the Quidnon blog attracted some attention from various places around the net. One in particular—the forum Sailing Anarchy—attracted over 400 visitors. I followed the link and tried participating in the discussion.
The sailing anarchists just couldn’t wrap their heads around the concept of a houseboat as a lifehack that lets one avoid getting wiped out by exorbitant real estate prices and rents. Well, I’ve said this many times before, but I’ll say it again, briefly: in the US, housing is a racket, on par with other rackets, such as health care, higher education, national defense and quite a few others. The very lightly regulated recreational vessel space offers a wonderful opportunity to escape the landlubber debt trap.
The sailing anarchists also couldn’t accept the idea that it is better to build a boat from scratch, at considerable expense, than to buy an existing, used boat, many of which can be had for very little money. The problem there is that none of the existing boat designs fit the bill. Sailboats are either big and unaffordable or small and too cramped. Powerboats with accommodations for a family are also too expensive, both to own and to move from place to place because of exorbitant fuel bills. Houseboats are generally dock-bound and not seaworthy in any sense.
Some anarchists thought that the Junk rig wouldn’t work well. Little do they know that the Junk rig is one of the oldest and most successful designs in the world that has stood the test of time, providing low-cost propulsion and ease of handling for more centuries than any other. Some thought that the boxy hull shape was unstylish, ugly and simply wrong, unaware of the fact that sailing barges, scows, cargo lighters, dhows, bateaux and junks of similar lines had been the staple of coastwise navigation around the world throughout the age of sail.
I presented my list of requirements which Quidnon must fulfill, but which no other boat does, to no avail. Apparently, these anarchists are rather closed-minded. Not a single comment they made was on target. But one valid question did come out of the discussion: Why cover the bottom with copper sheet when bottom paints are available. Since this is an easy question for me to answer, and since the answer is instructive and demonstrates the type of thinking that informs the whole design, I will answer it.
Quidnon’s bottom is 16 by 36 feet, or 576 sq. ft. The bow, transom and sides below the design waterline add an additional 208 sq. ft for a total of 784 sq. ft. Roofing copper comes in 4x8-foot sheets, or 32 sq. ft. Dividing one into the other gives us 25 sheets. 16-gauge (1/16-inch) copper sheet is currently priced at $91.29 per, for a total of $2,282.25.
This may seem like a considerable expense, but now let’s consider the cost of bottom paint. After much experimentation I settled on Interlux Micron CSC Ultra as the longest-lasting paint. It costs $209.99/gallon and its datasheet claims that a gallon of it covers 439.7 sq. ft in a single coat. The manufacturer recommends 3 coats and a minimum of 2. This gives us 784 sq. ft times 3 coats divided by 439.7 sq.ft/gallon, giving us 5.3 gallons or $1,123.
Note that the paint only works for about a year; after that, the bottom starts growing slime, then sea grass, then barnacles and mussels. If you don’t plan on going anywhere, then you can just let your boat turn into a floating island festooned with seafood. But the need to move may arise suddenly: the marina may close because of an approaching hurricane and kick everyone out; your job situation may require you to move your floating home to a new location; a shortage of money may require you to give up the slip at the marina and take up life at a mooring or at anchor. With a neglected, painted bottom the prerequisite to moving is an expensive and lengthy (3 days at least) haul-out which includes hiring a Travelift and someone to pressure-wash and paint your bottom (unless you yourself enjoy spending your days with a roller, wearing a bunny suit and a respirator, and being exposed to toxic fumes anyway). Haul-out and bottom painting costs vary, but you generally end up spending upwards of a thousand dollars, and if you want your boat to be able to move effectively, you need to do this every year.
And so by going with bottom paint instead of copper sheet you will save $2,282 minus $1,123 in construction costs, or $1,159. But every year thereafter you will spend a minimum of $1,123 + $1,000 or $2,123 in maintenance costs. Over the 30-year expected lifetime of the boat, this will amount to as much as $60,000. Compare that to copper sheet: yes, you will pay extra up front, but thereafter all you will need to do is a semiannual cleaning: find a sheltered, shallow spot that dries out at low tide, anchor, wait for the tide to go out, and then take a scraper on a long handle, a roofing spade or a similar hand tool and scrub all of the copper you can reach. The seafood you can’t reach will be crushed and fall off by itself. If that’s still too much work, then you can hire a diver to scrub the bottom for you while the boat sits at the dock. This service generally costs only a few hundred dollars and can often be done on short notice—when you find out it’s time to move.
Attaching the copper to the bottom is slightly technical but not particularly difficult. The bottom is made up of 3 layers of 1/2-inch plywood screwed and epoxied together. Fiberglass matt is then nailed to the plywood using bronze annular nails and saturated with epoxy. The matt is then covered with 3 layers of fiberglass cloth, leaving an epoxy-coated surface, tipped off with a soft brush to make it perfectly smooth. The task of attaching the copper sheet is then as follows:
1. Thoroughly abrade the epoxy on the bottom with 100 to 200-grit sandpaper using a rotary sander.
2. Clean off sanding residue using denatured alcohol. Be sure not to leave any fingerprints.
3. Thoroughly abrade one side of a copper sheet with 300 to 600-grit sandpaper using a rotary sander.
4. Degrease using trichlorethylene.
5. Rinse the copper sheet in one of two solutions for 1-2 minutes. Option 1: 6 parts copper chloride, 30 parts 70% nitric acid; 200 parts water. Option 2: 25% aqueous solution of ammonium persulfate.
6. Rinse with distilled water; let dry.
7. Coat the bottom evenly with epoxy and apply the copper sheet prepared side down. Use cotton gloves when handling the copper sheet to avoid contaminating the contact surface.
8. Cover the copper with polyethylene sheet, then weigh it down with sandbags until the epoxy has set.
Why don’t other boatbuilders use copper cladding for the bottom? Well, it used to be a popular option during the age of sail. Ships were periodically run aground (careened) to have their bottoms scrubbed. But ships now use powerful bottom paints (illegal for use on smaller recreational boats) while for smaller boats copper is simply not an option. Look at the bottom of just about any commercially produced boat. It is made up of compound curves, and it is an expensive proposition to make copper sheets take up compound curves. Add to that the fact that most commercially produced recreational boats are made of fiberglass and vinyl rather than epoxy, and these don’t provide a good substrate for attaching copper sheet. Quidnon’s bottom is curved (slightly) in one direction only—fore and aft—and can be tiled with sheets of copper: 4 sheets across and 5 sheets lengthwise, for a total of 20 sheets with almost no scrap.
There is nothing to stop anyone building a Quidnon from deciding to use traditional bottom paint instead of the even more traditional copper sheet, but the decision to use copper appears to be a no-brainer: lower costs, no need for haul-outs and time spent on the hard in a boatyard and generally more flexibility.
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 four-bedroom with a kitchen, a bathroom/sauna, a dining room and a living 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. 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.