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.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Boat for the Reluctant Sailor

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

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

The results were roughly as follows:

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

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

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

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

• It doesn’t look expensive enough.

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

• It looks better without the masts and the sails.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so the options are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30 comments:

  1. Dmitry,
    I'm sure you are aware that the most extreme micro ocean racers have bluff bows not unlike your sailing houseboat! Of course they are made of carbon fiber and lift themselves out of the water on foils.
    http://www.wavetrain.net/boats-a-gear/663-cruiser-racer-confusion-scow-bow-revolution-29-and-gunboat-g4-capsize

    There is more to success as a boat designer/builder than meets the eye. I like to cross oceans under sail, so Quidnon isn't for me. But if you want to live along the ICW or motor across the Gulf Stream and putter down through the Bahamas with a family on board it could be great.

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    1. Last year a houseboat came off its mooring in Nova Scotia and showed up on the coast of Ireland, perfectly intact. Done right, ocean crossings are all downwind sailing, and a balsawood raft or even a bathtub with a bedsheet on sticks can handle that. QUIDNON should be able to do better than that. But Bahamas are definitely a happy QUIDNON playground because it can nose up to beaches and can bounce over coral heads without damage.

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    2. Been to the Bahamas. If you get too close to the beach the pigs will come on board. LOL

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  2. Dmitry, I sympathise and empathise with your Facebook experience. On several occasions my questions received the same kind of responses from various "interest groups" populated with supposedly knowledgeable people.
    Their replies induced a certain feeling in me: a combination of sadness, disgust, hoplessness, and incredulity all rolled into one.
    If there isn't a single word for that feeling, there should be, because it must be common these days.

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    1. I believe in German that word would be Schadenschade: the opposite of Schadenfreude, which is being happy at another's misery. In this case, it's being miserable at another's misery. Thank you for your sympathy, but I wasn't hurt. I was doing research. Animals bite.

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  3. A Pearson Vanguard yahoo group ripped me a new one when I joined and told them my newly bought, rigless Pearson was going to get a junk rig and what did they think and any tips, etc.. Heresy!!! I finally had to leave the group after just a week or so. One guy even threatened to drive down to Florida and kick my ass. I did egg them on a bit near the end though. Blockheads. I went on to have some great times in that junk rigged Pearson. Then more good times in a junk rigged flat bottomed sharpie liveaboard home. Screw the closed minded I say as the ghost of Phil Bolger chuckles....

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    1. I think it comes down to this: people who dream only like people who do what they dream about. If not, they wake up momentarily, and we all know how painful that is.

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    2. "Boat" people sound a lot like "horse" people... all have very firmly-held "knowledge" about all matters "horse". All different, of course and mostly wrong.

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  4. I have an interest in building a boat, because of the need for affordability. One designer that i am interested in is Bernard Kohler. He designs for amateurs, yes they are multi hull but, he uses epoxy plywood because its safe for amateurs, simple systems because things will break. And you can have only 2 of 3 key criteria for a boat design. Performance, safety or comfort. Your design is wonderful, safety and comfort. When Benard is annoy with some of customer he use german word which mean egg laying milk producing sow. It doesn't exist. Performance, safety, comfort, beautiful and cheap.

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    1. This is an fiberglass/epoxy over plywood design as well, and you can imagine it's a catamaran without the big hole between the hulls. The only advantage of a multihull is that it doesn't have a hull speed restriction. So the choice comes down to just one consideration: how important is it for you to go faster than 7.5kt? If it's vitally important, then by all means build yourself a cat that can outrun hurricanes. If not, then why not go with 10 times the space for a smaller amount of money?

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  5. As for not fast enough, I always remind people that in all forms of recreational boating, once you are aboard you have arrived at your destination. Fast under sail is certainly fun, but so is developing the skill to keep the boat moving in the lightest most fickle air when all others have given up and motored home.

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    1. “Fast under sail is certainly fun, but so is developing the skill to keep the boat moving in the lightest most fickle air when all others have given up and motored home. “
      Your comment struck home to me, Rob, as I grew up working on and loving both race cars and my cousin's beautiful wooden Skaneateles lightning sailboat. (He taught me to sail, starting with a Styrofoam Snark of all things, and ending with his permission for me to use his cherished sailboat whenever I wanted—after he judged I was properly trained—‘heaven’ for me at the time.)
      He died way too young, the boat was sold, and I turned to racecars for thrills. (Talk about money-pits!) It was there I learned that it was much more fun to drive a slow car fast, than a fast car slow, and I imagine similar ‘thrills’ with the Quidnon, with little, if any, drama of dunking the whole thing.
      I also love the notion that once aboard, one has arrived.
      If I was younger (and fit) I’d be all over this like a shark on a seal pup.

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  6. Dmitri,,,
    Given your stroll into the Facebook 'lion's den', I suggest you re-evaluate ballast requirements to take into account the weight of your enormous brass balls.
    I imagine the following: a raft of fancy sailboats with the Quidnon in the center of the party, ending with the female 'mates' jumping ship to become Quidnon stowaways, potentially creating problems with your 'first mate'.
    I don't think I'm alone, which might account for some of the hate you received from the pointy-nosed yachting crowd--that they're trying to hide being scared shitless of the aforementioned scenario coming true.
    Larger problems than the whimsical 'ballast' issue might ensue...after all, no crew can have more than one first mate, can it?
    Great job, Dmitry—keep up the great work—I have no doubt it will be a huge success.

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    1. I expect the yachty set to wave limply and look away. There is a lot less drama in this than you imagine.

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  7. I'm fascinated, but personally, I don't think our family could afford one.

