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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

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

YULOH: The Chinese Sculling Oar

No wind, slop and bobble. Yech.
Well I don't mind comin' and I don't mind goin',
But I'm some damn tired of rowin'!
From Old Fat Boat by Gordon Bok

Hootin', hollering days in our waters are more than matched by flat calms. These might be forecast winds that are noshow, or the limp end of a morning's suckapuff. Or the world might just go near breathless for a week at a time.

Drifting is an option. Drift with the tides and anchor up between. If things are right, we can cover a good deal of ground. But we still need to get in and out of the current. And in many times and places, the current never runs fair... surface flow might vary from a half knot to three knots against, depending on whether or not the tide is nominally fair.

If we're in very shallow, poling or, in moderately deep water, warping (rowing out and hauling a pair of anchors, one after the other, using them like long arms to pull us along). Nowadays, we have a pedal unit, but it's mechanical and beyond our ability to make or repair.

The main tool in our repertoire is the yuloh (Chinese sculling oar).

Leading edge of blade down about 45deg.
Yuloh in action... lanyard stays taut.

There are any number of ways to rig a yuloh. We use system with four elements. 
  • Yuloh - Loom and blade.
  • Deck lanyard (deck to end of handle) - this prevents the inboard end from popping up as the blade dives.
  • HMD plastic oarlock (HighMolecularDensity, aka cutting board plastic).
  • Oarlock Lanyard - attaches to a point on the outboard loom and keeps it from sliding outboard.
These four work together, taking the burden of controlling it from our shoulders. All that's left us is to sway back and forth, working the loom with our arms.

Our curved loom makes the blade want to spill to the correct angle. So we let it. The diving blade wants to make the handle ride at the top of the deck lanyard. So we let it. The loom wants to slide down and outboard, fetching against the outboard lanyard. So we let it.

The blade pretty much naturally wants to follow a falling leaf pattern... shallow figure-infinities (an 8 on its side), with the leading edge angled down. Breath. Feel it. Let go. Resist the urge to turn and watch it (you'll cramp up, quick!). Won't be long before you will be at one with your yuloh.

Chinese sailors were Taoist... it's all about easing along in sync with the world.

To turn, underway, just sidle a bit to put the tiller over as usual. Keep yulohing at the same distance off your body, and it will naturally help the turn. If you want to pick up the pace, slice the blade horizontal on the return stroke (for no power) and only stroke to favor the turn. If you really want to turn sharp (or without forward thrust), turn the blade perpendicular and shovel your stern around (like you were rowing off the stern).

Deck Lanyard snapped to Deck Ring

Canoe paddle handle with adustable lanyard (2 rolling hitches)

Oarlock and  Lanyard
(Gotta whip that end!)

Length and amount of curve are determined by your freeboard... the idea is to have the blade enter the water at about 45 degrees when holding the inboard end at sternum height. Curve can be anywhere from none to about 15 degrees. More curvature allows a shorter yuloh. Consider how much room you'll have in the cockpit... you'll want to be able to move around the forward end. Sketching it all out on graph paper saves a lot of trial and error.

Ours is (of course) quick and dirty. We look for a snow bent conifer, with the bend about a third-plus of the way from the base. This becomes the inboard, handle end at about 3 inches diameter, tapering to about 2 inches at the tip.

We like a large blade - about 3 feet long and 8 inches wide, mounted perpendicular to the plane of the curve. We flatten both sides of the loom, and screw one side on (from loom set into blade 'feather'). Drill opposing holes in both feathers and lash the other on.

We shape the blade flat on the upper face (toward the convex side of the loom curve) and rounded on the downward face. Don't know if this helps, but makes me feel good.

We mount the yuloh, deck lanyard and oarlock to starboard (we're both right handed). We stand mid-ships, facing forward, and position the yuloh on a Line about 4 inches to starboard of our hanging arm (seems about right).

'Position the yuloh' means that the oarlock midline and deck ring (or equivalent) are positioned on the Line. Set the oarlock lanyard to hold the yuloh about centered on the oarlock. Affix the deck ring directly below  the end of the yuloh, it's length set so the handle is about nipple height.

You can fudge the position of the oarlock... more loom inboard means more leverage for the person working the yuloh, and visa versa. Don't sweat it... you can always adjust with the oarlock lanyard.

None of this is rocket science, unless you're a Japanese ryo master (their highly tuned version). Top speed is maybe two knots in a sprint, so brilliant design won't do much for you. We look for comfort of use (good height, handle, leverage, spring and stowage).

I hear a lot of numbers quoted as yuloh science, but suspect that has to do with different installations that don't translate well. Consider a prototype to get the proportions before putting to much work into a beautiful work of art.

The yuloh is really a magical device. To slip out of harbor to catch dawn's first breath, or into a cove at days end, with little more than a liquid swirl to disturb evening's hush... it's... it's...

Well, you just have to try it.


Since this article was originally written, I've run across Some Thoughts on the Yuloh by Slieve McGalliard, R&D Director of the JRA (Junk Rig Association). Very good thoughts, indeed, including a general recipe induced from drawings and photos of Chinese Junks and Sampans.

I've written an update post here on our results with his recipe.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Guerrilla Gardening: Interview with James-David Sneed

Apologies to Grant Wood's American Gothic

As our communal spaces—town squares, streets, schools, farms, plants—are displaced by the ballooning marketplace, a spirit of resistance is taking hold around the world. People are reclaiming bits of nature and of culture, and saying ‘this is going to be public space’.

Guerrilla gardens have been gaining momentum and publicity across the world. Whether for comestible, aesthetic or political purposes, gardeners are challenging the constraints of private and tightly controlled 'public' properties. Land considered marginal or 'wasteland' is being made to bloom without license.

For nomads and others underway, without a legal foothold on the land, our guerrilla gardens will have a particular character. They will be diffuse plantings of enhanced wild and hardy domestic varieties. They will be designed to thrive with little attention and offer something at most any season.

The following interview, while focusing on SE Alaska, presents possibilities and attitude which may be applied anywhere. Gardening is easier almost anywhere than here. So long as one works with their environment, guerrilla gardens can concentrate and supplement the food resources of any area.

Southeast Alaska has thousands of micro-climates across it's approximately 300 mile length and seventy mile breadth. What varies is amount of snow pack, days of snow and freezing conditions, amounts of rain, maximum and minimum temperatures (summer and fall), and altitude.

What is constant across the region is the long summer daylight hours, the short winter daylight hours, and the effect upon plants of the rapidly increasing light in spring and the rapidly diminishing light in fall.

Due to the maritime influence, gardens at sea level often have months longer frost free dates than do many esteemed areas much farther south, extending our growing season. Yet Southeast is a boreal rainforest; its 'shoulder seasons' tend to be cool and rainy, with somewhat drier weather and long summer daylight hours between. Amounts of rain vary a bit from north to south, coast to mountains, and behind rain shadows such as those provided by the combination of Baranof and Kuiu Island acting in concert.

Soils are generally acidic, except for those in river drainages and limestone deposit areas. The low angle of the sun means soils are generally cold due to most of the energy skipping off the surface and back into the atmosphere as a result of the oblique angle of solar incidence.

It is often true that our soils are short on nitrogen, but not always, since there are great reservoirs of humus in certain locals. Unfortunately, except in the alder woods and salmon/thimbleberry patches, the benefit of that humus is limited by extreme acidity.

