Ralf Schlothauer first tried to build a boat when he was six years old. He scavenged bits of plywood and lumber from the neighborhood and then enlisted the help of his sandbox playmates. The result was not a boat but a collection of even smaller bits of plywood and lumber. In his 30s his wife gave him a copy of The Backyard Boat Builder by John Welsford. He thumbed through the pages for a few years trying to decide what kind of boat he should build. “I never really fell for any of the dinghies and small sailboats. If I was going to make my lifelong dream come true, I had to build something special, something for my whole growing family would enjoy, something that would be like a mini campervan on the water but not compromise on a classic look.”
He was drawn to Welsford’s Penguin, a 21′ pocket cruiser. It sleeps four, two in the roomy V-berth forward and two berths that extend from the main cabin aft under the cockpit seats. The galley, large enough for a two-burner stove and cookware, opens up to the port side of the main cabin. A portable head sits to starboard off to the side of the passageway to the forward berth. The accommodations were all his family required for extended weekend cruises and yet the Penguin would be small enough to be kept at his home and trailered to their New Zealand cruising grounds.
“When I ordered the building plans from John Welsford I had only very basic shop skills, and enough naivety to fool myself about how long it would actually take to finish the project.” Ralf persisted with occasional help from John and the informative mistakes that slow the going on the steep side of the learning curve. As his skills improved he “looked forward more and more to my time in the workshop. It gave me the satisfaction of doing something real to balance a day job that consists mostly of phone calls, emails and meetings.”
WHIO, named for a New Zealand river duck, emerged over the course of seven years and was launched quietly with just family and one boat-wise friend present. “The first time in our own boat was every bit of the magical experience I had hoped for,” says Ralf. “The kids could swim, jump in the water, play Frisbee and later we could all sit in the cockpit or cabin having a well-deserved cuppa tea or even a handmade espresso.”
Ralf made a few modifications as he got to know the boat and WHIO performed beautifully: “The boat feels extremely stable and safe.” With her cutter rig she is very well balanced. “When she heels a slight weather helm emerges as John intended.” WHIO easily reaches 4 to 5 knots and has, so far, peaked at 5.7 knots in about 15 knots of wind. “She is all I had dreamed of and worked for over those long years of building.”
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