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.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Sails Revisited

Based on the positive test results from the 1:12 scale model, the design of Quidnon nouveau-retro Chinese Junk sails is almost fully baked. But there are a couple more bothersome problems to solve. Junk sails are attached to the mast using parrels, which are short lines or straps running along the battens and around the mast. This generally works rather well, but produces a couple of unintended effects:

1. The sail tends to rotate forward on the mast because the part of it that is aft of the mast is larger and therefore heavier. To counteract this tendency, Junk sails employ an additional control line called a “luff hauling parrel” which is laced through the front of the battens and then around the mast. It is yet another line to adjust, and it would be nice to get rid of it. Depending on the design of the sail, other minor control lines may be necessary as well, further complicating the handling.

2. On one of the tacks (depending on which side of the sail the mast is) the sail drapes over the mast, distorting its shape and making it a less efficient airfoil. Without this distortion, each panel of Quidnon’s sails forms a very efficient airfoil, similar to a Lateen sail. This is an important effect when sailing hard on the wind, making one tack significantly more efficient than the other.

To get rid of these unintended effects, I would like to introduce a new piece of rigging: the batten standoff. These are basically sticks that fasten onto the battens at one end and onto the parrels near the mast on the other. The batten standoffs do two things: they keep the sail from sliding fore-and-aft on the mast, and they push the sail away from the mast. Under most circumstances they are self-tending and don’t require adjustment.

At their ends near the mast, the standoffs are daisy-chained on lines—batten standoff lanyards—that hang down from the end of the halyard. These lines make sure that the standoffs hang almost but not quite horizontally: they have to slope slightly toward the mast, so that they don’t ride up the mast when under compression. If the mast is to starboard of the sail, it may be necessary to walk forward and pull down the batten standoff lanyards after reefing while sailing on a port tack, when the standoffs are under compression. When they are under tension, they will be pulled into position by the battens and settle a bit further by themselves due to gravity. Thus, when reefing while on a port tack, it is best to release the sheet first, allowing the sail to luff, then release the halyard partway, then haul in and tighten the reefing line, and finally haul in the sheet to power the sail back up.

The batten standoffs have to be cheap, light, reliable and easy to jury-rig or to replace when they fail. To achieve this, I intend to make them out of aluminum pipe. The pipe is cut to length, the ends are tapped, and stainless steel threaded rod is screwed into the ends. The mast end consists of a triple clamp, with two horizontal slots for the parrels and one vertical slot for the lanyard, all tightened together using a single Nylock nut. The batten end, which goes through a hole in the batten, has a couple of washers and a Nylock. There will have to be 24 batten standoffs (6 battens × 2 sides × 2 sails) and they will cost a bit of money to fabricate (out of aluminum pipe and bar and stainless steel threaded rod, two rubber washers and two Nylocks). But I think that the improved performance and the elimination of extra control lines will make it worth it.

There is also an element of perfectionism to it. There is some amount of extra joy to be had in looking up and seeing a perfect, maximally simple, undistorted form of the sail lit up by the sun against the sky.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Hull Shape Revisited

Click to enlarge
The second post on this blog, which I started almost exactly four years ago, was titled “Hull Shape” and featured the sketch shown on the left. A lot of work went into it. Concerns such as minimizing cost, maximizing ease of construction, maximizing interior living space and many others were addressed. A key feature of the design was the ability to combine the structure of the keelboard trunks with the water ballast tanks. Their position and size were based on many constraints, but the result was that water ballast alone turned out to be insufficient. Although it was more than enough to ensure stability under sail, more ballast would have to be added further aft in order for the boat to sit on its lines.

After many design iterations, the additional ballast was confined to a steel scrap-filled cement block bolted in place under the chain locker, which is, in turn, located under the cockpit. An entire sequence of steps was drawn up for dropping it out, with the boat in the water, before sweating the boat ashore using the anchor winch (to serve as a temporary beach house) and for winching and bolting it back into place with the boat once again in the water. But it was, essentially, a complication. And now, after four years of thinking through all of the various details, happily, it turns out to be unnecessary.

