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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.

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Fair winds!

Dave and Anke
triloboats swirl gmail daughter com

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Building for Blue Water

Doesn't show furnishings, but this is a good, strong start

Once more we sail with a Northerly gale
Through the ice, and wind, and rain
Them coconut fronds, them tropical lands
We soon shall see again

-- From Rolling Down to Old Maui -- Traditional Whaling Song

Building for Blue Water

I want to be clear... I have zero blue water experience, don't particularly want any and am NOT a naval architect. What follows is a bunch of amateur musings. Please take following assurances with a grain of salt and practice due diligence!

I'm often asked about taking TriloBoats offshore. In a nutshell, I don't see why not if they are built for it and competently handled.

That being said, I doubt they'd be the best choice if purpose built for the briny deeps. Wide barge bows and transoms (unless SKROWLed or brought to a point a la NZ SCOWS) could be uncomfortable in big water confused seas. Still, a number of blue water sailors I respect have said they think they'd do fine with only a few days of slow going in certain conditions. And once you're back 'longshore, I think they're hard to beat.

At the less expensive, DIY end of the spectrum, I'd likely choose a MacNaughton SILVER GULL, Benford DORY or Bolger ADVANCED SHARPIE. Of course, I'd fiddle with the designs - mostly regarding keel and rudder arrangements - but these are good, proven starting points.

Building for blue water, I think entails extra robust construction. But really, not a whole LOT more. Or rather, inshore cruisers shouldn't generally be a whole lot less, to my mind.

Where glue can fail and a nail can pull, double-ended fasteners are as secure as it gets (bolts, clench nails, rove and rivet and double wedged trunnels). Plank and frame joined by these should be thick and hard enough to resist pulling the ends through. Tape n Glue joints are strong and waterproof.

Pete Culler's dictum was "Nail where you can, screw where you should and bolt where you must." For taking a boat offshore, consider promoting everything up a notch. Note that bolts are expensive while the other double ended fasteners are not. Time, however, can be money.

NOTE: A non-cargo box barge can be a very light displacement boat for its footprint as it makes the most of its dimensions. This means it rises over, rather than plows through a wave. Skitters rather than absorbs a blow from a sea. Most of the sea stress is in the lower couple of feet of side, and fore and aft. The hull is a girder, as are interior furnishings which can be bonded structurally with an eye to longitudinal and side reinforcement. Rubrails, guards, eaves and the like can also be structural in support of the side panels. Modern glues create a virtual wood sculpture of the hull. All considered, a very strong yet lightweight hull can be built without the heavy frames and scantlings of traditional construction. 

I like strong, doggable, centerline hatches (furthest from water in a knock-down), stout windows (they can be large, but with sea-going shutters to reduce their exposed surface) and 360deg, waterproof ventilation (a round turn in a vent hose is an easy solution).

Myself, I like retractable lateral resistance and rudder on an ultra-shoal draft hull. This leaves little to 'trip' on in a broach. This is controversial, and harder to arrange on the dories as designed.

I'd build a stout junk rig, able to take (running and removable) stays (these generate strong downward forces when sails are full of wind, and cantilevered masts are not generally designed to take that). UltraHighMolecularWeight Polyethelene rope (Dyneema, Spectra, et al) is about as strong as steel by diameter... even going oversized leaves a light, low windage rig.

I'd  incorporate stormsails into the upper working sails, with lighter lowers. Since they'd be stayed, I'd go for maximum junk spread of sail. Maybe have some light-wind drifters for the metaphoric doldrums.

I'd like good anchor gear to include sea anchor and drogue set-and-retrieval (I'm a Jordan Series Drogue fan wearing both hats).

I've waffled about offshore cooking/heating fuels for years, with no real results. I like solid fuel stoves (wood and coal) but those can be scarce. A diesel drip can be added to the firebox as can a gas cooker (propane or LNG). A single burner gimballed stove can be chosen that burns a range of liquid fuels or exchange with a gas burner. A Retained Heat Cooker would be a real plus. Basically, one or two multi-fuel gizmos cover a lot of possibilities.

That's about it. Pretty much the same list for adventurous in- and 'longshore sailing. We can count on wood heat and duck out of the really bad stuff. Inshore, seas seldom reach the 'walking mountain' stage, anyway, and then only with fair notice.

Make good decisions!


Here's a selection of posts touching on this subject:


  1. Cool post! What flattie-shoal draft addict wouldn't want a inexpensive and quick to build craft that can do bluewater to access more than one archipelago of skinny water heaven? Thanks for the salty thoughts and practical mods.

    Always wondered why one couldn't take a AS39 like Loose Moose 2 (already blue water proven) and merely square it up barge style, wring out a tiny bit of its rocker, beef up the scantlings a bit (steel maybe?), and put a rolled up bow on it. With a nice arch to its topsides I'd think it would be self righting as well and not float upside down stably in a roll over. And go to windward with one of the new junk rig configurations. Too many possibilities, too little time.

    Love the idea of keeping the expansive triloboat windows by fitting bluewater shutters. What a awesome floating base for a archipelago like Bocas del Toro, or the bahamas, or, or, or....... Stow a little adventure microcruiser on deck and Bobs your uncle.

