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Anke and I are building our next boat, and writing about it at Access to the net comes and goes, so I'll be writing in fits and spurts.

Please feel free to browse the archives, leave comments where you will and write, and I'll respond as I can.

Fair winds!

Dave and Anke
triloboats swirl gmail daughter com

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Maasdam Pow'r-Pull: An 'Endless' Rope Come-Along

Maasdam Pow'R-Pull

Come get your duds in order,
For we're going to cross the water,
Heave away me jolly tars,
We're all bound away!
-- Sea Chanty attributed to Pius Power, Sr.

Maasdam Pow'r-Pull: An 'Endless' Rope Come-Along

I'd like to introduce you to a close, personal friend of mine... the Maasdam Pow'r-Pull.

These are much like more familiar wire come-alongs, but not limited by drum capacity. Cranking the 10:1 advantaged handle for 3/4ton straight pull hauls 1/2in rope around a rope clutch. The tail end is passed clear of the hauler to be spilled or coiled. 

This is what makes them 'endless'... we're not limited to a small wire drum's capacity before having to reset. It will work with all the line we've got. If needed, we can turn the hauling part around a block to double the pull to 3 tons.

Polyester braid or laid  line is low stretch, and so preferred for many uses, but the clutch handles nylon as well. This puts anchor line in play!

If 1/2in nylon is in your rode locker, you've got a good length of line available for moving heavy objects, such as a microcruiser hull above the tide line. If it's deployed on an anchor which is set into heavy wind, beyond surf or is simply stubborn, the rope puller gives you additional muscle. Kind of a modern day handy-billy.

We've used ours for all of these, plus moving logs along a beach (for a DIY grid), to pull 'hung' firewood free, to raise and lower mast, and to ride to the rescue of friends and family.

A stunt we unfortunately never got to try was pulling a TRILOBYTE 16x4 straight up a cliff. Would have made for a good pic...

A Fitzcarraldo moment!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Seaweirdy: A Case Study

Brian Small's Autonomous Ocean-Crossing Square Boat
What wearied doom of baffled quest
  Thou sad sea-ghost is thine?
-- John Greenleaf Whittier

Seaweirdy: A Case Study

I'm often asked if Square Boats are seaworthy. I answer that I dunno, but don't see why not, given solid build, good equipment and handling.

On the whole, I defer to the expert opinion of others more experienced than myself.

So, when I hear about a North Atlantic crossing - Newfoundland in Canada to County Mayo in Ireland - by a square boat that's a kissin' cousin to TriloBoats, I get excited!

That's no placid pond... Greenland and Iceland enliven that route. Burgs and floes! Legendary N Atlantic storms!!

What might the crew tell us of their experiences? How was the ride? Did the boat take care of you? Did it test your mettle and push you to your limits? Or did you arrive wondering what all the fuss was about?

Umm. Well. Turns out I set the don't-see-why-not-if-only bar a skosh high.

The build was solid enough, it turns out, and arrived in "relatively good shape". From some of the pics after it's been damaged, I can see substantial framing and structure. If well fastened, it's not surprising that it held up. Foam in the walls provides (reserve) positive buoyancy that was apparently never called upon (the boat was not awash on arrival). Good. Good.

But the gear consisted only of solar panels and electric drive. Inadequate power (reportedly, it could barely move at full throttle). High tech and no redundancy. Anchor gear, if any, was neither visible nor mentioned.

And it was handled... ahh... there was no one aboard!!!

Brian Small - an Ontarian solar mobilist of considerable fame - reportedly built her with the intent to prove that a solar powered Atlantic crossing was possible. He (wisely) decided against the trip, however, and left the boat tied to a dock, gifted to the Canadian Homeless for shelter (via a note left aboard).

The boat apparently broke loose, drifted across the ocean, and fetched up on the shores of the Old World. Only then, in the surf, did it suffer significant damage!

Oddly enough, the relevant Canadian authorities are out of Halifax, home of the HALIFAX ART BOAT... wait for it... a T24x8 TriloBoat!!!.

Kevin McDonald

Not sure what the moral is... I think this story confirms that a Square Boat can be seaworthy. But it sure qualifies as seawierdy!

