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, December 30, 2016

Mechanical Advantage: It's a Matter of Leverage

It's a matter of leverage.
-- Cap'n Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean

Mechanical Advantage: It's a Matter of Leverage

Katy Burke, in The Handbook for Non-Macho Sailors, points out that the veriest foredeck ape can be plucked from deck and flung across smoking water by the merest shrug of the sea.

For millennia, sailors have fought physics with physics. The mass and momentum of natural forces vs. the leverage of mechanical advantage. They might not think of it as such, but the humblest sailor and the great Archimedes are of a kind, brain amplifying brawn to shoulder the burden at hand.

Simple machines – the inclined plane, the lever, the wheel and axle, the cam – are reliable, easy to build, maintain and repair, and cheap! These spread effort over distance (or, one can also say, over time).

Mechanical advantage or purchase is the proportion by which one's effort is multiplied.

For example, a halyard with 2:1 advantage (two to one) takes twice as much line, and twice as long, as the same halyard with no advantage. That sucks, you say? The 'advantage' is that, at any point, we only need apply half the effort albeit for twice as long.

This is like making two easy trips to carry in the groceries, rather than getting it all in one, heavy go. Same groceries, same overall effort expended over twice the distance and time. But at any given point, we're not staggering under the load.

The astute reader will note that there is some overhead to this... you're carrying your body as well as the groceries, so doing it twice takes a toll. Friction can, too. There are diminishing returns to advantage.

The inclined plane (also wedge and screw) spreads lift over its length (advantage = height to length). A block and tackle spread lift out over length of line rove between blocks (advantage = the number of moving lines through the block attached to the load). A lever spreads out the length of throw(distance between up and down) at the lift end over that at the handle end (advantage = throw at load to throw at handle).

Clear as mud? There are many excellent sources which cover the physics and uses of simple machines far better than I can do here. I'll list two of my favorites, below.

Simple machines, or combinations of them, underlie all the manual tools on board. From halyard to handy-billy. From winch to windlass. From sweep to jack. Simple machines working for you to provide mechanical advantage over the forces we face.

As you explore their possibilities, here are a few tips and things to keep in mind:

Consider safety. Though mechanical advantage help us tame large forces, they are still large forces! They can get out of hand. Even watered down, they can pinch, crush, break or strain. Consider setting up as fail-safe as possible, and, where possible, stay out of harms way.

Consider your body. We are the draft animals hitched to these simple machines. Our bodies work well if used in accordance with anatomy and within our limitations. Line up with effort, use the right muscles for the job, avoid effort while twisted, don't jerk and respect your limits!

Consider ergonomics. Is line thick enough to get a grip on? Are handles well shaped for hands, with enough clearance for fingers? Do you find yourself stooping or on your knees to use gear?

Consider your leads. Leads (literally, angles along which lines are led) allow one to line up for an effort with ergonomic efficiency. Is footing good and plenty? Is the body well positioned for an untwisted effort? Is there enough elbow-room for the effort? Simply improving the leads can make a difficult or impossible effort easy.

Consider stowage. Is stowage close at hand? Easy to access in a timely fashion? Secure? When stowed, are decks, gangways and leads clear?

Consider arranging enough advantage for the least physically powerful member of the crew. It is downright dangerous to face a task for which one has not the strength (or weight). Something's gotta give... something that must goes up too slow, down too fast or neither at all. A shoulder sprains or finger breaks. Sufficient advantage may slow the job, but it gets done without trauma.

Consider that you can (generally) lift more than your own weight. Once you've lifted your feet off the ground, that's it for effort applied. But if you arrange your tools so that you are lifting from your feet (with your legs), you can generally exert a fair amount more than you weigh.

Consider work stoppers. Cleats, pawls, dogs and stoppers can take the load off to catch your breath or tend to an emergency. Something at hand, quick to make fast and fast to free can be a big help!

I'll end this section with a cautionary quotation:

When you combine ignorance and leverage, you get some pretty interesting results.
― Warren Buffett

* * * * *

By combining simple machines, we can accomplish any job on a typical cruising sailboat. We can raise sails and sheet them. Raise and lower anchors and masts. Load and unload cargo or deadweights. Move the boat over water or land(!).

As basic and essential as knots, simple machines are vital tools in the sailor's kit.

Two helpful books books introducing simple machines. Both very accessible (not a lot of math or physics). Both written by sailors, with sailors in mind.

A Handbook for Non-Macho Sailors by Katy Burke -- Apparently out of print, but worth it's weight!

Moving Heavy Things by Jan Adkins -- Focused on Mechanical Advantage

Friday, December 16, 2016

On a Cold and Dark December

Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbor's Mouth
By Joseph Mallord William Turner

While listening to the moaning of the wind, 
And thinking what a solemn thing it wa
To move on 
Through the lonely darkness, 
Over an unknown abyss, 
Whose depths were secrets as profound as Death

-- From A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

On a Cold and Dark December

This time of year, in the waning of the last moon, in advent of the longest night, my thoughts turn to those who have made their living on the sea.

It is said of the artist, Joseph Turner, that he asked to be tied to the mast of a steam-boat leaving Harwich in a storm.

Leaving. Harwich. In a storm.

We're talking the German Sea of the North Atlantic. The graveyard of the Spanish Armada and countless others, beside. Legendary for its ferocity. Merciless.

They left by soundings, tapping their way with line and lead over and between invisible shoals that could wreck them. Heading into the storm.

For the artist, tied to the mast, his terror and awe were poured onto canvas, capturing a furious moment for all of us not so exposed.

For the crew... well... it was just another day, another night at sea. A schedule to keep. Likely setting forth at the end of a long day of lading. Weary, but ready. The tools of their trade well in hand.

Not one of them were tied to a mast or to anything else, for that matter. One hand for their selves, one for the ship. Blow high, blow low, blow sideways.

We sailors of the present day have seen a thing or two. Nights when it's darker than dark. When snow blinds us and the wind shoves us at the unseen shore.

But those sailors! Those sailors were made of sterner stuff than can be found in our easy times.

On a cold and dark December...

