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New Girl on the Block

Wilbur Spaul achieved a significant milestone in his bid to sail the smallest boat to Hawaii: In February, he chainsawed the 8-ft Chubby Girl into pieces and tossed them into a dumpster.

Her slightly longer, significantly lighter, and hopefully better-sailing sibling is currently under construction.

As you may recall from a Sightings piece in our October 2019 issue, Wil is a longtime sailor and cruiser with the equally longtime dream of doing this passage. His inspiration — and the person to whom he will dedicate the voyage — is Gerry Spiess, the current smallest-boat-to-Hawaii record holder. In 1981, Spiess sailed the 10-ft Yankee Girl from Long Beach to Honolulu. It took him 34 days.

Spaul designed and built the recently-departed Chubby Girl of glass-covered plywood in a friend’s garage in Walnut Creek. He began sea-trialing the boat out of Berkeley last spring. Despite a new set of sails from Pineapple and design assistance from naval architect Jim Antrim, progress — and performance — was slow and disappointing.

Wil in Chubby Girl
Wilbur Spaul and the old Chubby Girl.
© 2020 Chubby Girl

“Once I got all the stores and equipment aboard, it was just too heavy,” says Wil of the little boat. “Very sluggish, not responsive, even in good breeze.”

After 10 months of tweaking and trying, it was chainsaw time.

Wil is one of those indomitable-spirit guys. He saw it as less of a failure than just another speed bump in the learning curve. (As Thomas Edison once observed: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”)

So he’s building a new Chubby Girl in an all-but-deserted (due to the coronavirus outbreak) Berkeley Marine Center. This one is a Jim Antrim design. Both Jim and BMC’s Cree Partridge have been mentors, friends and invaluable consultants in the process.

Cree Partridge
Cree Partridge shows us the plans for the new boat.
© 2020 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Mitch

For ease and expediency of building, the new Chubby Girl looks like (and is) a giant clamshell made from two dinghies. The hull and ‘top’ are both out of the same mold. They are joined in the middle by a 15-inch spacer. Construction is vacuum-bagged foam/fiberglass, which when completed will yield a 9-ft boat around 600-700 pounds — about a third less than her predecessor. The new mast will be slightly taller, but Spaul will be able to use many of the same rigging parts, sails and other equipment from the first boat.

Green hull
The new hull at Berkeley Marine Center. Both the hull and ‘deck’ of the new Chubby Girl will come out of the same mold.
© 2020 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Mitch

Spaul could be a poster boy for “70 is the new 40.” He is full of energy and enthusiasm. With the help of Raphael, a young Brazilian eager to learn boatbuilding, Wil works on the boat seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. If all goes as planned, he plans to start sea-trialing next month and hopes to depart for the Hawaiian Islands in May.

Look for more on Wil and the new Chubby Girl in the April issue of Latitude 38. In the meantime, check out


  1. Mark Anderson 4 years ago

    Looks a lot like a Boston Whaler………

  2. Christine Watson 4 years ago

    I love this!

  3. Dorothy Zimmermann 4 years ago

    I am 92, and passionate about sailing albeit not much any more. I am on the Board of a midwest sailing club – Northern Lights Sailing Club – in Minneapolis MN. My g’son John, lives in Martinez and races in Berkley. He took me to the Boat Show last Oct, I picked up a Latitudes 38, saw picture of our friend from White Bear Lake, MN – Jerry Spiess – and have been following your stories of Chubby Girl, and suggesting our members also follow it – I’m hoping you could keep me informed as to the progress. July is coming up – and I’m wondering if you have set sail for Hawaii as yet.

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