The Weekender is a plywood gaff-sloop pocket yacht designed by Peter Stevenson and first presented to the public in a two-page article in the March 1981 issue of Popular Science magazine. In the decades that have followed, it has been a very popular design. I was drawn to its classic look and simple construction. Eager to learn how to sail—and to find out if my wife would enjoy sailing too—I was excited about the journey of the build and encouraged by the many helpful examples of other builders who are linked to the Stevenson website.
I bought the set of plans and the two companion DVDs. The combination of the 44 printed pages and three-and-a-half hours of video were helpful, entertaining, and, above all, encouraging. The plans are well illustrated with some photos and many nice drawings. There are no full-sized patterns, so each part is drawn right onto the materials. Step-by-step instructions keep the process going in the correct order. As a shipbuilder, I found the instructions clear and straightforward. My granddaughter, who was three years old when we started and nearly seven when we finished, was as eager to build the boat as I was, and we watched the video instructions several times together. Even at her young age, she could recognize the steps we had completed and the ones we had yet to accomplish, a good indication of how easy the plans were to follow. For me, the video clarified the few places in the plans that I was having difficulty understanding. Mike Stevenson, Peter’s son, who took over the business, has assured me that the most recent revision has eliminated some of those sticking points.
The Weekender has a very unusual construction: it is built right-side up with the stem and keel serving as the strongback. The deep keel and its integral stem are made of three laminates of 4/4 pine, fir, or mahogany. The keel, 10″ at its deepest, is rigid enough to support the build. I built a cradle to hold it upright throughout the build. Plywood is joined with butt plates to get the necessary length and width for the bottom panel; the bottom is attached to keel with screws and epoxy. The deck is added and secured at the stem and then temporarily propped up until the transom and three bulkheads are installed. The side panels go on next and they’ll extend above the deck to become part of a toerail. The construction then follows a more common sequence, with the assembly of the cockpit and the cabin. The hull, deck, cockpit, and cabin are sheathed with 6-oz fiberglass and epoxy.
The plans indicate a solid mast, and I built mine as per the instructions; however, a lighter hollow version would be much easier to raise. Details to build the wheel, trailboards, towing bitt, and bowsprit are included. There is also an option included to add a taffrail.
My PT Cruiser has enough power to pull our Weekender. The boat has a somewhat deep keel for a flat-bottomed boat, so bunks are required under chines to support the hull. At the ramp, it’s easiest to float the boat off the trailer; at shallow ramps it can be a bit of a struggle sliding it off, in part because the two batteries I use for the trolling-motor auxiliary power add significantly to the Weekender’s weight. However, the boat can be winched up onto a trailer that’s not fully submerged. It takes as little as 30 minutes after arrival at the ramp to get the rigging in place and have it in the water; the most time-consuming part of launching and loading the boat is almost always the attention it attracts from people watching. When people gather around, the time at the ramp stretches out to a bit more than an hour.
The mast tabernacle is created with two strap hinges—one aft to act as the pivot, and one forward with a loose pin to lock the mast upright—and it works well. The two pairs of shrouds have turnbuckles that are adjusted each time the mast is raised; they remain connected, and only the forestay is removed for lowering the mast.
The 5’ bowsprit is fixed and anchors the forestay at its tip and the jib’s 60″ clubfoot at its middle. The club foot pivots about halfway out on the sprit, and the jib clears the mast when tacking and requires only a single sheet. I have added a downhaul to the jib so that I can both raise and lower the jib going no farther forward than the companionway. I also led the main’s throat and peak halyards to cockpit so I didn’t have to go forward to the mast to drop the sails.
To help keep the mainsail from overwhelming the cockpit when it’s lowered, I added lazyjacks. The plans specify eyebolts and a bit of pipe and metal strapping to make the gooseneck; I instead made an aluminum gooseneck with an extension that allows me to pivot the boom fully vertical and scandalize the mainsail. When coming into harbor, it’s a quick way to douse the mainsail and clear the cockpit for docking. This has proven most helpful especially when sailing alone. I also fabricated an aluminum masthead fitting to help with the rigging and give me a base for an anchor light and a wind-sock vane.
The rudder is in a rudder box that is an integral part of the tiller arm that is connected by lines and pulleys to facilitate a wheel. The rudder must be pivoted and locked up for transport. The wheel keeps the cockpit free of a long tiller that would most certainly use up the limited space. I find it quite handy.
