Posted by: Mike Randall | March 8, 2012

Eight months on – what is a Stir Ven like to sail?

intro imageI had always promised myself and readers of this blog that I would post my experiences sailing the Vikki Bee my Stir Ven. I know those of you considering building this boat not only want to know what’s it like to build one, but more importantly what’s it like to sail! Has it met all my expectations etc etc.

I’ve had some correspondence with potential builders and have done my best to give them my impressions and recount my experiences. So here goes I’ll try and be objective and address the most common questions.

Rigging and Launching

There is a Marina with a sheltered public boat ramp a couple of minutes up the road from where I live, this has become my regular launch spot.

Initially I was putting up the mast, and lacing on sails, fitting motors etc in the carpark then launching the boat. I’ve blown this off and now launch as soon as I get to the ramp then tie up at the dock and do all my rigging etc on the water.

Quick launch then hoist the mast and rig up on the water

I’ve got this process down to about 45min from launch to motoring off the dock. This is all based on me doing everything (solo sailing). It is way quicker again with a crew who all have a job and can do their bit efficiently, particularly sending someone off to park the car while setup continues.


Before lowering the mast I do my best to neatly slab fold the main sail over the boom and tie it up sandwiched between the gaff and boom, then unlace it from the mast. I then disconnect the boom from the gooseneck and detach the gaff by undoing the rope and parrell balls connecting the gaff jaws to the mast.

I’ve been thinking a big bag or fitted cover for the boom, main sail and gaff altogether might be a good investment. I’d like to hear what other Stir Ven sailors do to speed the launch process.

Hoisting Sails

To be honest I don’t think I have this down to a slick act as yet, well a least not while solo sailing. Some days seem to go better than others depending on wind strength, and sea state.

This was a good day and easy quick set up with a crew

You would think it was just a simple matter of motoring into the wind and hoisting sail while everything is luffing… That would be fine if there were no waves and you had someone to steer and a crew to counterbalance the person going forward! By yourself it gets a lot more interesting. I’ve found as soon as you go forward and there is a swell running the prop comes out of the water and starts screaming like a banshee. This is not good for my new little motor which I’m quiet fond of.

The least stressful and quieter option I’ve come up with for the soloist is to turn the motor off and begin sailing on jib alone, then heave to. If you’re not sure what this entails there are a few good videos on Youtube of how to hove to. Once hove to it’s easy to hoist the main and get it looking nice before sailing away.

I’ve made this sound simple but it’s taken a bit of experimenting and some times heaving to under jib alone doesn’t work as the boat’s steering is not that responsive without the main up. On more than one occasion I have looked a bit odd to other boats as I get blown in circles with a half hoisted main, a dangling gaff and a boom dragging in the water while the skipper dances between tiller and mast trying to make everything just so!

The truly easy option is have a crew on board! Then the whole process is a snap.  

Wind Strength and Reefing

Prior to the Vikki Bee my sailing background was mostly in club racing a 16ft National E. We would sail in all sorts of conditions we had no right to be in. The spinnaker was flown regardless of wind strength and common sense. This was great fun while planning on a reach barely in control. Needless to say it all often ended in an upside down mess while jibing around the bottom mark.

Given this background I’m trying to introduce some common sense and good seamanship into the sailing of my Stir Ven, I’m supposed to be mature and sensible now!

I find at the moment I’ll put a first reef in the main at about 12 knots and a second reef in somewhere around 15-18knots. This is usually with the family on board or while soloing, so I tend to avoid it all getting to exciting. There is a third reef in the main, but the one time I felt I had cause to use it I was by myself and running with a largish following sea, so to avoid an uncontrolled broach I dropped the main altogether and sailed on the jib alone, it was probably 25 knots with some higher gusts on jib alone the boat was running at about 5 knots and a lot easier to manage.

I have driven the boat hard in 10-15knots close hauled to windward (not family friendly sailing though). In the gusts I would just point higher and bear away as the gusts dropped away. Then as the wind would get even stronger I would crack the main off to reduce heel, but after awhile the tiller would get heavy with weather helm no matter what I would do, so I figured it was probably time to reef.

I’m still experimenting with what to do in what wind. Surprise, surprise my crew don’t like beating hard to windward into a chunky swell on the nose.


I have only had this up a couple of times as the wind around here has been howling through spring and early summer. On the last sail I had with my National E crewmate Ashley we had the spinnaker up in a pleasant 10 knot southerly and were reaching along happily enjoying a beer in the sunshine when all of a sudden the spinnaker was blown backwards and wrapped around the mast.

We had sailed into a 15 knot 180 degree northerly wind shift. Beers were immediately forgotten as all hands were required to sort things out. We did console ourselves with the fact that on the National E this kind of event probably would have ended in a capsize, but on the Stir Ven it was just a few minutes of panicky sail lowering and packing then back to our beers.

Single Handing

I like single handing and I like working out ways to sail and manage my boat without a crew. As you may have gathered I have not got all the systems and techniques down as slick as Kevin Costner and his catamaran in Waterworld, but it is something to aim for.

You can definitely sail this boat by yourself and its excellent fun.