...They took to the sea.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Q&D Shelves

Wish I had a pretty little girl, 
I'd put her on a shelf, 
Every time she'd wink her eye 
I'd climb up there myself.
 -- Old Joe Clark

Quick and Dirty Shelves

Boats can have a lot of shelves in them, often in odd spaces. Over time, we worked out a formula that  lets us zip 'em out without a lot of head-scratching.

Basic idea is that a (plywood) shelf between walls (dividers, bulkheads, what-have-you) has a support rail attached along its lower, far edge, and a fiddle/support rail attached along its upper, near edge and overlapping the Cleats. 

Cleats are attached to the vertical walls at either end, with room for the support piece to slip behind with a little wiggle room. This locks the shelf against horizontal movement (may need screws if you anticipate tossing them vertically!).

Advantages include:

  • Quick, standardized construction
  • Easy installation and removal (for cleaning, painting, etc.)
  • Flexibility (can be adapted for size, loads, clearances)
  • Uses up a lot of smaller plywood offcuts
  • Relatively easy to go back and rework spacing, if desired (just move cleats)

If you wish to get a bit fancier, the fiddle can be rabbeted along its underside to cover the raw edge of the shelving material.

You can angle the far end of the cleats to a point... this allows the shelf to be lifted upward as if it were a lid, rotating around its far edge in contact with the points, until the support face fetches up against the angled cleat end (the sharper the angle, the higher you can lift the shelf). This can be useful in tight spaces where you need a little extra room to un/load the space below it. For example, a tote that fits snugly may need a little extra to clear fiddles and such along its near, lower edge.

We found that our locker openings don't let us insert full length shelves. We ended up cutting this type in two, mid-length, and putting a lip under one of them along the cut. A short, rabbeted piece is attached to the back wall, rabbet up, straddling the cut (also with a little wiggle room). The lipped side needs some support at the near, cut corner... we use twine attached to the next fixed point above it, rather than build struts. This approach has been much easier than installing a divider, and doesn't break the run of shelf length.

An idea to shelve away!


Bonus Tip:

Can't recall where I read of this, but could well be The Sailor's Sketchbook by Bruce Bingham, under 'removable fiddles'.

Another simple locking device is to make pegs that fit into matching holes. These can be made of wood or metal.

One cool way to do it is to drive a (bronze) screw in the peg location, burying the threads but leaving the shoulder exposed. Hacksaw the head off and smooth with a metal file to leave a protruding peg. Put the piece (shelf, removable fiddle, table, etc.) in place, over its supporting surface and tap over the screw with a hammer, denting the receiving surface with the exposed peg. Drill a (slightly loose) hole at that spot. If everything is done reasonably square, the peg slips into its hole, forming a sheer lock, preventing horizontal movement.

 Bonus, Bonus Tip:

A recent brainstorm is to use heat to flatten and shape PVC to form springs. A hole drilled through the PVC to match a peg forms a lock that can be released (sprung off the peg) with gentle pressure.

Works for door latches, removable step locks, drop down bin locks, hatch locks... spring shapes  and applications are limited only by the imagination!.

You can find lots of info on shaping PVC through sources like this one, drawn from the way-too-cool world of PVC bow-making.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Peace Like a River

A scene of Thanksgiving

Give me peace like a river,
Give me love like an ocean,
Give me joy like a fountain
In my soul,
In my soul.
-- African-American Spiritual

Peace Like a River

Water is the foundation of all life.

We're mostly made of water. Our blood surges with the moon, washing in waves through heart and mind. Deny us water and we wither and founder in short order.

"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," we say, affirming between the words that water is life.

For the last too long, Anke and I have been building a new home on the shore side of water's edge. Our foundations firm in ashes and dust. Sleeping in a cradle unrocked. Dreaming of the other side - the wet side - of the line between sea and shore.

But we've crossed over.

Our vessel is set upon the sea, and our selves again with it. Once more, we rise and fall with the world's tides. Once more, we breath a little easier; sleep more deeply; dream  more expansively.

Awaken more eager to meet the new day.


When we first sought the life afloat, we walked the strand, looking to the boats sailing free and easy beyond our reach. Waterborne and lifting to wave and send. How we envied them! Imagining the feel of their pitch and roll as if dry land could liquefy and buoy us.

Our first night on the water... aboard a vessel of our very own... how can I describe it? We thrilled to every complex motion. Each lip and lap of water against the hull. Each tremulous touch of distant, hydraulic force seething beyond the river's mouth. Peace like no other.

Our first voyage... fraught with perils real and imagined. Ocean teaching us at every moment, guiding us by its touch... at once intimate and indifferent. Love for this as reflexive as breath.

Our first harbor, safely reached... greenhorn heroes' voyage at its triumphal end. Fears faced and unlooked-for courage found. Hardships endured and overcome. One small victory hoped to be the first of many.

Joy like a fountain in our soul.

Here they lie where they long'd to be;
Home is the sailor, home on the sea,
The sailor home from the hill.

Apologies to Robert Louis Stevenson's Requiem


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Can Stoves Can Do

By Gary Larson

When you light a fire, you commit an act of magic...
What thrilling enchantment, 
What cunning sorcery, 
Has the work of your hands created?
-- Anthony Murphy

Can Stoves Can Do

Anke and I spent many a pleasant summer evening, this year, watching the sun go down in the company of a (tin) can stove. A hot meal and spruce tea with the smell of woodsmoke on the air...

Cans are amazing resources.They're to be found anywhere and everywhere. They can be bought brand new with a bonus load of... let's say olives. Recycling centers have dumpster loads of them in a variety of shapes and sizes. Paint cans and buckets can be bought new and empty. For the improvised galley, they can easily be worked into pots, pans, mugs, bowls...

And stoves! Biomass fueled stoves that last long enough to pay handsomely for the effort invested. Biomass itself is inexpensive and nearly ubiquitous... wood, weed, manure and peat. With a fire-proof base (e.g., a gravel box), they can be used aboard a boat of most any size.

Can stoves cost next to nothing, contain and enhance the efficiency of an open fire and are scalable to most any need. They're made from various combinations of cans, including those for canned foods, paint cans and buckets or even stove-pipe, various pots or ammo cans.