James-David Sneed has gardened and farmed from Homer to Prince of Wales, and in the Pacific Northwest for several decades. He specializes in seed production and research that enables homestead gardeners to produce real food security in their own yards and neighborhoods, as local as food can be. He envisions our gardens to be a compliment to gathering our food from the wild with a reverence and respect for Nature's abundance. His emphasis is on rediscovering the simple, low-cost tools, methods, and attitudes that sustained humans for thousands of years before the industrialization of agriculture.


DZ: Guerrilla gardens are sometimes also referred to as outlaw gardens. What is their legal status?

JDS:  Generally, gardening WITHOUT permission on public lands is illegal by one or another statute. The exceptions to this seem mainly to be associated with permitted temporary residence on those lands, such as mining or trapping cabins, or dwellings associated with a paid lease for shellfish farming or similar pursuits.

Non-public lands usually come under trespassing laws, but charges generally have to be filed by the landowners.

The trick then, assuming you've exhausted all other means and must needs grow your own food in order to survive, is to not get caught. That involves, silent, non-motorized activity, out of sight of most traveled waterways, with minimal time spent visibly disturbing the soil or being occupied by other obvious garden tasks.

DZ: What might one do to lower a guerrilla garden's profile?

JDS:  Remember, nearly all activities are visible by air, and garden season overlaps with charter fishing and hunting seasons, when clients are transported into the wilderness by float plane. Think in those terms, learning to site small patches of mixed vegetable types (no monocultures larger than ten feet by ten feet) against a backdrop of alders whose canopy obscures the ground from the air. Leave NO bare patches of worked ground.

Get used to planting one or two hills in a spot. One hill of three or four seed spud pieces can produce as much as twenty pounds of spuds. These hills can undergo rotation and other good gardening practices such as mulching, fallow, and cover cropping.

DZ: What would you look for in a garden site?

JDS:  There are two basic approaches... find an ideal spot or fashion one.

Most gardens are something in between, and the degree towards either approach is determined by one's circumstances. If your transportation is limited, and your environs are rocky, you'd put more effort into compost piles, ideally the winter before you plant. I often make new beds by just siting a giant compost pile where I want the future bed, and when the compost is well-done, I plant right there.

My favorite sites are on slight to moderate south or southeast slopes, covered with alders of at least a dozen years in age - twenty is better - as it is the more developed root systems that have the great masses of specialized bacteria "fixing" nitrogen from tiny air pockets in the soil and concentrating it into orange-ish nodules, a few inches underground. Those nodules should be stripped from any roots you dig up, and left in the soil to release their nitrogen.

Those alder patches are fairly neutral in pH, suited to most veggies, and have a crumbly soil texture due to the high humus content. Although moist, the soil is seldom soggy there.

I like a fair amount of breeze at a garden site, reducing the incidence of fungal plant disease such as mildews. Although I depend on rain for irrigation, it doesn't hurt to have a stream nearby either to sub-irrigate the garden beds or to be close enough to carry water during dry spells. It's really best to scout garden sites the previous year, once during wet times and once during dry periods. I am constantly scouting... whenever I hike, hunt or fish my protein.

I also look for wild-gather opportunities nearby, such as berries for my snacks while tending the garden. Nettles are a sign of VERY rich soil, and they make a good green compost crop. The same thing is true of Russian or wild celery (pushki).

One thing I try to avoid is siting gardens in openings just off of deer trails.....that's just inviting problems.

Remember there is less frost at sea level, and easier access to wonderful sources of nutrients. Utilize the areas in the dirt/sand mixture at the top of the high tide zone.

DZ: What might be done to enhance the site?

JDS:  I used to labor hard with a heavy grub hoe to dig out the alder stumps and roots, but as my back has aged faster than my mind, I realized I can simply cut the trees a bit high, let the stump roots rot for a year or two, and then use the high stumps as leverage, pushing them over and thereby lifting the roots from the ground. I just plant between the stumps the first year, and sometimes use them for pea poles meanwhile. 

I've also seen an interesting method where a cable and come-along hand winch are strung from head-high on a tree I wish to remove, over to a substantially larger tree as an anchor. Each day the winch is cranked as far as comfortable, and the alder roots begin to lift from the ground. In a week the tree has been pulled free, and it's roots have left behind some rather pre-tilled ground that requires little working before planting. It's already fertilized naturally with the nitrogen nodules torn from the alder roots. This is ideal potato ground.

Whether removing the roots now or later, that action really loosens the soil. Whenever possible, what we really want is loosened soil, not tilled and inverted layers.

Removing salmonberries and thimbleberries by hand-digging is much harder than alders, and since you'd be destroying a wild food source it doesn't make any sense unless it is the only spot you can garden. Those berries generally form good soil under themselves after a few years of growth. 

Selective thinning of a FEW timber trees in old growth allows increased solar energy to reach the vaccinium berries... such as early alaskan blueberry and huckleberry.

DZ: Would you do anything to enhance the soil?

JDS:  Even with ideal sites, and especially where soil must be built, I add crushed seashell, a little wood ash with a lot of charcoal in it (I clean my woodstove before it burns all the way down to powder ash).

I add lots of seaweed. My favorite is to gather dry seaweed high up on the beach (just after a full or new moon, with a couple days for it to dry a bit) and cram it into a bucket, crushing the driest portions. The stringy stuff that won't crush goes in my compost or for mulch, and the powdery or flaky crushed parts very quickly work into the soil, or can be soaked to make liquid seaweed fertilizer.

I pick up moose and deer droppings. When I am living onsite I bury my own humanure a couple feet under the hills I plant my squash in. It's decomposition will actually heat the soil above it for better growth. All fish wastes go into future beds (safest to do this in Fall when the bears are already well-fed. I once experienced my own dogs digging up oil-fish that were buried under squash beds.

If planning ahead by building compost piles, fall leaves from the alders, birch, cottonwoods and crab apples are great, and good for winter mulch on your hardy cole crops.

Sometimes I just bring buckets of soil from under alder patches to otherwise rocky sites that have more solar exposure.

DZ: Are there any cautions to altering a wild site?

JDS:  Any wholesale changes can have deleterious unexpected consequences, such as expecting great things from clearing a lot of trees and then finding out you've opened up plants unused to the wind to buffeting and damage as they are no longer protected by a group. Groups of trees are like a semi-permeable wall, allowing "broken" wind to scoot around individual plants without harming them.

This also means that whether sculpting established plants or planting new choices, mixed heights, widths and densities are a good idea. Again, our "gardens" should be a mirror of the way Nature works in the wild rather than a wholesale recreation of it.

Any alterations such as weeding are best tried first over a smallish area as you observe the results for a few seasons, then proceed accordingly dependent on the results. Certain plants appearing to be weeds may have a beneficial effect, acting to suppress other plants that are even more damaging to the favored species, or adding some necessary substance, or acting as a trap crop for a pest. If simply weeding for bare surface, then the soil should be left to dry by sun and wind in order to kill rootlets that stayed in the soil and could resprout as new weeds

One should be careful not to over-fertilize or to change the pH if desiring to keep yet enhance a natural stand. Plants tend to germinate from spread seeds where conditions are best.

