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Launched: July 31st, 2020 

The Thrill of a Lifetime —by Jim van Natta. Mass, USA (C133)       


Living in MA, I make an annual trip to the WoodenBoat Show in Mystic, CT. As I’d already seen the WoodenBoat Magazine article on the W17, I was very pleased to meet up with the reviewer, Geoff Kerr, at the show.  His continued enthusiasm for both the boat and designer Mike Waters, soon had me interested to see it for myself and try to get a test sail.

My 10+ year sailing experience has been with mono hulls which have been larger and heavier than a W17.   But while sailing all boats is fun, I have now come to believe that overall, the potential fun is in inverse proportion to the boat’s size.  So I was looking for a smaller boat with more on-water feel and if the speed of the boat related to wind speed lived up to the article,  I should be able to expand my day-sailing grounds.   I could imagine beaching it easily for picnicking or even island camping.  With easy set up and trailerability, I would also be able to expand my sailing grounds to other areas.    And to cap it off, I love building projects, especially boat construction, so I knew I would have fun at it.   After spending several evenings reading through Mike’s website I was getting pretty excited about the W17, but there’s nothing like actually 'seeing it 'live'. 

So late summer 2017 I contacted Mike through his website and within days I was heading north and by 9.30am one sunny morning, I was chatting with the designer and looking over the boat.   As I’ve already written up a report on this visit, I will not repeat it here …  (it's here – scroll down to September  2017)

I bought the plans for Xmas 2017 and in Jan 2018, started shopping for material.  I was recently retired from a career in construction and had built up a shop ideally suited to a boat project like a W17.   I fired up the wood pellet stove and got to work laying out and cutting the many parts.    I have always loved building things.   Nearly 30 years ago, I had built one of the first CLC kayaks from a magazine article.  Then followed a skin-on-frame Aleutian plus a Strip kayak, both of my own design.  I then built a plywood glued-lapstrake double ended Pea-Pod and, as I can still appreciate the classics, am still enjoying to renovate a lapstrake rowboat. 

But the W17 has been different and brought my sailing passion back.   When Mike recently commented that I looked younger in my photo than he remembered, I had to reply that ‘well at least I feel younger, and now with a genuine excitement to go sailing again!’, so yes, this boat is truly my personal fountain of youth ;)


A year later I wrote this to Mike:  "My basic main hull is about done and your tips for applying Kevlar to the bottom worked out well for me.   I am planning to write up a description of my equally successful hinge/latch building experience.  But to be frank, I am having so much fun building that I am reluctant to stop to start writing!     But I promise you will get it sometime.  

A short while later, I wrote again  … I am now working on the last hull related construction piece of the boat, the fairing & tool box.  I am enjoying the relative complexity of the curvilinear form of the outer beam fairings.  It’s an amazing shape from a sculptural and construction point of view. It must have been fun to design. I actually reflect on your design work frequently as I build the various parts.  She is ‘quite a craft’ and I really appreciate the care you put into her design in order to balance strength, weight, performance and form.  Quite an amazing project in itself and one which is now being enjoyed by so many builders and sailors around the world.  I find that exciting just to think about...,     cheers Jim".

When I happened upon Geoff Kerr's article in WoodenBoat Magazine #254 now three years ago, I found the W17 trimaran hit my dream right on.  In Geoff's words ....“long sleek amas, elegant arched beams, flat-top mainsail, rotating wingmast, curved mainsheet track, under-hull spade-rudder and fine plumb stems etc”… yikes, this boat had it ALL, but also in a small package that could be home-built in plywood and also solo sailed; and having a self-draining cockpit gave me much confidence.  

Although the boat can be built of hi-tech composite panels, I preferred the wood option as being more sustainable and recyclable over the long term.   With a lifetime of sailing experience (and 35 years with trimarans), Mike had originally designed this for his own retirement and had clearly thrown everything into its creation, (and incidentally, recommends that all cruising sailboats should have self-draining cockpits).   As a building project for my own retirement hours this was a definite plus, so after that test sail in his Magic on Lake Champlain, I just knew I had found my dream boat.  



