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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

Friday, February 21, 2014

Climbing the Learning Curve

Go forth and conquer!

The days like flowers bloom and fade
     and do not come again.

From (We've Only Got) These Times We're Living In by Kate Wolf

Climbing the Learning Curve
Everything in life has a learning curve... some stretches are but a gentle slope with decent footing; others steeper and can be slippery; yet others appear precipitous as we squint ahead. Some may indeed be insurmountable, but there are many paths.

I often write of TriloBoats (simple box barges) as being 'dumbed down' to basics. In many ways, they are. They are as simple as a hull can be.

But there is always a learning curve. 

Decisions among the many options are best made when informed. Some minimal competence with tools is required - a low bar, to be sure, but it must be surmounted. Safety practices understood and made habitual.

And the hull is but a fraction of the finished vessel.

Interiors, rig and gear are at least somewhat independent of the hull. That is, these three would represent a more or less constant amount of effort, regardless of the hull in which they are being mounted. Together, they comprise a significant proportion of the learning curve/effort that goes into the finished vessel.

This is why I harp on KISS (Keep It Simple, Sailor) throughout, aloft and alow. At least for those of us who are looking for a short, easy-ish stroll through the foothills on the way to the water.

Once launched, comes sailing. 

This, too, is a relatively easy, short stretch. There's just not much to the mechanics of  sailing. Put sails up or down, trim and adjust them for on or off the wind. Balance the forces. Go.

Ah, but seamanship! 

Here is Mount Analog, that summitless, ideal mountain, envisioned by Rene Daumal. The ways of wind and water. The ways of your vessel. Navigation, pilotage, the lay of your grounds, with its every rock in reach of your keel. The ways of your own heart, mind and soul.

We will never master our subject, but we can embrace the learning curve.

The journey is thrilling, and satisfying to the soul. Novelty abounds, and challenge never bleeds out to pale boredom. Strength, understanding and ability increase at every step. Even our mistakes extend our grasp! 

Our world, at last, is far greater than ourselves, and our finite selves cannot exhaust it.

Not so our lives. This finite lot of time we call our own hastens to its end. These gifts of mortality are perishable.


Let us launch ourselves from our armchairs! Let us take up tool and material and bring to life these dreams of ours! If nothing else, let us build a punt and learn to sail it across a pond... take small, easy steps that teach us to stride with confidence. Let us risk sinking that we learn to swim!

For time is fleeting.


[Favorite Scatological Imperative], or get off the pot!
- Folksy Advice

Full disclosure, here:

This winter is our 5th season caretaking, committing half a year at a crack. Okay work in beautiful places. But it ain't living aboard and at large.

Earnings let us build SLACKTIDE (who proves that box barges work as engineless cruisers), and rebuild our financial 'cushion'. It's paid for visits with family and a family emergency. It's pumping up our resources toward our next, last boat. Next winter, and maybe the next will rebuild our cushion to the point we may be able to coast through the rest of our lives.

That many half-years is a lot of time spent NOT cruising; not living the way we love.

It's a five year plan, which will have spread itself across a decade. A DECADE! And we're not getting any younger, nor our future more secure. Sure, we get a lot of sailing in-between gigs, but it's broken into by dead-line outfitting, and forced transits to and from work, clipping the wings of sailing free.

One has to ask, "How much of what's left of our time will the plan consume?" Is there time for our dream on its far shore?

Nothing is accomplished, without the plan. But neither does it get done with over-planning. Comes a point to every dream when its moment has come. The time is now. To leap while the iron yet burns. To take that first step, however small. To cast off and get underway.

For without that leap of faith, our dreams - and our lives lived without their realization - are but ashes to ashes, dust to dust.


A case in point:

As WhiteSpotPirates, a woman is posting a weekly, video account of the pursuit of her dreams. White Spot is a literal translation of the German Weisser Fleck, the unexpored, 'blank space' on a chart.

In her series, Untie the Lines, she lets us tag along as she climbs the learning curve. It isn't all fun and games, but she's game, and on her way!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Accessorizing Your Barge/Scow

Does this make my butt look big?

The older I get, the more I like the idea of utilitarianism.
I think that I am not a trend driven person. 
I really believe in keeping your canvas very basic and sort of adding the accoutrements from there. 
I look for creating intrigue through creating outfits through accessories.

- Erin Wasson

Accessorizing Your Barge/Scow

Barges (aka Scows) aren't generally known for their looks. But as our friend says, "If you can't hide it, decorate it!"

And there are so many fun possibilities. We start with the fundamentals - cleats, bollards, anchor gear, fenders (tires give that salty feel). 

After that, imagination is the only limit to creativity. Below are but some of the many possibilities!

SCOWZER scowzing along.

