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Anke and I live aboard WAYWARD, and wrote about it's design and construction 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... I'll respond as I can.

Fair winds!

Dave and Anke
triloboats swirly gmail daughter com

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Optimal is Not Optimal: The Sweet of Suites

Heh. Clever. But I believe...
A generalist knows more and more about more and more
until eventually s/he knows something about everything.

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
-- Robert A. Heinlein

If one's only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
-- The Law of the Hammer

Avoid optimization; Learn to love redundancy.
-- From Nassim Taleb's Phronetic Rules

Optimal is Not Optimal: The Sweet of Suites

Let's get it said, upfront. I'm a Generalist. Jack of Many Trades. Proud Master of None.

I'm much less drawn to Rules than to Rules of Thumb. I admire precision, but prefer the loose fit. I'll take one-size-fits-most over tailor-made any day of the week. 

So here's the problem with Optimal. It is by definition the very best solution for a particular problem. Often very particular problem. A problem one can foresee with great confidence and specificity. A can opener. A mouse trap. A barrel bolt. These things have solutions that are pretty durned optimal and are notoriously hard to improve upon.

But problems abound, and each has its own, special way of driving us bugnutz.

Generalized (sub-optimal) tools and approaches cover a much wider range of problems. So wide that they often spill over into other whole species of problem. A suite of generalist tools - especially those which work well together - cover a very wide range indeed.

In discussions I read on the subject, Specialized vs General evaluations tend to measure in degrees of Success (often vs Failure). For example, a Specialized tool has a high degree of success, but only at a narrow task. The Generalized tool is assessed at some lower degree of success, but over a swathe of loosely related tasks. Most such writers argue for the General.

What I think is often missed is that Efficiency is a much better standard. The Generalized tool will succeed... it just takes longer for a small fraction of that range. That it does so over a wider range of problems is a better measure of its advantage over Optimal. It is less efficient at one particular task, but more efficient overall.

Veritas rabbet planes

Consider the Rabbet Plane vs the Chisel.

I'm not knocking the Rabbet Plane. This one by VERITAS is a well designed thing of beauty and a boon to the task. If your life calls for a lot of rabbets, it may pay its way. But it's not happy performing most of the other chores one asks even of a plane. Very bottom line, it's a specialized Chisel.

But which fits better into a limited space toolbox? Which is less expensive to purchase? To replace or repair? Can it do any single thing a chisel cannot? No. Can a chisel do things it cannot? Let me count the ways... (okay, I won't... you get the picture).

Another important consideration is reliability. Given quality components, this is the product of simplicity (less to go wrong) and imprecision (loosely 'coupled' components).

Okay, I once said, I get KISS. But imprecision is a virtue??? 

Turns out that precise, tightly coupled systems are prone to failure. The kind of failure that chewing gum and baling wire can't fix. A little sand in the finest Swiss watch and it will drop to merely semidiurnal success. But one can make a sundial with a stick stuck into sand. If it gets kicked over, stick it again and recalibrate. [We can also use that stick to lean on, plant a seed, pry a up a rock, bind a tourniquet, whack a mole...]

Efficiency, as I mentioned, is a factor here... that sundial has its limitations in this regard. Cost / benefit analysis is the guide. That stick is very efficient, in its modest way.

A final point I seldom if ever see discussed is how well tools (or approaches) work together in suites (combinations). What I call the sweet of suites.

Simple, generalized tools can join forces to accomplish almost anything! Their areas of efficacy overlap, affording redundancy and  choice. A heavy screwdriver can be a prise bar can be a chisel can be a lever can be a...

NOTE: We are strictly warned against abusing a tool beyond its designed purpose. HA.

A sweet suite of tools, skills, approaches, methods, guidelines... what-have-you... covers the ground. Covers it better, to my mind, than any ungainly heap of one-shot wonders.


NOTE: I realize that all this is, in fact, a spectrum. At the KISS extreme, brain + opposable thumbs is as simple as it gets, and all the others are to some degree specialized. The kind of optimal we look for will always be the happy middle ground.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

OVERVIEW: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande


Words to live by.
Words to die by.

Really, what's the difference?

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

See also this review by Maria Popova

All boldface below are quotes from Dr. Gawande's book.

