Please visit our home site at

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

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!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Flour Power: A Dough for all Seasons

Biscuits fer Breakfast!
Bake them biscuits, Baby,
Bake 'em nice and brown.
When you get them biscuits baked
We're Alaskanny bound!
Local variant of Pig in a Pen

I must have used up my slim tolerance for exactitude in boatbuilding. I sure don't seem to have any left for cooking.

I was thinking of sharing a medley recipes for various doughs and uses thereof, but realize I don't really have numbers... it's about yea, here and a dash of that, there and to taste throughout. But I'll do my best to come up with some.

Lacking an oven on SLACKTIDE, we cook solely on the stove-top in a Dutch Oven whose lid can serve as a shallow frypan. We heap kitchen towels loosely on the lid to keep heat in. For baking, an oven can be made by throwing some canning rings in the bottom of the Dutch Oven to raise a smaller pan clear of contact.

All amounts are approximate. If it doesn't look right, mull it over and add a bit more of the ingredient whose function will fix it. Li'l bit at a time....

The doughs I make involve four basic ingredients in order of importance:
  • Flour - Ground whole wheat flour.
  • Water - Fresh, mostly, but sometimes a dash of seawater to add salt.
  • Oil - Liquid oil, though if we're around butter, it may make a guest appearance.
  • Baking Powder (non-aluminum) - This is a quick leavening agent that replaces yeast.
Plenty of other things get stirred in, from time to time - milk powder, cornmeal, sugar, spices, nuts, fruits - but they're along for the ride. The dough is the vessel.

I always start by combining dry stuff, then oil and water last.

Water is the easiest to overdo, so I try to err on the side of caution. But if I overshoot, a bit more dry ingredients make it right... extra dough never goes to waste. As soon as I notice that it's on the dry side, I stop stirring and add a bit more water. Tell you the truth, I never measure, but keep a clear target look and feel in mind.

Water and stirring set up gluten from the flour, a binding protein that holds things together. Stir less for lighter results (biscuits, scones, etc.); longer for more cohesive results (flatbread, chapitas, etc). Liquid batters can be left lumpy. Generally, the less the better unless you want a structurally cohesive result.

Oil moistens doughs, affects their texture (tends toward flakier) and adds flavor. The more used in the dough, the less you need in the pan.

We love substitution and ersatz cooking. Half the fun is working out a way to satisfy some culinary craving that might descend out of nowhere far, far from the nearest store. As in sailing, play and experimentation are not only fun, but they soon confer mastery.

The following is just a taste...

Mom's EZ Crust

This can be adapted for pies, quiches, spanakopita, pasties, etc.. More oil makes flakier and less prone to burn. If you come up a little short, just wing it to make a bit more. Very forgiving stuff.

In a pie pan or equivalent, stir together about 2 cup Flour, 2/3 cup oil, and about 1/4 cup water. Stir just until saturated... less makes a flakier crust. Remove about half, roll into a ball and set aside. Press remainder out to edges of pan.

The other half can be the bottom of a second pie, or a cover for this one. To cover, pinch out thin 'leaves' of dough and patch over filled pie. Gaps are fine, as they vent steam. Sprinkle with topping spices and/or sugar and bake as usual.


This is a simple, tough bread used for scooping up pasty goodies, such as hummus.

In a bowl, combine 3 cups flour with  about 1 teaspoon salt. Stir in 1 1/2 cup warm water. Knead until firm and elastic. Let rest 4 hours (you can tell this is one of Anke's). Roll into balls and form flat and thin as possible. Fry hot in liberal oil, turning to get both sides.


These can be made in a number of styles, and perked up with all manner of ingredients. We especially like to top with jam and melt cheddar cheese over.

In a bowl, combine 2 cups of flour, milk powder (optional) and a pinch of baking powder. Make a depression, and add an egg or two (optional)... beat with a fork (on top of but without mixing into flour, yet). Add about 2 cups of water and stir all together. Add water as necessary until thick side of easy flowing batter, less for crepes. Add nuts, seeds, fruit, etc. now if you want them cooked in the pancake.

Heat liberally oiled frypan until a flick of water hops and sizzles on contact. Pour in batter. When bubbles pop but do not close, flip and cook until golden. Top as desired.

