I may have found what I’ve been looking for

In my last post I mentioned that I haven’t found any production boats in the max 36-37 ft range that would fit my requirements. I still haven’t, but I did however find a design that fits them quite well and it’s only 10 meters (32 ft 10 in)! Meet Gary Underwood’s design Shoestring.

David Thatcher's "Footprints"

David Thatcher’s “Footprints”, one of the two Shoestrings that have been built (so far!)

Shoestring displaces around 5 tons and was designed by Gary Underwood by the request from Keith Levy, who had lost his previous boat due to being dismasted in the Pacific in 1994. He found himself in New Zealand with his only possession being the clothes he was wearing. And ideas! He started laying out the requirements for his next boat and then met Gary Underwood, who was able to create the design based on Keith’s needs. In Keith’s own words:

Shoestring is hard-chine, plywood on Kwila frame, shallow draft with very simple systems. Solar panels for power of course, an outboard motor in a well, and a simple and robust anchoring system. The twin sinks in the galley are twenty litre buckets that lift out easily to empty over the side. The toilet is a simple porta-potty. Water is stored in many ten litre containers.

That sounds exactly like something coming from me! Although I’d switch the porta-potty to a composting head. The original Shoestring was built in one year with the help of students from Auckland’s Unitec Boatbuilding School.

Some of the features of Shoestring

Shoal draft. The design uses a ballasted fin keel that draws 1 meter (3 ft 3 in), but Gary reckons it would work with inside ballast (plus center/dagger/leeboards) as well.

Easy construction. Hard chine construction out of plywood. I just ordered the study plans so I can’t comment that much on the hull shape yet.

Transom mounted rudder. Simple, strong and accessible. Also caters well to self-steering arrangements.

Minimal foot well in the otherwise flush-decked cockpit.

Double berth in the aft cabin. You can see the small footwell with its portlight in the image below.

Fast. David Thatcher has reported that he regularly hits 9 to 10 knots downwind.

Aft cabin with double berth to port, exactly as I've envisioned

Aft cabin with double berth to port, exactly as I’ve envisioned

Clever arrangement for storage in the front part of the cockpit

Clever arrangement for storage in the front part of the cockpit

Motor well

Motor well. I might want a little electric outboard here.

Cockpit extension

Cockpit extension

The cockpit “extension” is quite unique in my eyes at last, and provides a big area for work as well as leisure. As it also extends aft of the rudder, the boat could be rigged as a yawl, by stepping the mizzen mast in the extension. That was actually what one of the two Shoestrings did.

Roger Scott's three-masted Shoestring

Roger Scott’s three-masted Shoestring

Three-masted Shoestring


The interior is traditional with a galley to port, navigation table to starboard. Forward of the galley is a dinette, and on the opposite side there’s a settee. Between the navigation table and settee David Thatcher has built a head. I would consider enlarging it to fit a small shower stall that could double as a wet locker.

The interior of David Thatcher's Footprints

The interior of David Thatcher’s Footprints, without the head

With head

With the added head

Footprints docked

Footprints docked

I am eagerly waiting for my study plans to arrive. They will answer most of the questions I still have about this lovely design.

Read more about how Shoestring first came about on The Flying Tortoise.

19 comments on “I may have found what I’ve been looking for
  1. I’ve enjoyed reading this blog. I’m disappointed that your ambitious plans for the soft wing sail, and cruising solo morphed into a boat building project, but I’m happy for you and your “other”. I’ve been there. Haven’t we all? Let me suggest that you explore using the yawl mizzen on your new boat project, or adapting one to your old boat, as a self steering device. I believe that the mizzen can be used in at least 3 different ways for self steering, the simplest being to set the sails up so that rounds up or falls off, the force exerted by the mizzen corrects. I plan to do this, adding a mizzen when I do my junk rig conversion, rather than resorting to the unsightly conglomeration that is a hydrovane steering system. The mizzen could be used for sheet to tiller steering, or even rigged for direct wind vane (no hydro) steering. I haven’t had a chance to test any of this, but a very few other have. They yawl in my opinion is the most under rated of rigs.

    • No need to be disappointed. 🙂 Things change and life happens. My “other” is no longer in the picture and I’m currently looking to buy a new boat, which will eventually be subject to a rig conversion. I would very much like to have a two-masted rig, for balance purposes as well as flexibility reefing, so probably either a ketch or a yawl (or perhaps schooner), depending on the boat and where the masts can be placed. I will certainly keep this blog updated with any progress.

  2. Hi Oscar

    Are you familiar with the designs of Chris Morejohn?
    Check out the shallow draft Hogfish designs.

    Cheers Frederik.

  3. Hello

    Just went for a sail on Footprints, very nice indeed. Not a great day, but lovely to feel what a junk rig is like under sail. I’m new to sailing but just love these types of rig.
    David was kind enough to take me out, even though it was not ideal wind. Nice to see your progress if you choose to go ahead with this build.

    • Hey Alex,

      The minimal draft was very appealing to me but I never could figure out a satisfying way of having an interior with a huge centerboard case right in the main living area, I guess that was the main issue.

  4. Like your blog. Can’t seem to find a contact for Gary Underwood on the net or details of the 2 Shoestring builds. Could you point me in the right direction please.

    Many thanks

  5. Hello Oscar – Yes, I believe you may have found what I am looking for! I live on one of many inlets of the Puget Sound of Washington state in the beleaguered USA. I am considering living what remains of my life afloat, and Gary Underwood’s “Shoestring / Footprints” rings a lot bells for me. It seems you are in contact with Mr. Underwood. I would surely like to communicate with him. Could you supply his contact information as I would love to get hold of those study plans.

    Best, David Mercer

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