Friday, January 30, 2015

Construction plan

This will be the last post in this series. The design of QUIDNON is far enough along to start entering actual engineering drawings into CAD. The plan is to use an NC mill to cut out quite a lot of the plywood shapes. To be sure, there will still be some pieces that will end up being precision-fitted using a Sawzall and a grinder.

The main assembly technique is what's known as “glue and screw”: some piece of the hull is covered with a thin layer of epoxy, and the next piece is laid over it and screwed down using square-drive stainless steel screws. Each piece to be screwed on is pre-drilled with countersink holes, so that the screws pull the pieces together very tight, squeezing out excess epoxy and creating a very tight bond.

Once the plywood shapes are cut out, construction will proceed roughly as follows.

1. On a large flat surface (preferably a hangar of some sort, with a concrete floor), the outer layer of panels that will make up the perfectly flat deck will be laid out, inner side up. The deck will be made of 18 4x8 panels of 3/8 plywood. Nylon straps will be laid underneath the plywood, to make it possible to pull the hull together, and to lift it by crane when the time comes.

2. The inner layer of panels that make up the deck is then glued&screwed to it. These panels are laid out so that the joints are all staggered nicely. The inner layer's edge is in 1.5" from the outer layer, creating a ledge. The ledge is scraped clean of epoxy after it sets but before it hardens.

3. The first deadlight strip is glued&screwed to the underside of the deck, all around, using the ledge as a guide. The screws are directed at a 45° angle down. Two more layers of deadlight strips are laid down, building up the thickness to 1.2". These are precision machined so that the deadlight holes match up. The outermost strip is 1" narrower than the other two, creating a ledge, which is scraped clean of epoxy.

4. The innermost layers of the topsides, the bottom and the transom are glued&screwed together, using 6"-wide strips of epoxy to cover the seams on the inside, and laid aside.

5. The bulkheads are assembled and framed using fir 2x4's, which are cut to the right bevel using a table saw, and glued&screwed to the underside of the deck.

6. The pre-assembled topsides and transom are maneuvered into position and glued&screwed to the deadlight strips, using the ledge as a guide, but the screws are not yet tightened.

7. The pre-assembled bottom is overlaid over the bulkheads, maneuvered into position, and screwed down at the bow.

8. The sides and the bottom are pulled together using straps and bits of angle iron to align the chines. Open stretches of the joint between the topsides and the bottom are saturated with epoxy. The screws joining the topsides to the deadlight strip are tightened, and the epoxy is allowed to set.

9. Once the epoxy has set, the straps are removed and the places on the chines which they masked are saturated with epoxy. The inside corner of the chines is filleted with thickened epoxy.

10. The hull is built up by glue&screwing additional layers of plywood to the topsides, the transom and the bottom. After each layer is added, the chines are fiberglassed with a layer of fiberglass tape.

11. Once the hull is built up to full thickness (3 layers of 1/2" plywood all around, 4 at the bottom). The chine runners are built up. The outermost layer of the bottom contains chine runners, to which additional crescents of plywood are epoxied and glassed to build up the chine runners to a 2" thickness.

12. Fiberglass mat is nailed to the topsides using bronze annular nails, saturated with epoxy, and ground off along the deadlight strips and the chines.

13. Three layers of fiberglass cloth are draped over the entire structure, deadlight strips included, and saturated with epoxy.

14. The bottom is barrier-coated, then bronze sheets are laid on the bottom and screwed down, each screw bedded with 3M 5200.

15. The topsides and the deadlight strips are faired and sanded for a flat surface, then primed and painted. The topsides are painted black for the best passive solar performance. The deadlight strips are left with the bright white primer, because they will be overlaid with bronze lexan which will give them color.

16. The hull is flipped over. The deck is covered with fiberglass mat (nailed down with bronze annular nails) and saturated with epoxy.

17. Three layers of fiberglass cloth are draped over the deck and saturated.

18. Aluminum diamond plate is overlaid on the deck and screwed down with screws bedded with 3M 5200.

19. Deck beams and gunwales (which are steamed out of solid hardwood) are lag-bolted up through the deck and to each other, sealed with epoxy, primed and painted.

20. The hull is now complete, ready to receive the pilot house and the cabin can be outfitted.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Electrical system

The primary purpose of QUIDNON is to serve as a floating residence. As such, it has to provide all the usual services that normally involve electricity: refrigeration, lighting, communications and the ability to charge mobile devices (cell phone, tablets, laptops). Where the energy for all this comes from depends on where the boat is. While marinas provide shore power (in North America this is either 30A or 50A 110VAC), this power is unavailable when living at anchor or at a mooring (the two most economical ways to live, since in many places, in Northeastern US especially, marina slip fees can add up to almost as much as renting an apartment on land.

With this in mind, I plan to equip QUIDNON for both marina living and for anchoring out. The elements I intend to use to piece together this system are all proven ones—I have used them all and found that they work and hold up extremely well. They are also all relatively cheap, by virtue of the fact that the word "marine" does not occur in their product descriptions.

When living at the marina, the usual procedure is to plug in a shore power cable and leave the battery charger on all the time. This keeps the batteries topped off all the time and in the fully charged state they last a very long time. Should shore power ever fail (because of a black-out or a transformer blow-out) the batteries provide uninterrupted power. When setting up a boat for marina living, it is very important to replace the stock shore cable plug with a SmartPlug, because the stock plug tends to burst into flames and burn the boat down. This almost happened to me—twice!

When living at a mooring or at anchor, QUIDNON has to generate its own electricity. During the summer months solar panels provide plenty of juice, but during the winter, when there is little sun, and when the solar panels are often covered up by snow, having a wind generator is very helpful. The usual procedure on yachts is to mount the wind generator atop a 10-foot pole, but that really doesn't get it up where the wind is strong, limiting its usefulness. On QUIDNON, there is not even a place to put a 10-foot pole that wouldn't interfere with the sails or the sheets, and so the only place to put wind generators is atop the masts, where there is room for two of them. This configuration is not recommended while sailing out on the ocean: the amount of windage and weight up top would pose a danger. But since the masts are easy to take down and put up, it's quite possible to have two configurations available, one for shoreside living, with two wind generators up top, and another for cruising, with the mastheads taken up with VHF antennae, nav/anchor lights and a wind instrument.

My favorite choice for a wind generator is a Sunforce 44444 which puts out a maximum of 400W (though it hardly ever blows that hard). Previous versions haunted the harbor with an interesting wailing/keening/whispering noise, which scared off seagulls, cormorants and neighbors alike, but the carbon fiber blade design has since been improved, and the latest version is quiet enough to use in a marina.

For solar panels, my current favorite choice is Renegy's 100W polycrystalline panels.

They are manufactured with a strong aluminum frame, and bolt down nicely to aluminum square channel using the supplied brackets, making installation easy. QUIDNON's pilot house roof can accommodate 8 of these, with room to spare:

Then there is the question of where to store all this power. My solution, which I know works well from experience, is to use Trojan T-105 6V 125Ah batteries. I plan to put 8 of them, in 2 banks, in a large, plastic-lined, vented battery box down in the bilge, under the cabin sole.

The two requirements for the battery enclosure are that it must never leak acid into the bilge, and that any hydrogen gas generated while charging is vented overboard (hydrogen is explosive under a wide range of concentrations and its flames are hot and invisible).

With all the sundry pieces added in (charger, charge controller, inverter, shore cable and plug, circuit breakers, wiring and outlets) the budget for the entire electrical system comes in just under $6,000 or 12% of the total budget, which is quite reasonable for a comfortable off/on-grid set-up.

There is one caveat that needs to be made with regard to all electrical/electronic systems, which is that they all work until they don't, and when they stop working there is nothing to be done but replace the component that failed. In this they are quite unlike most other parts of the boat, which can be repaired, finessed, jury-rigged, stitched up, plugged up and so on. All can be said about the reliability of an electrical system is that it works at the moment, but this is no guarantee that it will still be working the next moment, no matter how "reliable" it's supposed to be or how much you paid for it. Thus, there is no way to design anything electrical to last for the life of the boat, and there is nothing to be done about it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Rudder Linkage Rethink

Jon from Virginia asked a really good question: What happens if one of the rudders gets hit sideways by something or other? Which part of the linkage gives way?

Well, this is something that does happen. I once had a towing rode get looped around the rudder blade, and it snapped my autopilot in half. After a bit of head-scratching, I came up with the following arrangement:

The stick pointing toward you is one of the tillers, which will actually be made of 1.5" round stock, but I am showing it as 1" square stock so that the drawing is easier to make and understand. The tiller is interrupted by 3 hinged plates (the axes of the hinge pins are shown in red). Front and back plates are welded to the tiller, and the front part of the tiller flops back and forth freely on the hinges. To stop that from happening under normal conditions, the two sides of the tiller are held together using a spring (here shown as a pink rubber band, to make it easier to draw, and also to be funny).

Under normal conditions, the spring is tight enough so that the hinges do not open. But under extreme overload conditions, the spring stretches, and one of the two hinges opens up, allowing the tiller to bend. When the extreme overload is removed, the spring snaps the plates back together, and all is well again.

In the real set-up, the spring will be tensioned using a bolt, to make the action adjustable. I will probably make it extra-tight to start with, then make it looser as I sail until it becomes a bit too loose, then tighten it up some, and leave it that way.

Nice feature of this set-up are:

• that the rudder linkage will not only refuse to destroy itself when a rudder blade is hit from the side, but
• that it will still be trying to steer, as well as possible under the circumstances,
• that one rudder going out commission temporarily will not affect the ability to steer with the other rudder, and
• that it will snap back into shape spontaneously and go right back to work once the overload condition is past.

Lastly, there is the need to do "back-end alignment" to make sure that the two rudder blades are perfectly symmetrical and don't cause any extra drag. To do this, I intend to add a bolt and a jam nut that goes through the outer one of the three plates on one of the tillers and pushes against a divet drilled into the next plate, opening the hinge up a crack.

I feel much better about it now.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Steering linkage

Because there are two rudders, and because they are angled out, to be maximally effective when the boat is heeled over, the steering linkage is rather intricate. Not counting the rudders and the wheel, there are 5 moving parts. The tie-rod and the aft whipstalk will be fabricated using 1-inch aluminum square stock, 1x¼" stainless steel strips and #10 stainless steel mechanical screws. The tillers will be made of 1.5" aluminum rod with flats milled into the ends at the right angles for attaching the stainless steel strips. The connections will be made using ¼" stainless steel bolts and Acetal washers. The entire assembly is intended to last for the life of the boat without any maintenance.

One interesting feature of this linkage is that it makes it possible to switch between wheel steering and tillerpilot steering at the pedestal. The wheel can be disconnected from the steering linkage simply by pulling back on it, causing the pinion gear splined to its shaft to disconnect from the rack which it drives. This is useful, because it lessens the inertial load on the tillerpilot from the angular momentum of the wheel. My preferred tillerpilot (Simrad TP32) can generate up to 100 lbs of force, but with considerable power drain and wear. With the wheel disconnected, the force required from it will be low, because the linkage is of lightweight aluminum and the rudders are balanced.

Another interesting feature this linkage makes possible is the ability to slow down the boat by toeing in the two rudders. That's right, unlike just about every other boat, QUIDNON will have a brake lever! The lever at the steering pedestal will drive a cable leading aft, which will act on the steering linkage to toe in the rudders. This feature will be useful when running downwind in overly boisterous conditions, because it will slow down the boat while pulling down the transom, lessening the likelihood of broaching or pitch-poling, and making it unnecessary (in most conditions) to use any of the usual techniques for slowing the boat down, such as trailing warps or deploying a drogue or a sea anchor.

Referring to the schematic diagram below, the green vertical plane on the left is the transom. The two rudder shafts are mounted to the outside of it, using brackets. Each rudder shaft is joined to a tiller through a horizontal pivot (axes of the pivot points are shown in blue) and each tiller is joined to one end of a tie-rod using vertical pivots. At its center the tie-rod is joined to the aft whip-stalk using a two-axis pivot (left/right and fore/aft). Steering action is indicated using red and green arrows (red for starboard, green for port).

The aft whip-stalk is connected to the steering shaft through a fore-and-aft pivot. The steering shaft is mounted to the deck by brackets and rocks left/right along the centerline of the boat. It penetrates the aft wall of the pilot house and runs forward to the steering pedestal.

The forward whipstalk is connected directly to the steering shaft inside the pedestal. At the top of the forward whipstalk is a rack, which is moved left/right by a pinion gear splined to the wheel shaft. The forward whip-stalk also holds a pin (not shown) for mounting a tillerpilot. Before engaging the tillerpilot, the tip of its telescoping arm is snapped onto the pin, and the wheel is pulled back on its shaft, disengaging the pinion from the rack in order to reduce the load on the tillerpilot.

Magenta arrows indicate the action of the brake lever. When actuated, it introduces a bend into the aft whipstalk, making it shorter. In turn, this causes the two tillers to pivot down. Because of the angle of the rudder posts, this has the effect of towing in the rudder blades by a few degrees.

Referring to the diagram above, the axes of the tillers incorporate a 10º twist, each in the opposite direction. Because of this deviation from horizontal, when the tie-rod (shown here in cyan) is pulled down, the rudder posts (yellow) rotate inward. When the rudder blades are towed in, they pull down the transom and induce drag. Note that it will still be possible to steer the boat even with the rudders toed in.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Concrete Bottom Rethought

I haven't studied concrete to any great extent—up until now. It is ubiquitous, and is one of the most ancient and well-understood construction materials, right after mud brick and plaster. It has a bad reputation as a boatbuilding material because of all the failed ferrocement projects, but that's not concrete, that's cement plaster over wire mesh. I was planning to do something different: create a steel-reinforced concrete slab for the bottom. And so I delved into the details on engineering concrete slabs, and came up with an answer that didn't please me at all.

Concrete has excellent compressive strength, and unreinforced concrete blocks can be stacked miles high before the bottom-most blocks gets crushed. But its strength under tension is more or less nonexistent, and to avoid placing it under tension ancient builders had a rule that the compressive force has to be concentrated within the middle third of a column. Modern builders work around this problem by making concrete into a composite, by embedding a rebar cage or mesh in a concrete slab, with enough thickness on either side so that when, under load, the armature stretches, the slab bends hardly at all. Because, it did bend, cracks would instantly open up on the convex side, letting in moisture, causing the rebar to corrode, expand, and cause “spalling” (meaning the concrete structure falls apart). What's more, this is bound to happen eventually in any case, and so reinfoced concrete slabs are engieered for eventual failure by being over-reinforced and under-cemented, because then they give warning of impending disaster in the form of cracks, as opposed to failing catastrophically.

Neither “eventual failure” nor “failing catastrophically” sounded good to me, and so I set out to calculate the required concrete slab thickness for QUIDNON's bottom, and came up with 6 inches. That translates to 16 tons of weight, not counting the rebar, the sides, and all the other structures I wanted to cast into the bottom. With all of that, the weight would push 20 tons of ballast, and that's just too much.

Also keep in mind that nobody has ever tried to join a concrete bottom to a plywood top, so I would be doing something rather experimental, if not to say adventurous. And adventurousness is, to me, akin to incompetence: I like my engineering tasks to be as boring as possible. The fun part comes after I do my boring engineering work, build it, and hand it over to other people to try to destroy. And find that they can't without trying really really hard. In general, there are two approaches to solving engineering problem: look it up (best) and guess the answer (not as good). In this case, I would only know that I guessed right if I manage to sail QUIDNON in all sorts of conditions and observe that nothing catastrophic happens, so I'd rather adhere to the much safer “look it up” strategy.

And so I decided to backtrack, and make the bottom out of plywood and fiberglass. The boat still needs ballast. There will be 5.8 tons of water ballast, which is good, but most of it is forward of the center-line. It needs to be balanced by about as much ballast aft. It works out to a 1-foot-thick slab of reinforced concrete located aft of the centerboard trunks, between the trunks and the aft cabins, under the galley, the heads and the companionway ladder. It will incorporate a rebar cage, located about 2 inches up from the bottom of the slab. That's because this concrete slab will serve as the mast step for the mainmast, taking a compression load from it, which will stretch the rebar at the bottom while compressing the concrete at the top. Here it is, shown in purple:

In addition to providing a counterbalance to the water ballast and serving as a mast step, the concrete slab will provide thermal mass. I will pour it over a few layers of dry fiberglass cloth encapsulated in plastic, to thermally insulated it from the hull and from the seawater below, and I will provide a couple of air conduits through it. One of them will be used for the exhaust of a rocket stove, to heat it up; the other will be used as part of the interior ventilation system, to keep the cabin warm. I will cover the rocket stove design in a future post.

As for the foremast step, that will just be a fat stick of wood spanning the width of the hull. I'll fiberglass the bottom of the stick, to take the tension load, so that the load on the stick itself is purely compressive.

As far as joining the bottom to the sides, I intend to follow the procedure that Chris Morejohn used on HOGFISH and his other designs: screw, glue and tape. I don't have his drawings with me, but from memory it looks something like this:
The edges of the plywood are screwed together, the joint is saturated with thickened epoxy with a high-strength adhesive filler, then fiberglass tape is applied over the joint, and then the procedure is repeated, screwing and gluing each additional layer of plywood until the right thickness is reached. Then the whole structure gets covered with fiberglass mat, which is nailed down using bronze annular nails, and saturated with epoxy. Then three layers of fiberglass cloth are applied over that. Then the topsides are made smooth using fairing compound, primed and painted. In the case of QUIDNON, the bottom will receive a layer of copper cladding, so that it never needs painting.

"What a boring design!" you might say. But that's how I like it. The fun part will be in seeing how it performs in big waves and lots of wind.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Boats for post-cheap oil survival

This is a guest post from Ian Swan. As some of you know, I have sold my shoreside residence, and for more than a year now I have been living aboard and sailing up and down the east coast of the US. I have done this both as a lifestyle choice and as a way to minimize costs, including fuel costs, and to maximize the available options. For many of you, such a dramatic change of habits is out of the question. But this is not to say that you should neglect to look at boats as an important element of your post-collapse preparations. Ian's article takes this subject, which for most people resides in the realm of daydreams, and brings it down to the level of practical reality. Unlike many sailing experts that might try to impress you with their opinions, Ian knows his stuff, and, very importantly, he isn't trying to sell you anything. So if you are one of the many people who think that having a "just in case" boat might be a good idea, but have not acted on it, this article is for you.

To introduce myself: I am a New Zealander living near the coast in the North Island. I also lived for nine years in the South Pacific Islands, where I was able to observe primitive, third world living conditions. I share the view that peak oil is going to have a big effect on our lifestyles, and the simultaneous arrival of economic troubles and climate change is setting up a "perfect storm". If things collapse as Dmitry, I, and many others are expecting, you may find yourself in the same situation as a third world hunter (fisherman), gatherer, and farmer. That was the normal situation for many in the South Pacific Islands when I lived there. I'm not saying that we will return to the stone age, or even to the dark ages, but cheap oil -- the basis on which the edifice of our current society is built -- is gone, and the debt bomb is about to explode at the same time. This combination could create a tipping point that could cast you into an economic and social situation which will rival the Great Depression. If you agree with this (and if you are visiting this site it suggests you might) then you should make some preparations, at least in your mind, about what you would do, and how you might survive in this scenario.

Specifically, you might want to ponder the question of food. It has always struck me how much easier it is to get protein from the sea by fishing, and gathering shellfish, crabs, and so on, compared with land-based hunting and gardening. The same applies to a lesser degree to a lake or a large river. There is always food to be had where land meets water, it's a particularly productive environment, once things settle down in a post collapse environment, living near water will offer many opportunities for fishing and hunting, and travel by water. One of the keys to exploiting the sea coast or a lake for food is a boat, or a canoe, and this brings me to the point of this article: we have an opportunity to prepare for post-oil and post-consumer society by getting an appropriate boat, or, better yet, several appropriate boats, as I have.

The use of boats as a means of transport should also be considered. In common with Dmitry, I believe that sail is the way to go. If the boat is small enough, then rowing or sculling can be the source of auxiliary power. The smaller the boat, the more effective and practical this manual propulsion can be.

This article is not intended to be an introduction to boating, so if boats, and especially sailboats, are outside your experience, then I suggest that you get some books on the subject. Older books may be better, since what I am suggesting here is not particularly modern or high tech.

If your experience is with power boats, then I would suggest that you need to change your thinking. The cost and availability of fuel may soon make a modern powerboat a useless asset. The large, high speed "fizz boat" is the pinnacle of gross, wasteful overconsumption of oil-based fuel. Fuel consumption in big, fast powerboats can sometimes be measured in gallons per minute, and it is certainly many gallons per hour. They make Hummers look good.

There is an opportunity right now to try and get used sailboats and sails, which can often be had for very little. A great place to start is your local Craig's list. A boat is quite a big item, so you don't want to have to go far to get one, or the cost of delivery will become significant. If the boat is a real bargain, it may be worth traveling to get it. Even if the hull itself is worthless, what's on it may be very valuable indeed. For instance, the modern Dacron sail is a dramatic improvement over a canvass/cotton sail in terms of durability and function. If, at some time in the future, when modern synthetic fiber is no longer available or affordable, you try to fit out a sailboat, you will curse your lack of foresight in not obtaining a cheap old Dacron sail. Oars are not cheap or easy to make either, so if you see some cheap used oars, grab them.

Think about what might happen to you and your family in a collapse scenario, and also think about what boat might be useful for your location and situation. Even if you live miles from water, have you seen how useful boats become if you are caught in a flood? Right now, there is the opportunity to buy, or even to get for free, old sailboats that are sitting unused and deteriorating in backyards. I know this because I have collected quite a few of them myself, often for a fraction of the value of their fittings and construction costs. One of the reasons for this is that most people do not want small sailboats any more: they want big yachts or high performance racing sailboats such as Lazers and Hobie cats, which leaves the older class of boats unloved and unwanted. Owners also do not want wood, or plywood, for the maintenance problem; so these go cheaply too. There are two types of sailboats available that I think are most suited to the "survivalist" and these are the small trailer sailer and the small sailing dinghy. I am not talking about a boat to live on, but a boat that you can use for fishing, perhaps to make short coastal passages, on lakes and rivers: something that might carry you plus a small load of cargo for trade if such conditions arose. A boat has huge carrying capacity compared to a cart, and, once it is supported by the virtually frictionless water, takes very little energy to move. The trailer boat is mobile, compared to a boat on a mooring or at a marina, and mobility gives you choice of location. The ongoing cost and worry of boats sitting in the water is a killer. I don't recommend them, unless you know that you are going to use them a lot, and have plenty of money. A boat sitting on a trailer, under a tarp, in your back yard, will cost you nothing.

If you study the canal boat industry, you will discover that boats have enormous energy efficiency and cargo weight advantages over the horse and cart and the pack horse. The canal boat was only replaced by rail because of its low speed. Take away cheap oil, and the boat will make an instant comeback as a freight carrier. Take away the roads, and suddenly the rivers and the seacoast will provide the only access. I grew up in a town called "Te Awamutu". Which literally translates from the Maori language as "The Path End". It was the point at which the local river was no longer deep enough to navigate by canoe. That's the way it was; and it soon may become that way again.

The practical, useful sailboat you should be looking out for is a 10 to 14-foot open sailing dinghy or a 14- to 18-foot cabin trailer sailer. These are boats of a size that you can manhandle to launch if necessary. You could drag then up a beach on rollers with manpower or block and tackle. A 20 foot boat is getting pretty big, but may be manageable if you have lots of strong men. You can get a plywood boat very cheaply, but the reason for this is that it may be rotten. In fact, I usually assume that it is, and only agree to pay salvage value. If it is on a trailer, the value of the trailer may be as much as the boat. What comes with the boat, in terms of gear and fittings, may be worth even more than the boat. I paid $500 for a derelict 21-foot boat that had an anchor, chain and rode that were worth $250 second hand and easily $500 to replace new. It also had a mast and rigging, two sets of sails (one brand new), lots of stainless steel fittings, and safety gear. I will probably never repair this boat, but I have it blocked up as a little emergency "cabin". Did I mention that it has 500 lbs of lead in the keel? (Lead now goes for about 90 cents a pound.) All this gear is worth something to me as I have other boats worthy of repair. In a survival situation, all this stuff will be gold. To be a collector like me, you have to have space to store the boats, and I am lucky as I have a small farm and some old barns. But there must be a few of you out there who have the space to store one boat at least.

An 11 or 12-foot dinghy is a good size for a fishing boat that can be sailed or rowed. A boat like this could be either plywood or fiberglass. Fiberglass will cost you more and be heavier, but it will also be virtually indestructible if it is well-made. An aluminum mast, with stainless wire rigging, and a Dacron sail are all standard on modern sailing dinghies. There should be a mainsheet and a pulley set for the mainsail, which vary in quality and can be expensive to buy new, and maybe a foresail jib with sheets. In New Zealand there is a dinghy of this type, called a Sunburst. The Mirror Dinghy would be the British equivalent. It was designed in the 1960s as a "family boat": mom, dad and the kids could go out for a sail or fishing. The kids could learn to row and to sail. It could take a little 3-horsepower outboard for longer trips. Great concept! What happened? It became a racing class. The boats were "refined," made self-bailing, no seats, redesigned for speed and minimum weight, and now cost $14,000 for a competitive boat. They are fragile and completely useless for fishing. This has been the pattern for modern sailing dinghies: they are fast, unstable, and uncomfortable. Most are unsuited to use as our "survival" utilitarian boat. You might be able to adapt one of these racing machines, making it useful by reducing the sail, fitting oarlocks for oars and adding seats and floorboards to give it strength. But even if you can't, at least you will get a mast and sails. I actually got one racing skiff with 4 sets of sails for $100. I figure the sails could be used on a big family trailer sailer for light wind days. But there are also perfectly reasonable sailboats out there if you look.

Whatever you can get in the way of a hull, a mast and some sails will be vastly supeior to anything that you might construct if you were to start from scratch. Of course is possible to build a wooden boat from timbers, make a mast from a straight pole, weave a sail from flax or cotton, and make the rigging from wire and rope. But this is a skilled task way beyond most of us, and I can assure you that having some kind of boat ready made -- any kind -- will be a lot easier. What I see as most important in a collapse situation is being able to make the transition from being completely dependent on the supermarket as your main food source to becoming self sufficient, and from the motor car and airplane to the horse and the boat for transport (and bicycles while they last). Eventually we, or the community we are part of, will have to re-learn the skills to make things from scratch with hand tools, and to croos oceans hand-made boats, as we had done for centuries. That's fine, but meanwhile, in the short term, we need to eat, and there is good fishing on that reef a mile offshore.

So if you have a driveway or a back yard you can use to store a boat, start looking now. A good size for trailer yacht is in the 16 to 22-foot range; they run up to 25-30 feet but these are expensive monsters, and you would need a big SUV or truck to haul and launch them. You would have to pay more for a fiberglass hull, but if you look on Craig's List or other local sources you will find the odd one going cheap for various reasons. Sometimes the owner just wants to move an unused boat and does not have the time or energy to "sell" it. Wives sometimes have a role in these decisions to sell boats. You just have to be there at the right time. Right now, people are under pressure financially, and need to sell their unused stuff, which may include their boat. I have bought some very well-made plywood boats a fiberglass outer layer (GOP, glass over plywood). I have also seen hulls that you could punch your fist through, as they were not made of marine ply. I see smaller, older fiberglass (GRP, glass reinforced plastic) trailer yachts on Craigs list in the $1000 to $2500 range. A new boat, provided someone is still making them, would cost $20,000 or more. Depending on your level mechanical skill, an outboard motor that comes with the boat may be worth having, especially if it is a simple 2-stroke. A new outboard may cost more than an old boat. Post cheap oil, an old, inefficient 2-stroke outboard may be expensive to run, but even when fuel is very expensive, a small engine may be a lifesaver when needed in an emergency, and worth having. If you only use it as a backup, fuel cost is minimal.

The trailer yacht usually has a small cabin with sleeping space for two (or more, but they have to be very good friends) and a minimal setup for cooking. It can be used for overnight trips, and is secure and dry in bad weather. It can be used as a sleeping "cabin" even on land. If it is raining and blowing hard, it will be more secure than a tent. There is usually a lifting centerboard, which allows the boat to be beached and sailed in shallow waters, which is a very useful feature. A conventional keelboat is very restricted as to where it can navigate. It is possible to capsize some trailer sailboats as the ballast is usually not as massive as with a keelboat, so be aware these boats are not bombproof, and sail conservatively until you really know what you are doing. With these boats, you have to be aware of what's happening with the wind and react quickly and appropriately. They are not ocean going yachts unless so equipped and sailed by experienced sailors. The reason I suggest older and second hand boats is that you get a lot of boat for your money. You don't want to spend a lot on something you might not use. Recycling is always a good principle.

Even if you plan to sail whenever possible, fuel efficiency is still an important consideration. One small trailer sailboat I bought has a small air cooled 3HP diesel engine in it. I would think you could hardly get a more energy efficient fishing boat than this. At slow speed, it goes for miles on a pint of diesel. The problem with many fishing vessels these days is that the cost of fuel is not covered by the value of the catch. Whole fleets of them sit tied up at the dock. This relates to the depletion of fish stocks as well as to fuel costs, but the result is the same: only a very appropriately sized and fuel efficient boat will remain economic on a cost/catch ratio. I think that my boat, with sail backup, might actually be efficient enough. The key to the fuel efficiency of small trailer sailboats is that they are displacement hulls being driven at less than their hull speed. This means they are slow, 5-6 mph, but very efficient. The faster you try to go, the less efficient they will be. In certain conditions, you can use motor and sail together. When fuel gets really expensive, motoring in a small boat may actually be the most efficient way of maximizing the load/mile of the fuel. It won't be fast, but it may be cost effective.

Other boat options to consider, which may be appropriate to individual situations, are kayaks, canoes, folding boats (Portabote is one company that makes them), and inflatable boats. I recently bought an inflatable kayak with the idea that I could carry it deflated on my back on a bike explore waterways that I can bike to. I can use it as a platform for spear fishing or shellfish collecting. Kayaks and canoes are good for small shallow rivers and lakes and can be carried by hand across or around obstacles. But people also make long ocean trips in appropriately equipped kayaks, and they make good fishing platforms with the right gear. Modern plastic kayaks are very durable.

Inflatable boats can be stored in small spaces, carried more easily deflated, and are very stable and great load carriers. They are harder to row, especially upwind, because of their high windage. When I was in the islands, I had a 10-foot inflatable which I could carry inflated on my back. I could carry it down steep banks and launch in places you could never get a trailer. The boat would carry 4 men and scuba gear for 4. A similar size hard dinghy would not do that safely. It was appropriate to the task and situation. But an inflatable is not as durable or long-lasting as aluminum or fiberglass, and is only good as a short-term survival boat. Portabotes, on the other hand, are made of thick dense plastic and fold up. You can row them and there is the possibility of a small sail, or a small motor. They are quite durable, and may be appropriate for your circumstances. Have a look at them on their website.

I hope I have given you some food for thought. The time to prepare is now, an the time to practice self sufficiency is now. And besides, boating and fishing are fun, an what could be a better incentive than that?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

What's new in square boats

I. Y. Repin
Barge Haulers on the Volga
Long-time readers of this blog probably know that there are such things in the world as square boats, and that they tend to do all that intricately modeled boats do, better and for a lot less money, plus they have a host of other advantages. But such knowledge is rare, even among sailors. I speak from experience, having recently spent a fair amount of time working on a square boat—my old Hogfish, which I have sold, and which is hauled out in a boatyard, being readied for her next tour of duty in the Caribbean and then, via the Canal, the Pacific. As I worked, various types of boaty/yachty people would come up to me and ask me questions. The typical question was “What is this thing?” usually followed by a comment, such as “It looks really unusual.”

Friday, January 23, 2015

Keeping costs down

The ways I have found to save money on this project are too numerous to list. Here are some of the highlights.

Not using marine grade plywood and using exterior-grade AC plywood instead will save $13,000.

Not using expensive veneers or solid hardwoods in the cabin paneling, and using painted plywood and plastic laminates for countertops and tabletops will save around $2000.

Linoleum tile for the cabin sole will save a few thousand.

Not using portlights but using deadlights covered over with lexan will save at least $3000.

Using concrete for ballast saves a lot. Lead is around $15 per pound for wheel weights (a convenient form); concrete is $0.25 a pound. A 3" slab of concrete will weigh around 17,000 lbs, or $4250. The lead equivalent would have cost $255,000.


There will be about 60 sheaves in a number of blocks for routing all the lines, over a dozen fairleads (rounded holes for feeding lines through without resistance or chafe. If purchased from a marine parts supplier, each sheave works out to about $30, or around $120. So I plan to make my own. A 3.5" diameter Acetal (Delrin) rod is about $50 a foot; grooved on a lathe, chopped into 1" disks and drilled through the center, each foot length makes 10 sheaves, at $5 a sheave. To make blocks, 1"x1/4" aluminum bar is drilled and bent into various shapes, then bolted together using 1/4" stainless steel bolts and washers. The cost savings are around 60%.

Most sailboats use fairly thick double-braided Dacron line, which is quite expensive. QUIDNON will use 1/4" 3-strand nylon for the sheets, $60 total. For everything else, 3/8" polypropylene "trucker's rope" will suffice, about $150 total.


A great deal of expense goes into "marine-grade" wiring and electrical fixtures. Marine-grade means tinned wire rather than stranded copper. Experience shows it to be unnecessary. The cheapest way to wire a boat is to use heavy-duty extension chords. An AC circuit beaker panel is around $150 from home depot; a similar-featured marine-grade one is around $350. The situation is similar for DC circuitry; marine grade parts more than twice the cost of RV parts.


The most cost-effective solution is to use PEX plumbing, available from Home Depot. Runs of pipe will be kept short by locating both the heads and the galley close together and directly aft of the water tanks. Instead of deck fills for the water tanks there will be hose connectors hidden behind plates set into the topsides. These will make it possible to use tarps stretched over dinghy forks for rainwater collection while at anchor. The two sides of the pilot house roof will drain into their respective tanks via additional runs of hose.


Having used both a regular marine toilet and a composting one, I have decided that I hate both, but that I hate the regular marine toilet even more. This is normal; toilets aboard small boats always elicit strong emotions and lots of discussion. The least offensive solution I can think of is as follows:

There are two seats. The one for “number one” is plumbed directly into the shower sump and drained overboard immediately. This is not illegal; storing and dumping urine is illegal in some harbors; urinating directly into the water is not. The seat for “number two” will use a two-bucket system: while one is being used for collection, the other is composting away, and when the time comes to dump its contents (overboard or in the marina dumpster, as local conditions dictate) it is light and looks and smells like soil.

The cost of this system is the cost of the plywood shelf on which the seats are installed ($20 finished) plus two 5-gallon buckets ($6), two toilet seats ($12), a computer fan ventilating the buckets ($12). The rest is odds and ends: a length of sanitation hose and some 12V wiring to hook up the fan, a large funnel and some sanitation hose to hook up the drain for the #1 toilet seat.

The "marine" alternative is a marine toilet ($140 for the cheapest one), holding tank, macerator pump, deck fitting for pump-out, through-hulls for raw water intake for flushing and discharge (while at sea), lots of hose, electronic holding tank overflow sensor (the most important part of the whole system, believe me!) lots of sanitation hose... ugh!


The entire instrumentation budget is around $3000. It will include a GPS chartplotter with a touchscreen, radar, depth sounder/fishfinder, VHF radio and autopilot with sail-to-compass and sail-to-wind capabilities. An AIS receiver integrated with the chartplotter (which displays ships' names right on the chart, together with their radar blip) would cost an additional $300 or so.

With all these various cost savings, there is a good chance that the total sail-away price of this boat will come in under $50,000, my labor not included.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Deck and pilot house

Most sailboats have low topsides, making them look sleek and sexy. But then the deck ends up too low to walk under down below without having to stoop. To compensate, most of them have a silly little structure called a cabin-top, which is basically an elongated box to accommodate your head while you make your way through the cabin. Many designers streamline the shape of the cabin-top. This adds nothing to the aerodynamics of the hull, while making it more likely that somebody will slip and fall while stumbling around on a wet and slippery deck. The narrow little passageways on both sides of the cabin-top, called the side-decks, are often too narrow for two people to get past each other.

On QUIDNON the topsides are high enough to provide 6 feet of headroom down below, and to keep most of the salt spray off the deck when sailing. There is no cabin-top because the deck is a flush deck—from one side of the boat all the way to the other. It is flat, not “whale-backed,” so that people can stroll about the deck with a comfortably horizontal surface under their feet. And I want to make every effort to keep it relatively uncluttered, so that it can serve as many different functions as there are situations in life.

But that, it turns out, is quite a challenge. The unavoidable obstructions are the following.

1. Two anchor rollers at the bow, with shallow channels made of SeaBoard (HDPE plastic) leading the chain past two additional vertical-axis rollers which deflect the chain from each bow roller to the anchor winch in the cockpit. The bow rollers are angled down, so that to let go the anchor it is sufficient to release the chain. This arrangement allows a single-hander to steer the boat while simultaneously laying out or hauling in the anchor, making single-handed anchoring in crowded anchorages less of an adventure and less of a menace to society. The reason the anchor rollers are offset to the sides is that, given its blunt bow, QUIDNON would make continuous slapping noises if anchored directly from the bow, whereas if anchored from the offset rollers it will cut through the waves with one of its hard chines and ride quietly.

2. All the lines to control the sails and the centerboards go to the pilot house. All but one of them go through three sets of sheaves; the foresail sheet requires one more so as not to interfere with the pilot house door. For each mast, these include:

• Halyard, with a 4-part purchase between the masthead and the shackle that attaches to the yard.
• Sheet, which goes to the sheet block. For the foresail, the sheet block is located on the boom gallows; for the mainsail, it is mounted on the roof of the pilot house.
• Aft topping lift, which is used to lift the sails off the boom gallows or the pilot house roof when raising them. Since the entire sail bundle, with the boom, the yard, 5 battens, 500 square feet of canvas, parrels and other bits and pieces weighs a lot, the topping lift is hauled up using a 4-part purchase near the masthead, same as the one used for the halyard.
• Two sets of reefing lines, each of which is attached to a block hanging off two neighboring battens, so that 4 different reefs are possible, with the deepest reef leaving up just the triangular "storm sail."
• A yard hauling parrel, which is used to pull the yard to the mast.

For each sail, two lines are not led back to the cockpit, because they hardly ever need adjusting once the sail has been rigged. These are:

• Boom downhaul, which keeps the sail from riding up the mast. It goes from the boom to a padeye on deck just aft of the mast.
• Forward topping lift, which holds up the front end of the boom when the sail is down, and is slack when the sail is up. It goes from the masthead, through a padeye in the front of the boom, back up to the masthead, through a sheave, and back down to a cleat bolted to the tabernacle.

3. Two centerboard purchases. These are 3-part purchases that slide along the deck. When tensioned, the blocks hang just above the deck, so that if a centerboard hits an underwater obstacle, the clatter of the block against the deck serves as a depth sounder of last resort. The line that goes from the centerboard to the sliding block is under quite a bit of tension, and the best material to use for it is Spectra braid of similar. To give the sliding block enough room to slide, the line from the tip of each centerboard is led up through the aft end of the centerboard trunk, over a sheave, forward to the front of the centerboard trunk, up to the deck through a 3" PVC pipe, and over another sheave. The pipe doubles as a deck drain: water is allowed to drain freely from the deck through the pipe and into the centerboard trunk.

4. Three deck beams made of 4x6 fir (or larch?) sticks, lightly fiberglassed and painted to preserve them. I initially thought of putting them below deck, but then realized that they are needed above deck for a number of reasons, plus people would curse me for this decision every time they knock their heads against it while walking through the cabin. The upper edges of the deck beams are rounded off, while their lower edges have slots in them to send through the chains and the lines. Their functions are:

• Along with the gunwales, which they abut, support the stanchion bases for the lifelines, which I will discuss in a future post.
• Reinforce the deck, especially at the masts, where the blocks through which the mast tabernacles emerge are bolted to them.
• Reinforce the deck around the deck hatch. The beams run just forward and just aft of the hole in the deck, making up for the weakness it introduces. The dam that surrounds the hatch opening works together with the deck beams, acting as a longitudinal stiffener.
• Support dinghies when they are carried on deck, bottom up, without interfering with any of the lines, and provide a way to lash the dinghies down.
• When breaking waves inundate the deck, steer them away from the pilot house and toward the scuppers.
• When all hell breaks loose and sails come tumbling down from the mast in a heap, provide lots of places to lash them down quickly.

The pilot house

The pilot house serves the following purposes:

• Keep the crew out of the elements. (As I mentioned, my goal is to make a sailboat that can cross an ocean without making the helmsman change out of his bathrobe and bunny slippers, or put down his mug of hot cocoa.) I am designing QUIDNON so that it can be sailed without a deck crew.
• Provide additional buoyancy when the boat is knocked down on its beam ends. The doors of the pilot house are close to the center-line, mounted on the outside, and the sides of the pilot house are completely watertight, so that when the boat is knocked down on its beam ends and one side of the pilot house is submerged, it remains watertight, provides additional buoyancy, makes the boat harder to capsize and increases the righting moment of the hull.
• Keep water from inundating the cabin, be it rain, spindrift, breaking waves crashing on deck or solid sea water in the event of a knockdown or a capsize.
• Provide the helmsman with a panoramic view of the surroundings and a good view of the sails.
• Provide access to the transom for handling the stern line and the aft spring line when docking.
• Provide more living space during the warm months of the year
• Provide storage space during the cold months of the year, serving as a “mud room.”
• Serve as a greenhouse for potted plants.
• Provide a large surface for rainwater collection.
• Provide a mounting surface for solar panels.
• Provide a mounting place for mainsail sheet blocks.
• Serve as boom gallows for the mainsail.

At the center of the pilot house is the helm. It shows a wheel, although my general preference is for a tiller. This is because I hardly ever steer by hand, letting the autopilot attend to the course-keeping, but when I do hand-steer it's because I want quick, precise results: I am tacking or gybing or maneuvering in close quarters. About the only time a wheel is really useful is when motoring down canals. But most people prefer a wheel.

I haven't yet figured out a way to combine wheel steering with the use of a tillerpilot (Simrad TP32 is the most cost-effective and reliable autopilot solution I have found so far for both steering a compass course and sailing to wind.) Nor do I know exactly how the steering linkages are going to be laid out. These are subjects for a future post.

The wheel is mounted on the instrument pedestal, which will carry a compass, an integrated GPS chartplotter/sonar/radar display, a VHF radio and the engine controls (starter button, kill switch, shift lever and throttle). The helmsman's seat is an armchair that pivots left and right for hauling on lines, slides forward when it's time to hand-steer, and slides back again when the autopilot takes over, so that the helmsman can use the wheel as a footrest, lean back and read a book. Directly above the helmsman's seat is a skylight, affording a full view of the sails, so that the sheets can be trimmed accurately without having to do any rubbernecking. Most of the sailing will be done by pushing buttons on the autohelm's remote control and by making small adjustments to the sheets.

To the right and the left of the helmsman's seat are boxes of line. The junk rig does not require the use of winches because it uses purchases everywhere they are necessary, but this results in a really huge amount of line, which, if allowed to pile up randomly, creates a rat's nest of kinks and tangles, which can be dangerous. The row of boxes to starboard is for the mainsail; the one to port is for the foresail. There are also boxes for the centerboard purchases, each on its corresponding side. There are dedicated boxes for sheets, halyards, and centerboard purchases, and a common box for topping lifts, reefing lines and yard hauling parrels, which don't generate as big a mess. Each box is equipped with a sheave to send the line up to the box, a fairlead to let it enter the box and either a jam cleat (for sheets, which are trimmed frequently, and centerboard control lines) or horn cleats (for all the other lines, which are handled infrequently but need to be made fast very reliably. Because of the use of purchases, the line can be relatively thin and inexpensive: 1/4-inch nylon for sheets; 3/8 Dacron for centerboards and halyards, which need to be low-stretch; 3/8 polypropylene for the rest.

Just to starboard of the instrument pedestal is the anchor winch, with the chain locker directly below and the anchor chain fed down to it through a pipe. My preference is for a manual three-speed winch because electric winches kill batteries in a big hurry. Electric winches introduce unnecessary expense and complexity.

Forward of the instrument pedestal is the companionway. It is surrounded by a 1-foot-high dam (higher toward the front), which is meant to prevent water from pouring into the cabin if a wave should succeed in entering the pilot house. The companionway hatch is 2 feet wide, and has doors that resemble bulkhead doors which flop open to the left and right and hang down alongside the dam. A chin-up bar at the front of the companionway hatch makes it possible to swing down into the cabin instead of using the ladder. The companionway doors serve the following needs:

• Prevent heat from escaping when the cabin is being heated
• Prevent light pollution from the cabin from interfering with the helmsman's night vision
• Provide a way of locking the cabin securely
• Keep water out of the cabin should the pilot house get swept away by a rogue wave or a force-5 hurricane

Along the sides of the pilot house are two large settees with lockers underneath. These can serve as additional berths when two too many guests show up, or as preferred places to sleep in hot weather, when the cabin remains sweltering all night, while the pilot house gets cooled off quickly by the evening breeze.

The pilot house has 4 doors. The two that are forward are hinged, while the two that are aft are sliding doors because there is no room aft for hinged doors to swing open. They overlap their openings by a generous amount, so that they are unlikely to yield when hit by a wave. The windows in the doors are made of overlapping ¼-inch Lexan backed by square aluminum pipe. The thresholds of the doors are 6 inches above deck, to provide another defense against water ingress.

One feature of the pilot house that may not seem entirely satisfactory is the lack of ample headroom: along the centerline, it is just 4'6", while along the sides it is just 4 feet. The idea is to provide sufficient headroom when seated, but not to provide standing room of any sort. Moving around the pilot house will be similar to moving around in a minibus or a small airplane. Of course, it is possible to build the pilot house taller, but this would incur some penalties: it would create more windage and hurt the boat's performance when sailing to windward, and it would either reduce the sail area or require taller masts, and call for more ballast. And so I feel it is best to leave the pilot house as a place to sit, and the deck as a place to go and stretch one's legs.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


This decodes to “Length overall is same as length on deck.” You see, boats spend a lot of time at marinas, and marinas charge by the foot, based on LOA. If your boat has a bowsprit sticking forward from the bow or dinghy davits hanging off the transom, then you are paying lots of money to rent space for a few sticks which don't do you any good at all while your boat is sitting there at the marina. I know some boats with huge, glorious bowsprits, complete with so-called “dolphin strikers,” protruding majestically (homoerotically?) from their bows. These boats have sat at the same marina for years, perhaps venturing out into the harbor for a day or so once or twice a season. I shudder to think what those silly sticks have cost their owners in slip fees.

There is no reason for a bowsprit on a Junk-rigged boat, making that decision easy. As far as the dinghy davits, a better solution is dinghy forks. These are sticks that hide in deep sockets built into the hull and slide out when they are needed. To store a dinghy, the dink is lifted out of the water on a halyard, plopped down onto the forks, and flipped over, so that it sits on two sticks bottom-up. A single line can then be used to secure it to the sticks.

This approach works very well with hard dinks, and less well with so-called “deflatables.” Some people optimistically call them “inflatables”; however, they are never guaranteed to inflate and always guaranteed to deflate, so the term “deflatable” fits better. Deflatables cost lots of money, don't last very long and row like pigs. On the other hand, it takes just a couple of days and a few tools to fashion a good hard dink out of a couple of sheets of plywood, some fiberglass and epoxy and some paint, and the result is surprisingly durable and effective.

There is room for three sets of dinghy forks: off the transom, and one each to port and starboard, for a total of three dinks that can be stored while at anchor. When underway, only the transom forks can be used because the others would hit the water when the boat is heeled over. When the sea is rough, dinks should be secured on deck, and having a large and level flush deck makes this easy. If they are nesting dinks, than this saves even more space. Dinghy forks can also be used to fashion swimming or fishing platforms. Canvas can be stretched over them to collect rainwater.

That is a lot of functionality for the cost of a few sticks!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The masts

About the most cost-effective and quick way of making a mast is to use a tapered aluminum flagpole. That is what I had on HOGFISH, and it worked just fine. There the mainmast was stepped in a tabernacle, and had 4 lower shrouds (fore and aft), 2 uppers (aft only) with no spreaders, a genoa stay which went to the end of the bowsprit and a staysl stay. Taking down the mainmast, and putting it back up, was always a bit of an adventure. Getting the mast up or down was pretty much the easy part; it was rigging and unrigging the gin pole, and detaching, coiling, reattaching and tuning the standing rigging that took all the time. Plus all that coiled wire rope cluttered up the deck when the mast was down.

On QUIDNON, I intend to go with unstayed masts. The arrangement I have thought up is as follows. The tabernacle of each mast consists of a galvanized steel pipe with a bracket made of steel plate welded to the top of it. The bottom of the pipe rests in a cup cast into to the concrete bottom, in which it turns freely if you twist it hard enough. The cup has a drainage path into the bilge, to shed any water that finds itself into the pipe. After fabrication, the tabernacles are slag-blasted and hot-dip galvanized.

At the deck, the pipe goes through a precise, snug-fitting hole in a very substantial hardwood block (unvarnished teak) which is bolted through the deck and also tied into a frame made up of deck beams, knees and ribs. The pipe has a ring welded to it that rests flush against the bottom of the hardwood block, preventing the masts from falling out in case of a capsize. The ring is cupped, and there is a couple of small holes drilled through the pipe level with the upper surface of the ring, so that any water that finds its way there does not drip into the cabin but goes inside the pipe and eventually finds its way into the bilge.

The top end of the pipe has a three-sided bracket welded to it made of steel plate. The top of the bracket forms a slot which accepts the heel of the mast, allowing it to pivot.

The bottom end of the mast is fitted with a plug milled and lathed out of a block of aluminum. The part of the plug that fits inside the mast is lathed to the correct diameter and taper for a very precise fit. The mast and the plug are mated for life by driving the plug into the mast with a sledge. There is a mechanical screw holding the two together, but it's mostly there to stop people from asking questions.

The bottom of the plug (the heel) is square in cross-section, and precisely fits the slot in the bracket with which it mates with just enough room for two large fiberglass washers inserted where galvanized steel and aluminum meet whose job is to prevent them from galling together. It has holes drilled into it for two bolts. These two bolts can properly be called "Jesus bolts," because, as with the "Jesus nut" that holds helicopter rotors together, the failure of either one of them would tend to interrupt one's voyage in a serious way. These will be one-inch diameter stainless steel bolts, and keeping them tight, clean and oiled is a key bit preventive maintenance. The mast heel also has a hole drilled partway into it at a 45º angle that accepts a gin pole, which is a 1-inch diameter solid aluminum rod that has a sheave on one end. There is a short pendant threaded through the sheave. The pendant has a thimble on one end and a snap shackle on the other. Lastly, there are two rings welded to the tabernacle pipe, one right below the mast, and another right above the deck. The boat will carry two gin poles, for a reason that will become clear in a moment.

The masts are erected in 12 easy steps:

1. The mast is maneuvered so that the square end of its plug sits in the slot in the tabernacle.
2. The top "Jesus bolt" is inserted and assembled with washer and nut, but not tightened.
3. The bottom "Jesus bolt" is dropped into its hole in the plug from the front but the nut is left off.
4. The gin pole is inserted into the plug, and the 4-part halyard block is attached to thimbled end of the gin pole pendant.
5. The end of the halyard is sent through a snatch block hooked onto the ring on the tabernacle right below the mast, then all the way back to the anchor winch in the pilot house.
6. The snap shackle at the other end of the gin pole pendant is attached to the ring on the tabernacle pipe right above the deck.
7. The halyard is hauled in using the anchor winch until the mast flops forward in its bracket, then cleated off. (QUIDNON's masts have forward rake.)
8. Washer and nut are threaded onto the second, lower "Jesus bolt" at this point, so that the mast doesn't come crashing down if a big wave hits once the halyard is released.
9. The halyard is released and detached from the gin pole pendant.
10. The gin pole is pulled out of the plug.
11. The "Jesus bolts" are tightened using two large box-end wrenches.
12. The happy single-hander, who has just single-handedly raised a mast without any fuss at all, does a little victory dance.

The procedure for lowering the masts is basically the reverse of the procedure for raising them, with just one additional step: once the halyard is attached and tensioned and the nut from the bottom "Jesus bolt" is removed, the tip of the mast has to be pulled aft using one of the topping lifts. Then the halyard can be paid out slowly, and the mast will come down.

Once both masts are down, the two gin poles are inserted in the holes through which the top "Jesus bolts" go. The masts rest on the gin poles, along with the sails, and are lashed down to them in a single tidy bundle. (You didn't expect the gin poles to serve just one function, now, did you?) The masts do not overhang either the bow or the stern of the boat, and do not incur any penalties in the form of increased slip fees (which are based on LOA—length overall) when QUIDNON is being used as a canal boat, with the masts down.

A mast wiring bundle comes out of a hole in each mast right above the plug, threaded through a length of hose. The hose screws onto male hose fittings on the mast and on the tabernacle. From there, the wiring runs down through the tabernacle pipe, out its bottom, and through a wiring chase cast into the bottom, then up through conduits that lead to the switch panel and the instrument panel. For lightning protection, the mast is electrically bonded to the tabernacle, and the tabernacle to the copper cladding on the bottom of the boat.

In calm conditions this operation can be managed by one person, but if there is a big sea running some extra hands may be needed to keep the mast from twisting around as it's going up. This can be done by running the topping lifts to the stern and keeping some tension on them. The other option is to simply let it twist as it likes, because once it's up it can be rotated to the desired orientation by putting one's heel against the gin pole. It's a good idea to put up the foremast before the mainmast, to eliminate the chance of the foremast banging into the mainmast and denting it as it comes up. For the same reason, when taking the masts down, the mainmast should come down first.

I would think that with this system a well-trained crew could drop sails and the masts in about 15-20 minutes, start to finish, and to put them up and get ready to sail in the same amount of time.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Creature Comforts

Sailboats, even relatively spacious boats the size of QUIDNON, are often somewhat lacking in creature comforts. Since they are partially submerged, the cabins are susceptible to becoming damp, and to growing mold. The relatively small airspace within the cabin allows smells to easily spread throughout. If somebody is cooking a stew, the entire boat smells like stew; if then eating it gives someone indigestion, the entire boat smells like indigestion. Many boats are equipped with Dorade vents, which, when pointed into the wind, direct some of it into the cabin. The amount of ventilation they produce is either too much or not enough. They also interfere with keeping the cabin warm because they allow the heat to escape.

In colder climates, condensation from breathing and cooking with propane (which makes water vapor) tends to condense on walls, and especially on portlights and hatches, and cause cold drips. Few things are less pleasant than trying to sleep under a hatch that periodically drips icy water on your head.

Sailboat cabins also tend to be rather dark. This is because it is very hard to provide enough hatches and portlights to properly illuminate the interior. Also, most older boats were built in an era where light fixtures were expensive and inefficient, and only provided little reading lamps here and there instead of lighting up the entire cabin.

Lastly, hatches and portlights often present a hazard. I am yet to see a commercially sold portlight that can't be easily smashed in by a big breaking wave, or a hatch that can't be stove in by a flailing broken spar. They are usually held closed by two little plastic tabs that break off quite easily. There are some old bronze portlights that are secured using a substantial toggle, but these are expensive.

Add to this the fact that the various commercially available bits and pieces—portlights, hatches, Dorade vents and so on—cost real money, which is nowhere to be found in QUIDNON's tight budget. Therefore, the approach I plan to take is quite different.


The cost-effective approach to lighting up the cabin is to have lots and lots of deadlights. Right below the gunwale will be a fat strip of plywood, made up of 3 ¾-inch thicknesses of plywood screwed together. It has to be thick because it is structural. Into this thickness of plywood are milled round holes, each only about 8 inches in diameter, but since there are 32 of them evenly distributed all around, that adds up to 11 square feet. On the outside, the entire strip is covered over with ¼-inch Lexan, which is caulked and screwed to the plywood. This combination is quite indestructible, and very cheap to make.

When it's dark outside, the cabin will be lit up using strips of LED lights mounted above and below the row of deadlights all around the cabin. This will produce a nice, even glow throughout. There will also be reading and cooking LED lamps installed in various places. The efficiency and low cost and reliability of LED lights is such that it is very hard to burn too much electricity, or money, by installing lots of them.

