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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, February 23, 2020

Captain's Crunch: Seven Tensions of Leadership

Barbossa vs. Cap'n Jack Sparrow
Pirates of the Caribbean

Every virtue is a mean between two extremes,
Each of which is a vice.
-- Aristotle

Captain's Crunch: Seven Tensions of Leadership

In their recent article, Every Leader Needs to Navigate These 7 Tensions, Jennifer Jordan, Michael Wade and Elizabeth Teracino contrast old- versus new-school (business) leadership paradigms They propose that a superior balance may be achieved between the opposing tenets of their respective approaches, rather than adhering rigidly to either one.

In sailing terms, we might (very loosely, I admit) think in terms of Cap'n Barbossa vs. Cap'n Jack Sparrow.

Balancing opposing values is something I think a lot about in boat design and sailing, so I perked up when I came across the article.

Let's take a gander:

Tension 1: The Expert vs. the Learner

We who captain presumably have been gathering experience, skills and, hopefully, wisdom along the way. But no matter how much we know, our crew bring their own knowledge and perspective which can benefit the ship. The sea has its own lessons.

Zen calls this balance beginner's mind.

Tension 2: The Constant vs. the Adaptor

The value of a good plan is indisputable. They put us in sync with wind and tides, making the most of them in a traverse. But they can also lead to dangerous, wishful thinking and denial of warning signs.

Make the best plan possible, but stand by for evolving situations.

Tension 3: The Tactician vs. the Visionary

Sailing is tactics in service of vision. No tactics in the world will tell you where you want to sail. No wanting will get us there without tactics.

May our spirit be willing, and our flesh be strong!

Tension 4: The Teller vs. the Listener

The captain has the final word; s/he must tell the crew what to do. But listening is vital as well, from the call-out of the lookout to the wishes of the most junior aboard. At least if we want a happy ship.

Knowledge speaks; wisdom listens. -- Jimi Hendrix

Tension 5: The Power Holder vs. the Power Sharer

Captains must command; a ship cannot be safely run by committee. Yet crews may be empowered through training, consultation and even turns as captain (in which case we become hearty crew for the duration). Note that captains are often not the best sailor on board.

One at a time and a clear order of succession!

Tension 6: The Intuitionist vs. the Analyst

Intuition is a powerful force, honed by four billion years of evolution. But analysis is a powerful tool. Intuition guided by reason is what makes human beings so formidable.

All gut, no glory.

Tension 7: The Perfectionist vs. the Accelerator

Do we wait until everything is perfect? Or wing it? On the one hand, perfection will be attained never. On the other, look what happened to Icarus. We need a solid vessel under us; not the perfect one. We need to know enough; not everything.

Go small, go simple, go now!


They follow up with some how-to nuggets which pretty much speak for themselves:

  • Self-Awareness
  • Learn, Adapt, Practice
  • Contextual Awareness

Suffice it to say that, all of these represent a balancing act. It's hard work in a dynamic environment.

Don't beat yourself up over mistakes... they happen. Don't go it alone if you've got friends and crew to help. Do strike a balance between in-control Cap'n Barbossa and slippery Cap'n Jack Sparrow.

It'll be worth the effort!

Friday, February 14, 2020

The Subject of Love

Love is friendship afire.
-- Paraphrased from many Lovers

Give yourself to love if love is what you're after.
-- Kate Wolf

My love for you doesn't begin with me.

The Subject of Love

Growing up in the days of father knows best, one heard much of love's object. The object of desire. The objectification of women. The objectification of men. Of the world and all who dwell within it.

We were putting a man on the moon. Fusing hydrogen. Discovering the joy of plastic. A TV in every house and a car in every garage. Conquering nature.

Objectivity was a virtue; subjectivity an embarrassment.

She's a redhead or blonde. He drives a jag. She's svelte or sturdy. He's a hunk or reliable. She'll shine at parties. He'll go far. Good mother. Good father.

So many of those relationships based on objective virtues - whatever they may be - seem formal. Going shopping, dressed up in cinematic trappings of swelling music, clever banter and soft lighting... hiding what's missing. I think there was love there at its best, but only of a sorts. I believe we have a better chance today. At least we're talking.

But we're not so very far down the road from all that.

A more subtle form of object love: many come to believe that love originates in the lover. That love must be earned. That one must be worthy before one can be truly loved.

But love is a reaction, I believe, to whom we love. It is the loved one who ignites us. It's personal.

We can open ourselves to love. Work to remove obstacles to it. Cultivate the ground for it. Even pursue it when it finds us. It can only find us through some special one who ignites love within us.