In Being Mortal, Dr. Gawande writes:

This is a book about the modern experience of mortality -- about what it’s like to be creatures who age and die, how medicine has changed the experience and how it hasn’t, where our ideas about how to deal with our finitude have got the reality wrong.

Our main take-aways from the book:

Quality of life is preferable to mere quantity for the vast majority of us.

Care should be determined - in discussion with one’s family, doctors and care-givers - by asking...

  • What is our understanding of the situation?

  • What do we fear?

  • What do we hope for?

  • What are the trade-offs we are willing to make?

  • What are the trade-offs we are not willing to make?

  • What is the best course of action which serves this understanding?

Consider, answer and communicate, if possible, before the onset of care…

  • Do you want to be resuscitated if your heart stops?

  • Do you want aggressive treatments such as intubation and mechanical ventilation?

  • Do you want antibiotics?

  • Do you want tube or intravenous feeding if you can’t eat on your own?

Hospice approaches and attitudes appear to serve the terminal patient much better than standard medical interventions.

In the Epilogue, Dr. Gawande writes:

We’ve been wrong about what our job is in medicine. We think our job is to ensure health and survival. But really it is larger than that. It is to enable well-being. And well-being is about the reasons one wishes to be alive. 

Those reasons matter

not just at the end of life,

or when debility comes,

but all along the way.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Love Among Mortals

Photo by Silke Schmidtchen

You think you have time.

-- From Buddha's Little Instruction Book by Jack Kornfield

Love Among Mortals

Facing Death is transformative.

Somewhere, in the back of our minds, we all know - in a general kind of way - that we are mortal. But then a moment comes when we look Death in the eye and know it for ourselves... for our Beloved... and that knowledge becomes both specific and immediate.

For me, such a moment marks the very beginning of our One Precious Life. 

As sailors in a wild and wooly place, Anke and I live with perhaps a better view of Death than many. We often sail near the edge, and far from any hope of help should we fail dangerous.

This last autumn, we had a wild passage, where Death was grinning over our shoulders right along, breathing down our necks. It started with a small thing - a jammed block. So many deadly outcomes are the end of a series of small steps inching, then leaping toward disaster. We were able to manage our issues and all was, in the end, well.

But it was another reminder that - even in the mundane day to day - Death can come for us.

And now Plague walks all the lands of the world.

A time of pandemic binds us all in a moment of the awareness of our mortality. The last century has brought humanity a growing understanding of disease in its causes and cures. Yet we remain stubbornly mortal, and a tiny molecular machine - devoid of hope or malice - reminds us collectively of that fact.

For some, inevitable Death sucks all meaning from Life. For others - count me among them - Death is that dark background against which all life is luminous. It's proximity reminds us to live. NOW.

And what is the one thing worthwhile? That one thing to pursue with all the resource of our One Precious Life?

If you ask me, it's Love.

Power? Pffffft. Fame? Sic transit. Stuff? Can be useful but can own us and weigh us down. Wealth? You know what it can't buy. 

We think we have time... let's assume we don't, and start loving.

Happy Valentines Day, all ye Young Lovers! 

(And that includes you, my fellow Elder Farts!)

Saturday, January 23, 2021

When Panic Rears Its Ugly Head

 Cartoon by Gary Larson 

The way the mind will lean under stress is strongly influenced by training.
-- From Frank Herbert's Dune

Don't Panic. 
-- Printed in large, friendly letters on the cover of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

When Panic Rears It's Ugly Head

Panic is one of the very worst dangers sailors face.

Panic may paralyze us. It may send us into a frenzy of useless or even detrimental action. It may benumb the mind or send it reeling.

Panic, more often than not, is a far greater danger than the conditions which invoke it. Indeed, it can strike in a total absence of danger if the situation is misread.

An instinct to freeze in the face of danger might 
sometimes help prey animals survive. Panic adrenalized flight might have helped our ancestors live to fight another day.

But panic on board – whether of captain or crew – is not our friend. 

It can overwhelm anyone, but favors the unprepared. It's contagious and can debilitate an entire crew. At worst, those caught in its grip are a danger to themselves, the crew and the vessel.

