Boat Review: Flicka

Let's talk about that recurrent daydream you're having. You know the one--you've tied up loose ends, packed your bags and sailed for the horizon. Look closely at the scene in your mind. Notice the boat? Looks a lot like a Flicka doesn't it?

I'm not clairvoyant, just subject to the same fantasy. For many enthusiasts, the Flicka is the quintessential small sailboat. Priced at nearly $100,000 in 1998, this three-ton blue-water cruiser will for most remain the stuff of dreams. Nevertheless, we decided to take a closer look.

Naval Architect Bruce Bingham based his Flicka hull design on the exceptionally seaworthy, turn-of-the-century Newport work boats. While in the Navy in the fifties, Bingham stumbled onto a couple of these boats derelict on a river bank near North Kingstown, Rhode Island. Fascinated by their design, he made sketches and took some rough measurements. He learned that these rugged craft were sailed year-round by fishermen in the harsh conditions off the Rhode Island coast.

In the early 1970s Bingham opened his own design office. By 1972 he was offering plans for a stout, plumb-bow 20-footer called "Flicka," based on the Newport boats. After the favorable reception of his plans (over a five-year period, more than 400 sets were sold), Bingham began building a plug for a Flicka of his own, but circumstances forced its sale to Nor'star Marine in Santa Barbara before completion. Starting in 1975, Nor'star produced Flickas, either as owner-finished kits, or boats completed under contract by Westerly Marine of Costa Mesa. In 1977 Nor'star ceased production. In 1978 Pacific Seacraft bought the tooling and began building its version.

Over the years Flickas have been built from a number of materials to a variety of specifications. Pacific Seacraft reduced the deck camber which seems to account for the disparity in headroom measurements we found--variously listed as from 5' 11" to 6' 2". Flickas have been rigged as gaff cutters, yawls, mastheaded sloops, marconi cutters, schooners and junk rig, so some of our comments and those of owners will not apply to all examples.

In 1978 Pacific Seacraft completed hull number 25, and Bruce Bingham finally had his own Flicka-- Sabrina. Pacific Seacraft continued building Flickas until 1998, halting production after the completion of hull #434. Robin Bradshaw of Pacific Seacraft told SCA that production was ended for a variety of reasons. Flicka had become quite expensive, in part because its smaller size relative to other models precluded more than one person at a time working on it. Robin said the Flickas were literally "handmade," while the bigger boats might have as many as four persons working on them at once. The low number of man-hours per day spent on a Flicka tied up limited production space.

Robin told us Pacific Seacraft still has the tooling, and he wouldn't completely rule out production of another Flicka, although there are presently no plans to do so. Pacific Seacraft does, however, continue to support the boat fully. Robin and the staff are happy to help with replacement parts and other questions about the boat he considers truly "one of a kind".

Flicka, which means "happy little girl" in Swedish, is a fair if perhaps inadequate description of this legendary cruiser. The hand-laminated Flicka features a balsa-cored deck (plywood in hardware-mounting areas), backing plates for every piece of deck equipment (caulked on both sides), and eighteen hundred pounds of solid cast lead encased in fiberglass. What's the Swedish word for "bulletproof"?

On an 18' 2" waterline, Bingham managed to incorporate a solid list of amenities; enough stowage for passage-making, standing headroom and--on some later models--an enclosed head.

With a fixed draft of 3' 3", the Flicka draws more water than most boats found in the pages of SCA, but, compared with vessels of similar capabilities, it's relatively shallow draft.

Once again, Small Craft Advisor consulted the real experts--Flicka owners--for a discussion of the boat's specific characteristics.

PERFORMANCE:

"I have sailed my boat thousands of miles upwind against strong trade winds." Charles S. Dewell, Kawabunga 1981

Owners were generally pleased with the Flicka's pointing ability. Jack and Penny Harding, owners of the 1984 Flicka Rapport, responded to our question about windward ability saying simply, "Don't worry, she'll get you home."

Flicka owners concede--it's not the fastest boat on the water. But the good news is that this beamy cruiser is faster than she looks. Essentially "5-knot-boats," Flickas have reportedly averaged 5.25 knots on long passages.

We had an opportunity to test sail with Skipper Eric Jungemann aboard his Flicka Hotspur. Although initially somewhat tender, stability improved rapidly as the boat heeled. Eric told us the Flicka needs a decent breeze to realize its speed potential. But once moving, it does quite well. We enjoyed easy, responsive sailing and the Flicka felt as stable and secure as any boat we've sailed. "It's a truck, not a Ferrari" Eric told me.

SEAWORTHINESS:

"I have weathered a 9.5 Beaufort wind-scale gale for three days in the North Pacific. She handles very well in the rough stuff. She heaves-to properly and rides well with a storm jib and double-reefed main." Charles S. Dewell, Kawabunga 1981

Certainly anyone purchasing a Flicka does so with an expectation that he or she is buying seaworthiness; to that end the Flicka does not disappoint. Owners unanimously describe the boat as "stiff" and "stable." With 30 percent of its displacement in ballast, the Flicka boasts genuine blue-water specifications.