Myself, I'm no great reservoir of love, waiting to spill upon the worthy. On the contrary, I'm just this guy, see? On my own it's just a plod along the slow passage from cradle to grave.

But when the living subject of love comes into our lives - a particular person - we are kindled in love despite all objection. My god, we are set afire! We awaken and feel it in every burning ember of our souls. It is who they are - not what they are - that enflames us.

Subjective as hell. Subjective as heaven.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Boat as Sculpture

Scuplture is the art of the hole and the lump.
-- August Rodin

Architecture is inhabited sculpture.
-- Constantin Branscusi

Boat as Sculpture

I prefer boat as sculpture, as opposed to an assemblage of parts and pieces.

Both ways have advantages. An assemblage can be fully or partially disassembled for repair or extension. Each piece is a small bite, easily chewed. Maybe rebedding is all that's called for. Then again, maybe you're removing it because the bedding has worked and failed?

A sculpture, on the other hand, is all of a piece, bonded together as one.

Should some area go amiss - rot set in, say, or blunt trauma damage - the affected region is destructively excised. Maybe cut, chiseled or planed away. Then a repair is fit and bonded in, resculpting the boat.

A big advantage is that water intrusion behind mounted pieces (as opposed to bonded pieces) is much reduced. 

Another is that boat bonded as sculpture is essentially monocoque, like the shell of an egg. Forces are distributed far and wide, and the whole structure works together to provide strength.

In contrast, boat as assemblage is multicoque, like a picket fence. In a carvel hull (plank on frame construction), relatively heavy, criss-crossed grids are fastened at their intersections (relatively fragile) and corked (relatively fragile) along their edges. The nearest weak point is only half a plank away.

Modern resins, glues and sheet materials make the sculptural approach more attractive.

A sheet of plywood is so large, there's little advantage in treating it like a traditional plank. Fillets and tape 'n' glue joins are not easily to take apart. Removal destroys piece or damages it to the point that repair is more work than replacement.

So... once started, why stop?

Corner posts, rub rails, tabernacles and the like take a few minutes to cut away if, when and where necessary, with that certain schadenfreude of demolition. We get a little taste of the ecstasy of Kali, Hindu goddess of destruction/transformation/creation.

Most times a partial repair (graving or patch) is all that's necessary, and even full replacement of a bonded component is usually a minor project, limited in scope. We're aided by not having to dismount much before beginning a repair... just whack on and replace what you carved away.

To be sure, we still mount plenty of pieces onto our sculpture. Handrails, hatch coamings, cleats, pad eyes, mounts, deck flanges and a slew of other items get bedded down and fastened to our boat. These can be removed and moved without destruction.

Hmm... boat as Mr. Potato Head?

Doesn't ring the same, somehow.

Stanley FUBAR
My favorite sculpting tool...
Not bad for zombies, either.


Tips and Tricks for Removal / Resculpting
  • When cutting away, it often helps to carefully delimit the perimeter of the affected area with full depth cuts. Then go hog wild with the rest, splitting away in long strokes. Longitudinally splitting material stops at your cuts.
  • Be aware of grain run-out which can dive deeper than you intend. Remove material working from the deep end of the grain (splits don't dive below control depth).
  • Full strength, glued scarf joints should taper at about 12:1. Consider that full strength is only necessary here and there... check the context. Much easier alternatives include butt plates, straps and variations on Payson Butt Joints.
  • Consider sealing the components of the sculpture before bonding together, and then again as a whole, both initially and in repair.
  • A arrival on the scene is the oscillating multi-tool. This is most useful as a plunge cutter in limited space (for example, the back cut of a notch). Also tight radius curve cutting. It's very useful for surgery in repair.
You can just SEE the possibilities!

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Frontier and Ingenuity

No. 5 Gravity Well
by Larry Marley

TAZ springs from the historical development I call “the closure of the map.” The last bit of Earth unclaimed by any nation-state was eaten up in 1899. Ours is the first century without terra incognita, without a frontier. Nationality is the highest principle of world governance–not one speck of rock in the South Seas can be left open, not one remote valley, not even the Moon and planets. This is the apotheosis of “territorial gangsterism.” Not one square inch of Earth goes unpoliced or untaxed…in theory.
-- From The Temporary Autonomous Zone by Hakim Bey

Frontier ingenuity characterizes an attitude of make-do with materials on hand.
It entails inventive improvisation, adaptation and overcoming of shortages of materials. 
 -- Adapted from Wikipedia entry on "Yankee" Ingenuity

Frontier and Ingenuity

Inventive improvisation, adaptation and overcoming of shortages of materials.

