(For want of a better word) Summary (of What I Think About That….)

I like all kinds of boats but as I said, I admit to being prejudiced towards simplicity. Keeping things simple doesn’t mean you have to settle for second best; quite the contrary! But it will make a boat less expensive to build, less trouble to own because you won’t suffer from silly breakdowns, and more comfortable to spend time on because the interiors are planned out for an owner’s comfort, not for conventions.

A Few Thoughts About Sailboats

Most of my hull designs are moderate beam with symmetrical hull volumes fore & aft so they tend to heel on a line parallel to the keel rather than rotate on the stern. I like the rudder and prop to be protected so usually design a long keel. This makes running aground less stressful!

Dragonfly 64

Most of my sail plans are moderate aspect, with multiple reefs, straight leach mains without battens so you can easily reef without the need to turn the bow into the wind, self-tending headsails; heavily and simply rigged. Many of my designs, even larger ones like DRAGONFLY 64, are planned out to be able to be single handed, which makes then ideal for short handed cruising. Don’t be scared by the bowsprits. As contemporary racers have re-discovered, a ‘sprit’ is a cheap way to carry extra sail, and adds a bit of class to almost any boat. I have a system of rigging the headstay on a tackle so you never need to go out on it if you don’t want to. Instead, the stay and sail comes to you!

Rig types come and go in fashion and the fact is that none are better than the other. They all are great in some situations but poor in others and should, like all rest of the boat, boil down to personal preference or fantasy fulfillment.

Many people choose a cutter as a cruising rig because it is the most ‘practical’. A cutter rig is the cheapest to erect, the easiest to securely stay, and when designed with a moderate aspect ratio, a self-tending boomed staysail, and a jib, a cutter is the handiest and probably most efficient in more different situations than the other rigs.

But pick what YOU want, you can change the rig design. Being practical isn’t everything and my very favorite rig to look at is a properly proportioned schooner. Schooners aren’t popular today. Most current designers only think about pointing and the schooner rig points the worst of any ‘fore and aft’ rig. On the other side, it’s the most efficient OFF the wind and the old pilot schooner rig with its overlapping foresail is so powerful off the wind that it was banned from ocean racing. Have you ever noticed that all of today’s ‘performance boats’ carry good sized engines? You can put an engine in a schooner too, you know, and nothing points as high as the ‘iron jib’!

But the big problem with small schooners is that the mast placement makes the main harder to securely brace than a cutter or ketch, and the fore will usually be in the way of a bunk. But if you like the look, and there is nothing prettier than a schooner, all sails drawing, then go for it. You only live once. You’ll find plans in my catalog for schooners as small as 16′.

But What About “Performance?”

Reading the ads makes you think that the production boat designers have broken all sorts of barriers and that today we have a wonderful new thing; the ‘Performance Cruising Sailboat’. Well, I believe that the only way to define a successful ‘performance boat’ is by whether or not it does its designed goals well. A race boat that looses regularly and a cruising boat that is hard to handle are not performance boats.

Speed on the water, especially SAILBOAT speed, is quite relative. Heeled over in a chop, spray flying across the deck, sails straining and rigging whistling; you bravely crawling to the plunging foredeck one hand hold at a time, can be really exciting even though the knot meter is reading just 6 knots…. It used to be thought that averaging 100 miles in 24 hours, 4 knots, was a pretty good passage. I have a hunch it still isn’t bad. So what is all this ‘performance’ stuff the ads talk about anyway?

That description ‘performance boat generally applies to light and moderate wind conditions, and pointing into the wind. The boats that excel in these typical day-sailing conditions are basically dinghy shaped hulls, light to moderate displacement which means they have low wetted surface area, and they have large sail plans. It all depends on how you plan to use the boat. If all you want is vacation sailing than a light displacement hull, a fin keel and separate rudder, unprotected prop and shaft, is fine. You don’t care about not being able to carry a lot of weight in provisions, gear, and personal effects.You don’t worry about not having a hull built stout enough (and the resulting weight) to take rough usage. Handling ease is secondary to light weather ‘sport sailing’ performance. Steadiness and predictable behavior don’t matter. The roll motion doesn’t matter. Those are the things you will be giving up because while they are important for a cruising type boat, they aren’t at all important for a day-sailing boat. And while you can certainly day-sail the cruising type boat, cruising the lighter type won’t be as comfortable or safe. I hope you understand that it’s very ignorant to judge a sailboats ‘performance’ by how well it does in Saturday afternoon races in the harbor, unless of course you want a boat for that use.

Plenty of modern production boats are out cruising and in most cases the owners are into the boat for far more money and aren’t nearly as comfortable or even safe as people out there in boats designed for it, but to each his own. Still, it’s sad to hear of people quitting cruising when the reason is usually that they don’t have the right equipment, but they don’t know they don’t.

It’s that old ‘Man Against The Sea’ mentality that gets em! I have nothing to prove when I go sailing and I like to take it easy when I’m out on a boat. My idea of a good time on a sailboat is stretched out on the foredeck or reading at the dinette while the boat steers itself. I don’t remember how many times I’ve hove-to and drifted, laying in the bunk reading, for 3 and 4 days at a time when the weather was uncomfortably rough. I’ve never been in trouble in a boat, even during a 2 year stint in an engineless, full keel, heavy displacement, low SA/D, CRUISING sailboat.

Buehler VAGABOND Class:

I’ve always loved the Colin Archer and Bill Atkin double enders but they are expensive and difficult to build and there was no way, especially back whenI was a young guy chomping at the bit to ‘get out there’ thatI could ever afford to buy one, nor did I have the skills to build one. But I loved the look.

