Designing Shindig

Not every boat will suit every purpose - with most being designed with their commercial attractiveness in mind. This might suit some sailors but those who spend much time afloat, the priorities must be chosen carefully.

All designs should start with thoughts about the basic concept. Shindig was to be a boat for short-handed offshore cruising — a long-legged craft that could take us to the furthest corners. No regard would be made to its commercial potential in the mass market. Selfish, you say? Without doubt, but that's what custom design is all about. If asked what would be the foremost quality to strive for, my simple answer would be ‘simplicity’.

Let me explain why. Complexity can bring unforeseen dangers. On a boat I designed back in the early 1970s – that’s before the days of roller reefing headsails became widely used – a sailor single-handing in very tough conditions was on the foredeck changing down to a smaller jib. In the turmoil of heavy spray and a plunging boat, his lifeline tether became trapped under the lid of a foredeck locker he had just closed, jamming the lid. Unable to free himself in near-darkness and driving spray, he had to remove his safety harness and lifejacket to escape. A seemingly benign design feature, there for no other reason than the stowage of an anchor buoy and a few other inconsequential items, had placed him in considerable danger – one of the scariest moments of his life, he confessed later.

For me that was an important lesson. If you don’t really need something, don’t have it has been my creed ever since. There’s no doubt in my mind that complexity can bring danger. And the best opportunity to practice what I preach arose when I designed our boat Shindig. So, when we started to list our basic requirements simplicity was the key. Incidentally, Shindig was launched in 2001 and some of the facts (such as costs) relate to the state of play then

  • The boat would be of a size easily handled by two people, neither of who would get any younger.
  • Displacement should be light enough to ensure good performance. If anything, fast passage times are more useful to voyagers than racers who can win on handicap even if they’re last across the line.
  • Since for the most part there would be only Chele and myself on board, the interior shouldn’t be split into a number of claustrophobic compartments to provide superfluous sleeping accommodation.
  • The cockpit would be spacious and with tiller steering. Wheel steering is heavy, expensive and mechanically vulnerable – not what we wanted offshore.
  • The winches (manual self-tailing) should be positioned where they could be operated with least strain.
  • There should be good, virtually all-round, visibility from below – a useful refuge in times of bad weather.
  • The rig should be exceptionally sturdy; the sail plan designed for easy handling rather than ultimate efficiency.
  • All fastenings should be accessible; all secondary fixtures removable. In my years spent repairing other people’s boats, inaccessibility has been a recurring curse.

Starting with those as general headings, please allow me to explore a few details…

Yes, size really does matter, so how big should our boat be? It might be tempting to think the bigger the better, but before you form an opinion you may want to have a look at the somewhat mist-enshrouded law of mechanical similitude which explains why things don’t always improve with size.

However, for us it didn’t take much reflection to decide that somewhere around the 40ft (12.2m) mark would be ideal. In the event, we eventually opted for just a little less than 12m (39ft 4in) 'on deck' because this kept us below the European Recreational Craft Directive’s most stringent requirements which become more onerous (and more costly) once you exceed the 12m threshold. In truth the overall length, including the stemhead fitting is over 40ft but it’s the length on deck that counts for RCD. As to the more practical aspects, our reasoning went like this:

  • On a boat of this size, nothing should be heavier than a single person can handle. For example Chele can raise the mainsail by herself. On a 67-footer I once sailed on, five us couldn’t do the same by hand.
  • Replacement costs remain ‘manageable’ (a subjective word, but you know what I mean). For example, a new mainsail that might cost say $3000 for a 40 footer (12.2m) could set you back $5000 for a 50 footer (15.2m) – a 67% increase in price for only a 25% increase in boat length.
  • Then there are marinas. They usually charge according to length. Ditto boatyard lay-up ashore. Big boats are expensive to park.

Also to be considered are diesel fuel costs, antifouling paints, heavier ropes – and I could go on! Make no mistake; bigger boats require deeper pockets.

Weighty issues
Displacement was pitched at 7,000kg (15,400lb), placing the design distinctly towards the lighter end of the Displacement/Length Ratio scale. By comparison the German-built Bavaria 40 displaces about 8,600kg (18,960kg) and the racier French Beneteau First 40 8,260kg (18,210lb).
And, for the record, after twelve years cruising, Shindig still floats to her marks in full cruising trim.
My preference for light displacement boats dates back many years. I believe they make a lot of sense. How I came to this conclusion is explained at greater length in the article on the subject but, in a nutshell, the less weight you have the less energy you need to propel it.

Our preferences were for a flush, uncluttered foredeck – a favourite feature on our previous boat Spook. A flush deck provides an agreeably clear space to work on and accords nicely with our next element…

In the doghouse
This has been a feature on most of my designs, dating back to the early 1970s. Shorthanded sailors almost inevitably find themselves alone on watch, during which they might need to leave the cockpit – perhaps for a ‘comfort break’, some navigational chores or to brew a cup of coffee. When in crowded waters it’s comforting to be able to keep an eye-out from below. As a bonus, a doghouse admits lots of light into a boat’s interior.