Fortunately, we can reduce its onset with training, and break its grip with breathing and focus.We are none of us immune to panic, but neither are we its helpless victims.

Panic - and climbing out of it - is serious business, for which it is well to be prepared.

It was a dark and stormy night. 

Well, not stormy, yet, but one was bearing down on us. And it was dark... that nebulous kind of dark where even silhouettes are blurred and indistinct.

We had fetched the reefbound entrance to a fjiord. Just the sort of place that wind, when it hits, funnels together and venturies itself into a rage (vent = wind + furies?). But we were ahead of it and dropped anchor close in the lee of a sheltering island.

Before we could set the anchor, however, the first lick of squall pounced on us and stripped it, blowing us back into exposed water, embayed by rock and reef, lost in blinding rain and intensified dark. 

This is not as dangerous as it sounds, but calls for close sailing in tight quarters, with strong, confused winds. It was just a matter of navigating between the lighter water smudges bracketing the island, visible at either end of our tacks. Round up and stall in the blackouts. Work our way into the inky lull between them and anchor on soundings. Not an everyday occurrence, but we've practice aplenty.

Anke went forward to haul the anchor, while I raised sail, an operation that briefly fouls the deck with loops of halyard. Normally this is cleared at leisure as each sail is raised. But, with trouble close to leeward, there was no time for niceties. Sails and anchor up, we set course close-hauled, intending to tack back into our island's lee.

Anke returned to the cockpit and took the helm while I set about clearing the decks by feel. Despite the fact that I couldn't see any of the lines, by habit, I put my head down for a moment. A side gust hit, and we heeled hard and SLACKTIDE rounded toward it in a swoop, dumping power and regaining her feet.

As my head came up, I found that I'd lost my bearings. Neither wind nor the sketchy blots of black fell into a pattern I could recognize. Which way to turn and how long before burning up scant searoom? Panic clamped down hard. Heart pounding, mouth gone dry, knees weak and knocking, mind clutching wildly at any purchase within that churning darkness. 

Breathe x four, and my mind began to work again. Still disoriented, but ready to do the sensible thing... ask Anke what's where. 

And she soon set me straight.
Panic took me in its vice that night. It happens. And if we don't get a handle on it, it'll run us under.

Note: If we'd both been lost, an unpanicked assessment would quickly reveal standard options; heaving to or dropping anchor till bearings were regained. If we drag, we can row out another, or dredge downwind (dragging anchor acting as a drogue to keep head up; back sails to skin through breaks in the reef (clearly visible for ultra-shoal draft as patches of smoother water between breaking water). If a lee shore (no breaks), ground out and step ashore if and when we must. The first happens now and then, the latter two once or twice.


So here are some tools we've found useful. While they don't all address panic itself, together they lower the odds that panic will take over. And once your mind is your own again, you're ready to take on trouble.


Take care of yourself – Dress appropriately for conditions. Get adequate rest. Eat and drink well (never alcohol, however, while at risk).

Outfit yourself – Reliable gear that works well together across real and anticipated scenarios gives you the physical basis to deal with emergencies.

Train yourself – Develop skills before you need them, and practice them in increasing conditions. If nothing else, imagine scenarios and response in detail.

Drills help immensely. But a word of caution... skills are most powerful when seen as modular – useful separately or in combination with others. Seen thus, they empower improvisation. Overfocusing on set drills can leave us unprepared when the real world deviates from the 'script'. I seen it happen!

Orient yourself
 – At all possible moments, know where you are. Where are your fall-backs? What is your fail-safe strategy? What is the path of least resistance?

In the Moment

Breathe! -- First thing you'll need is oxygen. Adrenalin kicks us into high gear and we start burning through O2 reserves like wildfire, and we need to up our intake.  

I like the 'fourfold breath'... enough air to supply the brain, and counting helps focus and bring me back. Consciously use feature to ease yourself down. Four quick breaths are not enough to hyperventilate or delay your recovery. But do take more if you need to. 

