Good Things in Small Packages


 By Marty Loken / Pacific Northwest Chapter

(Web Note:  a larger image that takes more time to download is available for the images of plans for the boats shown in this article.  Simply click on the plan you are interested in to see the larger version and then just wait)


Searching for Perfection in a Little Boat

When we were kids, picking a suitable boat design was easy.

In 1954 we had an aging five-horse Johnson and the desire to build a speedboat. Naturally, being 12 years old, we wanted to go as fast as possible. 

After looking through Popular Science “How-to-Build” articles, we decided to nail together an 8-foot hydro, using two sheets of fir plywood and some scrap lumber. We launched the boat a week later (two scruffy coats of house paint), and enjoyed cheap thrills for a summer.

The next season, having graduated to a well-used 10-horse outboard, we joined a neighborhood friend in building Squirt, a diminutive Glen-L design—still the best 10-foot outboard runabout we’ve experienced.

Later, we moved up to a faster 12-foot twin-cockpit runabout; then an eye-watering “D” racing runabout with Mercury KG-9...and so forth until we were motoring around in fair-sized, complex machines.

Looking back, our first boats were the best of all, in terms of smiles-per-dollar invested. They were utterly simple; they were dirt cheap (relatively speaking), and we used them voraciously until moving on—free of guilt--to our next boat.

Not long ago, while photographing classic speedboats at a museum on Lake Como, in northern Italy, our childhood passion for small, fast boats was rekindled. One of the Lake Como boats was a small, early-1930’s inboard designed and build by Baglietto, who could perhaps be described as the Hacker of Italian boat design in the 30’s. The experience--ripping around the lake in the Baglietto, with its throaty 4-cylinder Italian racing engine--stimulated our search for “The Perfect Little Inboard Runabout.”

Gradually, we zeroed in on parameters for a mini-dreamboat. For the purpose of the exercise, we decided to focus on boats that were 14 feet or shorter; that could be powered by some of the smallest inboard engines; that most likely would accommodate only two adults—but might hold four as an unexpected bonus. We saw the ideal little runabout as easy to build (and store) in a one-car garage; as a delight to handle on a trailer, and abnormally beautiful for its size. Blistering speed would be fine, but we realized, happily, that in a boat of modest size, the illusion of great forward progress comes easily. 

Presented here are five runabout designs from four different designers. We like all of them, and think each design is worth considering if you, too, are intrigued by the idea of dazzling-yet-affordable little boats.


14-foot runabout

John Hacker, designer

Marybelle first appeared in Motor Boating magazine around 1930, as the scaled-down version of an 18-foot Hacker design. While described as a “runabout,” she’s really what we today might call a launch, since her suggested 4-hp Kermath engine will deliver only about 8 mph.

Marybellsm.jpg (17015 bytes)The boat has a beam of 4’-11,” freeboard of 2’-4,” and draft of 1’-3.” Construction is typical batten-seam 7/16” mahogany planking with 3/4” sawn frames, a 3/4” mahogany transom and 3/8” mahogany decking.

Basically, Marybelle offers the layout of a traditional 25-foot launch, squeezed into a 14-footer. The boat has a long foredeck, with the engine forward of a solid bulkhead. Two bench seats are behind the bulkhead, along with a modest aft deck.

She would be fairly dry and comfortable as a lake boat or tender to a larger yacht. If we had Marybelle in local waters, for instance, she’d be used to putter among houseboats and other wonders of Seattle’s Lake Washington Ship Canal. On quiet days—when the Bayliners were held at bay--you could venture out into Lake Washington. (With Marybelle’s short length and modest speed, you could putt-putt through marina channels all day long, critiquing other boats while enjoying a picnic and the economies of a modest engine.)

We have a fully restored 5-hp Kermath Sea Pup that’s ready to go in Marybelle or something like her, but the design search continues.

The boat could be driven to greater speeds if you opted for a more powerful engine, but you’d need to watch your weight: No engine over about 250 pounds should be considered.


14-foot runabout

William Atkin, designer

Restless is the next step up from Marybelle, in terms of horsepower and speed potential.

She’s still a 14-footer, but with a beam of 5’-1” and lower freeboard of 1’-8-1/2.” Construction involves a double-planked mahogany bottom (two layers of 1/4,” with a diagonal Restlesssm.jpg (16537 bytes)inner skin and fore-and-aft outer layer). Atkin suggested a canvas-over-1/4”-plywood deck, but you could substitute a more handsome laid-mahogany deck, perhaps 1/4”-thick planks glued down over 4mm marine-mahogany plywood.

