The purpose of this project is to design and mass-produce kits for a floating tiny house that can sail. It combines high-tech modeling and fabrication and low-tech assembly that can be carried out DIY-style on a riverbank or a beach. This boat is a 3-bedroom with a kitchen, a sauna and a dining room. The deck is big enough to throw dance parties. It can be used as a river boat, a canal boat or even a beach house. Oh, and it's rugged and stable enough to take out on the ocean. Kits will start at around $50k (USD). The design has been tested in simulation and prototype; full-scale production will begin next year.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Speech

How would you like to build yourself a free place to live that doesn't take up land?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Boat for the Reluctant Sailor

A couple of days ago I conducted an interesting social experiment. I joined the largest Facebook group dedicated to sailing a cruising, and started a discussion thread about QUIDNON:

“Looking for some advice from group members. For the past two years I have been working on a boat design with two other engineers. It is a 36-foot houseboat, with private accommodations for 3 couples and 2 single people. It is also a surprisingly seaworthy and competent sailboat. We've tested a radio-controlled scale model and it sails really well. Now we are looking forward to building the first full-size hull. It's going to be a kit boat, featuring high-tech manufacturing and rapid DIY assembly. Don't hold back, what do you think?”

The results were roughly as follows:

• It doesn’t have the proper lines of a sailing yacht, and is therefore ugly.

There is a certain image that sailboats are supposed to have, and anything that doesn’t fit with the image is by definition ugly. It is like approaching people who like Ferraris and Lambourghinis and trying to sell them a VW Bus.

• It doesn’t have the right elements to be a top-notch performer under sail, and wouldn’t win any races.

Saying “But it’s a houseboat!” doesn’t seem to have any effect. How well does a houseboat have to sail in order to be “A Houseboat that Sails”? Apparently, it has to be able to win ocean races. Just being able to move house whenever you like without burning fossil fuels… What was that? Hey, look, a squirrel!

• It doesn’t look expensive enough.

This last point was not made explicitly, but I sensed great discomfort when I mentioned how cheap it is, or the fact that moderately skilled people can assemble the boat from a kit on any riverbank or beach, roll it into the water and sail off, or that it uses an outboard engine in an inboard well to avoid the expense and the stink of a diesel, or that it never needs to be hauled out and have its bottom repainted because the bottom is clad in roofing copper… You see, an important function of owning a sailboat is to tell the world how rich you are. And what this boat tells the world is that you are happily living well below your means. Oh, the cognitive dissonance!

• It looks better without the masts and the sails.

Again, sailboats aren’t supposed to look like what it looks like. But without the masts, it looks like some kind of strange barge-like thing, doesn’t intrude on the sailboat space and is therefore inoffensive. Plus, if it no longer sails, then there is nothing further to discuss: problem solved! (But that is, in fact an option: if you don’t want to sail, you don’t need to install the mast tabernacles or the masts. Just place plugs in the 6-inch holes where the mast tabernacles penetrate the deck.)

The creature comforts, unprecedented in a 36-foot sailboat, such as three bedrooms with queen-size beds and full privacy, or the sauna, or a deck large enough to throw dance parties, left them entirely unimpressed. I guess sailboats are meant to be cramped, claustrophobic and uncomfortable. And houseboats aren’t supposed to be able to sail, at all.

I even came in for some insults, slander and abuse. One opinionated character with the last name Aass (can’t make this up!) made quite an… Aass of himself by claiming that I am clueless and running a scam. But that comes with the territory; after all, it’s Facebook, the natural habitat of the lonely half-crazed idiot.

In short, QUIDNON does not appeal to cruising sailors or racing sailors (and that’s pretty much who responded). To be sure, some people found the project fascinating and, based on the blog stats, went and read all about it. And some of them wished me and the project the very best luck. But the most vocal people were also the most negative. In all, it appears that most of the people who responded did so because QUIDNON rubbed them the wrong way in any one of several ways: it doesn’t fit the glamorous image of yachting, it is useless for either sport or ostentation, and it shows people the way to live and enjoy themselves on the water for very little money. Anathema!