TIP: If you are in the grip of panic, it may help to close your eyes for this step... this shuts out alarming visuals which, at this point, you are in no shape to process. Benefit varies from one individual to the next, however.
NOTE: I've since read of a technique use by US Navy Seals called square breathing. In 4 seconds, hold 4 seconds, out 4 seconds, hold 4 seconds. Repeat. Long story, but this helps bring O2 and CO2 into balance.
DO NOT PROCEED until panic ebbs... until you do, your actions are unlikely to be helpful and may cause harm! Our best shot is to keep with it until we have ourselves in hand. Note the distinction between panic and merely being afraid. You can function with the latter.

To captains:
 If you allow your personal panic to persist, both ship and crew are as though rudderless. Your calm and confidence aid the crew to deal with their panic. You may have to relieve crew who cannot control their panic before it spreads lest 
they endanger the ship or themselves with panicked mis-actions.

Assess, Address, Appraise – What are the dangers and/or damages? Options? Resources? Priorities?  What is your plan? Are your actions producing their intended effect? What must be done to remedy, if not? Don't hesitate to trade up one plan for a better one, where possible. We need to home in on effective address, pronto.

To captains: This is your responsibility. If time allows, consider consulting with knowledgeable crew. Consider staying in the moment... what came before or comes after is likely irrelevant in the crisis.

Communicate – Make sure everyone involved knows their job. If time permits, fill them in on the situation and the why of what they're told to do. This helps them deal with their panic. Help them with that process where time allows. 

To crewmembers: Consider that the skipper may not have time to fully brief you. This is the time to 'put your head down' and perform each assigned task to the best of your ability. If you observe something urgent, report it, but consider that the skipper must rank that information into priorities to which you may not be privy. S/he may have you abandon your assigned task in favor of another as plans change rapidly. Resist the urge to act without instruction (at least such actions as dropping or raising sail). 

Buy time – Actions which buy you time – to think, orient, improvise, etc. - can be invaluable, even when they don't directly improve your situation. Make the most of the time you've bought!


Attend to the ship –  Damage assessment and control that hasn't been addressed during the emergency. Make all gear ready to run. Get to shelter, if necessary. Initiate repairs, if necessary.

Attend to the crew -- All present and accounted for? Any trauma or medical issues? Apply first aid, if necessary. Get help, if necessary.

ReAssess – What went well? Not so well? What could be improved? Has training adequately prepared each for their role? Was the ship's outfit up to snuff? 

Fix what's broke.
NOTE: As with any debriefing session, this is not a blame game. That someone panicked and/or was unable to to climb out from under it is not  reprehensible, but rather grounds for further training. This includes everyday and emergency seamanship AND in techniques for ending panic.



Bonus Feature

In the following scene, from the movie Flight, involves a flight crew's response to mechanical failure.

I admire this depiction of the captain's expertise and handling of the situation and crew. He is decisive and proactive in both respects. He plays a large role in keeping his crew from panic and moving toward a solution.

NOTE: This scene focuses on what happens in the cockpit but includes asides depicting physical trauma to crew in the cabin. It was loosely inspired by a real life incident (Alaska Airlines flight 261) in which all passengers and crew perished)

Though ultimately unsuccessful, by not panicking, threal-life cregave themselves and their passengers the best chance of survival. They were posthumously awarded the Airline Pilots Association Gold Medal for Heroism.
Please view with discretion.

From the movie, Flight, starring Denzel Washington


Thursday, December 24, 2020

Storm Tactics: Inshore

Carved handrail from S/V TANTRA
Ried Stowe

You can't stop the storm, so stop trying.
What you can do is calm yourself.
The storm will pass.

-- Timber Hawkeye


If you think it might be time to reef, it's time to reef!

- Sailor's Wisdom

Storm Tactics: Inshore

In life and sailing, storms overtake us.

Most often, if we pay attention, we have some warning before their onset. In rare cases, they pounce like a cat upon a mouse. We're the mouse, at least in scale. Unlike mice, we have a range of tools to meet the storm.

NOTE: When I say storm, I'm speaking of high winds in general. Our standing policy is to NOT be on the water in full storm conditions or worse. Despite this, we occasionally find ourselves caught by surprise.


These are things I recommend which underlie a successful response to storm conditions:

  • Prior Knowledge... Knowledge and skills acquired ahead of crisis are priceless!

    Learn what you can before exposing yourself to storm...

  • Trained Crew... and train up all who sail with you.

