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Home > Magazine > Boats > Bolger's "Martha Jane": quirky yet fast beach cruiser

Bolger's "Martha Jane": quirky yet fast beach cruiser
November 15, 2008

I've read about Bolger boats for years.

Phil Bolger is an old fart who designs amazing boats and writes wonderfully about them in "Messing About in Boats" magazine. I can't say enough about this guy, so I won't. : ) I recently had an amazing series of columns in MAIB about the demise of smalltown commercial fishing...and the resulting demise of small towns and small to revive it all. Dang, he got political on us! It was great. Phil has it goin' on. He's not just a boat designer.

And he's not just any boat designer. He came up with the simplest, most sensible homebuilt sailboats of all time. They look crazy. Until you "get it." Then they look wonderful! They sail and work great. They're SQUARE! They're clunky. They're FLAT-sided! They're high-sided. What kind of sailboat do they think they are? They're ugly! ...NO THEY'RE NOT! Once you "see" them, they're beautiful. They're an elegant solution. They're brilliant. So they're beautiful. Well, they're catching, anyway.

I remember when I saw my first one in the flesh. Be still my heart! I was driving through St. Ignace and the thing grabbed my eye from 100 yards away in the marina, down off the main street. I locked up the brakes and went and checked it out. Dang! Look at all the squares! But there was so much common sense oozing out of it that I could tell it just wanted to GET AWAY, it wanted to be USED.

...It was a Martha Jane.

The MJ is a 23-foot trailerable mellow cruiser that can REALLY sail.

It has a square bow.

It has holes in the sides that you can row through.

It has dozens of crazy yet astoundingly sensible details. I can't begin to go into them. Dig around. You'll find em.

Phil is old enough (I guess that's why) that he doesn't do the Net. Other folks represent him in there. He's a top dog guru in the small boat world. He's not emeritus yet but I think he has better things to do than google. He did write a famous "easy way to build sensible boats" book.

Here's a link to them, to the MJ in particular:

Here's a link to his book:

There's another guy out there who has pushed the scene in easy backyard boatbuilding a long ways down the road as well: "Dynamite" Payson. He's a boat writer who I've seen in the mags since I was a kid. He has a website and several books. By the way, it looks like Bolger designed most of the boats for Payson. Check em out:

And here's a link to another amazing and quirky boat, the Caprice, designed by another super small, sensible boat designer, Jim Michalak.

(I forget the details but I think all 3 of these guys promote the Stitch'n'Tape method of building---at least for their jiffy backyard designs.)

Jim has created many nifty ways you can build a boat faster than you could imagine. I think he does a bunch of 2-sheet boats, and 2-day boats. He has several books out. But here's a link to his take on the spacious yet compact and sensible cruiser. It catches my eye, bigtime:

(Sorry, Jim: you deserve your own article, certainly. Oneathesedays! Of course both of these guys deserve much more in-depth treatments.)

This is QUITE a boat. The closer you look, the more amazing details and features you'll find.

Here's a super book.

Caprice---owned by the owner of Duckworks, I think.



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