Legendary offshore yachtsman, Pete Goss, talks us through the design of his latest boat, Oddity, a one-off designed with purpose

Designing my own boats has resulted in a series of different craft, ranging from small, high-performance multihulls through to a sea kayak, a Cornish lugger, a huge futuristic catamaran and a swing keel Open 50. In parallel, Tracey and I have had several cruising boats spanning a wonderful family Prout Snowgoose through to a Garcia 45 Exploration, called Pearl of Penzance. Although all of them had to please our eye there was no common thread to be found when it came to their style.

What they shared was that they were each a functional solution to deliver a clearly defined vision; something that I believe to be crucial when making that final commitment to a boat or design. Romantic notions must be swept aside by a laser-like focus on what you want to do at a granular level. The DNA of your vessel should be the nitty gritty
stuff that is so often left beyond its chance to influence the whole. This, to me, is the only way to avoid those lingering ‘if only’ frustrations that haunt so many a sailor’s wake.

Laser vision

A craft is a tool, an enabler of dreams. Even the smallest lack of clarity about your proposed dream and approach to living aboard will multiply exponentially as practical and budgetary compromises, layer by layer, dictate the boat. The challenge is to land the end product in as tight a radius to that vision as possible.

Oddity, our final boat is a case in point. Tracey and I had just spent two-and-a-half wonderfully life-affirming years cruising the North Atlantic on Pearl of Penzance, our Garcia 45 Exploration. Changing family circumstances shelved ambitions of going further afield. Without that purpose, Pearl became surplus to requirements and so it was time to say goodbye. The fact this coincided with the limitations of the pandemic turned out to be a blessing.

Hand-drawn sketches, a scale model and lots of coffee helped refine the concept into a design. Photo: Pete Goss

We always thought to save Europe for a later chapter in our lives, when being the other side of the world from grandchildren would be too much of a wrench. We want to be a part of their lives and Europe offers endless and varied cruising options. From north to south, Europe spans Norway’s dramatic Lofoten Islands that rest above the Arctic Circle, through to the sun-blessed Mediterranean. From east to west there is nothing to rival the variety of culture and history between the Black Sea and the Azores.

The area offers a lifetime of exploration and so we wanted a boat that was capable of this but at the same time would be able to embrace our ageing carcasses as they loyally serve out their time.

Our brief was that Oddity must be ocean-going, as we want to explore the Azores, but her primary role is to explore the coast, upper reaches, rivers and canals of Europe. She must be a tough little bugger that can dry out without legs and rub up against remote and rudimentary dock walls. Given the rich and varied tapestry of Europe’s waters she must be able to morph to the environment we find ourselves in, be it the ocean or motoring under a canal bridge.

Oddity must be safe, offer a good average speed but recognise that her primary role is to act as a base for exploration. We don’t plan on slicing our way to windward like a razor blade and so performance can be bartered for volume. She must be comfortable in all temperatures so double-glazed windows, proper insulation and heating are essential.

We love travel but hate hotels so she also has to be a home from home. That’s the great thing about designing and building your own boat: she need only satisfy our needs and the design is not compromised by catering to a broader market. She might be a Marmite boat but she will only be spread on our toast. Oddly enough, she has a charm that draws people in. There seems to be a thirst for the kind of cruising that lies beyond the reach of generic boats.

Why design something to take you to exotic places and then live in a cave below? Oddity has a large pilothouse with big windows for light and an unparalleled view. Tracey loves entertaining, so the galley is better described as a kitchen with lots of space, work surfaces, storage and ventilation. Using Abet laminate, Tracey has designed a bright, cheerful interior that lifts the spirits. It’s hard-wearing and easy to clean with compartments differentiated by a variety of surfaces. The laminate wood floor
has been given a non-slip texture.

Frames are lofted and the plywood skin begins to take shape. A single sheet was bent to form the bluff bow. Photo: Pete Goss

Our non-negotiables

We wanted a large bed with a sea berth in the pilothouse, plus a hot shower, large saloon table, inverter and USB sockets for all our electrical needs. We also wanted her to have a spare double cabin to accommodate friends and family, as well as a man cave for spares, tools and toys.