[NOTE: Eggs tend to make a dough cakier, and add protein and flavor. Optional, but use more liquid if omitting. Anke skips baking powder for German style pancakes.]

Coffee Cake

This is just one variation among a number of ways you could take it.

Start with pancake batter, but increase baking powder, oil and add sugar to taste. Pour into greased baking pan (looking for about 1 1/2 inches deep... about 8x8 inches).

In a second bowl, mix 1/3 cup solid oil (e.g., butter or peanut butter) with sugar and cinammon to taste. Should clump, but be a bit crumbly. Strew large chunks as streusel over surface. Bake like cinnamon rolls (see below), about 25 minutes.

Baking Powder Biscuit Dough (BPBD)

Most baking powder cans come with a recipe... any will do as a basis for all of the following. You can add milk powder, cornmeal or other flours. More or less water will thicken or soften dough for various uses. Here's the mix for biscuits:

In a bowl, combine 2 cups of flours with around 1 heaping tsp Baking Powder. If adding milk powder, add to 1/4 cup and increase water slightly. Add 1/3 cup oil, and about 1/2 cup water. Stir until just combined, with light, turning motions (I use a fork). Small lumps okay.

Fork in clumps onto medium hot, ungreased skillet, cover and insulate. Check on them when you smell them and turn if doughy on top. Generally takes about 12 minutes.

[Diagnostic Tip: If things are burning on the bottom but doughy elsewhere, the heat is too hot... it doesn't have time to cook through before burning. If things are taking forever, and seem cooked but are pale on the bottom, heat is too low... plenty of time to cook, but can't close the deal.]


For Flatbread, start with BPBD, but use a bit less water (thicker dough), stir longer, and press dough lumps flat in the frypan. Add oil to the pan, if you like, and cook a bit hotter for a crusty piece, aka frybread.

Eggs McSLACKTIDE - Top flatbread with a fried egg and cheese, cover and heat over low-medium heat until cheese is melted. Top with your favorite sauce.
Faux Ruben - Saute thin slices of meat (venison or summer sausage work great). Smear flatbread with special sauce, top with meat and cover with saurkraut.

Cinnamon Rolls

This one is a little tricky... small differences seem to have big consequences. I'm getting it down, but there've been several batches that ranged from chewy to a weird pancake. Always tasty, though, and looks aren't everything, they tell me!

Start with BPBD, then add flour until dough can be handled. Roll flat into a rectangle about 3/8 inch thick. Spread butter liberally and sprinkle with brown sugar, cinnamon, raisins, chopped nuts, etc.. Roll from one long side to form a roll. Slice into about 1 1/2 inch segments, and transfer to a lightly greased pan. Bake at medium-high heat for about 25 minutes. Dribble frosting, if desired.

These are thick, so err on the cooler side so as to not scorch the bottom. The more insulation, the merrier, as these can't be easily turned.


This is a quick meal, which is unfortunate. That means self control is the only thing standing between ourselves and a steady diet of this over-rich food.  8)

Start with thickish BPBD. Sprinkle cornmeal on a frypan and press out dough. Cover, and cook medium-high until first whiff. Put a low trivet under the frypan. Spread sauce, top with choice goodies, cheese last. Cover and cook until smell drives you nuts.


Leftover Bake

Once in a while, we'll have some bready something or other left over.

In a frypan, saute up some garlic, onions, and whatever's going. Crumble in breadstuff and beat in an egg or two. Deal cheese slices over the top. Cover, place on a low trivet and bake over medium heat. Mmm-MMM!


One last word; things don't always turn out as envisioned. But there's very little that can't be salvaged and redeemed, in whole or in part. Burnt dishes can be transferred to another pot, taking care to leave the burn stratum undisturbed. Spice and sauces cover a multitude of cooking gaffes. Often, just a creative name change will make all the difference; crackers, flat bread and biscuits are all points along a spectrum!

Well, I'm getting hungry... bye!

Sailing at Twilight: Thoughts on Aging Aboard

Allen and Sharie Farrell, life-long sailors.

Don't mind the rain, nor the rollin' sea.
The weary night don't bother me.
But the darkest hour of a sailor's day,
Is to watch the sun, as it fades away.

