CLC Skerry 'Luna' build 2022-23

CLC Skerry

The Skerry was designed by John Harris of Chesapeake Light Craft. You can read the background story here on the CLC Skerry web page

The Skerry is a 4.6m (15ft) rowing and sailing boat built using marine plywood, epoxy and woven glass fibre cloth. Designed for use in sheltered waters with a maximum payload of 200kg (450lbs). She has a reputation as being both good to row and sail, and at around 45kg (95lbs).  

I chose to alter the internal layout of the Skerry after reading comments about her fore and aft balance. We shall see if those changes work for the way I expect to use her or not. After the alterations, additions (inhales etc), painting and varnishing, Luna’s hull weighs 55kg and I’m happy with that. 

I have no doubt that many will say that I’ve spoilt the simple internal layout. 

Post scope and acknowledgements

In this post I’ll limit the detail to the design and build of the alterations and additions I made rather than a step by step record of the build.

I joined the FaceBook “CLC Skerry Owners, Builders, and Fans” group which provided access to heaps of experience with the Skerry from all round the world. In addition to the CLC web site there was also Christine Marchant’s Skerry build pages, and Galen Piehl’s Inside Waters site. These pages and forums answered many of the questions I came up with and I thank all of those who offered responses, affirmations and alternative views. I really appreciate your support and wisdom.

My boatbuilding experience and motivation

I’ve been around boats all my life and maintained motorboats, yachts, trailer sailers and done a wide range of modifications and fitting out. The Skerry is my first complete build and it has been a great experience allowing me to put my years of engineering and woodworking experience to use. I rarely have much spare time as I’m often making or mending things for other people so this project was a bit of self indulgence. 

One significant motivation was the need to sell my 115HP powered boat that I used for fishing. Reducing our use of fossil fuels was something my partner and I had resolved to do with her taking the lead by buying an all electric car (BEV) in 2015. Add to that the cost of fuel cost and the need to divest myself of the powerboat and my petrol car that I kept primarily to tow the boat with. Both are now sold and I now have an oar and sail powered boat and an ex-Singapore BYD E6 all electric taxi. After investing in 24 solar panels on the roof our boating, motoring and house fuel bills are approaching zero. 

Why the Skerry?

Second time in the water for Luna, Ōhope Beach, NZ Pacific coast on a calm winters day

I was looking for a boat that I could use both off the beach and in a shallow harbour. Being able to move the boat with ease was essential as was a good balance between rowing and sailing efficiency. I have four grandchildren so I wanted a boat that is unlikely to capsize providing she is sailed conservatively. A stable fishing platform to use off the beach would be a bonus. 

Why the Skerry? – well look at her shape – she’s a stunner! The double ended style, super light weight, excellent rowing and sailing characteristics made the Skerry an easy choice for me. I did consider many other designs but I found many to lack the traditional styling I find attractive in a boat, even though they may have been an easier build. The light weight build means the Skerry can be handled easily by one person, will float in a few inches of water, has a good reserve of buoyancy, and looks good.

Buying a kit and having it shipped to New Zealand was cost prohibitive and besides, I have a well equiped workshop with a large format CNC router that could, with a bit of adaptation, handle a full sheet of plywood. So I decided to build her from scratch. After machining the kit of parts, transferring them from flat pieces of ply into this beautiful shape was a real pleasure. Cutting the kit myself also gave me the opportunity to make some modifications.

The reasons I made some alterations

It seems that no boat design every meets all the individual needs of its owner. John Harris, from CLC Boats, has a vast experience in the design of boats and I believe the current stock design of the Skerry is the second version and the design has spawned the Skerry Raid. I certainly don’t have the experience of John and his team but that didn’t stop me dipping my toes into the whirlpool of design customisation – what could go wrong? I like to think I have sound judgement (as all customisers probably do) so I decided to take the risk and give it a go. Worst case scenario I will end up with a pretty and expensive garden flower tub. Best case a boat I’ll enjoy two-fold and have lots of fun building and using.

1. Balance and aft seat relocation I read many accounts of the Skerry being a little too light at the bow when there’s a single occupant seated on the aft bench. Work-arounds quoted ranged from adding  two full 20 litre water water containers close to the mast, to kneeling/sitting on the floor in front of the aft seat. Neither option appealed to me. After studying the plans and building a model I decided to move the aft seat forward to be equivalent to the moment generated by the water bottles. Keeping the math simple and ignoring gravity as it is the same for each moment, I needed to move the 80kg person (me) forward by about 0.35m to eliminate the need for the water bottles.


So that is what I did. If I had just made the rear seat larger it would have looked a mess so I decided to move the aft frame forward by 10cm, extend it to the gunnels and cover the void with a curved deck. This would increase the buoyancy in the event of a capsize. I created a small hatch to allow stowage of my beach trailer and or the mast end, but not big enough to tempt me to use it as a storage space. And then I added lightweight seating. 

This is how it looks in the finished boat.

