Arctic Apparition

The idea for this Oso Blanco 54 springs from a bucket-list cruising itinerary.
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Oso Blanco 54

Oso Blanco 54

I was lucky to take a trip to Greenland almost two years ago. While visiting that amazing island, I found myself dreaming of a vessel that would take me back.

It is a long way to get to the North Atlantic for a native of the U.S. West Coast, and I certainly do not want to review options of building closer to the Atlantic, as my shop is in Washington state. Thus, I had three primary options.

Option one: Design and build a boat at my shop. If I did this, then I could either ship the boat by truck to the U.S. East Coast for launching and cruising to Greenland by way of Newfoundland and Labrador; launch the boat here and sail the Northwest Passage across the top of North America (the traditionally wrong way) from west to east; launch the boat, sail down to the Panama Canal and transit it, sail across the Caribbean and then head up the East Coast to Canada and across to Greenland; or launch and sail down the West Coast to Latin America and South America, go around Cape Horn and then head up the East Coast of South America toward Greenland.

Option two: Find a boat on the U.S. East Coast and outfit it for the trip.

Option three: Find a boat in Europe, outfit it and travel to Iceland and Greenland before returning to the United States.

There are scores of other options, but as I am a designer/boatbuilder, option one wins my enthusiasm. Any fool might think that finding a boat closer to the destination would make common sense, and while I would not argue with that logic, I find that logic has little root stock in boating decisions and options.

So, I went off to the drawing table to see what my dream ride back to the rocky and icy shores of Greenland might be.

You might think of me as a heretic for designing what at first glance looks like a motorsailer for the pages of Passagemaker, but I admit that I am a fence-straddler of sorts. I am still young enough to dream like a younger and more vigorous man, but old enough to know that I most likely will not have the body to support those types of activities. I’m not old enough yet to permanently give up the young man’s dreams, but I most certainly am mature enough to know what I truly cannot tackle.

Yes, I likely will need crew. My wife and I could possibly go alone, but let’s face it: A good crew would make for a better adventure and eliminate some of the angst of doing it all by ourselves. So, among the many parameters of this design, I must have two separate cabins to help give the crew and skipper some separation and privacy.

My original interpretation of this design had a rear cabin attached to the forward cabin. After some cogitation on the matter of privacy, I moved the rear cabin aft, eliminated what would have been a larger rear cockpit area, and gave the “Passage King” a separate cabin aft.

A separate skipper’s cabin aft gives privacy when operating with guests or a crew.

A separate skipper’s cabin aft gives privacy when operating with guests or a crew.

Companionways are accessed from the connecting bridge deck between the forward part of the vessel and the aft cabin part. The cabin trunk is full-beam for this rear cabin with lots of headroom and spaciousness that only a flush deck and a full-width top can lend to a design. There is a separate head with entry to the engine room from either a door in the head or from a sole hatch in the main part of the pilothouse.

As for the sailing rig, this design required some stabilization. Paravanes provide the cheapest, simplest expression of utility for this requirement. Paravanes are best if set up in the after third of the vessel’s length, and the mizzenmast provides the perfect base for those poles and vanes. Plus, a bonus is the fact that in virtually any conditions, a mizzen or aftermost sail can be left standing. It will help hold the vessel head into the wind, and the mizzen is fully battened, which will help with slatting noise.

The mainmast, forward of the house, is set on a tabernacle step, as is the mizzen. (If a canal trip to Europe developed in the scope of our adventures, this design would allow the rig to be rotated down and the boat to still function as a proper motor vessel with an air draft of 10 feet.)

A couple of roller-furling headsails round out the rigging and keep all the sail panels small enough for short--handed cruising.

A hydraulic drum anchor winch in the bow keeps the anchor rode and chain out of the inner parts of the boat, and would allow a good dose of salt water or rain to rinse the rode of residual bottom fouling. A pipe bowsprit creates a great spot to stand while slowly cruising the waters of my dream destination and capturing memories with a camera in hand.

That sailing rig, even though it’s small in sail area, will help stabilize the boat while underway in virtually any sea conditions. If we were cruising in trade winds, we would almost double the potential cruising range. But under any conditions, we would almost always have the engine ticking over, helping with steerage and keeping all the systems charged up and working properly.

She is long and narrow compared to most designs these days, but the advantage of this shape is that her footprint on the water is reduced, and all the components necessary for long-distance cruising can be simpler.

For an exploration vessel, she should be the perfect companion. Now, I just have to build her.


Oso Blanco 54 Design Specifications
LOA: 57ft. 3in.
LWL: 53ft. 8in.
LOD: 54ft. 3in.
Beam 12ft. 10in.
Draft: 4ft. 6in.
Displacement: 43,000 lbs.
Sail area: 770 sq.ft.
Propulsion: up to 150-hp diesel inboard


This story first appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of Passagemaker Magazine

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