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Nimble Kodiak

2008 November 10

Salty trailersailer for cold-water cruising

The Nimble Kodiak has always intrigued me. I confess, it's not the most beautiful boat to ever ply the high seas, or the highways for that matter. It is, however, one of the most unique. Designed by Ted Brewer and built by Nimble Boat Works, Inc. on the west coast of Florida, the company's motto aptly defines the quirky Kodiak, "a vote against boredom and mediocrity." The Kodiak, a versatile 26-foot pilothouse sloop or yawl that can be pulled behind most light trucks and launched with a minimum of fuss, opens up cruising grounds beyond the range of most boats.

The Kodiak is something of a cross between a sailboat, a small trawler and an RV. One thing is certain, those who have them love them.

"This is the best boat I have ever owned," writes Seattle-based Kodiak sailor Bill Varnson. The rugged double-ender was designed and built for sailing coasts and inland waters where the scenery is beautiful but the weather unpredictable. If you fancy the notion of sailing some of Canada's picturesque western lakes, gunkholing in Penobscott Bay, or exploring the boat's namesake region, the Pacific Northwest, but don't have the time or money to consider full-time cruising, the trailerable Kodiak is an alluring option.

Nimble Boat Works was founded by Jerry Koch in 1985. His first boat was the Nimble 20, a spry yawl that was a refreshing alternative to the small stamped- out trailersailers of the day. The next boat was a 30-footer that was raced successfully across the Atlantic. Innovative models like the Nomad, Arctic and Wanderer followed. The Kodiak, which is still available today, was introduced in 1993 and evolved directly from the Arctic. Koch, a former CNN photographer, was an innovator in trailerable sailboats. He and Brewer were a good team, creating rugged boats that blended purity of function with a dash of salty character. After Koch's untimely death in 2003, Ken McCleave, a former Nimble supplier, took over the company.

First impressions
The Nimble Kodiak commands your attention. The oversized pilothouse, dark green hull, sweeping sheer and canoe stern set the boat apart. The season-extending pilothouse is functional, and in its own boxy way, "cool." It's a feature that will either draw you to the boat or repulse you. You can't compare the Kodiak with boats that put performance first or even snappy little production boats. Naturally the numbers are not pretty: the sail area/displacement is 19.3; the displacement/length is 114; and ballast/displacement is 35 percent. However, the numbers don't tell the story. This is a boat meant for all matter of traveling, and the independent lifestyle that accompanies that ethos.

The stubby rig includes a mast on a tabernacle with an air draft of just less than 30 feet on both the sloop and yawl models. The hull sections are flat, especially aft where the Kodiak is almost sharpielike, and the there is a lot of flare forward. A couple of keel options are available-the more popular 22-inch shoal draft with a centerboard and the 34-inch fixed keel. The fixed keel is more of a challenge to launch from standard ramps.

Nimble does a fine job of laminating the Kodiak. The hull is foam cored, hand laid and vacuum bagged. The deck is also foam cored in most vertical surfaces and solid glass elsewhere-there's no core to rot. Top-quality materials are used, including vinylester resins in the outer skin layers to prevent blisters. Most boats are custom built to some extent. The hull-and-deck joint is unique. The forward sections are joined on an outward flange while the aft sections employ the more common inward flange. The aluminum toerail, bolted on 6-inch centers, incorporates the joint. The fixed keel model has a 4-inch lead shoe that is bolted to a reinforced keel seat in the bottom of the stub. The outboard rudder is mounted with beefy pintles and gudgeons. The steering arrangement is interesting. The rudder is controlled either by a conventional tiller from the cockpit or by a hydraulic ram and a wheel in the pilothouse.

What to look for
No two Kodiaks are exactly the same. Also, remember that the Arctic, the model that preceded the Kodiak, is essentially the same hull. Further, there are only slight differences from the Nimble 24 and Wanderer models so if you can't find a Kodiak to suit your needs take a look at other Nimble options. The primary difference with the Kodiak is a larger pilothouse and more commodious interior. Be careful, some Kodiaks are sold as trawlers. Even if you don't ever raise a sail, at least with a mast you don't have to admit to being a member of the "dark side."

