Categories » Inspiration

What inspired me to embrace Proas?

John C. Harris, Owner and Lead Engineer at Chesapeake Light Craft can say it better than I can!

I have been a fan of John’s boats since the very first time I found the website.   With so many choices, ideas, and beautiful designs whats not to like.  Some years ago, John who was also bitten by the Proa bug decided to design one of his own and “Madness” was born.  His story of how he came to design the boat is interesting in itself and worth a read if this type of thing tickles your fancy.  Go to to read up on the how and why of Madness.  But more interesting to me is John’s video where he explains the “Why’s” of a proa.  So instead of me re-explaining what John has done so much better, why not surf over to youtube and watch John explain why proas make so much sense in today’s world.


Proa inspiration

Many things have inspired my love of Proas and multihulls in general.  Out of absolute pure ignorance I was lucky enough to cruise in a boat quite non typical of the vast majority of boats cruisers start out with.  Most people by a mono-hull and sailing, upgrading along the way until finally reaching whatever size vessel they think is ideal.  This is a well worn path to sailing and I have absolutely no qualms with this approach.  There is however a completely different way to sail and I was just lucky to fall into this.  The prospective I gained however colors virtually every way I look at sailing, boats and the marine industry.

I started out my cruising on a funky homemade plywood catamaran named Romany.  She was designed by the world famous catamaran designer and racer Richard Woods.  Little did I know at the time, but sailing a lightweight cat like this was a completely different animal than the standard four plus foot draft mono weighting tens of thousands of pounds.   We had one 9.9HP outboard motor as out only engine and could reasonably get moving in just a  few knots of wind when many boats would not even start moving until the teens.   Our “below” if you could even say we had one never smelled of diesel fuel because every engine or fuel related bit on the boat was completely outside with no egress into any of the three main cabins.  Groundings were common and controlled.  It was no cause for alarm to let the boat ground out on a low tide to better scrub the bottom and to just let the boat sit still for a spell.   Out total engine and hardware associated with it all weighted under 125lbs.  On most mono’s this is what just the propeller, shaft and stuffing box weight.  Lets not even start with the 500lb plus pound motor, hundreds of pounds of cooling hoses, and exhaust gear and I have not even touched the starting and charging equipment and circuitry.  Beyond that you must carry very heavy, heavy duty tools, and lots of toxic fluids and many expensive filters because diesels are so finicky about the fuel and oil purity.   Google diesel “reconditioning” on a boat for an entire subculture of the efforts needed just to keep your fuel clean.  Our “major” engine failure we had one reaching the Bahamas in 2009 cost us possibly $500 dollars.  This consisted of a few weeks at a rickety dock at Black Sound (and what a great time we had there!).  The engine part took a few weeks to get, but only due to the local Yamaha “dealer” being close to completely incompetent.  and there were some mooring ball expenses.  The point is that out “major” engine failure costs less than a typical maintenance tuneup on a diesel.  Our entire engine could have been replaced with a new one at top prices in the Bahamas for under $3000.  That’s less that you will pay for even a minor overhaul of a diesel, and you don’t have to keep the extra ton of gear on the side as “spares”

Beyond the engine and all the problems that you embrace when taking the well worn path another issue is draft.  While our mono friends were typically bouncing around in rolly anchorages to make sure their keels stayed well away from the bottom, we could anchor just a hundred feet or so off many places.  This multiplied the places we could safety hide and ride out bad weather.  One cannot dis-include this as a massive bit of extra safety you obtain from having a shoal draft vessel.  This single feature along doubles, triples, or more the options you have when the conditions get tight or people are racing around to find storms anchorages.   Unless you have lived it, you have not idea how much better it makes life.  Knowing that a grounding will in no possible way cause your boat to potentially pound itself to bits during a tidal change is huge.  What could be a life threatening or at least boat risking event on a typical mono-hull is often a non event and reason for a cup of tea in a multi-hull.  I could actually go on and on about this subject because the differences are so massive but for now I’ll just close things up by saying I am no an anti mono-hull guy!  I have two other boats, both monos which I love to sail.

