At less than 12 feet, SCAMP boat offers big features in a tiny package


The SCAMP's more unusual features include a water ballast tank and an offset centerboard. Photo by Debra Colvin

Imagine being able to take all of the features you like in a wide variety of boats and combine them to create your ideal boat.

That’s what the publishers of Port Townsend-based Small Craft Advisor magazine did, resulting in the sturdy and innovative SCAMP (Small Craft Advisor Magazine Project), an 11-foot, 11-inch open-cabin boat that weighs about 420 pounds and is designed to be the smallest possible safe, comfortable cruising sailboat.

The boat’s more unusual features include a water ballast tank, an offset centerboard, a “veranda” to provide shelter from the elements, and a draft of just eight inches when the centerboard is raised — allowing intrepid sailors to explore waterways not accessible by most other boats.

It has a simple balanced lugsail rig and is intended to be sailed or rowed, but can also be fitted with an outboard in place of the rudder.

The SCAMP has garnered the endorsement of small boat adventurer Howard Rice, who has sailed and paddled a 15-foot sailing canoe solo around Cape Horn in both directions.

“In my opinion, it’s a new category of small daysailing and cruising boat,” Rice said. “There’s nothing else like it.”

Small Craft Advisor editor Josh Colvin talks about SCAMP during the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival in September.

Josh Colvin, editor of Small Craft Advisor, said the idea to commission a boat design grew out of the 70-plus boat reviews the magazine has done since its launch 11 years ago. He and co-editor Craig Wagner had long fantasized about designing their own boat, but aren’t boat designers.

“So we thought, what if we took all our ideas to somebody we know shares some of these ideas?”

That somebody was New Zealand boat designer John Welsford, who designs the type of small, rugged sailboats that Colvin and Wagner had in mind. They wanted a boat that was seaworthy and safe, that could be daysailed by a small family or taken out overnight with one or two people.

They gave Welsford their ideas and requested specific features such as the veranda, essentially a hard dodger that enables the skipper to sleep with a covered head while keeping an eye out through portholes in its sides. It also overhangs the doors to two storage compartments, allowing items to be pulled out of storage and kept dry.

The tradeoff was an area that provides dry stowage, buoyancy and protection from the weather, instead of a claustrophobic, potentially unsafe berth.

Colvin and Wagner also wanted a boat that has a flat bottom with skegs so it remains upright even if the tide goes out, meaning it can stay overnight in small, shallower places instead of being knocked around by waves and wakes in big-boat anchorages.

Welford also added a few ideas of his own — among them, offsetting the centerboard and tucking it in the starboard side seat front so it stays out of the way and also allows for a cockpit sole and single berth that is just over eight feet long and 24 inches wide. The space can be turned into a double berth by putting a filler board between the cockpit seats.

It was also Welsford’s idea to include a water ballast tank that holds 173 pounds of water to increase stability, but can be emptied out on light air days to make the boat sail faster.

The boat

When the plans were nearing completion, Colvin took them to the Northwest Maritime Center in Port Townsend to have a prototype built. On the recommendation of Kees Prins, an educator at the center, the boat was enlarged slightly, but since it’s smaller than 12 feet, it doesn’t need to be registered in most states.

Prins also urged Colvin and Wagner to make the boat available in a kit, so they enlisted the help of the Port Townsend company Turn Point Design, which has done work for 33rd America’s Cup winner BNW ORACLE Racing. The company made the CAD (computer-aided design) drawings used for the SCAMP kit. The input from various collaborators, Colvin said, was a huge benefit.

“We think we ended up with a boat that’s better than any one person could come up with,” he said.

The SCAMP caught the early attention of Rice, who had been working with an Italian designer to create a boat for an upcoming sailing expedition he’s planning (he declined to be specific about the trip, saying only that “there’s going to be ice involved, and lots of it.”)

After seeing the SCAMP plans, Rice knew the boat had everything he wanted. He immediately ordered two kits.

The SCAMP prototype was launched last November and Rice came to Port Townsend just after Christmas to try it out. He took the boat out during a snowstorm with 30-knot winds, sailing it across the bay to Marrowstone Island and returning the following afternoon. It was stable, roomy and sailed like a dream, he said.

But Rice wasn’t entirely satisfied. He wanted to know how the boat would handle when capsized – specifically, if it would not blow away, be easy to get back into and be able to sail away without being bailed out. In March, Rice, who lives in Micronesia, returned to Port Townsend and took the SCAMP out for capsize testing.

Rice capsized the boat eight times in winds of 20 to 25 knots. The tests included turtling SCAMP – turning it upside down – and righting it without a righting line. SCAMP performed wonderfully, he said. Video of the capsize testing is available here and here.

“This boat is very hard to capsize because of the water ballast,” Rice said. “It performed exactly the way I thought it would.”

Rice was also impressed by the boat’s blunt, wide pram bow. A traditional pointed bow can easily be buried when sailing downwind, causing the boat to round up quickly and possibly broach. But the SCAMP’s pram bow, Rice said, has almost no tendency to round up.

Another feature Rice liked was the SCAMP’s generous storage, which includes space under the seats and cockpit floor. The boat contains seven discrete, watertight chambers for flotation; even if two of those were punctured, Colvin said, the boat would still float high in the water.

Plans for the SCAMP are $149 and kits start at $2,100, including all plywood parts and a custom jig. Both are available through the magazine’s website or by calling 800.979.1930.

Colvin said 75 sets of SCAMP plans and kits have been sold since last November, and response from magazine readers and others has been overwhelmingly positive.

“We were legitimately surprised,” he said. “We knew it was going to do well, but it did even better than we expected.”

Rice, who plans to launch his first of two SCAMPs he’s building next spring, envisions the microcruiser being used for everything from light daysailing with the family to longer solo passages.

“I think this boat is destined to be a classic,” he said.

3 Responses to At less than 12 feet, SCAMP boat offers big features in a tiny package

  1. smilicus October 10, 2011 at 11:47 pm #

    Love the design, you will soon get my order for plans.

  2. Stephen Ruhl October 9, 2011 at 4:40 am #

    Looking into plans and coming to Port Townsand to see this boat again.

  3. Aaron October 3, 2011 at 9:10 am #

    A good looking boat!

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