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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, December 9, 2015

Crank Boats and the Cranks Who Love Them

Joshua Slocum - Leadin' the Way
Took this li'l fixer-upper round the world

I got an Old Fat Boat, she's slow but handsome --
Hard in the chine, soft in the transom --
I love her well!
She must love me,
Though sometimes I think its for my money!

-- from Gordon Bok's Old Fat Boat

Crank Boats and the Cranks Who Love Them

It used to be, tucked away in cove and backwater or moored along the far end of otherwise respectable harbors, one could find boats and persons of interest. Crank boats and the cranks who love them.

Cranks exuded personality.

Crank boats were strange and wondrous of line, often fantastic of rig. They had been built or converted or repaired or transformed, by steady and patient labor, to match the visions of some dreamer. Their pedigrees were dubious, mutted beyond all classification. Each a bold statement of individuality. Each a leap away from the mundane. Ex-centric.

Invention and experiment were casually strewn about, aloft and alow. Solutions by those long of need and short of pocket. Improvisation, makeshift and found-art the rule.

Form may have fit function in obvious albeit unfamiliar harmony. Or cross-purposes, inscrutable to the uninitiated, might jar the beholder.

Previous incarnations – as a ship's lifeboat, a painter's punt or fishboat – glimmered through overlays of ingenuity, hinting of past lives.

Their paint might have needed renewal, their rigging could stand tuning, moss or even grass might have found a foothold. Plank and timber may have relaxed, here and there, succumbing to entropy's lullaby.

Someone invested themselves in these vessels. Someone loved them. Created them in their own image.

Like their craft, those someones were a crank lot.

Often gimpy or missing bits... teeth gone awry or just plain gone... knurled by a life of hard knocks... piercing eye(s) squinting through clouds of smoke... gruff and squally of temperament.

They generally had nothing better to do than offer a drink and an afternoon's worth of pleasant company. Stories to tell and lives to recall. Big ideas and small. Horizons to cross once the Old Girl was brought back into shape. Any day now.

Mostly single men, but sometimes not. They formed a community who knew and looked after one another. Welcomed and mentored new-comers, young and old.


There is challenge and pleasure to a crank boat, mostly lost to a generation of sailors with standards. Who expect much of their toys. Even the renaissance in traditional boat-building often demotes tradition to dogma. Takes innovation for heresy.

A crank boat is created by warm-blooded hands to convictions personally felt and lived. Even second or third hand, it sings a siren song to seduce a kindred spirit. But somewhere along its way, someone with a soul cared enough to breath life into her.

Crank boats have personality. You've got to learn their ways and humor them. Maximize strengths and work around weaknesses. Most everyone loves their boat. Crank boats are loved passionately.

Why? What is it about imperfection that inspires true love where perfection palls?

I think the answer lies in intimacy, in the partnership which crank boats demand.

They are not turn-key. They won't settle for 'pride of ownership', that smug and shallow glow from having the sense and means to make a fine purchase. They didn't roll off some assembly-line perfected by specialists.

With a crank boat, you have to earn your pride. Overcome challenge and obstacle. Apply will, wit and wisdom to deficit and obstacle. Work the angles, break a sweat. Pick up a few scars.

Crank boats teach us to think outside the box. We learn from them, their lessons arriving without syllabus. They demand the best from us, and we love them for it.

When we buy a factory boat, we so often fit ourselves to them. Reduce ourselves to the dull mean for whom they have been designed. Our creativity is exhausted in the choice of colors, fabric or accessories drawn from a narrow list of 'options'. We convince ourselves that we are now among the Beautiful People who inhabit glossy advertisements. Worse, perhaps, is that it becomes true – that our lives become a photo-thin imitation of happiness.


Take a walk, now, down the docks among the gleaming extrusions. If anyone's aboard at all, how often are they polishing chrome to a glister of glare? Or washing salt spray from their topsides, as if their boat was allergic to the sea? How many have a morning or afternoon to while away? How many have even a story to tell?

Hmm. I'm being a bit hard and less than accurate, here. But you know what I mean.

The cranks are mostly gone, whether afloat or afoot. Pushed and priced and fined and impounded and scuttled and land-filled from the public harbors and corners of the sea. 'Cleaned up', as if we weren't talking about a person. A home.

Who gives a fig for vagabonds with their eye-sore fleet of derelicts?