Why a Proa

Why would anyone want to own or build a proa.  That’s a great question. There are literally thousands of 20 to 50 year old monohulls available in the US, often for free or just above their scrap value.   Bob over at has spent years retelling this story with wit and wisdom.  Fatty Goodlander has a few excellent books on the subject too.  I dare to say that anyone who can read, has some common sense, and is somewhat handy cold go cruising in the Caribbean for under $5000 US all day long.  So I ask again, why a Proa?  Does the market need yet another obscene toy for the rich to obsessively find ways to burn through as much money as possible as a “trophy” to their greatness, or more likely an affirmation to the skewed nature of favoritism and inequality that befalls so many “cultures” around the world.  My answer to this is an unrepentant NO, in every way.  There are already enough channels for those with undeserving privilege to flaunt their ill gained wealth.  The entire “marine” industry is designed around delivering low performance monohulls and multihulls designed as floating condominiums and playhouses.  Ask any marine engineer worth the paper their self-printed diplomacy’s are printed on if short fat light displacement boats make a lot of sense and you will see someone squirm in their own seat.  They all know these types of hulls have everything to do with the “market” and delivering “luxury” and really nothing to do with seaworthiness.  Look at literally ANY ad for a new boat, mono or cat and the first paragraph will focus entirely on interior “features” space and luxury.  Safety and actual performance as an oceangoing home is rarely mentioned or brought up because every one of these boats are ill equipped to go offshore without tens of thousands of additional equipment added because these “features” are literally not included.  To be blunt, there is nothing “offshore” about most “offshore” boats being manufactured today.   In addition to the basic gear needed to live and travel on these boats, pay certain attention to the rudders and keels.   News stories of monos losing rudders, keels, or cats getting their windows blown in from the factory are as common as a daily shower on Maui in the summertime.   Just last year there was an interesting story about a brand new catamaran floundering on its very first outing in far less than hurricane conditions.  The three experienced seamen aboard a “new” boat and it became unsailable in barely a storm.

So what does any of this have to do with answering the original question of “Why a proa”.   There are many answers but one at the top of the list could just be that current designs of monos and cats are generally designed for the pleasure of the marine industry and really have nothing to do with serving the actual “customer”.  Not that these customers aren’t happy with their purchases, because many of them are very much so.  The idea that the boat once purchased is just the start of a massive and long list of nonstop “features” that will require constant care and maintenance is just “part of the game”.   The marine industry knows full well what the game is and promotes this type of “promotion” nonstop.  The problem I personally have with this is that the rich doing these things is just never impressive.  When you can buy your way out of almost every problem, what skill, bravery, or intelligence have you shown anybody.  Where is the actual adventure when you pay for it to “happen”.  This really had nothing to do with “Proas” and more with the state of the marine industry, still stuck in the dark ages, still producing boats designed by marketing teams and still pretending that they have the “state of the art”.

Don’t believe anything I have to say however.  You only have to look at persons like Russel Brown and his now 30 plus year old wooden Jezerro that is capable of outsailing million plus dollar catamarans with ease on any point of sail.  Russ’s boat has never had fancy racing sails, it’s not built of carbon fiber in a cleanroom, nor is it even a “racing” boat.  It’s just a plain old cruiser, equipped with a woodstove, and second hand sails.  So why would anyone want a proa?  I think the far better question is why a 30 plus year old wooden boat can easily outsail virtually every million dollar multihull made and do it with grace and comfort?  Yes, it does not have 4 queen sized beds, two bedrooms, and a wide screen TV.  But if you want all that stuff, why even leave your home?   Was not the original plan to stay as young as you are able and to embrace our mother nature to live as full a life as possible?  What is the real goal here?  If a dockside trophy is what you are looking for, then a proa is nothing more than a waste of time and an oddity.  If you are looking for the very best sailing machine to explore mother earth, then the proa might just be the ticket.  I intend to find out!