Aleutka: John Letcher's Minimalist Cruising Design

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The Aleutka was a small, ideosyncratic boat built by John Letcher, author of Self-Steering for Sailing Craft and Self-Contained Celestial Navigation with H. O. 208 . It had twin keels, fiberglass-over-wood construction, and was designed for minimalist cruising by a noted hydrodynamicist, Dr. J. S. Letcher (yes, that's the builder).

The twin keels, the fact that the designer is an interesting fellow, and the fact that the boat has a local connection (he sailed in my neighborhood for three summers) all prompted me to take an interest in it.

The photo on the left of this page (click on it to enlarge it) was taken in the late '60s or so (it appeared on the cover of Alaska Magazine in 1970), when the Letchers were cruising near Glacier Bay. At that time, I was living on Sisters Island, in the middle of Icy Straits. We probably saw them sail past, but they never stopped to visit, unfortunately.

There is a fair bit of detail in the photo: you can just make out the very strong standing rigging, but the oarlocks aren't visible. The mast is about the length of the boat, yet it has doubled stays, and inner stays intended to preserve the lower portions of the mast in a dismasting. Instead of turnbuckles, the rigging is tensioned with deadeyes; for their lower cost and maintainability. The oar locks kept costs down, and eliminated the hassle of having an engine. They also eliminated the need to shoehorn an engine into a tiny boat, and the need to live beside it and smell it in the tiny interior.

As I understand the story, Letcher designed this boat after he had been cruising for several years in his sloop Island Girl, and after being hit by a freighter and either sunk or nearly so. The boat was designed to get him back on the water as quickly and cheaply as possible, in a boat which would be as seaworthy, convenient and low-maintenance as possible, given the constraints of ``cheap'' and ``fast''.

Dr. Letcher wrote an article on twin keels for sailing yachts, titled Why Twin Keels in which he mentioned his experiences in Aleutka. It makes for interesting reading. There are many advantages, with (in his experience) one disadvantage: extra drag, which becomes significant in light airs.

Today, Dr. Letcher's books are undeservedly out of print: Self-Steering for Sailing Craft is still one of the cannonical tomes on the subject. Rumor has it that people who try to contact him to buy a set of plans for Aleutka receive no response, and the man seems to have no web presence at all. I hope he's enjoying his seclusion.

There were supposedly over 100 sets of plans sold, but very few of the Aleutkas seem to be around today. The boat, like the man, has very little web presence. There is almost no information available on the design. That's a pity, since it seems to be a very strong, very practical little boat for its purpose. Here's the information that's available on the web:

A page by a fellow who owns an Aleutka. Lots of information, some pictures.

Another fellow who owns one, this time an Aleutka with a junk rig. There are loads of pictures, including some interior shots. You can see why it's called a ``minimalist'' cruiser. In addition to the Aleutka, there are some other interesting things there.

The page of a serious Aleutka fan. He is looking for plans for the Aleutka, and it seems that he's been searching for years, and has finally found the lines. He also points us to the wayback machine, which has a webpage from a company which may have produced a 29-foot version of the design.

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