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

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Parbuckle and Launch

Most of what it will take to assemble QUIDNON from a kit is quite easy. The plywood panels that make up the core of the hull are fitted together using mortise and tenon joins which are then fixed in place using wedges driven in with a mallet. Outer layers of plywood are glued on and screwed in place using an electric drill. Joints are saturated with epoxy and filleted using brushes and other hand tools. An outer layer of fiberglass is applied to the hull by draping it in fiberglass cloth and saturating it with epoxy using rollers. Most of these are fun activities for family and friends. But there are two operations that are daunting for even the seasoned and experienced DIY people: flipping the hull over, and launching it.

No doubt, some people will simply hire a crane—twice, at around $1000 each time. But that seems like a lot of money for 10 minutes of work. On the other hand, 4x4 timbers, carriage bolts, nylon rope and comealongs are quite cheap, and there is a great deal of satisfaction to be had in carrying on such an impressive task without any power tools.


The hull is initially assembled upside-down. A build platform is erected on the ground, allowing for a crawlspace underneath to get inside the hull, and leveled using wedges. The deck is then assembled on the platform, followed by the bulkheads, the interior panels, the sides and the bottom. The entire bottom section of the hull is then fiberglassed. The bottom is sheathed in copper and the topsides are faired and painted.

The hull then has to be flipped right-side-up. This operation is known as parbuckling, and is standard procedure for salvaging large vessels. For example, the cruise ship Costa Concordia, which sank off the coast of Italy when its idiot-captain ran it aground was parbuckled and refloated. That salvage operation cost $1.5 billion—as much as that ship cost to build. But that ship was bigger than Titanic. The cost to parbuckle QUIDNON should be just a few hundred dollars—cheaper than hiring a crane.

The first step is to construct a cage around the hull. Vertical timbers are added to the build platform. Horizontal timbers are blocked against the bottom. All of these are fastened together using carriage bolts. Next, posts are driven into the ground on both sides of the hull, and ropes are attached to the cage. Comealongs are used to lift the hull and also to let it down gently once it goes past the tipping point. A few square bales of hay would be helpful to avoid hard landings. The following sequence of diagrams shows the steps of the process.


Once the hull is right-side-up, most of the parbuckling cage can be dismantled, leaving the hull sitting on a skid. Then the deck and the superstructure can be finished. The deck is fiberglassed and sheathed with aluminum diamond plate. Bulwarks, deck arches and the cockpit are added, along with other essentials such as deck cleats. The hull is then ready for launch. Everything else—plumbing, wiring, engine installation, mast tabernacles, masts and sails, etc.—can be done with it floating at the dock.

The easiest launch scenario involves a boat ramp. Then it’s just a matter of pushing the hull, on its skid, to the boat ramp, by rolling it over logs, and pushing it in the water. But it is unlikely that any given patch of shoreline that’s amenable to having a QUIDNON built on it is going to come equipped with a boat ramp. If the boat ramp is not right at the build site, then the hull would have to be transported to it on a flatbed. Since QUIDNON’s hull is 16 feet wide, it is considered a wide load, and transporting it over public roads would require permitting, a signal car and a pile of cash.

The alternative is to build QUIDNON on the water, and then just push it in. Most likely, the building site is going to be a riverbank of some sort. If there is a seawall and the water comes close to the top of it at high tide, then the hull can simply be pushed over it at high tide. If there is no seawall, then perhaps it can be dug down to a slope, to make an improvised boat ramp, but such activities are often frowned upon because they cause coastline erosion. If the body of water is a tidal estuary, erosion is already likely to be a problem.

A better approach is to shore up the riverbank by dumping riprap to just above the high tide line. (If there is existing riprap, that’s of course even better.) The riprap can serve as a foundation for a concrete launchpad. The launch procedure, illustrated by the following diagrams, involves pushing or dragging the hull, on its skid, to the launchpad. Spring lines are then connected to the transom and belayed at the launchpad. The hull is then pushed past its tipping point. Spring lines are then eased symmetrically, allowing it to slide into the water. Finally, when the transom is already afloat and just the front of the skid remains on the launchpad, a workboat pulls the hull the rest of the way into the water. The skid is then released and retrieved. QUIDNON can then be moved to a dock.


Yes, this does sound rather adventurous for a DIY project, and yes, it is possible to build a QUIDNON at a boatyard that’s equipped with a crane and a travelift, and let professionals handle the heavy moving operations. But the point is, it is going to be possible to build a QUIDNON on any relatively flat patch of land next to water and launch it using nothing more than some hand tools and a few comealongs.

38 comments:

  1. Is there an estimate on the man-hours required to construct Quidnon to a floating state? I know that you guessed some months ago that it could be done by a party of 4 in a couple weeks, but I was wondering if there had been more precise estimates since then?

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    1. Results are likely to vary. Also, I suspect that experience will count for quite a bit. Having a person around who has done it before should be quite valuable and speed things up a lot.