Remote sailing and spending as much time at anchor as possible calls for endurance and so we have 350 litres of fuel split into two tanks to manage dodgy fuel. We have 425 litres of water but no water maker as we have plentiful access to good water in Europe.

We opted for a 43hp Beta engine for its simplicity and rugged endurance. It’s more powerful than one might expect but with a lot of motoring in the canals ahead of us and having to push up rivers, it felt about right. We have an 18-inch Bruntons Autoprop which gives us lots of grunt and finding the most efficient pitch will keep our fuel consumption down. We have motored like a trawler into strong winds and lumpy seas off the Lizard at a happy six knots. With spray flying everywhere, it was a treat to steer via a remote from the pilothouse, cuppa in hand.

With the hull filled and faired, but not painted, the coachroof takes shape. Note the steel shoe visible on the bow knuckle. Photo: Pete Goss

Given the limitations of rivers and canals we decided that 32ft was a manageable length that would also play to the realities of ageing and a reduced income. With such a long-term relationship we decided to up the spec of the fit out. Better to invest for the long term than cut our nose off now.

As with all things, it comes down to people and so we put ourselves in the hands of Chris Rees who is one of the most talented boat builders I know. His hands-on, common-sense approach is backed up by many miles of ocean sailing including an impressive eight trips to Iceland.

Over a few meals and glasses of wine we expressed what we had in mind and so started an enjoyable back and forth as we nailed the many thousands of details that make up a boat. Where necessary, we made mock-ups to bring the plans to life and a model was used to establish her self-righting abilities.

Computer models are great but there is something reassuring about seeing it happen in the kitchen sink! As construction progressed, so the mock ups became more detailed as we decided things like seat height. This boat fits us like a comfy pair of slippers.

An early sketch reveals a tough-looking little boat with a reasonable sailplan

Construction is a simple hard chine affair of marine plywood with an outer skin of glass/epoxy. There are watertight bulkheads both fore and aft. To maximise volume we decided on a scow bow and carried the generous 11ft (3.35m) beam all the way aft to give us a big cockpit and plenty of room for a dinghy arch and stowage. She has a heavy-duty commercial rubbing strake for remote fishing docks.

Changing gear from a sailing boat to a canal boat is a smooth operation thanks to extending the pulpit down to a hinge on the deck just forward of the tabernacle. This enables it to become an A frame to lower and raise the mast. I’m pleased to say that it works a treat and making the tabernacle hinge the same height as the cockpit arch means that when the mast is down it remains above and out of the way of the cockpit. We chose a gaff rig so that all the spars remain within the boat’s length for canal work.

Oddity makes an agricultural sight on her way through the lanes of Millbrook. Photo: Pete Goss

Practical design features

We chose a utilitarian style with all metal work welded on site before being trucked off for galvanising. This gave us practical fittings from the tabernacle to plentiful deck cleats that you could pretty much pick the boat up with. The stanchions are higher than usual and have structural supports that are capable of taking sheet loads to save the clutter and expense of tracks.

I often approach a design with a headline idea that permeates throughout the concept. One of these was to project us onto a remote stretch of an eastern European waterway with the onset of winter bringing things to a close. With limited facilities I want the ability to hitch up to a smoke-belching tractor and drag Oddity up the bank and down the road with sparks flying to a safe location.

As such we have a wide 10mm metal bash plate that runs from stem to stern, widening out enough to make the boat stable ashore. At the front end of this plate is a large towing hitch. I doubt we will use this but what it gives us is the confidence to bounce about and push the envelope a bit. From marina to farm yard we have it covered.

For all that, she is still a sailing boat and benefits from a powerful light airs rig with a low centre of effort thanks to a Code 0 off the bowsprit and a gaff mainsail. To compensate for the shallow draught we added twin daggerboards which were toed in by 5º. This was the decision that cost me sleep because they had the potential for debilitating drag.

With the boat in the water sea trials could begin, including experimenting with ballast arrangement. Photo: Mark Lloyd

Should we be caught on uneven ground we made the boards structurally sound enough to act as legs. Like the rudders they are angled out at 12º which is the angle of heel Oddity is designed to sail at. A comfortable angle of heel for life aboard and with her high form stability she’s true to this aspiration and I’m relieved to report that the boards work perfectly. Conveniently, the angle between the mast head and centre boards is 12º so we use the spinnaker halyard to raise and lower them.

