I am hooked on paddleboarding. If you’ve never done it, it might seem strange, seeing people standing on large surfboards, rowing while standing*. But the advantages over kayaks are enormous. Now, I’ve kayaked for years. I love kayaking, both down rivers and in oceans. In oceans, though, paddleboards are so much better. You can paddle into small waves and transition into surfing. And standing up allows you to see down into clear water to watch the life beneath the surface. Sitting in a kayak, all you get is an oblique view and a lot of glare.
You also get a full-body workout on a paddleboard. They’re better for your back. You can do yoga on a paddleboard as well, and they’re easier to right when capsized, can’t fill with water, and easier to get on and off if you’re snorkeling (also easier to strap a leash on your ankle and snorkel a reef while “towing” your board.
For those who live on boats, paddleboards have been transformative. You get all these advantages, and yet you can still sit on them and paddle with a kayak paddle, or strap a cooler and fishing gear on your board, all with something that’s much easier to stow than a kayak.
Note I said “easier” and not “easy.” The truth is, paddleboards might be much more conducive to life on a boat, but they are still a pain in the butt to stow. The most often live on the rails, where they get beat up from the rigors of sailing and the elements. You have to strap them down tight, which means thinking twice about grabbing them for a quick daily paddle or a lap around the anchorage at sunset. Plus, they add windage to your boat, affecting the way the mothership rides at anchor, maneuvers in any kind of wind, and even sails. Not to mention, they just clutter the heck out of your deck. That’s a large sheet of fiberglass strapped to the rails (often to both rails, as one paddleboard is just cruel to the rest of your crew).
Inflatable paddleboards aren’t the answer. Sure, they’ve gotten better, but they are still pigs in the water. And who is really going to deflate and then re-inflate these boards every time you want to go for a paddle? You’ll end up paddling less or just leaving the thing inflated, which is what a friend of mine does. He has four paddleboards on his large catamaran, three of them inflatable, and all four remain lashed to the rails. All of the inconvenience for boards that don’t ride as well as the rigid kind.
No catamaran under 60′ has really tackled this problem. And it is a problem. Just look around any crowded anchorage. Or talk to owners and find out how often they paddle and if they wished there was a better solution. The best thing I’ve seen is the Neel 65, but this is a trimaran, and a massive and expensive boat at that. The Neel 65 uses its two amas for water toy storage (the center hull houses the dinghy). This is more a product of all that unusable living space and the gargantuan size of the boat than anything else. Surely there could be a solution in the range of boat I’m looking at, right?
The nearest thing I saw at any of the boat shows was the St. Francis 50, but even here, it wouldn’t work. On the St. Francis, there’s an ingenious compartment inside the coamings to either side of the cockpit seating. These are perfect places to put long items that just don’t go anywhere nice on a boat. Your gaff, cleaning poles, boat hook, fishing rods, beach umbrellas — anything like this just slides right into these 7 foot long by 24 inches wide compartments. You could even put a surfboard in here, if you wanted.
That’s the compartment on the right side of the picture above. You hinge that upward, and the cavity goes all the way past the helm seat. It ends at that low wall where you see a couple lines disappearing into a line locker. I would say it’s over seven feet long.
It’s not nearly big enough for a paddleboard, though. Not even close. The immediate problem is the width of the compartment. Paddleboards have to be wide, or they’re difficult to stand and balance on. A general width is roughly 32″ – 36″. That hatch is only 24″ to 26″ wide, at the very bottom. Might as well give up the idea, right?
Well, that’s what I was thinking at the Annapolis boat show, until I looked inside the hatch. You see, that compartment is wider on the inside than the hatch suggests. If you were to reach inside the hatch in the picture above, and feel around the left side at the bottom, you’ll find that the compartment is a good ten or twelve inches wider than the hatch!
You can see why in this next picture:
See that step that runs right under the helm seat before ending? That’s the back of the cockpit seating, and that space is hollow. It’s part of the storage space inside that hatch. So the compartment is wide enough, but the hatch would have to be expanded. That’s not a trivial job. And even if you could do that, the problems mount up. Let’s say you get the compartment wide enough, it’s still not long enough! A good length for a beginner or intermediate paddleboarder is around 10 feet 6 inches. The entire length of this compartment is around 7 feet. But look where that step ends! A good two and a half feet short of the rest of the compartment.
So here’s where I started thinking outside the box. You see, I had a week aboard this boat leading up to the Miami show. I had a tape measure with me, and a pad and a pen. I started drawing around every obstacle, one at a time. To begin with, I imagined continuing that step all the way to the helm bulkhead. Like this:
That gets the width to continue the length of the compartment. So now we’re around 7 feet 6 inches. Looking at that line compartment, I realized it’s way deeper than it needs to be. All the line is coiled up at the bottom, and there’s 8 inches of air at the top. So let’s bring the floor of that line locker up six inches, and now we have close to 9 feet.