One of my favorite accessories. I mean, beautiful, and they turn our slab into a vessel that can make its own way in the world!

Jabba the Hutt understands Accessories!

The Barge from Crete
By Peter McIntyre

An abandoned barge flying this accessory (the improvised sail) carried 137 escaping soldiers from Crete to Egypt in WWII.

Stiff Leg Derrick Barge
from SeaPort ModelWorks


One of the fun things to do with barges is to pick up heavy stuff!

Cranes come in all sizes and shapes.

Be careful... they harness big forces that can sometimes get away from us!

Mast Derrick

A-Frame Raft

Drive-on Crane or Excavator


Legs let a barge prop itself level as the tide drops. To use, nose up to a shoreline, drop afterlegs to the bottom and pin in place.


Jack-Up Barge

Jack-Up Barges are a specialized leg that lets the barge hull lift itself clear of the water.

Cute li'l Spud Barge

 Spuds are temporary piling-like legs, dropped into shallow, soft bottom to anchor a barge. Often, they'll be used as a holdfast for heavy pulling.

Landing/Loading Gates
Photo from Robert Raymond's Family Ancestry Pages

Landing / Loading Gates

These drop down to allow access from beach or dock level.

Is this guy romantic, or what??

See a lot of these in SE Alaska

This type loading ramp is usually raised and lowered via common trailer winches for cable or webbing.

Note the bent boom in the bow loader to the right. These often sport a PTO (Power Take-Off) for pulling crab pots, and the like.

The WaterPod

And So On...
This one is a 'sculptural living design' incorporating onboard power and water generation, as well as organic gardening.


The possibilities are endless! 

A barge or scow can be compared to a blank page. Rectangular, and prepared to receive the projection of our minds. A work barge, a party scow, a home, a vessel.

You decide!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Why Envy the Immortal Gods?

When one has good wine,
A graceful junk,
And a maiden's love...
Why envy the immortal gods?
Li T'si Po

Why Envy the Immortal Gods?

When anyone meets Anke for the first time, it's not long before they take me aside and ask, "Do you know how lucky you are?"

Yee-ah, I do!

Finding love is easy, if one is open to love. Finding a partner another matter. Finding a partner whom we love is pure magic.

And finding one to share a life on the water is such a rarity that it's a wonder it happens at all.

Water life is itself iffy. Prone to life's slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Hard knocks and sudden changes. Rough edges and moments to try our souls. Those of us attracted to it are found along the thin fringe of humanity's bell curve. Likely quirked with 'character' found and fostered.

How to meet, except by the long chance? Where to meet, when we haunt the far reaches, avoiding the press of towns? How to trade singular ways for plural?

Yet now and then - by hook, crook, karma or kismet - we do meet. Out of all the world and time, our paths cross.

And that is all it takes.


Happy Valentine's Day, Anke!

(And to all ye Young Lovers*, where'er ye be)

* Is there any other kind?

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Dozens of Reasons to Use Feet-Inches-Eighths

Nature doesn't go in for 10s, except for the number of fingers on an ape's paw, so he won't strain his brain trying to figure out a complicated concept like 12!
 - From Saga of a Wayward Sailor by Tristan Jones

Dozens of Reasons to use Feet-Inches-Eighths

As you may have heard, most of the civilized world now conducts its business in Metric, a system based on powers of ten. Aside from realms of economy (our money is metric) and science, the USofA is, by and large, one of the last holdouts of the Imperial system, based on multiples of twelve.

Unlike ol' Tristan, I'm a fan of Metric for many tasks, particularly where logorithms or scaling are involved. But, unless one obtains sheet materials fully based on Metric dimensions, Imperial gets my vote.

TriloBoats are based on even fractions of sheet materials standardized on imperial dimensions. Not only are these the only ones available to me, they happen to work out very well for a wide range of boating needs.

Trying to force Metric onto such sheets yields non-mnemonic numbers of fantastic length. For instance, a 4ft x 8ft sheet is 1219mm x 2438mm... and that's not an exact fit. 

And worse:

Ten factors (divides evenly) by the following numbers: 1, 2, 5 and 10.

Twelve factors by the following: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 12. This series usefully implies 8 and 9, as well. 

The difference is immense, giving 'zounds more ways to multiply or divide. For example, a four foot (48 inch), width of plywood can be divided into even 1/2s, 1/3rds, 1/4ths, 1/6ths, 1/8ths or 1/12ths without mental strain.

The tricky part comes in trying to add or subtract fractional values. Before they must be converted to a 'common denominator', and the answer likely 'reduced' to 'mixed fractions'. Error prone process, this. Complicated by notational conventions that run numbers together, or use 'tick marks' for feet and inches, which get mixed in to the number, or lost in the confusion.

