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.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Cockpit design: a picture plus a few thousand words

As I mentioned before, nothing focuses the mind on cockpit design like spending 150 hours in the cockpit of a sailboat more or less in one continuous stretch. Previously, I outlined my conclusions from this experience in prose, but this time I have an actual 3D rendering of my proposed design, with all the details filled in.

And nothing focuses the mind on the need to finish designing and build a houseboat that sails more than what is currently unfolding in South Carolina, which I just recently sailed through. Last week, Charleston, where I had spent a week, had fairly deep water running over the streets. Next week it will be Georgetown's turn; the entire town, where I had spent a few days too, is going to have to be evacuated. “You are lucky to be on a boat!” people keep telling me. Indeed, I am! But it's not exactly the right boat; it's a pretty good boat, but it's not QUIDNON.

What's been happening in South Carolina is but a preview of coming attractions. People are still calling it “a thousand-year flood,” not realizing that the next 10 years will bear little resemblance to the last 1000. Interesting things happen to the normal curve when you move the mean: what used to be uncommon can become commonplace rather suddenly. This is exactly what rapid global warming is doing: moving the mean. We are already most of the way a to 2ºC temperature rise, and heading toward 6ºC. It is about time we all got used to it.

We already pretty much know that the entire Eastern Seaboard of the US, where half of its population lives and where most of the infrastructure is, is going to be underwater and uninhabitable roughly by mid-century. Well before then access to potable water, the electric grid, piped natural gas, passable roads and structurally sound bridges and other trappings of civilization will become problematic for a growing percentage of population. This is because the money needed to rebuild the infrastructure after each cataclysm will not exist.

A lot of these people will wish that they were living on a QUIDNON, with its big water tanks, propane lockers, its own electricity, a bulletproof copper-clad bottom and, most importantly, the ability to float and to move about using the wind and the currents. And this thought has given me the impetus to finish the design. Here is the picture, which I hope is worth a thousand words, and worth even more with a few thousand words added.

QUIDNON has a flush deck. There is no cabintop—just a vast expanse of flat deck, 36 feet long and, at its widest, 16 feet wide, with gunwales and lifelines all around. The superstructure consists of two masts, two arches (which serve many purposes) and the cockpit. The cockpit, located just aft of the mainmast, encloses the companionway and the cockpit well. The cockpit well's floor is made up of hardwood slats with gaps between them, and drains into the anchor chain locker below it. In turn, the chain locker drains into the inboard/outboard engine well immediately aft of it. Space for the anchor chain locker and the engine well is carved out of cabin space using three full bulkheads: on one side of the bulkheads is “boat”; on the other is “sea.” Even if a huge sea breaks on deck and floods the cockpit, it will harmlessly gurgle away through the cockpit floor in a matter of seconds.

The Dodger

The dodger is a box made of polycarbonate plastic and fiberglass-reinforced plywood. Except for its top, which is slightly curved, to add rigidity and to make it shed water better, it is a box. Most dodger designs have a windshield that slants back, but this is very bad for visibility, especially when it's raining. Most working boats have windshields that slant forward; this provides maximum visibility, but looks downright ugly on a sailboat. The compromise is to make it perfectly plumb and square. Another common concession to style is to curve the windshield, but this detracts from windward performance. When going to windward, at a 35-40º angle to the wind, it is better to present a sharp corner to the wind then a flat surface. And so the dodger is just a box: simple, sturdy, and cheap to build. I made such a dodger for my current boat before I left Boston and have verified that it works quite well. The polycarbonate of the windshield and the side windows is structural; joined at the corners using aluminum angles, it is very stiff and able to deflect a big wave and any kind of wind. Below the top of the dodger is a box, which can be locked using a lid that nestles in a slot above it, and which holds the VHF radio, the chartplotter and an old-fashioned magnetic compass (still very useful for when all else fails).

The Lazarettes

There are upper and lower seating positions provided for by two lazarettes that run fore-and-aft. The lazarettes serve as backrests for the lower seating positions, and as seats for the upper ones. All seating positions have backrests which are angled out for comfort. The seats are surfaced with nonskid because they perform double duty as places to stand. The lazarettes provide locker space for things that are generally stored in the cockpit. The two lockers inside the dodger, with top-opening hatches, can be used to store paper charts, the logbook and navigation guides; flashlights, a flare gun and flares, emergency satellite transmitter, rigging tools, snacks and drinks and so on. The four lockers further aft have hatches that tip out, and can hold foul weather gear, dock lines, fenders and other such items, none of which belong in the cabin.

