SAM DEVLIN LOVES HIS BOATS.
He’s been building boats for close to four decades and his love is constant—whether it’s designing, working in the shop, proving them in the snottiest sea conditions or just talking and writing about them. Most intriguing, Devlin is among the very few production builders of wooden boats.
He is perhaps the leading practitioner of stitch-andglue fabrication, in which Devlin builds craft of high-quality marine plywood panels sewn together and then finished off with resins, fiberglass fabrics and a topcoat of paint. He describes the process as “wooden boatbuilding with modern epoxy technology.”
Over the years, I’ve cruised aboard and written about several Devlin craft. I best remember the 45-foot classic work-boat-styled Sockeye and Devlin’s skill in navigating her along the shallow and elusive channel out of Hammersley Inlet at the south end of Puget Sound. And then there was the Surf Scoter 26 we flew across the waters of Budd Inlet, near Olympia.
I last found Devlin at Trawlerfest-Anacortes, where he was having a good time showing off the newest model from his Devlin Designing Boat Builders—a 30-foot, 6-inch go-fast boat, the first in a new series he calls Pyladian. Devlin was guessing that buyers now are more interested in boats of 30-something size than 45s. He proposed a trial run and I agreed.
800 BOATS Devlin describes himself as “just an average guy with a pervasive love of boats and the water.” This life-long affair began shortly after he graduated from college with degrees in geology and biology and went to Alaska to spend a season working aboard a tug. The result of that experience, he says, “was that I wanted my own boat.”
So, in 1977 he created Devlin Designing Boat Builders in Eugene, Oregon, and in a few years it had grown from a backyard business to a recognized and successful builder. In 1982, he moved his shop to Olympia, Washington, and a site on a small cove that opens on Puget Sound and its adjacent waters.
His shop has built and launched 318 boats, ranging from 7 feet to 48 feet. A 33-foot powerboat and a 20-foot sailboat were under construction as this was written. His sons, Cooper and Mackenzie, lease an old shop building from Devlin and are working on boat restoration projects.
Devlin also sells small-boat plans and kits for hobbyists who want to build his designs at home. He estimates that about 500 have been built and launched by backyard and garage hobbyists worldwide. “It’s difficult to keep track of, but it is the rare week that we don’t hear of two or three boats being finished,” he said.
“I feel we are just starting to scratch at the surface of what the true potential might be,” Devlin said. “Stitch-and-glue boat building has the flexibility and capability to allow both the professional and the amateur…to produce high-quality and innovative vessels from tiny sizes up to really large sizes.”
A Devlin boat project begins with careful design. Some might say that drawings from his drafting table also are darned good—they’re maritime art. Then, sheets of marine plywood are cut to fit patterns and wired together along the seams. After epoxy sealers are applied to the seams the wires are removed and layers of fiberglass applied. “By using highgrade marine materials and epoxy technology we can literally weld together the plywood,” he said.
“The interiors are clean and uncluttered by ribs and excess framing…maintenance is kept to a sane level and the life of the boat is greatly increased.
“The designs are meant to be used. Construction is strong, the rigs are simple and all designs focus on seaworthiness… the use of these boats is limited only by the owner, not by design or the construction method.”
It all sounds quick and simple, but it isn’t. Precision is absolute and takes time—the first of the Pyladian series required 4,700 hours of labor.
COMMUTER The boat that brought us together again is a single-engine craft with a large open afterdeck and whose design hints of lobsterboat styling. The Pyladian design evolved from Devlin’s 33foot Storm Petrel, a twin-engine boat built five years ago with a distinct lobster-boat character. It is, he said, “one of the best performing sea boats I have ever had the pleasure of running.” A 48 launched last year shares that hull form.
Devlin’s design goal: “What we were after is something that will go through any water and not slow down.”
Devlin called recently and the next afternoon I stood watch at the end of Cap Sante Marina’s C-dock as he paused overnight in delivering the boat—named Sally-Christine— to its owners in British Columbia. A sparkling green hull and red
boot instantly caught my eye as she rounded the breakwater.
