Peter and Mike Stevenson, Part 2
The Gaff Rig continues the interview of Peter and Mike
Stevenson, of Stevenson Projects, the creators of the Weekender, Vacationer and Pocket
Cruiser. Part 1 of the interview premiered in the last edition, with Peter hinting at the
possibility of a 20 year anniversary "celebration" of the Weekenders
THE GAFF RIG: A celebration?
PETER: Its important to realize at this crossroads that we
support the kind of approach to boating that spawned the Weekender:
builder-skippers enjoying what weve come to call "barefoot sailing." There
are as many approaches to boating as any other endeavor, everything from snobbish yachtery
to lets-go-rent-a-boat-and-run-into-something. If we have anything to say about it, the
Weekender movement will favor those who seek an escape and a breath of fresh air from the
organized nonsense of life. Weekender events should reflect a mood of self-reliant,
non-consumerism, and quiet retreat from the hype, a kind of romantic-practicality that had
always surrounded people who build boats to sail (which is slightly different from people
who build boats and like to live in their shops.)
THE GAFF RIG: Members of the BYYB joke about being
"seduced" by the lines of the Pocket Yachts, but beyond being "sexy,"
the boats seem to fit that care-free philosophy. And sometimes we want more. Is there a
24, blue water Weekender-style cruiser in our futures?
PETER: Theres a refreshing pragmatic eclecticism in
people who want to build a boat to sail, rather than something to stroke and polish. There
already has been a twenty-four foot Weekender, and it was one of the boats we quietly
sawed into firewood. The boat was simply too large for the stressed-skin building
techniques. The stressed skin still worked, but the loads on the stringers were getting
large, too large for the same concept that makes the 16 on deck Weekender fun. So
no, there wont be another twenty-four footer in the future.
THE GAFF RIG: Any new boats coming out?
PETER: We are thinking seriously about going to the other
end of the scale with a new Super-Skipjack, the design that led directly into the
Weekender. Weve learned a lot of tricks since then that could add to its
versatility. Plus it was a fast little witch and light enough for one guy to car-top.
Perfect for a quick day on the water.
THE GAFF RIG: What about updates to the Pocket Cruiser
PETER: The only update Id like to see on the Pocket
Cruiser and the Vacationer has to do with putting in a mast tabernacle to reduce the
trailer-to-water time down to a fraction of what it can be with all those lines you need
with a gaff rig. The Vacationer already has a tabernacle, but we were just beginning to
use one when we did those plans and we didnt realize that if we place the cut
farther up the mast, above the gooseneck about a foot, then we can simply fold the whole
rig down on top of the sails. The sails are left in place on the boom, and you can secure
it for trailering in a few minutes. Probably the best solution would be to put the
Weekenders folding mast system up on the website and direct Pocket Cruiser and
Vacationer builders to this small modification that can make so much difference in the
convenience of the boats.
THE GAFF RIG: The Weekender was first, then the
Vacationer and Pocket Cruiser. You can see the Weekenders influence on the
Vacationer. What was the inspiration for the Pocket Cruiser?
PETER: Both the Vacationer and Pocket Cruiser were brought
about by builder feedback. Some people want interior space so badly theyll pay the
price for a huge boat, forgetting that all boats are too small, so you might as well have
a nice convenient one. The price that is paid for more room with the Vacationer is twice
as much cost, more building time, and more involved trailering and launching. The price in
the Pocket Cruiser is stubby looks and reduced light airs performance. The inspiration for
the Pocket Cruiser was the cute looks of the traditional catboat. But without a
headsail-jib, the Pocket Cruiser was slow to tack, so we added a jib as a test and it
solved the problem while adding downwind speed . . . we love jibs!
THE GAFF RIG: So is the Pocket Cruiser the "weak
PETER: Over the years of cautioning builders that the
Pocket Cruiser wont be as lively in light airs as the Weekender, weve erred on
the negative side with the boat. It does have a large flat bottom, so in a head chop its
going to slap, but then, any boat will have some condition where it slaps. After hearing
about the cruise one skipper took up Australias east coast and back, we no longer
are so cautious with builders about the handling of the boat. The Pocket Cruiser does
provide a very stable platform for water fun, along with a hefty built-in engine mount for
those days when the wind doesnt cooperate. Also, being pretty much strong as a
brick, people like to hang sails all over it for those light-air days. It will always
retain its bilge-boards because of its wide hull aspect ratio and the fact that it takes
quite a bit to get it to heel enough to get the kind of chine-lift the Weekender and
THE GAFF RIG: What about a Stevenson Projects PWC?
