About Gaia

A Steel Junk Rigged Colvin Gazelle

Gaia Specs

  • Designer: Thomas Colvin
  • Flag of Registry: Canada
  • Hull Shape: Monohull with Full keel
  • Hull Material: Steel
  • LOA: 42 ft 0 in
  • Beam: 11 ft 9 in
  • Maximum Draft: 4 ft 4 in
  • Displacement: 18,000lbs
  • Ballast: 4000 lbs (removable 1″x3.5″x 19″ Lead ingots sealed in keel with removable ss lids)

 When we decided to build Gaia back in the 1990s, we were obsessed with safety, having studied why people lose their boats. After plenty of reading, we chose a design by Tom Colvin, an American shipwright and boat designer, who originally built a Gazelle for his personal use when he lived in that marvelous cruising area, the Chesapeake. For more on Tom Colvin and his Gazelle design please see info at the bottom of the equipment section.

Lines inside pilothouse

As short-handed sailors, the design appealed to us because of the junk rig and steel construction. We brought back all running rigging into our pilot house so that we would always be able to control our sails, protected from the elements, without venturing outside. In our 26 years of sailing Gaia, we have never used our foul weather gear and have seldom needed to use our safety harnesses. 

While building Gaia and making changes to his favourite design, we always consulted with Tom Colvin. He was easy to approach, a joy to be with and not at all critical when we suggested alterations to his baby. For example, we wanted a pilothouse, and with some trepidation showed him a design we had in mind. To our immense relief, he approved, and in fact later used something quite similar for another client. Initially we used removable Eisenglass but soon changed to much stronger 3mm Lexan, which is not only bendable but also provides much better all around visibility. The pilothouse as designed is light weight but very strong. It has stood up well during our travels all over the world. 

Early on in our reading we decided that having a free-standing rig would also be safer since there is so much less to go wrong. We replaced Tom’s rig with one designed by Alan Boswell of Sunbird in England. We subsequently added temporary backstays to keep the forestay tight.

We chose aluminum for our masts: 6061 T6 Al, for its superior strength over 6063. Although 30% stronger, 6063 cannot be drawn, which means our masts are straight and not tapered.

We don’t regret our choice of rig as there are other advantages such as the ability to let out the sails fully when running downwind. Especially useful when running wing on wing. Chafe of sails is also reduced by not having shrouds.

Some of the other changes we made to Tom’s original details are as follows: 

  • All underwater through-hull hose connections are eliminated. We pick up water and discard waste through standpipes that also serve as the necessary cockpit drains.
  • For safety we used waist high stanchions with a solid ss tube right out to the end of the bowsprit as a pulpit.
  • We use modern anchors and we also installed the largest electric windlass we could find at the time.
  • For battens we used pultruded fibreglass tubes of variable stiffness as recommended by Sunbird. Our sails do not have batten pockets, and after initially tying them to the battens with string, we opted to use heavy duty black cable ties with good effect.
  • We also use bolts through the sails at the luff and leech and we screw and glue the sails to the tapered batten ends at the leech to prevent the sheetlets getting caught.
  • The original Gazelle was engineless, but our low pilot house still left plenty of space for an engine. Initially we chose a 35HP Yanmar, but later replaced it with a 30HP 3YM30 lightweight Yanmar, and a British-designed auto-pitching prop that aids in motor sailing to windward.
  • We can remove our engine in a few hours since our cockpit floor is removable. 

On Earth Day in 1995 we launched Gaia in Picton, on the shores of Lake Ontario, and in August of that year set off on what would become a 22-year circumnavigation. After decades of living on Gaia as our only home, we’ve been happy with our choices, and grateful for her abilities to take us to so many places. Her adventures will continue with her next owners.

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