One of the worst mistakes one can make is to build based on an imperfect plan: build in haste, as it were, repent at leisure. Four years may seem like a long time to design just one boat. Most boat designers worry about time to market, remaining competitive, keeping the money coming in and other such issues. I am not worried in the least about any of that. I just want to design a very good boat that I am going to like, and that plenty of others will too. I am quite a few years yet away from retirement, my son is a few years yet from being able to serve as master of a ship, and so I am not going to rush. When designing something and faced with a problem, bad ideas are the first to arrive, while the good ones can take a very long time.

That said, the project is moving along. Thanks to the crowdfunding exercise of last summer, we are now running on licensed/donated CAD software (instead of lots of evaluation versions) and have a new, powerful, dedicated server box for doing renderings and running simulations. There is a list of a dozen or so to-do items, none of them huge, that have to be worked out before we can have the plans analyzed and signed off on by a marine architect, and we have the money to pay him. The questions to be answered are along the lines of “How thick should we make the fiberglass”, “What gauge steel do we use” and so on. Once past that point we will accept equity investment and start building hulls in several places around the world where people are waiting for us.

That is actually a good position to be in, making it a very good time to try very hard to resolve the few remaining unsatisfactory issues with the design. The solid ballast box is one issue. The fact that the sails are much more efficient on one tack than the other when sailing close-hauled is another. We’ll deal with that one later; today we kill the solid ballast box.

When I drew up Quidnon’s initial lines, I tried to follow Phil Bolger’s advice about square boats—that complicating their hull shapes adds more to their complexity and expense than it adds to their performance. But here is a counterexample: I believe that this change will subtract from the expense (no more solid ballast box or the mounting brackets it requires; simpler hull shape aft because the recess for the box is no longer needed) while boosting performance.

Previously, the bottom of the hull forward of amidships consisted of the bottom and two sides joined at two chines. The angle between them was 100º aft of amidships while forward from amidships it decreased until they met at a point at top and center of the bow, where the angle between them went to 0. The modification is that forward of amidships there are now four surfaces rather than three that come together to a flat spot at top and center of the bow. The bottom is now formed from two surfaces, and the centerline, called the stem, is buried a bit deeper than the two chines. This modification adds the exact amount of buoyancy forward that’s needed to make the boat sit on its lines without the fixed ballast mounted aft.

But then there are the other benefits. First, there is the improved motoring performance. When sailing on almost any point of sail Quidnon heels over a bit and presents a lopsided “V” to the water, which cuts very well through the waves. But when motoring the hull sits level and the flat surface presented to the waves at the bow slows it down. Just a small amount of deadrise at the bow (that’s the term for the “V” shape of the bottom) is enough to deflect the flow of water to the sides rather than making the boat bounce up and down while pushing an energy-wasting roll of froth with the bow (a boat with “a bone in its teeth” is Bolger’s term for that effect).

Simulations using Orca3D software showed that prior to this change to the hull shape Quidnon would actually take less power to push forward at hull speed when loaded with 10 tons of cargo then when motoring empty. This was because when empty the stern would be quicker to bog down. Getting rid of the cargo box will lighten the stern, and the added buoyancy at the bow will extend the effective waterline length, both of these changes counteracting this tendency. Moreover, when motoring along rivers and canals with the masts dropped there is no reason not to drain the water ballast, to lighten the load. Under these circumstances, having solid ballast mounted aft would be most unhelpful. When motoring without the ballast, Quidnon may be able to push its hull speed somewhat. We’ll run simulations to confirm this.

One more benefit: the slight “V” shape at the bow will not only deflect the flow of water but also of floating debris and ice chunks. Without this feature, the debris would wash directly past the prop, possibly fouling it. And as for ice, Quidnon is by no means meant to serve as an icebreaker, but it should be able to sail through many forms of ice. Sailing through ice is a big topic, and I will take it up separately later, but Quidnon’s bow turns out to be almost perfect for powering through pancake ice, slush, thin crust and other varieties of frozen water that occur in the fall and the spring. Having an “icebreaker” bow surfaced with roofing copper may allow Quidnon to extend the season a month or so in each direction.

Lastly, this change to the bow shape adds a welcome visual feature to what was previously a rather blank and featureless bow. Now, Quidnon’s hull shape is not designed to titillate—it will do enough other things that other boats can’t do to make up for its somewhat unexciting hull shape—but having a bow that looks more like a bow than like half a transom is a nod in the general direction of boating fashion that some people would I am sure welcome.