bay “Buy Boats”—and by the designs of Long Islander Thomas Clapham in the late-1800s. The most famous of these is the “Roslyn Yawl” MINOCQUA, which inspired Thomas Day—founder of The Rudder magazine—to have designed and built his famous SEA BIRD yawl, which he sailed across the Atlantic in 1911. Above the water, PEREGRINE’s topsides are inspired by the beautiful Maine coast sardine carriers—and by the rig designs of L. Francis Herreshoff. 

I designed my hull to be long, narrow and shoal—53’ on deck (57’ LOA), 11’ 6” beam and 2’ 6” draft, board up. I built her in cold-molded marine plywood, covered with Xynole fabric and epoxy. It took 3,500 hours to build her, and she went $30,000 over budget—wiping me out financially. 

The author’s fifth shoal-draft cruising sailboat PEREGRINE on her mooring in Brooklin, Maine, in the summer of 2019

After sailing PEREGRINE to Maine and back in 2019, I decided that her draft was too extreme at 2’ 6”. I therefore designed and built a second keel—a shallow, low-aspect-ratio fin—to be retrofitted beneath her traditional “drag” box keel. I transferred some of my inside ballast into the fin, which I called a “torpedo keel” because that’s what it looked like, and I added another 2,000 lbs of lead, plus concrete and polyester resin to eliminate voids. 

PEREGRINE’S “torpedo keel”, which added ballast and greatly improved stability and sail-carrying ability

PEREGRINE has a big traditional centerboard—12-feet long by 3-feet high weighing 800 lbs. It is built of marine plywood over a core framework of Wolmanized pine, and filled with lead, kiln-dried sand, and polyester resin. With the new “torpedo keel,” the centerboard was shifted down 11-inches, making it even more effective, and increasing draft in the down position to 7’ 6”. The board has a NACA 0009 foil shape below the keel, and is rectangular in shape inside the trunk. It is raised by conventional block and tackle, and is a very simple and effective device. With her Marconi ketch rig and fully-battened sails, PEREGRINE is very weatherly for a motorsailer. 

I sailed PEREGRINE to the Bahamas in March and April of 2020. We were literally the last boat to enter the Bahamas at Bimini on March 17, as the whole country went into lockdown at 0500 the next morning. Because we were concerned about entering the Bahamas at all, we crossed the Gulf Stream in 15- 20-knot easterly winds with six-foot-plus seas. The ride was a little rough and wet, but neither difficult nor uncomfortable for PEREGRINE. We motorsailed under stays’l and mizzen, running the big Yanmar 4JH110 at 2,200 rpm to maintain a speed of 8.5 knots, very close hauled. The crossing took about seven hours, and we anchored off the dinghy dock just north of the Bimini Big Game club in four feet of water—out of the tidal currents. 

We crossed the Banks to Andros on the 18th, and navigated North and Middle Bights, which I had been doing since 2003 in T’IEN HOU, and later in IBIS. From there we had a somewhat dysfunctional cruise because of the Coronavirus, but still enjoyed ourselves. We sailed PEREGRINE in all kinds of weather, including a couple of pretty disagreeable northers, and I concluded that she was an excellent shoal draft cruising home—adept at both gunkholing and ocean passage-making. 

PEREGRINE in the Bahamas in early 2020

*   *   *   *   *Reuel Parker is a yacht designer, boatbuilder, photographer and author of books and magazine articles on maritime subjects (design, construction, sailing and history). He is a lifelong cruising sailor, and currently lives aboard PANTHER, his first personal cruising powerboat. He lives in Maine, South Florida and the Bahamas, and sails further as time and tide permit. You can see his designs at He regularly writes for WoodenBoat Magazine and Professional Boatbuilder Magazine, and has had articles in several others.