Lucky Star.

Passage Maker - - Sea­man­ship -

UE LOG PRO Sam Devlin is the founder of Devlin De­sign­ing Boat­builders in Olympia, Wash­ing­ton, an in­dus­try leader of the stitch-and-glue method of wooden boat fab­ri­ca­tion. We pro­filed Devlin’s beau­ti­ful King­fisher de­sign last year (“Beau­ti­ful Mind,” Novem­ber/ De­cem­ber 2017), but Devlin is unique in that he also sells his plans around the world to any­one with the heart big enough to take on a build. In this story, we turned the keys over to Devlin him­self, who had the chance to visit ul­ti­mately one of his most cher­ished de­signs, the Blue Fin 54. In 2013, the boat plans were pur­chased by Te­mur Rukahya, who lives 125 miles south­east of Moscow. This is the story:

In 2016, my wife, Soitza, and I were cel­e­brat­ing the Christ­mas hol­i­days, vis­it­ing her fam­ily in Mazatlán, Mex­ico. It was the per­fect es­cape for some win­ter sun away from our home in the Pa­cific North­west. Early one morn­ing, I de­cided to check my email—from which I had also been va­ca­tion­ing—to find this email Te­mur Rukahya in­cluded sev­eral videos with his email, and af­ter watch­ing them I was nearly knocked off my seat. I had not heard one word from Te­mur since the day I sent him the plans for the Blue Fin 54 four years pre­vi­ously, and had no idea whether or not the boat had been built. What the videos showed was that the boat had in­deed been built—and seem­ingly built well. But I wouldn’t have to rely on these videos for proof of the suc­cess­ful build for long, as two years later I had the op­por­tu­nity to see the boat in per­son.

My chance came in the mid­dle of July 2018. Soitza and I flew from our home in Wash­ing­ton State to Stock­holm, Swe­den, where we met Te­mur. We were mak­ing a sig­nif­i­cant jour­ney by air, but even more amaz­ing was that Lucky Star was trav­el­ing by wa­ter, some 1,900 nau­ti­cal miles from her home in Sara­tov, Rus­sia, to meet us in Scan­di­navia. Trav­el­ing with Te­mur were two friends, Alexei and Yuri. They had al­ready been out 15 days, trav­el­ing through the wa­ter­ways of Rus­sia, up the Volga River, across sev­eral huge reser­voirs, 16 locks, and fi­nally mak­ing their way to St. Pe­ters­burg and the Baltic Sea. From there they would travel to Fin­land and fi­nally make their way down to Stock­holm.

Te­mur has al­ready cruised Lucky Star for more than 14,000 nau­ti­cal miles in four years, a re­mark­able amount of hours for a ves­sel that spends al­most eight months of each year on the hard in stor­age, bun­dled against frigid Rus­sian win­ters. This boat has cov­ered some in­ter­est­ing miles in her short life. On a pre­vi­ous trip, she had cruised as far north as the Solovet­sky Is­lands in the White Sea (see map on page 45), a mere 100 miles south of the Arc­tic Cir­cle. But be­yond that, what was so spe­cial about this boat and why was I so ex­cited to see her?


On the flight over to Stock­holm I at­tempted to re­call what the orig­i­nal spark of in­spi­ra­tion might have been for my Blue Fin 54 de­sign, but with so much time hav­ing passed since work­ing on this pro­ject, and a clut­tered mind to boot, I found it dif­fi­cult. But out of the foggy re­cesses I started to re­call a few of the driv­ing fac­tors. When I started work­ing on the Blue Fin, I had just

come off a long cruise from the Sal­ish Sea to Alaska and back in my con­verted salmon troller, Josephine, and was work­ing on a pre­lim­i­nary de­sign job for Bill and Meri Roberts, a cou­ple who had re­quested the most eco­nom­i­cal cruiser pos­si­ble for mak­ing the same In­side Pas­sage trip. Adding the mus­ings and dreams of Te­mur, a builder lo­cated in Sara­tov, Rus­sia, to this blender of ideas, out came the de­sign that I dubbed the “Blue Fin 54.”

Te­mur Rukhaya is a hand­some fel­low, and when you meet him his calm de­meanor does not give away what must be an amaz­ing amount of drive and pas­sion for life and ad­ven­ture. He was quick to re­mind me that this was the sec­ond of the “Devlins” that he had tack­led; he first built my 30-foot “Black Crown” de­sign to try out build­ing a boat for him­self be­fore tak­ing on a pro­ject as large as a 54-footer.

