Wayfinder Build: Part 1 – The Design

There is no such thing as a perfect boat. Every choice is a compromise. What I love about the St. Francis is that you even have choices. These are semi-custom boats, in that the hull molds are reused and structural bulkheads can’t be changed, but everything else is up to you and what you are willing to spend. Many of the options don’t cost a thing. Since the furniture is hand-built, rather than popped out of molds, you can travel to the yard in St. Francis Bay, South Africa and lay the boat out how you choose at no extra charge.

For instance, one of the things I don’t like about many catamarans is the curved settees in the saloon. From my time aboard other boats, I find these designs uncomfortable for lounging. There’s no straight back to rest against and stretch your feet out. And if you try to lay down, you have to curve your body to match the curve of the cushions.

I prefer something more like a booth, where you sit facing each other for conversing, playing cards or chess, and able to look to the side to see forward rather than having to turn all the way around. So I asked the builder to square up the settee and turn one side into a chaise lounge that will look directly out the saloon door and out over the aft of the boat. You can see that design below:

Internal layout 50#19 copy 2


The settee table will drop down to form a daybed, which I see us using a lot not for guests but for sleeping up-top or for watching a movie on a rainy day. The three cushions along the centerline of the boat will probably be a tad longer. There will be room here for an adult to stretch all the way out. I feel some serious reading and napping taking place right here. Again, the view from this placement is straight out the back of the boat. It’s just ideal.

As you can see, part of this design includes doubling the width of the nav station, so two people can sit at a bench instead of one person at a chair. My experience on other boats is that often two people want to look over routes and waypoints together, or share a laptop screen to check the weather while planning a cruise. The wider station will also allow me to keep a laptop open without the screen covering any of the instruments, another annoyance I’ve run into on other boats, as the temptation is always to fill that expanse of space with lots of gizmos you don’t really need or rarely use. I plan on leaving a large space, understanding that my open laptop screen will fill it.

This nav station will serve as my office. While I looked at some boats that had entire hulls dedicated to the owners, complete with desks, I’d rather work up top with a view. Not pictured in the above drawing is a rack of drawers on the right side of the nav station that will come out beside the bench, matching the extension on the left side. The nav station and settee meet at the centerline of the boat. What’s cool about the settee design is that it still seats the same number of people, they are just wrapped around a rectangular table, with room for four of the people to face one another, rather than sit at a huge crescent.

Down below, there will be some major changes as well. Where I got really lucky with this boat is the stage of build she’s in. The hull was going to be laid up the week after the show, and the deck has already been built. That means the shortest possible wait for delivery while still getting the boat in time to make some cool changes. The biggest of these is to the portholes.

I’m really glad I got to spend a few days living on the boat and sailing her for a decent passage. This was hull #18 of the St. Francis 50, a gorgeous boat named Guinevere. I loved the boat so much that I considered just buying it so I could move aboard immediately. The boat ended up selling during the Miami show to a lovely and very lucky couple. I would’ve been thrilled with the boat, but now I get a chance to tweak some things for hull #19.

During my time aboard Guinevere, I slept in the port forward bunk, which is nearly identical to the master suite on the starboard side. While in the bunk, you face the side of the hull, where you see a mirror and a dressing station. There’s great storage space here, but what I would really prefer is to look out over the anchorage or the horizon. I asked the builder if this was a possibility. We walked back to the aft bunk, which has an amazing fixed glass porthole right beside the bed, and told him I’d probably sleep back there just for the view.

Duncan showed me the design for the next boat, which was to have a new, second large fixed porthole on both hulls. You can see the location in the schematic above. One of the portholes is over the freezer, on the port side. There will also be one in that blank space just forward of the hanging closet on the starboard side. You can just barely see the double thickness on the edge of the hull showing the location and size of these new windows.

I told Duncan that I loved the idea of adding more light and a bigger view below, and could we do the same at the foot of the two forward bunks? We sketched out a few designs, all of which were at first planned around the shape of the existing mirror, which was a more vertical layout. The curve of the hull here would make that difficult. Duncan went out on the neighboring boat to measure and look at a few things. And then I asked if we couldn’t just scrap the entire dresser design and go with a matching window like the ones he’s adding just aft of the bulkhead.FWD cabin side view copy

Duncan loved the idea. He was worried about how narrow the cupboards would be to either side, but this led to something else I wished the boat had, and that’s a handful of open shelves. Now, the St. Francis 50 is loaded with cupboards. Anywhere there’s interior volume, Duncan puts a hatch or a door so you can use that space. There’s so many cubbies that I’ve warned Amber that we aren’t allowed to use them all. You could easily pack too much stuff onto this boat. I can’t say this enough: There’s room for everything.

