This project was a bit of a mad whirlwind of activity, with a ridiculously short, self-imposed deadline. Only two years ago I fully refurbished my CLC Skerry, and it was my only functional boat. The plan was to use it all summer, working on my PT day trips project. Instead, I ended up rebuilding it from the hull up, working nearly every day for two and a half months. So much for getting out on the water.
Why the about-face? With the pandemic, I figured there was no way that the Salish 100 or many of the other fun group small boat events would be happening, that I would normally want to attend. But things started to open up, and events were happening. And there was no way I was going to miss the Salish 100 for a third time (but I did). For the first Salish 100, in 2019, I had just returned from Indonesia and came down with a travel bug. We all know what happened in 2020. So I needed a boat to cruise on for a week in 2021. I could have got my Lavro dory going, but would way rather do the trip in a little sail/oar boat.
I considered buying a larger sailboat. In fact I did buy a boat for the 2020 Salish 100, a 20′ Wilce Yawl, which I sold after the event was canceled. Too many boats. If an Iain Oughtred double ender, or a Ross Lillistone Phoenix III, popped up on the market, I might have bought one. But then again, I have been designing a boat that I want to build, as a future small sailboat cruiser. So no more buying boats!
That leaves the boat I own, the CLC Skerry. Great day boat, not a great cruising boat if you need to sleep on board, which was a requirement for this year’s Salish 100, and a very useful feature for other little cruises. For a long time I have thought about what it would take to convert it into a micro cruiser, and finally came up with a plan I liked. I tested some of the ideas on the water, with clamped in boards and blocks, and it seemed like it would work. So what the hell. I quickly finished building my workshop and got to it. The goal was to get it all done in six weeks, which would leave me a month to do some shakedown cruises before the Salish 100. Predictably that did not happen. I slaved away until nearly the last minute, and nearly made it. But I would have had to show up with a completely unwetted new design, other than the wet paint. And I would have started the event completely exhausted. So I bailed out on the event, again.
No matter. Just a week later there is another event I will use the boat on, the three day Palooza Crooza, and many other events in the future.
Note: These modifications are all my own design, not approved beforehand by John at CLC, the designer of the boat, and completely unnecessary for the fun use of a Skerry for what it was designed for. The stock Skerry design is a work of art, doing what it needs to do well, with the least amount of materials and weight, in a very attractive way. It is a bloody shame to mess with it (sorry John). So I was not trying to fix any issues with its intended purpose. I was adapting it to do something it was not designed for, for my specific uses and personal quirks, and even my specific body.
But I am also proud to note that John really likes my modifications:
“I endorse your thoughtful design mods without reservation. I’ve seen a lot of modified Skerries, including some that made my eyes roll, but your retrofits are practical and well executed.” – John C. Harris
What I Did & Why
I had lots of experience in the stock boat with a balanced lug rig, often covering a good bit of distance, spending up to eight hours in the boat at a time. And that experience gave me a list of things I wanted to change to make it more comfortable for my 50 year old body, and possibly safer for multi-day cruising in our very cold waters.
Skerry Mod #1 – Sleeping Aboard
As mentioned, the Skerry is a fantastic design, just about perfect as it is. But it is not a boat designed to sleep on. The initial stability is very tender. If you throw some boards between the thwarts to try and sleep across them at anchor, and a good sized wake comes along and rolls you over to the side, you will likely dunk a rail, and are going to get wet real fast. It could be a life threatening situation if you are stuck in your sleeping bag, under a boom tent. I was going to do it on the first Salish 100, but I had a plan to make it safer by strapping beach rollers on each side of my sleeping platform, which prevented me from rolling to the side. It would have worked in a pinch, and the rollers were strapped in forward as added buoyancy when sailing.
Skerry Sleeping Solution
The ideal place to sleep on a Skerry at anchor would be on the floor, so your weight is low in the boat, both for comfort and safety. But you can’t, because the daggerboard and main thwart is in the way. The inspiration for my solution was John Welsford’s Walkabout, which has the daggerboard off center, with a removable rowing thwart. Then the entire center of the boat is open. The new SCA Scout dinghy uses a similar idea, as well as the CLC Jimmy Skiff II. So that is what I decided to do, and I made a new NACA profiled daggerboard to match, since I had to make a new case.
I was tempted to build full length side benches that were sealed, with access hatches, like the boats above, but after careful thought decided not. As mentioned, the Skerry is very tender initially. Only when under sail, in a good bit of wind, can you sit with your back against the hull side. All other times your weight needs to remain in the center of the boat. So most of the time, sitting on side benches will not work. Plus they would have been so small to be nearly worthless for storage, with tiny hatches. Strapping in larger dry bags works better for gear.