If utilizing a hillside for solar/heat improvement, make sure our actions don't promote erosion. This can be minimized by mulching as soon as practical (immediately for most bulbs and transplants, but after sprouts emerge from the soil for potatoes). Also mulch after harvest if soil is to be left unplanted over winter. Cover crops also protect from erosion, and should be planted by late august for this purpose. Sometimes that means the cover crop must be seeded as an "understory" beneath the plants we have not yet harvested such as later-harvested brassicas.

Plant residues can be left in place as a mulch as long as we are not trying to grow the same genus of vegetables in the same site the next year.

DZ: How does one propagate wild species?

JDS:  I recommend doing as much as possible the easy way, such as cutting willow, currants and gooseberry branches and just jamming them in the moist ground during the wet season. Usually they sprout just fine, but if doing it in summer, strip off the leaves so they will quit transpiring until new root hairs develop to carry the nutrients needed for photosyntheses into the plants. These are also good because they suit our climate, and will bear quickly compared to an apple or other larger plant. Raspberries can be started from a root cutting, and they bear quickly as well.

The easiest-rooted cuttings are those with softer stem tissues generally. I simply use my prunings from gooseberries and currants, placing several inches of the stem into moist soil (keep it moist until vigorous new leaf growth indicates new roots). 

Harder stems as well as soft ones can be rooted by layering....gently bend a branch or stem (sometimes this must be done in stages over several days, using a modest weight tied to a branch) until several inches can be buried and held in place by a rock. You want the actual end of each stem to be exposed so it can still photosynthesize. Over the course of a few months, tiny root hairs and then roots themselves will grow from the buried stems, as long as the soil is kept moist. When lots of roots have formed, sever the connection to the "mother" plant and on a cool, overcast day transplant to a new location. This method is an imitation of how Nature reproduces certain shrubs and vines.

Transplanting can also be done anytime in the winter that the ground is well-thawed. Plants are generally dormant in the winter and suffer less transplant shock then.

When selecting plants to work into an established ecosystem, only "push the envelope" a little at a time, bringing in things that grow naturally not too much further south or inland.

Also, try to orient any transplants the same way north and south as they were dug, by marking their north side with a ribbon or such BEFORE you dig them from their original spot.

Always imitate the way these grow in nature. Hardier seeds such as pine, crabapple and wild rose may take as much as 18 months and two cycles of chilling/freezing before the shell will release the embryo which becomes the emerging sprout.

DZ: What do you look for in a hardy domestic?

JDS:  I look for late blooming to avoid our occasional mid-may frosts, early ripening to avoid our wet and cold autumns, strong root systems for quick establishment and better survival during climactic aberrations, and a landrace to have the widest genetic pool for longevity and multiple conditions and uses.

I like varieties resistant to local mildews, fungus and diseases, and ones that bear heavy loads of tasty food. In the case of fruits such as apples and berries, sweetness is important, especially for making cider and wine. I like strong structure that withstands windstorms and the occasional volunteer pruning done by deer, elk, moose, beaver and bear. I choose plants that need minimal mechanical devices for growing and harvest.

I often research what is used in northern Europe and Asia for ideas and varieties to try here. I have found many leads by researching very old monastery records from northern and maritime Europe where growers were lucky if they could afford an ox, and even if they did, most work was done by hand. 

By the way, hand labor provides the grower/gatherer so much more detail about what is going on in their gardens and where they gather from the wild. Time and proximity are keys to the observations basic to good stewardship.

DZ: Is it possible to arrange a 'rolling' yield', so that a nomad might find something ready for harvest throughout the season?

JDS:  This might be accomplished in several ways. We extend the length of time food is available by selecting different varieties to stagger the harvest. Some broccolis are better known for fall production, others for spring/summer, and some for overwintering under heavy beachstraw mulch and turning to food in the spring.

Selecting differing plants in the same genus or family also helps.....some mustard brassicas are meant for earliest leaf use, then go to seed but return as new plants after the daylight begins to shorten. Others such as kale are steady through the season, but sweetest after a light frost. White Russian kale is always sweet, and by far the hardiest of kales.

Some plants store food underground as root crops, and some varieties of those will do that well under mulch, even during winter. Others, such as storage cabbages and giant kohlrabi varieties are suited to fall harvest and storage in a root cellar. Even many of these can be stored under mounds of seaweed or beachstraw.

DZ: How much attention is required by guerrilla gardens?

JDS:  Certain plots can last indefinitely, reseeding themselves without human intervention, although eventually Nature might supplant that with succession and climax species.

I once found a feral turnip bed at high tide line, the best EVER turnips, likely at least thirty years in that spot. That environment is where brassicas originated, so it is ideal for their perpetuation. That might be the key.

Something like grain will reseed itself in many cases, but eventually other plants move in. I once found a vetch/oat field that was probably fifty to eighty years old, from either the prior dairy operation on that island or from the over-wintering of mining mules there prior to 1920. The windborne glacial sand was relentlessly burying the old field, so other species were surviving better as the sand deepened and spread.

Many plants might maintain themselves with only minor tinkering, every few years, such as periodic weeding and thinning.

DZ:  How might weeding, thinning and culling help to improve yields?

JDS:  The Tlingits in Hoonah and environs told me their ancestors culled low-producing wild berry plants, and did some thinning for better spacing. That might also help lessen worm incidence. Many of the "thinned" plants can be transplanted to where there is more room, since the only problem they had was proximity to others.

Culling is an example of intentional selection called reverse selection, picking out the discards instead of the keepers. Just keep the most prolific plants that have the least disease and pest damage and the best fruit or other useable parts...  and weeding (removing other varieties or species in competition with the desired one).  These should be done in slightly damp soil to minimize damage to the remaining plants as well as any saved for transplanting, and the survivors should all be well-watered afterwards to ease any root-hair damage from soil disturbance.

On Prince of Wales Island, we found the best berries in the "broken" sunlight where large red cedars had been thinned out of the younger ones, allowing more light to penetrate to form sugars in the fruit.

I've seen highbush cranberries show great results from weeding of their competition. Still, I would avoid turning any patch into a very big monocrop.

DZ: What would the curve of diminishing returns look like?

JDS:  Case by case way to make a blanket prediction. Yet it is good to think in terms of a four or five year rotation ending up in a fallowed field that could either revert to trees or be worked again after several years of rest or gentle pasturing (as done naturally by bison and other grazer/browsers who have plenty of room to keep moving, dropping their fertile manure as they go).

Rotations vary as to your own food needs, but one good one is this: Potatoes on a newly cleared patch, followed by oat/pea hay or oats and soup peas for people, followed by broccoli or storable members of the cabbage family such as kohlrabi, turnips, cabbage or rutabagas. Then a crop of Cascadia snap peas for pickling for winter food as well as used off the vine, fresh, in summer and early fall, then some squash or carrots and beets.

By having several gardens you can grow each step of this rotation every year, just in different spots. Basically, the legumes bring nitrogen levels up to what is needed by the heavier, feeding crops. Seaweed, wood ash, compost and fish waste can always be added in late fall, then mulched over so the temperature of the soil remains high enough for microbes and other small critters to do the "decomposing dance" over winter. Avoid adding any woodash or lime in the year before potatoes, and no fresh manures then or just before carrots.

DZ: Are you aware of any nuts or other oil producing plants that could be raised here?

