At the extreme of ‘go small, go simple’ is the little Flicka 20. At an incredibly small 20 feet, few other boats can claim proven blue water capabilities. Flicka has crossed the oceans of the world, weathered severe storms and survived groundings on reefs with little damage. Yet this pint sized world cruiser can be popped onto a trailer and taken home.
Designed by Bruce Bingham along the lines of the Newport workboats of the 19th century, the Flicka 20 was originally introduced to the home-build market in 1972 before reaching production, first by Nor’ Star and then by Pacific Seacraft.
If you can get over the lack of deck space and finding place to stow your tender, you’ll find a boat that’s essentially solid, seaworthy and with the interior space of a boat 6 feet longer. She’s large enough to live in, and being so small she’s incredibly easy to handle. She sails well despite her short length and heavy displacement. These are some of the reasons people rationalize buying the Flicka 20, but perhaps the real reason is her charm and character; this little boat has quite the cult following.
The first line drawings of the Flicka were published in RUDDER magazine in March 1972 but the origins of the Flicka go back to the 1950’s when Bruce Bingham made some sketches of two derelict wooden sailboats on a river just south of Wickford in Rhode Island. Bingham later learned that they were workboats that had been used since 1840 by the fishermen who sailed out to the stormy Block Island Sound to work the fishery there. These boats were known as Newport boats and had a reputation for being fast, seaworthy boats that would bring home their crew safely. Bingham liked the rugged character of the Newport boats and upon finding the line drawings in a book he started modifying the lines into a new design which became the Flicka 20. The design was originally aimed at the home build market and the length was kept at 20 feet to make it affordable.
In the September of 1972 RUDDER published the first of a six part article on building a Flicka from ferrocement, which showed further refinements to the lines and interior. Rumor has it that the first ferrocement Flicka was built at a boat show as a demonstration project to promote the construction method. The boat failed to catch on as ferrocement construction was expensive and a lot of work for a small boat. However, over the next five-year period, 400 sets of plans were reported sold, most of these boats built from GRP but at least one using carvel planking.
In 1974 a Flicka plug was made by Bingham and Katy Burke and sold to Nor’ Star Marine in California. In 1975 Nor’ Star started producing solidly built GRP hulls but at this stage there was no mold for the deck and cabin trunk. By February 1976, Nor’ Star was producing a GRP deck, cockpit and cabin truck. Their Flickas were either sold as kits or sub contracted to Westerley Marine for completion. This was a successful recipe which produced well constructed, high quality boats, regarded by many to be the most beautiful Flickas ever produced, with finely crafted and finished wood interiors. The winning partnership was brought to an end when Nor’ Star Marine closed down in 1977.
The Flicka was then sold to the then newly starting out Pacific Seacraft Corporation, who built a reputation for high quality construction and beautiful hand-crafted interiors. The builders at Pacific Seacraft modified the Flicka further by decreasing the radius of the cabin trunk crown and moving the deck hatch to the cabin top forward of the mast step. By 1994 434 Flickas had been produced by Pacific Seacraft but in 2007 the company went bust. The brand name, molds and tools were bought at a bankruptcy auction by marine archaeologist Stephen Brodie and the company was moved to the East Coast where it was resurrected.
In 2001, the new Pacific Seacraft attempted to relaunch the Flicka design on the basis that they required an order of four or five boats. Unfortunately, the order was not filled and the design was shelved. It is thought unlikely that the Flicka will ever be in production again but there are always Flickas out there for sale on the used boat market and for those who are interested in building their own, the plans and currently at least one hull and deck kit are apparently available now through Roy McBride at CKD boats in South Africa.
The Flicka’s workboat heritage is clear to see in her strong sheer, bluff bow and low freeboard (for hauling nets). She has a full keel which draws 3 feet 3 inches and a simple transom-hung rudder. Her 1800 pounds of ballast is positioned well forward in the hull and is responsible for a large part of her total displacement.
In order to create a lot of space on a waterline of only 18 feet 2 inches the Flicka was designed with a relatively wide 8 feet beam, tall topsides, and a high coach roof. This design might suggest elements of a bathtub toy, however the Flicka is far from ugly and has an undeniable charm which attracts attention wherever she goes.