The Companionway

The companionway hatch lid hides in a slot just aft of the companionway. To close the hatch, it pulls out of the slot and flops forward over the companionway. The hatch lid holds a bug screen inside it, which can be pulled out and used separately. This, it turns out, is a very big deal at certain times. When sailing past an agricultural area with an offshore wind, flies that get blown off the land head straight for any sail they can spot. Then they get hungry, and very bitey. For those in the cockpit, swatting as many of them as quickly as possible is a good idea, because then they eat their own dead, preferring cannibalism to human flesh. For those in the cabin, the idea is to keep them out of the cabin.

The Tiller

As I explained previously, I have determined that wheel steering is a bad idea, and that a tiller is the way to go. But what sort of tiller? Having had quite a lot of experience with tillers, I designed one that I think will be particularly versatile. It is an aluminum pipe—strong and lightweight—that is precisely horizontal. It positioned so that were it to swing violently (as tillers are sometimes wont to do in sloppy conditions) it wouldn't cause too much damage.

For someone seated in the lower seating position, where the seat is at deck level and one's back is against a lazarette, it should hit that someone right below the belly button. Anywhere lower—and it may hit a kneecap; anywhere higher—and it may hit the solar plexus. If it hits even higher, it may hit the funny bone or crack a rib. None of this is helpful for one's continued ability to steer a boat. And so right below the belly button is where you want to hit an inattentive helmsman—if you have to. The gut is fairly immune to blunt trauma, being well protected by a layer of muscle (for those who do sit-ups) and a layer of fat (for those who also regularly exercise with 16-ounce weights). For the upper seating position, the tiller should hit the shin, or the sea boot if one is wearing them. This is painful, but the shin bone is strong and can take it, and the pain is rarely bad enough to force you to neglect your course-keeping duties.

Inside the tiller tube lives the tiller extension. It is made up of two more tubes, which slide inside one another and can be locked together at an arbitrary length by twisting them against each other. At the outer end is a comfortable handle. At the inner end is a hinge; when pulled out of the tiller as far as it will go, the tiller extension can be operated from any angle: seated on a lazarette, or even standing at the lifelines and looking over the side—this being very useful while docking. When pulled out only part of the way, the tiller extension can't pivot and just makes the tiller longer and increases its lever arm. This also makes it possible to steer while sheltering under the dodger as you would during a torrential downpour.

This tiller design allows for a lot of comfortable and useful steering positions: seated facing forward with one arm draped over the tiller; in the lower sitting position facing sideways, with one foot on the tiller; in the upper sitting position, with the tiller extension tucked under the armpit; standing on a lazarette and peering over the top of the dodger (as you have to in fog, when the dodger becomes opaque because it becomes coated with tiny droplets of water); leaning over the lifelines while steering toward the approaching dock; and so on.

There is one more steering position that I would be remiss not to mention: with the tiller swinging between the legs, or tapping against a thigh. When dropping anchor, or weighing anchor, or doing anything at all with the sails, it is very useful to be able to free both hands for the operation, while continuing to steer the boat, and being able to steer with your legs is what makes it possible. I once asked Chris Morejohn what his trick was for tacking the huge genoa on his Hogfish all by himself, and his laconic response was: “A sheet in each hand and the tiller up the ass.” (I am sure that he was speaking figuratively, and that we both reserve our anal sphincters for purely sanitary uses.) Here too the vertical position of the tiller is important: it should rest against the thigh; any higher, and one's continued ability to beget progeny may come into question.

Lastly, there must be a way to fix the tiller at any given angle. This is provided for using a tiller rack, which is a toothed rack mounted directly below the tiller at the back of the cockpit. The tiller has very restricted vertical travel—less than an inch—and is equipped with a spring-loaded detent that allows it to be either all the way up or all the way down. When forced into the lower position, it engages the toothed rack and cannot be moved sideways. This is an essential feature. The rudder is fixed at an angle when heaving to. It is fixed amidships when engaging the autopilot (which takes over the steering at a point between the tiller and the rudders). And it is clamped down at some appropriate angle when temporarily abandoning the steering because there is something more important for you to attend to.


