One of the perks of my admittedly cushy job as a freelance writer is that I get to try out a lot of different boats—everything from small rowing dinghies to large sailing yachts. Inevitably, some are more appealing than others, and I have to admit François Vivier’s 15′ 3-1/2″ Minahouët wasn’t one I was particularly excited about sailing. It looked nice enough in the pictures, but my heart wasn’t exactly pounding to get out on it. All that was to change during a two-hour sail on a gusty day off St-Malo on the north coast of Brittany.
Davis was influenced a bit by the Whitehall-type boats, but most have a narrow beam in proportion to their length and rarely a sailing rig, so he gave the hull more bearing to enable it carry sail and drew three sail plans—gunter sloop, lug cat, and sprit cat—to meet a variety of needs. Arch built the first Penobscot 14 in 1992, and the result was a seakindly hull with striking lines. Hull No. 1 sits in his garage, not taking up much space, and he still takes it out to row. He published plans in 1993 and since then has sold over 1,500 sets of them.
Beyond good looks, what does the Noank offer? How well will it handle in the afternoon southerly that’s common to Fishers Island Sound, the place the designer had in mind when he went to his drawing board? How is its calm-water performance? Does it track well? Turn easily? Is it slow or will it go? Is it fragile? Would it be hard to build? The short answer is that the Noank does well what it set out to do. It is fun to row, forgiving, and tougher than it looks.