A 55gal oil barrel, anyone?

Can stoves do burn out in a season or so of use. While a can-opener, nail and rock are all the tools necessary, I recommend investing in a good set of tools - tin snips, pliers, drill and step bit, awl, file(s) - that let one replace as necessary. Each replacement is an opportunity to experiment with a new design or refine an old one.

Here, I'll present three types made from steel ('tin') cans (Hobo, Rocket and Gasifier stoves), and two made from aluminum 'soda' cans (Wick and Penny stoves).

These featured are starting point for the pyromaniacally mad scientist. Can proportions; hole sizes, placement and frequencies; cutouts; airflow channels; open top/bottom designs, pot/pan supports, handling... all afford plenty to dink with. It's a vast world of possibility with lots of info on the net. Here is a visual sampling.

Or you can simply copy a proven design. It's hard to go too far wrong.

Remember, cut cans are sharp and can generate nasty cuts. Wear gloves and eye protection when building stoves. Smooth the edges as well as practical, and stay alert when using. Also, fire is inherently dangerous. Use all precautions, including having extinguisher technology at hand while using.

Let the Flames begin!


Full article at

Hobo Stove

This is the simplest type, extensively field-tested during the Great Depression. They're not terribly efficient (though much more so than an open fire), and produce a fair amount of smoke. Be sure to breath as little of that as possible!

At minimum, it's a top-loading can with lots of air holes. Refinements limit and focus hole spacing, add fueling ports and pot/pan support. The one shown above is a decent model.

If the top is left intact (unopened end of a can positioned UP) it can be used as a cooking surface. But heat isn't easy to control, and I'd consider that a fall-back option.


Full article here.

Rocket Stove

These are a big improvement in efficiency over Hobo Stoves.

They work by setting up a powerful draft blowing through a sharp-angled, insulated burn chamber. Oxygen is abundant and well mixed with combustion gasses at higher-than-normal temperatures for an efficient, low smoke burn. The roar of their draw gives them their name.

All sorts of non-combustible materials can be used for insulation, but the more air space is trapped, the better the insulation will be. The less its thermal mass, the sooner your chamber will reach its maximum temperature.
SQUARE BOAT NOTE: If, like me, don't like fitting curves to curves, combustion chamber/chimney designs can be adapted to cans that have been squared after cutting off their ends. They will meet at 45deg.


Full article at
Gasifier Stoves

These are another set of efficient designs which first pyrolize their  fuel (i.e., using primary combustion heat to drive off combustible gases from the fuel and carbonize the remains) and then burn the gasses. This principle has been used to fire internal combustion engines for transport and electrical power production.

The link given above is for a simple model, used in a simple mode. Very similar alternatives include TLUD (Top-Lit UpDraft) Stoves. Despite their resemblance,  these work on a different principle. This one features a more precise build with high-end tips you may wish to apply to other stoves.


Aluminum can stoves burn alcohol, rather than biomass. They can be considerably more sophisticated (and finnicky) than those listed above. I've heard they don't work as well in very cold weather. But they are the last word in ultra-light stoves.

Here's a general principles article to get you started.

Can't find who drew this up... How-to article here.

Wick Stove (aka Soda Can Stove)

These work by saturating the wick with alcohol. It evaporates, and the gasses are burned. Some models feature a lid to snuff the flame and preserve fuel for later, others merely let the fuel load burn out.

Here's a variation that's a bit simpler to build, with some cool accessories.


Zen Gelled Alcohol Stoves - Sterno-like Stoves

Gelled alcohol commercial product

Gelled Alcohol

Gelled alcohol is primarily used for chaffing dishes (serving dishes kept warm by the flame), but they're great for camping and micro-cruising. Stands are cheap, and easy to DIY (can even use a can... do the Can-Can!).

BTUs are somewhat low by volume, so they're slower. Many are methanol based for higher BTU. Methanol is poisonous, so don't cook directly over the flame, but use a pot (AND extra-good ventilation!).

The gel is nearly spill-proof, and better, can be made DIY. Best of all, the ingredients (shells, vinegar, alcohol) can all be DIYed in the field, making this a long-range option. Larger surface areas (bigger diameter cans) can help overcome lower BTUs/ 

Check out this article for a recipe. 


Can't find who drew this, either... Inventor's home page, here.

Penny Stove

This one uses a penny's weight  to regulate fuel flow rate. The how is simple but the why complicated.

When all is in good proportion, their flame jets are a thing of beauty. They're considered by many hikers to be the ultimate in ultra-light heat.


There's something about an open fire. Something deep in the blood as we stare into the eyes of our companion of a thousand generations. Our worst enemy, it is said, and our best friend.

But something, too, in fire contained. Focused. Intensified.

We are apprentices of fire's alchemical magic. We seek its ways. Learn to feed it while avoiding its bite. Learning to excite its passions without being consumed by them.

Together transforming dull matter into heat and light.

Sunday, September 25, 2016


Splash page from The Complete Sailor, 1st Edition
Joshua Slocum on SPRAY by Mark Whitcombe

Long before a wheel rolled, some shaggy fellow straddled a log or sat on a raft and held up something to catch the wind.
-- From The Complete Sailor

The Complete Sailor: Learning the Art of Sailing 
By David Seidman
Art by Kelly Mulford, Mark Whitcombe (1st Edition) and Jan Adkins (2nd Edition)
Review by Dave Zeiger

I'm a modular kind of a guy. 

I like to have things broken down into bite-size, manageable pieces that can be combined and compounded every which way, adapted to whatever situation presents itself. It's the way I think.

So does David Seidman.

The Complete Sailor presents sailing knowledge and skills ranging from essential basics through solid intermediate level, and touches on more advanced topics. 

Wind and water, sailing and anchoring and docking, marlinespike skills, charts and navigation... it's a long list of things to know. Each topic is covered in an easily digested page or two.

Seidman's prose is at once spare and flowing, covering the ground with a sure and easy stride. Mulford's illustrations are as evocative as they are informative. Together, they speak volumes in simple terms. Simple though it be, each time I open these pages I learn something new. Connect new dots and deepen my understanding.

