'The Best Boats to Build or Buy'
by Ferenc Mate
(Buy this book at Amazon: Best Boats to Build or Buy)
The 26 foot Frances is a completely irresistible little
boat and your first reaction reaction after looking around belowdecks,
is, "What more do I really need?" Chuck Paine designed and built
the original Frances for himself. He likes the seakeeping abilities of
traditional double-enders, but he drastically fined down the ends for
Frances, making her a very weatherly boat. With 3,500 pounds of ballast
on a 6,800 pound displacement (51% ballast-to-displacement ratio, which
is very high indeed) Chuck was able to keep the draft down to 3 feet 10
inches, which opens up some magical places inaccessible to the usual 5
foot draft cruisers. He designed Frances during the winter of 1975 and
said about her: "She was to embody everything I knew about the design
of efficient cruising-vessels of fiberglass construction, to be capable
of yearly cruises to and among the Caribbean Islands, to be small enough
to fit my limited budget, but large enough to safely survive a gale at
sea. She had to be as beautiful as her namesake, for some day I would
part with her and I know well that beautiful yachts reward their owners'
good taste with profit upon resale. Yet she is small enough for me to
handle the little maintenance required, capable of being laid-up alongside
a local lobsterman's wharf on an outgoing tide for periodic attention
to the bottom, or even towed behind a good Maine Peapod if the engine
and wind should choose to crap out simultaneously. Then there is always
the dream of circumnavigation, and well, some year I might just find the
time and have saved up the Panama Canal fee and a few cans of ravioli."
Frances is a small boat, the flush deck version does not have full headroom (the trunk cabin does) but she does have yards of sitting room. A great deal of attention has been paid to stowage space and of course any experienced seaman knows that space is no damned good if the displacement and freeboard of the yacht are so small that, should that space be occupied by usable supplies, she would float halfway up her sides. Load Frances with your cruising gear and she won't show it in appearance or performance.
And he goes on to talk about the hull: "The entry is quite sharp (25% half angle forward, which is sharp indeed for most racers have around 20 to 23). The keel extension is carried right up to the canoe body of the hull with a very tight fairing radius."
In other words, the hull is very modern with the keel figuratively added onto the body and not faired in, in that traditional flowing wineglass shape. This is hard to explain, but once you look at an old hull and a new hull side. by side, you will know what I mean. As I write this I am looking at an old racer in the boatyard next door, built in 1940, and her keel does not become vertical until well below half way down her underbody. In contrast, if you look at the lines of Chuck's Leigh, you will see that right at the one-third mark (three out of nine lines down) the keel becomes a full wing causing lift and preventing leeway, thereby achieving a much more efficient hull than those of old.
The sharp entry, tall keel and tall rig, make her a weatherly boat and a stiff one, for as one owner, Jake Van Veedom explained, "The boat is so stiff I just haven't been able to bury the rail," and judging by a photo, Jake Van Veedom is no wilting pansy.
For those interested in what designers consider when drawing the lines of a boat, a few more comments from Chuck should clarify it: "I wanted to end up with a boat that could carry her sail well (an essential conflict between cruising and racing yachts, the stability being penalized in the latter for rating purposes). On the other hand I wanted the desirable wave performance of a tender boat. That is, one which is. an easy roller. There is only one solution to this seeming conflict. I get the sail carrying ability from the moderately heavy displacement (directly proportional to the riding moment). I achieve the easy motion by shaping the hull sections with a high angle of deadrise and very easy bilges, or more technically, designing the shape with a low meta-centre. The result is a hull which is driven easily and has relatively less wetted surface for her length than many yachts of her size range." There you go.
The fractional rig Chuck drew for Frances is rather tall, but Chuck drew the smaller headsail area with a proportionally larger main because he feels that "it's a damned sight easier to reef a main on a blustery night than go forward and change down to smaller jib." Almost as easy of course, is a split headstay rig which is also available, where half the headsails can be dropped and bagged and onward she would sail.
Below, the trunk cabin version is spacious and airy with much perfectly painted white plywood and varnished teak trim, and a layout so simple that any explanation or clarification by me would only confound it. Look at the drawings.
The rig that Tom Morris has devised has some noteworthy ideas, and you will have to look at the photo inset of the sail plan to see them. The need for a boomkin or even a split backstay, which is common with aft hung rudders to give the tiller free movement, has been nicely eliminated by offsetting the backstay to starboard. My first impression was that this would put an undue twist into the fitting at the masthead, but I was assured by a designer friend that as long as a toggle is used allowing the wire end to swivel off centre; the couple of degrees of offset will not really affect anything.
The shrouds too have been doubled up to cut down the number of penetrations through the deck from three to two. As you can see on the sail plan, the intermediate shares a chainplate with one lower shroud, while the upper shares the other chainplate with the other lower shroud. Of course the load bearing capacity of the plates had to be slightly increased, but whatever had to be done was worth it, to eliminate a major potential deck leak.
I have only one criticism of the boat, which is a general criticism. Tom and I went for a turn in Southwest Harbour, and the racket and vibration of the beastly little single cylinder diesel was just damned unearthly. If you have to have a motor on such a small, well sailing boat, then perhaps it should be a gas - wash my mouth with soap - outboard, namely a Seagull with an extended shaft. Fabrication of a bracket would not be the easiest thing on such a pointed double-ender, but whatever it would take, the price difference between a diesel and a Seagull would pay for it ten times over, not to mention the money you would save on dentist bills for replacing the fillings shaken from your teeth. The whole problem of gas storage could be solved with a tank isolated in the lazarette compartment, and by isolated I mean baffled and sealed off like one would a propane tank with an overboard drain for spillage in case of ruptured tank or fuel line. It is true that a gas outboard could be a bloody nuisance most of the time, but then that's the whole idea, you see, because you will hate it so much that you will become totally reliant on your skill with the sails and to hell with the engine except in case of absolute need. Amen.