Cotuit Skiff Plans

Below is the link to download a zipped set of plans for a Cotuit Skiff — officially known as a Cotuit Mosquito — a 14′ flat iron skiff rigged with an oversized gaff-rigged mainsail on a mast stepped in the prow like a Beetle Cat. The Cotuit Skiff is one of the oldest continuously raced one-designs in existence, persevering for well over a century despite its reputation for being one of the most physical, unforgiving sailing experiences imaginable. A reputation that inspired the boast: if you can sail a Cotuit Skiff you can sail anything.

For all of its popularity over a century of racing in Cotuit, the class has never caught on elsewhere and no fleets are raced anywhere else. Perhaps the Cotusion boast successfully tarred the Skiff’s reputation as a boisterous, wet, and unforgiving boat that needed a husky captain and crew to hold it down in a stiff breeze, backsides hiking over the windward rail with a foot hooked under the tiller. When sailing downwind on a windy day it’s not uncommon for the boats to violently capsize to windward, bows buried by the immense pressure of the big rhombus of sail stepped inches behind the stem, skipper and crew huddled in the stern sheets trying to keep the bow from submarining.

Therefore it should come as a small surprise that the Skiff never became popular anywhere else the way its cat-rigged gaffed cousin the Beetle Cat successfully spread from the whaleboat shops of New Bedford to dozens yacht clubs along the shores of Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts Bay, and Nantucket Sound from Marion to Duxbury to Nantucket. Yet, over the years enough people have tracked me down to ask me if I know where to get a set of plans. Therefore I decided to post this page on my blog with the caveat that I’m neither a builder nor an active racer (I retired from racing Skiffs in the 1990s*) but own two Cotuit Skiffs built by my grandfather Henry Chatfield Churbuck in the years after World War II.

The boat was designed in the early 1900s by Stanley Butler, a boat builder and fisherman in the Cape Cod village of Cotuit. Butler built a fleet of cat-rigged flatiron skiffs out of local Atlantic white cedar for the teenagers who raced them under the auspices of the Cotuit Mosquito Yacht Club (CMYC).

These plans were commissioned by the parents of those teenagers in the 1930s in an attempt to establish a class standard after years of bickering over what defined a Cotuit Mosquito. Stanley Butler chafed at any efforts to get him to standardize the design as he was an innovative builder who liked to experiment with things such as metal centerboards, and offsetting the centerboard trunk from the hull’s centerline to favor the starboard tack which was the main point of sail when beating to windward into the prevailing southwest winds. When the Crosbys of Osterville and Reuben Bigelow in Monument Beach began building skiffs, the inequities between the individual skiffs increased. In the 1920s and early 30s the CMYC established a handicap system and began timing the races and correcting the results according to each boat’s handicap.

The situation became so contentious that a Philadelphia naval architect, Edwin Mairs, was retained to take the lines off a recent Bigelow skiff deemed to be the paradigm of the class and produce a set of plans for future builders to follow. Those plans are referred to as the “Mairs Plans” by the Cotuit Skiff Class Association (CSCA) –the class standard committee formed in the late 1980s to further define the one-design standard of the class. With new builders beginning to turn out new boats using modern materials such as plywood and epoxy, the class association drafted and adopted a set of specifications to reflect the impact of new materials on the class, especially the antique core of the class built before 1960 by Butler, Bigelow, Crosby, Churbuck, Boden, and Peck.

A fiberglass version was commissioned by the Cotuit Skiff Class Association in the 1990s but a renaissance in new wooden boats started simultaneously when Maine builder Art Paine and Cotuit builder Conrad Geyser began to build new boats with modern materials and techniques. The design of the fiberglass version was done by John Kiley of Osterville and although a few glass boats were produced and raced by multiple sailors in an attempt to make the glass version competitive, the version hasn’t been as popular as the new wooden boats which cost over $20,000 (a Bigelow skiff cost $300 with sails in the 1930s)

Specifications of a Cotuit Skiff (August 2003)

Sail Plan and Lines of a Cotuit Skiff (Mairs Plans) data sheet for a Cotuit Skiff

Other Resources

Cotuit author and the “Father of the Fleet” Larry Odence, wrote a detailed history of the design, an inventory of every boat built, and the racing records of the CMYC: Mosquito Boats: 100 years of the Cotuit Skiff. Privately published by the Association of the Cotuit Mosquito Yacht Club, copies may be available for sale, or borrowed at the Cotuit Library.

* I stopped racing due to incipient rage issues when the CMYC adopted the 720 rule, or, as I called it: The Circles of Absolution, where any bellowing asshat could barge a line or falsely claim buoy room and get away with it rather than the days of race committee protest hearings when one would have to face some former district court judge who filed protests like motions to quash and used words like “onus” when condemning the reckless ignorance of some 14-year old hotshot who falsely claimed “close proximity” in a downwind luffing duel).

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