Most Flickas use a masthead sloop rig which is set from a short bowsprit. It’s a small rig with 106 square feet in the mainsail and two rows of reefing points, and a working jib of 137 square feet. Variations do exist including some that are fractionally rigged, while others employ a full cutter rig, though it is debateable whether there is any advantage in cutting up the sail area in an already small rig thereby creating extra windage from the extra halyard, sheeting lines and inner stay. Several Flickas have been successfully converted to gaff and junk rigs and there is at least one yawl.
On deck you’ll find narrow side decks and relatively restricted access to the mast and foredeck. There’s little space to stow a tender, most owners tow theirs or stow it below. The cockpit is small and protected although comparatively large in comparison to the Flicka’s size. At 1 1/2″ the small cockpit drains have been an area of concern for some blue water sailors.
Bingham’s beamy hull allows for a capacious interior with 5 feet 11 inches of headroom and three full-sized berths. The interior is open-plan with no bulkhead separating the forepeak from the main cabin. Her fresh water supply is carried in a 20 gallon tank under the quarter berth. The diesel fuel tank, which lives under the V-berth, holds 8 gallons, as does the holding tank. The standard inboard engine is the economical Yanmar 1GM10, a single-cylinder diesel of 9 horsepower. Access to the inboard is afforded by a watertight hatch in the sole of the cockpit. With an inboard and enclosed head almost half the stowage space on the Flicka is lost and for that reason an outboard engine is the choice of many Flicka owners. With an outboard the fuel tank can be replaced with freshwater and a lot of extra space is created behind the companionway steps.
Being initally a home build boat you’ll find Flickas built to varying standards in a range of materials.
Pacific Seacraft Flickas were built in fiberglass, early hulls were hand laid in polyester resin while later hulls switched to osmosis resisting vinylester resin. The decks are fiberglass with a balsa core while areas with through deck hardware are cored in plywood. The interior is built from a single fiberglass pan which is bonded to the hull and lined with beautiful teak trim.
The mast is stepped in a stainless-steel tabernacle to allow easy removal for trailering as well as quick raising and lowering to avoid overhead obstacles.
Quality bronze fittings were used and the outboard chainplates were mounted through the hull with stainless steel backing plates. After 1980 enclosed heads with holding tanks became standard and the later models also come with custom bronze port lights, inboard engines and an excellent cruising rig by LeFiell.
Given the Flicka’s short waterline length, heavy displacement and small rig, it’s generally agreed she sails exceptionally well. Though most Flicka owners would agree that boat speed is not the number one priority, she is not a laggard by any means. According to Pacific Seacraft long passages of a 5-knot average are not uncommon. Owners report that she can easily sail 4 to 5 knots in the right conditions and can exceed 6 knots on a reach in winds of 20 knots or more. Her best point of sail is a beam to broad reach.
Like most heavy displacement boats, light air performance suffers. Many owners recommend the use of a drifter in 10 knots for a bit of extra go-go juice.
With her wineglass sections, short draft and 30% ballast ratio the boat is tender. Owners have also reported a tendency for weather helm. Tacking can be difficult in choppy conditions due to her tendency to pitch. Some owners have suggested that in certain weather conditions she can induce seasickness in even the hardiest of sailors but her motion is generally kind.
That aside, she is renowned for keeping her crew safe in a blow and she is a whole lot of fun to sail.
Flickas built by Pacific Seacraft are considered by many to be the one to go for due to their superior construction quality. Due to her solid construction and sensible design, the Flicka 20 has aged well. There have been no specific weaknesses that have come to light. Flickas tend to be well loved and in relatively good condition and have proven to be popular in the used boat market.
There is an active owner community. For further advice, boat listings and resources it is recommended buyers get in contact via the Flicka20.com website as well as the email discussion list on Yahoo Groups.
As of 2010 the asking prices for the boat is in the range of $10k – $50k USD depending on year and condition.
» Flicka 20 information and resources at flicka20.com
» Flicka 20 owners discussion group at Yahoo Groups
» Flicka Review from Good Old Boat Magazine by John Vigor Nov/Dec 1999
» A Flicka Sailboat Story by Roy McBride
» Flicka 20 info at CKD Boats, source of Flicka 20 Hull and Deck kits.
» Twenty Small Sailboats to Take You Anywhere by John Vigor, (Ch13, p77-82) an in depth look at the Flicka 20. ISBN:978-0939837328
John Vigor turns the spotlight on twenty seaworthy sailboats that are at home on the ocean in all weather. These are old fiberglass boats...
This collection of capable blue water boats features time-tested sailboats with rich histories.