Friday, October 28, 2011

"Little Egret" - an Egret-style Sharpie

I've often been asked the question, "What is your favourite boat?". In fact, I frequently ask myself the same question, and there is no single, correct answer because it depends on the job the boat has to do, and the conditions under which she has to do it. However, I do have a changing short list of favourites, and one boat which has been on that list for decades is Ralph Munroe's Egret.

Profile of Egret drawn based on research by Jon Wilson (Woodenboat Magazine Founder), with input from Bob Baker, Maynard Bray, Dave Dillon, and Joel White. Image courtesy of Woodenboat Publications.

Lines Drawing of Egret. LOA 28' 2" LWL 22' 8" Beam 7' 2" Draft 1'. Courtesy of Woodenboat Publications.

Egret was designed by Ralph Munroe to act as an ambulance, mail boat, and water taxi for the early residents of Biscayne Bay in Southern Florida. Here is a short description in Ralph M. Munroe's own words;

The difficulties of beach travel being thoroughly realized, and the Weather Bureau having established a telegraph line to Jupiter, it seemed imperative that something in the boat line superior to any of the existing craft for this work should be obtained. So in the summer of 1886, to replace Kingfish, I had built at Brown's the 28-foot double-ended sharpie lifeboat, Egret, very strongly but lightly constructed. She drew eight inches, and had only fifty to seventy-five bricks, laid under the floor, for ballast. She was fitted with all the appurtenances needed to keep the sea in almost any weather, and if necessary to be put on the beach without harm. That she fulfilled all requirements until the first road was opened the older residents can testify. (excerpted from The Commodore's Story by Ralph Middleton Munroe and Vincent Gilpin - Historical Society of Southern Florida)

Like many others, I have found myself under the spell of Egret's superb lines, which could be described as a cross between a sharpie and a dory. Her swept-up stern and distribution of buoyancy put me stronly in mind of our Australian Surfboats, so the combination of the three hullforms gives her a wonderful pedegree.

Australian Surfboats in action. They share full forward sections, substantial flare, and fine, raised stern sections with Egret. This is not surprising as both were designed or evolved to deal with the same conditions.

This is a superb photo of an Egret built in the mid nineteen-eighties by Graham Ero for Robert Jones. (Photo by Ray Egan, courtesy of Woodenboat Publications)
This is my favourite Egret photo, showing her character very well. (Courtesy of the Historical Association of Southern Florida, scanned from Reuel Parker's excellent book, "THe Sharpie Book")
Several months ago I was approached by a fellow who has also been in love with Egret for a very long time. For nearly thirty years, on and off, he had been searching for plans which would allow the building of an Egret-like boat of around 18 feet LOA. He had become frustrated with the search, not being able to locate exactly what he was after, but a chance occurrence put him in contact with me, and he gave me the opportunity to try my hand at a modern interpretation.

Scaling the size of a boat up or down introduces many hydrostatic and hydrodynamic complications, so I did not in anyway attempt to copy Egret. In fact, as disciplinary measure, I refused to look at any of my original Egret plans until the hull modelling was complete - that way I knew that I was drawing an entirerly new design - inspired by Egret but not copied.

I suggested a gaff rig using short gaffs as per the original, but my customer wanted to keep the boat as simple as possible and opted for a jib-headed sailplan. Other steps taken in the interests of simplicity included un-cambered decks and sheet plywood construction using the stitch-and-glue method.

We passed ideas backwards and forwards, and my customer proved to be polite, informed, and insistent about a number of small details. However, he kindly allowed me to dictate elements of the hull design, and after many iterations we agreed on a hull and proportions.

Little Egret showing her full sailplan upper/left, and the mainsail stepped in a third position lower right. She measures 18' 10-1/4" LOA, 4' 9-3/4" Beam, and draws about 6"
Plans are largely finished except for rudder, mast step details, and instructions. However, they won't be released until an example has been completed and tested. The plans include developed panel shapes for the topsides and the bottom, so no lofting is required.

Outboard Profile and Layout
Lines drawing, to the inside of planking.
I'm really interested to see how this boat goes, especially when dealing with bar crossings and moderate surf.


  1. Rossco,

    Just knew this design was coming!

    Ever since I read Munroe's story something keeps stiring inside me about Egret.

    WHEN I win the lottery you can build US an Egret original,then we'll both know how she sailed.

    Meantime your new design on the same theme will whet many other appetites I'm sure.

    There will be much interest in this boat of yours from those who know Egrte.


  2. Something about Egret grabs the soul! Living in coastal florida makes it even closer to home. Anxiuosly awaiting updates, as this design is closer to reality for me than the 28' replica!

  3. Lovely! I wonder if the final drawling will be made for the possibility of the occasional night sleeping aboard.


  4. I want one! It's the perfect boat! :)

  5. Dear Ross,

    I just saw the finished boat on a facebook posting and it is elegant and evocative of Egret. As suave and beautiful as Egret is, this is even more appealing due to the distilled design ideas. It looks very successful. I think gaff rigged sails would actually be great altho I acknowledge that slight added complication would be involved. But gaff sails would be better to reef and possibly more adjustable to adjust for variable conditions.

    It's a great design. I love it. If I could, I would love to have that boat. Bravo!

  6. I am presently restoring a glass version of Munroe's Presto 36. Best broken water boat I've ever seen.