    Hope this concept gets proven. DOrlovs Quidnon is also headed in this direction. It would be delightful to see a idealistic young couple build a bluewater barge quick and dirty style to see just how cheaply someone could really get a ultra shoal draft bluewater cruiser going!

    1. Hi Robert,

      I've heard the rumor that sailing timber and ice barges once plied the West Coast (of N America) from Russian Sitka (ice) and Alki Pt (Seattle) to Spanish San Francisco. SF Hay Scows are, I hear, of that heritage.

      While that coast is technically coastal sailing, its lack of easy entry ports made it a heavily blue water passage.

      Modern materials and a wide range of options and understanding gathered from the wide world, I think, give us quite a leg up on those vessels and sailors. With such reports as from LMII, I'd consider the concept proven.

      Now, we're just waiting for more data!

      Dave Z

  2. Submitted on behalf of Dave Omick:

    A bluewater Triloboat is an intriguing idea. I can think of at least several advantages a
    TriloBoat might have for blue water sailing as compared to the typical monohull with ballasted
    keel that 3 out of 4 offshore sailors put to sea in.
    I’ve had a longtime interest in offshore sailing and what follows is based on sailing a variety of
    small boats (under 25’) to a variety of places, from Seattle to Alaska, Seattle to Southern
    Mexico, CA to Hawaii and CA to French Polynesia.
    No question that the typical ballasted monohull will be faster overall, better to windward and in
    some conditions more comfortable, but in my experience there’s more to the offshore story
    than that.
    The bane of that monohull type is its generally poor resistance to rolling, by which I mean
    pendulum-like rhythmic rolling, not capsizing. It tends to occur when sailing downwind for
    days and weeks in the trades, or during calms at sea, in mind-numbing combination with
    endless sail slatting. Also, when the sailor finally gets across the briny deep to some idyllic
    anchorage, if that anchorage happens to be exposed to ocean swell, most ballasted keel
    monohulls will set up a rhythmic rolling that can make the landfall far less than idyllic.
    Comfort-wise, there’s a lot to be said for form stable hull types, of which Triloboats are the
    most extreme monohull example.
    I am aware that Bolger thought Super Brick, which is at least a first cousin to a Triloboat,
    would be intolerably uncomfortable in a seaway, but I’m inclined to disagree. I have huge
    respect for Bolger’s wealth of nautical knowledge, but he didn’t spend much time at sea in
    small boats. No question that if I were in a Triloboat at sea in a gale, I’d be lying to a drogue.
    The pounding might be unnerving but the ride would be relatively roll-free.
    I’ve been in heavy weather in ballasted monohulls, both hove-to and lying to a drogue. I’ve
    also lain to a drogue in a form stable boat (catamaran) during similar conditions and the
    difference in comfort has to be experienced to be believed. The unnerving cacophony of
    howling wind and crashing waves may be the same, but the motion is worlds different and
    much of that has to do with the resistance to rolling a form stable craft provides.
    Another aspect of bluewater sailing a Triloboat might address favorably is investment anxiety.
    I’ve seen this happen again and again. Cruisers often have much of their personal wealth
    wrapped up in an expensive yacht. Dreaming of sailing to tropical islands, they discover that
    insurance, especially in the remote places they want to sail to, is either expensive or
    impossible to get. Those who go anyway usually sail downwind to get to those places and
    then, if the bluewater dream has worn thin, find that they have two options. One is to sell the
    boat where the selling may not be easy and the other is a long and unpleasant beat or motor
    to windward.
    Related to that is the prospect at the back of sailor’s minds of losing their boat, whether on a
    reef or running into a half submerged container or that corroded through hull fitting or
    whatever. If the worst should happen, there’s a world of difference between losing a relatively
    simple and quick to build boat versus one that represents most of one’s personal wealth.
    When it comes to reducing investment anxiety, give me a TriloBoat or similar every time.

    Oh, and one last point in the bluewater Triloboat vs. ballasted monohull comparison is that the
    latter is susceptible to sinking. For most offshore sailors that means adding the expense of a
    life raft. Sinking isn't so likely in a form stable boat made of wood:)
    OK, that’s my 2 cents worth.

    1. Hi Dave,

      Thanks for your comments... good to hear from someone with experience (as opposed to myself).

      Everything you write dovetails with what experience we do have. Stable without being snappy. Easily made positively buoyant. And relatively little investment anxiety (love the term!).

      Dave Z

    2. Great comment. The motion issue is borne out by at least three folks I know of:

      > my Pearson 32 had a sickening, corkscrew motion when running.

      > Dmitry Orlov disliked his Pearson keelers motion, on the heels of owning and sailing a Hogfish sharpie extensively. He finally sold it and is plotting a return to a flattie.

      > Bob Wise states in his interview with Dave Z. on this site how much better his 39 sharpie was in a anchorage then the keelers rolling all about him.

      Double hell yeah on the reduced stress of not having a fortune wrapped up in a boat. Another factor is not worrying about a canted over grounding in some remote area. Been there done that too and it would have been SO MUCH BETTER to be standing upright in a flattie with a tough ass bottom.