The story, that is; not the boat!

News reports search results here. Worth poking through a few, if you're interested, as story and pics are spread around.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Mechanical Advantage: It's a Matter of Leverage

It's a matter of leverage.
-- Cap'n Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean

Mechanical Advantage: It's a Matter of Leverage

Katy Burke, in The Handbook for Non-Macho Sailors, points out that the veriest foredeck ape can be plucked from deck and flung across smoking water by the merest shrug of the sea.

For millennia, sailors have fought physics with physics. The mass and momentum of natural forces vs. the leverage of mechanical advantage. They might not think of it as such, but the humblest sailor and the great Archimedes are of a kind, brain amplifying brawn to shoulder the burden at hand.

Simple machines – the inclined plane, the lever, the wheel and axle, the cam – are reliable, easy to build, maintain and repair, and cheap! These spread effort over distance (or, one can also say, over time).

Mechanical advantage or purchase is the proportion by which one's effort is multiplied.

For example, a halyard with 2:1 advantage (two to one) takes twice as much line, and twice as long, as the same halyard with no advantage. That sucks, you say? The 'advantage' is that, at any point, we only need apply half the effort albeit for twice as long.

This is like making two easy trips to carry in the groceries, rather than getting it all in one, heavy go. Same groceries, same overall effort expended over twice the distance and time. But at any given point, we're not staggering under the load.

The astute reader will note that there is some overhead to this... you're carrying your body as well as the groceries, so doing it twice takes a toll. Friction can, too. There are diminishing returns to advantage.

The inclined plane (also wedge and screw) spreads lift over its length (advantage = height to length). A block and tackle spread lift out over length of line rove between blocks (advantage = the number of moving lines through the block attached to the load). A lever spreads out the length of throw(distance between up and down) at the lift end over that at the handle end (advantage = throw at load to throw at handle).

Clear as mud? There are many excellent sources which cover the physics and uses of simple machines far better than I can do here. I'll list two of my favorites, below.

Simple machines, or combinations of them, underlie all the manual tools on board. From halyard to handy-billy. From winch to windlass. From sweep to jack. Simple machines working for you to provide mechanical advantage over the forces we face.

As you explore their possibilities, here are a few tips and things to keep in mind:

Consider safety. Though mechanical advantage help us tame large forces, they are still large forces! They can get out of hand. Even watered down, they can pinch, crush, break or strain. Consider setting up as fail-safe as possible, and, where possible, stay out of harms way.

Consider your body. We are the draft animals hitched to these simple machines. Our bodies work well if used in accordance with anatomy and within our limitations. Line up with effort, use the right muscles for the job, avoid effort while twisted, don't jerk and respect your limits!

Consider ergonomics. Is line thick enough to get a grip on? Are handles well shaped for hands, with enough clearance for fingers? Do you find yourself stooping or on your knees to use gear?

Consider your leads. Leads (literally, angles along which lines are led) allow one to line up for an effort with ergonomic efficiency. Is footing good and plenty? Is the body well positioned for an untwisted effort? Is there enough elbow-room for the effort? Simply improving the leads can make a difficult or impossible effort easy.

Consider stowage. Is stowage close at hand? Easy to access in a timely fashion? Secure? When stowed, are decks, gangways and leads clear?

Consider arranging enough advantage for the least physically powerful member of the crew. It is downright dangerous to face a task for which one has not the strength (or weight). Something's gotta give... something that must goes up too slow, down too fast or neither at all. A shoulder sprains or finger breaks. Sufficient advantage may slow the job, but it gets done without trauma.

Consider that you can (generally) lift more than your own weight. Once you've lifted your feet off the ground, that's it for effort applied. But if you arrange your tools so that you are lifting from your feet (with your legs), you can generally exert a fair amount more than you weigh.

Consider work stoppers. Cleats, pawls, dogs and stoppers can take the load off to catch your breath or tend to an emergency. Something at hand, quick to make fast and fast to free can be a big help!