This is one of the two friendliest how-to books on sailing I know (Jan Adkins' The Craft of Sail is a similar but less ambitious introduction, and now he's on board for the second edition). If you - like me - struggle through the dense and endless prose of such tomes as (the admittedly encyclopedic) Chapman's Piloting & Seamanship, you'll appreciate the lighter touch.

Another point I appreciate immensely is that examples are drawn from across a wide spectrum of vessels and their rigs. Not only the latest extrusions, but traditional and even funky boats are well represented. From balsa rafts to clipper ships. From Jeanneaus to JESTER. One can almost smell the pine tar!

This isn't a book written solely for trendsetters, but also - even primarily - for those of us going to sea by the means at hand.

So many books on sailing somehow manage to lose sight of the romance - the dream - of sail. Reading them, it's easy to imagine that seamanship is little more than another exercise in consumerism. That, with informed purchases and proper use of appliances, the world is your Disney. Or the other hand, perhaps worse, that the learning curve before us is so steep and long that one is discouraged to begin.

Dreams are delicate things. They often don't survive the necessary, accumulation of nuts and bolts and know-how that empower them. They get lost in data, overwhelmed by 'practicality', bogged down in tedium, abandoned in despair.

This book pilots us safely. In its care, we circumvent shoals of ennui and reefs of detail, enticed ever forward, eyes lifted at every league to the horizon...

The Complete Sailor is a gift to all of us who dream of water.

A sample of Kelly Mumford's excellent illustration


PS. The first edition features gorgeous chapter headers (such as that leading this post) by the late Mark Whitcombe. In the second edition, his artwork has been replaced by the work of Jan Adkins. 

While I'm a big fan of Jan's, I miss Mark's touch. The extra materials - GPS, Racing and Trailering - aren't on my need-to-know list. For these reasons, I favor the first edition. 

But both are excellent.

PSS. If nothing else, keeping a copy on board for guests is something I highly recommend. Sitting down with this book between us beats the oakum out of my own, unaccompanied words and doodles.

PSSS. I just found out that Kelly Mulford passed away in 2011. You can read his cousin's memorial post, here.

Friday, September 16, 2016

TriloBoat Styles: Fitting Form to Function

Real style is never right or wrong. It's a matter of being yourself on purpose.
-- G. Bruce Boyer

If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.
-- Katherine Hepburn

TriloBoat Styles: Fitting Form to Function

As kids, my brother and I got a lot of mileage out of empty cardboard boxes.

Anything from apple to refrigerator boxes got taken to the moon (space ships), to the bottom of the sea (submarines), across the Great Plains (conestoga wagons), over Niagra Falls (barrels rolling down the hill in our yard). We cut windows and gunports and portcullises into them as 'need' arose.

Something must'a stuck...


I recently worked up StudyPLANS for a T20 side profile (MATCHBOX). By matching beam, super-structure, interior and gear to intended use, a builder can go in most any direction.

The above graphic, showing some approaches I favor for such a small vessel,  represents a pretty fair cross-section of the TriloBoat bestiary, to date.

Box barge hulls are exceptionally versatile foundations for tailoring to any nautical purpose. They carry loads well on stable footing, have lots of working deck and interior volume. Parallel sides ease construction (especially over the mid-ships deadflat) and make the most of their ends (think wide bunks, foredecks and cockpits).

All this, and relatively fast and inexpensive to build!

The approaches shown are just the tip of an iceberg of imagination, possibility and compromise. Innovate; copy; modify; shake 'em up; put 'em in a blender!

What might you do, given an empty box?


A few that got left out:




Idea for a container boat...
They dont HAVE to be boxy!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A Square Jig for Square Boats

Holes range from 1/4in to 1/2in
May add 7/8in and 3/4in, someday

We meet upon the level, and part upon the square.
 -- Masonic Proverb
A Square Jig for Square Boats

Can't say I'm a jig kindofa guy.

When building TRILOBYTE on the fly, a friend stopped by to see how we were doing. He's an ex-shopteacher/current bowyer... standards are high. 

The task at hand was drilling the side windows for screws all around their perimeters.

Our usual approach is divide-and-conquer. This case was an eight foot stretch and we wanted fasteners every six inches or so. Open spaces are divided by twos or threes as seems right by eye. If we're feeling persnickety, we might measure and mark it, using a chip of wood to inset it. But we don't often.

Eight, four, two, one, half-a-foot. Shazaam.

This was a little too quick and dirty for our friend. He gave us a passionate speech on the virtues of precise patterns - how it was the mark of a professional. That it went quickly and looked its best.

We hemmed. We hawed. To show us how easy and efficient it all is, he volunteered to make us a jig.

He did, too. A nice li'l number that worked like a charm. A rabbeted slide with guide holes precisely placed. A thing of beauty, form and efficiency.

Problem is, by the time it was done - a matter of a half hour or so - we'd already drilled AND mounted all the windows.

Looked fine, too. Even he admitted it.


One more story...

When computer generated music first came out, it sounded flat. Robotic. Lifeless.

Why? The algorithms were perfect! Every note was precisely on pitch. Sounded for exactly the duration specified. Attack, reverb and fade were mathematically true to the nth decimal place.


Turns out, the human ear doesn't care for too much perfection. Finds it sterile and uninteresting. Got no soul. Turns out, introducing small errors of pitch, tone and timing brought it alive to us. Turns out, we prefer our imperfect, gritty, wonderful world with all its flaws. We insist on them.

I'm sure there's a lesson in there, somewhere.


So I'm not a jig guy.

But one thing that does come in handy in a square boat is a hole bored square to a surface. Not only handy, but if it's not square, often enough it's gotta be plugged and drilled again. Otherwise a fastner might not pass through its hole in a metal plate. Or a fastner head, washer or nut won't sit flat and water intrudes. Or the durn thing comes out the side.

A square jig for a square boat helps us along.

Next time you're near a drill press, I recommend this:

Start with  a nice, rectangular chunk of stock - hardwood or aluminum work easily and hold up.

Inset a line of squared off holes of standard sizes along edges - just enough room for your drills when pressed against a wall.