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  2. you had a concrete hull in earlier designs. has that option been eliminated?
    will the wooden hull have hollow water slapping sound that the concrete hull eliminated mostly?
    what were the trade-offs that led to this decision?

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    1. The problems of designing the concrete slab and joining it to the rest of the hull proved intractable, and I went back to the tried and true fiberglass over plywood design. The pounding tends to be quite rare because the hull is always heeled over a bit when sailing.

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  3. Do you have a hull weight figured out at this point? I'm thinking the pull on those come-alongs - to get it started at least - will be quite high. Might need to use some jacks on the other side to get it up to some degree...Anchor posts would have to be VERY well anchored.

    As for hiring cranes - it's worth doing some pricing around. I paid about $400 to flip my boat. Having that extra rigging expertise of the crane operator on hand helps too.

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    1. The weight without ballast will be around 3 tons, and the comealongs will never have to pull that much weight. Using 2 or 3 comealongs on each side, each rated for at least 2 tons, should work fine. Hiring a crane may be more reasonable in some locations. Still, being able to do it without any heavy machinery should be very helpful in some situations.

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  4. Construct a cheap pontoon barge, flip hull over into water using a bridge, cannibalize barge for topsides materials?

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    1. Great idea! But no barge pontoon barge required. Just don't put in any deck openings, but do put in the ballast tanks. Float her out upside down, flood a tank to get a list, then flood the hull some more. Once completely sideways start emptying the submerged tank and filling the opposite one and over she goes. This can be aided with some anchors and another vessel to pull her over.

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    2. Wow, makes sense. Especially keen on a long and trim hull but do-able even on a gravel barge.

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    3. LOL! Have some pirates standing by to claim salvage.

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    4. Humour aside, I watched a tugboat get a propeller replaced by flooding the forward section to get the stern out. Where there's a will, there's a way. Some inflatable bladders inside for insurance and your pirates will leave in frustration :-)

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  5. Would parbuckling the way you have illustrated not put too much pressure on the chine?

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    1. The cage hasn't been engineered yet, but the way it's going to work is as follows. The cage will be blocked against the bottom, the sides and the deck, so that there won't be any force on the various corners on the hull. The timbers of the cage will rest against the hull where it is backed with mast frames and partial bulkheads, or full bulkheads. There will be some padding (cut-up moving blankets stapled onto the timbers) to avoid marring and scratches. There will also some hay bales for the cage to land on in case something lets go.

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    2. Used tires can be borrowed instead of hay bales. No mess.

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    3. No mess? If you know where you can "borrow" used tires for less than the cost of a dozen or so hay bales, I say go for it. Otherwise, busted straw bales are easy enough to clean up. You just rake them up like leaves and toss them into the woods, or even the water. They are naturally composting, and do they do not stink doing it.

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    4. My 37X10 sharpie hull build used tires on the flip and no problems at all. Pick the choicest one later for a blue collar sea anchor :)

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  6. I foresee possible 'slippage' issues when the ship is tipping onto edge, where the bottom edge will suddenly slip out from under the unbalanced weight of the combined ship and cage. I would add a second set of bottom come alongs and some sort of in ground bracing to prevent such slippage. Trust me, attaching only at the top with flexible wires will NOT prevent slippage at the bottom, I have had it happen to me more than once when moving heavy objects via winch and come alongs. And none of these objects were as large or heavy as your boat will be. But other than that I think you have a decent plan.
    BTW if you are going to make it in, or add a cage around it, why not just construct it in an upright position and lower it from the scaffolding that holds it up?

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    1. That's likely due to the difficulty, and hazard, involved in layering, glassing, coating, repeating and finally covering the hull with heavy copper sheets while lying on your back with a 3 ton object suspended a foot above your face. I like Dmitri's idea better.

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    2. At each stage of the parbuckling operation, there are at least 2 1/2" nylon 3-strand ropes, probably 3, attached to the the edge that the cage is being tipped over, run out to both sides. This should definitely prevent all slippage. They are shown in red on the diagrams.

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    3. As far as assembling the hull right-side-up, that simply can't be done. It all starts with a flat surface, which is the deck. Everything is built on top of it. Sides and bottom are cold-molded into place. There is simply no way to do that unless the hull is inverted.

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  7. The only problem that I see is that all of the consumer grade come-alongs I have experience with only have a working stroke of about 10 to 15 feet. Would this be enough to flip a 3 ton object, that is 16 feet wide? Seems like it would require reconnecting each of the come-alongs at least once during the process. Might not be a deal breaker, but couldn't we do pretty much the same thing using our blocks & lines, which we will need to buy anyway? A set of ratcheting come-alongs would be much safer for this operation, I'd admit, and owning at least one on a boat isn't a bad idea.

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    1. The ratcheting comealongs are very cheap. Northern Tool currently has 2-ton ones for $10 each. So, it will be possible to use 3 comealongs in parallel, making it easy to detach and reattach them when their stroke gets maxed out.