Fortunately, boatbuilders came up with a system called Feet-Inches-Eighths (I'll call it FIE, from here on out).

In FIE, a number, such as five feet, three inches and seven eighths (5'7 3/8'', in tick notation) comes out as 5-3-7. Simple! 

If you're the finnicky sort, you can adjust up or down by one or two following signs (+ or -)... the first one signifies plus or minus 1/16th of an inch, and the second use 1/32nd of an inch. I've only ever rarely used even the first in TriloBoats.

Addition involves carrying:

+  4-9-2
    9-12-9    (Our initial, unadjusted answer... 9ft - 12in - 9 eighths)
    9-13-1    (Take eight eigths and SHAZAM... they become an inch in the middle column)
   10-1-1     (Take twelve inches, and SHAZAM... they become a foot in the left column :Answer!).

Subtraction involves borrowing:

   4  -0-0     (Don't like the looks of this... let's borrow feet...)
   3-12-0     (Still don't like it... lets borrow an inch.)

   3-11-8     (There... still the same number we started with, but now we can get to work!)
-  2 -3 -4 
   1  -8-4     (Answer: 1ft - 8in - 4eighths) 

[Thanks to astute reader, ROB, for correcting a sloppy mistake on my part!]
Multiplication and division, should you ever need them, are little different (I won't go into them, here... just remember that they are essentially repeated addition and subtraction, respectively).

It takes a little practice to wrap one's head around FIE, but the payoff is considerable. No common denominators (they're all eighths). The notation is straightforward. 

If you are truly lazy (as I mostly am), consider skipping feet, and work entirely in Inches-Eighths. That's one column less borrowing and carrying.

So... we don't have to use FIE for building TriloBoats, but I sure recommend it. The hours or less it will take you to become proficient in this simple system will quickly pay for themselves...

With the very first big mistake we avoid.

For a full treatment of FIE, and a generally great book on boatbuilding, see Go Build Your Own Boat, by Harold 'Dynamite' Payson.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Water-Based WaterCraft: Options in Boatbuilding

Water-Based Materials
Better for Us
Better for the Environment

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I...
I took the one less traveled by.
- From Two Roads by Robert Frost

Water-Based WaterCraft: Options in Boatbuilding

VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) are nasty bio-hazards.

These li'l suckers tend to be very small molecules, which walk through flesh and bone. Usually starting in liquid form, they flow or smear onto skin. They are prone to go airborne (volatile), entering by way of the lungs. Penetrating tissue, they head to the blood stream and spread out to every cell in our bodies.

 Every single intruder causes some damage to tissue, especially our precious nervous systemics. Exposure symptoms range from dizziness and nausea to  convulsions to long-term health problems, cancer and even death.

Safety gear is highly recommended - barrier creams, protective clothing, gloves, goggles, respirators (better yet, forced air ventilation), etc.. Macho/macha is stupid, here, boys and girls. Safety gear reduces exposure but can't eliminate it.

Like radiation, there really is no 'safe level of exposure'. There's bad, worse, critical and deadly.


But hey! We're living in an Age of Material Miracles. And water-based products with no or low VOCs and/or toxicity are proliferating. It's is possible to build a successful boat, these days, entirely with water-based products.

Plus, water-based products can be cleaned up with water (before they're cured!). 

There are down-sides. Few are 'recommended' for marine uses... no warranties for 'mis-use' of this sort. They usually require at least one porous surface, or exposure to air to dry. And they cure slowly in cool, moist conditions. If they get wet before full cure (even when apparently set) it can be a sad day. They are not all completly non-toxic... we should still use safety gear, but our level of risk-upon-exposure drops dramatically.

One thing to recall, in all this, is that epoxy - that wonder-stuff - is relatively recent. The whole concept of waterproof adhesive is relatively recent. Wasn't so long ago that we built boats entirely without adhesives, using tars and leaded puckies for waterproofing. It's a low bar.

Let's look at some categories of substances we need to build boats, and some water-based products...

WBP (Weather and Boiling Proof) is the Holy Grail of waterproof glues. Yet, as many point out, we don't often sail in boiling seas. Everything-but glues have done very well in the field, and are well worth a look.

PSI (Pounds per Square Inch) of adhesion is pretty much wasted after the fiber strength of woods being glued is exceeded. Once the wood tears apart, does it matter if the glue is still going strong? In comparing, consider the stresses involved, the area over which stresses distribute and the required adhesion (vs the highest potential adhesion).

DAP Weldwood Plastic Resin Glue has been used for many years, above and below the waterline. It comes in powder form (careful... has its own dangers until mixed! You don't want to breath glue dust!). It is a 'structural glue', meaning it's designed for very high loads.