PETER: We did a Personal Water Craft in an effort to create
a fun machine that wouldnt
need the power of a loud, polluting 2-cycle. It was the assisted-lift hydrofoil that you
fly like a plane from a jet-like cockpit. Its main breakthrough was that it would keep
flying below five knots, which no traditional hydrofoil can do. You could fly it right up
to the dock. The investment to design a way to make that out of materials available to the
home builder, and the investment to make a good, easy to follow set of plans, is pretty
huge. So not much has happened with the project. We did take it to a PWC manufacturer, but
when their executives saw our proud display of how controllable it was at an incredibly
slow pace, they wouldnt admit it could also go fast if you simply twisted the
throttle. After repeated tries to convince them the machine had more performance
capabilities than the planing-hull style they were selling, we had to give up.
THE GAFF RIG: Have you considered some "instant
boat" designs using stitch and glue techniques?
PETER: There are a couple of phenomena that happen when you
use stringers and screws to create a boat that we really like. For one thing, attaching
stringers along the cut edge of a plywood panel averages out the cutting errors and makes
for a beautifully curved joint any beginner can achieve. A well-faired edge is necessary
when you are attaching bent panels to it to prevent cracking. Also, when youre
attaching bent wood together one screw at a time, the wood is bent down into a curve it
would be able to take without cracking if we simply tried to bend it all at once.
THE GAFF RIG: So its a technique you really like.
PETER: Id like to explain further. Its a stressed-skin
monococque approach that makes the Weekender possible. We first came across the enormous
strength that plywood can have when bending a panel, and then stressing this panel in
sheer, when we were trying to create a catamaran with articulated hulls that could rock
independently. Thats a not-so-brilliant concept after all these years of catamaran
development, but Herreschoff was taken in by the concept too, and he even figured out a
way to make it happen, even if it didnt turn out to be good for upwind performance.
The more we worked to make flexible platform that could support a rig, the more we saw how
strong flexed panels were when the stress hit them sideways, across their surfaces.
THE GAFF RIG: Was the catamaran responsible for the
PETER: It was years later, in our design forum -- a bunch of us
boat nuts working in boatyards in the area, sitting around and talking
design. I was playing with a model of a Greek fish boat called a Caique that Id
fallen for. It was a double-ender with a full-length keelson coming up into a sternpost
and stempost at the ends. In Greek fashion the deck extended all the way around the boat,
at the bow, at the stern, and along both sides with a cockpit cut out in the center. I was
making a model of it in cardboard and taping it together while the design talk was going
on. I cut out the bottom, then cut the stem-keelson-stern and taped this to the bottom.
The I cut the side panels and taped it all up. It looked OK, but was wobbly like all paper
models. Then I cut out the deck that ran all the way around the boat, and something
surprising happened. When I flexed the deck down into position and taped it, the whole
thing became rigid as a rock. With all the centerlines lined up, the hull was miraculously
true without any without any twist or lopsidedness. There was no way the Caique could come
out lopsided. But more than that, the structure was so rigid it was laughable.
THE GAFF RIG: Did a quiet, respectful hush come over the rest
of the group?
PETER: We threw the cardboard boat around and played catch with
it like a football! But we knew we were on to something. Instantly the structure was
analyzed from the point of view of the scientists in the crowd. It was, they said, a
double tetrahedron, two tetrahedrons, the strongest shape in the universe, joined at their
bases. Whatever. When you have an immensely strong shape, you can build it light. And its
still rugged. So we made a 16-footer. Mark Farnham, the editor of "Boating,"
also fell for the looks, and he sent off the lines to a friend at Sparkman and Stevens to
loft up some plans. This was before we thought we could make boat plans. The result that
came back, for this incredibly easy to build boat, was a blueprint showing all the parts
at once. It didnt seem to us to be a good way to show people how to build it, but
they sold about 1200 of the plans. People on the east coast were having launching parties
with 200 people around the silly little craft. But no matter how much they spent building
it, and these were the deep pocket people, or how many people came to their launching
party, the boat wouldnt tack worth a toot. Our method of sailing it was to launch it
from a beach pointing in the direction we wanted to go, sail like hell, then run into
another beach and turn it around by hand to set off like hell on another tack.
THE GAFF RIG: Sounds, uh, interesting.
PETER: We learned a few golden lessons from the Caique. First, that this stressed-skin shape really worked. That modern catamaran-style
rudders work a helluva lot better than traditional funky old-style shapes. And that
traditional style boat plans could stand a lot of improvement. We started thinking about
the new opportunities. By simply lopping off the rear, we could still keep it strong and
light, yet have a transom. And there was no reason a bowsprit couldnt be grafted on
the front. Looking at a model of a Chesapeake Bay Skipjack, we realized how easily this
shape could be made out of plywood panels. The result of this was our first Skipjack, our
quick little 12-footer. The boat came out to an incredible 150 pounds, and I could easily
car top it and beach launch it.
THE GAFF RIG: Well, this is interesting.
