West Wight Potter 19
Small but salty pocket cruiser that spawned large dreams
I collected sailboat brochures when was I a kid. I studied boat specs like other kids studied batting averages. I remember pouring over the brochure for the West Wight Potter 19. I know, I'm no spring chicken, but the Potter 19 has been in production in one form or another since 1971. I can still clearly picture the black-and-white single fold piece with a Potter 19 on the cover clipping along in a stiff breeze. There was something alluring about the boxy little trailersailer, it looked like a real cruiser but one that even a kid could handle.
There was also something exotic about the boat, it was named after the far away Isle of Wight. I had a notion to drop out of school and sail a Potter around the world and become famous, just like Robin Lee Graham did aboard Dove. My mother, who took little pleasure in spoiling a kid's dream, did however remind me that although Potter's were cheap, they were still a lot more than I had, which was nothing. She mentioned that I could quit the track team, get a job and save money to buy the boat, a thoroughly unromantic suggestion that made the drudgery of school more tolerable. My sailing dreams would have to wait.
More than 1,600 West Wight Potter 19s have been launched during a 35-year production run. And while plenty of Potters have made impressive passages, most are sailed quietly on lakes, bays and coastline all over the country. Most importantly, they're almost universally admired by the folks who own them, and for good reason. The boat is stable in the water, it can stand up to a breeze, it's surprisingly commodious, it's easy to launch and can be trailed behind almost any vehicle. Mounted on its trailer the West Wight Potter 19 fits snugly in most garages, which eliminates the cost of dockage and winter storage.
Designed by Herb Stewart, who originally bought the U.S. rights to the original Potter 14, the West Wight Potter 19 is a salty pocket cruiser. It was originally called the HMS 18. Steward later sold the company to Joe Edwards. Edwards decided to include the outboard motor bracket in the measurement of LOA, and suddenly the boat grew a foot and became the West Wight Potter 19. From the springy sheerline to the forward chine, the boat has the look of other small English cruisers that were popular in the 1960s and 1970s.
There isn't much overhang-the LOA is 18 feet, 6 inches and the LWL is 16 feet, 6 inches resulting in a faster boat than many suspect, at least when the wind is blowing. The retractable keel lifts vertically into the hull. When fully raised the draft is just 8 inches. Together with the kick-up rudder the boat can be sailed right up on the beach. When the 300-pound keel is fully deployed the draft is 3 feet, 7 inches, although the keel can also be trimmed to various levels. The fractional rig supports a good size main and most boats on the used market have overlapping genoas in lieu of a working jib. Despite the small size, by all accounts the Potter 19 needs a bit of breeze to get up to speed.
One of the reasons the West Wight Potter 19 and her smaller sister, the 15, have endured while other small boats and small boat builders have come and gone is that the Potters are built solidly. International Marine, which has been building the boats since the early 1990s, upgraded the construction. While all the boats have solid fiberglass hulls, International Marine switched from plywood cored decks to balsa and refined the molding process. The centerboard is a simple, dependable design with no moving parts. Closed-cell foam enclosed fore and aft makes the 19 unsinkable, a design feature that all small boats should include.
What to look for
Some owners of older, mid-1980s boats have reported slight structural problems with the centerboard trunk. Early boats and later boats had very sturdy trunks. Beefing it up with additional glass and epoxy is not an overwhelming project and to be fair, very few owners have noted this problem. There are many Potter sites online and one of the best is Judy B's West Wight Potter pages at www.blumhorst.com/potterpages. Owners discuss the good and the bad about the boats, but I must tell you there seem to be very few well-documented problems. Most Potter 19s are simply rigged and fitted out, items to watch for include all the normal age-related issues. International Marine has a good supply of applicable parts available, a big plus when buying an older used boat. Don't forget to carefully inspect the trailer too. The cost of a new trailer can spoil the savings made with a good boat buy.
The best design feature of the Potter 19 is the cockpit. Two adults have room to stretch their legs, the visibility is great and all the lines are typically led aft. The forward chine tends to deflect the water aside, keeping the cockpit relatively dry even in choppy conditions. Newer boats have a much improved nonskid pattern on deck and there are handrails on both the raised and lower sections of the cabintrunk. A husky bowsprit has always been part of the deck package and newer boats include a chain locker.
The mainsheet is a bit awkward. It angles down from the end of the boom, forcing the helmsman to keep clear. The jib sheets and the centerboard winch are well placed, making the 19 a perfect boat for sailing solo. The key to any trailerable boat is the degree of difficulty in raising the mast. The Potter 19 has an air draft of around 25 feet with a 22-foot, 6-inch mast section. Most owners report that they can be sailing in less than hour from arriving at the launching ramp. A clever mast raising system lets one person hoist the stick. Many of the used 19s on the market include CDI flexible furling on the headstay.
Lets face it, there isn't much a designer or builder can do with a 19-foot boat's interior. Still, the Potter 19 will surprise you. The headroom is just five feet but that's better than most comparably sized trailersailers. There interior includes four berths, two forward and two quarterberths aft. A galley of sorts is sandwiched between the berths with a butane stove to starboard and sink to port. One of the impressive interior features is the amount of storage. There are lockers under the berths, under the sink and stove and seat back bins as well. There really is plenty of space for comfortable weekend sailing.
Think of the Potter 19 as a campersailer. There are many accounts of Potter 19s making long cruises. I encountered a 19 in the Abacos last summer, with a crew of three adults aboard and they were spending a month cheerfully cruising the Bahamas. If a previous owner has installed opening portlights be thankful and if not, consider adding them. Ditto for the forward hatch. Two items that I'd do away with include the indoor outdoor carpeting that decorates the sole of most used 19s and the porta potty located under the forward bunk. It is not only a waste of space, it stinks, and is a pain to deal with when it's full. Consider a bucket.
New West Wight Potters come standard with five-horsepower long-shaft Tohatsu outboards. Most used boats also have five- or six-horsepower outboards, although they might be a variety of makes. Nissan seems popular on several of the boats currently on the market. An adjustable motor bracket makes the outboard more efficient in the water and easier to lift completely out of the water when sailing. Also, an electric start engine allows the possibility of charging the batteries. Many Potters have had their electrical systems upgraded and include two batteries. Small solar panels are a logical addition to keep the batteries topped.
The West Wight Potter 19 is not going to win races but nobody buys it to win races. The boat needs a bit of breeze to get moving but that's not a bad thing in a trailerable boat and conversely the 19 can carry sail when other boats are fleeing back toward the launching ramp. The hull form limits heeling and is relatively dry-hey all 19-foot boats are wet when sailing upwind in any kind of seaway-but by way of comparison the 19 is downright comfortable. Owners report speeds of 5 knots in winds of 10-knots-plus when reaching. The boat is well balanced on a reach, and most owners suggest carrying as big a headsail as you can afford. New boats come standard with an overlapping headsail, which is 110 percent. Upwind sailing is the not the Potter 19's strong suit, it doesn't like to sail much closer than 50 degrees apparent.
The West Potter 19 is an enduring favorite among small boat sailors both in England and North America. It is well built and designed, simply rigged and safe to sail in blustery conditions. There are lively owner's associations and continued support from the factory. It can be towed and launched by a compact car from virtually any ramp. And it is affordable. Used prices range from around $5,000 for the oldest models to around $12,000 for late models. What's not to like about this salty pocket cruiser?