  • Sound Vessel... Robust construction and maintenance, uncluttered decks, capable and easily reefed rig, good anchors with ample rode.

    Without these, any ship is at risk in any weather. When Storm comes with its long boots on, meet it with all head and hands on a stout deck!
Rules of Thumb

We use a small heap of rules-of-thumb to help us along our way:
  • Fail Safe vs. Fail Dangerous
  • Preserve Options
  • Layer Redundancies
  • Maintain Margins of Safety
  • Act Decisively
  • Develop Standard Operating Procedures
  • Develop Communication Protocols
  • An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
  • Get Out of the Wind, Stupid!
  • Avoid Smug
  • Manage Fear and Panic
I go into these at more length here.

Storm Tactics

  • Batten Down - Secure your gear inside and out, dog down hatches, dress for the weather and clip in. MOB (Man Over Board) in storm conditions is a very long shot, no matter how well drills have gone. Stay aboard!

    NOTE: Make sure your harness clips are short enough to keep you out of the water. The USCG warns that a person being towed in the water cannot clear their head to breath from their own bow wake from about 4 knots. We lost an acquaintance that way... his crew didn't know to round up and stop the vessel.
  • Reef Early - Reduce power before you are over-powered. Sail handling is easier and you'll be more comfortable and safer on deck.

  • Reach or Run for Shelter - Shelter ranges from protected coves, to the lee side of islands or points, to mere outcroppings that break wind and especially waves. Consider heading into the best shelter available before conditions deteriorate.

    It's important to note that, while wind can be unnerving, it is wind-driven water - weighing a ton per cubic yard/meter - which can toss your boat dangerously. Interruption of seas driven over a long fetch (open stretch to windward) will give your anchors the best chance of holding. Reefs, spits, and even thick kelp beds can provide effective shelter even as the wind whips over them.

  • Consider Quartering the Seas - Quartering (angling across them at about 45deg) gives a much easier ride in large or closely spaced waves, both for boat and crew. This generally means sailing close-hauled or broad reaching.

  • Consider Heaving-To, Sailing Backwards and/or Drag Devices - These are more often used offshore, but they have their place inshore. They help keep the bow up to wind and waves. You can adjust position to a degree by crabbing (backing or balancing sail to edge to port or starboard) without re-establishing full sailing trim.

  • Look Around and Enjoy the Storm - I mean, they are magnificent! As long as we're fool enough to be caught out in one, we may as well enjoy it.
It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

We've just completed a winter passage - under press of calendar obligations - that pretty well kicked our butts and tried our mettle. So all this is pretty fresh.

A mere 80ish nautical miles as the fish swims, we started out with winds which, unforecast, edged into gale force. Turns out that our main halyard had jumped a sheave and jammed... we could neither raise nor lower sail. 
Fortunately, it jammed in deep reef position... low gear, as it were.
Unfortunately, before we had reached a place to pull in, the wind first died to nothing, then turned foul. 

Fortunately, we had shelter behind us and ran for it.

Unfortunately, that shelter had its own katabatic blowing from it over the ebbing tide with river outflow... with our short sail we couldn't sail in.

Fortunately, after heaving-to in a lee all night, the wind returned in our favor, and we again sailed for our destination.

Unfortunately, the forecast called for gale with storm force gusts due before we could possibly arrive.

Fortunately, there was a small hook of shelter right at hand. We know it from years back and call it Whoa Nellie Nook (Nooks protect from North). It has a good lee, a protecting reef and good holding. So we sailed in, set anchor and got our sail (mostly) working again.

Unfortunately, our lee was SO good that a back-eddy of breeze blew us toward the beach as we slept (contrary to the wind that was howling about four boat-lengths from our position)... we whunkered down onto a rocky bottom as the tide ebbed.

Fortunately, the rocks were pretty round. We buffered with some wood cut ashore and lifted off again after several hours and re-anchored.

Unfortunately, the next morning's wind was blowing into our nook (the opposite was forecast).

Fortunately, there was a bit of sand off our protecting reef and we could kedge out and sail on.


That was two nights and three days of a five week passage. I won't subject you to the rest, but will merely note that we only got two full nights of good sleep in peace and quiet in all that time.

Looking back in appraisal, we find the following:
  • We need to ditch time-bound commitments, especially in spring, fall and winter.