2. Dagger board position and rowing seat.

As a consequence of the daggerboard being mounted as part of the central thwart, moving between the bow and stern meant clambering over the seat and daggerboard. As both very young and old would be using the boat I wanted to make movement around the boat as easy as possible. Some research found a number of examples of an offset daggerboard including some boats designed by John Harris. In every account I read the sailors noticed very little difference in performance as a consequence of offsetting the daggerboard. Structurally the designed arrangement did add considerable stiffness to the hull so I decided to add another frame position and close in both sides to create two lockers. The top of the daggerboard case was raised by about 30mm to reduce the chance of water entering a swamped boat  through the daggerboard casing.

These lockers will add to the buoyancy although, being low in the boat there is the chance they may increase the possibility that the hull will turn upside down after a capsize. As a capsize is more likely when sailing, I decided to compensate by using sealed, hollow spars which, hopefully, will result in Luna resting on her side. We shall see. The extra frames and lockers provided a good increase in stiffness to the hull (apparent during the build) which was then supplemented by the addition of inwales.  The rowing seat between the lockers is removable and adjustable. 

This is what the central portion of the boat looks like.

A bit of impromptu static load testing occurred during a visit of extended family. Luna was sitting on two saw horses. No flexing, cracks or unexpected noises detected!

3. Forward section

Not much of a change here. I did open the seat to create a sealed locker that I could put a battery in should I decide to add a bilge pump or fish finder. I have both of these from previous boats so adding these gadgets will just require adding a battery and switch panel. I added sealed conduit to route the wires should they be needed.

Under the breasthook I added a small anchor locker leaving a gap at the top of the door for both ventilation and so I can use the breasthook as a handle and lifting point. The anchor locker hatch can be locked shut to stop the anchor falling out in the event of a capsize. The locker self drains into the cockpit.

Although I allowed additional width when cutting the front seat I found it was not a good fit. Rather than cut a new one I used scraps of ply to create a shelf on both sides that the seat could rest on. As it turns out this has added a gutter between the seat and hull which has been designed to self drain.

The mast step had to be modified from square to round as I decided to buy a carbon fibre mast. The mast step, partner and forward frame have been strengthened above design specifications.

4, Rig, Spars and Oars – currently under construction

I chose to rig Luna with a balanced lug sail. After communicating with Galen Piehl, I contacted Mike Storer at Really Simple Sails. Mike designed a sail based on the one he made for Galen but with some minor changes to the reefing points presumably based on feedback received. The sail is 64.5 sq ft so a little bigger than the CLC version. Mike and his team gave an accurate forecast of the lead time and the sail arrived from the wherever it was made – the Philippines I think. Mike’s web site gives a huge amount of information on setting up and tuning lug sails. A great resource, thankyou Mike and the community of Storer boat enthusiasts.

A rowing friend of mine suggested I should see if I could track down some sculling oars rather than opt for conventional oars. After introductions to the local rowing club I was able to source six oars that had been retired from racing. I chose two of these for rowing and used three of the remaining oars to make the boom and yard. The oars are tapered and have an eccentric profile so they are light in weight but will need to be mounted so the strongest part of the profile is aligned with the forces on the sail.

Having gone down the carbon fibre route for the mast it seemed sensible to use a carbon fibre mast. I did research timber options but finding a local source of a suitable timber proved too difficult so I purchased a custom carbon fibre mast that was made to order in less than a week by Killwell FibreLabs in Rotorua. The mast is 4.66m long and 50mm diameter.

I have created Paulownia plugs for the ends of the mast and spars because it is so light (and I happened to have a piece in the workshop).

More on this when I have finished rigging the boat and tested her out.


5. Seats, daggerboard and rudder.

Although I was advised that the Skerry didn’t have the beam for side seats, after some experimentation I decided to fit them anyway. The side seats are made of 9mm ply which have been strengthened by gluing the waste material from the slots to the underside of the slats. The seats are supported at the ends by battens on the frames and lightweight plywood frames in between. 

I added theses to give me more options when I take the grand children out into the harbour. There is also room for our dogs should they want to be on the water rather than in the water. Being clear on the underside there is plenty of room for feet and legs and for rowing there is no need for foot rests as there are plenty of options for hooking the feet under the seats. The rowing seat is a simple bit of 9mm ply that is removable and adjustable fore and aft. 


Work in progress

As of the 19 June 2023, I have taken Luna out for a couple of sea trials under oar. Although it is winter her in New Zealand, the weather was perfect for launching from the beach. Almost no waves, no wind and bright blue skies. My custom rowlocks worked fine and now probably need to be tidied up from their prototype state. The first priority will be completing the spars and rigging her so I can take her for a test sail in the harbour. I’ll update this page when I have more to report.

Discussion and comments

Please use my post on the Facebook CLC Skerry Owners page for any public comments – Post on FB CLC Skerry owners page – 22 Jun 2023

You can also send me a message via my contact page.

Add Your Heading Text Here