QUIDNON's two anchor rollers are located on two sides of the bow, some feet apart, because with QUIDNON's hull shape anchoring at an angle to wind and waves, splitting them along the hard chine instead of taking them head-on with the bluff bow, produces much more pleasant motion and far less noise.

The anchor chain locker is located underneath the cockpit, with the anchor chains running in a channel and around rollers along the deck. The two chains converge at the cockpit, where, on the starboard side, is a manual anchor winch. The chains then disappear down holes just aft of the anchor winch, and are pulled down into the chain locker by gravity.

Two short snubbers (not shown) can be used to hook the chains right in the cockpit. Of course, a real snubber, fitted right at the bow, is always an excellent idea, and the anchors should always be secured at the bow while underway. But all other anchoring operations can be performed right from the cockpit, while steering and using the engine—a single-handers dream!


The engine is an outboard that is mounted inboard, in a well right behind the cockpit. Instead of tipping up when not in use it slides up on a track. The engine is pulled out of the water using a hoist, the line from which is found among the running rigging.

The hatch over the engine well is slightly recessed and made up of hardwood slats with gaps between them, just like the floor of the cockpit well, so that any seas that wander aboard from the stern find an easy way back down instead of inundating the cockpit and drenching its inhabitants. Inside the engine well, right below the hatch, is a baffle that deflects the flow of water away from the engine while also providing sound insulation.

The engine control box is mounted on the starboard lazarette, just inside the dodger, and includes an integrated shift/throttle lever, a starter button, a kill switch, a fuel pump switch (since there is no convenient way to access a squeeze bulb) and, for the engines that need it, a choke lever.

Running rigging

All of the running rigging enters the cockpit through the front of the dodger and goes through a block of rope clutches. It's all 3/8" 3-strand polypropylene line, and there is a lot of it, because everything is done using blocks instead of winches, the only winch being the anchor winch. The halyards alone are 200 feet apiece. A 600-foot spool of 3/8 3-strand polypropylene, of the sort fishermen use, is around $50; fancy Regatta Braid will run you almost 10 times that.

Since the line is purchased in bulk, it isn't color-coded, so that the only way to identify a line is by looking at the cluck block, which is labeled as follows:

port centerboard hoist
stbd centerboard hoist

engine hoist

fore halyard
aft halyard

fore topping lift
aft topping lift

fore reefing line
aft reefing line

fore sheet
aft sheet

The lines are paired up—fore/aft and port/starboard—because you might actually use them together, raising, reefing and lowering the two sails in tandem, dropping and raising both centerboards at once, and trimming the sheets on both sails together. Hoisting both sails together would take quite a bit of muscle: all hands on deck, and an appropriate chanty to be sung while heaving them up.

After they exit the clutch, the lines disappear into a slot which leads them to a set of take-up reels mounted in a cage at the top of the anchor chain locker, right below the floor of the cockpit well. These are spools, like the ones that rope or heavy-gauge wire comes on when purchased in bulk. Inside the hub of each spool is a loop of neoprene strapping arranged to create a “rubber band motor.” Each spool is spun up using a winch handle to tension the neoprene loop before the bitter end of the line is attached to it, then the spool is released and it spools up all of the slack. Once in a while the neoprene loop will snap and one of the dozen lines fails to disappear below deck; then it's time to lift out the cockpit well floor, grab a winch handle and a spare loop of neoprene, jump down onto the anchor chain and fix it. I believe that this is a small price to pay for not having to live in a rat's nest of line, and I am sure that once you experience this system, the usual ways of handling line will seem absolutely stone-age.


There are handrails (bent and welded out of 1-inch thick-wall stainless steel tubing) that go all the way around the cockpit, so that no matter where you stand or sit there is always a handhold within easy reach. The rails along the sides of the lazarettes and the back of the cockpit double as backrests. The vertical rails on either side of the dodger are helpful when climbing in or out of the cockpit. The horizontal rail along the back of the dodger is used when climbing in or out of the companionway, or to steady yourself while using the instruments under the dodger. The rails that wrap around the front of the dodger help you catch yourself instead of going splat against the windshield when a big wave knocks you off your feet.


Because there is plenty of room on deck, this cockpit design can be scaled based on the height of the intended crew. The only dimensions that are fixed are those of the companionway and the cockpit well.