Looking back over the last couple of years, I have to say I found the build process really awesome and with Mike's prompt support when needed, I feel proud to have built this uniquely engineered and beautifully designed trimaran.  Its only when you come to actually make each part that you really appreciate the thought put into the design details  And then, to follow that up with the construction of Mike's 8-meter rotating carbon fiber wingmast over last winter was, in retrospect, the single most rewarding phase of the entire boat building project.  It is a true wonder to me, that I was able to construct a highly engineered, strong, stiff but lightweight CF mast without even a mold, and in my basement too.  It was the crowning achievement for me as I look back over the last two years and one that I am truly proud of.   To start with just rolls of fabric and epoxy resin, and finish up with an amazingly detailed and structurally sound mast was really just a wonderful project.   The result is truly magnificent! 


In August 2020, I finally found a moment to write this ….

Hi Mike, #C132 here.  I am very excited as my new HYDE sails just arrived. They look great so with the boat already afloat I was super-eager to start sailing!   Tramps and spray nets still not on, but I was not ready to wait for that  :)      So just back from my first two day-long sails on Eggemoggin Reach and beyond in Jericho Bay  [Maine, NE Coast, USA], here’s my first reaction …

Sailing my W17 is truly a blast.  It is amazing how smoothly it slices its way through the water so efficiently.  My wife Reina, dogged me about making sure I only had two hulls in the water at any one time, so I was pleased to show her how the water trail behind the boat indicated which hulls were touching the water.   Though we had some periods seemingly without wind, we never stopped moving.

I was also very pleased and surprised to see how nimble the boat is for tacking.   I could easily turn through the wind.    I find the helm very light compared to past monos, and the boat nearly sails itself  hands free. I typically would steer with finger tips only.   Nice to be able to do this.

More later, as I now need to get the tramps and nets mounted, but a great start though” .... Jim  


In the fall, with nets now all in place, I had the opportunity to go out in stronger winds while sailing in the narrow, southern end of Lake Champlain, NY in September.  It gave me an excuse to try the storm mainsail and I was glad I had it as the passing front peaked.  But the W17 was rock solid and never felt stressed or overpowered.  It was wonderful to sail upwind at seven to eight knots under complete control and still stay remarkably dry as well.  Such a totally different experience from monohull dinghies I have sailed.   I can see why Mike named his boat Magic as it’s the perfect name for the way this boat performs.  As I really felt I wanted something related, I have finally chosen (with the wifes’ blessing) to call her Merlin …... (the Magician ;).

We were looking forward to sailing more in 2020 but COVID restrictions made that very difficult. … but now, can’t wait for next season!

I have a great feeling of accomplishment and pride as I look back on the building of Merlin and her carbon fiber mast.  It has been one of the greatest projects of my life, and my respect for the design encouraged me to build my boat to a very high level of finish.  Granted, I am experienced with tools and techniques but I believe it was the ingenuity of Mike’s design, his detailed build manual, plus his prompt and expansive replies to my questions that made the project shine for me, and will make it very achievable for many other equally persistent and patient builders.  Get building, and then raise a glass with me ..… 'to Mike!' 

So if you’re looking for a small trailerable boat to cruise comfortably, handle waves, stay dry, heel less and go 50% faster than most cruising monos, you’d be seriously missing out to not take a good, hard look at the W17 based on my personal experience.  Unlike most small boats, it's also a boat you can move around on and not get stiff, offering numerous places to safely and comfortably sit or stand on.   (This Norwegian builder clearly agrees with me .. check here for some sailing options ;)

Finally, it's also comforting to learn that the first of these boats has already done a couple of 60 mile open-sea crossings, several more of 40 miles, and accomplished close to 2000 n.miles of safe cruising.





She certainly looks like a mini ocean racer, no?







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