Looking inside the boat, the starboard side is a cinch. Beyond that bulkhead is the cabinet that holds the TV and entertainment center. Behind the TV, we have mostly empty space. So the nose of the board will end up here, and it’ll even taper to match the slant of the TV wall. This bulkhead already has access compartments cut through it, so rigidity isn’t a concern.
The port side has some bigger issues. It has the same compartment, but over here the step runs all the way to the cockpit bulkhead. That’s a good thing, but on the other side of that bulkhead, we have the galley. That’s not so good. It took some poking around to figure out where the nose of the board would come in. I was down in the aft port cabin, knocking on what I had traced to be the floor of the compartment, if extended forward, and I heard something rattling. Plates. Up in the galley, I saw that the nose of the paddleboard would be in the leftmost of the three black sliding compartments you see below.
Okay, that isn’t catastrophic. I’d easily give up a compartment for plates to get a paddleboard off the rails and in a protected garage. But then I measured the width, and I realized the nose of the board wouldn’t taper in time. The board would actually poke through that wall and cover that hatch in the counter you can barely see to the left of the cutting board.
That wasn’t good. That hatch is the drying rack, where you put dishes to dry (complete with a 12v fan!). I love that space. It keeps both sinks empty and dishes drying out of sight. Now my paddleboard is encroaching into my galley and counter space. This was all before I knew if the step on the starboard side could be extended, or if the hatches could even be expanded. I started giving up on the idea.
But at the Miami Boat Show, I told Duncan, the founder of St. Francis Marine, about my idea. All these boats are sold at the show with no toys on them, and they look great. But then you move aboard, clutter the decks with paddleboards, and they look less great. I showed him what I was thinking, and he kept saying, “No problem. No problem.” I couldn’t believe it. They could change the shape of the hatches for me? Extend that step on the starboard side?
So I started looking at the galley again, seeing how this could be done. For one thing, the window you see in the picture above is already going to change that cabinetry. I’m going to lose that large cubby to the right of the microwave as the window extends aft. Not a big deal, as that cubby isn’t very deep, and I would much rather look out at the water from the sink. But then I realized we’re angling the TV wall on the other side more gradually, and we could do the same here, bringing that entire fixture forward by running the wall to the edge of window you see behind the stove. And the dish dryer can go on the other side of the sink, as that part of the counter just has a drawer that opens on the other side and isn’t even a part of the galley. The sink itself could slide two inches to the right and be more centered on the standing space between the two counters.
So I get something like this:
A lot to look at here. The red boxes on the left are the new walls in the galley. Widening the wall and bringing it forward actually saves the lost cupboard and makes it deeper. It also allows the microwave to move aft a bit, as there’s now more space behind it. The dish dryer is roughed in to the right of the sink, and the sink slides over to center on that blue line. You can see the new shape of the window as well, and how you’ll be able to better see out onto the water. Not shown here is my idea for putting a narrow cubby on top of the paddleboard nose area so you can still have a place to put flatware. Nothing is lost, really. And a whole lot is gained.
The builders at St. Francis are attacking this modification with gusto. Below, you can see the existing hatch as it pops out of the deck mold. You can also see where they’ve taped off and marked the new cut for the modified hatch. They went outboard over an inch and inboard what looks to be ten or so inches. This gets us the 33 inches needed for my boards.
Here you can see both openings have been cut out. Now they’re just waiting on the hatches to be manufactured, and for me to slip my boards in there!
Still a lot of work and designing to do to accommodate the boards all the way to the tip of their noses. That step on the starboard side will need to be extended, and the interior compartments figured out. But we’re well on our way to solving what I think is a big problem that no one really talks about, because there hasn’t been an inkling of a solution except to sell inflatable boards that few will take the time to inflate and deflate for every use.
Think about this, as you check out the above picture: You drop anchor and launch your tender, which sits on a teak deck that extends another 18 inches off the edge of the walkway you see above. You decide to go for a paddle, so you open the compartment and slide your board out. Resting it on the teak dinghy platform, you pop your fin in your board and tighten one screw. Now you’re right there at the steps to launch the board. Your paddle is right there in the compartment. You’re off.
When you get back, you place the board on the teak deck and give it and yourself a rinse. You can leave it to dry right there, or slip it back inside its compartment to dry. Just one screw to pop off the fin, and you’re done. The board is put away, protected, the deck uncluttered, no need to walk down the length of the hull with a 10’6″ board, banging both it and the hull to death.
I love it. Can’t wait to see it in action. If anyone is coming to the Annapolis show in October, be sure to check this out and see if we managed to pull it off!
*I almost wrote erect. Reconsidered.