Instead I decided to build two relatively small sealed boxes on each side of the boat, that support the daggerboard box, and a removable thwart rowing seat between. The boxes also provide necessary structural support for the hull. Additionally they add buoyancy in case of a capsize, and very accessible dry storage. Although they look like side benches, they would rarely be used that way.
Removing the central bulkhead in the boat was unnerving. It is pretty essential, structurally. But my new side boxes serve a similar role, and I added some more fiberglass to the floor between to stiffen it. The big full height bulkheads are closer together than the original seats, the mini-bulkhead adds structural stiffness to the hull, and the side decks, coamings, and hanging knees really stiffen up the structure. So feel like I have not weakened the boat.
Skerry Mod #2 – Tenting A Small Tender Boat
If you are sleeping on the floor, you really can’t have rain dumping into the boat. Raised floorboards are not really an option on this lightweight boat. So to keep dry you would have to tent the entire hull, which for a couple of reasons is not realistic. To even attach a tent up over the bow while at anchor would be precarious. When the mast is up, you can’t get past it to go forward, or you will end up in the drink. There is just not enough waterline beam up in the forward sections of the hull to support that much off centered weight. And yes, you want the mast up, and the daggerboard down at anchor, to help keep the boat from rolling quickly. If you mange to tent the entire boat you might end up with something that presents too much windage for this little tender boat. The idea of a big tent on this boat freaks me out.
Skerry Tent Solution
In my mind, the only safe tent for a Skerry will be very small, very low, and with the tallest area in the aft, to keep the boat pointed into the wind at anchor.
To achieve that you have to reduce how much area of the boat needs to be tented, by adding end decks. Combine that with narrow side decks, and a cockpit coaming and your tent only needs to be a bit longer than your bed length.
The tent design I have come up with is essentially a one person bivy, that allows me to sit upright in the stern, but is otherwise as low as possible. I am actually a little proud of this design because it uses the boom/yard/sail, in its normal position, with all lines left attached. The sail and yard is wrapped up tight with the boom. The halyard is moved to the back of the boom, and lifted up to the desired rear tent height. The front of the boom sits on the deck, with a neoprene boot to protect the deck, secured to the forward cleat. The tent is hung under the boom, and attached to the outside of the coaming. The oars stay on the outside of the cockpit coaming and tent in their oarlocks, always ready to go.
I did finally get the tent done, and managed to test it out in the San Juan Islands for a couple of nights. It worked great. It is made of a single walled Weathermax LT fabric (similar to Sunbrealla, but lighter weight). It is all quick to setup and quicker to strike, and I can be manning the oars or raising sail fast.
The design changed a little in the stern. And I ended up adding a 22″ batten inside at the top, made out of G10 fiberglass, to give a little more headroom.
Why not throw it over the boom? I am not fond of wet sails dripping on my sleeping area, and it is more difficult to build a weather resistant tent over the boom.
Skerry Mod #3 – Room For Everything
If you have seen a Skerry that is used for camping, they are packed to the gills with junk. Sure, you can put stuff in dry bags, and strap it all down. But it is cramped, and lots of stuff needs to go up on the front and rear seats, which is not an ideal place for weight.
Skerry Gear Storage Solution
To use this boat for cruising you need to develop a backpacking/kayaking mentality. Go very lightweight and minimal with your gear. That is the first solution.
The second solution is already mostly solved. The new raised decks have big waterproof access hatches on the vertical bulkheads, that can be accessed inside the boat. The rear bulkhead was moved forward about a foot from its original position, to increase storage area, and to reduce open hull volume. Those big bow and stern tanks can now be used to stow big dry bags of lightweight items, like sleeping bags, sleeping pad, drysuit, boat tent, clothing bags, etc. There are strap points inside the tanks to prevent the gear from rolling around when sailing or in a capsize.
That frees up a lot of space in the boat, and all the heavy stuff can be kept toward the center of the boat, like water, and food, and safety gear. Some items will be in the waterproof thwart side boxes. Others will be strapped in forward of those on each side in dry bags, keeping the center free to move forward, and for sleeping.
Note: I later made another modification to improve my gear storage that you can read about here.
