Goman 20

By John Turnbull

Best of both in a 20 footer. Sailing that narrow line between day-racer and full sized cruiser, Goman’s 20 succeeds.

Since the time I saw the drawings in early June of last year, I had looked forward to sailing the Goman 20. Almost five months later, on a pleasant Indian summer day in October, I got my chance. Would it be, I wondered, one of those good ideas on paper that can never quite be realized as a boat – the sort of thing that looks like an affordable, if modest, compromise on the boat show floor and turns out to be an impractical proposition on the water?

At 20 feet, with a cabin and a full keel, the Goman is in that dangerous area between daysailer and yacht where the unyielding demands of human scale can defeat the best practical and stylistic intentions of a designer.

It’s hard to say, in fact, whether the Goman is an enlarged daysailer or a midget cruiser but I suppose it would be necessary to decide only if it did neither well. And that’s not the case. The Goman has staked out that ill-defined area between daysailer and cruiser and is proceeding to make it all its own.

There have been half a dozen designs recently that measure in with slightly higher numbers but are aimed at a similar kind of sailor. Most of these seem to imitate the J-24 in one way or another and they include a few from the really big builders like AMF and O’Day and some from small builders of cruising yachts. In my quick reading of their profiles and plans, I see attempts to imitate larger boats – things like flush deck styling drawn without much regard to the function of a flush deck. and complex compromises with daggerboards that slice the interior in half – this on a cruiser.

The Goman shares nothing with these and, in fact, was conceived long before the J-24 phenomenon. It began with the premise that a boat could be built which offered enough protection to be comfortably sailed on open water in any weather, could have enough accommodation for overnight cruising and still be handled like a big daysailer both on and off the water. The idea was sound and the boat that has resulted is simple and modern in every important respect. It was designed and is being built by a group who, because they’re young themselves, may have a better appreciation for a younger owner with a need for an affordable but complete yacht.

Goman 2 - Design

Bill Goman, who decided that his name was too apt to ignore, had the original idea and, until early in 1979, could only mull it over in his spare time. Before that he was working in the design office of C&C along with Steve Killing, now on his own in Midland, and George Hazen, the computer specialist who went back to the States to set up a computer-based design service. All of these people have brought their experience to bear on the Goman 20 and it shows.

It’s too early to make any claims for the boat’s racing potential but there have been indications in casual club racing that it is plenty fast. In a medium wind strength it has out-paced boats as much as four feet longer. There’s certainly no reason it should be slow. With an overall weight of 2,000 lb (700 of that is ballast) and a sail area of 187 sq ft, its sail area / displacement ratio is well into the surfing range. Its shape looks fast – it has a shallow hull and a keel and rudder that don’t pretend to be anything but fast and efficient. All of that is fairly conventional if up-to-date. What is not immediately apparent, however, is that some very intriguing work has been done on the computer to arrive at the hull shape as well as the foils.

Through George Hazen and his study of the “blending functions” work of designer / mathematician John Letcher, Goman and Killing have chosen some very particular numbers. Beginning with the idea that, for a particular waterline length, there is an ideal prismatic coefficient (a measure of the hulls “fullness” or fineness in the ends of the underwater shape), one of Hazen’s associates did some work on the effect of the location of the centre of buoyancy. The small computer in Killing’s office dug into all this research and found the numbers for the boat Goman and Killing had in mind.

Basically they chose a waterline, a fair body line (the curve representing the bottom of the hull) and a sheer line in both plan and profile . Then, giving the computer a curve of areas to help it determine the volume distribution (that’s that ideal prismatic) and curves representing the sections near the fore and aft end of the hull, the computer goes to work and “draws” the lines according the rules it has been given.

All of that would be merely a computer game if it weren’t for the fact that the Goman 20 looks pretty in the water and sails without a flaw, and, as I began to say earlier, seems unusually fast for its length.

All of this discussion evolved as Bill and I were tramping upwind on our way out of Bronte Harbour on Lake Ontario. There had been some strong southeasterly wind and we were sailing through the remaining swell with perhaps 15 to 18 knots of breeze. With a waterline length of only 17 feet, the Goman is going to spend most of its time sailing at or very near to its hull speed. Sitting on the weather deck, I was pleased to find that I was staying dry.

Goman 20 - Bill GomanThere was no sensation of having to push the boat through each wave. It steered with an easy, fairly powerful feel. This isn’t simply a matter of taste either. When I first saw the boats wide beam and moderately high freeboard, I wondered whether it would exhibit a tendency to lay over and round up in the puffs. That shows up too often in boats of that size and the factors that seem to determine whether it  will happen or not seem fairly subtle. Whatever makes it so, the Goman reacts to puffs with the feel of a much heavier boat. There’s no tendency to lift the rudder out and spin into a luff and I suspect this had a lot to do with the designer’s careful shaping of curves and the location of the centre of buoyancy.