    Each time we commit to some deadline (for a job, for instance) our decisions become influenced by calendar pressures. We're reluctant to back-track and give back hard-won miles. We trim our margins of safety and head out into smaller, less reliable windows. We push fair winds, tides and daylight hours, which can erode our rest and recovery. All together, we take on higher risks to honor our commitments.

  • We need to increase redundancies in some areas.

    For instance, we have a spare block with halyard on our mizzen, but haven't yet arranged one for the main. This turned out to be an ELE (Exctinction Level Event) on this trip (the jammed halyard could possibly have set off a lethal string of consequences).

  • We need to be more skeptical of weather forecasts in high wind seasons.

    Time and again, we sailed or anchored in conditions which proved contrary to the forecast. In one case, this could have cost us the boat (our sheltered anchorage became dangerously exposed in a 180deg mis-forecast blow).

    Area forecasts cover large areas, and 'predominant winds' is a squishy concept. Worse, we were mostly sailing between one weather system that reaches up into the Yukon (Canadian) interior and another that opens on the Gulf of Alaska. We're learning to look up and take the whole chain into consideration, rather than rely on more local forecasts. This is especially true when updating forecasts flip-flop in wind direction and/or strength.

    NOTE: To be fair, SE Alaska is made up of what we call geographical wonders (local places which alter, amplify or diminish weather patterns). Forecasting the weather - both for pros and amateurs - is notoriously difficult.

    Weather data collection points are few and far between, and are often in sheltered or compromised locations (e.g., at points between two weather systems or in towns whose location was selected for sheltered weather).

    Furthermore, a warming planet increases the discrepancies between models (based on historical data) and the real, emerging world. Winds are tending stronger and less predictable across the board. We need to increase our weather pessimism accordingly.

  • New technique for anchoring in marginal lees:

    Our problem at Whoa Nelly Nook was that, as the tide came in, our protecting reef covered and wrap-around waves sideswiped us badly. So we anchored in very close to the beach and ended up too close.

    The remedy for similar spots - now SOP - is to set two anchors aft against potential wind reversal and one or two high on the 'windward' shore. Tend the vessel with the tide to position close in the protected lee of wind and wave, then out as the tide falls and protecting reef uncovers.
  • We're approaching a decline in physical ability.

    This trip was physically demanding. Long hours on deck. Sails and (multiple) anchors up and down. Sculling long distances. Kedging. Swamped dory and recovery, and lots of bailing, often in rough conditions underway. Jury rigging gymnastics. And so on. Meanwhile, we're at the further end of middle age, and looking downslope.

    We're already planning a small, camper-cruiser for high mobility with less physical input. In coming years, we will be sailing WAYWARD less, and in less challenging windows. We are mulling adding an engine down the road (diesel/electric, possibly yawl-boat mount?).
Sooo... we loved this trip for all its challenges. It kicked us hard, but there is no living like that at the edge in a gorgeous seascape of stormy wilderness. But all good things...

As Joan Baez sings the poem by Lord Byron:

So, we'll go no more a roving

  So late into the night,

Though the heart be still as loving,

  And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,

   And the soul wears out the breast,

And the heart must pause to breathe,

   And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,

  And the day returns too soon,

Yet we'll go no more a roving

  By the light of the moon.

Not there, yet, but we can see the storm ahead. Time to be thinking of shortening sail.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

The View from Cold Mountain


Maddy's Camp 
from Cold Mountain, the movie

The mountains look in horror on the madness of the plains.

-- Roger Zelazny

You look at nature. Bird flies somewhere, picks up a seed, shits the seed out, plant grows. Bird's got a job, shit's got a job, seed's got a job. You got a job.

-- Maddy, from Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

The View from Cold Mountain

Somewhere on the slopes of Cold Mountain, high above the madness of the plains, there lived from a wagon an old woman and her goats.

Or so goes a tale told of another time. Of another bout of madness.

A  refugee from that madness - dying by degrees from a grevious wound - is treated by her skill and kindness. He is set back on his road home with a chance to find and face what awaits him.

