Full Pockets

Like many sailors, I've long been enamored of "pocket cruisers," a term that to my mind denotes a wildly disparate class of small, spartan, seaworthy boats ranging in size from roughly 18 to 30 feet.

Full Pockets

Hundreds of miles from the nearest sperck of dirt, we crossed wakes with the little cruising boat just after dawn, and she was a sight to behold. She looked to be about 28 feet long, with a turquoise hull and a single, deeply reefed tanbark sail set on a Chinese junk rig. Beneath her stout dodger sat a pair of behooded figures swaddled in foul-weather gear, each hunched over and cradling with two hands a cup of something that was no doubt warm and welcome in the damp morning air.

The boat was broad-reaching before a moderate breeze, and there was a bit of a seaway running; for brief moments, the hull and the sailors would disappear behind the back of a rolling wave, leaving only the abbreviated maroon sail and the swaying digit of its sturdy spar visible against the pastel sky. A word popped into my mind that seemed apt for the vessel and its crew: resolute. I thought about taking a photograph but concluded a snapshot couldn’t possibly do the scene justice. This was a moment for Winslow Homer, not Kodak.

Like many sailors, I’ve long been enamored of "pocket cruisers," a term that to my mind denotes a wildly disparate class of small, spartan, seaworthy boats ranging in size from roughly 18 to 30 feet. Whether catboat or sharpie, multihull or displacement sloop, the pocket cruiser can come in many styles or configurations, the common denominators being a compact cabin with a couple of snug bunks and enough space to do chart work, carry a few essentials, and prepare a simple meal. Most pocket cruisers, in form and function, are coastwise vessels. But under the command of a skilled sailor, many, like the distinctive junk-rigger we ran into south of Bermuda, are able enough to undertake significant offshore voyages.

Imagination is a wondrous thing, and at an impressionable age, mine ran wild after reading Patrick Ellam and Colin Mudie’s Sopranino: 10,000 Miles Over the Ocean in a Midget Sailboat, the account of two young Brits’ transatlantic adventures on a Laurent Giles design measuring in at just under 20 feet. John Guzzwell’s story of sailing around the world on yet another diminutive Giles creation, a 21-footer called Trekka, was equally enthralling. Closer to shore, L. Francis Herreshoff’s treatise on coastal cruising, The Compleat Cruiser, featuring a canoe yawl named Rozinante, among other distinctive craft, cast small-boat sailing in an entirely different but equally appealing light. The message seemed simple: The right pocket cruiser could offer the best of both worlds. And that message rings as true today as it did when L. Francis and his brethren were voyaging and writing decades ago.

This month, with the aim of showcasing and promoting small-boat sailing--a noteworthy pastime in itself, and a logical introduction to the sport for those with grander aspirations--we’ve devoted our cover and feature section to pocket cruisers and cruising. For those in the market for a new boat, our guide to U.S. production boats under 30 feet, "Small Boats for Big Plans," begins on page 42. In his story "In Search of the Lost Colony of Roanoke," beginning on page 50, associate editor Jeremy McGeary undertakes a coastal quest--à la L. Francis--on a purposeful 30-footer. And finally, on page 56, veteran offshore cruisers Lin and Larry Pardey--who’ve spent years espousing the philosophy, "Go small, go simple, go now"--detail how they prepared their 29-footer, Taleisin, for the offshore trip of a lifetime. Patrick and Colin, meet Lin and Larry.

A couple of days after we spotted the pretty turquoise boat en route to Bermuda, there she was again, this time with the hook down in St. George’s Harbour. Her sails were tightly furled, but I swear I could see her tugging on her rode. For this shippy little pocket cruiser, and so many of her siblings, the notion of "staying put" simply isn’t an option.