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Anke and I live aboard WAYWARD, and wrote about it's design and construction at

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Fair winds!

Dave and Anke
triloboats swirly gmail daughter com

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Seaweirdy: A Case Study

Brian Small's Autonomous Ocean-Crossing Square Boat
What wearied doom of baffled quest
  Thou sad sea-ghost is thine?
-- John Greenleaf Whittier

Seaweirdy: A Case Study

I'm often asked if Square Boats are seaworthy. I answer that I dunno, but don't see why not, given solid build, good equipment and handling.

On the whole, I defer to the expert opinion of others more experienced than myself.

So, when I hear about a North Atlantic crossing - Newfoundland in Canada to County Mayo in Ireland - by a square boat that's a kissin' cousin to TriloBoats, I get excited!

That's no placid pond... Greenland and Iceland enliven that route. Burgs and floes! Legendary N Atlantic storms!!

What might the crew tell us of their experiences? How was the ride? Did the boat take care of you? Did it test your mettle and push you to your limits? Or did you arrive wondering what all the fuss was about?

Umm. Well. Turns out I set the don't-see-why-not-if-only bar a skosh high.

The build was solid enough, it turns out, and arrived in "relatively good shape". From some of the pics after it's been damaged, I can see substantial framing and structure. If well fastened, it's not surprising that it held up. Foam in the walls provides (reserve) positive buoyancy that was apparently never called upon (the boat was not awash on arrival). Good. Good.

But the gear consisted only of solar panels and electric drive. Inadequate power (reportedly, it could barely move at full throttle). High tech and no redundancy. Anchor gear, if any, was neither visible nor mentioned.

And it was handled... ahh... there was no one aboard!!!

Brian Small - an Ontarian solar mobilist of considerable fame - reportedly built her with the intent to prove that a solar powered Atlantic crossing was possible. He (wisely) decided against the trip, however, and left the boat tied to a dock, gifted to the Canadian Homeless for shelter (via a note left aboard).

The boat apparently broke loose, drifted across the ocean, and fetched up on the shores of the Old World. Only then, in the surf, did it suffer significant damage!

Oddly enough, the relevant Canadian authorities are out of Halifax, home of the HALIFAX ART BOAT... wait for it... a T24x8 TriloBoat!!!.

Kevin McDonald

Not sure what the moral is... I think this story confirms that a Square Boat can be seaworthy. But it sure qualifies as seawierdy!

The story, that is; not the boat!

News reports search results here. Worth poking through a few, if you're interested, as story and pics are spread around.
Here is a follow up article from 2019, confirming Rick Small as the original owner/builder. It has since been refurbished and is now a part of a 'sensory garden' in Binghamstown, Ireland.


  1. That is encouraging news, the bar to meet as a competent captain for a successful Atlantic crossing in a square boat is "empty chair". Now as long as my decisions are better than complete random chance I should be good to go.

    1. Hi Dennis,

      We square boaters are certainly often considered to have a low bar, before we even set out! 8)

      I find it striking how often a boat of reasonably good build will not only carry incompetent crew successfully, but that it (and the sea) so very often transform the incompetent into true sailors.

      While I don't recommend going to sea unprepared, that IS encouraging!

      Dave Z

  2. Seaworthy as a coconut, it seems. Coconuts have made epic voyages. Shipping containers too are known for their hearty endurance, resistance to discomfort, amiable shipmate qualities, and they do not eat much ships stores. Fine company... these stoutly constructed world girdlers.

    1. Hi Bob,

      World girdling girders... I like that!

      We get a lot of trans-pacific light bulbs, too. Glass floats and bottles of various sizes are a little tougher, but all demonstrate that it's not so much the water as the shore that'll gitcha.

      One of the sea-going principles of relatively light, shoal boats is that they 'give' when slapped by a wave, skittering away from the blow and NOT absorbing much impact.

      Heavy keel boats, on the other hand, have considerable interia and their keels 'anchor' the boat in place (relative to a beam sea). While giving before waves is important to them, too, they must absorb considerably more force.

      I believe this is one reason why shoal boats are so often considered to be inherently UNseaworthy (contrary to evidence); they are judged by intuitions inspired by successful deep draft boats.

      Apples to oranges.

      Dave Z

    2. Posted on behalf of JOHN:

      It should be noted that neither light bulbs nor bottles care if they are right-side-up or up-side-down.

      Also, since most capsizes are caused by wind as well as waves, all other things being equal, a sailboat (with its tall mast and possibly sails) will be more vulnerable to capsize than a non-sail boat.

      Like you said, "Apples to Oranges"

      It also appears that the lower hull was stuffed with foam, which would have kept it afloat even though some side boards were missing, and surely many of the other boards were leaking.


    3. Hi John,

      Right you are. A hull can survive considerably more than the crew can or would care to tolerate!

      Generally I'd agree re sail vs power, though, on the average, I'd still prefer a sailboat. Power boats tend to have a very narrow range of stability, and often lack provisions for excluding water in a knock down/roll over. Not universal, but common.

      RE Foam... some of the accounts I read reported Irish Coastguardsmen stating that the hull was "not awash on arrival", and that it was "surprisingly well built". Most of the break-up began after fetching up in surf. Not sure when those side-planks went.

      All in all, I still wouldn't recommend that boat for that crossing. Big diff between 'can do' and 'should do'!

      Dave Z