The Aquarius Pilot Cutter, launched in the late 1970s, was conceived as a limited production offshore cruiser with focus on easy handling, comfort and safety at sea. She takes inspiration from the working boats of the 19th century which were both fast and able to carry large loads, these boats have the hallmarks of an easily driven hull, good windward performance and an ability to carry large amounts of canvas to make up for heavy displacements and payload. In tune with tradition, the boat has heavy scantlings, lots of bronze hardware and even traditional tanbark coloured sails.
The boat was birthed when Frank Parish, an ex-airforce pilot, penned the Aquarius Pilot Cutter for his own needs and engaged the East Coast boatbuilders at Topsail Yachts in Portsmouth, Rhode Island to construct it. In designing his boat, Parish influenced by his own sailing experiences had the chance to meld his appreciation of traditional designs with modern construction. Being a large guy, he went for a roomy cabin with good headroom which necessitated a beamy hull that was capable of carrying a large amount of canvas to push it. At the time many compared the design to those of Lyle C. Hess, who was influential in remaking the traditional pilot boat design for the late 20th century, examples include the Bristol Channel Cutter, her smaller stablemate the Falmouth Cutter, and famously, Lin and Larry Pardy’s 24 foot Seraffyn and their subsequent 29 foot Teleisin. In particular, the internal layout of the Aquarius is identical to Seraffyn, though Parish says he never heard of Seraffyn until after the Aquarius had already started construction.
The Aquarius has modern sail controls with all lines, including reefing controls, leading back into the cockpit – ideal for single handing. Lazyjacks came standard. Belowdecks is a very practical and spacious setup, designed to maximise ventilation flow with no obstructing bulkheads. There’s berths that are 6’ 7” long and 6’ 3” of headroom, rare to see in boats of this size. She’s also well into heavy displacement territory for her size, but bear in mind her 410 square feet of canvas makes up for this (not to mention a healthy 460 square feet for gaffed rigged versions).
Construction is suitably overbuilt – hand-laid solid fiberglass with polyester resin, with a hull thickness varying from 3/8” at the minimum to 5/8” at the turn of the bilge and as much as 3/4” in the keel sections. The ballast is lead encapsulated. Deck and cabin house are fiberglass cored in 1/2” marine ply, and the hull to deck join is via an overlapping shoe box fit bedded with sealant and through bolted on 12” centers.
In total thirty three boats were constructed between 1979 and 1984, mostly marconi-rigged, but gaff-rigged versions were also produced, better suited to the light air sailing prevalent along the East Coast. At least three layouts were offered though the boat was built to order so a high degree of customisation can be seen between examples. The standard engine on offer was an inboard 18hp Volvo, but owners could optionally go with a transom mounted outboard freeing up internal space.
» The Sailor’s Book of Small Cruising Sailboats by Steve Henkel