Under sail, the Weekender is like a sports car and very snappy in response on most points of sail. It can sail remarkably close to the wind for a gaff rig, and the self-tending jib makes tacking a snap. Its club foot is an excellent touch to the rigging, making singlehanding very simple. The Weekender can ghost along with hardly any discernible wind, although in light air it can be a bit hard to tack if the boat doesn’t have quite enough way on; the long keel requires some momentum to overcome its resistance to sweeping sideways when tacking. I have found that moving my weight to the downwind side forces the boat to heel, and it will gain speed and increase its ability to turn.
The Weekender is a pretty stable little boat, and ours is made a bit more so by the weight of the batteries for the trolling motor. It is stable when one is standing on the foredeck; however, it is a small boat, so if you step off-center it will move accordingly. But I have never felt that it was going to come out from under me.
The hull can take waves better than one might guess for being so close to the water. The flat bottom can slap a bit depending on the angle of approach to the waves, but that same flat bottom can also surf down waves quite well, getting some help from the broach-countering directional stability of the full-length keel. I have found the cockpit to be generally dry with only occasional spray from hitting a larger wave. I prefer fair-weather sailing with our boat. When running dead downwind, wing-on-wing, the boat performs well; it’s a comfortable point of sail for the crew, with the hull sitting pretty much bolt upright.
For auxiliary power, we have a 55-lb-thrust electric trolling motor. While the plans call for a mount made of a 2″ x 10″ chunk of wood through-bolted to the transom, I designed and welded an aluminum bracket. The motor pushes the boat at just the right speed for harbor maneuvers, and provides an occasional boost to make a tack in light air. I have the two batteries on separate switches, but they can be combined for back-up power. I have run out of power only when I forgot to charge one of the batteries.
The cockpit is not large, but it has enough room for the me and my wife to be comfortable, even when we’re sailing with our granddaughter and our small dog. The cockpit footwell is not self-draining and we have been caught several times in squalls that filled half of the cockpit, so I added a bilge pump under the hinged step at the forward end of the cockpit. The cockpit seats have hatches, and aft sections serve as storage. The curved coaming, shaped from a stack of 4/4 stock, makes a comfortable backrest and keeps water out when the toerail is in the water under sail. I cold-molded my coaming out of 1/8″ x 2″ sapele.
I added running lights to our Weekender as well as a small LED to illuminate the cockpit for the times when we are out later than expected or after dark at anchor. My wife and I have slept aboard comfortably on several occasions. We rig a boom tent for privacy and rain protection so we can keep the companionway open through a warm night; to clear the berths, we move most of the gear that usually resides in the cabin into the cockpit. The bottom serves as the berth and is flat, save for one transverse butt block, but with foam mattresses it’s not noticeable. The space works best sleeping with heads forward and our feet aft to take advantage of the space under the cockpit benches. Shelves with rails on their sides are a nice feature and are in fact part of the rigid framing.
The designed cabin has sitting headroom if you are of average height—I made our cabin a couple of inches higher than the design, for even more sitting headroom. There is no cabin footwell, so sitting is with legs outstretched on the bottom. There is access through the forward bulkhead to storage space under the foredeck, but it is easiest to use the foredeck hatch for larger items. The storage bin/seat at the companionway has proven to be a great addition for holding safety equipment, and it has also been a good speaker box for our CD player.
We have enjoyed our Weekender immensely. It was a most satisfying build, and the whole family agrees that it has been a wonderful boat to sail. My wife and I have trailered it to many lakes, both large and small, as well as portions of Puget Sound, and always have come home with a new story to add. The Weekender can provide an affordable and convenient way for getting armchair sailors out of their armchairs and into real sailing.
Ken Hauenstein lives in Burlington, Washington, just a few miles from Puget Sound, and is a general contractor who does all manner of work including interior boat remodels. He dreamed of working with boats from an early age and had his first real exposure working in a boat factory building interiors for cabin cruisers. He later worked in various shipyards and ran his own cabinet shop. His last shipyard job ended in 2017 as he made plans to retire. He started HUMMINGBIRD while working there. Since then he has built two dinghies, one wood and one aluminum. He is currently building a large aluminum ketch. He hasn’t set a launch date, and won’t because he finds the work therapeutic and likes to give the details all the attention they deserve.
Draft/3′ (1′’ with the rudder up)
Hull weight/550 lbs
Sail area/120 sq ft
Crew capacity/Daysailing, up to four; Overnight, two cozily, one easily
Auxiliary Power/up to 5 hp outboard or 45-lb thrust electric
Is there a boat you’d like to know more about? Have you built one that you think other Small Boats Magazine readers would enjoy? Please email us!