Somes Sound 12-1/2

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•• Building and sailing the Somes Sound 12 1/2
in the June issue of WoodenBoat’s
Small Boats Monthly (digital)
just published in the Small Boats annual (print)

Above: Author and Builder David Johnson’s Somes Sound 12 1/2, L'Etoile Du Matin. Lovely!
(You’ll find many more photos and the story of the boat
in his blog)


Somes Sound 12 1/2 interior, fwd

The Herreshoff and Haven 12-1/2’s, from which the Somes Sound 12-1/2 is derived, have been described as “the biggest little boat” and “the finest family boat ever developed.” The Somes Sound 12-1/2 keeps this heritage well: she is a lovely boat; a delight to build and very enjoyable to sail.

Somes Sound 12-1/2 has a centerboard with a shoal, nearly 600-pound lead ballast keel (just like the Havens.) She is a displacement boat, weighing about 1,400 pounds total, and therefore has an easy motion as well as being stable, comfortable, forgiving, and seaworthy. She also moves right along, going where you want her to, making sailing her very satisfying.

Either rig, Marconi and gaff, can be easily reefed to handle plenty of wind and waves. There is enough weight in the keel to help the Somes Sound 12 1/2 easily carry her way going to windward in a chop. With plenty of overhangs on the ends and flare to the topsides, the Somes Sound 12-1/2 bobs in the waves like cork, hardly shipping a drop. The laps act like little spray rails keeping her even drier, and add the wonderful benefit of the delightful sound of waves riffling along her lapstraked hull as she sails.

A century ago, Nathanael Herreshoff designed the original full-keel 12-1/2, which he called the Buzzards Bay Boy’s Boat. Yachting families were looking for a sail trainer that could be sailed capably and well in the stiff chop and strong winds of Massachusett’s Buzzards Bay. The design proved extremely popular and spread rapidly up and down the coast and has remained popular ever since. The Somes Sound 12-1/2 continues the tradition of handling easily and well in open water and interesting conditions. Like the Herreshoff, the Somes Sound 12-1/2 is a great teacher: willingly accepting beginners but rewarding capable sailors as well. The loads on the lines are small enough that young children can have a blast learning to sail their first “real boat.” The first time our daughter Leigh agreed to try taking a sailing job all by herself, she was seven and a little skittish about the whole idea. It was a nice day and we mostly sailed on a reach, back and forth. She easily handled the main sheet through all the many tacks—with a big grin on her face.

There is plenty of space in the ample cockpit for at least four adults, with room to spare. The boat feels much bigger than its 15’-9” overall length. It’s ideal for a bring-the-picnic afternoon or evening sail. Though she’s designed as a daysailer, it would be possible to build her with the idea of occasionally camping out for a night or two, under the stars or a boom tent.

Somes Sound 12 1/2, away

length overall . . .15’-9"
design waterline. . . . .12’-6”
beam. . . . .6’-1"
draft. . . . .1’-6”
displacement. . . . .1,389 lbs.
sail area. . . . .134 sq.ft.

More about the
Somes Sound 12-1/2

• Study plan
• Lines
• Sail plans
WoodenBoat article
• Slide show: Details
• Slide shows: Building
• Sources and suppliers

SPECIAL: Compass Harbor pram
plus Somes Sound 12-1/2