Skerry Mod #4 – Capsize Recovery
The Skerry is a very good little boat that can handle some fairly choppy waters. It has a lot of reserve buoyancy in its highly flared hull and overhangs. But if it were to capsize, with a bit of gear weight in it, in rough water, I feel the chances of self-recovery are not great. I have never capsized it, so this is mostly speculation. I did have beach rollers strapped in for increased buoyancy before. My local waters are dang cold though, so I wanted the boat to have a better chance of recovery if it happens.
Skerry Capsize Recovery Solution
Most of this is improved by the end decks that are sealed tanks. Volume up high in end tanks is generally considered the best place for buoyancy in a boat like this. Narrow side decks and the cockpit coaming will also effectively increase the boat’s freeboard. The watertight thwart boxes will also add buoyancy in case of capsize. As tempting as it seems to enclose more of the space with watertight benches, it is better not to have the boat floating too high on its side in a capsize. If it floats high it can very quickly be blown away from you. And a high floating boat is more prone to turning completely upside down (turtle). The amount of buoyancy I incorporated is my best guess at what is needed to float it on her side, with the mast at the water level. My carbon spars are also sealed so that they float, decreasing the chance of the boat going turtle. Only capsize testing will tell how all of this works out, which I plan to do later this summer.
Skerry Mod #5 – Comfortable Seating
As mentioned, unless there is a bit of wind, your weight stays in the center of the boat. Winds in my area are fickle and often light. That means a lot of the time sailing you can’t lean your weight fully against the hull side, even though I have a bigger rig than the stock one. And I have not found that when alone I am happy sitting on the back seat, because it throws the boat out of balance. So I ended up doing a lot of kneeling on the floor of the boat, which kills the knees after more than a few hours. I considered and tried all seating options. Even with a full head of wind this is not a boat I ever feel comfortable hiking out on, with my butt up on a rail. One lapse in judgment, a lull in the wind, and it would capsize. I feel you need to stay inside the hull, preferably with your butt on the floor.
I installed some low side sailing seats, for when there is wind, to get my butt off the floor some, which helps my knees and back. They are as narrow as possible, so that when I am sitting opposite, I can still brace my feet against the hull.
And my removable rowing thwart is also a stool that doubles as seating in the rear center of the boat, for sailing in lighter winds. The coaming is angled for nice back support, and the rear bulkhead is also comfortable to lean against. Finally, in light winds, going downwind or at anchor, I can sit up on the center of the rear deck.
To put all of this seating in the right spot, and to reduce un-decked area to a minimum, the rear bulkhead position was moved forward about a foot. It is also placed perfectly for foot support when rowing, at least for my height.
Other Necessary Mods
The stock Skerry has a kick-up rudder, with a push pull tiller. When I rebuilt the boat I ditched it, and built a fixed rudder with a standard tiller. But that would not work with the long end decks. I will not be able to easily get at the stern for removing the rudder on the water, and for longer cruises I want the security of the rudder automatically kicking up if I hit something.
So I converted my rudder back into a kick-up rudder, and I went back to a push pull tiller handle. I have also realized that since you spend most of your time in the center of the boat, a standard tiller is not as functional as the push pull style. As part of the new rudder I integrated an auto-releasing downhaul cleat, in case of impact. Although the daggerboard would likely hit first, and it does not kick up.
Lengthening The Mast & Stiffening It
When I refurbished the boat two years ago I built a really nice rig for the boat, with all carbon spars, and a balanced lug sail, with design help from Michael Storer, and his company Really Simple Sails. We kept the rig nice and low, for sitting on the floor of the boat when sailing. That works fine for day sailing. But as mentioned, for longer cruises, I need to get my butt and knees off the floor a bit. Which means the sail is then too low to see under very easily. And when anyone else is sitting forward in the boat while sailing, it was much too low for them.
It needed to be raised up 6-8″. Most Skerrys have their booms much higher than mine, so the slightly raised center of effort will not make a dramatic difference. The mast was also a bit too flexible. Fortunately the raised decks give an additional 10″ of holding leverage on the mast, which will help with the flexibility issues somewhat.
That presents the challenge of how to lengthen my carbon fiber mast. And while I am at it, why not try and make it stiffer. It is made from one of the stiffest sailboard masts, cut down to 11′. After considering all options, and talking to a couple of composite expert friends, I purchased a slightly larger diameter carbon tube, that was four feet long. The existing tapered mast fits nearly perfectly down into the new un-tapered tube, with an 8″ overlap. It is epoxied together, with more carbon fiber wrapping the top, and some fairing to make it look decent. I then cut off a number of feet from the smaller diameter top, glued in a loop of dyneema for a halyard attachment, and put a cap on it. It appears on the first sail tests to work perfectly, and the rig seems stiffer.