Definitely an after cockpit. Centre cockpits work fine on larger boats – say 50ft (15.2m) and upwards – but, on anything smaller, they squander that part of the interior space better used for accommodation. Centre cockpits also bring unwanted complexity to steering systems, including windvane self-steering. Even fishing is made more awkward.
Steering is by tiller – true to the simplicity theme. It’s light on the helm and integrated easily with the Monitor

Hull design
Shindig’s hull lines were developed from Vlad the Impaler, one of my raceboat designs – though not quite so extreme, a slightly detuned version. However, by cruising boat standards it’s an extremely slippery shape (we’ve had thirteen knots out of her) and very stiff from the stability point of view.

Keel and rudder
The keel is a moderate aspect ratio fin with a flared bulb at the bottom to lower its centre of gravity. The attachment method is both unusual and immensely strong. More on this here.
The single rudder is semi-balanced and hung on a partial skeg. My first preference was to go for twin rudders but that would have meant the loss of prop-wash over the blades when under power would have reduced manoeuvrability when it was most needed. One downside of light displacement boats is that they can be a bit skittish in breezy conditions

Rig and Sailplan
Shindig can be sailed either as a sloop or cutter. There was a once fashion of describing such rigs as ‘slutters’ – not a word of great charm, now thankfully fallen into disuse.
By some standards the sail area is modest – easiness of handling being a priority. Thanks to her light displacement and slippery hull form, her performance is respectable. We once achieved 13 knots on a broad reach – not to be sniffed at, I’m sure you agree.
The twin spreader rig is massively strong, with oversized 1 x 19 stainless wire tensioned with chromed bronze and stainless steel rigging screws. Dismastings belong in the dangerous to catastrophic category of sailing mishaps, so we have done what we can to minimise the risk.

The main is loose footed and made from Marblehead sailcloth, woven by Bob Bainbridge in the US. This is a premier grade cloth intended for bluewater cruising. For stretch resistance it relies on an exceptionally tight weave (the tightest in the world they claimed then) rather than the cheap-and-cheerful resin impregnation favoured by budget sailmakers. After 12 years (admittedly mostly in the Med where you spend more time under power than sail) the mainsail is in remarkably good shape – both literally and in terms of general condition. In my view you should buy the best sails you can afford. The pain eases when you see how much longer they last!
One peculiarity of the mainsail is that it has two full length battens in its head and none beneath.

With its high cut clew this form of cut is known as ‘jib-headed’. It’s not as efficient to windward as a deck-sweeping genoa but is a great reaching sail. It’s also good downwind for trade wind sailing. Twinned with another identically shaped sail the high clews minimise the risk of them dipping into the water as the boat rolls.
The second sail is of a much lighter cloth – a ripstop polyester, usually used for dinghies. Both sails can be run up the same roller reefing foil meaning they can be reefed simultaneously from the cockpit.

The staysail comes into its own in stronger wind conditions. The sail itself is of heavy sailcloth and is carried on a self-tacking boom. Setting the sail calls for a trip to the foredeck but, once set, all tacking and trimming can be done from the cockpit. Occasionally, on a beam reach or broader we can sail Shindig as a cutter but tend not to. Either with the main deep reefed or a storm trysail, this is our heavy weather canvas. That’s to say we don’t carry a dedicated storm jib.

The headsail roller reefs onto a Harken gear – a wonderful bit of kit. However, I’m very wary of mainsail roller reefing – notoriously fallible devices. To have a mainsail jam in the mast slot is not something I want even a slim chance of. Instead we use a twin line system that can be worked, either single- or double-handed, from the mast or from the cockpit. This is an utterly reliable arrangement with very little risk of screw-ups.

Below decks
The layout follows the simplicity theme. The accommodation as a whole is very open-plan, as you will see from the illustration that heads this article. With the exception of a few lockers, these being heavy and having a tendency to squeak or rattle. Privacy, such as it is, is gained by curtains – light in weight and allowing air to circulate and ventilate almost all corners of the interior space. The result? Almost a complete absence of mildew – a recurrent problem for more pigeonholed designs.


But briefly Shindig's interior comprises a 2m long compartment forward that usually serves as a sail locker. When emptied of its clutter – a task as formidable as dredging a harbour – this doubles as spacious guest accommodation for a sailing couple. Individual guests can either luxuriate alone in the bow or occupy the sea berth beneath the chart table. Most choose the latter. Proceeding aft is the main saloon area with wrap-around seating. This is a delightfully convivial space which can seat up to ten people – more at a pinch. The settees can also serve as bunks – an event yet to happen I’m pleased to report!

Astern of the saloon is the galley area to port. Though not quite as spacious as our shore-based kitchen at home, it ranks pretty close. Our two-burner, grill and oven Taylor cooker we migrated from our previous boat of account of its unmatched quality. There is also a top-loaded refrigerator and icemaker and a stand-up chart table opposite to starboard.
The ‘owners’ cabin’ aft to starboard has a large double berth – with stand-up headroom and a bunk large enough to sleep athwarthships if conditions demand. Opposite to port is the heads compartment with a huge space for storage immediately behind it. Apart from general stowage our Katadyn watermaker lives there.

You will find more on this important subject by following this link


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