And so who does QUIDNON appeal to? After all, 10,000 people visit this blog every month, close to 100 have already supported the crowdfunding campaign, and a dozen or so are seriously interested in building one, or having one built for them, once the design gets shaken out at full size.

There is one particular demographic that QUIDNON is explicitly designed to appeal to: wives of men who want to live aboard and like to sail. The vast majority of women have absolutely no interest in living aboard any of the typical commercially produced sailboats. Why is it so cramped? Where do you put the shoes? Where is the closet space I need? Why is there no bathtub? Why does it lean so much all the time? Why is the deck weirdly shaped and has strange hardware all over it? Why can’t it be like a proper deck/patio with room for a couple of chaise-lounges and a beach umbrella? Why do I keep bumping my head against things? Where do I hang the potted plants? Why is the refrigerator so tiny? A man may convince a woman to live aboard for a while even without coming up with good answers to any of these questions, but then longer-term the project is doomed.

And so the options are:

1. Abandon the dream of living aboard a sailboat and pay lots of money to live on land.

2. Get a houseboat and abandon the dream of sailing.

3. Get a houseboat to live on and a sailboat to sail around on, and go broke paying for both.

4. Get a divorce and live on a sailboat. (This happens surprisingly often; the call of the sea is sometimes stronger than the funny stuff Cupid coats his arrow tips with.)

5. Get a QUIDNON. It is every bit a houseboat and answers all of the above questions. In designing it, I thought extremely hard about putting in all the things that would convince my wife that living aboard is still reasonable and, on the other hand, about getting rid of all the things that she has hated about living aboard.

How well should a houseboat sail? Sailing performance comes at a cost in comfort, safety and skill level. Sailing a 36-foot high-performance racer is something of an art. Sail handling is quite demanding, and if you make a mistake you can capsize, hurt yourself or rip a very expensive sail. While sailing, you have to handle lines that are under a lot of tension—enough to rip your hands off if you aren’t careful. And none of that is necessary.

People who live on a houseboat and sometimes move house under sail have no specific reason to want to master that art and achieve that level of performance. They just want to get from Point A to Point B with a minimum of effort and drama. Other than moving house, the main reason to go sailing is to pass time, with company on board. This is best done on medium-breezy, sunny sommer days. Motor away from the dock, put the sails up, leave the engine idling away just in case, and noodle about the harbor. Time is not of the essence; safety and comfort are. And, of course, cost.

QUIDNON’s sails are controlled using just four ropes (called “lines”) and all of them are led right to the cockpit, go through clutch blocks, and then disappear under the cockpit floor, where they spool themselves up on take-up reels. Yes, you do need to learn what they are called and what they do, but that’s about it.

• Halyard: used to hoist the sail up the mast. The clutches for the other three lines have to be released before you do that.

• Reefing line: opposite of the halyard; used to reduce the area of sail that is up and keep it taut. The more wind there is, the less sail you have to raise to push QUIDNON along at its maximum warp 7.5 knots (8.5 MPH, 13.9 km/h). QUIDNON’s sails can be reefed down to just the upper two panels.

• Two sheets, one on each side: these pull the sail toward the centerline while keeping it from twisting. The closer to the wind you sail, the more you haul in the sheet.

Of these lines, only the halyard requires the use of the winch. To get a sail up (which is quite heavy), you release the clutches, loop the halyard around the anchor winch and crank.

There is more to sailing than that, but this information, plus what you can learn from any introductory book on sailing, will be enough for you to sail a QUIDNON.

QUIDNON should be able to make ocean passages in good weather. The preferred direction is definitely with the wind rather than against it. Going with the wind stretches out the waves; going against the wind causes them to bunch together. It is like the difference between driving through a hilly countryside and driving down a rutted, potholed road. Because of its blunt bow and high topsides QUIDNON may not be able to make good progress to windward in all conditions. But it should do well downwind in almost all conditions.

