When I happened upon a Caledonia Yawl II at the 2019 WoodenBoat Show in Mystic, Connecticut, it was love at first sight. The original Caledonia Yawl, a rugged 19′ 6″ double-ended beach boat designed by Iain Oughtred for clinker plywood construction, has four strakes; this second iteration has seven, and was originally commissioned by a customer in Germany in 1999. The new design proved more stable for sailing while possibly sacrificing some rowing efficiency. Iain based his design of the Caledonia Yawl on the seaworthy double-ended working boats of the Hebrides, Scotland, his adopted home.

I had built a Lumber Yard Skiff in 2017, a very simple 16′ design for first-time boatbuilders, and it was a major confidence-builder in my decision to take on the Caledonia Yawl II. That said, I don’t think previous building experience is a prerequisite; my skill level is at best described as a capable handyman around the house. Also, there are many tutorial videos available online that became indispensable during my project.

The plans arrived with 17 pages of notes and 10 blueprint-style sheets of drawings, including full-sized patterns for the molds and stems. Lines and offsets are also included with ample information to loft the boat, although lofting is not required. I purchased CNC-cut molds and planks from Hewes & Company of Blue Hill, Maine. The planks are delivered in 8′ sections and must be carefully scarfed together.

Donald Sullivan

The Caledonia Yawl II has plenty of room for sailing with the whole family, especially with the open configuration. The decked version limits the cockpit area but provides covered storage areas and built-in flotation. The side benches provide a place to secure inflatable flotation like boat rollers or, in this case, a collection of fenders. The kick-up rudder blade is an option that makes beaching easy.

I built my boat to Iain’s specifications, which are impeccable in detail and readability. For a novice boatbuilder, the exquisite plans can eliminate many frustrations along the way.

The plans include options for the open-boat design or the decked-boat design, which adds built-in compartments in the bow and stern for storage and flotation. I chose the open-boat model, which has a real workboat look in keeping with its ancestry, and ample seating on three thwarts and two side benches. And while the plans call for the side benches to be 8″ in width, I would recommend adding an inch, or even two, for added comfort. The open-boat design requires adding flotation as an afterthought as it is not called for in the plans. The underside of the side benches provides a nice location to attach inflatable beach rollers. The sealed storage areas in the bow and stern of the decked version serve as its flotation.

Details for the oars—length and construction—are not specified in the plans, but Shaw & Tenney, a longtime supplier of oars for the Caledonia Yawl, provided recommendations, and I purchased my 11′ 6″ oars from them.

The plans come with three sailing rig options: a balance-lug yawl, a gunter yawl, and a balance-lug sloop. I chose the balance-lug yawl; it is a very popular rig for these small sail-and-oar boats, and I had once owned a yawl and love the way a boat lies head-to-wind with the mizzen sheeted in.

Michael Lonsdale

The Caledonia Yawl II tracks well under oar. The 11′ 6″ oars are long but a good length for the boat’s 6′ 4 ½″ beam. Shorter oars would be easier to stow, but would elevate the handles too much during the drive of the stroke.

The plans arrived August 2019, and by January 2020 she was ready to launch. Our first summer with the Caledonia, christened SPARGE, was a time of learning.

For rowing, once I get a head of steam, the Caledonia Yawl II rows and tracks amazingly well for its size. However, when against both wind and tide, it’s a lot of boat for a solo rower, and I’m guaranteed a workout. For sailing, I had to get used to the Norwegian tiller, which passes to one side of the mizzenmast.

Because the luff of the boat’s rather large lug main is not attached to the mast, and the rig has a large yard, the sail can become unruly as you raise and lower it. We have found the quicker we raise and lower the main, the better it behaves. And the luff must be taut—very taut—for the best performance, especially to windward. I added a second block on the downhaul to create more purchase and tension.

Once we overcame these teething troubles, my wife Dawn and I enjoyed many good day sails and picnics on the boat, but we shied away from going out when the whitecaps appeared. On a warm August day in our first season, in 10 to 15 knots with a double-reefed main, we capsized. A large gust pushed the lee gunwale under the water, and before I knew it the boat was on its side and we were in the water (when back on the beach I was told that the sudden blast of wind had come out of nowhere and sent most of the umbrellas flying). Fortunately, the mainmast, with its hollow bird’s-mouth construction, had enough buoyancy to keep the boat from turning turtle.

Patrick Sullivan

The Caledonia Yawl’s beam and full midsections stand up to the press of the sail in a good sailing breeze.

I had seen videos on how to recover from a capsize, and I was able to right the boat by standing on the centerboard, but with no built-in flotation the gunwales were at the waterline and the sea was breaking in with no hope of bailing. We were towed to a nearby beach by a good Samaritan and recovered there. The incident revealed the need to have the right amount flotation to keep the boat high enough to be boarded and bailed out in the event of a capsize.

In retrospect, I can point to our inexperience with the Caledonia Yawl and several mistakes that contributed to our capsize. First, my wife was comfortably sitting on the lee side of the boat; second, after reefing I did not sufficiently retighten the downhaul on the mainsail, making the upwind tack more difficult; and third, I don’t recall if the mainsheet was cleated or not, but I clearly did not react quickly enough to release the sheet in those conditions. Since then, I have human ballast only on the windward side except in very calm conditions, I never cleat the mainsheet, and I always keep the downhaul really taut.