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    1. ...Meaning that the word "affordable" depends very much upon the financial situation of the one using the word. It's a great concept, though. I will probably contribute a little to the crowdsource request.

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    2. How much do you spend on rent/mortgage, and how many years do you have before you want to stop paying them? Those are the relevant parameters.

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  8. This is an intriguing proposal, something I might actually want to get into.
    Maybe I missed it, but what exactly does "affordable" boil down to in terms of price? Has that been determined?

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    1. To get to a hull that floats and can be put into a slip in a marina is around $50k (USD) plus 2-3 man-months of DIY labor. Everything else can be done with the boat in the water, while living aboard.

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  9. I live on a 28' Carver Boat in the florida keys. I also have a 30' Alberg Sailboat. I had to do it this way to be able to live aboard (the rents in the keys are silly for the depressing shitholes they call homes) and at the same time not to loose my ability to go sailing. I would be very interested in buying a plan from you for building a QUIDNON. I belief that it would be perfect. I was thinking to maybe upgrade to a 36' Trawler or such, but for the same money maybe it would be possible to just build the perfect Liveaboard cruiser sailor? I am reading all your posts for at least the last eight years. But I never was too interested in the Quidnon saga. Until I started living aboard (looking for the perfect small liveaboard boat).
    As a side note: All those cruiser forums have one thing in common: 90% of the
    "Experts" are only experts in watching sailing videos on youtube. Whenever I go sailing I am pretty much alone out there. They remind me of a bucket full of Crabs. One crab could easily escape from the bucket and be free. But all those other expert Crabs keep pulling her back down. If I would have listened to the Experts 20 years ago I would have never left Germany and moved to the US. Yet here I am....

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    1. Herzlichen Grüßen! Buying plans would waste you a lot of time and money. The kit is going to be milled out by a robot, with ridiculous precision, epoxy-coated by a robot, and delivered to an assembly site of your choosing. Then you can put it together using any hired help you want and hand tools in very little time. Your situation sounds perfect: you want a good amount of living space and comfort, and you also want to go sailing.

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  10. Comrade Dmitry,

    I'm not a sailor man, I'm an architect and I never sailed before. Quidnon makes sense to me and I love this boat. I bet that Jack London would love your boat. Or probably Paul Auster too. I think people from the Wikihouse project and Freecad would love your boat too. I have no means to help this project financially via the internet at the moment, so I bought "prosperous homesteading" instead in a near bookstore (no pun intended). If there is a book with detailed instructions about how to build this boat I would buy such book. I have a book from Amyr Klink next to my pillow. I loved to watch Jacques Cousteau. My favourite uncle tried to be an oceanographer before becoming a musician because of Cousteau. I loved to watch Steve Zissou. I have a book with the Oseberg ship since I was a kid. I saved money my whole life and in 2015 I finally did my peregrination to it :). I believe that your boat is for those who love to read and write literature and fiction (Mark Twain anyone?) and to watch "Happy People" from Herzog. Or Francofonia. I believe that boats have souls.

    Greetings from Brazil everyone! :)

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    1. Jack London built himself a boat that couldn't tack, and QUIDNON tacks beautifully, so, yes, I think he'd like it. There will be instructions on how to assemble the kit. We may also provide the machine instructions (g-code) for milling out the panels that the kit consists of. And, yes, the resulting boats will surely have plenty of soul.

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  11. Hello Dmitry,
    Will there be a forward rake to the masts? I was reading about junk rigs here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junk_rig#Comparison_with_Bermuda_rig

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    1. "Junk sails are typically carried on a mast which rakes (slants) forward a few degrees from vertical, which can look odd to the unitiated. The forward rake of the sail encourages the sail to swing out, which makes the use of a preventer unnecessary. Another way to say this is that the sail is stable when swung out and doesn't return to the middle of the ship when the wind drops."

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    2. Yes, QUIDNON's masts are slanted forward 1º. This is very helpful for keeping the sails from slatting around in fickle winds. Some people consider forward rake "ugly" without being able to offer any rationale. De gustibus non est disputandum.

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  12. You should be tickled pink the "establishment" doesn't like Quidnon. If they did it would only mean you didn't push the boundaries enough.

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    1. That's nice. Although I'm sure "the establishment" (in the US) also hates me because I am Russian. Or maybe it's fear: shake a Russian's hand—lose your gov't job! I certainly understand the trepidation they feel.

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  13. If we were well along in an economic collapse, I am guessing that you would get a very different response. I am a live aboard and I am continually improving my 1977 Morgan 49 for living aboard/long-term cruising/nautical prepping. My goal is to be able to sail the world while supporting 4 people for one year without docking. I tell everyone my goals and so far the worse response from "real" cruising live-aboards has been what appeared to be confusion. Mainly because it appeared that they can't seem to picture a collapse. However, all of the sailers (particularly the young ones) were interested in self-sufficiency.
    I think you have a valid business idea as you market it above. But, in a way I see it as being ahead of the times (maybe by not much). No doubt that after the next collapse your business should take off like a rocket. So, my suggestion: keep your expenses as low as possible so that you will be able to tread water (if necessary) until the world really, really, really needs this business. The post industrial age will really need this as quickly and completely as possible. And, it will be a shame if it is not there at the right time.

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    1. Fred -

      I think that you have the right idea, and that is indeed the approach we are taking. We got enough funds now to finish the design, mostly on a pro bono basis (we do pay for software and some services). We'll build the first hull with my money. And then we'll see. The prospects for this project are bound to improve once there is an actual floating sailing QUIDNON out there.

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