JDS:  I've often grown flax, all over southeast, and several times raised oilseed sunflowers. The nifty thing about that is that the pressed meal that remains (after cold oil extraction) makes a high-nutrient feed for chickens.

Oilseed radish should work here, and I plan on trialing it next spring, with an eye to its use in more forms than just oil. I think it is basically a daikon, but I'm not sure. One trouble with radishes I've discovered in the seed business is that while they quickly blossom and go to seed, the thick pods take FOREVER to dry off on the plant. I am actually more encouraged about the possibility of oilseed mustards, of which I have three famous varieties.

I think it's necessary to have seeds that are 25% oil content in order to make the home presses work as cold-processing.

I think this is a vital idea, because while it's possible to render fine oil/lard from black bear, it may not be suitable or acceptable for many folks, or even available some years. I have rendered a lot of very clear organic pork lard in the past, but it would almost mandate feral pigs or an established homestead. Feral pigs can be real destructive of habitat, although small, non-rooting ones are available.

This brings to mind the idea that even for TAZ or a transition to such, it might be wise to have a few tiny homestead refuges where special things are raised that might be difficult with total mobility, yet very useful. Such places might also make good sites more simple libraries, or forges, perhaps.

DZ: This is sparse gardening; Is diversity a consideration? I'm thinking of the Irish Potato Blight in which a single variety was vulnerable to a single pest.

JDS:  ALWAYS diversity should be practiced, as to variety and type of plant, as well as height, shape, weather preference, etc..

The phytopthora infestans that caused the Irish Potato Famine was able to prosper and destroy because they only grew one type of potato. A few totally or highly resistant varieties are now available, and even among those sold as resistant, some are better than others. I noticed that the fingerling Austrian Crescent often gets blight while neighboring Rose Finn Apple or Princess La Ratte fingerlings do not.

For resistance to potato scab, which is much more prevalent in our region than blight, try Red Norland, Pink Warba, Anoka, Chieftain, and Atlantic.

Yukon Gem is the much more productive descendant of the popular but low-yielding Yukon Gold. When all else is equal, I choose the varieties with earlier and heavier yields.

Gardening is, after all, a matter of survival.


As mentioned, guerrilla gardens have no legal standing, and are positively proscribed in many situations.

Local laws regulate any given patch of land, public or private, but may be more or less ambiguous regarding the exact latitude allowed. Knowing the laws pertaining to your selected site is always a plus.

Low profile guerrilla gardens - virtually invisible to the casual observer - hedge your bets in questionable situations. Multiple sites not only spread the availability of harvest across a region, but also risk of crop failure, animal or human pests or legal foreclosure.

In other words, while all this is interesting stuff, it's NOT meant to be put into practice. Don't try this at home, kids!

I mean it!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Three Approaches to Rudders for Barge/Scows

A rudderless ship is a ship in trouble.

There are a BUNCH of different ways to design and mount rudders, most of which can be adapted to barge/scows. Here, I'll talk about three basic approaches.

The basic problem is that barges tend to be very shoal of draft.

A high aspect ratio rudder (taller than wide... I'm speaking in profile view, here) has to extend below the hull, where it is exposed and vulnerable. Low aspect ratio rudders (wider than tall) need to gain area by spreading very wide, indeed, which increases leverage burden (heavy helm).

But there are  many approaches with easy, DIY, and workable solutions. The following are three, core approaches, from which many variants are possible.

Barn Door Rudder
Barn door rudders are traditional on many barges. Skeg hung, they are almost impossible to manage with a tiller. Most often, they use a wheel system, with line purchase running from the corners of the transom to a hole, high (styling is arbitrary). If you want a wheel, this system is cheap and robust.

A similar system is used by traditional cat-boats, but using a wheel controlled tiller. Should the wheel system fail, they can be extended for full tiller steering. They look pretty nice, too.

Note that, in plywood, box barges (such as TriloBoats), the skeg's shape is identical to the plywood off-cuts from the sides. They can be brought inboard and beefed up with timber before bolting to the hull. A variant would be to extend it a bit with a rudder post mounted vertically along the full length of the transom and skeg.

When taking the ground, with this type, be sure that the rudder isn't going to hang up on even a slight hummock or small rock... that will generate a LOT of stress as the boat settles.

Post Rudder with Bottom Plate
Post rudders are often used in sharpies. Their advantage is in being protected by the hull from forward and above. Drawbacks include piercing the hull (need a well or water tight post housing) and needing clearance to drop it down and out when servicing. I'd think this would be particularly useful in center-cockpit layouts, shortening the distance between helm and rudder.

This one has its post set at right angles to the plane of the bottom... as it turns, it's edges remain snug to the hull without widening gaps. Particularly at the leading edge, this helps keep weed and such from jamming.

It is balanced, meaning it has some area forward of the post (line of rotation). This greatly reduces strain on the helm, and allows much more area than would otherwise be comfortable. Typically, a tiller would be fitted.

When underway, the bottom plate keeps water from spilling off the lower edge, increasing the rudder's efficiency. I've heard a rule-of-thumb that the added efficiency is the equivalent of adding one side of the plate vertically to the bottom of the rudder. Bottom plates would surely help with barn door types, too.

KickUp Rudder
KickUp rudders come in numerous styles. This one is my personal favorite, and what we've used on all our larger boats. Essentially, there is an upper and lower piece (the blade), overlapping in a circular bearing plate. At its center, a heavy bolt with washers serves as a pivot. A tiller is fitted to the upper piece. A retrieval line is fixed to the blade and cleated high.

Advantages are that they can be lifted completely clear of the water, when not in use. The relatively fragile blade is dismountable, for easy maintenance. They can be high aspect, extending below the hull, but will kick back and up if run aground. In heavy, floating weed, we lift it clear and propel/steer with the scull.

This one is balanced, allowing the rudder to be oversized (nice positive effect and adds to lateral plane). The forward tip of the blade, when the rudder is kicked back near horizontal, is just a bit less than the draft, allowing steerage in any immersed position. The aft-set lower tip, and continuous curve (no flat section at the bottom) will roll the boat forward if we've forgotten to pull the rudder, and we settle down with the tide (purely theoretical, of course!).

The lower tip of the rudder needs to be weighted. Pouring lead or zinc works ('spent' zincs are easy pickin's around many grids or yards). We found some commercial, paired zincs that we cross-bolted in place... they're not as streamlined as inset metal, but much easier to work with. If you use zinc, consider epoxy-coating to keep it inactive.

[NOTE: The angled aft edge of the lower rudder looks good to my eye, but in practice can induce heavy loading on the tiller. Consider rotating it forward (by trimming the upper edge of the 'hook') moves its CLR forward and increases balance, reducing tiller load.]

If we're really booking, off the wind, the rudder may kick back some from water pressure, despite the weights. We have a little hook on the rudder post, low and forward, to catch the retrieval line and lock the blade down. We try to remember to undo it before approaching shoal water.

One thing that's worked well is cutting a circle of close-cell foam, and using it to pad the bearing plate. This keeps the whole thing perfectly quiet (can get clunky, without, in slop and bobble).

Planning out the rudder,  it helps to include the mounting arrangements. Winging it, later isn't at all easy, as close fits work best. Consider walking around a boat yard or marina (the funkier the better), trolling for ideas. Lots of good stuff on the net.