That whole experience got me thinking about the alternative three-sail gunter-yawl rig: jib, main, and mizzen. I thought we would benefit from having a jib, which would allow me to drop the main altogether and sail happily on jib and mizzen when unexpected weather arrives. During the off-season I took almost all the steps necessary to convert the rig, including new boom, yard, mainsail, and jib. I elected not to move the mast partner aft for the gunter rig as shown on the plans because I wanted to be able to go back to the lug rig easily if desired. I do not think the gunter rig suffered any performance issues as a result.

Michael Lonsdale

The gunter-yawl rig, one of three rigs detailed in the plans, provides several reefing possibilities when dealing with building winds. While this rig and the lug rigs have similar total sail areas, some may find it easier to manage the 108-sq-ft gunter main than the 136-sq-ft lug main. However, the forestay, shrouds, jibsheets, and two more halyards add a level of complexity that isn’t necessarily compatible with simple trailer-sailing.

We sailed the entire second season with the gunter yawl and enjoyed the benefits of the three-sail rig. I believe the boat pointed a bit higher than with the lug rig, and most important, she sailed quite well and balanced under jib and mizzen alone, which we enjoyed often when the weather presented itself and the wind piped up.

I also added the recommended flotation that winter, which should ensure the centerboard trunk opening is above the waterline after righting the boat in the event of another capsize.

What wasn’t obvious at the beginning of this conversion was how many additional parts and pieces I was adding to my boat. This list includes a forestay and two shrouds (the balance-lug rig requires no shrouds, just a free-standing mast), a peak halyard, a throat halyard, a jib halyard, a kicking strap, and two jibsheets, all detailed in the plans. If my goal was to simplify sailing in rougher weather, I sure created a lot more lines to worry about, and an additional 10 to 15 minutes of rigging and de-rigging time at the ramp. By the season’s end I was very happy with the new rig, its appearance, performance, and versatility, but I could not stop thinking about the less-complicated lug rig and suspected I had not given it a proper chance.

Patrick Sullivan

The lug main is a powerful sail but doesn’t require the standing rig that the gunter uses, so it’s easier to set up at the launch site.

For season three, I reverted to the simpler balance lug rig and set out to master it. I sailed alone in all kinds of weather. I added an outhaul on the mainsail, which, in addition to the highly tensioned luff, allowed the balance lug to perform at its peak. I now was sailing unreefed comfortably in up to 12 knots of wind. The balance-lug yawl rig is self-tending, so I need not touch a line when tacking. I go to a double reef in the main at about 13 knots and sail there comfortably up to 18 knots for pleasure. I can add a third reef if needed but have not yet had to; all three reefpoints are in the plans. The Caledonia Yawl is an amazingly dry boat, and other than inadvertently dipping the gunwale into the sea, I don’t believe I have taken on more than a teacup of water over the bow. And, I can confidently say that with my renewed effort to conquer the lug rig, I am regularly weathering gusts and seas in rough conditions without issue.

I have now just finished season four, and my Caledonia Yawl II is one of the fastest, prettiest boats on Long Island Sound. I often hit 8 knots on a broad reach, 6.5 knots on a close reach. And while it might have taken a while, the boat now exceeds even my wildest dreams. I trailer her from the same garage she was built in. I can rig and de-rig her at the ramp in 20 minutes, although it often takes longer as I take time to talk with interested bystanders who inevitably ask about the boat.

And while my bones are a bit too brittle for camp-cruising, something I did 25 years ago, four-to-five-hour gunkholing excursions and short-tacking up creeks are a delight with the Caledonia. The Norwalk Islands present many opportunities to go either by sail or by oar where many others cannot.

Building SPARGE was one of the great joys of my life; 500 hours of sheer pride, dedication, and pleasure, and it has become a vehicle for clear thoughts, enjoyment of these natural surroundings, and appreciation for the genius of Iain Oughtred. For anyone looking for these qualities in a boat that you can build yourself, I can’t recommend the Caledonia Yawl highly enough.

Donald Sullivan and his wife have sailed extensively throughout their 45-year marriage. They have owned a mahogany-planked 20′ Pennant Sloop, a 28′ gaff-rigged wooden sloop, an 18′ Drascombe Lugger, a 22′ Pearson Ensign, and a 1966 Hinckley Pilot 35. The boats each served a purpose well in their time, but at 71, Donald enjoys the simplicity of trailer-sailing, the performance of a great design, and the beautiful looks of a traditional boat.

Caledonia Yawl II Particulars

LOA:   19′ 9″
LWL:   16′ 1″
Beam:   6′ 4 1⁄2″
Hull weight:   450 lbs, all up 650 lbs
Displacement WL:   1,090 lbs
Sail area:   164 sq ft

Plans for the Caledonia Yawl II are available from The WoodenBoat Store for $291. Plans for the original four-strake Caledonia Yawl are available from The WoodenBoat Store and  Oughtred Boats.

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