Lelie Vlet V2.0, Looking for Balance in Small Boats

In an earlier blog I referred to the Lelievlet; the standard boat for Dutch Sea Scouts. It is a clever design that has allowed thousands of kids to get a solid taste of life on the water.

The first Lelievlet was built in steel in 1955 and since that time over 1600 steel lelievletten have been built and many of them, including hull 1, still exist.

As 18 foot steel boats they are not exactly fast, but they are really tough and due to flotation tanks that function as fore and aft decks surrounded by a low gunwale, they are unsinkable and surprisingly seaworthy.  They can capsize, but a good crew can right them and bail them out and get back underway.

I was a seascout for a number of years, and truly enjoyed messing about in them and running them on extended cruises through the Dutch waterways. A lelievlet was manned by six scouts and could be rowed, stern sculled or sailed. We very much preferred sailing, but to make headway in calms and narrow canals, we also spent a fair amount of time rowing the boat. The boat could be rowed by four oars which left one crew member to steer and another crew member as a spare, allowing swapping of rowers in long hauls.

For shorter distances one person could move the boat at a surprisingly decent clip by sculling. Sculling took practice, but once you got the hang of it, you could use your whole body to get the vlet to move. The full body movement in sculling provided much more power than fixed seat rowing. Once the boat got underway, if you were really skilled, you could face forward and keep the boat moving with a just one hand on the oar and be the ultimate cool waterman.

We took multiday trips on these boats and slept under a boom tent with two kids on the foredeck, two kids on the center floorboards and two kids on the aft deck (we had some minor additional features to make this work, but I could find no photos of them).

There was no head, so at night we would find a wooded place to tie up and do our business ashore.

They were wonderful boats and just about perfect boats to just let kids do their thing and really enjoy their freedom.

I have often considered importing a few lelievletten for US Seascouts and they would be perfect for kids on the rivers near my house.

When I moved to the US, I sailed small boats for extended coastal cruises, mostly in a Pearson Lark, a full keel 24 footer with a particularly nasty Chrysler 10 Hp outboard.

It was a nice cruising boat, but slow, and in the early eighties the J 24 would sail circles around my Pearson Lark.

Despite its popularity and decent performance, I never was a huge fan of the J24. As a racing boat it was uncomfortable and required weird crew gymnastics to sail the boat well. As a matter of fact, a later Johnstone design, the J22, was much more pleasant to sail, but still required a crew member to sit on the deck or on the cabin roof when racing.

The truth is that small keelboats with crews of 4 or 5 need to be able to position the crew midships. Those boats exist but are more classic designs such as Solings and Shields. Great boats to race, but pretty useless as cruisers.

When I was working as a yacht designer this issue occupied my thinking and in 1987 I drew up a design that in my mind became a combination of an American (fancier) Lelievlet cruiser and a club racer that allowed the crew to function as efficiently as possible.

I called it the Crosley 24.

It is very similar to a J24, but is configured to have a center cockpit. Besides putting the crew weight where it belongs, that configuration provided some interesting additional benefits.


When fitted with a boom tent it provides six bunks, two in the bow cabin, two in the stern cabin and two in the cockpit. As a cruiser this boat has the added luxury of a head and an icebox. It is more difficult to row, although it could fit a sculling oar.  Today it would probably make more sense to fit an electric drive arrangement with a few solar panels on the very aft deck. Contrary to a lelievlet, this boat could cruise overnight with the off watch relatively comfortably asleep in the stern or bow cabins.

The companion way hatches are hinged but can be removed and stowed in the cabins if so desired. This really makes sense when racing.

With the hatches removed, it would allow a crew of 5 or 6 kids to take proper crew positions. The mast hand would be in the forward companion way, the bow hand would be first in the cockpit. Next would be the trimmers. The driver would be the last one in the cockpit and the mainsheet trimmer would be in the aft companionway. It would be really fun to race these boats with a maximum crew weight limitation, which would probably give the advantage to a mixed crew of a few full grown people and kids.

Except for the vertical tiller (which works just like a regular tiller, but uses a push/pull cable) there is nothing unusual about the boat’s gear.

This configuration is particularly conducive to very efficient bulkhead locations which very much reduces overall vessel weight. The way the boat compartmentalizes it could also be made to be near unsinkable.

In cruising mode, the center cockpit arrangement is really nice. Not until you have cruised a 24 footer does it become apparent that a long forward cabin without standing headroom is annoying. On a boat without standing headroom, you prep food on deck, and the galley/companionway/bridgedeck arrangement on the Crosley 24 works particularly well in that regard.

I still get inspired when I look at this design. At the time I was hoping to take a worn out J24 and to reconfigure it to this arrangement. Even though it would not quite be optimized in general arrangement, it would be fun to see how it would perform against other J24’s in around-the-buoys racing. It would be a great boat for a grandpa (Me) to teach random grandkids to race.

Since the late eighties small keelboat design has changed a lot and today maybe there are even better 24 foot keelboat designs out there that can benefit from this rework, and an even faster boat would be the result.