Keep in mind, almost the entire planet was explored and colonized using sailing ships that could barely go to windward at all. For every mile they made good to windward, they made two moving sideways. And so they mostly moved with prevailing winds or waited for favorable winds. They made laps around the North Atlantic going clockwise, to take advantage of the Coriolis effect: the rotation of the Earth causes both water and air to move clockwise in the northern hemisphere and counterclockwise in the southern. And QUIDNON can probably do the same, safely and comfortably.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Talk in Boston

I'll give a talk and Q&A on QUIDNON at the Artisan's Asylum in Somerville, MA at 8pm on Thursday, May 4th. Hope to see you there.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Ridiculously versatile

The world is full of boats that do just one thing quite well. QUIDNON is not one of them: it does a great number of things adequately and just one thing ridiculously well.

Ocean yachts are designed for ocean cruising and racing. They make poor houseboats due to lack of space. They can’t go through shallows because they have a keel. They don’t make good canal boats because their masts can’t pass under low bridges. They require a crane or a Travelift for hauling them out for maintenance. They are expensive. They are also quite slow. They can’t carry much freight.

Motor boats are sometimes big enough to make good houseboats. They are either unable to make long ocean passages because of their limited range, or they are expensive to take on ocean passages because of fuel costs. They can go faster than sailing yachts, but then their fuel consumption becomes quite ridiculous. When used as houseboats, their large engines make a poor investment. They also require a crane or a Travelift for maintenance. Some of them can carry a considerable amount of freight, but this makes them slower and increases the fuel consumption.

Houseboats are either houses built on floats or boats that can’t handle rough water. They are reasonable to live on and can be used on rivers and canals, but they can’t venture out on the ocean, never mind make ocean passages. They don’t carry freight.

Houses are great to live in—much roomier than any boat. But they do have two major shortcomings: they don’t move, and they don’t float. This is increasingly a problem: lots of houses are lost to flooding every year, and the toll will only go up as oceans rise and extreme weather events associated with climate change become more frequent. If an area where you have built a house becomes unpleasant or dangerous, you can’t just move the house but have find yourself a new dwelling.

Boats do float, but with most boats nobody particularly wants to live on them on dry land. On land, both yachts and power boats have to be put up on jacks, and then living on them is like living in a treehouse, with a long climb up a ladder just to get home. If a flood causes them to float off the jacks, they are unlikely to settle back onto them. Instead, they fall over and get damaged. Then they don’t float any more.

Houseboats generally do better on dry land than other kinds of boats. The Dutch have built some houses on barges that are designed to float up and down. When the water is low, they bicycle home; when the water is high, they row a dinghy. That’s a good idea in a country that’s mostly under water. But I haven’t heard too many stories about people living on houseboats on dry land.

QUIDNON is specifically designed to do a great number of things adequately.

It makes a reasonable land-based residence that floats when it has to. Its bottom is flat, and it settles upright again once the waters recede. It is a second-floor walk-up, but then its roof makes a wonderful deck, and the cockpit makes a nice gazebo.

It makes a good houseboat of the sort that just stays at the dock: then you can skip the expense of the masts, the sails and the engine, and just live on it. If you want a comfortable, inexpensive DIY dockside dwelling that looks enough like a boat to not bother the neighbors, look no further.

When the time comes to move house, just drop in an outboard engine. It is a good boat for rivers and canals because it only draws a couple of feet. If all you need to do is motor to a different marina twice a year (to shift between summer and winter camp) or to go from a marina to a mooring field and back, there is no need for a dedicated engine. Instead, you can just drop in your dinghy engine into the engine well, then put it back on the dinghy.

If you want to go sailing, add masts and sails. Even with masts and sails added, it still makes a good canal boat, because you can drop the masts by yourself with just a comealong—no crane needed.

If you want to make ocean passages, that is not a problem either. QUIDNON has 130º of stability, making it quite safe, and is reasonably fast for its size, especially downwind. It isn’t fast upwind, particularly in rough seas—but then few people enjoy such a bone-shaking ride in any case. Some people view the ability to go upwind in any conditions as key, forgetting the fact that the entire planet has been explored and settled using boats that couldn’t go upwind any better than about 60º to the wind, tacking through 120-130º. If sailing upwind were important, people would have paid more attention to this problem. The only sailors who valued the ability to sail close to the wind were corsairs—pirates! In fact, most ocean sailing is still done off the wind or downwind, with the prevailing winds. Choose your courses the way the old-time mariners did, and you can even use QUIDNON to circumnavigate. And should you wish to carry a few tons of freight, there is plenty of room for it, and the extra weight won't make much of a difference.