I see a lot of plans (on the net, especially) that look great on paper, but seem pretty non-KISS. Even something as simple as housing cheeks on a kick-up rudder are harder and more expensive to build, and often swell or warp, creating problems. Long and ingenious holes bored through the body to lead control lines are hard to waterproof and inspect. Be ware!

One mounting system we really like was first seen on James Wharram catamarans.

Matching, thwartship holes are drilled and faired in the rudder-post and leading edge of the rudder, both of which have been faired to half-rounds.

Light line is fixed low (stopper knot, among other methods)  laced from the bottom up, tensioning as you go, in figure 8s (e.g., through post to port, lead aft and between post and rudder to rudder starboard side, through that hole... repeat, alternating sides). Fix high (cleat or somesuch).

The 8s need to be kept from slipping, to keep rudder and post in-line. Wharram fills the holes with epoxy, and drills out if replacing. We prefer shouldered screws through the line, just in case, so we can do and redo.

This system is absolutely quiet (the line cushions all moving parts), with no metal to fatigue. Since it's rolling, as the rudder works, rather than sliding, there's almost no friction. LUNA's line was looking great after 12 years! If there ever is a problem, it costs a few bucks for more line.

One variant we saw was alternating hinges of heavy webbing, crossing from one side, between rudder and post, to the other. All the advantages, with possibly easier attachements and less initial work (no holes to drill and fair).


When laying rudders out, I usually just eyeball it. There are several theories as to how much to count toward a boat's balance, how big they should be, how deep, what shape.  But looking around traditional designs, the variation is huge, and all seem to steer the boat.

If anything, I would err on the large size. You can always cut it down. You can't have too much steerage, and the downside consequences of too large a rudder - even among optimal theorists - aren't drastic. You can, on the other hand, have too little, and that's a problem!

One consideration is the angle of the rudder post. If raked aft (traditional, and our preference), the rudder will want to swing to center. This means, all things being equal, the boat will tend to go in a straight line when you let go of the tiller. If vertical, it's neutral - less help, though when making way it will tend to center. If raked forward (reverse transom), it wants to flop outboard - a true pain in the neck.

So pool your options, build your rudder and set your course!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Masts as if they Grew on Trees

Dried out for Mastwork... Lumberyard in Background.
Most of the boats who've ever sailed have had solid, grown masts.

Extruded aluminum, fiberglass, modern adhesives and even spiral welded metals have recently brought hollow masts to the fore. They've taken over to such an extent that it's sometimes overlooked that alternatives are possible!

And for some good reasons. Well made hollow masts are lighter, stiffer, in some cases stronger... and hollow. Haulyards and wiring to masthead electronics can be lead up the hollow, which can provide floatation in a beam-ends knockdown. That haulyards can jam and electronics fail causing mast high hassle somewhat detracts from the advantages, but still. Net plus, so far.

But solid, grown masts are generally free. They only take felling, cutting to length, barking and maybe a little shaping at the head and foot. A morning's work at an easy pace with bowsaw and draw-knife, leaving the afternoon for transferring hardware, erecting and rigging. Vamanos!

All this takes place in the woods or on the beach, requiring no shop, tablesaws, level sawhorses, clamps, scarphing, rounding, end-plugs or butterfly internal supports.

We live in a good area for spar stock. Sitka Spruce has been considered prime material since the age of sail. It's light weight and long fibers are bio-engineered for the high winds of the Pacific Northwest. Many other trees - fir, larch, pines and members of the cypress family, to name a few - work fine, and grow straight and true in almost any area that sports trees at all.

We find good candidates on alluvial fans and in dense, middle aged stands, where young spruce got a good start, but shaded out. Close to the water is always a plus!

One advantage of lug rigs is that, since the sails aren't fixed along the mast, they needn't be straight. There's a kind of funky beauty to masts with a wow... but I must admit I'm not yet taoist enough to take advantage. If you can, it's best to orient the wow fore and aft (in a plane with the centerline of the boat).

 I've read that more than 9 annular rings per inch gives no strength advantage, but figure the more the merrier. We generally avoid less, and regretted it the one time we made an exception. If flaws or rot pockets are found, then we've got a weeks worth of firewood.

Sizing is by formula - we use that from The Chinese Sailing Rig by Van Loan and Haggerty for our free-standing Junk Rig. This specifies mast diameter at the partners (hinge pin at the tabernacle, in our case). The mast may taper to half that at the masthead. CSR gives a method for trimming to an even taper, but life's too short! The tree's already perfectly engineered. We look for about the right proportions and go with that.

We like deck oils (UV resistant) to coat, and smear the upper endgrain thickly with anhydrous lanolin. Paints open when it inevitably checks. The lanolin seems to ride with 'em, and keeps water out. I doubt this is a real problem, though, if the head is shaped to shed water.

A Heron adorns the MastHead Fitting.
Something is required to anchor rigging up high. A simple wooden cross pin or two work perfectly well, siezed above and below with nylon marline to resist splitting. Spliced eyes in the upper rigging are slipped over the masthead and bear up on these.

To support a welder friend, we went with a metal weld-up from aluminum pipe with flanges at 0, 90 and 270deg off forward.  A fourth flange 45deg off aft on the side the sail hangs, and a bit longer carries the haulyard. The forward one anchors the lazy-jacks (which pass around the mast, down and aft). The other two are standby for if we ever want running backstays or somesuch.

If setting in a tabernacle (which I warmly recommend), the other piece of hardware is a hinge, affixed to the front or back of the mast at a level that lets the foot hang an inch or so proud of the deck. We use a heavy galvanized strap hinge used for fences. Lag screw it onto the mast and seize it with wire just under the hinge loop (to back up the lag screws).

Once the mast is in position and we've inserted the hinge pin (stainless rod). We tie a lanyard to the bolt, and start taking wraps... away from the bolt, round the mast, round the bolt on the other side and back, repeating until we're out of room, and then make fast. This further backs up the hinge mountings. Might be overkill, but we rest easy!

Aft Tabernacle with cushion
Fore tabernacle showing lanyard wrap (doubles as cushion for this mast).

 One problem we've had is that the tabernacles tend to be a bit loose fit. We build them oversized, to take non-exact trees, but the slop lets the mast move, slightly, from tack to tack. Cedar wedges work for a bit, but compress and fall out. Our solution was to wrap narrow firehose (wide webbing would work, too) with just enough turns to make a tight cushion between tabernacle sides. It's a little more work getting it to set on raising, but stays nice and firm in all weathers.

Last bit is pinning the foot. Usually, this hardware goes with the tabernacle. We use a cross pin of the same stock as the mast hinge pin, passing so as to block the swing of the mast foot. We flatten the foot, parallel to this pin, and add a wedge from top. Typically, we'll set a screw through the wedge and into the mast, to ensure it stays in place. To prevent side to side motion at the foot, we stand planks to either side (they can't fall out, like the upper preventers did.

Forward tabernacle, pinned foot.

When we were finishing up with SLACKTIDE, we put the masts up and bent the sails - time for a party to bid farewell to our Sitka friends. One of them immediately dubbed it our erection party.

A good time was had by all!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sewing up the Sails

Rolling out the Red Carpet
Photos courtesy of Jim Dangel

One of the hardest parts of on-the-fly boatbuilding, for us, has been sewing up the sails. Finding a big, flat, clean, dry, affordable and empty space in SE Alaska is a challenge. Not all of these are necessary, but each sure speeds the process up, and improves the quality of the resulting sails.