Unlike a lot of runabouts, Restless has a genuine keel, eliminating the need for a strut and conventional through-hull shaft log. While this detracts from speed potential, it saves a few bucks…and we aren’t talking about blinding speed with Restless, anyway. The rudder is a simple wooden affair, with bronze pintles and gudgeons--old fashioned but effective for this little craft.

The engine specified in the 1930’s was a four-cylinder of 135 cubic inches, weighing approximately 350 pounds.  Turning a 10-inch diameter propeller at 3,000 rpm, boat speed was calculated at between 25 and 26 mph.  A modern four cylinder powerplant, such as a 3.0L GM block, would deliver great performance.

The boat carries a 22 gallon gas tank under the stern deck.   Seating is for two, as you can see, making Restless a delightful boat that stays within its 14-foot comfort zone – not trying to be something it isn’t.


125 to 151 Class step hydroplane

John Hacker, designer

At first we were reluctant to display Restless alongside Hornet, since their side profiles are similar. We decided to go ahead, realizing that the two boats are actually very different.

Hornet.JPG (18628 bytes)While basic dimensions are close, Hornet displays a lower profile and racier, more radical underside with its planing step, under-the-bow rudder and transom-mounted shaft strut, extending the prop 12 inches behind Hornet’s stern.

Built for the 125 racing class with a 47-horse motor and overall weight of 750 pounds (boat, engine and everything), the designer of Hornet claimed a speed of 40 mph.

Plans and building instructions for Hornet appear in the 1934 book by Edwin Monk, How to Build Wooden Boats, reprinted in 1992 by Dover Publications and still widely available.


15-foot step hydroplane

Bruce Crandall, designer

Crandall designed a stunning collection of raceboats for Motor Boating magazine, many of them bearing the Flyer name, and this 1936 model is our all-time favorite.

Flyer.jpg (12638 bytes)At 15”-2” overall, Crandall’s 135 Class step hydro is a few inches longer than the other runabouts featured herein--but at speed it’s really another 14-footer since Flyer has a transom step that shortens on-the-water length.

Flyer is a classic streamliner, designed to carry most of her weight on the foreplane so that a wide afterplane is not necessary. (Good thing, because the planing surface narrows to only 16 inches at the transom!)

While the boat looks like a bear to plank, it’s not bad if you consider the pointed stern as nothing more than an upside-down bow....which is exactly what you’re dealing with.

If you plan to take a companion out in Flyer, be sure they’re a close friend--this is a small boat with a very cozy cockpit.

The original engine suggested for the 135 cubic-inch class was a Universal Blue Jacket Racer, a flathead four. Assuming you don’t have a Blue Jacket Racer in the basement, you might consider a modern four-cylinder marine engine or, for the ultimate power-to-weight ratio, Rotary Power Marine Corporation’s super-compact 175-hp engine, which would produce speeds to match the breathtaking appeal of this little boat.

We may build a few Flyers this winter for customers—including a stretched 18-1/2-foot version of the Crandall boat. (If you’re curious, get in touch and we’ll let you know how they turn out.)


14-foot runabout

David D. Beach, designer

After showcasing several little boats from the 1930’s, we shift to the early 1950’s to review Mucho Gusto, a flashy hot-rod designed around the Crosley four-cylinder inboard, which was used extensively in the 48 cubic-inch three-point hydro class.

Muchogusssm.jpg (16408 bytes)Stock Crosley engines developed only 25 hp, but could easily be hopped-up to produce about 40 hp, burning normal fuel. These were lightweight little powerplants, turned at about 4,800 rpm. They were fairly simple to acquire and rebuild, so they appealed to many amateur boatbuilders. The basic Crosley later appeared inside the cowl of a Fageol outboard engine. Still later, it was beefed up and used in the Homelite outboard, rated at 55 hp. (We have two of the Crosley-Fageol blocks, and have thought about using one in a boat such as Mucho Gusto.)

The biggest difference between Mucho Gusto and the other pint-sized runabouts is its construction. While the earlier designs feature traditional plank-on-frame, Mucho Gusto is built with 1/4-inch marine plywood over sawn frames. She’s also several inches beamier than the 1930’s boats, with non-trip chines and a beautiful reverse sheer that nearly drops into the water at the stern.

Mucho Gusto appeared in Sports Afield magazine’s Boatbuilding Annual. We haven’t run into the design elsewhere, and certainly haven’t seen one of the boats on the water, but it would be a terrific performer and great-looking boat, employing the most compact four-cylinder engine you could come up with…or the rotary powerplant mentioned above.

So there you have it--five delightful little runabouts, designed to offer maximum pleasure in minimum packages. Take your pick, and get to work!


Marty's Note: Drawings and building details on the runabouts are available from the author, Marty Loken at Island Boatshop, P.O. Box 216, Nordland, WA 98358; (360) 385-5038, or e-mail

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