A little design history

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[The following was originally written for an online list devoted to Hen boats: https://groups.io/g/Hensnest/message/21261%5D

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Photo credit: Sarah Bliven

Here’s a Peep Hen story, and a development from this event that took over 10 years to show results.

In something like 2008, Rachel Gimbel and I were sailing my Peep, Serenity, down the Connecticut River from Hartford to Long Island sound. In the section just before Essex, Connecticut, we had a day with a strong northerly wind, at least 20 knots, and gusting higher. The sail was double reefed, and partly scandalized, with the yard let down to about horizontal to dump more wind, which was coming from almost directly astern. That last sail adjustment made things truly manageable, and we were blasting along, covering a mile on the chart every 10 minutes; this put us at 6 knots, probably with a little help from the current. That’s really fast, for a 14′, chunky boat! And heavily loaded for a substantial trip.

Right around when we were going to pass the entrance to Hamburg Cove, a large power cruiser came up from behind, off our starboard quarter. We thought “oh geez, crazy traffic,” which is not terribly uncommon on the Connecticut River. But the power cruiser, at shouting distance in the strong wind, started matching our speed, moving together side-by-side with enough space to not be too scary. A man on the cruiser shouted over to us “I designed that boat.” And then introduced himself – Reuben Trane! That was hugely exciting, which I hollered back to him enthusiastically. He and his companion took pictures, though I’ve never seen them. It must’ve been a sight, with the Peep blasting along like that in the whitecaps.

Reuben then explained that the boat he was on was his new project. It had a substantial cabin, with the top covered with solar panels, which were powering the boat. I later looked it up on the Internet, and it made a major impression on me. It was way out of my price range, and fancier than my general taste, but I really loved that spacious deck, and the cabintop covered with enough solar panels to make the boat go. The only thing missing was sailing capability to go with it.

That image stayed in mind ever since, and a few years ago when I decided to do something about a different boat (there’s a fleet, including the Peep Hen and a 20 foot Bolger Chebacco) I had my chance. I had done a lot of crazy cruising in the Chebacco, and some stints of several weeks at a time in the Peep, and I thought I might be done sailing. That idea lasted until I realized that what I really wanted was to be comfortable at the same time as being afloat. A sail was crucial, but so was something more like a houseboat layout with a spacious cabin and a bunch of open deck, and, for a change, a sturdy motor. I wanted that motor to be electric, and solar, for the quiet, the ease, and the environmental benefits as well as the independence from fuel docks and marina electricity.

Reuben Trane’s power cruiser had two out of those three wish-list characteristics, just missing the sail. Sailing barges could put it all together, and that’s what developed. The result looks nothing like Reuben’s big power cruiser, but the new boat (24′ x 8′ and built out of plywood) has the spaciousness, the solar panels all over the top of the cabin, and the electric motor, that had all stayed in mind for so long since that day on the river.

Thank you, Reuben – that momentary meeting on the Connecticut is really what led to this. And your courage to design “unique” looking boats like the Peep Hen opened up my thinking on getting one’s eye accustomed to outside-the-box approaches that serve the desired uses of a boat. This (along with later help from Phil Bolger’s work) set me up to also embrace Dave Zeiger’s sailing barge Triloboats design, and the combination has brought about Great Auk. The result is giving me great joy.

Great Auk September 2020 off of Sorrento, Maine Photo credit Christopher LarivierePhoto credit: Christopher Lariviere

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More Peep Hen trip photos:

https://smountainlaurel.smugmug.com/Sailing/Serenity-14-ft-Peep-Hen