With two aboard and going upwind, I found that the best position from which to steer was on the weather deck. Not only is the boat small enough I felt as if it needed our weight to weather, but it had a sensitive helm (the rudder is large) and responded to careful steering through and around the waves. Anyone much shorter than myself might find it uncomfortable at times to stay perched on the weather side. While the deck is shaped so that the surface is near level when the boat is heeled, the stanchions are near perpendicular and make it difficult to lean back and keep your balance when the boat wants to gee its rail wet. A person of my height can brace against the leeward seat but that isn’t comfortable. The solution may be to angle the stanchions outward slightly more than they are, or for the helmsman to sit further aft. Three on the weather deck would find it a little crammed and if you were racing you would have one crew member sitting on the side deck by the cabin. Again, the boat is small enough that weight placement will make a big difference in a race.

Otherwise, sitting on the cockpit seats is extremely comfortable. The coamings are fairly deep and, with a slight bevel where they meet the deck, provide good support for your back. Both the main traveler track and the jib lead track have been recessed into the deck molding so that you can sit on them without hurting yourself. For shorthanded operation, all of the sheets and halyards can be reached from the helm without having to let go of the hiking stick.

The side decks have been kept wide in proportion to the overall size and getting forward is made easier by pairing the upper and lower shrouds to one chainplate set in from the gunwale by a good foot. That also helps to make the headsail easier to sheet in close.

In keeping with the simple approach, Goman has designed an _interesting molding for the cabin top. On a deck this small, even the minimum running rigging can make the deck appear cluttered and complicated. To tidy things up and make it easier to get around on deck without fouling lines, the halyards and the topping lift have been led out of the butt of the spar and under a lid which covers the whole cabin top. The lid is really an extension of the sliding hatch cover which, in this case, would have to go as far forward as the mast step anyway so there’s really not much extra material involved. The effect is simple especially when there’s a person on deck setting the spinnaker. The handrail has been integrated into this molding as one piece of teak which is set flush with the cabin top but has a finger hold on the inboard edge.

If it becomes necessary to get at the turning blocks, the whole lid lifts off with the removal of a couple of screws. The nicest feature of the molding, however, is the instrument pod above the companionway. This sort of housing has become popular on larger boats that have three or four instrument faces. Aboard the Goman, the helmsman i close enough to the pod that it becomes an ideal spot for a vertical-mount compass. The one that has been chosen is the Plastimo, which has an inclinometer scale right on it. It’s easily visible from anywhere in the cockpit and, even while you’re steering by the headsail ribbons, you can check your course without moving – a small point but it makes the boat a lot more pleasant to handle.

Goman 20 - Overview

There’s no forward hatch and, while it won’t be missed for passing up headsails, it could make the boat harder to ventilate. No provision has been made in the deck molding for ventilators. Naturally if you were staying aboard you’d have the hatch open but you really need an opening to cut down on mildew while the boat is locked up. Perhaps the cabin top lid could be put to a further use here as a built-in dorade box. 

The interior of the boat is quite bare. Not that you’d expect extensive joinery, but there’s no attempt to lead anybody on about how much living can be done in an interior this size. Not only are you not being asked to pay for it, you won’t need to look after it. Enough simple shelf space had been provided to set up a stove and do some simple, camp-style cooking. The headroom is sufficient for seating inside but the seat backs have been built to keep the berths as wide as possible rather than making seating ideal.

The position of the head, right under the companionway, won’t allow you and your crew to stay on strictly formal terms. An enclosed head on a boat this size is something of a nuisance anyway but the laws of Ontario require it so there it is. The more common location, under the end of the forward berth, is impossible in this case because of the mast-step support.

If you’re going to live with a minimal interior, you’d better have a boat that’s lots of fun to sail. The Goman’s rig could have been a lot more complicated. It could have been set up with running backstays and more standing rigging and lots of tweekers. The decision to keep it simple was quite deliberate, it wasn’t a question of not knowing what to add, as is often the case. Remember that Killing and Goman have had lots of experience with more complicated rigs (Evergreen ‘s for example) and could have added lots of hardware to make the boat look fast… a style that Goman refers to as “chrome plating the headers” if you happen to be a hot rod buff.

You may have noticed that the boat doesn’t have any backstays at all, adjustable or permanent. Instead, the shrouds are anchored aft of the mast and the spreader s are swept aft. Keeping a tight forestay in this kind of rig requires more load on the shrouds. You can also control the headsail to a degree through mainsheet tension and the leech of the main, as you would on a dinghy.

As a result of the simple rig there isn’t much to adjust or replace or worry about. What is there is of the best quality – the blocks are Harken.

The boat we sailed did not have a turning block for the spinnaker sheets but Bill tells me they will be adding a ratchet block on the aft corners of the deck. The halyard s emerge from under the cabin top lid and reeve through a stopper. It’s a real luxury to have a winch for hauling up such a small sail and making halyard adjustments underway. People sailing small keelboats tend to hoist their halyard s and then ignore them, but they could be squeezing more speed out of the boat if they”d play the halyard on a winch. The Goman set up makes it very easy.

Once the halyard s are locked, the winches are free for handling sheets. No attempt has been made to skimp on the winch size.