I miss 'em.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Welcome back! Missed you man. Give me a crank any day. Actually I don't think they have all good, quite. I know of a few people round here in Suffolk/Norfolk, who live on their rather cranky boats. I spoke to one of them the other day, and to my questions whether the "authorities" left him alone, he said they didn't like it but he was happy to be a pain in the arse to them! Quote like the guy. Anyway welcome back.

    1. Damn blogger...changed my name to "welcome to my website" . Joel from Suffolk.

    2. Damn blogger...changed my name to "welcome to my website" . Joel from Suffolk.

  3. Good to know you are still banging around.. .been waiting to hear more of what is happening with the current build.

  4. My lovely wife and I bought an old 1973 Ranger 23. It was sitting in a very high end marina. The guy who owned it got a deal back when the marina was looking for people. Now it's full of huge boats . . . and this old Ranger.

    In this place, I'm suddenly the crank -and loving it. We have a few more projects to complete at the dock, then it's off to more remote parts.

    The boat isn't pretty, but my lovely wife was swayed by new rigging.

    Ripped out the porta potty and replaced it with a composting head. Just installed 100 watts of solar power. Getting ready for life on the hook.

    The previous owner was well known for sailing without a motor. There's a nearly new, barely used little honda sitting in a locker. It's funny, the guy makes his living selling huge power boats, but he sails small boats for fun.

    I'm delighted to have a boat with good sails, sitting head room, sink, and a place to put the little propane stove. Pure luxury. Better than the big boats at the dock who need a freezer, washer and dryer, microwave, and don't go anywhere.

    Soon I'll be in some Florida's more funky anchorages and back with the cranks. I've been calling them sea hobos down there.

  5. Been a few months now reading all Triloboat blog posts from the very beginning. Just finished today. Speechless. Enlightened. Expectant. All in all, one of the best things I ever spent time reading.

    Consider me like-minded.

    Cranky sea gypsy wannabe

    P.S. - Echo the request for current status of Wayward project. Inquiring minds ...

  6. Thanks to all (and to those who've written directly) for the good wishes!

    I apologize for skipping out without a word... my internet/computer access has crumbled to much lower levels, of late, and a winter long power loss at our winter caretaking digs is keeping us busy with chores.

    I hope to be posting as I can, this winter and early summer.

    Thank for hanging in here!

    Dave Z

  7. I've read all your blog post and really enjoy it. I happened to run across a type of barge that was a big deal back in the day. Mostly pre WWII and there abouts. It's called the Thames sailing barge. Apparently they were very fast. Only the best racing yachts could keep up with them which astounded me and follows along the idea you've had that barges aren't slow. I found them oddly enough looking a sail info on the spritsail rig . The big sailing barges used a spritsail rig and sailed huge boats with only two men. After looking around apparently they are the most efficient sailing rig. I found a comparison where they sailed several different rigs next to each other with the same boats and same size sail. Turns out to be much more efficient on average. Unfortunately they didn't include a Junk rig. I'm wondering if it might be even better than a junk. All the ease of handling with better performance. Here's some links on the sail.

    On this page has a link on it to the comparison.

    The Thames Sailing Barge links.

    A book on living on a Thames barge for a home.

    Reading the wiki article on spritsail rigs I wonder if you could combine the spritsail with the lowering ability of a junk. Here's a picture of a spritsail with the sails lowered by pulling them up.

    Odd. Looking at junks they're very similar. Maybe you could mix the two to get the best of each????

    I must admit I don't care much for the idea of pulling in the sails by raising them.

    Anyways I hadn't heard of these type barges and sails. When I did I immediately thought about you guys so just in case you haven't seen this type I thought I'd pass it on.

    1. Hi Sam,

      I'm a long-time admirer of the Thames Sailing Barges. Thanks for all the links! Check out the Vermont Sail Freight Project for a Trilo-like version.

      Speaking without experience, my take is that Junk Rig is easier than Sprit Rig, at least in full size boats. Those two guys could pull off amazing maneuvers, but they were seamen, head to toe. As an amateur, I'd choose JR.

      One big advantage of the sprit is as a cargo boom. On a yacht, that's a much smaller need... my guess is the advantages for the pro boats was overwhelming, even if JR is easier to handle?

      A combo would be tough, as a tack-to-peak sprit would cut across parallel battens. Some JR headsails do faintly resemble one, however, but not too common.

      If one really wanted a combo, maybe battened for the lower, light wind panels, then a sprits'l above. But solving the sliding foot of the sprit would likely complicate away any advantage you might gain.

      Still, Puddle Duck Racers let you play with any rig you can conceive, cheaply and with a good time had by all!

      Dave Z