But af­ter pre­par­ing the Blue Fin 54 plans for him, I did not hear a word about whether he was mov­ing ahead with the pro­ject. Like I said, it wasn’t un­til he emailed me in De­cem­ber 2016 that I learned of his suc­cess with the new build and de­sign. At that point, he had al­ready cruised more than 8,000 nau­ti­cal miles aboard Lucky Star. Check­ing back in my files, my notes show that I sent him the set of plans in Septem­ber 2013. By my cal­cu­la­tions, Te­mur must have started work­ing the day he re­ceived the fi­nal plans: Some­how Te­mur had fit 20,000 hours of la­bor into just 20 months of con­struc­tion time; Lucky Star was ready to be eased into the wa­ter by May 2015, just as the ice had to­tally cleared Te­mur’s home wa­ters on the Volga River.


Hav­ing only seen her from the pic­tures and few videos that Te­mur had made dur­ing con­struc­tion and in the first year of cruis­ing, now I was go­ing to see her in the flesh. I must ad­mit I was a bit ner­vous about this meet­ing. While I was ex­cited to see her in per­son, there was al­ways that nag­ging pos­si­bil­ity that I wouldn’t re­ally like her, that her fit and fin­ish or some other de­tails wouldn’t be quite what I en­vi­sioned. When see­ing your de­signs come to life, there is al­ways the po­ten­tial of not re­ally lov­ing the boat, and in this case, there was the ad­di­tional pos­si­bil­ity of hav­ing to spend sev­eral days try­ing to act like I loved her and not re­ally feel­ing that love deep down.

The orig­i­nal plan was that Soitza and I were to have sev­eral

days in Stock­holm to ori­ent our­selves to the city and get past the in­evitable jet lag. But Te­mur was sev­eral days ahead of sched­ule, and it was on our first full day in Stock­holm that we made our way over to the ma­rina where Lucky Star was moored. Walk­ing down the dock, those in­evitable and nag­ging doubts (the same ones that I feel ev­ery time I launch a new de­sign) flashed through my con­scious­ness. But be­fore these anx­i­eties rooted and started to grow, I saw her bow-on the out­side float. That lovely and un­mis­tak­able bow pro­file of a “Devlin” de­sign, there was no hid­ing that from view. And as I ap­proached and the whole length of her was vis­i­ble, any lin­ger­ing doubt was re­placed by pure ad­mi­ra­tion.

Te­mur wel­comed us aboard, and I have to say that Lucky Star felt like a much big­ger boat than I would have thought. Sure, she is 54 feet long, but her dis­place­ment is just shy of 19,000 pounds. and I have built much larger boats my­self where you can feel all their weight and size vis­cer­ally. Lucky Star had her own com­mand­ing pres­ence. Al­though she’s long, I truly ex­pected she might feel like a 30-foot boat stretched out to her fi­nal length. But that was not the case at all. In­stead there was a feel­ing of size and sta­bil­ity on the wa­ter, and once we ran her, I found that she truly has her own groove, with a run­ning at­ti­tude and spec­i­fi­ca­tions that are re­mark­able. Imag­ine a boat that can run very eco­nom­i­cally at very near 10 knots but still has the horse­power and speed po­ten­tial to run at 17 knots if nec­es­sary. By Te­mur’s ac­count­ing, af­ter many miles on the wa­ter he found that her most eco­nom­i­cal speed is 9 knots, get­ting about 4.8 miles per gal­lon. Those num­bers fit my ex­pec­ta­tions al­most per­fectly, but what re­ally sur­prised me was how lit­tle her bow rose when ac­cel­er­at­ing.

As of the writ­ing of this ar­ti­cle, Te­mur has cruised Lucky Star over 14,000 nau­ti­cal miles over just four sea­sons of use. Cal­cu­lat­ing that he ran her at an aver­age of 9 knots, this means a to­tal ex­ceed­ing 1,556 en­gine hours, which is quite a feat when typ­i­cal cruis­ers see an aver­age of 150 hours per sea­son.

When asked if he was pleased with the boat, Te­mur smiled broadly and I no­ticed his eyes quickly scan­ning around the in­te­rior, look­ing at this ves­sel that he had built with his own hands, re­sources, and en­ergy. It was clear the an­swer did not need to be vo­cal­ized; as he looked around, the pride was clear in his eyes, and it was as though he was silently in­ti­mat­ing, “An­swer that ques­tion your­self. What is not to like?”


Built us­ing my stitch-and-glue method of ply­wood/epoxy/ com­pos­ite con­struc­tion, Lucky Star is a great ex­am­ple of how quickly a builder can de­velop the skills nec­es­sary to con­struct a well-fin­ished and, to my eyes, very good-look­ing boat. As it

was Te­mur’s sec­ond stitch-and-glue pro­ject, she shows a level of fin­ish that is out­stand­ing; he ob­vi­ously spent the hours of sand­ing and fair­ing nec­es­sary for a fine fin­ish both in­side and out. Lucky Star is strongly built and has the equip­ment and gear that one would ex­pect from a well-equipped mod­ern cruiser. Early in the de­sign process we had talked about a dou­ble state­room ver­sus a sin­gle state­room con­fig­u­ra­tion, and Te­mur de­cided on the lat­ter op­tion. This choice makes the cabin very com­fort­able and no space feels cramped or crowded.

