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Boat of the Month

March 2024  Blueberry

By Bill Mead

Her name is Blueberry, but she sails a bit more like a potato. So why would I choose to have a tuber of a sailing vessel? It’s certainly not for the comfort of helming with knees on the floor, seemingly always sitting in a layer of sloshing water. And not for the blinding brilliance of speed experienced in a 7’ hull (probably 6’ on the water line). Doubtful that it’s because of her profound tracking ability when running downwind. Nope, none of these. But since she’s my first sailboat, I have found these traits to be excellent teachers.


Let’s jump back for a moment. I picked up a 1981 O’day DSII to serve as a “blank” for conversion to junk-rigged-solo-expedition-vessel. This conversion comes with heaps of dreamy-eyed-visions of adventure which will require significant modifications. I’ll spare you the details. But naturally, she presents an appetite for time and money. So, in the meantime, I thought maybe a less project-y vessel could get me out on the water. I wanted something easy to transport, rig and learn the basics. And she should satisfy other criteria such as: cheap, small, room for dog, rowable (but lets avoid towable). Can I throw it in the back of my pickup truck and not have to use a trailer? And so began the search.

After a few weeks of looking at used tiny-open-boat-sailing-dinghies online, I stumbled upon this 1981 Ensign Seawitch for sale.


Yup, the same year as my O’day, and with an eager seller. Perfect! She was a simple loose-footed, mast-pocketed, single-sail of a boat. Initially I had no plans of converting her to junk, that is, until the first capsize. One strong puff on all that not-so-reefable canvas and I was committed to change. It was time for a couple days of graph paper planning, followed by many days of sewing machine stitching. I’d already sewn up a sail for the O’day at this point, so with this experience the sail came together quickly.

I based the design on Arne Kverneland’s cambered sail planform. It’s basically a 4 panel version with a 1.80 aspect ratio and 6% camber. I simply divided the lower portion into 2 panels (instead of 4), and then split the top portion in half (instead of thirds) while keeping the recommended 70 degree yard angle. I used spinnaker cloth to make the 36 square foot sail (increasing area by 20%). The 1.5oz cloth was doubled for the pockets and its entirety bolt-roped with 2” seatbelt webbing. 3/4” PVC pipe became the battens and were reinforced with small sections of aluminum tube at the ends. The original aluminum boom became the yard, and the 2-piece aluminum mast was kept in her original step.


As for the hull, I also made some mods. Upon capsize she sat deep and couldn’t be re-entered without further swamping. So I built a watertight “cabin” for her and scraped the foam out of the aft compartment adding a hatch. These new additions not only gave me buoyancy but also provided ample storage space for gear. I also added inflatable buoyancy bags forward of the seat. Now when capsized, she can be re-entered and then bailed without stress.

In the end, Blueberry has proven to work perfectly for her purpose. She sails very well under her new rig. Less twitchy than the original, and the ability to reef keeps her skipper's mind at ease. I tend to set the tiller and do much of my steering by shifting my body weight. For me, the sailing is fun, but the learnings are even more enriching.

Video clips of Blueberry sailing:

Video 1    video 2   Video 3


Our "Boat of the Month" Archive is here, and the forum discussion for comments and candidate suggestions is here

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01 Mar 2024 20:39 • Anonymous member
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