Most Kodiak sailors seem to prefer the yawl rig and shoal draft, so be sure just what model it is that you're considering. For the most part, there are few if any structural issues with the Kodiak. The construction isn't fancy but it is muscular. One of the major differences between models is the engine arrangement. Most early boats have outboards, which fit neatly in dedicated wells astern, while later boats seem more likely to have inboard diesels, either Yanmars or Westerbekes. I prefer the diesel option because it allows for more efficient 12-volt charging, although it seems that owners are split on the subject.

On deck
The deep cockpit has a very secure feeling; almost too much so, and it takes some getting used to the lack of visibility. Eventually you realize that it's best not to try to look over or around the pilothouse but through it. Of course, this limitation is eliminated by steering from the inside station. The cockpit seats are long and angled for comfort. A wide coaming makes for a good perch when sailing. There are lockers to port and starboard. The mainsheet is usually led astern and the headsail sheet leads are within easy reach of the tiller.

Making your way forward is something of a challenge. It is a tight squeeze around the pilothouse and the side decks are narrow. It is almost easiest to skip below and pop up through the large forward hatch. Stout stainless steel handrails and a solid stainless rail in lieu of traditional lifelines lend security while moving about. This railing extends 17 inches. And once you're on the bow there is a terrific bulwark. A molded anchoring platform and large chain locker are well designed for a boat that has as its mantra, thin-water exploration.

Down below
The clever interior arrangement includes several separate areas. The pilothouse has 6 feet, 7 inches of headroom, providing a sense of spaciousness that belies the Kodiak's 26-foot, 6-inch LOA. The inside helm station is to starboard and includes a comfy seat. The electrical panel and engine controls are easily accessed and the visibility is surprisingly good. Some boats have fold-up dinette arrangements behind the helm seat, while others have quarterberths to both port and starboard that make good sea berths. The finish is better than you might expect, with teak-and-holly cabin soles and nice teak trim work.

The stand up galley is to port, and usually includes a small sink, a hand pump for water and small stove. A chair behind the galley is the mate's perch. Just forward is a good-sized hanging locker that also houses the table, which can be set up aft of the helm. The V-berth is nearly 8 feet long and has terrific ventilation with an overhead hatch and several opening portlights.

As mentioned earlier, Kodiaks came with different engines. Of the six boats I was able to locate currently for sale, four had outboards, ranging from 8 horsepower to 15 horsepower, and two had diesels, including a two-cylinder 15-horsepower Yanmar and one with a 27-horsepower Westerbeke. Outboards are mounted in a fixed well aft of the tiller. While this is convenient, the lower unit must stay in the water all the time, and if the boat is left in the water it will lead to corrosion issues. Of course the key advantage of an outboard is that it can be easily removed and hauled into the shop for maintenance and repairs. The inboard is located under the companionway steps with average access. An 18-gallon fuel tank was standard issue, as was a water tank.

By all accounts, the Kodiak sails better than it looks like it will. That of course does not mean it's a good performer. Still, several owners report that they often top 6 knots on a reach and sail upwind in a decent wind at 5.5 knots or more. The nature of the hull shape and the pilothouse, which creates windage and precludes tight headsail sheeting angles, makes the Kodiak something of a slug to weather. But is that why you'd buy a Kodiak, for windward sailing? Of course not. This is a boat that craves a nice reach and a snug anchorage. The mizzen adds sail area but also adds weather helm. However, jogging along under jib and jigger is a nice way to keep a boat flat while riding out a
strong breeze.

It doesn't take much imagination to see myself, white-haired and stooped, spending my last days cruising among the rocky islands of the Inside Passage or along the craggy coast of Nova Scotia. Don't be surprised to find your faithful correspondent, holed up in a shallow cove, reading a book and occasionally glancing out at the world from the pilothouse of a boat much like the Nimble Kodiak. Besides, with used prices ranging from $25,000 to $50,000, including the trailer, I will be able to afford the gas required to drive from one great cruising ground to another.