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Stevenson Weekender

The following notes and photos were submitted by mark as part of his nomination for the 2016 Hal Harper award…

The following notes and photos were submitted by mark as part of his nomination for the 2016 Hal Harper award conducted annually by the NSW Wooden Boat Association.
The Stevenson Weekender is a boat that borrows some good ideas from the golden age of working sail, as well as some new wrinkles from space-age materials. It's a project that combines the best of both worlds - the classic lines of the sea-wise sloops of the turn of the century - and the quick-to-build, lightweight, low maintenance of modern materials.
What would one of the old master boat designers do with modern tools and materials? That was the question that the first Weekender set out to answer when the boat plans were featured in Popular Science magazine over 30 years ago in 1981. To date over 100,000 plans have been sold with the majority being built. A real testament to the cleverness of construction.
Marks Weekender Hull Completed
The result is an extremely rigid, self-aligning structure that pulls itself straight as it is built. This worked great for reducing building time, but it also had some other bonuses. Working with my son and friend the total build time from the purchase of plans to the first sail was 13 months.
Inside, there's over six feet of sleeping room for two. The reason for the extra room inside is the absence of a centre board trunk that usually sits square in the middle of where you want to be. The extra room is what really makes the Weekender a pocket yacht, as two people can take it on a camping trip and still have a light, compact boat that's easy to trailer. To get a sense of the relative sizes of the
Weekender I built a paper model first.
Marks Weekender Interior Completed
Hull-building was just like building a plywood box. After assembling the keel, we cut out the deck, bottom, and bulkhead parts, assembled the deck and hull bottom, screwed the bottom down onto the keel, then fitted the bulkheads and deck down in place. If we kept the centre lines of the parts lined up, there's no way the boat could come out lop-sided. And once the side panels are screwed to the edges of the deck and bottom, the whole box-section becomes extremely rigid. Inside, parts like seat-bottoms and shelves doubled as side-framing. You'll find a lot of parts on the Weekender doing double-duty. That's what keeps it light. (see construction order below)
The shallow full-length keel and the hard chine of the hull bottom bit into the water and keep the boat sailing well into the wind.
The Weekender's shape has a lot in common with one of the most seaworthy boats on the water, the Grand Banks Dory (with an added keelson and bowsprit). So she can handle some pretty nasty waves without making a big deal about it, and she's a nice, dry boat in the cockpit as well.
Although the whole boat can be built from standard lumberyard stock and hardware, using common hand tools, mine was built with marine grade plywood, mahogany and Bote-Cote epoxy and fibreglass.
The set up of the Weekender takes just a few minutes, and all we have to do to pack the boat away for trailering after a sail is to unhook the forestay, lay the mast back down over the lowered mainsail, and stuff the jib down into the forward hatch. Not a sail or line has to be removed.
Set up, ready to sail
The salty old gaff-head sail rig also turned out to have a lot of advantages. With the mainsail held on three sides by spars, it's easy to control the shape of the sail while underway.
A Weekender under sail
Stephenson’s Weekender Sailboat Specifications
L.O.A.: 19'6"
L.O.D.: 16'
BEAM: 6'
DRAFT: 3' (1' w/RUDDER UP)
Who is Pete Stevenson and how did he go about designing the Weekender
So how did an American surfer dude like Pete Stevenson become a boat designer in the first place? “Surfing's a good way to build an instinct for how solid shapes will be affected by water movement,” he said. “You're right there in the water, up close and personal, experiencing every way the fluid bounces off the shape and pushes it.”
But his first attempt at boat design was a total disaster. He built an outrigger from one sheet of plywood and a chopped down telephone pole. Fortunately, he wasn’t on board when the whole thing disintegrated.
“A couple of thugs paddled over and demanded to take the first test ride. We had no choice but swim in and watch what was supposed to be our fun. But then a thin white line of soup on the horizon announced what we used to call a "clean-up wave.” We watched with ill concealed glee as the big guys took gas in the rinse cycle. The remaining parts were so heavy we left them for bonfire fodder. We learned about ‘building light’ from that.”
The next attempt was more successful, although it was simply the result of playful experimentation. “A number of guys would gather to down beers and argue about boat design. During one of these sessions I amused myself by seeing if I could cut out cardboard and tape together a little flat-sheet version of a Greek fishing Caique. I'd cut out the keel with stern and stem posts attached. Then I cut the double ended bottom, taped it to the keel, and cut and taped the sides together. The model looked pretty reasonable, although floppy in its taped together state.
“Then when I pushed the decking with its centre cockpit down in between the sides, the thing suddenly went rigid. We threw it around like a football it was so strong.” Pete realized that with the right design, a strong boat could be built from very light materials without sacrificing rigidity.
The result, after some more experimentation, was his first sailboat. Commercial success soon followed. “We built a 16-foot version and Monk Farnham, the venerable editor of Boating Magazine got wind of it and wanted to run it as DIY article. I told him I didn't know the first thing about drawing plans, so he said, ‘Well then I'll just send your dimensions over to Sparkman and Stephens and they can whip up some plans.’”
