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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, 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