Goman 20 - Interior

After playing the boat upwind for a while, we laid off and did some surfing on the swells. It took me some time to get used to the boat’s weight and to head it off soon enough . We found it much easier to sustain the surfing when Bill went forward . Weight placement is going to be important when racing the Goman and you’ll want a forward hand who can get things done and get off the foredeck quickly when he has to.

The spinnaker isn’t big enough to get anyone into trouble and the pole, on the production boats, will be stowed along the boom. With the downhaul led back to the mast-step, the pole can be end-for-ended through a jibe. A really eager racer might even set up a pole-launching system and keep the crew off the foredeck altogether.

Bill and I handled the spinnaker quite easily, even in 18 knots and without proper cleats . Sheet handling is light enough that the helmsman can sit with the spinnaker sheet in his hand and play the boat downwind. In fact I was enjoying it so much that we found ourselves a good distance west of the harbour by the time I was ready to quit and go in. The pleasure you can get out of driving the boat along by yourself without asking for trim changes will be new to a lot of keelboat sailors.

To get back upwind again , Bill put up the working jib which is cut to about 90 percent of the foretriangle but has an unusually high foot. The high foot bothered me at first because I could see air getting out from under it, but it makes sense. By keeping a high clew, you can set the genoa or the jib without making any large alterations in the lead position – the sheeting angle remains almost the same. That means you don’t have to have another jib lead further forward on the deck and you don’t have to retrieve the sheets when you change sails. It just keeps things simple. A further advantage; and one that racing sailors tend to underrate, is the visibility from the helm under the foot of the jib. Sailing is just as much fun if you can see where you’re going.

As we returned to the harbour I rediscovered what a pleasure it is to sail right into a busy dock, round up and drop the sails without having to turn on that isn’t much practiced anymore (which is probably just as well in some cases) but even skilled boat handlers find it too easy to switch the motor on and drive to the mooring. The Goman is powered by an outboard, of course, but we didn’t happen to have it aboard and didn’t need it. The size required is only four hp and it would stow under a cockpit seat with the tank opposite. The low-cut transom would make it easy to mount and remove the motor but, despite the simplicity, it’s a pleasure not to have to worry about it.

By early December five Goman 20s had been sold, three on Lake Ontario , one to Ottawa and one in Nova Scotia. I expect a lot of interest will be shown among people who are getting a first boat, or are looking for something bigger and more versatile than their present dinghy or daysailer, without committing themselves financially (or committing all their time) to a full-sized yacht.

It’s a boat that will surely form a one-design class and establish active club fleets, especially where dock space is in short supply. Any club that dry sails Stars or Solings will have no trouble dry sailing a Goman. For people looking for a trailerable cruiser, the Goman is light enough to haul behind a medium size car. Launching, with the four-foot draft, takes a little more planning although there have been enough recent improvements in trailer design that even single-handed launching of a fixed keelboat is possible.

Goman 20 - Detail

For the first half of his year, the price will stay below $10,000 – that’s with everything except sails and 12-volt battery. For a boat that sails as well as this and that is bound to develop fleets (and keep the resale value up), you won’t find much to compare at that price. It’s not a boat that you’re going to be spending large amounts of money on every year, either for maintenance or new equipment, and, what makes it really attractive , it’s a boat that you’ll be out sailing on as often as you can . You won’t be phoning around for crew or using up your sailing time with maintenance chores which seems to happen so often when you find yourself a yacht owner instead of a sailor. How many other boats can you throw in the water in late October and sail across the lake without getting cold and wet?

Originally published in Canadian Yachting’s January 1980 issue.


Length – 20ft

Beam – 7ft 9in

Sail Area – 187 ft squared

Aux Power – 4hp

Photo Captions:

Photo 1 – N/A

Photo 2 – N/A

Photo 3 – Bill Goman put new design ideas to work.

Photo 4 – Much of the design work was done with the aid of computer programs run on a desk-top machine, but the aesthetic considerations were strictly human.

Photo 5 – The interior is basic but adequate for camper-style cruising. Head position seems a little awkward. Halyards are run under an unusual “lid” on the cabin top.

Photo 6 – N/A

Jeanneau Yachts 55

Throw away the box, this is some fresh thinking

Seemingly part sailboat and part spaceship, the new Jeanneau Yachts 55 just busted through the boundaries of traditional yacht design. I couldn’t take my eyes off the bubble hardtop that met me at the dock and I stepped aboard with trepidation. A few hours later, I was planning how to spend my not-yet-won lottery winnings.

Read More


Paving the Way to Cleaner Boating – How a Commitment to Reducing our Environmental Impact is Inspiring Cleaner Boating in Ontario

By Dave Rozycki

Over the past seven decades, Ontario’s marina industry has developed alongside some of Canada’s largest freshwater lakes. Boaters have been able to enjoy the beautiful scenery and create lasting memories on the water, with certain marinas dating back to the 1960s. As we reflect on this rich history, we can begin to see trends in how our footprint may have had an effect on the environment, in not-so-positive ways. However, by embracing innovative solutions and adopting sustainable practices, both marinas and boaters hold the key to preserving and enhancing the quality of our lakes and marine life for generations to come.

Read More