Minimum height is more important than maximum height; having to stoop a bit or feeling a bit cramped is never lethal, while not being able to reach something essential, or to steady yourself because the handholds are too high or too far apart, very well can be. Women tend to be shorter than men, and rather few women are over six feet tall. And yet I have seen plenty of cockpit layouts designed for someone at least six feet tall—probably a man, and probably a man who expected some poor woman who, chances are, is significantly shorter than he is, to go sailing with him—and to actually enjoy it! This goes double for children: if you expect them to enjoy sailing with feet dangling and nothing within reach to hold on to, then your expectations are a bit unrealistic.

And so it turns out that the best cockpit design must take these considerations into account, making it possible—though not necessarily comfortable—for everyone to do everything. The shortest crew member has to be able to peer over the top of the dodger on a foggy day; the tallest crew member has to be able to stretch out (almost) all the way when lying down in the cockpit. And so the design parameter I plan to plug in everywhere is 5 feet 6 inches, or 168 cm. Of course, it will still be possible to plug in a bigger number when building a QUIDNON that is to be operated by a race of giants, as I am sure it will be.

Thursday, September 10, 2015


Over the past month I have spent some 150 hours sailing—moving south for the winter. This has given me plenty of time to rethink some elements of the QUIDNON design, and to introduce a few improvements. While some are purely products of reflection, others resulted from direct experience with a sailboat design which I found to be inadequate. Here, I will explain the changes in prose. I will come up with updated drawings as time allows.

Wheel vs. Tiller

The sailboat I have been sailing has a very traditional layout: a pedestal at the back of the cockpit, with a wheel, a throttle and a shift lever. On top of the post is a binnacle with a compass. On top of that is an instrument cluster: a GPS chartplotter, a radar and a VHF radio. It seems simple, rational, well designed. But it is also horribly constraining.

The wheel is comfortable to operate from just one position: standing directly behind it. This gets tiresome rather quickly. Other positions—sitting behind the wheel, sitting to the left or to the right, standing in front of it—don't work nearly as well. Some group of minor muscles quickly runs out of its glycogen supply, and you have to try something else—like standing directly behind the wheel again.

Now consider the tiller.

• My favorite position when conditions are calm is to lounge with my back against the back of the cockpit and the tiller protruding from my armpit, with my right or left arm draped over it.

• To steer, I just wave that arm to and fro, not even having to lift it. When the conditions are not calm at all, my favorite position is to tie a neoprene strap to the tiller, and work it with both of my feet to push it away from me.

• When I am pulling up to a dock, I like to stand on one of the cockpit seats—the one closest to the dock—look over the side and steer with my extended foot on the tiller.

• When going upwind, I like to connect an extension to the tiller, sit on the cockpit coamings (on the leeward side, since crew weight distribution doesn't matter on a big boat with a small crew, and the leeward side is more sheltered and more comfortable) and steer using the tiller extension.

• When the autopilot fails (as it does sooner or later), I can run a line from a sheet through a block to the tiller, connect a strap pulling the other way, and then adjust the lengths of the line and the strap until the boat steers itself. This is called “sheet-to-tiller steering,” and Slocum used it during his first ever solo circumnavigation. It doesn't work with wheels.

• One good, inexpensive option for an autopilot is the so-called “tillerpilot.” These are telescoping sticks that run on 12V and incorporate a fluxgate compass, a network interface (NMEA2000) that allows them to work with wind sensors, and clip to a spot on the boat and a spot on the tiller. They don't work with wheels. With wheels, the two options are a “wheel autopilot,” which uses a stepping motor and a belt and works only in calm conditions, and a “below-deck” unit that includes a compressor, a hydraulic ram and a bunch of electronics, and costs a fortune.

• Wheel steering systems have a tendency to break. There is a lot to break. There is typically a key that keeps the wheel from just spinning around on the shaft; if that little piece of metal somehow gets lost, so is your ability to steer. Then there is a chain going down the pedestal, some pulleys, and a cable that goes around the quadrant that actually turns the rudder. Tillers directly connect to the rudder shaft, typically via a hinge.

• There is often the need to fix the rudder in a certain position. With wheels, there is typically a friction knob on the side, which is tightened and loosened. It takes time to operate and never works 100%. The best solution with a tiller is a rack: the tiller clicks down onto a toothed rack; after that it doesn't move at all. This takes no time at all to operate—just push the tiller down onto the rack to fix the rudder, and pull it up again to steer.