To use, align a face of the jig with the reference face to which your hole will be square or parallel. Run your drill through, or at least far enough to continue square without the jig.

Unless the jig is clamped (seldom necessary), I find it helps to withdraw the jig with the bit, rather than the bit alone. If you get off line withdrawing a running power drill while still in the jig, it can get jumpy.

It helps if the jig is big enough to clamp a bit of stock to faces as a guide if a necessary to reach a reference face. For example, when drilling bolts for the handrails (whose upper face had been rounded) we used their sides as reference and drilled parallel to that face and square to the run of the upper face.

This jig - with some extra long bits - has given us quick and easy square holes, every time we've needed it.

Guess it's alright.

Anke drilling with our first, 1/4in jig
Note board clamped to side as guide along handrail sides
for square, plumb and level

Friday, August 26, 2016

Shanty-, House-, Boat: What's in a Name?

Think like a Bureaucrat...
Can you find all the things wrong in this picture?

(See end of post for answers!)
Blockprint by Harlan Hubbard

If ya can't hide it, decorate it.

-- Robin Hiersche, BBW

Shanty-, House-, Boat: What's in a Name?

Chances are that you, like me, look at the above scene and see a happy, thriving water community squeezed in the margins of the 'normal, productive society' topping the banks. When this was carved, that's exactly what it was.

But Concerned Citizens  and Bureaucrats (CC/Bs) see a sinister encroachment on their jurisdiction/privileges that is simply intolerable. They once thought of us merely as lazy ne'er-do-wells, but nowadays consider us to be full on parasites, criminals and detriments to property value. Maybe even Terrorists. Maybe, even...


Unless we're willing and able to spend our lives in hostile meetings and offices... unless we can live with frequent run-ins with Authority... unless we're willing to be moved along at (holstered) gun-point... unless we're willing to live with the chance of legal proceedings of condemnation and confiscation....

We've got to be wiley.

What follows, here, are some thoughts on strategies for avoiding pushing a Concerned Citizen's buttons. Setting in motion a Bureaucratic avalanche. Triggering the chase reflex of Busybodies and Authorities.

Musings, only. None of this is in the least intended to derogate anyone or their boats. Personally, my tastes run in almost perfect inverse to the 'standards' of Society! In those lovely backwaters where folks can still get away with being, in large part, themselves, I bid all power to the people.


Despite the rather resentful flavor of this rant, I tend to like and get along with the persons I'm calling CC/Bs.

It helps to remember that they are just folks - often frustrated by dreams they've felt compelled to ditch along the way and lives they've chosen. Given a chance, they can very often be won over. Often, they become surprise allies!

Smile - A sincere smile goes a long way toward disarming a hostile approach.

Be relaxed and friendly - What have we got to lose? Belly bumping and shouting harden lines of opposition. Escalation isn't  in our interest.

Be hospitable - To offer a cup o' kindness - whether or not it is accepted, evokes a powerful, positive feeling of graciousness.

Seek common ground
- Getting to 'yes' is our goal, and common ground helps us forward.

Don't volunteer problems - We may be concerned that they think thus-and-so, but let them raise the subject. No need to drop problems into their minds.

Don't show fear or submission - Both arouse the Bully within.

Bottom line, treat CC/Bs with friendly and consistent courtesy, regardless of their attitude, and don't sell yourself short. I've seen a LOT of the other kinds of interaction go south in short order. Most of those didn't go well for our side.

Looks Can Be Deceiving

CC/Bs seem prone to love- or hate-at-first sight. We want to tip the balance in our favor, insofar as possible, or at least prevent a capsize the other way.

Note that none of these strategies actually imply what they suggest. They're more like camouflage, really.

Tidiness suggests responsibility. The first thing to set a CC/B on the warpath is a mess of any description. Trash, clutter,  loose tarp. Anything. Keeping it tidy is an investment in conflict avoidance.

Paint and trim suggest pride. There's a fine line between 'run-down' and 'quaint'. Neither are ideal, as they both attract attention. But since attention can't be avoided, we hope for the latter.

Visible safety gear suggests sea-worthiness and responsibility. .Running lights, anchor gear, PFDs, etc. all telegraph that you won't have to be bailed out by the tax-payer.

A visible motor or sailing rig (propulsion) suggests movement and transience. We aren't a fixture. At worst we represent a temporary problem. Maybe we'll move along on our own, with no action 'required'.

What's in a Name?

Is there a functional difference between a shantyboat, a houseboat and a (liveaboard) boat (aka vessel)?

The distinction is at best fuzzy, and to my mind moot. The name reflects the romantic relationship one has with their vessel, more than any fundamental difference. I think of our own homes as in all three terms,  depending on mood and context. At most, any distinctions involve very fuzzy thresholds.

But to the CC/B , the distinctions are stark and have legal and procedural teeth.

Shanties - whether by land or sea - are seen as dwellings on 'the wrong side of the tracks'. Derelict by definition. A problem to solve. (Con)Damnible.

Houses - whether by land or sea - have a measure of respectability. They have an address. Valuation. Standing. CC/Bs generally live in one themselves, and aspire to own one or more. Just changing the label on a structure can afford a false sense of affinity.

Houseboats are an actual legal category; a box on the registration form! If you have any choice, 'tis better to live aboard a boat than a houseboat. Houseboats suggest living aboard, a not always licit activity. They're often restricted in number and location, if not forbidden outright.

Note that CC/Bs are often hypocritically associated with shanty- and houseboats of their own. A retreat, if you will, from the rigors of eradicating vermin. If sufficiently quaint or kempt and floating properly in a marina or alongside sufficiently privileged private property, or even in selective, look-the-other-way playgrounds, no problem.

, too, are a legal category, but as yet the least encumbered. All kinds of boats are necessary to the comfort and reward of CC/Bs. In all the confusion, they haven't fully gotten around to sifting what they see as wheat from chaff. But they're working on it.

There is a gradient, merely in the name, as to the response you receive. Try it out in coffeshop conversation, some time. Talk about a water community using the different terms, and observe the body language. Do shoulders tighten? Faces flush? Nostrils flare? Breathing become shallow and uneven? Does using a different term sooth the beast?