I'll end this section with a cautionary quotation:

When you combine ignorance and leverage, you get some pretty interesting results.
― Warren Buffett

* * * * *

By combining simple machines, we can accomplish any job on a typical cruising sailboat. We can raise sails and sheet them. Raise and lower anchors and masts. Load and unload cargo or deadweights. Move the boat over water or land(!).

As basic and essential as knots, simple machines are vital tools in the sailor's kit.

Two helpful books books introducing simple machines. Both very accessible (not a lot of math or physics). Both written by sailors, with sailors in mind.

A Handbook for Non-Macho Sailors by Katy Burke -- Apparently out of print, but worth it's weight!

Moving Heavy Things by Jan Adkins -- Focused on Mechanical Advantage

Friday, December 16, 2016

On a Cold and Dark December

Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbor's Mouth
By Joseph Mallord William Turner

While listening to the moaning of the wind, 
And thinking what a solemn thing it wa
To move on 
Through the lonely darkness, 
Over an unknown abyss, 
Whose depths were secrets as profound as Death

-- From A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

On a Cold and Dark December

This time of year, in the waning of the last moon, in advent of the longest night, my thoughts turn to those who have made their living on the sea.

It is said of the artist, Joseph Turner, that he asked to be tied to the mast of a steam-boat leaving Harwich in a storm.

Leaving. Harwich. In a storm.

We're talking the German Sea of the North Atlantic. The graveyard of the Spanish Armada and countless others, beside. Legendary for its ferocity. Merciless.

They left by soundings, tapping their way with line and lead over and between invisible shoals that could wreck them. Heading into the storm.

For the artist, tied to the mast, his terror and awe were poured onto canvas, capturing a furious moment for all of us not so exposed.

For the crew... well... it was just another day, another night at sea. A schedule to keep. Likely setting forth at the end of a long day of lading. Weary, but ready. The tools of their trade well in hand.

Not one of them were tied to a mast or anything else, for that matter. One hand for their self, one for the ship. Blow high, blow low, blow sideways.

We sailors of the present day have seen a thing or two. Nights when it's darker than dark. When snow blinds us and the wind shoves us at the unseen shore.

But those sailors! Those sailors were made of sterner stuff than can be found in our easy times.

On a cold and dark December...

...They took to the sea.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Q&D Shelves

Wish I had a pretty little girl, 
I'd put her on a shelf, 
Every time she'd wink her eye 
I'd climb up there myself.
 -- Old Joe Clark

Quick and Dirty Shelves

Boats can have a lot of shelves in them, often in odd spaces. Over time, we worked out a formula that  lets us zip 'em out without a lot of head-scratching.

Basic idea is that a (plywood) shelf between walls (dividers, bulkheads, what-have-you) has a support rail attached along its lower, far edge, and a fiddle/support rail attached along its upper, near edge and overlapping the Cleats. 

Cleats are attached to the vertical walls at either end, with room for the support piece to slip behind with a little wiggle room. This locks the shelf against horizontal movement (may need screws if you anticipate tossing them vertically!).

Advantages include:

  • Quick, standardized construction
  • Easy installation and removal (for cleaning, painting, etc.)
  • Flexibility (can be adapted for size, loads, clearances)
  • Uses up a lot of smaller plywood offcuts
  • Relatively easy to go back and rework spacing, if desired (just move cleats)

If you wish to get a bit fancier, the fiddle can be rabbeted along its underside to cover the raw edge of the shelving material.

You can angle the far end of the cleats to a point... this allows the shelf to be lifted upward as if it were a lid, rotating around its far edge in contact with the points, until the support face fetches up against the angled cleat end (the sharper the angle, the higher you can lift the shelf). This can be useful in tight spaces where you need a little extra room to un/load the space below it. For example, a tote that fits snugly may need a little extra to clear fiddles and such along its near, lower edge.

We found that our locker openings don't let us insert full length shelves. We ended up cutting this type in two, mid-length, and putting a lip under one of them along the cut. A short, rabbeted piece is attached to the back wall, rabbet up, straddling the cut (also with a little wiggle room). The lipped side needs some support at the near, cut corner... we use twine attached to the next fixed point above it, rather than build struts. This approach has been much easier than installing a divider, and doesn't break the run of shelf length.

An idea to shelve away!


