In the last decade I’ve sailed more than 200 new sailboat models. Of those, there’s a short list of boats that have gotten under my skin and stayed there—boats that refuse to be forgotten.
The Rodger Martin-designed Presto 30 is one of those boats. I first saw the Presto short-tacking, dinghy-style, through Rhode Island’s crowded Newport Harbor mooring field on a mad boat-show Thursday. The one lone sailor at her helm looked perfectly relaxed amid the mayhem. From my vantage that day the Presto’s most distinctive trait was her split rig: two flat-topped sails on wishbones from a pair of unstayed carbon masts. She looked mighty nimble out there, mighty easy to handle. Her hullform and rig looked thoroughly modern; only later did I learn that her roots were those of an 1885 New Haven Sharpie. Go figure.
A month later I met the builder and sailed the boat on a gentle northwesterly in the Chesapeake Bay. Having just stepped off a raft of 60,000-pound globe-girdling sailboats, the Presto instantly set my East Coast imagination going on the places this boat could explore. At less that 4,000 pounds and with a street-legal 8-foot, 6-inch beam, this was a boat you could trailer behind your own vehicle to Florida or Baja in the winter, the up to the Inside Passage or the Bay of Fundy in summer. Her draft of just over a foot with the centerboard up meant you could spend a winter utterly alone, up Pipe Creek in the Bahamian Exumas, where all the best fishing is.
As it turns out, the boat I sailed was one of nine built by Ryder Boats in Bucksport, Maine, before the yard went out of business. These days, Rodger Martin is marketing the design, but until further notice you’ll have to bring your own builder. The Ryder boats were built with modern materials—Corecell foam core, vinylester resin. In the meantime, Martin has developed plans for a plywood and strip-planked version that a do-it-yourselfer can build.
Thor Finn, the owner of the Presto I sailed, ran wilderness expeditions and planned to use this boat toward that end. He showed my pals and me just how easy it was to singlehand this 30-footer. From a vantage inside the cockpit, the perfect absence of winches is the boat’s most distictive trait. We found that trimming sheets without them was a breeze. And once you had a little practice with the wishbones, it was clear that you could dial in perfect sail shape every time. Sailing wing-and-wing was balanced and fast, and Thor even spoke of broad-reaching with the foresail let out forward of the beam—no stays or shrouds to hinder it. In fact, the 19th-century sharpies were developed by oystermen; they would routinely tack up to the windward end of their oyster beds, then let the sail blow fully forward while they drifted down, tonging all the way.
The Presto’s interior is simple—two settees and cozy V-berth, with camping-style accommodations. The boat we sailed had an 15-horsepower outboard with an alternator, though the design also allows for a 9.9-horsepower outboard or a 12-horsepower Westerbeke diesel.
The Presto’s designer knows what he created. When I wrote to Rodger Martin in mid-February for details about the boat, he said, “You know how to make people like you; just tell them you like their favorite boat.” Then came the kicker: “Patti and I are trailering Presto! to Florida this weekend to launch and take her across again to the Bahamas for a few months.”
Exactly how I’ve imagined that boat ever since the first time I sailed her three years ago. I can’t imagine a better platform or place to spend the winter season.
LOA 30’0” (9.14 m.)
LWL 28’9” (8.76 m.)
Beam 8’6” (2.59 m.)
Displacement 3,915 lb. (1,776 kg.)
Draft (board up/board down) 1’1”/5’6” (0.33 m./1.68 m.)
Sail Area 400 sq. ft. (37.16 sq. m.)
For more information, contact Rodger Martin Design