Of course, there's nothing to stop us from using our favored term among ourselves. But in these troubled times, strategies of duck, weave and cover can help keep us on the water in the face of bureaucratic blight.

A rose is a rose is a rose, and by any other name smells as sweet.

What the Concerned Citizen and Bureaucrat See

Monday, August 15, 2016

Easy Insurance for Ply Boats: Doubler Plate / Horizontal Butt-Strap

Hole-in-the-Wall... *GULP*!

Prevention is better than cure.
- Desiderius Erasmus

Easy Insurance for Ply Boats: Doubler Plate / Horizontal  Butt-Strap

In TriloBoat StudyPLANs (for square boats built of plywood), I suggest installing doubler plates.

Judging by questions I field, this isn't a self-explanatory concept, so I elaborate. But first, a yarnlet...


We occasionally get a wild hair to do something really... well... ill-advised.

This time, it was to shoot Hole-in-the-Wall, a narrow break in the levee separating an estuary from a passage between islands, in ZOON, our ex-Bolger LONG MICRO. At 19ft6in x 6ft6in, it was a tight squeeze. We wanted to do it just before max ebb, too, which generated a three foot water drop gushing through the heaped stone wall. This left us plenty of water, both beneath ZOON's flat bottom and to propel us with adrenal force. We thought of it as a training mission.

To our credit, we'd scoped it well, and were counting on a sand flare on the down side of the gap; if we overshot the sharp right turn necessary to clear to deeper water, we'd fetch harmlessly up on sand for a tide cycle. Fail-safer.

As we approached, however, we could see someone in a power skiff, doing something-or-other near that sand-bank. We hovered on standby, but didn't abort (as we should have) to see what he was up to. Once he zoomed off, we decided the increasing water flow was still manageable, and to go for it (without further reconnaisance!).

Well... it was satisfyingly gripping, and all went according to plan. Except. Except, the skiff guy had parked a log on our fail-safe, awaiting the turn of the tide!

We were not able to make the turn, and bumped the log, rather than the bank. But we skid along it, under force of water flow, and shot past into the clear.

Anchored and congratulating ourselves on surviving our foolishness, however, Anke discovered a drippy leak at the edge of our bunk. Turns out we'd encountered a (mercifully) short branch spike just above the waterline, and had punctured our 1/2in (12mm) side.

A bit of scavenging and jury rig later, the hole was patched and we went  on our merry way, not as sad as we might've been, but wiser.


Since that time, we've been installing what I call doubler plates - an extra layer of plywood installed along the lower hull, at least doubling hull thickness to well above the waterline.

Their weight is low, contributing to ballast stability, their volume more than floats themselves and being outboard, contribute to form stability. The fact that they overlap the bottom edges means it protects then and its glue join is considerably improved. We view them as more or less sacrificial... while they are constructed as hull proper, being add-ons, any scrapes or dings in them can be easily repaired or filled with little concern for the hull's integrity.


Twenty-four inch (1/2 sheet) and sixteen inch (1/3 sheet) are convenient heights given plywood's 48in sheet width.
Doubler plates of 3/4in or thicker provide good 'bury' for any fasteners used while gluing them in place.

For square boats built from plywood, another feature soon became apparent.

Many hull sides are taller than a single sheet of plywood, and must be extended upward via a run of full or partial width ply. These strakes are often joined with a horizontal buttstrap (narrow strip of plywood straddling the seam where they butt together), but these must be notched into bulkheads requiring careful placement and carpentry, and they interrupt the smooth interior wall... vertical joinery must be further notched around them.

By placing the narrow strake low along the chine and using doubler plates which are taller than the lower sides, a longships rabbet (notch) is formed. The upper strake can be lowered into this notch and glued and fastened in place along it.  All this without any notching, and a smooth inner wall results. In my opinion, this feature alone pays for the increased cost/effort of installing doubler plates.


We're building WAYWARD with 5ft sides, calling for 4ft plus 1ft. The 1ft strake is run low, and our 2ft doubler plates form a very deep notch. Given draft designed to range from 12 to 16 inches, the top of the doublers will rise 12 to 8 inches above the waterline. In our case, we've chosen to copper plate the bottom and sides to the top of the doublers, for excellent combined protection.

A further perk: Since the doubled lower hull is quite low, it facilitates the option of completing the lower hull upside-down, flipping it, and building upward from there. Temporary frames may be used, or clever types can divide their bulkheads into upper/lower portions.

This simple upgrade improves puncture resistance, simplifies construction and makes the inverted build option more attractive and manageable.

Not bad for a coupla extra sheets of ply!

Monday, August 8, 2016

More than One Way to Sheath a Boat

Better Living on the Milky Way
Borden's ELSIE

Hell has an entire level devoted to... wrapping.
- From the Internet, Somewhere

More Than One Way to Sheath a Boat

Once upon a time, before Epoxy was crowned King of All and took Fibra Glass to be his Queen, there lived a simple lagging compound named Arabol, and his true love, Dynel.

Wait. No. Is this any way to talk about boatbuilding??? Let me start again...

Arabol was once made by Borden, Incorporated, a dairy on steroids. Trademarked in 1905, it was a milk-based  product which was essentially waterproof Elmer's Glue (better known Borden product).

Arabol's main commercial use was as lagging compound.

I know... I had to ask, too. Lagging is the cloth once used to wrap hot water pipes for insulation and protection of those who might otherwise burn themselves. Lagging compound is a latexy substance used to saturate and waterproof lagging, making sort of a softly plasticized cast.

Someone along the way realized that this stuff could be used to sheath boats (generally, but not always above the waterline). BRILLIANT!!!

To apply, lay down fabric - anything from burlap to mosquito netting to fiberglass. Wet it down with water and slap on a first coat of compound. Once dry (which can go quickly on a warm dry day), add another full-strength layer. Repeat until the desired thickness is achieved. Topcoat with flat, latex primer/paint (one among many options).

The result was said to last 15 years or more.

Borden quit making Arabol by the time we built LUNA in 1997, so we tried Childers Chil-Seal (Marine variant CP-50A HV2) over fiberglass cloth. Nineteen rough-shod years later, it's still looking good.

