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Anke and I live aboard WAYWARD, and wrote about it's design and construction at

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Fair winds!

Dave and Anke
triloboats swirly gmail daughter com

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Why I Love Shoal Draft

Ducking Gales in Peril Strait

Sailing o'er deep water
  Or skimmin' o'er the shoals,
Takin' the ground as a matter of course,
  Neapin' out the blows...

-- From Barge Come Ploddin'

Why I Love Shoal Draft

For every harbor with good anchoring depth, there are a hundred refuges with skinny water.

Some of these are little more than a hard-chance, ground-and-grind in some marginal lee. Never had to use one, but we scope 'em and note 'em on the chart, just the same. A fisherman friend, who's been around the block, up here, put it this way: "When it all blows to hell, you can just run her aground, step ashore and piss on it!"

Others though - lagoons, sloughs, estuaries, pockets, nooks and crannies - are hurricane holes inaccessible to those deep of draft. You know... all those places you row into with the tender. Wouldn't you love to spend the night? A week? A month? Neap* yourself for the pure pleasure of it!

[*To neap oneself is to sit out some lower portion of the monthly tidal ranges (neaps or neap tides). Tides return higher around springs, near full and dark o' the moon.]

Narrow Entrance, 360deg Lagoon

I wrote about the infinite coastline; shoal draft opens up whole new orders of magnitude in whatever coast you sail. It adds depth in the manner that a cube deepens a square.

I often read, from well intentioned persons, that shoal draft is not seaworthy. Sometimes they're referring to offshore conditions, sometimes they mean 'not at all'. I respectfully disagree. I won't go into it, in this post, but I refer you to The Venturesome Voyages of Captain Voss, trans-Pacific voyaging in a Junk Rigged, NW Coast dugout canoe (shoal draft). He was an early advocate, in the west, of sea-anchors. If ya can do it, it ain't braggin'.

What I do know is that many of our cruising friends won't approach the shore unless it's one of the few, cherry harbors. They're out there longer, gale in their teeth, forcing their way uphill to the next 'decent' shelter. Passing by one wondrous, hidden treasure after another. All the while, we're tucked up, snug as bugs.

For the rest, I'll let pictures paint the words...

Trading in a new mast... time to scrub the hull!

Blowin' N70kts over that berm.

High and dry.

Sailin' shallow... river entrance parallels reef and bar.

This lagoon only accessible via a narrow, tidal race.

Minutes from floating... anchor up and away!


  1. I do envy your ability to "park" in some awesome places along our rocky shores. I have marked plenty of places on my charts for one of my future craft to access those nooks and crannies. Mostly surveyed via binoculars while noticing breaks in the trees with lots of geese or ducks flying in and out of the place. Shallow draft rules!

  2. Blasting over sand bars on a full run (pre-scoped though!!) is pure fun. Beach camping RULZ too. Did a lot in Florida and have just scratched the surface in the NW so far. How does one extend the alaska sailing season? Folks "of means" do it via jet seat. Baja would be a cool shoal drafter locale. Too many places and just enough time.....

    1. Extend the AK season?

      Woodstove and woolies, my friend, woodstove and woolies!


  3. Tom Colvin rode out a gulf-o-mexico hurricane offshore in a centerboarder. Hove-to catamaran folks talk of swells pushing them sideways like a cattle tail brushing away flies. No keel to trip on. Bolger posits the occasional "boom" slap on the bottom but if built well just emotionally disruptive. Leeboarder "Alert" made numerous ocean voyages. Shoal draft rulz, baby!!!

  4. * Very astute, watching bird patterns, Ken. They're often a good clue to a slough or tidal creek, which are often hard to spot from sea-level and rarely marked on charts (topos expensive if trying to cover the whole area)... ducks and geese won't fly through trees.

    * We extend OUR season with a nice, little woodstove. :)

    * I'm working toward a post discussing shoal draft seaworthiness. Stay tuned.

  5. Would a catamaran be able to get into many of your favorite spots or is the wide beam (say 15-20 feet) a killer?

    1. Hi Ben,

      You bet. A very few will keep you out, but that would be one in thousands. They'd likely be found in rivers or sloughs as narrow, mud-bottom pullouts. But they've got fifty neighbors that are plenty wide.

      Most entrances are bordered by slopes (angle of repose or lower). Even if you can't get in at the very bottom of the tide, a higher one widens out. Even these, though are very few and far between.

      C'mon up... you'll LOVE it!


    2. Very tempting, and on the list of places to sail for many years... just gotta cut off snowpetrels keel or build a shallower boat, just love the idea of neaping myself someplace and being able to safely leave the boat while I go off kayaking, walking or skiing.

    3. Hi Ben,

      Considered sheer legs? Bob Wise at passed this along:

      Just one among many solutions to the pesky problem of deep draft!



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