The Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building is renowned for constructing quality, seaworthy boats with some of the finest craftsmanship anywhere, and Stuart Weibel’s 1994 William Atkins ‘Gary Thomas’ 26 Ripple is one of of them. Stuart has owned Ripple since 2009 and has completed a variety of cruising trips aboard her, including to Alaska and back. She is homeported on Lake Union in Seattle.
Tell us about your boat’s name.
Ripple was her christening name, and I’d be crazy to change it.
Have you owned other boats before this one? If so, what kinds?
I had an old rotten pram when I was 12.
Tell us a little about your boating background.
Sailing was the first great passion of my life. It started with Snipes in the Chesapeake bay, then later had an unhappy affair with a Star in Hawaii. But I survived and, after moving to Seattle a decade ago, I was moved to renew my sailing roots.
What’s the history of your boat?
Ripple is the first of three William Atkins ‘Gary Thomas’ designs built by the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building in the 1990s. She is cedar planking over oak frames with bright mahogany trim and details in teak and bronze hardware (mostly made at the Port Townsend Foundry). She is powered by a Yanmar 1GM10 and her sailplan is a gaff tops’l cutter with a yankee and a drifter. In the past three years I’ve cruised her on trips of 500, 1,000, and 3,000 miles. The 3,000-mile trip was up and down the Inside Passage over 88 days and included stops in Ketchikan, Petersburg, Wrangell and Sitka. She was the smallest vessel in every anchorage, and often the prettiest.
What do you know now about your boat that you wish you’d known when you bought it? Would that have changed your mind?
I fell in love with Ripple at first sight. She is the first boat I have ever owned that has “systems” (electrical, a diesel engine, and so forth), I did not fully understand all that would be involved in maintaining and managing her. In spite of my naïveté, at every turn she has surprised me with how forgiving, seaworthy, reliable and capable she is.
What’s your favorite story involving your boat?
Coming out of Peril Strait on the way towards Baranoff Hot Springs, Sam and I turned the corner southbound along Catherine Island, a 10 mile stretch without shelter on Chatham Strait in Alaska. The weather forecast was for 10 to 15 knots, 2 foot or less chop, diminishing through the afternoon. When we turned the corner at 2 p.m. winds were light, seas calm and we thought we had an easy slide towards our destination. At 3:30 the winds started to pick up and by 4 we had 25 to 30 knots on the nose, chop from 3 to 4 feet, and our speed over ground was going to zero. It was Sam’s second day on Ripple, and he has arthritis sufficient to restrict him to the cockpit. I left him at the helm to go on deck to put up the stays’l with the succinct instruction “don’t let the boat broach.” Due to our canoeing experiences from decades earlier, he knew exactly what I was telling him.
The sheets were set in advance, and as the stays’l snapped taut in the wind, Ripple took off at 4.5 knots on a starboard tack, full control restored. It took us a couple of hours to work our way down Chatham and reach the safety of Cosmos Cove, where we spent a quiet night before moving down to Baranoff Hot Springs.
Describe the most challenging situation you’ve experienced on your boat and how it performed.
The worst two hours I’ve spent on Ripple were just off Port Townsend in the Strait of San Juan de Fuca. An imprudent judgment on the part of the skipper found my brother and I in 6 foot seas, struggling against a 35 knot wind over tide.
We had heard the forecast, but after a very windy night, the winds at dawn seemed to subside, and the Small Craft Warnings sounded overdrawn. And if it turned out to be a problem, we could always come back, right? Well, no.
My brother Ron did yeoman’s service at the helm, keeping from being pushed broadside into the troughs, but only just. I figured we would be fine, but waves exploding on the dodger eroded my confidence at times. We were chastened and grateful to make it safely to Cattle Pass. Ripple did fine, though now I have a very strong sense of precisely where the borders of her performance envelope lie.
Where do you plan to take your boat? Do you have a dream destination?
My trip up the Inside Passage made clear to me that Ripple was ready for anything I’m willing to do and anywhere I’m willing to go. I can’t wait to return to Alaska, and of course there is much to explore in BC. Desolation Sound and the Broughtons are wonderful places, but they are no longer enough.
If someone gave you $10,000 that you could only spend on your boat, what would you do with it and why?
The only thing I can imagine spending $10,000 on is a new suit of sails. Ripple’s are original, and though they’re still in good shape, they’re nearer to the end of their life than the beginning.
If you could have any other boat, what would it be and why?
There are many boats worthy of daydreaming, especially when you have one as tiny as Ripple. If I had blue water aspirations (and the funds to support it), I’d look for a suitable boat with the sort of heritage that Ripple has, and pursue it. But no boat could accord me greater satisfaction than what I have been privileged to achieve in my modest, slow and beautiful little cutter.
What didn’t we ask you about your boat that you wish we had?
How was the trip? …
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