Copyright 2024 - Woods Designs, 16 King St, Torpoint, Cornwall, PL11 2AT UK
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Following is a review of the Chat 18 that was published in the American magazine Small Craft Advisor, see HERE


Invariably whenever I create a new design, someone will write and tell me, "This is the boat I've been searching for! I can't wait to start building, but I was wondering if it would be possible to..." And I get everything from "make it five feet longer" to "install an automatic dishwasher."

Since I have just spent months developing, designing and finally drawing the new boat, I know that even a small modification can have enormous consequences on the overall design, and there is usually no way to accommodate the client's request. However that request can send me off in a new direction and the development of a yet another new design.

That was the case this time.

Last year I released a new design, the Saylon. This is a 20' in-shore, trailable catamaran cruiser and is a great little family boat which maximizes accommodation and features a center cockpit. It is easy to build and safe and fun to sail in sheltered waters. However, within a month of the article appearing, I had a response from someone who admired the Saylon, but asked if it could be made even simpler and more basic.

The potential builder was asking for a day sailer without sleeping accommodations but with a small open-back cuddy, similar to my hugely successful Strike 18 trimaran, that would be big enough to get inside to brew up or use a porta potti. She also wanted a mast she could raise herself, and a boat she could launch and trail easily. Requests like this are typical of the trend toward even smaller, more basic daysailers, or "pocket cruisers."

Although I have designed many small boats, they have mainly been racing dinghies or coastal cruisers rather than pure daysailers.

So I started work. I always say “get the smallest boat you need not the biggest you want,” so with that in mind, plus the “keep it simple” requirements, I drew the Chat18 18ft long, but kept the same beam and soft chine, flat bottomed hull shape that I used on the Saylon.

The high freeboard, plus the protection that the cuddy provides, helps keep crew and passengers dry. The hulls have extra buoyancy aft to support crew weight (many small catamarans trim by the stern with crew on board).

The bridgedeck clearance is kept as high as possible and it is "Veed" for extra stiffness and to reduce wave slap. The cockpit seats are 2m (6ft6in) long so the integral boom tent means it is quite feasible for two people to camp on board. The flat, non heeling cockpit is a safe place for young children to play, with no chance of them getting near the gunwale edge and possibly falling overboard.

Many small boats use a lug sail – even though it is inefficient, especially to windward. But it does have major advantages; the short spars are easily home built using the standard "birds mouth" construction and the mainsail can be rolled round the spars and stowed in the cockpit when on the trailer. However rather than a lugsail, the Chat18 uses a gunter rig, which has always been very popular on small boats, like the Mirror dinghy with 70,000 sold. A gunter still keeps those lugsail advantages, but performance nearly matches a bermudian rig. Chat18's two full length battens increase both mainsail area and efficiency and allow the leech to twist off in wind gusts, while the "soft" lower part is easier to "read" and reduces rig weight and cost compared to a full battened sail. Of course the Chat18 is very stable, for the rig is smaller than most 16ft beach cats and obviously it's fitted on a much heavier boat.

The Chat18 is only 8ft wide, so it is easy to trail and no assembly is needed. Indeed it will be quicker than most small monohulls to get from the trailer to the water, typically 15 minutes. That's because raising the mast is quick and easy and there is no keel or rudder to lower, or water ballast to fill. Furthermore, the boat is a rectangular platform, so it is safe and easy to walk around on when onshore, while most of the gear and the sails can be left in place when trailering. The trailer itself is just a regular flat bed trailer, no supports or rollers are needed. Nothing overhangs the back of the boat when on the trailer.

The engine fits in a nacelle for easy access and to increase manouverability. A 2.5hp outboard (or maybe a yuloh) is suggested for sailing, but up to 20 hp is possible when using the Chat18 as a motor sailer with speeds around 10 knots. The Chat18 is fitted with low aspect ratio keels for simplicity of both building and sailing, however daggerboards are an option for very shallow water sailing. The rudders are fixed, so are stronger than a lifting rudder setup. The rudder fittings use a "figure of 8" lashing system, thus avoiding buying expensive fittings. The rudders themselves are offset to increase the effective width of the transom boarding steps.

Despite its small size and the essential watertight compartments, which make the Chat18 unsinkable, there is still lots of storage space in the hulls for anchor, warps, fenders, deck cushions, BBQ, fishing tackle and all the other "stuff" that makes a day out on the water more enjoyable.

The Chat18 is small enough to “stitch and glue.” The two lower hull side and bottom panels are cut out and stitched together forming two dory-shaped hulls. Then the main bulkheads are pushed into place. After checking everything is square (made easier as the hull bottoms are flat) the inner joints are all glassed. The upper hull panels are fitted next, the chine joint is glass tape so there is no wood to plane or bevel. Then the bridgedeck floor and cockpit seats are fitted and finally the cuddy sides and roof.

The whole boat is flat panel or single curvature so you could build the boat without touching a plane or making any bevels. I am expecting a build time of under 300 hours ready to paint, quicker of course if you buy a kit. So the Chat18 is certainly feasible to build over a winter in a double garage using around 20 sheets of plywood, "hardware store" lumber and minimal tools, thus making it an ideal first boat project.

I have been racing dinghies and small boats for over 60 years, yet, as I've grown older, I've come to realize there is much to be said for a leisurely, comfortable afternoon sail with friends and family.

I believe Chat18 is the boat that will deliver just that. Just don't ask me to add a jacuzzi on the foredeck!

A final, indeed authoritative, comment - SCA's editor admitted "I sail mostly monohulls but the truth is a small catamaran like this makes a better cruiser, virtue for virtue."