|Garvey Houseboat (Kissin' Cousins to Barges)|
Owned by Chris Cunningham?
No need for us, even in the tiniest boat, to wear sackcloth and ashes merely to be tough and seamanlike and brave.
-- Maurice Griffiths from his Arrow Book of Sailing
Barge Yacht: A Thousand Words to Paint a Picture
In my early readings of the watery world – voracious and then as yet vicarious – I ran across a description of small barge yachts that had been converted from bridge tenders (wooden barges used as platforms for bridge maintenance). I've not been able to find that passage, but I'll reconstruct it from memory as best I may:
Their owners were inordinately fond of them. Most were gaff yawl rigged and often sported leeboards. In most cases a small, homey looking cabin had been fitted. One would frequently encounter them lying tucked up the shallow reaches of some remote estuary, a curl of woodsmoke rising from her stack, pretty as a picture. Their presence in such distant, hard to reach corners bespoke long passages and unlooked for capability.These words spoke loud and clear to my soul. But alas, by my head had filled with second-hand and somewhat knee-jerk opinions. I read voraciously and, for a long while, vicariously of 'facts' drawn from 'history'. But facts are slippery li'l devils, and wriggle in one's hands.
Broadly speaking, small, sailing workboats.led to an aesthetic for yachts, whose owners' interest in racing petrified preferences into the 'facts' we speak of. Shoal draft isn't seaworthy. Flat bottom boats pound and can't be made to sail. Deep keels and sloop or cutter rigs are the best or only way to get to windward. Junk sails won't sail to windward.
Let's take 'em, point by point:
Barge/Scow Hulls - Not often the fastest kids on the block, but shine in every other way. Economical, roomy, capacious, shoal of draft. Sit flat in the mud. With all that, what's the rush? Oh. And PDQ off the wind! Actually, given the way we rig and sail, windward ability of box barges remains largely unexplored by us. Even we can trudge slowly but reliably to windward up to about 45kt in heavy slop. After that, no data.
Alternatives to 'Marconi'/Bermudan Rigs - Quadrilateral sails (Gaff, Lug, Junk, Sprit) have many advantages over triangular ones. Stresses are reduced and distributed. More sail can be spread per foot of mast height. Centers of Effort are lower, and shift less when reefing. Generally lower, more robust masts mean a fail safer rig throughout.
Alternatives to Sloop and Cutter Rigs - Multi-masted rigs (yawls, ketches, schooners) tend to be more expensive, more to handle and are less efficient. BUT. Expenses are offset by lower stresses throughout, requiring lower tech solutions and cheaper gear. While controls are doubled, what they must control is lessened, so handiness is enhanced. Having two Centers of Effort, maneuverability and balance options abound. Because the rig is handier, non-racers are likely to keep her sailing at her best for overall effficiency gain. As a bonus, having an extra mast is great, on-board insurance.
Alternatives to Deep Keels - One still hears that deep keels are a must for blue water sailing, and by implication, any serious sailing. This despite contrary evidence accumulated pretty much across the Age of Sail. Leeboards, centerboards and daggerboards have all proven themselves time and again, arguably riding out storms at sea with more comfort and safety than with a deep, ballast keel. With the advantages of easy retraction (reducing risk of broach in heavy seas), they're a more than viable alternative.
Leeboards - A specific note, here. Even the great Phil Bolger characterized them as 'ugly, loud, needing tending (raising and lowering between tacks) and prone to collect floating sculch (floating debris)'. Ugly? A matter of taste, I suppose, but I sure see a lot of art that disagrees.. Loud? A little fire-hose padding quiets clunk (only an issue in a calm). Need tending? A preventer outboard of the 'lee'board keeps them from winging out to windward, so they can be left down all day. Sculch? What doesn't? Leeboards have the advantage of being exceptionally easy to clear. Unlike center and dagger boards, they require neither a hole in the hull nor a complicated trunk. more of their area provides lateral resistance (if wung out a bit, count from the waterline down), so can be smaller for the same effect.
Shoal Draft - Well, suffice it to say, you don't see many deep draught boats 'tucked away' anywhere... miles of shoals and abundance of new harbors open before the shoal hull. Dangers are much more often below hull depth, and if not, generally much more visible. You can hop off and stand next to the floating hull in the shallows, often without o'er-topping your boots. When dried out, it's easy to get aboard.
Biomass Heaters (A plug in reference to that 'curling smoke' ) - Plants are solar collectors and storage rolled into one. Biomass heaters convert that stored energy into thermal energy for cooking or heat. Cost? Stove + installation and gathering. Woodstoves (in woody areas), Rocket Stoves (for bushy/twiggy areas) or Holey Rocket Stoves (for grassy/peat/dung areas). These can be supplemented with Fossil Fuel Heaters, if you wish, but the ability to burn biomass helps cut the ties that bind.
A fella giving a talk once stated that a boats primary purpose is primary. He fielded a number of butwhuddabouts by simply repeating the question what is its primary purpose?
The primary purpose of our boats has been to provide an economical mobile home, far from the madding crowd. The hull and layout, rig, outfit and stores are all designed to get us on the water quickly and economically, ease us down the road, and once there, to stay out as long as possible.
One by one, alternatives to the standard picture of the boat one must have if one is serious fell into place. Anke and I found ourselves tucked into those distant, cozy corners with a warm fire ablaze. Seriously.
Their owners were inordinately fond of them. Unlooked for capability.
Gotta love it!