These decks are a bit soft... one can dent it with a fingernail or pierce it with a dropped anchor, but tougher than most traditional canvas. But they're not easy to harm, and easily repaired if you do. Should you want to take up a section for any reason, they have relatively low peel resistance and come up easily with no grinding.

Further alternatives might be other lagging compounds or water-based, concrete sealer?

Recently, we're trying the same approach with TiteBond III, made by Franklin International. It's applied by the same procedure, but finishes to a much harder surface, almost indistinguishable from epoxy. Our new hull's decks are sheathed with it, and it has now survived a year of Southeast Alaskan weather with no sign of trouble.

As noted in the comments by astute readers, it may be that new TBIII won't readily bond to itself after full cure. For multi-layer applications, we've always done 'wet over green (not fully cured), and ditto for any topcoating of primer (though one topcoat test bonded well to fully cured TBIII). My intuition is that, roughed up, the bond should be reasonable to good, but that has yet to be seen.

Dynel is a trade name for woven acrylic fabric once made by Union Carbide. Jamestown Distributors still sells 5oz under that name, and my guess is most any woven, and possibly knit acrylic will do. Alan Jones reports good texture results from acrylic fleece, but that it drinks glue.

Acrylic is highly resistant to abrasion, and often laid over kayak keels to protect fiberglass/resin. It's cheaper, easier to handle and better conforming than glass fabric without those itchy shards. Grinding can 'pill' or 'fuzz' it, but that's easily shaven smooth with a sharp scraper.

So our state-of-the-art is Chil-Seal (proven) or TiteBond III (awaiting further results) with acrylic cloth.

Cheap, easy, pleasant, non(or ver lowly)-toxic, easily maintained...

...Just the thing for the quick and dirty among us!


More on water-based alternatives, here.

By the way...

We used Chil-Seal between LUNA's 2x2, red cedar, strip-planked deck planks, since it was on hand and extra. Turned out to be quite adhesive and filled the gaps easily between the un-bevelled edges as they followed a 6in crown. Undiluted, it was about like gap-filling toothpaste, as I recall. Dried to a sandable solid, like old chewing gum.

We didn't clean up right away with water, and regretted it later. I set up firm enough that we couldn't easily cut it. Burred it away with a Dremel tool along the underside grooves. The things we do for vanity!

I'm thinking Chil-Seal or equivalent would make a very friendly adhesive for general strip-plank construction. It's modest elastomericity would help prevent longitudinal edge failures sometimes seen with epoxy and other rigid glues.

LUNA's deck before sheathing

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales: A Review on Second Read

By Laurence Gonzales

If you're not afraid, you don't appreciate the situation.
-- Ambrose Curry, big surf instructor [Quoted in Deep Survival]


Most of us sleep through the test. We get in and out and never know what might have been demanded. Such an experience can make us even more vulnerable, for we comee away with the illusion of growing hardy, salty, knowledgeable: Been there, done that.

The maddening thing for someone with a Western scientific turn of mind is that it's not what's in your pack that separates the quick from the dead. It's not even what's in your mind. Corny as it sounds, it's what's in your heart.
-- From Deep Survival

Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why 
by Laurence  Gonzales
A Review on Second Read

Deep Survival explores what it is that survivors do in the approach to crisis, during and in its aftermath.

Via heart-stopping accounts of life, death and the sometimes hairbreadth boundary between, Gonzales guides us through vistas at once familiar and alien. Where children under six are a demographic with a high incidence of survival. Where 'Rambo types' are the first to go. It is a surprising journey.

We find ourselves, lost in the World. Vast and chaotic. At once predictable and utterly beyond prediction. Absolutely consequential, yet hinged on chance.

We map the world in our minds, plotting our futures as best we may. Yet correspondence between map and mapped is imperfect. Discrepancy alone can lead us astray. Under stress we tend to "bend the map", such as it is, imposing what we wish or fear upon the lay of our surrounds. Our very expertise can blind and mislead us with unwarranted assurance and unlooked for Pavlovian response.

We are introduced to conflict and accord between amygdalian imperatives - our ancient brain center urging freeze, flee or fight - versus neo-cortical overrides - more recently evolved, in hot pursuit of rational pattern. Gonzales writes, "The amygdala would urge instant action without thought. It has the chemical authority to do that, too. So it takes energy, balance and concentration to shift control to the executive functions of the neocortex."

Yet the 'rational' neocortex can be anything but... micro-managing, rationalizing, derailed, overloaded, distracted. Or dead wrong. It's a system whose bugs are still being worked out under the none too gentle hand of natural selection.

As Malcom Gladwell put it, "Choking is about thinking too much. Panic is about thinking too little." [Quoted from Deep Survival]

Somewhere in the mix - its nature and origins as yet mysterious - is the 'heart' to keep going in the face of overwhelming odds.

Heart is the the central theme in Gonzales' fugue on survival. Survivors may react by reflex to save themselves. They may override the blind and sometimes disastrous impulse to beeline for safety. They may let go of expectation to accept their situation. They may organize their resources and small steps toward survival. But it is what's in the heart that gets and keeps them going.

That's good news and bad news, maddening to this writer's Western scientific turn of mind.

The good news: with heart (and luck), anything is possible, to the point that survival may seem super-human. The bad news: heart isn't easily acquired if you don't already have it. Worse, one really doesn't know if one has it or not until crunch time.

Heart is habitual, according to Gonzales, and I have litttle reason to doubt him. It is the habit acquired in meeting the crises and challenges of everyday life. It may be sought and even cultivated. It can be acquired, but only through long practice. That weekend or week or month long survival course, of itself, won't do it. At best, heart is exercized and strengthed in each step of one's every day. At worst, we float half-alive through our days and our atrophied heart is AWOL in our hour of need.

So Deep Survival doesn't turn out to be a toolkit of strategies that can be learned, though it offers some of those. It doesn't impart skills though it values them. Nor resolve the conflicts within the mind, though it makes suggestions. It doesn't promise easy mastery or make guarantees. But it informs. It illuminates. It sets before us a series of koans to unfold. It encourages the accumulation of expertise without loss of  beginner's mind. A Tao of Survival as useful each day as it is in the pinch.