When the time comes to haul out for maintenance, you don’t have to pay a crane operator and a marina. Just find a sandy spot that dries out at low tide, anchor there, and wait for the water to recede. The bottom is surfaced with roofing copper, and you just need to scrape off the seafood that grows on it where you can reach it. The rest of the seafood will get crushed against the sand.

And now, here is the thing that it does ridiculously well: getting around onerous regulations.

If you live in a house, you are subject to an ever-increasing number of regulations. You are limited in what you can build, where you can build it, what materials you can build it out of and what you can use it for. There is a permitting process to follow. You are usually forced to hook it up to utilities and to pay real estate tax on it. You are often required to hire licensed tradesmen to build and maintain a house. All said and done, many people pay close to half of their income just for a place to live. This would indicate that housing is basically a racket.

If you live on a boat, the regulations are few. There is nobody to stop you from building whatever boat you want. There is generally no permitting process, except for mooring permits in certain areas. States will try to charge you for registration, but you can get around this by documenting your boat with the Coast Guard.

There are rarely any issues with storing a boat on land that you own or lease. If you also own or lease the boat, who is to say that you aren’t allowed to live on it? If putting it on land is still problematic, dig a reflecting pool and put QUIDNON in it. Lakes, rivers and harbors are generally considered free to anchor in. If a piece of land is particularly prone to floods, you generally can’t get a building permit to put up a house on it. But there is nothing to stop you from putting a boat on it.

With most boats, when you buy it you pay the designer, the manufacturer and his workers, and the investors’ profits—in addition to all the materials and supplies. With QUIDNON, the design was done by volunteers who designed the boat for themselves, you provide your own assembly labor, and your only costs are the materials and supplies and for somebody to mind the numerically controlled mill to cut out the parts for the kit.

QUIDNON may not be as posh and sporty as a yacht, not as fast as a power boat, and not as roomy as a house. The one thing that it does ridiculously well is set you free. First, there is financial freedom: no rent or mortgage, no real estate taxes, no need to pay tradespeople. Second, there is freedom of movement: sail or motor anywhere you want, stay for as long as you like. Haul it out and use it as a beach house on some nice uninhabited island, then push it back in the water and sail off again.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Announcing: QUIDNON Crowdfuding Campaign

For the next month or so we will be trying to raise money to build the first QUIDNON. If you want to see this project realized, please consider making a contribution.

We have t-shirts, posters and books for those who donate.

And if you donate $500 or more (USD) we will do our best to deduct the amount of your donation from the price of your eventual order of the QUIDNON kit (if and when it becomes available).

Friday, April 7, 2017

A Guided Tour

There are lots of exciting developments for this project. First, we are zeroing in on the design, putting the finishing touches on various pieces. Second, we are about to announce the crowdfunding campaign to the world, so stay tuned.

In this post I will provide a look at all the more important elements of the design by presenting and narrating detailed views of the 3D model.

We start our tour underwater, as a scuba diver would, approaching a floating QUIDNON from below.

The hull is shown as translucent, to allow you to see the very substantial internal structure. The two keelboards and the two rudder blades hang down at a 10º angle, which is optimal for when the hull is heeled, since a hull this wide (16 feet) isn't going to heel more than about 10º.

The circles on the keelboards (and the rudder blades further aft) are where plates of led ballast will be embedded in the plywood sandwich. The extra weight is enough to oppose the buoyancy of the blades, allowing them to drift down when sailing slowly, but keeping them light enough so that they can bounce off the bottom in the shallows without suffering damage. When sailing fast, downhaul lines keep the keelboards and the rudder blades down against the resistance of the water rushing past. The downhauls are secured using autorelease cam cleats that pop open if a keelboard or a rudder blade encounters something solid. The skipper would then wake up and do an emergency 180º turn, or look at the depth sounder, shrug, and re-tighten and re-secure the downhaul that just popped.

