Home - Project Just Right
Chapter 1 - My goals and Requirements
Chapter 2 - Choosing the Boat to Build
Chapter 3 - Preliminaries, What I Did Before Starting
Chapter 4 - Setting up Frames and Building the Hull
Chapter 5 - Interior
Chapter 6 - Deck and Exterior
Chapter 7 - Topside Details
Chapter 8 - Keel, Centerboard, and Rudder
Chapter 9 - Mast, Rigging, Sails, Outboard & Anchors
Chapter 10 - The Electrical System
Chapter 11 - The Trailer and Trailering
Chapter 12 - Sea Trials and Cruising Pictures
Chapter 13 - Future Projects ... When is a Boat Finished?
Chapter 14 - Useful Information... Sources and Links
Chapter 15 - Questions and Answers
Chapter 16 - Other Vagabond Builders and Aficionados
Chapter 17 - A Few Good Ideas
Chapter 18 - Chapter 18 - Specifications and Equipment

Chapter 2 - Choosing which Boat to Build

But Which Boat to Build?

I'll confess a lifelong fascination with boats, from my childhood rafts and kayaks to the last 30 years of serious sailing, racing, and kayaking out of Southern California. I cartooned lots of small boats and actually designed several for contest entries. I make an annual pilgrimage to the Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend WA and have seen a wide variety of small craft of all sorts and talked with builders, designers and owners. I've had the pleasure of meeting and talking with small cruiser pioneers Patrick Ellam and John Guzzwell as well as reading their books. Since 1969, I have owned a 505 dinghy, two Santana 22s, an Albin Vega 27, and last, a Mirage 5.5. I have crewed and raced on a number of boats of all sizes. I've built a Bolger Light Dory V, two Dobler Pepitas, and a Pygmy Kayak, all stitch and glue plywood construction except the dory.

Over all these years of petting boats, I accumulated lots of ideas. I summarized what I was looking for in the Requirements section that preceded this. I didn't find any production boats that I liked so the alternative was to build. Never satisfied with my own designs, I looked at a number of plans. I followed up on a New Zealand boat called a Young 6 Meter. Since I had built several stitch and glue boats, I liked the Young. It was water ballasted which I also liked. I saw one boat built in Vancouver and another in Auckland. I visited the designer in Auckland and purchased the plans. One haunting fear for me with this design was a 30 foot needle like spar that reminded me of the 505 mast with no backstay. As much as I liked the rest of the boat, I didn't feel secure with the rig.

Along about this time, I purchased the Mirage 5.5 to gain some experience with a boat similar in size to what I was looking for. I raced the boat out of Oxnard in a variety of along-shore conditions. The Mirage sailed well in light air and with my 550 - 650 pound friends hiking out, heavy air was thrilling to say the least. One nice day about 10 miles offshore, with the chute up on a beam reach, we broached and spent the rest of the trip to shore worrying about how I was going to get the tangled chute off the headstay. I was sailing that day not with my usual complement of heavyweights but with my 115 pound cruising crew that I planned to help me sail the new boat. That experience coupled with snapping the mast with an excessive 800 pound crew weight in 30 knots and six foot seas with an unfamiliar hired gun at the tiller led me to search for another design.

Roaming around the internet, I ran across Jacques Merten's site and the plans for the Primo. It was the boat that I wished I had designed, it met my requirements and fitted well with my prior experience as well. While I was tracking the Primo, Jacques revised the boat into a stitch and glue design named the Vagabond. I still liked the Young water ballast idea and did not have experience with the keel/centerboard design. On a trip to Florida, I offered to take Jacques to lunch to talk about the Vagabond. Well, lunch extended until almost 5 PM. The more we talked, the better I liked the Vagabond. I found out that one of the many advantages of the keel was that it was designed so the boat could ground out resting on the keel when the tide receded, a feature I liked after my Puget Sound experiences. The fractional rig was exactly what I was looking for. Unlike the PHRF standard righting test from 90 degrees, the French require righting from 135 degrees. The flush side decks have lots of advantages. Best of all, I liked the looks of the boat. We sat in Jacques office, surrounded by his computers and plotters. I liked the quality of his computer designed plans. Near the end of the conversation, I knew I wanted to build the boat and casually mentioned that my garage was 20 feet long and the boat was only 18. Jacques suggested adding a "skirt' to the Vagabond. It makes the Vagabond Plus LOA equal to 20 feet, qualifying for a PHRF rating in case one wants to race. Best of all, the skirt provides a great, and simple motor mount and swim step. I purchased a set of plans with the promise of the skirt drawing to follow.

When the plans arrived, I spent more time than I'll confess in thought experiments on how to complete and outfit the Vagabond Plus. In going through some of my Pepita notes, I remembered building a simple female mold to hold the panels during construction. In our next visit with Jacques, he confirmed that that was an alternative way to build the boat and had a number of advantages. In Email that followed, he filled me in on his "basket mold" ideas.

The Vagabond was Derived from the Primo

When I first discovered "boat plans online", Jacques' earlier web site, I found an offering of plans for the Primo. The Primo was apparently a French design for home builders using the earlier plywood over frames and chines. Apparently a number of potential customers liked the design but wanted to build in taped seam construction. With the original designers permission, Jacques Mertens redrew the boat using modern computer methods for taped seam composite construction. The new boat was offered as the 5.5 meter Vagabond. In discussions with Jacques, he agreed to modify the design for me to include the aft skirt which provided a solid motor mount and platform for a boarding ladder. The skirt augmented version was dubbed the Vagabond Plus or Vagabond 20 since it was now 20 feet long.

Although the boat design looked great to me, I kept trying to find some testimonials from Primo owners. Finally in January 2001, Yves in France was kind enough to so some research on the Primo for me. Here is his note. His English is pretty good but I did edit the note somewhat.

"Last Friday, I spoke by phone with a PRIMO builder. He said he and his wife had built his boat over a two year period working only on weekends. He was very happy of his boat. He sailed her for two years and then sold her and built another larger boat. He sailed with his wife from his home town of La Rochelle to south Britany and back. It is about 300 miles out and 300 miles back. He said it's a very good boat."

Ives sent an article he found in the January 1986 issue of a journal named Bateaux"


PRIMO: 18 feet

Architects: BEZIER - VILLENAVE 1985

Day boat lovers take notice. The Primo, in spite of its size, is a worthy descendant of the old coastal cruisers. Because of her hull and her rigging, she is a performance boat. The cockpit is small but the interior is useful and comfortable to live in.

Good points: The interior, availability in kit form.

Weak points: You must prefer storage space to interior space.

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