By Sean Mulligan
I could feel myself starting to grin as Scout accelerated down the lake. WIth a fair wind directly behind us she was really feelin’ her oats and surging at times to 5.5 knots. That’s not all that impressive until you realize that she’s less than 14’ long.
This was a totally new experience for me. I have been sailing pocket-cruisers for a few years, but this microcruiser deal—well—it was new territory. I honestly was not really sure if I’d enjoy it, but as the hours passed by I got my answer.
Scout is a 13’ 10” Matt Layden-designed Paradox. I was fortunate to find her for sale, over 90% complete for a very fair price. Having been a lurker on many microcruiser sites over the years, I was very familiar with the Layden family of designs including Little Cruiser, Paradox, Enigma, Swamp thing, Elusion, and a couple others. Much of what I knew came from following sites like Dave and Mindy Bolduc’s Microcruising.com and the Watertribe Everglades Challenge site. I’d figured out from these sites that there is a whole ‘nother group of sailors and way of sailing I knew nothing about—microcruisers. About the time I became aware of micro’s, Scamp hit the internet with SCA extolling its virtues. I was hooked. I had to try this “micro” thing for myself.
I think what intrigued me most about these little boats, was how big the adventures were that people were regularly taking them on. Many popular designs had proven themselves to be far, far more seaworthy than anyone who was not an enthusiast would ever imagine. In fact, through the web I was following microcruisers who were far eclipsing any adventure I’d attempted in my boat of 6-10 times the displacement. The adventures were real interesting, and most endearing to me—they were cost effective with boats easily managed by one that could support its crew handily. This was truly a revelation to me. I had no idea about this type of cruising.
I was simply having a blast flying southbound down Lake Havasu. The plan was to sail a 30-plus mile course that I figured would end up being a total of 40-plus by the time I tacked upwind all the way home. The twist to this little adventure was to do it with no motor usage whatsoever. I pretty much sealed the deal for myself as I didn’t even bring a motor along. The self imposed rule was that any sort of human or wind power was acceptable, but that was it. The other boats that joined me for the trip decided to try the same rules, although all but one, my friend Jan on his Balboa 20, had an outboard along for the ride “just in case.”
I set sail at sunrise, and since their was no wind, out came the means of human propulsion. I’d brought along a yuloh for sculling and a stand-up paddleboard paddle to offer an alternate set of muscle use and to change the pace up a bit every so often. That turned out to be a good decision. The wind was forecast to start up at 8 a.m. and build to a nice 15 or so out of the north giving us a sleigh ride to the south end of the lake before having to turn around and beat home. The “rules” stated that sometime during the trip “The Island” at Lake Havasu City would have to be circumnavigated, including under the London Bridge.
My plan was to paddle/yuloh north , through the channel that cuts under the bridge, then around to the north side of the island where I figured I would arrive just as the forecasted north breezes would begin, then enjoy the sleigh ride south for around 17 miles. It worked…kind of. The winds were late arriving and I ended up paddling all the way around the island (about 3.5 miles) before the breeze filled in. At that point the paddle and yuloh got put away for the next 15 hours.
We shot south taking full advantage of Scout’s standing lug rig and nearly a dead downwind heading. I was able to cut the corner of every twist and turn of the lake to within feet of the shoreline as Scout’s 9-inch draft and kick up rudder gave me the confidence to sail where I had never sailed before. Catching up with a Seaward 25, we played leapfrog with them, sometimes chasing them and nipping their heels like the proverbial Chihuahua nipping the big dog’s hackles, other times taking advantage of the rig and ability to sail shallow to pass by them and lead the way for a while. At the end of the downwind leg we were within 200 yards of the big boat, rounded the mark ahead of her, and started the 14-mile upwind bash that now lay before us. It was around 1p.m.
Scout has no centerboard or keel. She’s completely flat-bottomed and relies on a huge rudder, chine runners, and her hull shape to drive her to windward. Crazy enough, it works! In fact, it’s flat-out amazing to me that she’ll point nearly as high as the keel boats. What cost us ground was the wind chop that had built up considerably. Before the mark we were riding the swell….now we were now bashing into it. This definitely impacted our speed and we slowed to 3 knots in the chop as the big girls left us in their wakes. At this point Scout’s anemometer (by Inspeed….check them out) was showing 26-mph apparent. We were in a large basin of the lake and had about 2-3 miles of fetch coming down on us. The wind waves were significant, but never stopped Scout—just slowed us down. On we went through the afternoon.
I learned a lot about Scout on this trip, eventually figuring out that I was way oversheeting her for upwind work. Once I got that figured out the speeds came up as well as the VMG. About that time the winds backed off to a beautiful 12-14, the water flattened out, and the sun vanished behind the mountainous shoreline. Darkness didn’t stand a chance though. Within 20 minutes of sunset…..was a 100% illuminated full moonrise. It was spectacular, and the amount of light it bathed the water and shoreline in was incredible. On we went. More than once I told myself to stop thinking about whatever I was thinking about and just look around. The moonlight on the water, sailing buddy’s running lights silently crossing the lake until they tacked, the sound of canvas momentarily flogging as they crossed though the wind, coyotes and burros sounding off on the deserted desert shoreline. I remember thinking, Why am I not out here more? I live right here! This is 5 miles from my house—I have to get out here more often at night, especially full-moon nights.”
About 1a.m. and 3-4 miles from home the wind finally died, the water returning to absolute glass. I mounted the yuloh and silently drove Scout home at 2 knots.
At 1460 pounds designed displacement, she is not the lightest girl at the dance, nor the ultimate paddle/yuloh machine. But…..she is able to be driven manually if so desired. At 3 a.m. I reached the dock where we’d started, closing the loop and completing the task—my friend Jan right beside me in his Balboa. He had dropped his headsail hours earlier just so we could enjoy each other’s sailing company, rather than blasting on by with his faster boat. Because of that, we shared one of the most beautiful evenings I can remember on the water. His presence nearby, occasional chat between boats, and having someone else to share the experience with made it just that much better.
I have sailed my Montgomery 23 Dauntless many times up to about 100-nm without using a motor, however, the outboard was there and ready to go if needed. Sailing Scout without a motor even on board has been a confidence-building and gratifying experience. I may or may not eventually add an outboard bracket to her, but knowing that my fate is not tied to the outboard is a liberating feeling for sure.
Of course, Scout cannot quite provide the comfort or amenities of our larger trailersailer, but it’s quite surprising how comfortable I’ve already been able to make her for a crew of one. Add the fact that her rigging up and de-rigging involve no heavy lifting (from which I often get a sore back with Dauntless)…and Scout just keeps looking better and better.
Setup and teardown time at the boat ramp are around 20 minutes each way. When we get home she’s easily tucked away in the garage and the trailer can easily be moved around by hand.
Is Scout the “end-all be-all” of sailing? No, absolutely not. When ‘Jo and Ensign can come along, Dauntless is the ride for the three of us. But for when I have some time and no one else does, Scout’s incredible ease of rigging and ability to deliver fun in varying conditions from dead calm to over 25 knots seems to offer a new Nirvana.
I guess I still have “2 foot itis”…..it just changed directions. I hope more folks will learn about this aspect of sailing. Any boat that gets us on the water easier and quicker is bound to get us there more often. And that’s what we need. Boats that are accessible to the “everyday guy,” that can provide “out of this world fun” (like the Paradox and the Scamp), and are extremely affordable compared to the “normal” trailersailer—will lead to sailing for the masses. And that can’t be anything but good for our sport.
Photo: Jan Maslikowski