Pisces 21

Mist hung in the air like a curtain of gauze. Ashore, an American flag hugged its flagpole like a desperate child clinging to his mother's leg. Everywhere we looked, only the to-ing and fro-ing of a few tenders disturbed the harbor's surface. As we prepared to set sail, a zephyr occasionally chased capillary waves across our bow, but the puffs were barely strong enough to deflect a column of punk smoke- for centuries used by mariners to determine the wind's direction in extremely light air.

Still, we hoisted sail, hopeful as children at Christmas. Designer Chuck Paine, builder Jean Beaulieu and I had converged on Southwest Harbor, Maine, to sail the Pisces 21, and by God, we'd let nothing stand in our way. Our bullheadedness came from knowing this elegant little daysailer, the daughter of Aeolus, is a master at making her own wind. So, up with the mainsail, up with the jib and let go the mooring pennant. The beautifully cut sails rustled, and we began to make way. None of our crew felt the driving force on his face.

We left the mooring buoy in our wake and steered toward shore on a close reach, making a couple of knots. Steering any boat in light air requires gentle, thoughtful input at the tiller, but some boats don't respond quickly or accurately. A great light-air boat does, and the Pisces is among them. I was able to weave among the moored boats with nary a worry about misjudging our speed or the boat's willingness to hang onto my course. I did not have a GPS, so I can't say exactly how fast the Pisces was sailing, but I am sure she was faster than the wind. We tacked and reached for the mouth of the harbor, chasing the stronger winds that tantalized us, always several boatlengths away. When we fell off to a run, again tempted by cat's paws, the Pisces sighed and threatened to stop, unable to make her own wind. Before she gave up entirely, we rounded up and caught a beam reach back to the mooring.

Paine designed Pisces for Beaulieu to build in series at his Classic Boat Shop in Bernard, Maine. She's a modern interpretation of N.G. Herreshoff's Fish Class, a 16-foot LWL one-design from the early 1900s. The word "interpretation" is important because the Pisces is not a copy. To reduce the weather helm Fish Class boats exhibited, Paine moved the center of lateral resistance aft and the sail plan's center of effort forward. The Pisces also is more stable than her antecedent because Paine spread the ballast over a greater length and girth. This modification lowered the center of gravity and reduced the draft by 2 inches. Widening the water plane added a touch of form stability. "In combination, Paine said, "these minor tweaks give the hull just enough more righting moment to stand up to the stronger and less porous sailcloth materials used today- a change I am sure Captain Nat would have made himself had he lived to see the advent of Dacron sailcloth.

Beaulieu builds the Pisces from clear cedar and Douglas fir set in epoxy resin and vacuum-bagged. A layer of fiberglass on the outside adds stiffness and resistance to abrasion. The transom, sheer strake and seats are mahogany. Spars are painted aluminum, but he'll make them of Sitka spruce in a gaff or Marconi rig. Prices start at $52,700 for the basic boat, but you could easily run that up to about $70,000 if you select the diesel auxiliary and other options. The number of admiring glances and words of praise you'll have to endure are worth the price of admission.

The Classic Boat Shop, (207) 244-3374; fax (207) 244-9488; www.classicboatshop.com.