The rudders are simple to raise, hanging off the transom, and much like a multihull they are connected by a tiller arm. This offers easy access to the helm from any position in the cockpit. During the winter we’re hoping to improve the balance of the spade rudders so that the currently heavy helm becomes fingertip-sensitive and kind to the autopilot. It’s a small point but I love dropping the transom into a bathing platform and lifting the rudders for a scrub.

With comfort in mind we have a 360Ah battery bank charged by a remarkably quiet and efficient SuperWind generator. Fitted to the cockpit arch it keeps company with a 120W solar panel. Although we upgraded the engine’s alternator, it’s the cockpit arch that runs the boat. Feeding off the system is a small day fridge which is supported by a larger cold/freeze box by TotalCool. This means that it can change gear to a chest freezer for ocean cruising.

The long pulpit becomes a hinged A-frame to lower the mast; a retractable bowsprit sets a generous gennaker; daggerboards provide lift, and add extra stability when dried out. Photo: Mark Lloyd

Making her warm and cosy

Oddity is heated by a Webasto hot-air blower with an air duct to each cabin. The heads becomes a drying room with a blower in the bottom and a small hatch at the top. A large immersion tank which is heated by the engine provides an abundance of hot water. Last year we cruised for 17 days with hot showers and still had water in the tank. If we reduce showers, our endurance will extend to a month.

Navigation will be done on deck, or at the saloon table. The bright Abet laminates are extremely hard wearing. Photo: Mark Lloyd

We have a Raymarine 12-inch plotter in the cockpit to cover navigation on a wild night, with Tracey occupied as lookout. I like Raymarine’s intuitive software but the clincher was that they have the most powerful tiller pilot.

The cockpit is large for a boat of this size with ample seating for eight. With the tiller arm removed we have easy access from the companionway through to the transom which can be lowered to become the boarding platform or dropped to become a boarding ladder. The cockpit is protected by a large sprayhood, to which a bimini can be added. Sides can also be added to make a welcome conservatory on windy days or for drying wetsuits and walking gear.

There’s a double berth in the forward cabin, and another aft under the cockpit. Photo: Mark Lloyd

A simple, safe dinghy lift was essential so we designed a frame that mimics the outline of the cockpit arch and hinges at deck level. With a simple block and tackle this raises and lowers the dinghy alongside the boarding platform. We have a lovely rowing dinghy with a lug sail to extend our reach when at anchor. In practice Tracey finds it a bit unstable so we’ll replace it with an inflatable dinghy with a small outboard.

This year’s highlight was a cruise to the Scilly Isles and it was an absolute joy to be back on the water. Having shaken out many of the little jobs that come with a new boat we were able to put her through her paces. Under sail she is fun and delivers the mile-eating average we had hoped for. Life below is lovely, with limitless views, all the comforts of home and a light, happy interior. All deck work is easy although we need to add full-length battens to make stowage easier with such a high boom. It was a joy to beach her for a bottom scrub.

For a 32-footer there is a vast amount of space for comfortable living aboard. Photo: Mark Lloyd

She is everything we hoped for and for a prototype is remarkable in that there are only two big changes on the list. Balancing the rudders is easy and raising the cockpit floor is possible thanks to her ply/epoxy construction. A week’s work with a jigsaw will reduce the step down to the cockpit floor and add more height to the aft double bunk.

Bring on the summer! We can’t wait to turn the key, head down the Tamar River and set sail in whichever direction the wind blows.

Oddity specifications

LOA: 9.75m (32ft)
LWL: 9.14m (30ft)
Beam: 3.35m (11ft)
Draught: 0.91m (3ft)
Displacement: 6,500kg (14,330lbs)
Ballast: Internal lead
Engine: Beta 43 hp
Diesel: 350L (77 gal)
Water: 425L (93.5 gal)
Designer: Pete & Tracey Goss with Chris Rees
Builder: Self build with Chris Rees

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