One characteristic that makes Flicka particularly well-suited to long passages is her tendency to sail herself. With sails trimmed properly, the Flicka tracks well, holding course hour after hour.

"I've always felt secure aboard her." Prince Riggs, Maggie Mae 1983

Having crossed the Pacific and Atlantic, the list of impressive voyages made aboard Flickas is long. With owners assuring us the boat inspires "absolute confidence," the list will undoubtedly continue to grow.

On the issue of how dry the boat rides, there was a surprising amount of contradictory opinion. Responses varied from "real wet" to "bone dry." However, most agreed cockpit drainage was adequate.

ACCOMMODATIONS:

"You know the drill, drinks 6, eats 4, sails 3, sleeps 2, singlehands 1, help available for bottom painting 0." Jack & Penny Harding, Rapport 1984

The Flicka is a boat with true liveaboard potential. An open, unobstructed interior boasts a complete galley, standing headroom the length of the cabin, and tremendous stowage. She'll swallow fifteen hundred pounds of crew and gear before sitting down on her lines.

In addition to a comfortable v-berth, there are either one or two quarter-berths, which were sometimes described as "a little tight". Later generation Flickas replaced one of the two quarter-berths with an enclosed head. Considering the price of these boats and recognizing their true cruising potential, we'd appreciate the enclosed head model. We did, however, hear comments from owners who favor the four-berth arrangement with its extra space.

The galley consists of a deep stainless sink with a fresh-water hand pump, a two-burner alcohol stove, an ice box and storage lockers. Some owners have converted to propane, but in general, the stock galley is described as simple and effective.

"This boat has a lot of storage for a small boat--but it's still a small boat. For an extended cruise that makes it difficult to stow equipment, food, water, etc. You need the same amount of safety gear on a 20-footer as you need on a 40-footer." Charles S. Dewell, Kawabunga 1981

QUALITY:

"When I bought her, I thought I was getting the best 20-footer in the world. Haven't changed my mind yet."
Prince Riggs, Maggie Mae 1983

"20 years old and still very stout." John Calhoon, American Pie 1979

Flicka owners used the word "overbuilt" more often than owners of any other boat we've reviewed, and apparently for good reason. Most skippers told us they'd had no problems with oil-canning, peeling or delamination. There was only one mention of blistering, but even that owner was pleased with overall quality. Clearly, both Nor'star and Pacific Seacraft seem to have made quality a priority. The Flicka is one of the few small boats so universally noted for superior construction.

COMPROMISES:

"The quarter berth is useless unless you're a child or a midget" Prince Rigg, Maggie Mae 1983

Small Craft Advisor readers, some who own boats that would fit entirely inside the Flicka's cabin, might not be as critical of the tight quarter-berths.

Other compromises mentioned include: The lack of a bridge deck on pre-1984 models, which leaves the cabin potentially vulnerable to a flooded cockpit, and of course the lack of a proper head on early boats.

One owner also mentioned, "fielding questions from crowds of onlookers" as a unique compromise Flicka owners must endure or enjoy, depending on one's perception.

MODIFICATIONS:

Virtually all owners have modified some compartments or increased storage in some manner. Several have added staysails and one mentioned installing shore-power wiring.

Articles written by Bruce Bingham and Katy Burke about the modifications they made to their Flicka for cruising are still circulating. Anyone interested in modifying the Flicka, or any small boat, for serious cruising will find them informative. A good place to start your search would be the Flicka Sailboat homepage at:: http://home.att.net/~seagypsy/index.html#it

VALUE:

It's difficult to call a boat in the Flicka price-range anything other than expensive, but that didn't stop some of our survey respondents. They based their argument on Flicka quality, seaworthiness and resale value.

The $64,000 question was: would you buy the Flicka all over again? In essence, every owner said yes--and really--that's all you can ask of any boat.

"We've had a blast on our Flicka. It's a great boat for cruising the Puget Sound area and San Juan Islands. It's easy to manage and the short length is a bonus when trying to find moorage in the summer. We're often able to tie-up in the same areas as runabouts and dinghies." John Calhoon, American Pie 1979

"If you want a small, thin-water/ deep-water 'pocket cruiser'--and like a lot of attention--get a Flicka. Used ones are not too expensive. She's not fast, but I sailed (in comfort) from San Diego to Hilo, Hawaii (2200 miles) in 22 days. Not bad for a boat with an 18-foot waterline." Jack & Penny Harding, Rapport 1984

The Flicka represents the ideal for many sailors. She's as lovely and romantic as she is seaworthy. She's spacious and can carry a heavy load, but she can be easily single-handed. With many ambitious voyages to her credit and a lineage traceable to the capable Newport workboats, she's more than time-tested--she's a proven performer.

Special thanks to the Flicka Friends newsletter. For information visit: www.flicka20.com