Anchor & Line Storage Mini Bulkhead
I copied a featured found on Ross Lillitstone’s Phoneix III boat, which is a low mini-bulkhead, just behind the forward deck, that helps contain anchor gear. Between it and the rear bulkhead I have exactly the right amount of room to lay down on the floor for my height. I realized later it also may help when in the tent in the rain. It will be nearly impossible to get a water tight seal around the mast and lines. But that water will collect in the mini bulkhead area. So if I plug the drain holes in the bulkhead, it should keep me dry until morning.
How Does It Compare To The Skerry “Raid” Expedition?
It is not lost to me that all of these changes make the boat similar to a Skerry Expedition, which is not surprising given that John Harris at CLC designed the Expedition for John Guider’s long journey in it.
There are some differences though. The Expedition is not just a decked Skerry. It is a completely different design, with 6″ more beam. That extra beam would be very nice to have. It also has a centerboard.
The biggest difference is the off-center daggerboard in my boat, allowing comfortable sleeping on the center floor of the boat, and easier movement within the boat. I know John Guider spent many nights sleeping aboard his Expedition. But I think the original design was not really focused on that, as he had planned on sleeping on shore most nights.
The other big difference, at least in my mind, is the access hatches to the bow and stern tanks. Mine are accessible from within the boat. Although I have to open up the bow hatch before raising the tent, because it requires pulling the mast away first. On my boat, having a bow hatch on the deck like the Expedition would not be fun to access with the mast up, or with a tent up.
My boat uses a cockpit coaming, angled for back support, that the Expedition does not have. Mostly I wanted that to wrap a tent around. The coaming is more difficult to build. And the side tanks add a little more buoyancy and dry storage.
Also, the mast step is within the cockpit, making it so you don’t have to lift the mast and reach forward with it to put it in its hole, like on the Expedition. That was already sometimes challenging on my Skerry when on the water, and with the top support being 10 inches higher, this seemed easier. I much prefer to row with my mast down, so I often take it down on the water, which is very easy, with its low weight.
What Is Lost
Boats are all compromises. And my changes made it so that you really can’t have three people in the boat while rowing, which works well on the stock boat. Not a big deal to me personally, as I mostly am solo, and only occasionally have another person aboard. I have a second rowing position for rowing with another person aboard that I think will work fine.
Two years ago I had carefully designed the rig so that it could fully lay down on the seats beside me when rowing. That was great. It would not be possible with the new decks and longer mast.
Taking the sail down is easier in an open boat when there is wind, because it all drops down into the boat and is somewhat contained. Controlling the sail in wind is more difficult up on the decks. For when it is taken down for rowing now, the rig has to be stuck in low at the stern, and the rest sticks up forward above the deck. It works fine, but does present windage forward.
You may think that moving the daggerboard 10″ off center would hurt its performance, but that is not the case. There is no noticeable sailing performance loss. And in fact, I built a slightly higher aspect blade (longer and narrower), with a NACA profile, which seems to have improved performance.
Am I Happy With It? A Completely Open Center Is A Revelation!
Before deciding on these modifications, I spent a lot of time sailing and rowing the boat, and evaluating how it performed, and the space I occupied. And in this boat, the center is home base. When alone, you really cannot and do not use the ends of the boat. A 7 foot long by 20 inch wide area, from the mast base, back to about a foot from the rear thwart, is where you live. Even being a little off center lists the boat enough that it makes you want to center yourself. So when at anchor, or rowing, or sleeping, or preparing food, you are in the center. In that sense, moving the daggerboard to the side is, I humbly suggest, a brilliant modification to this design. It greatly frees up the space you have to live in, and also allows you to keep nice and low when you have to move forward with sail up. And decking in all of that area that you don’t live in also makes sense for my purpose.
You might think sailing with two people would not be as good with the new modifications. But I think it will actually be improved a good bit. With the daggerboard moved over, a guest can sit in a camp chair on the center line, facing forward, which is more comfortable than the stock option which was cramped and difficult to switch sides in when tacking, at least at our age.
You may also think I added a lot of weight to the boat, but I think it only gained around 20 pounds. My wife and I can still easily lift it. The hatches add a bit of weight, but the decks are thinner plywood than the previous seats, and I kept the other structures minimal. So it is still a very lightweight boat that can use some ballast when sailed alone.
Read about my first three day cruise in the boat here. And check back for an article about that details the build process and materials used.
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