“From an early age,” writes Paul Sesto of Aurora, Ontario, “my father filled my head with dreams of sailing,” and those dreams have stayed with him. Growing up by Lake Erie in Port Colborne, Ontario, Paul learned to sail at 12. At the age of 14 he learned coastal navigation and two years later, celestial navigation. While in high school, he wanted to be a naval architect and design sailboats, but there were no such programs offered in Canada, so his university studies were in science. The doodles in the margins of his class notes—sailboat profiles—made it clear that his thoughts tended to drift in the direction of his dreams. After graduating, he managed an adult sailing school, and at 31, returned to school to study mechanical engineering and did his fourth-year thesis with a prominent sailmaker in Toronto.
Despite his decades of sailing, Paul had never had a boat of his own, not even a canoe, let alone a sailboat, but he found temporary satisfaction in designing and building model sailboats. Some were meant to be sailed, but since they were models he could only take the helm by radio control.
The Flight of the Phoenix, a 1965 film featuring Jimmy Stewart, encouraged Paul to build a real boat. Stewart played the role of Frank Towns, pilot of a twin-engine cargo plane forced by a sandstorm to a crash landing in the middle of the Arabian desert. Everyone on board survived, but there was no chance they’d be rescued. One of the passengers, Heinrich Dorfmann, an aeronautical engineer, proposed making a flyable aircraft from what remained of the cargo plane. Only when the group had finished the project did Towns learn that Dorfmann’s work had been only with model airplanes. Dorfmann defended the cobbled-together aircraft, saying “the principles are the same.” That stayed with Paul and got him thinking that if he could make model boats, he could design and build a boat he could sail.
The size of his boat would be limited by the space he had available for building it, which was the living room of his one-bedroom third story apartment. And the only place he would have to store the finished boat was the 4′-long, 3′-wide back end of his Toyota hatchback. The boat would have to be sectional.
He started the project early in 2017 with scale models, working out the sizes and shapes of three pieces that would nest in one another. He further developed the shapes with a CAD program, and to test the nested design he made scale models both in wood and on a 3D printer. His older brother Michael, a 3D graphic designer, offered support for the project with his refined sense of aesthetics and his own knowledge of sailing and design. Michael also bought a 12′ origami-folding kayak so he could join Paul on outings when his boat was finished. Satisfied with the design, Paul used the CAD program to develop the panels and print full-sized patterns.
A sectional boat is usually built in one piece with double bulkheads (where it will be cut into separate pieces), but Paul didn’t have enough unused space in his living room to be occupied by the 12′ boat for weeks, so he built it in three separate pieces. This also avoided having to scarf 8′ sheets of marine plywood to make 12′ panels. He worked on a pair of folding tables and cut sheets of 4mm and 6mm plywood to shape with a Japanese pull saw, then drilled the holes for stitch-and-glue construction with a cordless drill.
After the three box-like pieces were finished and tested for fit—both assembled and nested—Paul moved the project to his parents’ garage, two-and-a-half hours away in his hometown, for the remaining woodwork, paint, and varnish.
Paul’s 86-year-old father, Adam, had taught both sons to work with tools when they were young, but as they grew up he was occasionally less than enthusiastic about the projects they took on: “Don’t you have anything better to do?” But when he saw Paul’s sectional boat taking shape in his garage, Adam was happy to pitch in. He took on the job of painting and varnishing, which is one of features people admire most about the boat. Paul is quick to mention that it’s his father’s handiwork.
In July 2017, TRIO 12, as the boat was christened, was launched. The three sections, from bow to stern, measure 44″, 52″, and 48″ each and came together to make a 12′ hull with a beam of 33″ and a depth of 13″; it weighs 70 lbs. TRIO 12, of course, refers to the three pieces, but also to Paul, Adam, and Michael, the three who invested their time, energy, and pride in her building.
Paul spent much of that summer taking TRIO 12 out with a double-bladed paddle. He often went with Michael and his kayak, spending time together just as they did in their teens and 20s. During the winter that followed, he put together the sailing rig: mast, leeboard, and kick-up rudder with a push-pull tiller. He bought an Optimist pram sail, rigged it as a lugsail rather than a spritsail, and for additional stability he bought an outrigger kit with inflatable amas.
Every year since then, from early May to mid-October, TRIO 12 and her sailing rig and cart have stayed in the back of Paul’s car, ready to go on a moment’s notice. “At 55, I proved to myself I could design and build my own sailboat,” he writes, “The boat has transformed my life, and just like when I was a kid, I can’t wait for the ice to melt and to get out on the water again.”
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