For anyone living along a frontier, necessity is certainly the mother of invention. Improvisation is a daily exercise. Adaptation is sink or swim. Shortage of materials is chronic. DIY (Do It Yourself) is a way of life.

While the frontiers - and the maps - have been closed throughout all of our lifetimes, there are cracks.

Hakim Bey called them Temporary Autonomous Zones. Brand Stewart called it Briarpatch Society. The wrong side of levees. Hardscrabble land. Industrial deserts. Economic sacrifice zones. Ghost towns. Places which are underserved, far from the beaten path, difficult for any reason.

Each of these cracks is a sinuous frontier between the purchased ease of civilization and freedom from all that.

If you are the type who longs for that kind of freedom, you must give a tinker's damn. We pack up our kit as best we may and head out, knowing that if something is wanting, we make it. If something breaks, we fix it. If a wheel is called for, we re-invent it. If a rotary girder is called for, we invent it.

It's heady stuff!

Mind, body and soul meet in an act of ingenuity. Sure, it can happen anywhere. But how often do we 'throw money' at a problem? Buy food rather than grow or collect it? Purchase goods rather than create them. Contract services rather than DIY?

To be sure, I'm in line at the store with all the rest. Please don't hear that I look down on bartering hours of my life for money and money for all the rest. I'm employed as I write, earning filthy lucre for more of that.

But when we turn our hands to an essential improvisation - as we must sailing a frontier...

What a rush!

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Obstruction of Congress and the End of the Republic

Stand beside her
and guide her
Through the night
with the light
from above

The prosecution of them [impeachments][...] will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties more or less inimical to the accused. In many cases it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side or the other.; and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.

-- From the Federalist No. 65 The Powers of the Senate Continued... this passage by Alexander Hamilton

Obstruction of Congress and the End of the Republic

I am writing, here, as a Citizen. A member of We the People of the United States of America. I stand in defense of our Constitution and the Rule of Law.

While I realize this has little to do with sailing barge / scows, it has everything to do with our home waters.

President Donald J. Trump has been impeached in two Articles by the House of Representatives, who as I write, is being 'tried' in the Senate.

The case for Article I: Abuse of Power should, I believe be properly tried in the adversarial, partisan Senate and full, impartial Justice be done to the best of Senators' abilities. Yes, it's messy and passionate and blood runs high. That is the nature of politics, which the Framers understood and attempted to encompass in a just and practical system.

Our own friends are divided on the issues. What is accepted as fact differs widely, even among those who agree in the main.

But our Republic can survive abuses of power as we have since its founding.

To me, the crucial issue is Article II: Obstruction of Congress.

The facts of Obstruction of Congress are public and explicit. No procedural argument can be raised against the sole power of Impeachment reserved to the US House of Representatives by the Constitution.

Here's the problem; the integrity of our system of Government laid out in the Constitution relies on checks and balances between three, co-equal branches - the Executive, Congressional and Legislative. Each are granted power to check the other two. It is this opposition - antagonistic at times - which establishes the balance which has endured two hundred years and counting.

Subpoenas are the teeth of Impeachment inquiry and trial. These are essential to the check exerted by Congress over the Executive branch. Non-compliance with House or Senate subpoenas pulls those teeth. Without them, balance is lost.

It's like the game of Paper, Scissors, Stone. As any child can tell us, if Paper cannot cover, there is no Game.

To permit non-compliance for whatever reason by the Executive of any Congressional Subpoena - whether issued by House or Senate - is to create an unchecked Executive and initiate a Constitutional Crisis.

Paper cannot cover. Stone smashes scissors. And the Game ends for good.

Rome had such a moment. The Roman Republic ended under the popular Julius Caesar,  who soon became Dictator Perpetuo. It never recovered.

Speaking as a Citizen, the Executive cannot properly refuse to comply with Congressional inquiry and judgement. To allow it, even once, is to abandon the Constitutional system of checks and balances. To abandon the Constitution itself.

Without the power of Congress to force compliance on the Executive, that power is thereafter unchecked.

Whether under this President or some other, we would set ourselves on the road to Dictator Perpetuo, that Tyrant whom the Framers so feared.

The Republic will have fallen.

Now is the time for all good Senators to come to the aid of their country.

I urge a wide margin of tolerance for petty differences and trivial irregularities.
I urge a full and impartial trial (e.g., subpoena relevant witnesses and documents).
I urge that non-compliance with Congressional subpoenas not be allowed to stand.