Gonzales leaves us with Rules of Adventure, his distillation of advice and survivor practice/attitudes. I've dumbed them down for my own use, and present them here, along with my strong recommendation that you read the book in it's full glory.

One day and every day, it might save your life.


Be here now.
Prepare yourself as best ye may.
Be open to wonder.

Get busy living, or get busy dying.
Be confident, yet humble.
Be boldly cautious; cautiously bold.
Surrender, but don't give up.

Go get 'em, Grasshopper!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Barge Yacht: A Thousand Words to Paint a Picture
Garvey Houseboat (Kissin' Cousins to Barges)
Designed/Built/Owned by Chris Cunningham

 No need for us, even in the tiniest boat, to wear sackcloth and ashes merely to be tough and seamanlike and brave.

-- Maurice Griffiths from his Arrow Book of Sailing

Barge Yacht: A Thousand Words to Paint a Picture

In my early readings of the watery world – long before setting hand to halyard – I ran across a description of small barge yachts that had been converted from bridge tenders (wooden barges used as platforms for bridge maintenance). I've not been able to find that passage, but I'll reconstruct it from memory as best I may:
Their owners were inordinately fond of them. Most were gaff yawl rigged and often sported leeboards. In most cases a small, homey looking cabin had been fitted. One would frequently encounter them lying tucked up the shallow reaches of some remote estuary, a curl of woodsmoke rising from her stack, pretty as a picture. Their presence in such distant, hard to reach corners bespoke long passages and unlooked for capability.
These words spoke loud and clear to my soul. But alas, by then my head had filled with second-hand and somewhat knee-jerk opinions. I read voraciously and, for a long while, vicariously of 'facts' drawn from 'history'. But facts are slippery li'l devils, and wriggle in one's hands.

Broadly speaking, small, sailing workboats led to an aesthetic for yachts, whose owners' interest in racing petrified preferences into the 'facts' we speak of. Shoal draft isn't seaworthy. Flat bottom boats pound and can't be made to sail. Deep keels and sloop or cutter rigs are the best or only way to get to windward. Junk sails won't sail to windward.

Let's take 'em, point by point:

Barge/Scow Hulls - Not often the fastest kids on the block, but shine in every other way. Economical, roomy, capacious, shoal of draft. Sit flat in the mud. With all that, what's the rush? Oh. And PDQ off the wind! Actually, given the way we rig and sail, windward ability of box barges remains largely unexplored by us. Even we can trudge slowly but reliably to windward up to about 45kt in heavy slop. Beyond that, data is hard to come by.

Alternatives to 'Marconi'/Bermudan Rigs
  - Quadrilateral sails (Gaff, Lug, Junk, Sprit) have many advantages over triangular ones. Stresses are reduced and distributed. More sail can be spread per foot of mast height. Centers of Effort are lower, and shift less when reefing. Generally lower, more robust masts mean a fail safer rig throughout.

Alternatives to Sloop and Cutter Rigs
- Multi-masted rigs (yawls, ketches, schooners) tend to be more expensive, more to handle and are less efficient. BUT. Expenses are offset by lower stresses throughout, requiring lower tech solutions and less wear-and-tear on cheaper gear. While controls are doubled, what they must control is lessened, so handiness is enhanced. Having two Centers of Effort, maneuverability and balance options abound. Because the rig is handier, non-racers are likely to keep her sailing at her best for overall efficiency gain. As a bonus, having an extra mast is great, on-board insurance.

Alternatives to Deep Keels - One still hears that deep keels are a must for blue water sailing, and by implication, any serious sailing. This despite contrary evidence accumulated pretty much across the Age of Sail. Leeboards, centerboards and daggerboards have all proven themselves time and again, arguably riding out storms at sea with more comfort and safety than others with a deep, ballast keel. With the advantages of easy retraction (reducing risk of rock-strike and broach in heavy seas), they're a more than viable alternative.

Leeboards - A specific note, here. Even the great Phil Bolger characterized them as 'ugly, loud, needing tending (raising and lowering between tacks) and prone to collect floating sculch (floating debris)'. Ugly? A matter of taste, I suppose, but I sure see a lot of art that disagrees.. Loud? A little fire-hose padding quiets clunk (only an issue in a calm). Need tending? A preventer outboard of the 'lee'board keeps them from winging out to windward, so they can be left down all day. Sculch? What doesn't? Leeboards have the advantage of being exceptionally easy to clear. Unlike center and dagger boards, they require neither a hole in the hull nor a complicated trunk. more of their area provides lateral resistance (if wung out a bit, count from the waterline down), so can be smaller for the same effect.

Shoal Draft - Well, suffice it to say, you don't see many deep draught boats 'tucked away' anywhere... miles of shoals and abundance of new harbors open before the shoal hull. Dangers are much more often below hull depth, and if not, generally much more visible. You can hop off and stand next to the floating hull in the shallows, often without o'er-topping your boots. When dried out, it's easy to get aboard.

Biomass Heaters (A plug in reference to that 'curling smoke' )
- Plants are solar collectors and storage rolled into one. Biomass heaters convert that stored energy into thermal energy for cooking or heat. Cost? Stove + installation and gathering. Woodstoves (in woody areas), Rocket Stoves (for bushy/twiggy areas) or Holey Rocket Stoves (for grassy/peat/dung areas). These can be supplemented with Fossil Fuel Heaters, if you wish, but the ability to burn biomass helps cut the ties that bind.


A fella giving a talk once stated that a boat's primary purpose is primary. He fielded a number of butwhuddabouts by simply repeating the question what is its primary purpose?

The primary purpose of our boats has been to provide an economical mobile home, far from the madding crowd. The hull and layout, rig, outfit and stores are all designed to get us on the water quickly and economically, ease us down the road, and once there, to stay out as long as possible.

One by one, alternatives to the standard picture of the boat one must have if one is serious fell into place. Anke and I found ourselves tucked into those distant, cozy corners with a warm fire ablaze. Seriously.

Barge yachts. Their owners were inordinately fond of them. Unlooked for capability.

Gotta love it!

Pretty as a Picture!