Cape Henry 21
Almost 15 years ago a friend came into my workshop waving around a copy of Watercraft magazine and said, “have a look at this boat, I’m going to build myself one some day.” That boat was the Cape Henry 21.
I liked the design instantly, but went on to build myself quite different and much bigger boats. Then around four years ago I realised that I needed to have a good look at what kind of boating I wanted to do in the future. I have a beautiful 11m motorsailer, but we hardly use her, and we have always enjoyed using smaller boats more.
I love the look of the cutter rig, wanted a long bowsprit, comfortable accommodation for a few nights onboard, and the boat had to be trailerable. Good performance under sail was also important, as well as looking bit traditional. I still had the magazine from 15 years ago and the Cape Henry looked like it would fit the brief nicely. Dudley Dix is a performance oriented designer, so even his more traditional looking boats perform well. I didn’t really have to think about it too much more, and soon had a set of plans to work from.
The plans come with full sized mylar patterns for the bulkheads and backbone structure, with the option of full size mylar patterns for the planking as well. The plans are very detailed and I found them to be very accurate. During the build I became Dudley’s Australian agent, and can now offer CNC cut plywood kits for all of his designs. Kits have become very popular now and help to achieve a fair and accurate boat much quicker. We have all become time poor, and to see the boat come together much faster with a kit also helps keep the builder more motivated.
At anchor. Image Ron Jesche
The build process for the Cape Henry 21 is fairly straight forward. She is built upside down over bulkheads and longitudinal stringers. All of the bulkheads stay inside the completed boat without the need for temporary stations. The planking is lapstrake plywood with each plank land supported with a stringer. The broad four planks per side mean that the hull goes together fairly quickly. And to my eye gives a beautiful looking hull. The only real challenge planking the hull is with the garboard planks. There is a lot of twist and compound curve in the forward section. But with some steaming of the plywood with a hired wallpaper stripper, and some kerfing of the inside of these planks, you end up with a hollow bow with an incredible fine entry. This takes some work but is well worth the effort, as the boat slices through water effortlessly, and in most conditions I never have any water on deck, and she never pounds or slams in a seaway.
Looking forward. Image Ron Jesche
I decided early on in the build that I wanted to fit a diesel engine, as one of the conditions of me being allowed to build another boat was that we had to be able to do some trips on the Murray River. We are planning a 500km round trip from Morgan to the Victorian border and back in late April, I’ll let you know how it goes. Fitting the diesel was a departure from the plans and I caution anyone thinking of modifying any designer’s plans. I am a shipwright with many years of experience and made the changes in consultation with Dudley Dix. The reason we build our own boats is to have something different with our own stamp on it, but don’t be tempted to make any structural changes. One modification can not usually be made in isolation, and may lead to problems later in the build. As an example, fitting the diesel engine lead to the following changes. Apart from finding enough room to physically fit the engine and all of the associated gear, the skeg had to be made wider for the stern tube. The cockpit sole had to be lifted at the forward end to give enough height, with a watertight hatch to get the engine in and out, as well as another watertight hatch in the cockpit sole for access to the stern gear, seacock and water strainer. The exhaust needs a gooseneck and transom fitting so I had to put in an extra bulkhead forward of the transom with a small aft deck so I could hide exhaust hose and fuel filter, and also somewhere to mount the engine controls. The main bulkhead now also needed a hatch for access to the raw water impeller, so the winch to lift the centreboard had to be re-designed and relocated. I allowed for the weight of the engine and left out 80kg of ballast, so was a little nervous on launch day when she was a little lower in the stern than I would have liked, but once I shifted the house battery from the aft end of the quarter berth to under the V-berth the trim problems were solved.
We launched Sealion just before Christmas and I have been getting out a couple of times a week. The performance of the Cape Henry 21 has been every bit as good as I had hoped. She is very fast in light airs, and sails beautifully in stronger winds with the staysail and one reef in the main. As I often sail single handed it is important to be able to reef easily and efficiently, she heaves to nicely, allowing me to put in a reef comfortably and sail on in complete control. The cutter rig looks fantastic on the water, and with endless line furlers makes it easy to adjust the rig to the conditions without having to leave the cockpit.
Last year I had the opportunity to sail a Cape Cutter 19, the smaller sister to the Cape Henry 21. This boat sails every bit as well as the Cape Henry, we had conditions from 25kts earlier in the day, to just enough wind to ghost home in the evening. The morning was quite choppy, and reefed down we had a great sail and to our surprise had no water and very little spray over the deck. These little boats inspire a lot of confidence, and it is little wonder that they have made some great journey’s including circumnavigating the UK.
Looking aft. Image Ron Jesche
There are now a few Cape Henry’s being built around Australia, and possibly the larger Cape May 25 soon. This boat is only 4ft longer but substantially bigger with an enclosed head, and we hope that soon we will be able to have a gathering and maybe start an informal owners association.
I’m looking forward to getting to know Sealion better, and she looks like she is going to fulfill my requirements nicely. As for the friend who first showed me the article, he is still talking about building a Cape Henry ... come on Chris, time isn’t getting kinder to any of us!