Along the chines between the sides and the bottom are chine runners. They are designed to provide lateral resistance when sailing through shallows, with the keelboards raised, or bouncing along the bottom ineffectually. This feature allows QUIDNON to tack through a shallow spot that only has around 2 feet of water and also allows it to sail off the wind with the keelboards raised, decreasing drag.

The propeller from the outboard engine, in its inboard outboard well, is visible further aft. The engine moves up and down on a track, and can be raised while sailing, to further reduce drag.

Floating gently toward the transom, we notice an interesting recess in the bottom just forward of the engine well. That is where the solid ballast is hung. It is externally mounted, so that it can be dropped before hauling out on a beach, then winched into place once afloat again. It consists of a cement block with steel scrap embedded in it. It's got an eye for attaching a line in its center and 4 pieces of threaded rod—one in each corner. To mount it in place, somebody has to dive down and tie a line to the eye, then stick that eye through a hole in the center of the chain locker, which is right above where the ballast block goes and right below the cockpit. The block is then pulled into position using a comealong. Once in position, the 4 pieces of threaded rod poke through openings in the bottom of the chain locker and secured using nuts.

Finally, we reach the transom, which is going to have a swim step and a boarding ladder, but they aren't shown because we aren't done designing them yet. Note that the bottom is slightly flared as it reaches the transom. This is to provide clearance for the rudder assembly, which is tilted 10º. Also note the recess in the center of the transom, which is to keep the stream of water from the propeller from hitting the transom. For those interested in QUIDNON trivia, the horizontal panel right above that recess is officially called "the taint."

The rudder posts (pipes, actually) are bent forward slightly, so that the pivot point of the rudder blades is forward of their axis. This is done so that it is possible to adjust the angle of the rudder blades so that the steering is as close to completely neutral as you like, to provide fingertip steering, and to keep the autopilot from wasting energy. Most rudders pivot around their leading edge, or close to it, and take a lot of power to deflect. Some people find that sort of steering "sporty." But what works best is when rudder blades are adjusted so that they trail in the water if allowed to move freely but can be deflected with hardly any effort at all.

Climbing aboard using the imaginary swim step and boarding ladder, we see the cockpit populated by two creepy mannequins (they are very useful for figuring out ergonomics, but we are looking for better-looking ones). The seated mannequin is holding onto an imaginary tiller. Yes, QUIDNON uses tiller steering instead of wheel steering, for the following reasons:

1. Whether wheel or tiller, hand-steering is rarely done, because most of the steering is done by autopilot. I generally turn on autopilot seconds after casting off and turn it off again seconds before anchoring or docking. But a wheel clutters up the cockpit the entire time, while the tiller can be folded away when it isn't being used.

2. When you do have to hand-steer it is usually when docking or casting off, and what you want is a tiller anyway, so that you can freely swing it from side to side, instead of having to spin the wheel.

3. Most of the reason to use a wheel is that it allows for a lot of leverage. But who needs leverage when you have neutral steering? The only time you won't have neutral steering on QUIDNON is when you are in the shallows and the rudder blades are kicking up, but then you should slow the heck down immediately. And if you are moving slowly you don't need amplification anyway.

4. If you find that you need to hand-steer for a long time—if the autopilot dies, or if you need to hand-steer because you are ghosting to windward in a fickle breeze and the "sail to wind" function isn't working—then what you want is a tiler, not a wheel. With a wheel, there is just one steering position: standing behind the wheel. With a tiller, you can sit, stand, recline, use your feet, use your hips, tuck the tiller extension under your armpit or rig something up using bungee cords and a line tied to one of the sheets.

Here are the details of QUIDNON's steering linkage. Rudder arms and the tie-rod that connects them are shown in purple. The tie-rod is slightly shorter than the distance between the rudder posts. This is called Ackermann geometry, and allows the boat to efficiently pivot around the keelboards without generating drag, because the rudder blade closer to the center of the circle is deflected farther than the other. Along the centerline is the tiller, connected to one of the rudder arms using a diagonal linkage which allows a certain amount of amplification, to limit the swing range of the tiller to the confines of the cockpit. The tiller is a telescoping tiller that consists of a housing, the tiller itself, and the tiller extension.