With LUNA, we were lucky to be given permission to use the Tenakee school gym over winter break, only having to pick up once a week for open volleyball.

These were our first DIY sails as well as our first Junk Sails, and took about two weeks. Most of that went into learning to use a machine and beginner's overkill. Since Junk Rig distributes loads so evenly, the massive reenforcement patches, double edge hems, chafe strips, hand-sewn corner rings and such were all unnecessary.

For SLACKTIDE, we were in Sitka, a much larger town... we had no personal connection with custodians of large spaces, so were scratching our heads. Anke suggested checking out rental prices at the community center, the venue for a world class classical music festival, plays, trade shows, art markets and City Council meetings.

"You want to make sails... not sell them?"

Yessir, nossir!

"I don't see that we need to charge you anything... Let's see... I can give you three days."

Gulp. Well, sure. But only three days, and only during open hours (about eight per day). Gulp. At least, we figured, we could get the body of the sails sewn up, and finish edges and grommets, later.

We were able to store our materials and tools, there, so got set up and ready to go as soon as the doors opened.

Ready? Set? GO!

First, we rolled out the red carpet.  We'd designed the sails to be 2 x 60in cloth, minus 3in (2 x 1in for single fold hems and 1in for overlap between strips), for a total width of 117in or 9ft 9in. Once we'd dotted down the overlap seam with hot melt glue, we could think of the joined pieces as a single strip.

First parallelogram ready to sew.
Since our mostly riverine style of JR has parallel battens in what we call the parallelogram, these could be cut efficiently from our strip. Once the bottom angle is measured and cut (using a hot knife) all battens run parallel to that edge. Two more cuts, at the top of each parallelogram complete the shapes for both main and mizzen. BTW, the angled lines are a bit longer than the straight shot across... they finish just shy of 10ft, which will be the batten/boom/lug length.

We rolled the parallelograms 'vertically', from both sides, like a scroll, keeping the mid-line exposed. Twice each through the sewing machine, zig-zag stitch.

Headsail before leech hollow.
Headsails, the upper, semi-triangular portion, is only a little trickier. They are identical, so we laid out one on doubled cloth. We used the plans as guidelines, but more or less adjusted by eye, full size until we liked the look. Same sewing approach, down their mid-lines.

Last step requiring the big space was joining the headsails to their parallelograms. Again, we dotted with hot-melt glue, then transferred to the sewing table to finish up.

[Actually, we futzed around a whole day with chafing strips along each batten... I've come to consider these unnecessary for inshore, as we have seen absolutely no wear on the strips. Next sails will do without.]

Done with time to spare! We actually sewed up a tarp for the boat with the extra day.

As it happened, a teacher friend let us use his classroom (free in summer break) to finish up the edges. This took much less space as we could go a few feet at a time, exposing only the edge in question as we went.

To hold the hems in place, while sewing, we used good quality hairpins as clamps... 150 of them cost about that many cents.

The sails are only 10ft along the booms. We finished up by installing the grommets aboard SLACKTIDE, one rainy day, working along one batten at a time. A friend showed up and wanted to help. A little crowded, but loads of fun!

The hot-melt glue worked great... it helped to press it flat, on contact, or there will be a permenant little bead of glue. With some effort, we could tear it open to adjust, if necessary. It was fast and stuck well... unlike pins you don't get perforated. The hairpins along the edges were faster, yet, and no hot tip.

Sailcloth is Top Notch, woven from acrylic coated polyester thread. It has a nice 'hand', and no filmed coating. After three years, it's looking good, setting well and water still beads and runs off without soaking the fabric.


Rigging the battens, boom and lugs was a project for the docks.

We always tie to the far end, in Sitka (half a dock mile from the ramp). Easy sail in and out, no competition, great view and projects on the dock can often slide, if kept neat and in moderation.

Oiled, red cedar 2x2s have worked well for battens... light going up, but heavy enough to bring 'em down. We use a simple hole at each end (faired), and lash to the sail grommets. Then lace the battens to the sail with marlin hitches. 1/4in nylon along booms and lugs.

Batten parrels work best slippery. We like bright yellow, laid polypropylene... we use light duty tuck splices (slipping the end through several lays to form a loop... this is adjustable and easily removed and redone). The yellow stands out nicely against the red sailcloth.


The rig is usually the last push in building a boat. Once those sails are made and bent, one can almost feel the vessel yearning to be underway. To spread her wings and fly!

And who are we, to stand in her way?

Early days sailing... working out the kinks (in that mizzen!).

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Chain of Command: Command in Chains

Cap'n Dave
Anarchist at Anchor; Autocrat Afloat
I'm an anarchist. Don't like hierarchies and reject authority.

Which is why it pains me to admit that, shipboard, all this goes out the porthole. Handling a vessel requires prompt, decisive and coordinated action. A bunch of anarchists have trouble pulling together on short notice. Democracy is a day late and a dollar short.

Nothing but autocracy has stood the test of time and the sea.

With the Captain lies the burden of decision. It is the Cap'n who issues the orders, coordinating crew actions; to whom the crew reports. For good or ill, when the Cap'n says jump, the only question is how high? No argument; no discussion. Not because father knows best, but because there ain't no time.

But that's only urgent in the very few times that events are coming thick and fast.

Most often, there is time for the Cap'n to gather opinions, expertise and wishes from the crew. Consensus can, in most cases, be reached. Humor and grace and tolerance... these are not just magnanimities, but contribute significantly to working the vessel. Disrespect toward the crew has lost many's the otherwise tight ship.

On SLACKTIDE, as a crew of lovers; maltreatment and disrespect aren't options.

We trade off the captaincy, because, like any skill, it takes practice. When we need that skill, we want it well worn and familiar in the hand. We don't want to be thinking about the process when our minds are full of wind and rocks.

Most times it's easy going... falling into the rhythms of drop anchor and pull, set sail and reef. We talk over our wishes and the realities that beset them, and come to an accord. But when push comes to shove, and Cap'n Anke's on deck, when she says jump, I ask how high!

It isn't necessary that the most experienced person be captain. That can help, sure. But, so long as captains draw on the experience of their crew, and can depend on crew to execute their commands, the ability to be decisive trumps experience.

On a warship, for example, the captain is unlikely to be most qualified to maintain the engines, sit sonar, or even navigate... all those are skills to command; resources to be called upon. On a cruiser, the captain might put the most experienced person at the helm in a blow, or the lightest to the masthead to free a haulyard. Decision and delegation are the captain's business.


Work out Communication Protocols - This feels goofy, at first, and sounds like a bad play until you get it down. But it helps immensely to develop terse, easily understood communication standards for each SOP. Some will be non-verbal (whole arm signals, and the like). Verbal exchange should be just as simple and precise. It helps to use words of one or two syllables which carry well. Speak up, and turn to face the recipient. Repeat back for confirmation.

Some of these protocols are well known maritime standards. Shippy terms and usages aren't just vain souvenirs of times gone by. They evolved because they work well under stress. I'm not talking about piping the Admiral aboard. Ready about / Helm a-lee is the kind of thing I mean.