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  8. So far you have developed a very compelling project.
    Kind of like raising a timber frame barn.
    If you gather enough man power it will be a party.
    Just muscles, levers and rope, some good food and drink and some good common sense and it will be a joyful experience for all.

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  9. Nylon rope might not be the best choice because it stretches, causing some loss of control. Something like double braid polyester would be better: https://www.knotandrope.com/Store/pc/5-8-quot-Pulling-Rope-9p656.htm

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    1. There are two reasons to use nylon. First, the lines can be reused as dock lines. Second, the stretch makes it easier to distribute tension across several lines and comealongs.

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  10. When will we see a sailing model, Dmitry??
    Exciting project!!!
    Thomas
    Vancouver, WA

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    1. I set up a 1:12 model with RC controls and sailed it around. It went to windward and short-tacked very well.

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    2. Could we please see it?
      Thanks, Dmitry.

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    3. https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/8608653/MVI_0322.m4v

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  11. Am definitely going to build the Quidnon. But it may be some months away till plans become available to purchase, etc..

    So to hone my skills, i am preparing to build a smaller boat. It is a trimaran called the 'Seaclipper 16' using plywood and epoxy and the rigging gear of a 'Hobie 14'.

    http://www.searunner.com/index.php/seaclipper-16-oc

    I am in touch with the designer to see if the plans can be converted to g-code to mill on a CNC machine.

    I hope to have this built by the late Autumn.

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    1. Very happy to hear that! Keep us posted on your developments.

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  12. mmm. heavily loaded comealongs can get scary, imo. paying out under tension... there's a lot of energy ready to be released by those little stamped out ratchet parts.

    Good low budget solution though. The usual principles apply though - is saving a few $$ on the flipping operation really worth the cost of the entire hull?

    It looks like the configuration pictured will load the lines up more than the weight of the load (e.g., green line, second to last image in sequence).

    The same come-along could be used to drive something like a scissors-jack. Or lift with just one linkage in compression, using a wheel on the end of the linkage on the ground, with the comealong pulling the ground end "inwards", causing the elevated end to rise and lift the load. Just as your solution, the the second phase, where you're letting the load down, is the scarier one, IMO.

    Also, creative use of a good old car jack and jack stands and two-by's may go a long way.

    A chain hoist may be gentler than a comealong too. Also I'd say steel cable vs nylon.

    -or-

    (for the truly redneck)

    big tree + vehicle

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    1. "It looks like the configuration pictured will load the lines up more than the weight of the load (e.g., green line, second to last image in sequence)."

      Looking at that, I disagree. Roughly half of the weight should still be on the right corner of the frame. The angle of the vector force from the horizontal would increase the tension over that half-weight by a bit, but not by enough to increase tension beyond the actual weight of the hull. And Dmitri is actually calling for about 6 tons worth of come-alongs to hold that 3 ton object. Do we have a structural engineer in the house to actually determine the max force vector on these lines during this kind of operation?

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    2. Actually, I'd guess that the max tension would be on the blue lines just after frame #1. But the photos don't show a reciprocal operation. Why would we cross over with the blue lines to the far corner in frame #1, but not do the same thing in decent with green lines in frame #5? The frames never show us moving the attachment point for blue, but we move green's attachment point twice. It seems to me that we should be able to use the attachment points in frame #2 and never move either set of lines during the entire operation.

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    3. Those sorts of details are still to be worked out. In general, with 3 comealongs working in parallel in each direction, they can be moved as often as needed. And, yes, we will never be pulling on more than 3 tons.

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    4. Well, fwiw, I actually am an engineer but not a structural engineer.

      The worst-case load for the green line should be right before the very end, when it's just above horizontal.

      Using small angle approximations, and assuming center of gravity is on the centerline of the box (CG height doesn't matter), the balance comes out as:

      Green Load * Box_Height = Total_Mass * (Box_Width /2)

      So

      Green Load = 1/2*Mass*(Width/Height)

      So if it's twice as wide as high, then Green Load = mass.

      This load will be very roughly the same for the last 10-15 degrees or so. If we take into account the green line's actual angle, the worst case load would be a touch worse too (but not by much). Extra load from bounce due to stretchy line, however, would be a consideration.

      Also the implication is something must create an equal sideways force on the corner contacting the ground, to prevent slipping. (may be good to have an anchor point for the unloaded-side line line down low for this purpose). Setting up between 2 really big trees seems like the sanest way . . .

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  13. Thank you for doing the math. Looks like 2 4-ton cable pullers on each side would have better than a 50% margin of safety.

    As you point out, the bottom edge has to be secured against slippage. Those are the red lines shown on the diagrams.
    Doing this operation between two large trees would work well.

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  14. Hi,
    Where in/around Cambridge,Washington County, N.Y. can one learn how to sail(however basic and/or brief the instruction)?

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