Several years ago it occurred to me that there was a substantial hole in the range of multihulls available to microcruisers– those who go cruising in tiny boats.
Most microcruisers choose small monohulls. I’m a great admirer of the kind of small open cruising boat exemplified by the designs of John Welsford, Iain Oughtred, and others. These little boats base their looks on the sort of lovely old wooden workboats that strike many of us as intrinsically beautiful, but their underwater forms are modern, as are their construction methods. These boats have become wildly popular among those who want to go cruising in tiny open boats, along with the simpler and sometimes more visually eccentric designs of Phil Bolger and Jim Michalak.
As to why anyone would want to go cruising in an open boat when there are plenty of older cabin-equipped trailer-sailers available on the market at great prices… well, there are many advantages to cruising in open boats.
Such boats can be lighter, and thus trailable with a gas-efficient compact car. They can have very shallow draft and thus can take the cruiser into gunkholes unavailable to longer-legged craft. They often sail better than cabin boats, due to decreased weight and windage. And the sailor is closer to the wind and the water in an open boat, and more intimately a part of the aquatic world. You see more wildlife in an open boat, and people are friendlier. The boat feels more like an extension of your own body, and this is thrilling, specially if the boat is a lively sailer. You might not want to cross an ocean in an open boat (though it’s been done more than once) but for the sort of coastal and inland cruising most of us dream about, an open boat has a number of distinct advantages.
This market is dominated by monohulls, mostly because monohulls can carry more weight than an equivalent multihull, and most folks like to take along a lot of stuff when they go cruising. But as far as I can tell, this is the only functional area in which monohulls are inarguably superior to multihulls, especially for microcruising.
Multihulls have many advantages for the microcruiser, but few open multihull microcruisers exist, and they are mostly trimarans, which are less well-suited to cruising and camping, for several reasons.
Trimarans can carry even less weight than an equivalent cat, because most of the weight must be borne by the narrow main hull, rather than being divided between two narrow main hulls. The side decks of a tri are less well-suited to camping than the center deck of a cat, because a tiny tri will dip her side decks at a pretty steep slant when anyone stands on them. Tris heel more than cats, which give a smooth level ride completely unlike the sometimes violent roll of a mono. The three hulls of a tri are more complicated and expensive to build than the two hulls of a cat, just as the two hulls of a cat are more complicated than the one hull of a mono.
Despite this, open trimaran microcruisers are a lot easier to find than open catamaran cruisers. Many good designers offer plans for tiny tris, and there are even production boats available, such as the Windriders, Ospreys, and Hobie Adventure Islands.
The complete absence from the market of good open catamaran microcruisers may be a historical accident. Because of Hobie Alter’s great success with the Hobie 16 and the wide proliferation of other beach cat designs, we are all conditioned to think that the only small cats available must be beach cats, with their big rigs, sealed pontoon-like hulls, and trampoline seating. Even as great a designer as the trimaran pioneer Jim Brown (who designed the Windrider tris) opined in a piece written for Cruising World that: “Speaking subjectively again, it is your reporter’s personal opinion that small catamarans don’t quite qualify as cruisers, because squatting on a trampoline does not provide the sailor any protection from the elements while under way.”
Okay, I thought but was it absolutely necessary to squat on a trampoline to sail aboard a tiny cat?
I once owned a Wharram cruising cat with flared hulls, and knew it was possible to have a boat with hulls that were fine at the waterline, but opened up enough to provide a reasonable amount of elbow room above the waterline. And was it absolutely necessary to sail a small cat with a rig so huge that the sailor is continually threatened with capsize? Large cruising cats don’t have rigs as extreme as that and still manage to be faster than most monohull cruisers. Tiny trimarans generally have much smaller rigs than beach cats and are still lively little boats. In fact, much of their appeal is their reliable stability, provided in part by their modest rigs.
The more I thought about it, the more I wanted a little cat with a reasonable rig, comfortable seating within the hulls, and enough payload to take two people beach camping for a week or two.
Such a boat seemed perfect for the protected bays and sounds of Northwest Florida, where we live. In Florida, engineless boats under 16 ft. need not be registered, so I made that my length limit. I looked everywhere for plans.. but no one was offering anything like that. The more I looked, the more obvious it became that no well-known designer had explored this approach to microcruising– or if they had, they’d immediately discarded it as a dumb idea. Well, maybe it was a dumb idea, but I could’t come up with any good reason to believe that. I ran the notion past a number of online boat design mailing lists, and received reactions ranging from cautious encouragement to bitter criticism. The latter reaction most often appeared in the form of: “Ray, if this were such a great idea, someone would have already done it.” This struck me as an amazingly unpersuasive argument.
So, in 2005, I began to flesh out the idea that would eventually become Slider.
By the fall of 2006, I had a set of basic dimensions and a few ideas on how to proceed with the most important details of Slider’s construction, so I built a strongback in the carport and set to work. I had no detailed plans; in fact, most of the design decisions were made as the boat was being built.
19 months later, on April 16th, 2008, Slider emerged from her driveway and we took her down to the bay for the first time.
By the way, the boat is named after the Red-Eared Slider, an attractive local reptile. My interest in the name arose when a Wikipedia article described the species as “a deceptively fast aquatic turtle.”
Copyright 2008 Ray Aldridge