It was a bit like meeting a parent when I first met Tony. His pride was evident and well deserved. The Small was obviously a labor of love and the result of a collaborative effort between designer and client. The well-thought-out design and meticulous attention to detail were evident throughout the boat, and will no doubt serve any owner well for many years to come. Tony puts it well in his book Designer and Client, when he says, "a boat is an opportunity to create a dream and act on it." But it takes a client with a good eye and sense of proportion to mold the final result into a seaworthy boat that fits a need rather than simply looks good at the dock. For this project Tony had the trained eye of Jenny Bennett, the editor of Maritime Life and Traditions and a sailor with an appreciation for beautiful boats and a passion for making sure that they sail well. This passion was evident as soon as we shoved off and the wind filled our sails.
I took my children on this sail test. The Small is obviously a family boat, and it fit my family just fine. With comfortable seats to sit on and an easy-to-handle sailplan, it was not long before the kids were sailing the boat and I was leaning over the rail watching the water reflect in the beautifully varnished hull. We sped across the smooth water of Newport Harbor in Rhode Island, tacking effortlessly between the moored yachts, and feeling safe and secure when a puff hit and the boat heeled a bit too much.
When Jenny commissioned the design she had a few requirements, one of them being that the boat should "heel enough to require a bit of effort, but not so much that you risk capsizing." Requirement No. 1 done. She also wanted "good sailing performance," and since we cruised effortlessly at a good clip, I would say requirement No. 2 was successfully met as well. For this to be a good family boat, it also has to be a good boat to sail singlehanded, and while I never had a chance to go out alone, I am sure that it would have been fine. The boat was light enough and flat enough for one person to drag easily up a sandy beach as well as easy to row when the wind drops off.
Another positive aspect of the boat is its simple rig and minimal deck layout. The rig is a Solent gunter, which provides decent sail shape on the wind and is easy to set up thanks to its short spars. The hollow mast is made from northern spruce and carries a pair of shrouds, while the jib has a wire luff and is set flying. The sails are ivory Dacron made by Nat Wilson, who is renowned for building the sails for the USS Constitution, as well as such diminutive craft as the Small. To make beaching simple, the rudder pivots and kicks up, and the centerboard retracts. All in all, Jenny should be happy.
My wife, Sigrun, being less inclined to love at first sight and more practical than I, was quick to point out the maintenance issues of a wooden boat. She had a point, but I was equally quick to tell her that the same boat will soon be available in fiberglass. Tony already has a mold and plans to offer a completed fiberglass version of the Small, as well as a finish-it-yourself kit version. I am glad that both versions are available. It's obvious that Tony spent a lot of time creating a boat of beauty, and it would be a shame if potential buyers were put off by the maintenance issue.
I am just happy to know that these kinds of boats are still being commissioned, designed and built. They are a true delight to look at and a pleasure to sail. I know Jenny had in mind the traditional British day boat when she and Tony talked about the lines for the Small, and I too have spent time messing about in similar boats. They are a place where dreams can germinate, and when I am done with carbon racing boats and offshore passagemaking yachts of my own, I hope to buy a Small and start dreaming all over again.