The one advantage of wheel over tiller is that wheels can be made to apply a lot more force to the rudder. To apply an equivalent amount of force, a tiller would have to be too long to fit in the cockpit, have too wide a swing range, or require superhuman strength to operate. But a rudder that requires a lot of force to operate is a badly designed rudder. Well-designed rudders are balanced: they have just enough bias so that they trail in the water with the boat moving without fishtailing, and in calm conditions can be deflected with a fingertip.

In heavy weather, even a balanced rudder can suddenly become heavy. This is especially the case when going downwind with waves on the quarter. They tend to roll under the transom, and when they do that water washes over the rudder in the wrong direction—aft to fore—rendering it temporarily inoperative. It also has the effect of slewing the boat around. But this is where a tiller is especially useful. With a wheel, in such conditions it is necessary to quickly spin the wheel while the boat is slewing, and then control it, allowing it to spin back slowly to bring the boat back on course. This is a lot of spinning and controlling, and wears you out in no time. With a tiller, you can be comfortably seated with both of your feet on the tiller. When the big wave rolls under you, you push with your legs, and then offer some resistance to bring the boat back on course.

Cockpit layout

Having spent some 150 hours trying to get comfortable in the cockpit, I had a number of realizations.

• The cockpit can't be too wide. It must be just wide enough for the shortest crew member to be able to sit on one side with the feet on the edge of the seat on the opposite side, knees bent slightly. That, it turns out, is a key ergonomic requirement.

• The cockpit coamings must provide back support. A lot of boats have almost vertical coamings that hit you somewhere in the back with a sharp corner. The worst case scenario is that they hit you near C5 and C6 cervical vertebra. Sail a boat like that long enough, and your arms will go numb. Cockpit coamings have to be high enough so that they fully support the shoulderblades of the tallest crew member when seated upright, and the back of the head when slouched down.

• The angle of the coamings should be laid back at an angle that makes it comfortable to sit with one's back against them, legs extended forward, knees bent. Upright coamings result in something close to a fetal position, and it doesn't work for adults for any length of time.

• The tops of the coamings should provide comfortable seating as well, with the back resting against the lifelines, both along the sides and over the transom. In good conditions these are the best places to sit and enjoy the breeze and the view. These should not be obstructed with shrouds, stays, winches, cleats and other hardware. With QUIDNON there are no shrouds or stays to worry about, and there is just one massive winch—a big 3-speed crab winch that's used as both the anchor which and the halyard winch, and is mounted right in the cockpit for ease of single-handing.


The QUIDNON design shows a big pilot house, but a far more minimalistic layout can provide reasonable comfort in most conditions and result in better sailing performance. The minimal cockpit has a floor that cuts into the space below and drains into the engine well and the anchor chain locker directly below. It has generously high coamings, sides and back, with seats on top of them, with railing that wraps around the seats to provide comfortable back support and a handhold for climbing in and out of the cockpit onto the deck. Sea cloths on the railing can be used in heavy weather. On top is either a canvas bimini or a hard fiberglass roof. In front is a fiberglass-and-lexan dodger, which shelters the companionway hatch.

Running rigging

QUIDNON's running rigging is rather simple, but it can produce a mad tangle of line in the cockpit. A good solution is to have the anchor chain/rode, the halyards and the centerboard lines come in on one side of the companionway hatch, next to the crab winch, and the sheets to come in on the other. The other lines are short and don't produce much of a mess. All of these lines should be provided with clutches. Obviously the anchor chain and rode descend directly down into the anchor locker. But so can the halyards, the centerboard control lines and the sheets, where they come to rest in canvas bags hanging from the top of the anchor locker (in which, it turns out, there is room for everything). To tidy up the cockpit, one just feeds the lines into their respective scuppers in the bottom of the cockpit, and they vanish from view!


Putting the instruments on top of the steering pedestal, it turns out, is a spectacularly bad idea. They are expensive, fragile, and, at that location, in harm's way. In heavy weather someone might get tossed across the cockpit by a big wave, miss a handhold and rip the chartplotter or the radar directly off its mount. A much better place for the instruments is under the dodger (a hard, fiberglass and Lexan dodger) in a box that can be locked. The cockpit layout should be such that the crew member with the shortest armspan can hold the end of the tiller with one hand and operate the instruments with the other.

Remaining questions, previously left unanswered, are: 1. where to put the VHF antenna; and 2. where to put the radome.