“When I got a copy of the plans I was stumped. I wouldn't be able to build my own boat from these plans because they were set up for experienced shipwrights who knew which part to start with. From there on we started devising our own step-by-step plans, with information available on a ‘need to know’ basis. No fair looking ahead, you'll just get confused. Once you've done step four, step five will make sense to you.”
What emerged, almost by accident, was a good looking boat that was easy to build and accompanied by user-friendly instructions.
It was a winning combination—and arrived at just the right time. There was a strong interest in do-it-yourself projects at the time and national magazines were clamouring for novice-friendly woodworking projects. But most boat designers were not creating boats appropriate for inexperienced builders. “The craftsmen were all anxious to show off their expert fine finish, their exotic joinery, and their floor-standing tools on the parquet shop floor,” Pete said.
Pete lacked these pretensions. He couldn’t look intimidating even if he tried. “When the representative of the plywood association got wind of us and stopped by for a look-see, I was pretty embarrassed at his first questions.”
“‘So, where's your shop?’ he asked.”
“ ‘Well, I do the cutting mostly out on the back porch. Sometimes I assemble things in the living room.’"
“He just grunted.”
“‘Let's take a look at your tools.’ I had a circular saw, a power jigsaw, a 3/8" (variable speed!) drill, and a Yankee screwdriver.”
“What I didn't realize then was that this was just what he was looking for. Somebody with no shop, no particular fine-finish skills, and some ideas.”
Pete’s big break came when his plans were published in—of all places—Family Circle magazine. The editor was a “boat nut,” Pete said, and approached him with an intriguing question: “‘You think you could get up a simple, cheap sailboat people could actually build?’ We did. At night, during the four a.m. sit-ups that freelancers stay in shape with, I'd wonder, ‘What moron would waste time creating a sailboat for a women's magazine?’”
But this article produced a flood of orders. About 22,000 sets of plans were sold.
Delighted with this success, the editor asked for more. “‘What other boats you got?’ the editor demanded. The next one sold 29,000 sets. Other magazines got on the bandwagon and pretty soon we were doing a series of pocket yachts for Popular Science. The first was the Weekender”
The Weekender remains highly popular and can be found sailing around the world. But over the past quarter century, a great many new designers have entered the market, many focusing on the needs of inexperienced builders. For novice builders there’s an embarrassment of riches. So what accounts for the enduring success of this boat?
Many people simply like how his boats look. They’re often called pretty or, more frequently “cute.” Pete accepts these comments with alacrity. “I'm a believer in looks when it comes to boats. They say, "If you can walk away from your boat without looking back, you've got the wrong boat.”
But there’s more to it than that. What makes a Stevenson boat an enduring favourite, I believe, is that Pete has tapped into the fantasy of sailing. His designs capture the spirit of classic boats and the golden age of sail, something Pete freely acknowledges. “If our boats have a traditional kind of look and appeal, it's because … these pocket yachts of ours are based on forms that were worked out by real sailors at the pinnacle of working sail. The hull of the Weekender below deck is nothing but a Chesapeake Skipjack, The topsides are taken from a Friendship Sloop for its beauty and versatile function.”
Pete’s real genius, however, was finding a way to transform these vintage lines into easy to assemble plywood panels. Like an artist making a quick sketch of a landscape, his designs embody the visual essence of a skipjack or sloop—without requiring builders to actually build something as complex as a “real” skipjack or sloop. Even first-time builders with a few simple tools get to enjoy the feel and fantasy of a traditional craft simply by building a plywood box.
Not surprisingly, this nautical slight of hand makes Stevenson’s designs vulnerable to criticism by those who prefer to build traditional boats in traditional ways. Forums populated by builders more skilled than I have discussed whether or not the Weekender is, in fact, a “real” boat. Critics argue that Stevenson boats are heavy on romance but don’t offer much in terms of performance.
Pete admits that performance is sometimes compromised. “Trade-offs, I think they're called,” he said.
But all boats are a product of compromise and it’s not fair to criticize any boat for being one thing and not another. The real question is, What need is the designer satisfying?
For Pete Stevenson, it’s clear that his primary goal was to design a good looking boat that just about anyone could build. On this score, he has succeeded. Even critics concede that lots of people buy Stevenson’s plans, that a large number of boats are eventually completed, and that most builders are proud and pleased with their results.
Cabin of a typical Weekender
Pete heard from a Sea Scout troop from Canada that took two Weekenders down the St. Lawrence. “And we heard from an Australian couple who spent two summers vacationing on their Weekender without getting a divorce.”
In the end, I think that kind of “I don’t have to prove anything to anybody” sense of adventure captures why I was first attracted to the Weekender and, by extension, its designer. I can’t speak for all his builders, but I believe that Stevenson has tapped into the zeitgeist of guys like me who believe that boat building is about a great deal more than sailing. Pete’s boats capture that youthful yearning, give it a romantic shape, and make it accessible to anyone with a small garage and a circular saw.

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