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Old 08-26-2000
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Michelle Potter is on a distinguished road
Building Moondancer

Question:

Could Michelle Potter tell us how long it took to build Moondancer, how instructive the plans were, and how she sails?
Randy and Lisa

Michelle Potter responds:

It’s very difficult to find a second-hand junk-rigged boat. Your first sail on a junk-rig will most likely come after you’ve modified an existing boat or built your own boat from the ground up. If you want a junk-rig, you have to have a lot of trust in a design that few people have actually sailed.

For us, the gamble paid off quite well. We like the junk-rig, but we’ve had to make a few adjustments. There are times when the long sheets have gotten fouled on anything that might be in their way—the GPS antenna, an open cabin hatch, or even the wind generator, that we added to the stern. Our Benford-designed junk-rig has a lot of weather helm and she doesn’t like to sail upwind at all when we’re on a starboard tack. We are still learning how to sail the boat and are in the process of making modifications to increase our ability to sail upwind. From a beam reach to a dead run, Moondancer sails like a dream. One person can reef or lower the sails at any time. Downwind, she is the epitome of effortless sailing and she is wonderful for a couple to cruise.

What Moondancer lacks in sailing ability, she makes up for with her beamy cabin. She’s a wonderful liveaboard because she’s so roomy. In my past life, I raced J24s out in San Francisco, and there have been a few times that I’ve enviously watched a J24 come into a harbor with precision and speed. But, then again, I wouldn’t want to live on a J24 and cruise with another person aboard. To me, that would be a little too tight.

How long did it take to build Moondancer? From lofting to launching, it took a little less than 18 months. My husband, Whitney, worked alone and full-time to get the boat built. When I could, I lent a helping hand with odd jobs such as sanding and painting, but most of the credit really belongs to my husband. He is an engineer by training and had some prior experience with woodworking and boat building (a small kayak and a canoe), but this was his biggest project so far.

When I told Whitney that people were amazed that he had built such a large boat in such a small amount of time, he laughed and said, "Well, at some point early on in the project, I realized that we were either going to have a beautiful sculpture or a real, working boat. I decided that I wanted to spend more time sailing than building, so that’s what I set out to do."

We don’t have high-maintenance teak decks or intricate wooden carvings throughout the boat. Moondancer is practical, but we are practical people, so she suits us just fine.

How instructive were the plans? The plans are good, but basic. They cover the construction of the hull and the rig, but leave the interior systems up to you. Whitney had to turn to outside resources to supplement the details of building this boat. He read a lot of books, studied other boats, and basically scrounged around for any information he could about specifics, such as where to put the water tanks, where to put the battery banks, and where the wiring and plumbing go.

Would we build Moondancer again? Well, to be honest, this is probably not the boat that we are going to sail for the rest of our lives. We’ve only been out cruising for the past three months, but we did note that Pete and Annie Hill have decided to stop cruising on Badger and are now building a junk-rigged catamaran for their next boat!

There is always going to be the allure of a "better" boat. At bookstores, I have to drag Whitney away from the boat-design sections because he’s already talking about the "40-foot aluminum or steel cutter" that he wants to build next.

Of course, when you think about it, Moondancer had a relatively simple design for our first boat-building project, and I think that’s really the value of this boat. For us, being successful at boat building was the priority. We didn’t know if we would even like cruising, so we wanted a quick project and lots of time on the water. If we had picked a much larger or more complex project, we might have given up on the whole dream of building and sailing our own boat, which would have been a shame.

 

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