Since writing this, a similar conclusion is argued in this Atlantic article by Maya Wiley.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Models and Mock Ups

Building it isn't TOO much harder
(a LOT more expensive, though).

Shall we have an adventure now,
  Or shall we have our tea first?
-- From Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Mock Turtle Soup: Models and Mock Ups

If a picture is worth a thousand words, I'd say a model is worth a thousand pictures. I reckon that makes a model worth a million words!

It doesn't have to be a museum piece. Building in scale is important, so you can measure directly from the model. The more detail you build in, the more you'll solve and anticipate problems ahead of time. But TriloBoats are boxes... there's not so much to figure out on that score.

Note bulkheads, deck and framing lines...
almost all layout happens on sides or bulkheads.

We used doorskin (this time) and cardboard, held together by hot melt glue. Crude, but tells us all we need to know. A couple of scale models of ourselves (and a pet or two have since materialized) to picture lines of sight and boarding issues and there ya go.

We laid out the principle (side) component landings, and window cutouts.

Next step is to start marking it up with material counts:
  • Ply Sheets -- Sides, bottom, bulkheads and transoms, decks... each gets written up in place.
  • Copper Plate and Angle -- Sides and bottom; along both chines.
  • Framing -- Chines (bottom and sheer) and nailers, bulkheads and transoms, decks.
  • Nail Counts -- Parallel to framing, one or two sides... How long? How often?
  • Surface Areas -- How much for paint, sheathing, glue?
Writing our results in place beats a list by far... we can see at a glance what we've counted, and what not. Much less likely to over or under count. A different check mark for each pass through lets us check and recheck.

And we can just sit there and stare at it!

Amazing what cardboard and hot-melt glue can do!


Mock-ups are different. The trick here is to be able to get the feel of a feature in full size.

We've got a collection of chairs, tables and counters picked out that we can go to for the feel of things. We might set up a mock 'gangway' to get a feel for how tight things have become in our present state of 'middle age spread'. And maybe a (literal) fudge factor? A strip of plywood simulates the overhead.

We like to look down (not just out) from our windows to see what's happening close up. This ability is affected by the height of the lower window opening and our distance from it (the closer we sit to the window, the lower we can look over the frame). Mocking up lets us see how our furniture height and location will interact with our view.

Window height has been a big issue for us. Here, we mock up the shortest windows in prospect, in their correct location on the sides.  If these are okay, the rest is gravy.

And it's okay.

Not a bad view for below-decks in a sailboat!


Same table, different model.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Fail Safer Hull Design

All of life is the management of risk,
  Not its elimination.

- Walter Wriston

I have two rules about winning in [...] life:
  1. You can't win if you don't bet.
  2. You can't bet if you lose all your chips.
- Larry Hite

Fail Safer Design for Barge/Scow Hulls

Life is risky.

Every act. Every step. Every beat of our hearts. Every breath we draw entails risk. To go forth upon the waters is in a sense 'unnatural' and carries risk.

Yet we act, walk and run. Our hearts pound and we suck in air. We sail forth in vessels of our own design and build. We live.

We manage risk.

To me, the mantra of risk management is fail-safer.

Not fail safe, which I believe encourages hubris, neglect and risks catastrophic failure.
Rather fail safeR, which I believe encourages humility, continued awareness and involvement with our journey.

Fail safer is a lens through which we can view the design of the hull (in this case, I'll include the decks and superstructures).

Many of the risks to a hull can be reduced at the design stage, and it's these I'll talk about, here.

Structural Integrity

A boat that cannot maintain its shape or watertight integrity in a seaway is on its way to Davey Jones'.

Robust construction - Always a plus, of course. Strongly joined components, especially along exterior angles (chines and corners) hedge your bets. Girder construction backs up and stiffens the entire structure. Consider well bonded girder furnishings and web-frame bulkheads throughout.

Thicker Bottoms and Lower Sides - Impacts with rocks - especially sharp ones - can pierce the hull. Adding material resists puncture. The extra weight is low in the hull where it doubles as ballast. If added to outboard of the bottom proper, its added volume floats its own weight, increasing displacement (if it soaks up water, however, wood approaches slightly negative buoyancy).

Protected Weak Points - In some conditions, a weak point (such as windows) can give before the storm. Shuttering systems with strong closures protect these. Closures, tie downs, dogs, and good storage of loose items are all design options.

Water Management

One of the main jobs of the hull is to keep water outboard. Water's uncontrolled weight - whether on deck or below - is one of the main factors pushing a situation from bad to worse.