PETER: For the Skipjack plans, we threw everything wed
learned about traditional boat plans out the window. We decided to try a completely new
approach and presented only the information you needed when you needed it, drew only the
parts you needed to see, when you needed to build them. Then we decided to add a written
description, even if it got lengthy, to cover every step of the way, with sequence
sketches and exploded views as needed. The plans, especially the written part, seemed
bulkier than traditional plans. But wed noticed that the plans that seem simple and
quick often make for projects that are complicated and drawn out. Better to throw it all
in and caution builders to take one step at a time, in small doses as you need the
information, rather than making it look simple and be hard. The Skipjack was a winner, and
soon people were asking for a larger version with a cabin. And the rest is Weekender
THE GAFF RIG: What about any new things, marine related or
not, coming from Stevenson Projects?
PETER: Weve done nine books, including a kids project
series for Scribners, two books on how to build toys for Chilton, and a couple of books on
the history of grand prix racing, including one due out next summer called "Driving
Forces" about racing grand prix cars under the watchful eye of Hitler. And wed
like to do the Super-Skipjack too, as a great little day sailer without a cabin and a
great rowboat (the keelson makes it a fabulous rowboat without constantly adjusting your
stroke to keep a straight course.)
MIKE: And the Weekender organization, of course. Were going
to concentrate on doing what we can to encourage the Weekender organizations.
PETER: Weve built bigger boats and faster boats, and even
easier to build boats, but the Weekender has something magic to it, and if we can reach
critical mass with the number of builder/skippers active out there the fun can really grow
exponentially. Were already playing around with new kinds of boating event that can
possibly add more fun than just traditional racing rules.
MIKE: Were thinking of naval warfare.
PETER: We were taken by the fact that on sailing warships, in the
frigate days when the ships began to be good sailers, but before the artillery got too
precise, crews were actually mutinying because their captains didnt want to engage
and have it out! We began to piece together that in spite of the horrors of combat,
chasing each other down in sailboats to blast away at each other made racing look pretty
bland. After sailing on some square-riggers that staged some lively re-enactor battles,
were pretty sure its good fun, as long as youre not getting maimed or
MIKE: Weve been experimenting with combining elements of
various sports to create something new that could be good fun for a fleet of Weekenders.
PETER: Basically, were combining a scavenger treasure-hunt
with some "capture the flag" elements, beach picnic barbeques, and re-enactor
battles using a new paint-ball naval cannon were developing. The object: to find,
capture, and evade others, while working our way back to the barbeque, and painting the
sails of our adversaries with our cannonades in the process. The elements are coming
together, but we wont be able to balance out the rules of the days activities until
we get enough boats together to try them in action. This is where we could use the help of
other builder/skippers for fine tuning and getting fleets together. It could create some
THE GAFF RIG: That sounds like a wonderful 20th
anniversary celebration idea!
PETER: Were right with you on organizing a twenty-year
celebration for the Weekender. Weve already tried to get "Popular Science"
interested, even if just on their website. But they dont answer our letters and
e-mail. Well keep trying. If any skipper wants to nudge them, that might do more
good. They might see us as just a commercial venture looking for a free blurb.
MIKE: We want to make it more than just a boat race.
PETER: This type of event makes sense, because just boat racing
so often devolves into something thats not fun for everybody but the winners.
Wed like to develop a whole new way to enjoy a semi-organized day of sailing that
fits better with the barefoot sailing approach. Something with a lot looser give and take,
more fun, and less protests. How can you protest a shady maneuver when the whole point of
the event is to cheat?
THE GAFF RIG: So how can we help make this happen?
PETER: We invite builder/skipper comments on this one issue: that
some degree of organizing can produce a lot of fun, but on the other hand, those who
usually take over the organizing often forget about the fun part and make the whole
process unattractive to the real sports in the crowd. Weve seen this in auto racing
as well, where the minute a club arrives at a really fun way to spend a day, they start to
escalate the rules until its no longer fun. Its important, we think, to keep people with a
humorous perspective in charge of activities whose main goal is fun. So let us know what
you think about developing a special Weekender way to have a day of competition.
As we end this interview, the Stevensons are busy
preparing for the publishing date of a new book by Peter on auto racing during
Hitlers reign in Germany. And magazine articles are being prepared on family boat
building (builders are invited to check out the Stevensons Projects page for details
on the articles at http://www.stevproj.com).
Plans for the 20th anniversary of the Weekender are
still tenuous, but a challenge has been given: are we up to organizing special Weekender
events to celebrate it? Would regional events in our fledging fleets capture the attention
of the folks at Popular Science?
Peter and Mike Stevenson will monitor the BYYB Bulletin Board for
our comments on these ideas. Until then, the Gaff Rig would like to thank the
Stevensons for their time and openness in granting the interview.