The owners are Randy Repass, the founder and chairman of the West Marine chain of chandleries, and his wife, SallyChristine. Experienced sailors and cruisers, they have a home on a small island in the Gulf Islands of southern British Columbia and intend to use Sally-Christine to commute between home and the nearby communities of Lady Smith and Nanaimo to pick up supplies or friends and have dinner out.
As I stepped aboard, however, it was obvious he has additional uses planned. Her afterdeck was stuffed with the most sophisticated crab traps I have ever seen. On the starboard rail was a power hoist for pulling crab and prawn traps. Other fishing gear likely was stowed out of sight.
The engine box, housing a 315hp Yanmar 6LPA, takes up space on the afterdeck, too. Once the traps are in the water or hauled ashore there would be good room for passengers—or for the groceries and building materials they may be hauling from Sidney to their home on Pylades Island. Devlin added storage for parts, supplies and whatever in the inner face of the transom and in every other possible place.
Repass simplified long-term maintenance by eliminating varnished wood on the exterior. Interior trim is simple but immaculate. The interior deck surface is vinyl, but looks like teak. At the helm, are two fixed comfortable seats on platforms and each platform contains three storage drawers. Another upholstered seat is mounted on the cabin’s after bulkhead. Windows all around provide a 360-degree view. That’s good when you’re running at better than 20 knots.
Deck panels lift to reveal a battery compartment and a water heater. That quick look also reveals how complete a Devlin boat is. All bilge surfaces are finished with sprayed truck-liner compound—which makes them neat-looking, durable and easy to clean.
Forward is a V-berth for two, a small under-counter refrigerator, a galley sink and stowage spaces. There is no cooktop. There’s a shower on the afterdeck. The head is forward and hidden by a curtain. Features added by Repass include a pair of solar panels mounted on the cabin top and a forced-air furnace.
GUEMES CHANNEL We took the boat into Guemes Channel, but calm water denied us a test of Devlin’s goal of building a boat capable of taking any sea conditions without slowing. I ran the Yanmar up to top speed and cut doughnuts in the channel and then quartered our wake—nothing stressful happened—and then put the wake abeam, and we rolled just a bit.
Top speed is about 26 knots. I cruised along at about 20 knots (according to the Simrad GPS at the helm and also my hand-held unit). Sam said he estimated that at 18 knots the boat runs five miles on a gallon of fuel.
At top speed, with the Yanmar running hard behind us and the after cabin door open, conversation required a little extra effort. At slower speeds that noise disappeared.
My view: She’s a well-built, handsomely styled craft that will satisfy her owners’ requirements, be that running from Seattle to the Gulf Islands in a single day or dropping crab pots, hauling groceries and guests or gunkholing in the beautiful waters of British Columbia. And what do the owners think? “I don’t think we could be happier,” Repass told me later, after he and his wife had been using the boat several weeks. “It’s perfect for the application and we can go out for several days, too. “It handles chop well and it’s fuel efficient.” Sally- Christine, the person, said, “The boat is warm, comfortable, dry and feels safe. This boat meets our basic needs and it is beautiful.”
She praised the design for having a tremendous amount of stowage and for being very functional. And then she said she tested the boat the first time out by turning doughnuts and steering through its wake. “It’s a romantic little sports car,” she said. Randy said they were attracted to Devlin’s work when they first saw a Black Crown 30. Later they saw an ad for a Black Crown and arranged to meet Sam. Then they ordered a new boat.
DREAMING While on our trial run along Anacortes’ waterfront I looked west along Guemes Channel and toward Rosario Strait—the route Sam would follow the next day in delivering the boat to its owners.
I could imagine the long run up Trincomali Channel, past the favored places of Ganges and Montague Harbor, toward Pylades Island. Just beyond the island are a couple of tidal rapids that must be crossed to reach Nanaimo or to cross Georgia Strait. Normally boaters do the rapids at or near slack, but Sam and I envisioned booming on through regardless of the current knowing Sally-Christine would have no problems.
It was not going to happen. I slowed the boat to 9 knots, turned toward the marina and begrudgingly relinquished the helm to Devlin.
The next morning Devlin cast off and headed north for Canada’s Gulf Islands. I would like to have been in the watchman’s seat.
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