-- From The Grey Funnel Line 
by Cyril Tawney

Sailing at Twilight: Thoughts on Aging Aboard

No one looks forward to getting old, but it sure beats the alternative!

Anke and I are both in healthy middle age - as of this writing, I'm 53, and she's 10 years younger. As women currently outlive men by about five years, on average, our life expectancy gap is roughly 15 years.

We have no health insurance, and no particular prospects for it. We pay our (few) medical and dental bills out-of-pocket. But this means that we have no safety net, as our society now thinks of it. All our insurance is onboard, in our hands and in the good will of our friends.

In this, we join a long Alaskan tradition of old-timers who have lived out their lives in the backwaters.

These are characters of varying tolerance for others. Independant old cusses - male or female - they do for themselves until they can do no more. Most often, they live passably long and healthy lives. As their years go by, their cirque of activities contracts, their pace slows. If they've been friendly and hospitable, chances are they've made younger friends along the way who stop in once and a while, just to see how they're getting on.

Comes a day they slow to a stop.

The watery world has its share of elders whom age did not keep from the sea.

Allen and Sharie Farrell, for example, lived on a shoestring, and sailed the waters of British Columbia, without an engine right up until their deaths in ripe, old age. They were loved and supported by many, but maintained their independence afloat.

There is a clear distinction between the merely aged (who might be hale and spry), and those who have become enfeebled or worse, infirm (persons ill, or in some cases, disabled).

Age is not so much the issue as is enfeeblement and infirmity.

Enfeeblement - the loss of strength - is most often a long, slow decline from one's prime of life. Being slow, there is most often time to work out solutions, alternatives and compromises.

Pace may be slowed; expectations lowered. Mechanical advantage may be introduced or increased. Safety margins widened, with more time spent at anchor. Efficiency is favored, avoiding wasted motion. Forethought and planning supplant the impulsive action of youth. Physical care becomes habitual as the strength to recover from imbalance and injury wanes. Tasks may be more often shared, or delegated, in cases of partnership or community. It takes ingenuity and persistence to keep on in the face of enfeeblement.

Past some threshold in the decline of strength, enfeeblement becomes infirmity.

Infirmity - illness, a chronic condition or disability - is little different whether young or old. If it is treatable, we treat it. If not, we live with it as best we may; succumb if we cannot.

Not so long ago most folks handled the vast majority of their own health issues. Near towns, a General Practitioner might have contributed some higher level care or advice.

Prior to 1920, the state of medical technology generally meant that very little could be done for many patients, and that most patients were treated in their homes.

--Melissa Thomasson of Miami University

Since that time, medical advances have done much to prolong life. Some of these are accessible to us, DIY, as individuals. Others are only available through the medical establishment. Up to a certain point, we can cover the cost of medical assistance, out-of-pocket.

Beyond that point, these interventions come at price.

Debt is a form of enslavement. To prolong one's life in this manner, one must trade a portion of that life to servicing the debt incurred. This might be directly, or previously in the form of insurance premiums. While in debt, no one is free.

This is not to say the bargain may not be struck on behalf of one's self or loved ones. In many cases, the return of life outweighs life invested in covering the debt. At least we hope it does, and many have good reason to hope. Each must find their own way.

Here is ours...

Death lies in wait at the far end of age. Sooner or later, death welcomes us. This is the current of years, the concomitant of age, entropy. No insurance, no intervention, no prevention will save us from it.

Because death is coming, my life is in short supply.
Because my demand for life is high, I value my life.
Because my one precious life is precious, I choose not to trade quality life for poor.
Because I will not trade, I accept my death in its due course.
Because I accept death, I am free to live.

Accepting death, Anke and I choose to forgo the bargain which exacts much life in hopes of a little more.

We bet our lives on health, so long as it may last... it's a bet we cannot lose.

For us, it means joining most of humanity, past and present, in living day to day. Each as fully and deeply as we can. Each day like the wheeling gulls, gleaming and golden against the onrushing dark.

Until such time as our sun fades away, and we go, gently, into that good night.


PS. Just 'cuz this all sounds so somber and serious, which I don't intend it to be, I'll leave you with this:

How do I know that my youth is all spent? 
My get-up-and-go has got-up and went!
But in spite of it all I'm able to grin
When I think where my get-up has been!

-- Anonymous