The French term voile-aviron translates to “sail and oar,” and describes a type of small cruising boats with a devoted following. French naval architect François Vivier has created an extensive portfolio of voile-aviron boats, and the Ilur is his most popular—many hundreds of them sail in France and a growing number are being built in North America. With a quiet, robust beauty, the Ilur’s current iteration represents an impressive marriage of classic form, 21st-century computer-assisted design, and modern plywood-and-epoxy glued lapstrake construction.
The Ilur arrives on pallets as a precut kit with CNC-cut components, including a strongback on which the hull is built. One of the key aspects of the kit-built method is the use of sawn bulkheads and interlocking longitudinal stringers that, as Vivier brilliantly executes, form both the building jig and the majority of the internal furnishings, so that after the hull is planked and flipped, much of the interior has already been completed. The result is an extremely strong hull that can be accurately and quickly executed by professionals and amateurs. The bulkheads and frames are 3/4″ marine ply, the planks are 3/8″.
With 10 strakes per side, there are a lot of rolling bevels to cut at the laps, and gains at bow and stern, but the work is pleasant, and not difficult. The builder will need to source lumber for the keel and keelson, floorboards, benches, thwarts, and spars. The plans are extremely detailed, and Vivier is quick to respond personally to emailed questions. Instructions are included for construction of rowing and sculling oars, and for hollow, four-sided spars. Vivier suggests about 400 hours to assemble the CNC kit; I took me almost twice that long, but the extra time went into items not covered in the plans, such as constructing hollow bird’s-mouth spars and casting a bronze mast partner.
The finished boat looks like a classic, traditional lapstrake boat. It also has ample storage with room below the cockpit sole for two pairs of 9-1/2′ oars, an anchor locker ahead of the forward thwart, and a large lazarette at the stern. For a boat less than 15′ long, it feels like a much larger boat. The hull shape is quite full, and the bilges are firm. As a result, the Ilur is very stable—I can stand or sit on the gunwale, and there are still three strakes of freeboard above the water.
Under sail, the firm bilges show their worth in a wide range of conditions. As the breeze freshens, the boat will heel until the turn of the bilge buries, and the boat stiffens up and accelerates under its ample press of sail. In ghosting conditions, I sit to leeward, and the boat offers a sweet spot with minimal wetted surface area, while the full, curvaceous midsection of the hull maximizes waterline length for potential speed.
Though the Ilur’s measured waterline length is just over 13′, it is sneakily fast, and will happily sail in company with much longer boats such as Oughtred double-enders or Sea Pearls without struggling to keep up. In all conditions, the boat communicates clearly, gently, and progressively—there is simply nothing twitchy about her. Vivier designed the boat with built-in flotation in compliance with EU regulations, and it can be righted singlehandedly in self-rescue situations. Once upright, the water level inside the boat is below the top of the centerboard case, further improving the odds of a complete recovery.
There are four rigs available, including a large, boomless standing lug, a balanced lug, a lug sloop, and most recently, a lug yawl, the rig that I had asked Vivier to create for the Ilur I built. The boat is well balanced under sail in all those configurations, and the weather helm is mild. It is surprisingly close-winded, and tacks through 90 degrees.
The full forward sections and generous freeboard provide a pretty dry interior when conditions are choppy, and any spray coming aboard drains to the bilges, so the crew is high and dry on the cockpit sole. In light wind, my favorite place to sit is on the sole, with my feet up on the leeward bench. My weight is low, the sail is well overhead, and the view over the gunwale is unobstructed. It is a delightful and cozy place. Likewise for the crew, a seat on the sole allows the gentle curve of the hull to form a very comfortable backrest, and the boat is roomy and secure.
The helm takes just a finger on the tiller, and often, using the mizzen to balance the helm, the Ilur can be trimmed to self-steer. As the winds strengthen, I sit up on the bench. Hiking out is rarely required. By the time whitecaps are widespread and the winds are in the 12–15 mph range, it is time to tuck in a reef. With the yawl rig, this couldn’t be simpler: turn the boat head to wind, sheet the mizzen in tight, and drop the tiller. The boat stays calmly hove-to, with the mainsail quietly at rest over the centerline of the boat. I walk forward and lower the sail while the boat tends itself. I move the tack downhaul up to the first reefpoint on the luff, then I move to the clew end of the sail. The mainsheet is reattached at the new reefpoint, and the sail is rolled into a neat bunt as I tie in the reef nettles while working my way forward. Back at the bow, I raise the main, then move aft to retighten the tack downhaul. After I release the mizzen sheet I can fall off onto my new heading. The whole process takes two or three minutes, and can be handled solo without any drama, even when conditions are boisterous.
The Ilur has stations for two rowers, but the glued-lap construction makes the boat light and easy to propel rowing solo in calm conditions. Even when the boat is loaded with a week’s food and dunnage, I can maintain 2-1/2 to 3 mph at an all-day pace. I drop the spars to reduce windage. The sail, yard, and mizzen fit inside the boat; the mainmast is taller than the boat is long, and is stowed with several feet overhanging the transom. The plans describe arrangements for fitting a small outboard to one side of the rudder. A long shaft is preferable, so no transom cut out is needed, just protection on both inner and outer faces of the transom for protection from the outboard’s clamps. I have not felt the urge to equip my Ilur for power, given how easily it is driven by sail or “ash breeze.”
Ilur owners who cruise with their boats can sleep aboard under the shelter of a boom tent. The CNC kit boat’s full-width sawn frames are rigid enough without being braced by a thwart, so the rear thwart can be fitted to lift out of the way, creating a tremendous open area for spreading out bedrolls. Here again, keeping the weight low in the boat pays benefits. The Ilur, like many boats designed for oar and sail, is designed with a relatively narrow waterline beam to improve its rowing qualities, and if the sleeping platform were at thwart height, the boat would feels “tiddly.” With the floorboards at the waterline, the Ilur is anything but tiddly with the crew sleeping there, and a restful night’s sleep awaits.
On a recent overnight outing on Lake Champlain, I anchored in a protected bay after a fine day of sailing. I watched an osprey catch its dinner a few yards from my anchored Ilur, and as evening fell, I was surrounded by a flock of several hundred Canada geese that shared my mooring area for the night. In the morning, as I was readying the boat and storing gear, and was investigated by a family of four otters that swam up to check me out at close quarters. Experiences like these are what I love about voile-aviron boats—they get you to beautiful places slowly and quietly enough that you join the neighborhood of wildlife without scaring it off. The Ilur is perfect for the task—capable, commodious, and comfortable.
John Hartmann lives in central Vermont. He built his Ilur, WAXWING, to sail the 1000 Islands region of the St. Lawrence River, Lake Champlain, and along the coast of Maine. You can see his Ilur flying a mizzen staysail in “Mizzen Staysails Add Power” in our August 2017 issue.
Draft, board up/ 10″
Draft, board down/3′
Sail area/129 to 151 sq ft, depending on rig
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