Traditional forms are tried-and-true and understood by most sailors. For example, the term 'tack' is common usage, while its trendy alternative, 'flop', is not. Either work, however, so long as all aboard are fluent with the terms.

[This bit is reposted from Rules of Thumb.]


Our most useful call outs are Stand by! and Say again! These mean Hold on aminnit! and Huh? respectively, but carry further. By saying the same thing each time, it's much more clear than a bag of equivalents shouted across a windy deck. We've learned to trust them, too, that they'll work without further explanation or complaint, and that heads off the quetsching to which couples can be prone.

Here are some sample exchanges we use....

Getting underway:

Haul short!
Hauling short... short! 

Haul away!
Hauling... anchors a'trip... anchor's aweigh... anchor's aboard!
Anchor's aboard!

Back main to starb'rd!
Backing main to starb'rd!
Let go the main!

I toldja this sounds goofy. Lot's of redundancy and small steps, practiced in calm times, make it go like clockwork when it's blowing up and sleeting sideways.

The mizzen (aft sail) is hauled up before we get started, which holds our bow into the wind. While the anchor is being hauled aboard, the helm hoists the main. If there are any difficulties at the anchor (weed, say), the bow will answer the backing call with "No can do!". The helm will then go forward to back the sail and complete the maneuver.

In that last step, backing the main makes the bow fall off away from the backed sail. The helm will reverse tiller away from the sail, as well, and the boat spins on a dime. At 45deg off the wind, we let go the main, trim, and sail off under normal helm.

Dropping anchor:

No bottom at twelve fathoms!
No bottom at twelve fathoms!
Mud bottom at ten fathoms... standby to drop port side!
Standing by!

Mud bottom at five fathoms... Drop!

Make fast!
Making fast... line coming taut!
Line coming taut!



The helm is doing the sounding. As soon as the doink is done, the helm hauls the boards, to prevent fouling with the anchor line. Tidy up commences with no commands necessary.


Reef two main panels!
Reefing two main panels!

Reef two mizzen panels!
Reefing two mizzen panels!

The helm will trim the sails as each is reefed.

Tacking up a narrow, rocky cut:

Stand by the pole!
Standing by the pole!

Rock on the port bow, four meters, half fathom!
Rock on port bow, four meters, half fathom!


Note that dangers are identified by direction, distance and depth. We accompany this with whole arm pointing, when possible.

In this case, the bow usually call the shots as they have the good view. It's their call whether to push with the pole, or not, though the helm can also call for a push or backed sail.

We actually prefer to sail close-hauled through dangers. The only active option is to tack, which simplifies things greatly. If we somehow end up in a cul de sac, worst case is luff up, drop the main, and drift backwards through clear water until we can fall off again.


As you can see, there's not much to it. The main trick is to have clear, unambiguous words. Repetition helps nip misunderstanding in the bud. And practice, practice, practice!

Assess, Address, Amend. This is our mantra. We work out standard operating procedures (SOPs), and debrief them after every task in which there's the least whiff of trouble.

When something has gone wrong, there are only two possibilities: Either the SOPs need improvement, or we need more training (drills) in their use.

Neither of these is a personal issue... there is no blame or recrimination called for, no matter how dire the consequences. There's a tendency to think that guilt is proportional to a bad outcome. I propose that guilt is an impediment to action, and to the correction of problems. Guilt, defensiveness, and blame are a useless and unpleasant tangle of emotions... I strongly suggest you chuck 'em overboard.

And when the anchor's down, Cap'n, take off the hat?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Innocents Abroad

Well, this one's kind of a sailing story... at least it's shot through with sailors:

We had a young friend from France who had just bought a sailboat, had never sailed, and could use some help taking it a ways south. Youth and passion should be encouraged, so we agreed to crew for him. He wanted to sail, as much as possible, which, in that place and season, meant long hours adrift on the tide.

To while away the time, he produced a battered copy of Le Grand Depart Et La Vie Sur L'Eau, from which he read us passages in rapturous and poetic sounding phrases. In French.

Anke and I both failed to catch the essence of the Lange d'Amour despite earnest effort in highschool. We can chisel meaning from basic parlez vous, especially if accompanied by lots of pointing and charades. But with a lot of help, we were getting the gist.

It is the story of Michka, a young, French woman and her partner, who built a ferrocement sailboat, sailed it to Alaska and back, with music and love and beauty on the way. Good advice, recipes and stories interwoven with drawings of the hippy take on the good life. Right up our alley!

But, as our friend constantly interrupted his readings to inform us, "GUYS! You ayre meesing ze POetree! Zee essance! I cannot translate zees!"

He seemed to think it was pretty well written, beyond the bare bones of the story... it was Michka who had inspired him to take to the sea, and this trip was his first voyage and GUYS! Eet ees sooo fantasteeek!

Well, we all got where we were going with only the right amount of excitement along the way.


Years later, as a gift from Anke's parents, we found ourselves staying in the heart of Paris for a week.

Paris, I've got to admit, is a dazzling city, with layer upon layer of chaos and organization. Endless small corners where one delight or another - ranging from homely to exotic - presents itself in a parade of serendipity. We goggled and gawped like the yokels we are.

Lots of little bookshops drew us in. They were everything we could hope for in such a place... towering shelves sagging under the weight of dusty books, ancient and new. Funny little characters in berets going at it, chest to chest over a passage from Balzac. Cats sleeping in the windows. Amelie, would feel right at home. But all in French, of course...

"Hey," I say to Anke, "let's ask around for that book... Le Grand Depart!"

"Noooo," she says, because she's German, and that's a cultural reflex, "That's got to be way out of print."

But I ask around. And indeed, no one's heard of it, but they're all very kind and patient with my dog French and full of suggestions. Eventually, we wander into a shop with a computer.

"Weell, no... eet ees out of preent, but I see ze publisheer ees heere een Paree... whould you like ze address?"

Sure!  So we hop the metro and get off, go directement, a gauche, a droit and a gauche encore. GULP! We find ourselves standing in front of a glass and chrome building that looks more like a bank than a publishing house. Suddenly, we're feeling a bit shabby in our 'city clothes' which are what we always wear, but before the paint stains and patches... until now, they'd seemed pretty adequate.

But the address checked out, so we squared our shoulders and marched into... a room about four stories tall, continuing the glass and chrome theme from outside. I've heard that modern urban architecture is designed to make one feel small and submissive. This architect was earning his keep!

At one end, a stylish woman with a severe expression glared from behind a marble desk. We were the only people in the room. We were about to bolt, when she emitted a curt, "Venez." We slunk toward her, and, fear doing nothing for my fluency, explained our mission.

"Pardon, Madame, nous cherchon une livre - La Grand Depart et la Vie sur l'Eau - mais..." But...

She silenced me with a frosty stare. "Attendez." Wait.

She disappeared through what looked like vault doors. We waited nervously, like puppies learning to Sit. Stay. Had she got to fetch guards? Would we become personel disparu??

But then she returned, her face wreathed in smiles, and bearing our book in her hands.

"Vingt Franc, s'il vous plait, e merci!" Five bucks! Sold!

We fled the building, our treasure in hand.


When we'd run as far as we could, we collapsed, and looked over the book. Yup. Still in French. Poetry still beyond us. Still full of great drawings, and... 'ELL-OOO... on the back cover, it says Michka returned to PARIS after her voyage where she now lives!