TiteBond III "barely passes the WBP" test, and is not recommended below the waterline. Nor is it a 'structural glue'. Okay. Use with discretion. Shorty Routh, of PDRacer fame, has wide experience with TBIII. He also mixes with fine sawdust (he runs it through a blender!) for a thixotropic, filleting compound.

Various Contact Adhesives - These are useful for a range of jobs. Water-based versions are now on a performance par with volatile types (which are particularly nasty, vapor-wise).

Various Roofing and Flooring Adhesives - These look promising for lamination of sheet materials. Anywhere that very large area allows lower PSI adhesion. When in doubt, use a higher quality (fully waterproof) adhesive around the perimeters. Viscosity ranges considerably. Consider researching the technical data sheets for each product.

From what I can see out there, on-line, and from my (limited) experience, either glue is fully adequate as a boatbuilding glue. We've used these on faces (as opposed to edges) of our boats, and never observed a failure. 

The caveat is that it's very hard to spot a partial failure within a face joint. Note also that faces are only exposed along their edges, backed by a large 'interior' to the join. Edges have far less area interior to the join, so a failure along and edge's edge will be a much larger percentage of its total bond.

One strategy for a potentially soluble glue join is to apply sever 'sacrificial' layers over exposed portions, that are easily renewed should they degrade. Haven't seen it, but a stitch in time...

Elastomeric Adhesives, Sealants, Bedding Compounds

This is the one I'm still looking for. There are plenty of elastomeric 'adhesive' sealants which are water-based, but their PSIs are low. Still, if fasteners are employed for the primary bond, the elastomerics complement them with a flexible, water-proof seal.

DAP ALEX PLUS Acrylic Latex Caulk plus Silicone - Inexpensive, non-adhesive, modest elongation and easy to work with. We use this for all bedding above the waterline.

Sashco BIG STRETCH - This is a highly gap-filling, fairly adhesive caulk with great elongation (%500!). If we chose a fastener-based strategy, this is the stuff I'd use along the edges.

Titebond III - Makes a pretty fair sealant! Applied like paint, it makes a thick, hard surface with  translucent, amberish tones. Thinned with water, it penetrates end grain. A couple of applications and it appears to seal plywood edges. So far, we've only tried samples in this manner, not in the real world.

Our plan for the next boat is to coat the interior with TBIII, and delay painting to see how things go. We like the looks, and it seems very easy to clean.

Various Latex Adhesives - There's a slew of inexpensive, special purpose adhesives at your local hardware store. Look around and think out of the box! You may find your solution.

In SLACKTIDE, we used cove adhesive (made for that plastic, bathroom molding that may edge your bathroom floor) for SIP foam ply adhesive. Notched spreaders to apply gave a decent grip. Sub-floor adhesives, carpet adhesives, and contact adhesives may all have their place.

Various Water-Based, Asphalt Emulsions - These are essentially roofing tar, once cured. Before that, though, they thin and clean up with water. Made a very successful below-the-waterline coating over plywood. May have potential as a laminating option.


This probably isn't the word I'm looking for. I'll use it to mean pucky used to bed a fabric (glass or acrylic).
Lagging Compound - This stuff is designed to saturate cloth for wrapping water pipe. Arabol, formerly made by Borden (Elmer's Glue), used to be widely used in home-built construction. Nowadays you have to go a-hunting. Makes a soft-ish surface that's can be cut or punctured (easily repaired), but holds up well in normal traffic. Mostly used for decks, though I heard of one lapstrake(!) hull that got an extra decade of life thanks to hull sheathing.

To apply, lay down your fabric and wet down with water. Paint on compound and let dry to the touch (very fast in warm, dry weather). Recoat, full-strength and repeat until satisfied. Prime and topcoat.

Titebond III - Hello, again! Apply just like lagging compound. Difference is, the result is very hard and scratch resistant. Four coats filled the weave. We put our test sample out in the Alaskan winter a month with rain/snow/freeze/thaw. No sign of trouble, even where water was allowed to penetrate under. I'll report back here with results of paint/immersion tests in a couple of weeks.

Our plan, pending tests, is to sheath our next boat's decks and sides (above the copper line) with acrylic cloth set in TBIII. Should have a full report, down the road.

Paints and Varnish

Latex Primer/Paint - Latex paints have benefited from the huge housing market. They've eclipsed oil based paint for marine use. Cheaper, easier to apply, better movement, don't require periodic stripping.

Water-based PolyUrethane Varnishes - These provide clear coats which are often less brittle (and generally more durable) than VOC based types, and often easier to apply.


So, we have a full range of possible or proven, water-based materials covering every niche. 

I can't say that I recommend going all water-based. But I do recommend considering whether a given application allows a water-based solution. 

There are new, 'greener' products coming out as demand rises. Every molecule of VOC we can keep out of our bodies and the environment is a boon.

Shall we pursue a road less traveled?