Had she lived below, among her fellows, that madness would have swept over her. Maybe she'd have been caught in it, and clamored for the blood of them others. Or maybe she'd have been overwhelmed by it, drowned in its flood or burned by its fire. Or maybe she would have kept her footing, surviving to see the bleak aftermath as the madness settled back to dark mutterings.

What did she feel, looking down from her height. Horror, certainly.

And pity, likely.

Were she younger, at least than she was, she might have felt a tug, too. To do something. To get in there and pull in some direction or another, shoulder-to-shoulder with others. To fight the good fight. To attempt change in whatever direction she felt was right.

But had she descended to the plains, she would have been swept by its madness. The good she was able to do in her story was only possible because she had kept far from the madness of crowds. 

I think it's no small question... what to do in a time of madness?


Picture a river, a canoe upon it and all of us packed in. 

There's supposed to be a waterfall up ahead... stands to reason, but no one has seen it. Some say it's a hoax. Some that it's still many miles on. Some say they can hear it. Some try to warn their fellow passengers.

All the while, the river flows ever faster.

But resources are running low in the canoe, and squabbling for control of them has led to blows. Holes are being punched through the hull, if you can believe it! Few have ears to hear, or time to look up from the fray.

Let's say you are one who hears the thunder of the falls.

Do you do what you can onboard? Do you leap overboard? Do you bother to swim for some kind of shore?

If you stay aboard, surely, you will end up over the falls.

If you leap overboard and do not swim, your journey is over before its time.

But if you leap and swim, you may be ashore to help another from the water.


Leap and swim... this has been our choice. 

Not a moral or courageous choice, nor yet a coward's. Merely one that follows from how we view the sweep of recent history. And I'm talking since agriculture.

Our cold archipelago is our Cold Mountain. Our boat is our wagon. The flora and fauna of these lands and waters our life bearing goats. We are gaining in knowledge and skills to share. And we love it. 

While we know that our bank may too crumble - that we are yet imperiled by the cataract. At least from here we can hold out a hand to those who get themselves in reach.

Do you hear the falls?

Monday, September 14, 2020

(Sea)HorsePower and Square Motorsailing


Full and Half-By with Todd Allen

Gentlefolk do not sail to windward.

-- I'd swear it was Sir Francis Chichester

(Sea)HorsePower and Square Motorsailing

Many years ago, Phil Bolger observed that, for the average sailor, most if not all sailing is done off the wind, with the motor being used for windward work. Furthermore, as many must sail on a schedule, he felt a faster transit to and from cruising grounds with leisurely, fun sailing once there was a plus for most.

As such, he began to design many of his vessels around that premise.

By average, one is sometimes tempted to think it means sailors with any sense at'all.

Note that by off the wind, one means the 180deg half-circle from a beam reach (90deg to the wind on one side), through straight downwind (wind on the stern), to the other beam reach (90deg to the wind on the other side). That's a lot of degrees of freedom... a lot of sailing!

In contrast, sailing to windward only allows half that from a beam reach to close-hauled (45deg to the wind on one side) and same again on the other. Plus, you're heeled over, often bashing into waves and spray, and the wind feels strong and cold.

So, despite motors being largely beyond my ken, I'll nevertheless share some musings...

Hull Design

Hulls that move through the water (as opposed to climbing on top of it) displace water ahead, downward and to the sides and are called displacement hulls. And all that pushed-aside water has to return to fill the hole left behind by the moving boat.

Some consequences for displacement hulls:

  • Speed is proportional to Length (S/L ratio)... the longer a boat's Water Line Length (WLL), the faster it can travel.

  • S/L = 1.34 x √WLL = maximum speed aka hull speed

  • It takes exponentially more power to approach maximum speed

  • Additional length provides diminishing returns in speed (longer is faster, but shorter is more speed per foot of WLL)

In other words and once again, small is beautiful.

Sailing boats heel (lean over) when sailing to windward. When they do, a wide, square transom dips its lower, lee corner under the water and drags. So we raise it to minimize the effect. Problem is, displaced water now has to travel more abruptly back to fill the hole we leave behind, creating turbulence and drag. Part of the price we square boat sailors pay.

But if we motor to windward, we do it upright (heeling is negligible). Accordingly, we can ease the aft curves by lowering the transom to kiss the water. You can see this in the picture above, and also see how little disturbance it leaves as it sails upright downwind.