"Why don't we give her a call???" says I.

"Noooo," says Anke, because she's German, and that's a cultural reflex, "That was published twenty years ago, and besides, you can't just call up a stranger!"

So we look in the phonebook, and there are two Michka's.

BINGO, on the first try!

"Weel, I am a beet beesee, right now, but I can spare some time...", and we set up a date at a certain cafe for the next day.

We were there early, bright eyed and bushy tailed. Michka and her husband (who shot her photo for the back cover) arrived shortly after. We recognized her right away... 30 years don't change the eyes or hide a beautiful spirit.

First thing she wanted to know, was how we found her?

So we tell her the story of our friend and his new boat and the trip with her book. We told her of the hunt through the bookshops of Paris. We told her of the terrors at the publishers. We told her of the phone book... at which point they busted out laughing!

Anke and I looked at each other... they sounded a bit... hysterical.

Turns out, in the twenty some years since Michka had been living in Paris, she had become one of France's leading advocates for the legalization of cannabis. Marijuana. The Evil Weed, itself.

She had published, among other things, an article in Maintenant called "The Crusade of Gabriel Nahas - or the Art of Disinformation". This was a critique of a doctor who had done one of the early and very influential studies of the effects of cannibis, but who has been widely criticized for his methodologies.

Three years earlier, Dr. Nahas responded to this article by suing on grounds of libel. A subpoena was issued to be served, but the Paris police could not find her. They passed the buck to the national security police, who also failed. On to Interpol. They combed the gutters, the dives of Paris, of France, of Europe and beyond!

TWO YEARS after the suit was filed, she was finally located - a suburban soccer Mom living quietly, but not that quietly, considering she was still regularly publishing. Her trial was now about to commence, which was why she was "a beet beesy, right now."

And here we walk in - country bumpkins that we are - and find her listed in the phone book!

Who'd'a thunk it?

Sailor, writer, poet and Freedom Fighter

PS. Michka lost the suit, but in a QB VII manner. She was fined one Franc (about 20 cents). Her book, we've since found, is known and loved by a wide range of French sailors. They all insist, "GUYS! Zees ees POetry!"

PSS. Our young French friend is now a world class sailor.

PSSS. If you are French, please forgive my crude renditions of your delightful accent when speaking my language far better than I speak yours. Both the accent and the language itself are music to my ears!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Warp Six: Looking Over the Anchor Gear

Neither should a ship rely on one small anchor, 
Nor life on a single hope.  

Warp Six: Looking Over the Anchor Gear

There are some nights, me Boys and Girls, where well set anchors are the best of friends!

Most cruising advice is to carry three anchors; the bower (usually hanging ready at the bow), the kedge (lighter, and ready to deploy form the stern) and storm anchor (often stowed deep and in pieces, it's called upon only in the worst conditions). Many cruisers will double the bower.

This is a pretty good set (especially with the second bower) and covers most cruising for boats that don't dry out. For those that do, however, the more the merrier! But alas, small boats suffer limitations. 

Over the years, we've slowly worked out a system of six anchors. These have been chosen for flexibility and synergies among them. Here's the list:
  • Bowers - 2 x Manson @ 25lb (spade) on 10ftm of 3/16in chain and 300ft of 1/2" nylon rode, each.
  • Kedges - 1 x Northill @ 15lb and 1 x Northill 25lb (fluke) on 10ftm of 3/16in chain and 150ft of 3/8in nylon rode, each.
  • Claws -  2 x Lewmar Claw @ 22lb on 30ft of 3/16in chain, no rode.
NOTE: Since this writing we've added a capstan windlass with rope clutch and gypsy. All chain is now matched to the gypsy at 1/4in.

In addition, we've got the following line on standby: 1 x 300ft of 1/2in nylon rode, 2 x 150ft of 3/8in nylon rode (on spools), 1 x 300ft of 1/4in nylon rode (on spool).

Standby line is used for shore tie, to extend primary rode for deep water or warping, dory line, hauling or hoisting with our 'endless' rope come-along, and any number of oddball projects that come up from time to time.

Anchor ratings are a voodoo science. They are usually given by length-of-vessel... by itself that tells you nothing about a vessel's weight, windage, and most importantly, motion in waves.

Ours are claimed to be adequate for boats considerably larger than ourselves, and this is in fact what we see in the general fleet. I am always amazed to see some multi-millon dollar yacht with a hillside's worth of windage sporting a single, dinky anchor at the bow. Hope their insurance plan delivers to Bleak Reef!

The Mansons are the largest we can comfortably pull. Several features commanded love at first sight. Their roll-bar will rotate the tip downward to engage the bottom. Normally, this is accomplished less reliably by a heavily weighted tip... weight saved goes into a broader spade; more area = more holding power on given weight. Since the weight is out of the tip, it can be sharp and slim for cutting down through moderate weed. Lloyds of London granted them their first, ultra-high holding rating.

You might have noticed the slot along the shank. In iffy bottom (where it could get stuck in rock, say), one can shackle to the slot and stand a chance of pulling it from the crown end, in case of fouling. But these are spendy suckers! We send one of the cheaper styles down if we have any doubts.

We have the pair hanging in rollers at the bow, ready to drop at a moment's notice. If we walk them out over a beach, the roll-bars make convenient grips, and balance fairly well out from our legs.

Northills are one of the early lightweight anchors designed for aircraft, and are favored by many of the local fishermen. They stow flat with cross-bar folded flat along the shank. They bite easier and in firm bottom, hold better than any other fluke anchor, for their size. They're not being made any more, but can often be found at auction (try online), or welded up (be sure to replicate angles, exactly).

Being lighter, they can be rowed out and handled with greater ease. Pretty good in weed. If we can't avoid the weed, we might put down one or both to back up the bowers. Most often we use them on broad, open beaches- they and the bowers splayed out from the quarters - where we need to fix the boat's position (over a sand-patch among rocks, say).

They do leave a fluke up. If anchoring with them, it's always against another holdfast to limit our swing from overrunning the exposed fluke... a half-hitch around that and off you go!

The Claws are broad lobed knock-offs of anchors designed for oil-rig platforms. They're not as easy to set as the others, having blunt entrances, but once in, their geometry holds well. They are reported to out-perform other types on short scope (a plus in offshore anchoring), and this seems to hold up in many's the tight anchorage.

A claw is often brought forward as a second bower... in light winds, the boat can turn many times a night, twisting two rodes... the claw, being set on a spool, can easily be set straight by passing the spool with any line still aboard round the fixed, bower rode.

A vital use for the claws is to double the Mansons in-line for storm conditions; end of each claws' chain shackled to a Manson's crown. 

The effect is greater than the sum of its parts. Very strong pulls on the rode straighten the sag in the line. If the line is straight, the inboard anchor shank can lift to match the scope, and possibly pull free. In this case, however, it still acts as a catenary (resisting straightening of the rode), and thereby backing up the outboard anchor by its very presence.

If we know storm conditions are coming, and we're committed to an open anchorage, we'll set up both bowers this way, angled about 60deg to one another.

If it's to be a real bad one, we'll wing the Northills wide along the line formed by the other two (perpendicular to the expected wind), and leave their lines a bit slack. When it all comes down, we can adjust tension among the lines to spread the load.

Better to be snugged into a tight lee, however, and better yet high and dry!