She is pow­ered by a 260-horse­power Ve­tus, and I was im­pressed with how large this en­gine is. It doesn’t ap­pear to be any­thing brought up out of the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try, and if it was, this one must have come out of a full-sized truck. Though Ve­tus en­gines are a bit of a rar­ity in North Amer­ica, in Europe and western Rus­sia they are com­mon and well liked. Just aft the rear bulk­head of the cabin, the en­gine box is well in­su­lated. She’s quiet un­der­way and very smooth run­ning with an Aquadrive hookup to the shaft. This is a straight-shaft con­fig­u­ra­tion with a shaft an­gle of 8 de­grees, and the thrust line is easy and ef­fi­cient. Lucky Star is a sin­gle-screw boat, and, con­sid­er­ing her length, we needed to get some real prop area un­der her, end­ing up with a 28-inch-by-29-inch four-blade pro­pel­ler cou­pled to a 1:2.78 gear. This blade area al­lows her to re­act quickly and de­ci­sively to the shift­ing and throt­tling, and she backs down well and bal­anced in close ma­neu­ver­ing with her bow thruster set well for­ward to push the bow when needed. Her draft is just un­der four feet with a bal­anced rud­der on a skeg that of­fers plenty of pro­tec­tion for the pro­pel­ler, with a long keel in front of it. Fuel is stored in twin 290 gal­lon tanks for a to­tal of 580 gal­lons. That would give her a use­ful range well north of 2,000 nau­ti­cal miles at Te­mur’s fa­vored 9-knot speed. This boat was set up to work around those of us that tend to fret more than we should about fuel ca­pac­ity and range.

Lucky Star also has a 4kW Ve­tus-built gen­er­a­tor. As sum­mers can get hot and muggy in Rus­sia, she has air con­di­tion­ing and needs the gen­er­a­tor to run that sys­tem. The gen­er­a­tor also al­lows the re­frig­er­a­tion to stay charged up when the drive en­gine is not run­ning.

It was quickly ob­vi­ous to a boat­builder like my­self that Te­mur had thought long and hard about the equip­ment needed on a proper cruis­ing boat and how she needed to be laid out to take full ad­van­tage of her po­ten­tial. The re­sult is that Lucky Star has ev­ery­thing that a cruiser would need, from heat­ing to waste man­age­ment, to the re­gen­er­a­tion of bat­tery charg­ing.

This is all cou­pled with a low pro­file. Lucky Star is a long and sleek boat that likes the wa­ter and doesn’t hes­i­tate to put her shoul­der into a patch of rough go­ing. Vis­i­bil­ity from the helm is good, and she does not ex­hibit much change of run­ning an­gle while un­der­way. Pic­tures show her an­gle of at­tack is very flat and level through­out the speed range.

With my coun­sel, Te­mur chose a gal­ley-down ar­range­ment which keeps the pilot­house space un­clut­tered and spa­cious. The gal­ley has its own dinette area, which also dou­bles as an ex­tra berth. In fair weather, though, the pre­ferred op­tion is to cook in the cov­ered cock­pit area, which has its own bar­be­cue, range top, sink, and re­frig­er­a­tion. With this “cock­pit gal­ley” ar­range­ment and a size­able dinette/seat­ing area aft, this is the space that is most of­ten into duty when the hook is down at the end of the day. There are so­lar pan­els on top of the aft deck cover that help keep the electrics charged and func­tional. Side pan­els can also be at­tached and low­ered to turn the back deck into a us­able area even when the weather de­te­ri­o­rates.

Af­ter a lovely day spent on the wa­ter and sev­eral days of kick­ing about Stock­holm, it was time for Te­mur and his crew to head for home across the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Fin­land. It would be an­other 15 days on the wa­ter be­fore they re­turned to their homes in Sara­tov, and just be­fore land­ing at her dock, Lucky Star crossed the 14,000 nau­ti­cal mile thresh­old: an in­cred­i­ble achieve­ment for a 4-year old boat.

While fly­ing home, I had time to re­flect on the ex­pe­ri­ence of see­ing my de­sign fleshed out and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the boat my­self on the wa­ter. See­ing how my orig­i­nal in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the best over­all cruis­ing boat for the In­side Pas­sage trans­lated so well to cruis­ing cen­tral Rus­sia and western Europe, I was truly struck by what an amaz­ing boat Lucky Star is and how very ef­fi­ciently she ac­com­plishes her job of be­ing a “most proper lit­tle boat.” And there was clearly no ques­tion left about whether I would love the Blue Fin de­sign as much as Te­mur does.


Op­po­site: Te­mur at the helm of the very boat he built us­ing Sam Devlin’s plans. This im­age: Lucky Star on a day cruise through Stock­holm, Swe­den.

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