So consider a transom with lower edge at the upright WL.

Another design element becomes practically negligible when not sailing to windward... Lateral Resistance. This is resistance to sideways motion, provided by dagger-, lee- and center-boards, keels, chine runners, etc.. 

Skip LR and all its many hassles.


The lion's share of rig complexity arises when sailing to windward. Sailing down and off the wind calls for little more than putting up and spreading a shaped sheet to catch the wind. Efficiency might be important, but for the average sailor, not likely. If we're going small, everything gets easier.

Here's what I'd look for in a rig:

  • Forward placement... Put the horse before the cart.
  • Easily mounted and stricken rig... When the wind is again' ya, take it down.
  • Easily handled... Why be fiddlin' while the sun burns?
  • Easily reefed... Just 'cuz we're loafing along doesn't mean the wind won't blow up!
  • Consider a free standing rig... No shrouds or stays to set up, take down or worry about in a jibe.

Quadrilateral sails (four-sided) spread a lot of sail on a short mast for easier setup and take-down.

Consider Ljungstrom Rig, which meets all of the above, and has infinite reefing, which can be dumbed down for smaller boats.

Mechanical Propulsion

I'm a fan of outboard motors over inboard for their ease of dis/mounting, lower installation complexities and non-perforation of the hull. Any fuel spills are relatively easily contained and reduce the risk of explosion. Many regulations for safe installation of inboards are avoided.

Options include electric, gas and propane (and natural gas)... each have their fans. Among electric motors, trolling motors are inexpensive and are designed for long run-times at lower speeds on a given charge.

Consider modest, outboard propulsion.

Remember that it takes exponentially more power to approach maximum speed, which in a displacement hull is in any case relatively low. This means you can run at some fraction of hull speed - say a half, two thirds or three quarters - with far less power input than for top speed.

Now, you hitch up a few horses (power is often measure in Horse Power or HP) and you can easily push a small load at low throttle, while sipping fuel (or Watts).

Consider backing down from top speed to radically extend your range.

Manual Propulsion

Me? I'd still carry a manual alternative to those finicky mechanisms. 

A sculling oar is simple and effective. An Atsushi Doi Power Fin is less simple, but powerful (could almost skip the motor). Oars are tried and true, though harder to handle. Even a paddle will get you somewhere.

Consider 'auxiliary' manual propulsion.


I'm going to present this f'r'instance cobbled together from correspondence with Todd Allen. He writes [my emphases]...

I've built my second Triloboats style boat, thought you may be interested.

This one is a micro version, 10 ft long, 47 inches wide (to fit in my utility Trailer!). Birdwatcher cabin, rockered hull with a taste of PDR shape at the bow. Cabin is 6 ft long, lots of storage under the decks. I added Oar ports on this one which I really enjoy using, both for rowing and for ventilation at night. 

I brought the lower edge of the transom down as low as I could to maximize displacement for supplies and to give as much buoyancy as possible to the rear section to support the weight of the motor. I got lucky and it's about right! 

Can maintain 2 mph easily under oars in calms. 

I mainly motor with my 2.5 hp Yamaha 4 stroke (24+ mpg), but have a small downwind sail I deploy as often as possible, using the motor as my rudder (turned off of course).

[I checked back with him about that great mpg...]

24 miles per gallon is not a typo! I love this little Yamaha 2.5 four stroke, one of the best things I have ever bought. I run it at just above idle most of the time, and this gets me to my cruising speed of 3.5 knots quietly. At just over half throttle I can get up to 4.4 knots, but louder and bigger waves. Full throttle digs a bigger hole, no real speed increase. 

One thing I'll note is my offcenter spritsail rig. Even though I set my boats up primarily for motoring, I find I sail as much or more than my traditional sailboat cruising friends because my sail is so easily set. 

I usually keep it up and brailed, so if a favorable breeze comes up, I drop the brail and I'm sailing, takes 15 seconds. Same for brailing it when wind dies. The slot top cabin of course makes this possible.
Makes me chuckle that mine is often the first sail deployed. Also chuckled on the last trip when a sailing friend complained that it took him so long to catch me going downwind in a light breeze in his 17ft Siren!

And there ya have it.