Good Deck Drainage - Should green water come up and over the sides, its weight is high on the hull and precarious... like Santa standing on a rocking chair. It can be encouraged by design to drain quickly overboard. Large scuppers (drain holes), open edges, sloped decks, small footwells, inverted or covered dinghies (when carried) and watertight hatches help 'show water the door'.

Midline Openings - In a knock-down, mid-line openings stay as far as possible from the water. Those offset further outboard are that much more likely to take a swig. Companionways, hatches, vents, smokestacks, exhaust pipes and the like are all fail safer the closer they are located to the mid-line.

Secureable Offset Openings - Opening ports, vents, intakes, etc. which are offset from the mid-line can let water in. Consider gasketed, doggable arrangements.

Multiple, Water-tight Bulkheads - Should water get below - via hull breach, a lost hatch, getting pooped, leaks (from above or below), spray... - dividing the hull into separate water-tight areas maintains the flotation of intact sections, which can continue to float the vessel.

Multiple, Water-tight Longitudinal Dividers - Because...

Free Surface Effect (slosh) is a boat sinker. Loose water or other shifting masses in the hull can slosh from one side to the other, transferring weight plus momentum. This makes a vessel roll dangerously and can capsize it. The cure is to keep it out of the hull when it doesn't belong, and minimize slosh once aboard.

For shallow hulls, this is a particular problem. Where a deep dead-rise hull (V shape) encourages water to remain low in the hull, a shallow hull can allow the free flow across the interior.

Longitudinal dividers, even if open at the top, can help manage this cross flow.

The girder structure furnishings, which contribute to structural integrity, can be arranged to reduce free surface effect.

NOTE: These GIFs from Free Marine.

Stability and Self Righting

The ability to automatically self right from a knock-down is a fine thing. From beyond a knock-down to a roll-over is also fine, but not an essential for most vessels plying inside or 'longshore waters. In looking toward this fail safer feature, consider the use and actual needs of your vessel

I cover this at some length in the post Where Ultra-Shoal, Square Boats Get Their Stability, so will keep it brief, here. 

Low Center of Gravity - A heavy bottom, secure storage for heavy items low in any hull and possibly ballast all contribute to the cause. While many barge / scows do not use any ballast (relying entirely on form stability), it's an option to enhance.

Longer and Beamier - Barge / Scow hulls are naturally form stable (their shape makes them harder to tip over, regardless of ballast). Lengthening a hull adds to its initial and reserve stability. Making it beamier does, too, but if it does flip, wider beam makes it harder to return to upright.

Higher Sides - These add reserve buoyancy, which kicks in later to resist roll-over. They also add to windage and raise the center of gravity.

Inversion-Proof Ventilation - This one, oddly, seems often overlooked. The principle is to create an air-lock when rolled, usually below-decks, between vent(box) and the interior which blocks water from passing from outside in.

A loop of large diameter (dryer?) hose works, or boxes can be arranged with overlapping baffles (the latter shown here). Hose is less compact, but works throughout a tumble.

Sea-going Features

Trailing Lateral Resistance - Most sailing at sea is downwind. As such, an aft area of lateral resistance (skeg, large rudder, board, etc...) aids downwind tracking. Think of the fletching on an arrow.

Strong Bitts - In a storm, lying to a sea-anchor or running with a drogue are vital tactics. But you need very strong bitts with good fairleads. To reliably deploy them. Don't want to be improvising in Force 10!

Secure Deck Storage - When it whumps up, you don't want loose oars, pike poles, dock-lines or other paraphernalia blowing about. Make sure there is a secure place for every item, and that they generally stay there.

Secure Mountings - Things like solar panels have incredible windage. At sea, they must be stowed in very high winds or have extra strong mountings. Plan for hurricane force winds.


In all respects, better safe than sorry.


In designing our own vessels, we have a free hand to nudge the whole toward fail safer. In acquiring a vessel, we can use the principle to guide our choices, and can further modify it as we may.

One last thought... so called safety-in-depth (many layers of redundant fail safers) is a concept used in such endeavors as a nuclear reactor.

I believe in and practice the approach.

Yet to think that we have magically conjured safety is that pride which goeth before a fall. Think Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. All were 'protected' by safety-in-depth design.

The World denies us safety. We are mortal. Human error is our lot. Entropy and what a friend calls 'depreciation' rule with universal jurisdiction. To imagine that we have engineered away the hard chance leads to betting more than we can cover.

Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom!