Thursday, December 15, 2016

Room for a Pony

When I first setting out to buy my current boat (forced to do so because my family got larger and no longer fit aboard) I discussed the various offerings available in the commercially-built sailboat world with my friend Capt. Ray Jason. He asked me what I was looking for in a sailboat, and among other things I listed “a sauna, and room for a pony.” (I didn’t mention that I also want to be able to ride a bicycle around the deck, or hang a hammock on deck while the boat was under way, but I do.) And then the pony became a running joke between us. When I complained that, for instance, it was hard to plot a reasonable, traffic-free coastwise course that would allow me to sleep because there were always radar contacts bleeping away at me, Ray would helpfully suggest that I ask the pony to keep watch while I sleep. And so on.

But now I am happy to report that we have finally succeeded in designing a sailboat with “a sauna, and room for a pony”—and much else besides. Nor is it a huge boat: it’s half a foot shorter than my current one. Nor did I have to sacrifice much to achieve this effect: various tests, in software simulation and using a physical scale model, have shown that it will be just as fast and just as stable as my current boat. It will also be reasonably cheap to build and to maintain.

To achieve these results I followed a certain recipe. I started out with the simplest, and therefore the cheapest hull shape possible: the sharpie hull. It consists of just five planar surfaces: the sides, the bottom, the deck and the transom. There are no compound curves anywhere; the deck and the transom are flat, while the bottom and the sides are curved in one direction only. The complete lack of compound curves (which produce convex or concave surfaces) makes it possible to build a sharpie hull out of plywood that is simply bent into shape, then covered with a thick enough layer of fiberglass to qualify it as a fiberglass hull.

Critically, the curve of the bottom has to match the curve of the sides, allowing the hull to glide cleanly through water without generating any turbulence, because water has no reason to cross the chines between the sides and the bottom and just streams along them. In spite of their simplicity, sharpie hulls sail well and sharpies have won races. They also have very pleasant, stiff but easy motion, and because of their flat bottoms they go aground well and can dry out at low tide without flopping on their side like keelboats do. I have spent five years living aboard and sailing around on a sharpie, and so I speak from experience, not theory. Going from a sharpie to a traditional keelboat was a huge letdown for me—a giant leap backward.

But sharpies do have a problem: they are narrow. Mine was 32 feet long but only 8 feet wide. Because of that, they are quite cramped inside, and there isn’t really room for a full-size shower stall, or a chart table that is separate from the galley table… never mind a pony! And so I changed the hull shape from a sharpie to a scow. The difference is that while sharpies have sharp bows that slice through waves, scows have bluff bows that bounce over waves. Bouncing over waves turns out to be advantageous: boats are lighter than water (which is why they don’t sink) and so pushing them through water is less efficient than allowing them to skim over it. But the most important benefit of switching to a scow hull is that the hull can be wider. For the same length (36 feet) the beam can go from 13 feet to 16 feet, adding close to a hundred square feet to both the deck and the cabin. Not only that, but it turns out that this wider beam can be carried almost all the way aft to the transom without causing any appreciable degradation in sailing performance, adding even more space.

Another important part of my recipe is the flush deck. Most sailboats have cabin tops surrounded by side decks, where the only place where there is standing room below is under the cabin top. I opted for a perfectly flat deck, so that there is standing room almost everywhere below deck.

Finally, the way most boats are designed is by separating structure from furnishings. In a sailboat all the “furniture” has to be built in, but it is usually built in in such a way that it isn’t load-bearing and doesn’t add to the structural integrity of the hull. I tossed that idea, and decided that to save money by making every single stick serve multiple purposes. Thus, furnishings are also structural, and every piece of plywood inside the boat—the bulkheads, the partitions, the settees, the bunks, the cabin soles, the counters in the galley, even the base of the sink in the heads—are structural. This approach imposed a certain amount of discipline on the interior layout, forcing it to be symmetrical.

Now, back to the pony. Many sailboat owners institute a “deck shoes only” policy, because otherwise they are forever buffing out scuff marks from their decks. Apparently, sailing is like bowling, and you are only allowed to do it while wearing funny shoes. But how do you get a pony to wear deck shoes? The solution is to surface the entire deck with aluminum diamond plate. It wears very hard, requires no maintenance, and it reflects most of the sunlight keeping the cabin cool in the summer. And so a pony can indeed be accommodated: tethered on deck to the foremast, with lots of room left over for bales of hay and buckets of manure.

But what’s really important is what’s below deck. Here is the interior layout we eventually settled on.


The cabin is entered via the companionway ladder, which leads down from the floor of the cockpit well. The companionway is a sort of foyer that leads in 6 directions: up into the cockpit; aft into one of the two aft cabins; to the galley to starboard; to the heads to port; forward into the salon and the U-berth beyond it. (Sailboats usually have V-berths, which are awkward wedge-shaped spaces in the bow, but since the scow has a U-shaped rather than a V-shaped bow, it’s obviously a “U-berth”).

Each of the aft cabins consists of a forward section with a table and is slightly larger than the typical library study cubicle, and a double berth aft of it which sleeps two comfortably. The galley is fairly typical and equipped with a 3-burner gas range, a sink with hot and cold water, a top-loading fridge (with a rotating, sliding lid, because hinged lids are awkward). It also has a feature that most sailboat designers neglect to add: a fume hood over the range, so that cooking smells do not permeate the boat. The heads contains the usual sink and toilet, but then also has the enclosed compartment labeled “sauna”. I indeed intend to make it into a real sauna/steam room. It will also function as a shower stall and a bathtub. It will have a seat (for what proper sauna can be without a seat) that will also function as a washbasin for hand-washing clothes (ponies may find room on board, but washers and driers definitely belong at the marina). What 36-foot sailboat can boast of having such luxurious accommodations?

Forward of the companionway is the salon, with two settees and a drop-leaf table between them, large enough to host a dinner party for twelve. To port and to starboard of the settees are the pilot berths. These are sitting height-only spaces that are quite long—long enough for two adults to sleep in them with their heads pointed in the opposite directions. A modicum of privacy is provided by a translucent sliding door. Forward of the salon is the U-berth, with two settees and ample storage space on both sides. The aft cabins and the heads have solid doors and provide full privacy while the pilot berths provide some amount of privacy. The salon and the U-berth can be made a bit more private by drawing curtains.

Although this is not immediately obvious, this layout provides a lot of storage space. There are lockers under and behind every settee. There is a lot of storage under the aft berths, accessed using a large pull-out drawer. In other places, there is additional storage under the cabin soles, accessed through lift-out hatches. Prized possessions are best stored in plastic tubs with tight-fitting lids, and there is plenty of room for these in one of the pilot berths or in the U-berth.

The result of all this is very much a boat, not a house. It will motor and sail at up to 7.5 knots, it will ride well to anchor, and it will look like a proper boat. Houses are boxes designed to be big enough to provide enough room for their inhabitants’ ever-growing pile of crap. Boats are designed to accommodate the inhabitants themselves, plus all of the essentials they need to live and a handful of extras. But this boat is designed specifically for living aboard it, with a lot of attention lavished on creature comforts. The fact that it turns out to also function quite well as a boat is an added bonus.

27 comments:

  1. I gather that this is an almost unique boat which is pretty unusual since humans have been sailing fox how many thousands of years? Would you say the uniqueness is primary due to its function. That being it's a houseboat and for the most part houseboats are not really meant to sail much? Or is it more just a headlong embrace of doing things differently.

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    1. I got my inspiration from a number of designers: Phil Bolger, Tom Colvin, Reuel Parker, Chris Morejohn, Matt Leyden and Dave Zeiger, among others. I wouldn't say that my design is derivative, though, because my primary requirement was a boat that was comfortable to live aboard, with all other considerations secondary (except cost, which had to be relentlessly minimized).

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  2. Will this be a coastal house boat only or will it function well in blue water? Will you be able to sail from Boston to London for instance? Thanks in advance. :-)

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    1. QUIDNON seems seaworthy. It has plenty of freeboard, is very well protected against water ingress (the cockpit drains into the engine well and can absorb a wave in seconds), the companionway can be closed off tightly. It has 130º of primary stability and is none too stable when floating upside-down, so it's very close to self-righting in most conditions. There are some modifications that can be made that would make it self-rescuing if holed and swamped. I certainly plan to attempt ocean passages, and if all goes well it might be reasonable to attempt an ocean crossing. Mind you, houseboats have crossed the Atlantic before; one recently showed up in Ireland, having drifted there from Canada: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3940286/Mystery-solar-powered-houseboat-washes-Irish-coast-Canada-note-former-owner-adventurer-saying-donates-homeless-youth.html

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    2. Blue water worthy is important. I will be watching closely as this boat looks ideal for my needs!!

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  3. There are (or were) a lot of coastal craft indigenous to the British Isles which embodied some of your design features. If the craft has to operate in blue water for any length of time none of this would apply, of course. Being able to rest on river banks and float off again with the tide enabled supplies and people to be embarked and disembarked with ease without harbor facilities - useful if harbor facilities are no longer available.

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    1. There were a lot of designs vaguely along the same lines all over the world, especially in Southeast Asia. Some of them crossed oceans, others remained coastal. More recently sailboats became all about competitiveness and ostentation, neither of which I regard as either interesting or useful. This design is just a matter of going back to what actually works, while applying all of the latest tricks such as wood/glass composites, computer modeling and precision NC machining of parts. For operating in blue water, the best hull shape is that of a coconut, as attested to the fact that coconut palms are found everywhere that's warm and sandy. QUIDNON's hull is half a coconut, ballasted, and that's probably close enough.