The solution was what I now call my Vagabond boats; double enders, low and sleek, cutter rigged. I think these boats are the essence of the ocean cruising sailboat; sort of the ‘Volks boat’ or “Every Man’s” cruiser. They ARE obtainable, if you have the energy, or perhaps courage isa better word, to get off your tail and do it. The original was a 26′ cutter, the first JUNO. I designed and built her while working the night shift in a welfare hospital in Oakland,California (keeping my ass a LONG way from Viet-Nam). She cost about $3500 in 1970’s dollars, and I spent two years cruising her into Mexico and over to Hawaii. I had a ball. I sold her inHawaii and came to Seattle where I built the next JUNO, the 36 footer that you’ll see in my Building Book. I designed her on the dinette table of JUNO #1 while cruising to Hawaii.I accidentally ended up in the yacht design bidness and since then, many plans for JUNO were sold, and I suspect more were built from the plans in Buehler’s Backyard Boatbuilding.

I LOVE JUNO but after living aboard 4 years and using her, I “fine tuned” the idea, and currently EMILY, JUNA, RUARRI, and OTTER are the Vagabond boats. JUNA is the same project as JUNO but is, I’m sorry to say, a “better” boat because she’s stiffer and more weatherly. But she ain’t got that great “in yo face mamma” look of JUNO. But she looks pretty good, is just as steady, and as I said, a better all around sailboat. WhileEMILY is rather light to be built of steel (unless you’re not afraid of 1/8′) so is planked wood or plywood, the others can be wood, plywood, or steel.

The Cruising Powerboat:

As we enter the 21st century its hard to remember that as recently as the 1930’s the Northern Californian, Oregon, and most of Washington coast towns almost only contact with the outside world was from the sea. And while of course sail went up and down these coasts, since the beginning of the 20th century small powerboats have been out there, summer and winter, and never written about in the marine press.

Small powerboats have demonstrated unbelievable feats of seaworthiness, far more so than the stereotype ocean cruising sailboat that most people believe is what you need to safely and economically cruise the seas. We have read about grand cruises of people in sailboats, but while these few were out sailing and writing countless small powerboats were out there too. God alone knows how many little fishboats, 30 to 50 foot, have gone up and down the coasts. Far more than pleasure sailboats, and none with publicity.

The small seagoing powerboat long ago proved itself to be not only a safe and feasible vessel to venture out to sea in, but to be a considerably more comfortable thing to go to sea in than a sailboat steered with a stick, you sitting out on what is all to frequently a wet deck, in the weather, trying to harness a wind that usually is either not there, too strong, or blowing from where you want to go.

It’s interesting that modern advertising has taken the qualities that made the small oceangoing fishboats good seaboats and played them up as selling points for the more robust powerboats and at the same time, contemporary production sailboat advertising has gone the opposite direction!The features that make a small boat, sail OR power, safe in open water; displacement and heavy scantlings, reliable systems, a sea-kindly hull, are today considered UNDESIRABLE in sailboats by many contemporary designers and safe and rugged cruising sailboat design is considered “second rate” by the current marine press, yet the identical concept but in powerboats is written up glowingly……

The long range cruising powerboat is NOT a new concept. It is a sensible and cost efficient concept when compared to a sailboat, especially the typical modern production sailboat.

I’ve become so interested in the concept of the efficient and practical cruising powerboat that I wrote a book about them. It’s called ‘THE TROLLER YACHT BOOK, published by WW Norton Company, available though this site or at any bookstore. And, I offer a number of cruising power designs.

How Much Will A New Boat Cost?

Years ago I noticed that the systems and methods used on the small commercial boats I grew up around are usually stouter and more reliable than the yachtsman’s way of doing it, considerably less expensive, and work perfectly well on a pleasure boat. Of course this only applies to what I call ‘normal’ cruising type boats because if you go off on a tangent of very light displacement or especially a multi-hull, than weight becomes an issue, and THAT is what gets expensive. If you want strength and minimal weight it requires top craftsmanship and top grade materials because you must keep the structure as light as possible. And that costs money. The fact is you can build a solid, safe, comfortable and good looking boat, power or sail, for an amount within the ability of a so called ‘average’ working person to earn. It’s even easier when a couple both participate.My book; BUEHLER’S BACKYARD BOATBUILDING tells how to make masts, chainplates, rudder fittings, and so on yourself, and gives many tips on how to keep costs down while creating a good looking, long lived, and safe ship.

Many people never start building a boat because they mistakenly believe they need to have a large amount of money to start. But if you stop looking at a boat as a finished boat but instead see it as individual pieces, it becomes obvious that each piece is minor both in costs as well as complexity of assembly. For instance, the framing of a 50′ steel boat might take 1,000 lb. of flat-bar. That costs less than $300, and will keep you busy for several weeks.

How Long Will It Take To Build It?

A 40 to 50 foot boat normally takes most people 3 to 4 years of serious part time work. The time goes down considerably if you hire the hull built, then you finish it out. While a complete boat can look overwhelming, it’s just a series of little pieces joined together and each individual piece isn’t hard to join to another. The hardest part of the whole deal is starting. If you manage that you’ll finish it. How long will it take? One 28′ HAGAR took 3 months and another 7 years. If you work on it you’ll finish it.


Well, please forgive me for running on so long but I thought it important I explain the basic philosophy many of these boats were designed along. I admit many of my designs look rather traditional, ‘dated’, some might say. Well, I like the type. I think the ‘classic’ look is timeless and will look good even when our distant offspring are boating on the stars. Many current ideas of esthetics leave me cold. Reverse curved transoms, excessive freeboard, short keels, and dull or drooping sheer lines all may have their place, but rarely appeal to me. I find most contemporary designs boring, to tell you the truth, and I like boats, and people for that matter, with a bit of personality.

Bucko Buehler, (4/05 – 5/06) We miss you….