Sleeping on board

My Tent experiment $110 on ebay. This I think could work

New Years eve fire works and camp out

On new years eve the family and I sailed the boat up the Yarra River right into the middle of the City of Melbourne where we had a picnic on board and the best vantage point in town to watch the fireworks. After this we motored further up river and found a quiet spot to camp for the night. Kids in the cabin Vix and I in the cockpit with a tarp for a boom tent. It was probably as comfortable as a generous 4 person family tent. The weather was hot and the whole adventure was a great success.

Up the mighty Yarra we go

Glamorous showers for the ladies

The only other male onboard

On board entertainment

Summer is over but the weather is still nice so a few more adventures are being planned.

Overall Impression

To be honest my favourite wind strength when sailing this boat is in the 5-12knot range. The main sail is big and powerful so needs to be reefed early. Winds above that are a lot more fun with reefs tucked in and a few crew on the rail. If you don’t like heeling hard just let the main out.

I’ve been sailing a lot lately with the tiller unattended, I just balance the sails then lash the tiller in place, the boat holds an upwind course vary steadily, so much so I go forward and sit at the bow or on the rail.

Look mum no hands!

Here are a few random pics of other things I’ve been doing on the Vikki Bee

Surf trip to Quarrantines at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay

Homeward bound after our surf adventure. Epic day!

Sailing out to meet the cruise ships

I’ll post some more of my experiences as I learn and try new things. This weekend though is the Geelong Wooden Boat Festival so I might just have to report on my experience of that event.

In short – build a Stir Ven and go sailing, this has been one of the most satisfying and rewarding things I’ve ever done.



  1. Hi Mike,

    What a cracker of a post! Lots to take in!

    It sounds like there is a great temptation with the Stir Ven to ‘keep the foot’ down as the boat is a lot of fun to sail at a good clip. Its nice to hear, then, that it has good stability in too much wind and what seems to be a fairly wide margin of error, as the wind down my way can be boisterous and unpredictable from time to time.

    I am quite new to sailing, but I have only recently wondered about the amount of sail area on a boat with this hull and keel. So, its very interesting to hear about how much sail you think she’ll take on all points in different winds. It sounds like great fun and thanks for including us all in your adventures!

    Mostly though, Mike, I’m just glad to hear that you have been doing quite a bit of sailing and even a bit of camping since launch day 🙂

    All the best,


  2. Can’t say when I have ever enjoyed a blog post more. You have a gift for reporting.

    My own Stir Ven was launched just about twice as long ago as yours, October 2010, but you have discovered a few things that had not occurred to me. For example, to put the boat hove to with the jib only when raising sail. I haven’t put a motor on my boat, so what I have been doing when singlehanding is hoisting just the main either at anchor or nosed up on a bit of beach or shoal near the launch area. At anchor, she will cast back and forth with the helm tied neutral, alternating tacks. Once the anchor is retrieved, the boat will reliably stay on one tack sailing upwind until the jib is up too. It takes some planning.

    Setting up for me is a little longer. What eats up the time is bending on the main including setting up all three reefs. The first time I ever used the boat I attempted to roll the sail up on the gaff and boom, but the whole package is just too unwieldy to roll. So your idea of flaking the sail instead of rolling may be the answer. That and a big, long bag. Why didn’t I think of that?

    My experience with reefing has been just the same as yours (at those wind speeds). I like the way the boat handles with the possible qualification of going downwind in a big breeze. For camping I spent some time sewing up a heavy-duty awning that uses 16mm fiberglass rod for spreaders or battens. That and an insect screen for the companionway for the nights spent below, it has been the best boat for camping.

  3. Great stuff, how was the Wooden Boat Show? I think I saw you in amongst the Couta boats for the parade.

  4. Mike – great post. It makes me feel so motivated to finish my stir ven. Right now, it feels like a long way away, so thanks for the inspiration.

  5. Mike thanks so much for the invite to join you on Vikki Bee at the Geelong WBF. I share Mike’s words building your own wooden boat is immensely satisfying – particularly when on the water in good sailing conditions – like we had on the Saturday. Like I said to my wife over several boat builds “She will be finished when she is in the water!”

    The Stir Ven carries a large sailplan and easily reaches hull speed in 10 knots up wind (We had 5 – 12 knots wind on Corio Bay with varying direction – I would suspect at 15 knots you would be putting in one reef all with just two crew. She will benefit from more bods on the rail as the wind increases.

    With such a big mainsail, predictably you need to keep the boat trimmed – the weather helm lets you know early. Holding your course in gusts with full main, close haulled, she will heel and begin to slide as the water laps lee rail.

    IMHO the boat could do with a shallow skeg, which would also provide more strength and some protection if you dry out on a sandy beach.

    Very comfortable and roomy boat for bay day sailing, the low cabin is great to keep gear dry and cosy for overnights – not much headroom though.

    Rafted up amongst Couta boats she really does look a sleek classic clinker yacht. Mike’s adherance to plans and use of traditional bronze fittings completes a very professional package.

    Hopefully we will see more Stir Vens built Downunder.



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