Since the cabin is quite wide, the deadlights and the LED strips will not be effective in illuminating the center of the cabin. For this, a large hatch will be built into the deck, right in front of the mainmast. It will be constructed as an upside-down box measuring 6 ½ by 2 ½ feet and about a foot high. This box will be secured upside-down over a foot-high plywood dam that will surround the opening in the deck. Two foam rubber gaskets, one around the inner edge of the box, the other around the outside of the dam, will prevent ingress of water even when waves run across the deck. The hatch will be double-glazed with one ½-inch Lexan reinforced with some ribs made of aluminum channel, and another, much thinner layer of Lexan below an air gap, to prevent condensation.

To provide ventilation, the hatch will be propped partially open in some direction, so as to serve as a wind scoop. While at sea, the hatch will be secured using wing nuts and toggles made of threaded rod. The hatch will also be used to load and unload provisions and cargo and to move major pieces of equipment (range, stove, water heater, refrigerator, etc.)

Ventilation and exhaust

In keeping with the strategy of making each element perform as many functions as possible in order to minimize cost, the boom gallows will be hollow, constructed out of plywood box sections, in order to perform all of the following:

1. Prop up the back end of the foresail when it is lowered and secured.

2. Serve as an air collector, using the force of the wind (from whichever direction) to send air down below.

3. House exhaust plenums for the stove flue, the fume hood in the galley, and the so-called “stink pipe” from the holding tank.

4. Provide a mounting point for a radome (since there is no other place to mount one) and also house an AIS receiver, a WIFI repeater and whatever other electronics that need to be installed above deck.

5. Provide a mounting point for the foresail sheet blocks.

6. Incorporate hooks for hanging a hammock directly under it.

7. In the middle of the underside, incorporate a hook for attaching a hoist for lifting objects in and out through the deck hatch.

8. Provide attachment points for a tarp that provides a roof over most of the deck.

Insulation and condensation

Most sailboats are downright unpleasant to live on during the winter. Not only are they cramped to the point of causing cabin fever, but they tend to be poorly insulated, and therefore very expensive to heat. Not only that, but heating the air inside the cabin fails to produce a comfortable environment because the surrounding hull, which is in direct contact with the cold water and the cold air, remains cold. Some boats cabins are penetrated by a keel-stepped aluminum mast, which serves as a large heat sink, absorbing warmth and conducting it to the outside, because the builders failed to insulate it.

Directly insulating the sides is effective, but causes a secondary problem. Condensation does have to form somewhere, and if insulation is applied directly to the inside of the hull, then condensation will form between the hull and the insulation (it is quite impossible to make it airtight) become trapped there and cause mildew.

It also seems that no boat designer has addressed the problem of insulating the cabin sole, which is invariably very cold. Spending all winter with cold feet is far less than pleasant. One winter I resorted to covering the cabin sole with insulation where I normally sit or stand. This fixed the problem, more or less. On QUIDNON, the cabin sole will be backed with radiant barrier and foam insulation.

On QUIDNON, I plan to address these problems as follows. The inside of the hull will not be insulated at all. Instead, there will be an air gap between the hull and the walls of the cabin, which will be made of an additional layer of plywood mounted over fir ribs. It is the outside of the inner walls that will be insulated with ¾-inch pink foam insulation and radiant barrier. The function of the air gap will be to thermally isolate the cabin from the hull, and to allow condensation to form freely on the hull, drain to the bilge, and be pumped overboard by the bilge pump. Condensation is actually important, because it eliminates moisture from the air. To this end, the 32 deadlights all around the cabin will not be double-glazed. Instead, each one will be provided with a small recess at its bottom, where condensation will be allowed to pool, and a trickle path down to the bilge. (I got this bright idea from Sven Yrvind.)

A secondary function of the air gap between the hull and the cabin will be to provide passive solar heating and cooling. The topsides will be painted black, to absorb as much solar radiation as possible, and pass it through the fiberglass and the plywood to the air gap, warming the air. Warm air rises, creating a flow. Baffles and ducts will direct this warm airflow for either heating or cooling. To heat, the air flow will be directed into the cabin while fresh air will be supplied from the vents in the boom gallows. To cool, the air flow will be directed out through the exhaust plenums built into the boom gallows, pulling cool air into the cabin from the relatively cooler bilge or from the engine well where it's always dark and, when the engine isn't running, relatively cool.

The underside of the deck will be insulated directly, with ¾-inch pink foam, radiant barrier top and bottom, and a soft liner (for the hard heads of some extra-tall people). The reason for the two layers of radiant barrier is this: the outer, top layer will reflect heat from the sun, whereas the inner, bottom layer will reflect heat back into the cabin. Here, there is no room for an air gap, no way to arrange for drainage of condensation, plus, if the boat is heated at all, then warm air tends to accumulate right under the deck, making it warmer than the dew point. Here, the approach will be to create an airtight seal between the insulation and the underside of the deck, with expanding foam sprayed into all the gaps. Although in general terms like “airtight” and “watertight” never entirely apply to boats, in this case this strategy seems to work: this is what I did on HOGFISH, and, unlike the sides, the cabintop never had any issues with mold.

Below deck, the mast tabernacles will be insulated with a layer of radiant barrier and a layer of fabric to prevent them from acting like heat sinks.


The choices for keeping a boat warm are limited to diesel (not a good choice for QUIDNON, which will not use diesel), propane (a good, cost-effective choice) and, when the boat has access to shore power, electric space heaters (convenient but very expensive and not particularly safe). Another choice, which some marinas unfortunately forbid, is solid fuel (wood and charcoal). Solid fuel is the least expensive option, and in some ways the most pleasant, because the heat it produces is very dry.

QUIDNON will have a solid fuel stove installed in the shower/sauna compartment, with propane as back-up wherever solid fuel happens to be outlawed. A circulator fan will be used to move the hot air from the shower compartment to the rest of the boat, or to exhaust it to the outside (while someone is showering), or to leave it in place (for using the compartment as a sauna/steam room). To accommodate all these uses, the shower stall will be constructed with a moisture barrier and paneled with pine boards.

Hot water

An 11-gallon water heater is a good choice for when shore power is available, but how does one shower when living at anchor or while under way? A good, cheap choice turns out to be a propane-fired tankless water heater. These are designed to be used for camp showers outdoors, but they can be used indoors provided they are installed with safety in mind and provided the exhaust they produce is vented outside. I believe there will be enough room in the heads to install one of these as well.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Sea-gypsy start-up manual

[This is a guest post from Ray, who sailed off from San Francisco some years ago and has been living as a sea gypsy ever since. Sea gypsies have a lot going for them: relative self-sufficiency and self-reliance, camaraderie, competence, mobility and plenty of free, open habitat where they can roam freely. Part of the impetus behind designing QUIDNON is to provide a cheap and viable alternative to the rather overpriced and inadequate offerings of the commercial recreational sailboat market, making the sea gypsy lifestyle accessible to more people.]

In my last essay, I proposed an unusual response to the possibility of global societal collapse that previously has not been suggested.  My core message was summed up in these 30 words:

“I believe that if there is a near extinction catastrophe, a sea gypsy tribe has the best chance of both surviving and replenishing the human population in the wisest manner.”

For those of you who may not have read that article, I encourage you to do so before continuing with this one.  THAT piece provides the “why to” background information for my belief that economic, energy and ecological disasters are very possible in our near future.  It then suggests that various sea gypsy tribes scattered about the planet provide an excellent survival and re-seeding option.  THIS article provides the basic “how to” information for anyone who was inspired by my message, and would like to join our movement.  My sense is that there are three potential types of candidates.  I refer to them as Seekers, Converts and Recruits.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Small boat voyaging for the accident-prone

[On weekends this blog takes a break from designing QUIDNON. Here is a recycled article of mine from some time ago.]

The world is full of stories of success, mostly because successful people like to tell of their victories rather than expound on their defeats. This is self-serving of them and a loss to the rest of us, because we only learn from mistakes. The best kind are small, non-fatal mistakes; these are also the most common. Disastrous, fatal errors are rarely the first ones to be made, because it usually takes a compounding of errors to give rise to a fatal situation. And so here is a little object study of a series of small errors, the problems they caused, and the solutions they necessitated.