Below the steering linkage is the equipment chase. QUIDNON's aft section consists of 2 aft cabins, and between them is a wedge-shaped space taken up by everything that doesn't belong in the cabin. Working from the transom forward, the rearmost section houses the gas tank and two 20-lb. propane cylinders. Forward of that is the engine well. Forward of the engine well, we have the solid ballast block at the bottom, the chain locker above it, and the cockpit well above that.

Here is another view of the cockpit. Note that there are lots of places to sit: down below, with your feet in the cockpit well; up above, on the raised lazarettes, with your feet on the seats, and inside the dodger if the weather is nasty. And you can hand-steer using the tiller extension no matter where you sit.

But you will probably be spending most of the time down below in the cabin, which is accessed using the companionway hatch and the companionway ladder.

This ladder is built right into the structure of the boat and is much more comfortable to use than most companionway ladders found on sailboats of this size. It is also much more than the ladder. At the bottom it has a footwear locker. Next, behind the first step, is a row of plumbing valves. Above it is a row of switches that control various pumps and alarms. Above it is the AC 110V/220Vcontrol panel, for shore power. And above that is the DC 12V control panel. This is a very convenient place to put all this stuff, from every angle.

To port and to starboard aft of the companionway ladder are the two aft cabins. Each has a double berth and a table, and is suitable for a couple. The aft cabins have doors, which aren't shown, because we haven't designed them yet.

Forward of the aft cabin on the port side is the heads, which has a full-size shower stall and can also be used as a sauna. We are trying to design other things into it: a bathtub, a washbasin big enough to bathe infants are both on the list. It will contain a stove that will work either on solid fuel (wood, charcoal) or propane, heat water and provide warm air that will be circulated throughout the cabin by injecting it under the cabin sole.

On the starboard side, across from the heads is the galley, which I won't show you because we are not done designing it yet. It will include all the usual stuff: a sink, a propane range and a fridge, but it will also include a stove, similar to the one in the heads, that will boil water and can be configured to be used for cooking, baking or smoking.

Forward of the galley and the heads is the salon, occupied by some more creepy mannequins. It is large enough to throw dinner parties for up to a dozen people. Above the drop-leaf table there is a large hatch, so that the space is very well lit. There is plenty of storage space behind the backs and under the seats of the settees.

To port and to starboard of the salon are the two pilot berths. They are large enough to sleep one adult, a couple who are intimate and as many as 4 children. They have a sliding door, which allows some amount of privacy. Here is another view of the pilot berth, this time looking forward.

The pipe you see is used to route uphaul and downhaul lines from the keelboard to the deck, and from there to the cockpit.

Below the pilot berths are the ballast tanks, filled with seawater. Freshwater is stored in bladders that float within the ballast tanks. Since seawater, even if strained, contains some number of living organisms who will take up residence inside the tanks, consume nutrients and oxygen and then die, periodically these tanks will need cleaning out. This is done by draining them one tank at a time, then climbing inside and scrubbing them down. Here is a mannequin bravely going where no mannequin has gone before.

And here is the view looking toward is the U-berth. Most sailboats of this size has V-berths: awkward, wedge-shaped spaces that offer the best place to sleep in spite of having too little room in the leg area and not enough headroom. Since QUIDNON's bow is not V-shaped but U-shaped, it has a U-berth instead.

We haven't quite worked out what to do with it yet, but the space definitely has potential. For example, it can be set up with sliding doors and used as a master bedroom, at which point QUIDNON becomes capable of housing 3 couples and their children. Here is a view of the salon looking from the U-berth.

Finally, here is a top view of the entire cabin. As you see, QUIDNON can house an awful lot of creepy mannequins! (Prompting one wit to declare that it may be suitable as a slave ship.) But here is the really important point: this is an awful lot of boat in a 36-foot package.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

QUIDNON is featured in this month's MAIB!

A write-up on Quidnon has been published in Bob Hicks' venerable publication, Messing About in Boats. Enjoy.