It’s small-boat adventure time

Over the years, as the owner of two full-displacement keelboats, I’ve often fantasized about going smaller. Don’t get me wrong: Big boats are fun, but sometimes, with all their inherent expenses and hassles, it just seems like there’s got to be a better way.

The fantasy has always been this: A trailer-sailer small enough to be towed by my Toyota Rav4, but big enough to reasonably accommodate my family of four. The boat would have a nice-sized cockpit for daysailing, and a cuddy cabin big enough to hold the various pieces/parts of the boat, as well as camping equipment for the occasional foray. “A pup tent on the water” is the phrase I always had in my head; one big enough for several people to get out of inclement weather in; or, if underway, for a crewmember to rest in.

I’ve been obsessed with small-boat canal travel ever since reading The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow, in which a school teacher in England traverses much of the European canal system on a modified Mirror dinghy. And I’m also eager to get back to the Maine Island Trail, the massive network of islands ideally explored on a small boat with shallow draft. Part of the fantasy of owning a trailer-sailer, too, was imagining the boat parked in my driveway, where it could easily be tinkered with and gazed at longingly.

The last requirement was that it would have to be cheap. There are plenty of modern go-fast, sub-20 footers out there, but new boats are expensive.

The irony? This was the very boat I was looking for four years ago – I’d more or less settled on the 19’ O’Day Mariner – when I stumbled on the Craig’s List ad for Good Buddy, the 1966 Pearson Commander I finally sold last fall. All that searching and planning, and checking of various criteria boxes, right out the window the minute a pretty boat appeared.

With Good Buddy gone, it was time to get back on track. Beyond the O’Day Mariner, there were three or four other small-boat designs I had my eye on, each with its own shortcomings. Cheap construction, poor sailing characteristics, flimsy hardware, overly expensive . . . these were the characteristics I was trying to avoid.

One boat, the Canadian-built Siren 17, kept insinuating itself onto my list. Owners of the class frequently cited the quality of the build, and the boat’s excellent – albeit tender – sailing characteristics. Even early models (Hull #1 appeared in 1974) came with roller-furling genoas and mains, and built-in flotation. The boat’s designer, Hubert Vandestadt, clearly intended the boat to go places.

The Siren 17 is a popular boat in Canada – over 3,000 of them were made between 1974 and 1987 – but rarely do you see them in the Lower 48. So imagine my surprise when no less than two of them appeared on Craig’s List at the same time. I still had Good Buddy cash in my pocket, so off I went to visit the nearest one.

You know how this ends, of course: I bought the boat. Practically sight unseen. It had been in long-term storage, for nearly 20 years in someone’s yard, and was still draped in no less than two layers of tarps. But within five minutes of meeting the owner I knew I’d buy his boat. A certain percentage of sailors – and probably powerboaters, too – have anal-retentive personalities, some to the extent that they might be classified as “persnickety.” The persnickety sailor can be a pain in the you-know-what to sail with, but would you buy his or her boat? Of course!

Over the years this particular gentleman had tricked out his Siren with every imaginable doo-dad, much of the stuff custom-made, to make trailering, rigging and storing the Siren as easy as possible. He’d upgraded the already substantial rigging. He stored the sails and cushions in a climate-controlled location. All the standing and running rigging was neatly coiled and bound with color-coded Velcro straps, and there was a tackle box full of stainless steel fittings and various pieces/parts you’d need to keep the outboard running. A place for everything, and everything in its place. The trailer was fairly new, and, of course, had paperwork. He wasn’t asking much. It was an easy decision.

However, once the boat was in my driveway, I discovered that the deck around the mast was soft. Over the years the hardware there had been re-bedded, but in all likelihood too late. With COVID craziness, and the kids being home from school, this was a project long-delayed.

Recently I set aside an entire week, re-positioned the boat in deep shade, and tackled that very nasty job. I went in from below, to preserve the integrity of the non-skid, and re-built the deck. We named the boat Scout, after one of our beloved cats, and today she sits fully rigged at a local boat club.

Small-boat voyaging? I think I’ve got the right vessel.

It’s time to choose an adventure.