During my days living in the Columbia River basin, I realized I was not likely able to own waterfront property on a designer’s salary. I was intrigued by the houseboats seen tied up in little communities here and there. However, I wanted to go places and so I began to study the possibilities of a simple yet large floating “cottage” to enjoy on the water. My experiences with using Tollycraft boats on occasion led me to some conclusions. I was a morning person and it was often calm on the river over night and in the morning hours. On the mighty Columbia, when the wind picked up, it did so with a vengeance. Depending on the direction, some of North America’s best wind surfing was just a few miles away in Kalama, though much more frequently at Hood River Oregon, several hour’s drive up river.
With a good chop running 4 feet high, I figured wave spacing was about 25 to 30 feet apart. Would a hull that was 55 to 60 ft, I wondered, would it be long enough to ride into or with these waves without a lot of slamming? Would it then allow someone to build a flat-bottomed hull cheaply with plywood? If I designed something in the style and philosophy of Phil Bolger, could I find the solution?
I set out designing something affordable and good looking made from sheet material. My love of nature and exploring the beautiful shorelines and desire to see what is around the next bend guided my design efforts.
The hull would be very narrow, flat bottom, made from sheet materials, have a single motor, and systems no more complex than a 20 foot cuddy-cabin cruiser. I understood the practicality of outboard power but I could not accept a motor hung on a transom for aesthetic reasons. I also was not excited about a motor well since I had installed one in my sailboat and regretted it. The math suggested about 120 hp to push the boat into a moderate headwind. On a calm day it would plane at about 18 mph if I kept the weight to something under 14,000 lbs. Otherwise I would cruise below hull speed of 8 knots with a very low fuel burn rate of only a few gallons per hour. That suited me just fine. And, finally, if it loaded on a trailer under 14’ high and had a beam under 12 feet, that 14,000 lbs would be relatively easy to move to distant cruising areas.
I read somewhere that the vast majority of boating – in excess of 90% – is done on inland waters. There are few inland waters that have seas running 4’ and greater. I know everyone has a story about huge waves on a small lake or river somewhere/sometime. I have been in some rough water myself but I have not found a narrow flat-bottomed hull form in the 55 foot LWL size to experience handling in different sea states. This is either because it is just a dumb idea that was tried and the results quietly swept under the rug, or no one has seriously tested it.
Sharpie style boats are in many ways as close as I have seen to what I wanted to accomplish. I have never had an opportunity to sail a larger sharpie. I understand they tend to do well with the leeward chine dug in and acting, to some degree, as a vee-bottom hull when heeled under sail.
Over the last 20 years I have kept this dream alive but as I told people about it I discovered that there were many who agreed with my philosophy and approach. So I began to redefine the boat as a business idea. Who were my customers and what were they like? How much would it cost to build for public sale? Initially I challenged myself to build my own for $25,000 material cost and my own labor with a rugged structure and rough finish for something like 2000 hours. A 20-something size SeaRay or Bayliner with a hull crunched in a highway accident or yard mishap would supply most of the engine, electrical and deck hardware.
The engineer in me thought about the build process and how I could be very efficient reducing hours and providing a quality finish. One of the first tools I wanted to know more about was the CNC router. There were plans available to build routers from hardware-store items and there were industrial routers that cost a quarter of a million dollars. And then there were a number of inexpensive CAD programs that could help with defining a hull shape that was developable from sheet material and “unwrap” that sheet into a flat but accurate electronic shape for a router to cut. By this time I was working at Cirrus Design and we were using Pro/E to define parts for CNC cutting. I then knew that all of the elements for efficient production of the sort of boat I wanted to build were matured enough to make a successful venture.
After years of dabbling in ideas, I began the spring of 2010 to write a plan in earnest. And finally in the summer of 2013, I launched the first boat, Romance.