Geordie Pickard’s dream boat began in mid-2020 with a sketch and culminated in June 2021 with a launching.
The Pickard family lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia which is where Geordie grew up. They also own a cabin on the tiny, off-grid Ruxton Island, one of the Gulf Islands north of Victoria. For much of 2019, Geordie and his wife, Erin, lived on Ruxton and commuted back and forth to Duncan on Vancouver Island. At the time, says Geordie, they owned a “big heavy production boat with an I/O engine. It was built to handle Georgia Strait and was unnecessarily big for the shorter, more sheltered run to Vancouver Island. And the gas we used on the daily commute was killing me.”
Just before their son, Alaric, was born, Geordie and Erin moved off Ruxton to Vancouver Island, and it was then that Geordie decided to build a boat that was more efficient and purpose-designed for their needs. They were no longer commuting on a regular basis, but they still liked to get out on the water as much as possible.
“I really wanted an open boat with a large cockpit. I grew up drift-fishing with my dad, who’s a fanatical fisherman. He hated noise, so we’d motor to a spot, shut down, and cast homemade jigs for salmon or lingcod or greenling. I still mostly fish that way, and I got tired of having a boat that was enclosed and needed 200-plus hp to move. I wanted something that had a ton of cockpit space, would run with a small motor and plane at low speeds. Plus, I enjoy building boats.”
In earlier years Geordie had built a couple of boats, including a “sailing skiff of my own design when I was about 20 and wanted to learn to sail.” He began a search for the perfect skiff design. At one point he considered building the Marissa 18 from B&B Yacht Designs, but Erin pointed out that Geordie had spent so much time researching boat design he could “probably do a decent job” himself.
“That really got me thinking,” he says. “I don’t have any formal training in naval architecture, but I was pretty confident I could handle any math that came up. Honestly, I think a lot of people overthink it. I’ve spent enough time on similar-sized boats that I felt I had a good handle on realistic scantlings, so I just went for it.”
Geordie designed an open 17′ by 6′6″ skiff that would be built of stitch-and-glue plywood with bright-finished mahogany trim. He says she’s “just a simple low-speed planing skiff with a shallow V and a sharp entry to ‘mush’ through the waves.” He designed her with no internal obstructions. “Even the ‘console’ is just a pole—enough for me to hold on to. It’s stepped through a threaded fuel fill onto a block so I can pull it out if I ever need more uninterrupted deck space, like when I’m carrying plywood sheets out to the island.”
The shallow hull was influenced by his earlier experiences in the “commuter boat.” That had a deep V and Geordie found it horribly uncomfortable when drifting in any sea. “It just rolled and rolled.” He wanted the new boat to be light and stiff, but also didn’t want it to slam into the waves at speed, so he compromised with a deep forefoot and a shallow V. He also angled the chines along their entire length so that they act “like very slight permanent tabs. It means the boat planes at extremely low speeds and gets up on plane smoothly…there’s no dead zone that you have to climb out of, it’s an almost unnoticeable transition.”
Geordie built the boat in his garage—the 17′ length was predetermined by the need to fit the project into the available workspace—using marine plywood ’glassed on both sides. “Even the underside of the cockpit sole is ’glassed. It’s overkill, but I wanted strength. Essentially, the plywood is core material, and the ’glass does 99 percent of the structural work. Even the stem is mostly unnecessary structurally, but we get so many logs in the water around here I wanted a semi-sacrificial ram to bull stuff out of the way. Sometimes we have to do that just to get into the bay at the cabin.”
It took Geordie a year from initial sketch to “laying down the nonskid.” He wanted to get it done quickly so it wouldn’t “take time away from my kid once he was old enough to care.” By the time launching day came around Alaric was about 18 months old and “now we get to play with it together. Erin was really supportive. We have the cabin, and she likes to fish as well, so she’s pretty tolerant of my boat obsessions. I cut the long panels in our bedroom because it has the largest floor area. And I could test the scarfs by laying the panels on the deck railing outside and letting them bounce on the joint. It was a great way to test them, but more importantly, I have a wife who thinks cutting wood for a boat in our bedroom is reasonable, and more of a priority than replacing the ugly deck railing.”
YEAH BUOY was launched in June 2021 (although Geordie would continue working on her for another four or five months). Her finished weight came in at a little under 700 lbs including the outboard motor. She will “just kiss 25 knots if lightly loaded and will cruise at around 18 knots with all of us on board.”
In the first year, Geordie says, he’s put about 200 hours on her. “Well, more really, because I drift-fish, so I shut the engine off a lot of the time, but there are about 200 hours on the motor.”
The high bow, he says, makes for “a pretty dry boat, even in rough weather. I’ve had her out in sustained 15- to 20-knot winds, and it’s not bad. You can’t rip through the waves like you could on a big heavy boat with a deep V, but you can plane easily at low speeds and stay in contact with the water. So, it’s a better ride in lots of conditions because we’re not stuck choosing between the lolling 8 knots or brutal pounding at 20 that we faced with the old boat. Now, I can run at 12 or 14 knots in 2′ to 3′ seas and never drop off a wave. We just glide along.”
In the works is a design for a removable pilothouse for rainy weather. It will, says Geordie, pop on and off with a “few of those whale-tail closures, like they put on expensive coolers these days.” But for their first two summers, the Pickard family had fun, fishing, drifting, and flying across the Sound, using YEAH BUOY as a tiller-steered open boat with a “cockpit sole the size of a dance floor.”
Jenny Bennett is the managing editor of Small Boats Magazine.
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