Bonus Tip:

Can't recall where I read of this, but could well be The Sailor's Sketchbook by Bruce Bingham, under 'removable fiddles'.

Another simple locking device is to make pegs that fit into matching holes. These can be made of wood or metal.

One cool way to do it is to drive a (bronze) screw in the peg location, burying the threads but leaving the shoulder exposed. Hacksaw the head off and smooth with a metal file to leave a protruding peg. Put the piece (shelf, removable fiddle, table, etc.) in place, over its supporting surface and tap over the screw with a hammer, denting the receiving surface with the exposed peg. Drill a (slightly loose) hole at that spot. If everything is done reasonably square, the peg slips into its hole, forming a sheer lock, preventing horizontal movement.

 Bonus, Bonus Tip:

A recent brainstorm is to use heat to flatten and shape PVC to form springs. A hole drilled through the PVC to match a peg forms a lock that can be released (sprung off the peg) with gentle pressure.

Works for door latches, removable step locks, drop down bin locks, hatch locks... spring shapes  and applications are limited only by the imagination!.

You can find lots of info on shaping PVC through sources like this one, drawn from the way-too-cool world of PVC bow-making.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Peace Like a River

A scene of Thanksgiving

Give me peace like a river,
Give me love like an ocean,
Give me joy like a fountain
In my soul,
In my soul.
-- African-American Spiritual

Peace Like a River

Water is the foundation of all life.

We're mostly made of water. Our blood surges with the moon, washing in waves through heart and mind. Deny us water and we wither and founder in short order.

"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," we say, affirming between the words that water is life.

For the last too long, Anke and I have been building a new home on the shore side of water's edge. Our foundations firm in ashes and dust. Sleeping in a cradle unrocked. Dreaming of the other side - the wet side - of the line between sea and shore.

But we've crossed over.

Our vessel is set upon the sea, and our selves again with it. Once more, we rise and fall with the world's tides. Once more, we breath a little easier; sleep more deeply; dream  more expansively.

Awaken more eager to meet the new day.


When we first sought the life afloat, we walked the strand, looking to the boats sailing free and easy beyond our reach. Waterborne and lifting to wave and send. How we envied them! Imagining the feel of their pitch and roll as if dry land could liquefy and buoy us.

Our first night on the water... aboard a vessel of our very own... how can I describe it? We thrilled to every complex motion. Each lip and lap of water against the hull. Each tremulous touch of distant, hydraulic force seething beyond the river's mouth. Peace like no other.

Our first voyage... fraught with perils real and imagined. Ocean teaching us at every moment, guiding us by its touch... at once intimate and indifferent. Love for this as reflexive as breath.

Our first harbor, safely reached... greenhorn heroes' voyage at its triumphal end. Fears faced and unlooked-for courage found. Hardships endured and overcome. A small victory hoped to be the first of many.

Joy like a fountain in our soul.

Here they lie where they long'd to be;
Home is the sailor, home on the sea,
The sailor home from the hill.

Apologies to Robert Louis Stevenson's Requiem


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Can Stoves Can Do

By Gary Larson

When you light a fire, you commit an act of magic...
What thrilling enchantment, 
What cunning sorcery, 
Has the work of your hands created?
-- Anthony Murphy

Can Stoves Can Do

Anke and I spent many a pleasant summer evening, this year, watching the sun go down in the company of a (tin) can stove. A hot meal and spruce tea with the smell of woodsmoke on the air...

Cans are amazing resources.They're to be found anywhere and everywhere. They can be bought brand new with a bonus load of... let's say olives. Recycling centers have dumpster loads of them in a variety of shapes and sizes. Paint cans and buckets can be bought new and empty. For the improvised galley, they can easily be worked into pots, pans, mugs, bowls...

And stoves! Biomass fueled stoves that last long enough to pay handsomely for the effort invested. Biomass itself is inexpensive and nearly ubiquitous... wood, weed, manure and peat. With a fire-proof base (e.g., a gravel box), they can be used aboard a boat of most any size.

Can stoves cost next to nothing, contain and enhance the efficiency of an open fire and are scalable to most any need. They're made from various combinations of cans, including those for canned foods, paint cans and buckets or even stove-pipe, various pots or ammo cans.

