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Fair winds!

Dave and Anke
triloboats swirly gmail daughter com

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!


  1. That's a beauty. I know some nice skinny water that would go well with such a boat.


  2. Very well said Dave! The most incredulous looks and gasps of disbelief I get from the friendly passers-by that wave and say hello while I build Autarkia is when I say, "and she'll float in a foot of water!".

  3. Inspirational as usual, Dave. Sooner or later we'll see a photo of a barge boat home floating over a white limestone sand bottom on a remote caye and the owner standing alongside in knee deep, 83 degree water. Global triloboats and high time. Thanks for the post.

  4. Inspirational as usual, Dave. Sooner or later we'll see a photo of a barge boat home floating over a white limestone sand bottom on a remote caye and the owner standing alongside in knee deep, 83 degree water. Global triloboats and high time. Thanks for the post.

  5. That's a very pretty little boat you have pictured, about the size I would like if I were single. I agree about the primary purpose thing, too many don't really consider it. When explaining my build to people, I explain it in terms of cars, as that is what they know. I explain that it is if cars became a luxury, and the only surviving commercial types are Corvettes, Ferrari's and other wanna-be racers, or Bentley luxury cars. Meanwhile, I want a 4x4 pick-up with a camper on the back. They aren't made so I have to make it myself. People understand when I point out the likely uses, floating RV, shallow lakes and rivers, easy haul out and transport (no cranes or marinas) as well as the fact that anywhere worth visiting in an RV has water, and the price of anchoring out on water is much less than RV parks, they start to understand.

  6. Hi All,

    The designer/builder/owner of the Garvey shown in the post is indeed Christopher Cunningham. He has this to say:

    "Hi Paul,
    I see you're looking for me. I am, as Snapman and Oldad wrote, now working with WoodenBoat as the editor of Small Boats Monthly.
    My garvey is the HESPERIA. The last boat I'd built was a Caledonia yawl and it's a great boat for summer cruising. In 2009 my son and a friend built a Phil Thiel Escargot canal boat, christened BONZO (after the Led Zepplin drummer). I welded up a small wood-burning stove for it and the cabin became a very cozy place for cold-weather cruising. That sparked my interest in a sailing/rowing boat with a cabin, something halfway between a Caledonia yawl and an Escargot. The design for the HESPERIA started with Thiel's APHASIA, a pedal-powered garvey that's in Seattle's Center for Wooden Boats fleet. I scaled it up and put some V in the forward sections. From there I worked up the accommodations as I went along. The cabin roof in the down position is just below eye level for visibility while rowing. The upper portion of the cabin pops up 11" for sitting headroom inside. There is a wood stove in the forward port corner of the cabin and a sink with hot and cold running water starboard. The floorboards can be set at seat level to make sleeping areas in the cabin and the cockpit.
    There's a sprit main, leg o' mutton mizzen and a balanced jib set on a club. The transom has a notch for a 2.5 hp 4-stroke outboard. There are thole-pin rowing stations in the cockpit, the cabin and on the cabin roof. A steering line from the tiller runs around the perimeter of the cabin and cockpit so the boat can be steered while under power from anywhere in the boat.
    As for plans, there are only the notes and sketches I made while mulling over ideas. The boat has turned out to have quite an appeal to folks who see it and I have given some thought to drawing up plans but haven't carved out the time to do that."

    She's a beauty!

    Dave Z

  7. Hi Dave , Barge yacht indeed !! Inspires all kinds of dreams !
    I'm busy building my own 23' here in Australia and incorporating bird watcher style , self righting . I'll try keeping you posted and post some photos (how do you do that ?? ).
    Keep up the great work , your an inspiration on a grand scale .

    1. Hi Michael,

      I Think BIRDWATCHER styles are a great choice. Good luck with your build.

      RE posting: Free hosting is offered by and, among others. They have easy set-up, and handle photos, videos and anything you care to write.

      Triloboat Talk is hosted by Bloggger, which is one of Google's services.

      Thanks for the kind words!

      Dave Z

  8. Replies
    1. Hi,

      For more info, check out my comment above (not a reply).

      The builder writes:

      "As for plans, there are only the notes and sketches I made while mulling over ideas. The boat has turned out to have quite an appeal to folks who see it and I have given some thought to drawing up plans but haven't carved out the time to do that."

      You can add your voice to we clamoring fans! 8)

      Dave Z

  9. This boat with 9,5m lenght...........