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    2. I had not considered the option of beaching with the tide . . You've got me thinking. . .

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  4. Way cool place to live.... a relocatable world apartment able to settle into particularly enticing harbors for long periods: from London backwaters to the outlying wild archipelagos of oceania.

    May I suggest a small pole right in the center of the traffic area at the base of the companionway? This can function much as a common vehicular roundabout with signs on the pole noting which direction folks can go for various destinations. A small round table can go around it, bar style, for folks to linger for a cocktail upon leaving the sauna (wrapped in alluring thick white towels no less) on their way to the lounge deck above. The table can be demountable for the occasional night when the local preachers wife powers down 8 too many cocktails and is inspired to pole dance for the beaming immigration officials.

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    1. There is a rather large pole in the center of the companionway, 6 inches to be exact. That's the mast tabernacle for the mainmast. Putting a little round table around it—big enough to park drinks during a party, and surrounded by handholds—is probably a good idea.

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  5. I would recommend looking into constructing a hinging transom platform. A great place to converge with horses of the sea variety. I had one and it instantly became a favorite hangout spot, great for boarding from the shore boat or swimming. Fold up for passages.

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    1. What we have designed (but not modeled fully yet) is, in fact, a swim platform that fits over the transom when raised, complete with a folding boarding ladder that goes down to it from a gate in the stern bulwark. To board QUIDNON, it will be a hop over from the floating dock when at a marina, or a step up from the ground when QUIDNON is being used as a beach house, then an ascent up the ladder up to the deck, then two steps down into the cockpit, then 4 more steps down into the cabin. On rivers and canals the swim platform can stay down and be used to carry the dink. We have a fairly evolved swim/boarding ladder design to go with it. Stay tuned.

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  6. How do you plan to use the U berth area? To me, it seems a little redundant. With guests seated, it's hard/annoying to walk there.

    Perhaps the front 1/3 of the boat should be repurposed as a pony stable and aquaponic greenhouse.

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  7. Fabulous. I'll promote this article and concept on the FB pages of Sail Transport Network, SAIL MED, Culture Change, and my Depaver Jan Lundberg page. Thanks Dmitry for this bright spot for the future.

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  8. I'm not an expert but I would think the dead lights would not let in enough light for the bow cabin to be used as a greenhouse. I think it would be more effective to make a PVC-framed plastic sheet greenhouse on deck, which may potentially be heated through the deck hatch. The bow cabin could be used to start seedlings if you had shore power and grow lights.

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    1. The deck is roomy enough to grow stuff in pots and milk crates lined with peat. There is room for some hanging plants under the dodger. I don't think anyone would actually consider growing anything down below.

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  9. You will appreciate...
    http://englishrussia.com/2016/12/20/how-do-they-build-wooden-ships-in-karelia/

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  10. I have sailed a bit on other people's boats so I know I am just a beginner. However, I would really love to live on a boat and get a chance to learn more!

    I am going to wait until you build the first one but I would like to try at some point.

    Please let me know how can I contribute.

    THanks

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  11. We are going to hold a fundraiser this spring, and contributors will secure for themselves a sizeable discount on their eventual order of the QUIDNON kit.

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  12. You can improve on the growing ideas.

    Bread crates, shallow trays made of plastic, in a formed lattice. Line them with builders plastic, fill them with Sterilised rice husks, --- it will last 2 to 3 years --- a supply of decent hydroponic 'chemicals', in 'powder' form, set them up several high where you have the space, with enough space between them to let plenty of light in and you will grow all the herbs, buc chow type vegetables, carrots, lettuces and such that you can use -- and grow them quickly.

    You need to prevent sea water and rain getting into them.

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  13. A big part of our environmental impact comes from our living arrangements. Our houses are much bigger than they need be. With a floating home like this,a family could live comfortably in about 50 square feet per person! At lest ten times less than in a conventional house! It would do just as well if it were set up somewhere in the Prairies.

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    1. Thanks for an idea! I may put QUIDNON 1:12 model on wheels (two on keelboards, using an axle, two on rudder blades) and see how well it sails around the parking lot! Maybe it can also double as an ice boat, with the keelboards and the rudder blades fitted with skates.

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  14. Dmitri, I noticed that the galley fridge has changed from a typical RV propane fridge to a top-loaded type. Is this still a propane fridge? And is there a particular model you are looking at? I'm not familiar with top loaded fridges, and would like to know more about them.

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  15. Hi Dmitry, this boat is interesting because it is very nearly a scaled up version of my rounded bow former PDracer that sleeps 2 and sails well with a Laser rig.

    Question: you indicate a 1.5 foot draft and waterline 1 ft shorter than LOA, yet the transom bottom edge is 3 ft above max draft. Is there some revision in the design between these two updates to give a 3 ft draft?

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