A 55gal oil barrel, anyone?

Can stoves do burn out in a season or so of use. While a can-opener, nail and rock are all the tools necessary, I recommend investing in a good set of tools - tin snips, pliers, drill and step bit, awl, file(s) - that let one replace as necessary. Each replacement is an opportunity to experiment with a new design or refine an old one.

Here, I'll present three types made from steel ('tin') cans (Hobo, Rocket and Gasifier stoves), and two made from aluminum 'soda' cans (Wick and Penny stoves).

These featured are starting point for the pyromaniacally mad scientist. Can proportions; hole sizes, placement and frequencies; cutouts; airflow channels; open top/bottom designs, pot/pan supports, handling... all afford plenty to dink with. It's a vast world of possibility with lots of info on the net. Here is a visual sampling.

Or you can simply copy a proven design. It's hard to go too far wrong.

Remember, cut cans are sharp and can generate nasty cuts. Wear gloves and eye protection when building stoves. Smooth the edges as well as practical, and stay alert when using. Also, fire is inherently dangerous. Use all precautions, including having extinguisher technology at hand while using.

Let the Flames begin!


Full article at

Hobo Stove

This is the simplest type, extensively field-tested during the Great Depression. They're not terribly efficient (though much more so than an open fire), and produce a fair amount of smoke. Be sure to breath as little of that as possible!

At minimum, it's a top-loading can with lots of air holes. Refinements limit and focus hole spacing, add fueling ports and pot/pan support. The one shown above is a decent model.

If the top is left intact (unopened end of a can positioned UP) it can be used as a cooking surface. But heat isn't easy to control, and I'd consider that a fall-back option.


Full article here.

Rocket Stove

These are a big improvement in efficiency over Hobo Stoves.

They work by setting up a powerful draft blowing through a sharp-angled, insulated burn chamber. Oxygen is abundant and well mixed with combustion gasses at higher-than-normal temperatures for an efficient, low smoke burn. The roar of their draw gives them their name.

All sorts of non-combustible materials can be used for insulation, but the more air space is trapped, the better the insulation will be. The less its thermal mass, the sooner your chamber will reach its maximum temperature.
SQUARE BOAT NOTE: If, like me, don't like fitting curves to curves, combustion chamber/chimney designs can be adapted to cans that have been squared after cutting off their ends. They will meet at 45deg.


Full article at
Gasifier Stoves

These are another set of efficient designs which first pyrolize their  fuel (i.e., using primary combustion heat to drive off combustible gases from the fuel and carbonize the remains) and then burn the gasses. This principle has been used to fire internal combustion engines for transport and electrical power production.

The link given above is for a simple model, used in a simple mode. Very similar alternatives include TLUD (Top-Lit UpDraft) Stoves. Despite their resemblance,  these work on a different principle. This one features a more precise build with high-end tips you may wish to apply to other stoves.


Aluminum can stoves burn alcohol, rather than biomass. They can be considerably more sophisticated (and finnicky) than those listed above. I've heard they don't work as well in very cold weather. But they are the last word in ultra-light stoves.

Here's a general principles article to get you started.

Can't find who drew this up... How-to article here.

Wick Stove (aka Soda Can Stove)

These work by saturating the wick with alcohol. It evaporates, and the gasses are burned. Some models feature a lid to snuff the flame and preserve fuel for later, others merely let the fuel load burn out.

Here's a variation that's a bit simpler to build, with some cool accessories.


Can't find who drew this, either... Inventor's home page, here.

Penny Stove

This one uses a penny's weight  to regulate fuel flow rate. The how is simple but the why complicated.

When all is in good proportion, their flame jets are a thing of beauty. They're considered by many hikers to be the ultimate in ultra-light heat.


There's something about an open fire. Something deep in the blood as we stare into the eyes of our companion of a thousand generations. Our worst enemy, it is said, and our best friend.

But something, too, in fire contained. Focused. Intensified.

We are apprentices of fire's alchemical magic. We seek its ways. Learn to feed it while avoiding its bite. Learning to excite its passions without being consumed by them.

Together transforming dull matter into heat and light.