So I wasn’t worried about giving up the cabinets to win the view and the light. The same was true of these new open shelves, which will allow us to keep a few books on display (not too many!) and some seashells, pictures of family, and other things that make a space feel like a home (without feeling cluttered). You can see the result of these design ideas in the mockup to the right. This will be the view from the owner’s bunk on the starboard side. On the port side, those open shelves will probably be narrow cupboards. We’ll make that call as the build progresses.

Another change that I’m excited about is the removal of the bathtub in the owner’s suite. This might be nice to have on a few occasions, but it means a very high step to get into what will 99.5% of the time be used as a shower. So instead we’re going with a shower big enough for two, with a bench seat for showering underway, and a central rain head in addition to the regular nozzle. Luxurious. My last boat didn’t have a shower at all. When it rained, I grabbed a bar of soap and ran out on deck to take a shivering bath.

The next change is a pretty involved one that I didn’t think Duncan would go for, but he seems to love a good challenge. I’m hooked on paddleboarding. I love the exercise, the ability to see down into the water, and the meditative aspects. We go often here in Jupiter, and while on a friend’s boat recently, I took the board out every day, either at sunrise or sunset. What stinks about paddleboards is there’s no place to put them. And yeah, I know the inflatable boards are getting better, but you tend to leave them inflated, otherwise you would never use them every day. So these boards end up lashed to the rails, where they look awful, get banged up, and create windage.

The St. Francis 50 has two storage compartments on either side of the cockpit where you can put boat hooks, fishing rods, skis, wakeboards, surfboards, etc. I love these spaces. Boats get cluttered with the items that are too long to fit anywhere else. During the delivery, I spent a lot of time walking around with a tape measure and a sketch pad, trying to sort out how to get a paddleboard into one of these spaces. The problem is that the cavity isn’t nearly long enough. The width is adequate, as long as the hatch door can be changed, which Duncan said is no problem. So how do I get a ten and a half foot board into a seven foot hole?

It turns out that cavity bumps into the sheet locker, which is plenty deep enough to give up six inches at the bottom. So that adds a foot and a half to the cavity and moves it right up to the saloon bulkhead. Which got me poking around inside, where I discovered that the cavity could continue forward and intrude into the galley. It’ll mean giving up one cupboard, which will become a shallow spice rack. That’s an easy trade. As far as I know, this’ll be the first catamaran anywhere close to its size with a dedicated paddleboard garage. I can’t wait to see if it works and be able to demo this with a paddleboard at the Annapolis show. A great bonus to this design is the quick launch of the board, since it’s right there at the aft steps. And no need to lash it to the rails or watch it take a beating.

More tweaks are in store. I’ll update with another post as we progress! Until then, you can see below the new fixed windows set into the hull. This is a photo from the yard, and my first physical look at any part of my new boat. To appreciate how large those windows are, look at the schematic above. There’s a good 2.5 feet between those windows, so the windows themselves are nearly three feet wide! Soon, that won’t be cardboard I’m looking out at, but a brilliant sunrise.


IMG_0474 copy
View of portholes in starboard hull

11 responses to “Wayfinder Build: Part 1 – The Design”

  1. Looks great. This will help to know the boat before I get there. Can’t wait.

    1. Lots of great modifications, but wonder if you need that many bathrooms. What about a couple wet lockers instead?

      1. There’s already a dedicated wetlocker, believe it or not. :)

        And I think the heads will be useful when I start chartering the boat years down the road. I’m thinking of writing workshops at sea. Come join me and two or three other writers for critique sessions, industry talk, snorkeling, yoga, healthy eating, libations, sunsets, etc.

        1. I have no doubt you would get lots of takers on the writing workshops at sea! Let us know when registration opens.

  2. This is awesome. How long until you get your new beauty? And did you go for the extra extravagance of real trex fossils and meteors for handrails? :)

  3. Excellent choice. Looking forward to future installments.

  4. Hugh: I know pretty much nothing about boats, except for my time on gigantic cruise ships. Oh, and a little bit of canoeing. But you sure make the whole subject fascinating.

    Thanks for taking us with you on this journey, and I look forward to reading future books written while you are on board.


  5. Really? You’d bring it to the boat show in Annapolis this fall? I’d totally make the trip to see it. :)

  6. thank you for sharing!! I’d love to hear more about the transition to living off land. Are you keeping the house? What do you do about mail? Etc. such a foreign life but so so exciting!

  7. Very interesting, but a little bit confusing to someone who doesn’t know anything about boats and found his way here from your writing blog. I still haven’t quite figured out where the paddle board is actually going to go. If you could label a few more things in the diagram it might help some other future readers who don’t know boats.

    Also, if you do take it to the boat show in Annapolis I might have to swing by just to say, as I obviously wouldn’t be going for the boats.

  8. Hey Hugh–How will Bella manage on the boat? Is she used to sailing? Where will she use the head? Just curious! :-) It looks amazing!

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