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Lots of boats come to Oriental, some tie up at the Town Dock for a night or two, others drop anchor in the harbor for a while. If you've spent any time on the water you know that every boat has a story. The Shipping News on TownDock.net brings you the stories of the boats that have visited recently.

Blessed with a Bristol Channel Cutter
September 25, 2016

ome boats draw your attention like a compass needle pointing north. You can’t help but look toward them. Such is the case with a 28 ft cutter named Macnab.


When Donna Armento and Tom Walling brought Macnab to the Town Dock, they had recently been in Bath, North Carolina for a “Blackbeard meets the Governor” festival, and were on their way to another Blackbeard event in Beaufort.

Tom showed his pirate mode. Donna remained a civilian.

This Story Begins Two Decades Ago
Many sailors invest years researching boat styles and models before selecting just the right boat. And some new sailors are blessed with being in the right place at the right time with the “perfect boat” available to them. It was almost twenty years ago when Donna Armento and her (then) partner Alan Shaw found Macnab.

Alan, Donna, children Anna & John. (photo provided by Donna)

Donna and Alan were working as National Park Campground hosts in Durango, Colorado, far from the smell of salt air or the idea of living on a boat. In the off-season Donna and Alan, with their 3 year old son John and 14 month old daughter Anna, liked to travel in their camper to warmer places. On one of these trips to the Sea of Cortez (on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula) the idea of living on a boat came to be. The protected Bay off their campsite was also home to cruisers using the same tranquil location as the campers. In conversations with the cruisers coming to shore at the campground, Donna and Alan instantly saw the similarities in lifestyle and thought they would give sailing a try.

But there were just two small problems. They knew very little about sailboats, and they didn’t have one.

Donna started asking as many cruisers as she could about their boats. Alan started asking if anyone knew of any boats for sale. It was suggested he check out Puerto Escondido, an adjacent harbor. An open VHF call out to the anchorage one morning connected Alan with a man interested in selling his boat. Little did Donna and Alan know, they were about to purchase one of the most sought after small ocean cruisers ever built.

world class
Alan at the helm (photo provided by Donna)


About The Boat
In the late 1960’s, circumnavigator’s Lin and Larry Pardey showed that long distant cruising was possible on a budget with their famous motto “go small, go simple, go now”. The Pardey’s cruised over 200,000 nautical miles with the help of designer Lyle Hess and his sturdy small boat designs. The Pardey’s wrote prolifically in books and articles about their cruising life. Their adventures drew interest in small economical ocean boats, creating a demand for similar designs. Lyle Hess answered this demand with the Bristol Channel Cutter, a 28’ boat modeled after 19th century pilot boat designs. The pilot boats were capable of carrying heavy loads for their displacement, and easy to sail on all points of wind.

The first Bristol Channel Cutter was launched in 1975. Eventually 129 were built over the next 33 years. Most Bristol Channel Cutters were built of fiberglass by the Sam L. Morse Company of Costa Mesa, California. The boats have drawn a cult following.

It was a custom finished gaff rigged version of the Bristol Channel Cutter that Donna and Alan bought on a winter day in 1997.

Macnab underway (photo provided by Donna)
Donna and Alan made their way south from the Sea of Cortez and through the Panama Canal, no small feat for inexperienced sailors on a small boat with two young children. After clearing the Canal on the Caribbean side, Donna and Alan lingered in the San Blas Islands learning about their new way of life. A lesson in weather came when a Hurricane chased them south to Cartagena, Columbia.

Donna and Alan spent the next 7 years cruising full time aboard Macnab.

Two more children, George and Fiona joined the crew along the way. That made six people cruising on a 28 ft boat.

In 2006, Donna lost Alan to cancer.

Donna says she briefly thought of selling Macnab. She came to realize it wouldn’t have been the right thing for her.

When Donna visited Oriental in August, she was a highly experienced sailor from her years of living and sailing aboard Macnab.

In 2016, Donna and Tom on deck.

Today, Donna Armento is still living aboard with her two youngest children George and Fiona in Deltaville, Virginia.

Life aboard a small boat apparently was a good foundation for her older children as well. John has completed an engineering degree from Old Dominion University and is currently living aboard his own sailboat. Anna is in an International Studies program at the University of Virginia.

Donna runs a boat detailing business in Deltaville and sails with her friend Tom whenever she can.

This Shipping News was done by Bob and Dori Arrington. Bob, writing. Dori, photography.

Posted Sunday September 25, 2016 by Keith N. Smith

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