The VHF antenna will be mounted on top of the mainmast. The logic there is that although it will only work with the mast up, when the mast is down you are either inshore or close to shore, range is not important, and a handheld VHF will do.

The radome poses a problem, because there is simply nowhere for it to live where it will not be in the way of something—the sails, or the booms, or the running rigging, and still be high up enough and yet still have an unobstructed view.

Deck beams

I previously designed QUIDNON with deck beams—transverse timbers that reinforce the mast tabernacles where they exit the deck—on top of the deck. I have since changed my mind: the deck beams are going to be below deck. Yes, they will cut into the headroom in a couple of places, but I think that this is a much better design:

• Less deck clutter: if on top, the deck beams would cause people to stumble over them in the dark, not to mention complicate the arrangement of deck chairs.

• Better structure: the hull will be formed around two very strong upside-down trapezoids, reinforced at the corners using generous triangular brackets called “knees.”


I problem I have run into in the past is what happens to navigation lights on a sailboat once you take down the masts and motor. You might still have navigation lights (the red-greens that take up 2/3 of view pointing forward, 1/3 (red) on the left and 1/3 (green) on the right. There is also a stern light, white, which takes 1/3 of the view pointing directly back. In my case the red-greens were mounted on the front of the mast, and there was no stern light, so I was left with no navigation lights. But whatever the case the steaming light (white, 2/3 of the view pointing forward) is halfway up the mainmast, and that goes down with the mast, as does the anchor light, 360º, atop the mainmast.

There are two additional problems, which have to do with human nature. There will generally be some sailboats around when you go sailing, but when you take your sailboat motoring, along rivers and canals, you are likely to encounter many more motorboats than sailboats, and naturally the motorboat drivers won't be looking out for sailboats—they will be looking out for other motorboats. Anybody who can drive a boat can read the red-green-white navigation lights, but the steaming light halfway up the mast is not obvious, because motorboats generally have a steaming light directly on top of the pilot house. Nor are they likely to spot your anchor light, hanging up in the heavens 50 feet up where they are definitely not looking, hidden among the fixed planets of the celestial sphere, and if you have no other lights on will narrowly avoid plowing directly into you in the dark. I have learned this the hard way, and now only use the anchor light if I am anchored next to a bunch of sailboats (that have their anchor lights on—a rarety) but I leave the nav lights on all night otherwise. This doesn't seem to raise any questions with anyone, but causes everyone to slow down and proceed with caution because a stationary vessel with nav lights on is an unusual sight.

And so I see absolutely no reason not to fit QUIDNON with the following lights:

• Red-green nav lights on each side of the bow, right below the rail, as shown

• White stern light on the aft edge of the aft arch

• Steaming light on the forward edge of the forward arch

• No anchor light. To achieve the same effect, turn both the steaming and the stern light on at the same time. Their illuminated sectors together add up to 360º.

Other combinations just don't work. Putting lights on masts doesn't work with the masts down. Puttling lights on top of the arches will get them smashed by the boom sweeping across in no time. Putting a steaming light on the front of the foremast will make it snag the sail parrels on the way up and down the mast.

I'll try to come up with updated drawings as time allows.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The final sketch

A lot of little details got tweaked in the process of presenting the various aspects of this design and taking in all the suggestions that came back. The draft (with the appendages up) got even shallower; it is now down to just two feet. The construction technique changed from the original plan, from very a adventurous combination of concrete/plywood/fiberglass to very conventional, proven glue&screw fiberglass-clad plywood core. The bottom acquired copper cladding. Headroom in the pilot house got boosted to six feet (it is, after all, a houseboat, so anything less than six feet of headroom throughout would be simply unacceptable). It acquired gunwales with scuppers, deck beams, and a large raised hatch/skylight in the middle of the deck with boom gallows right above for hoisting cargo in and out of the cabin.

The next phase is to enter the sketches into CAD, and after that will come a scale model, epoxied together out of thin plywood forms milled out on an NC machine, to do stability and towing tests, and to figure out the exact weight and placement of ballast. I might even splurge on an RC set and, since I'll be back in Boston, try sailing it around the dedicated model sailboat testing pool on the Esplanade. My goal is to draw up a full set of drawings together with a set of NC mill paths for the plywood pieces.

After any final comments, this blog is going to sleep until further notice. Since I will announce any new developments right here, please sign up to receive them. It's been fun, and very useful. Thank you all for your comments.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Construction plan

This will be the last post in this series. The design of QUIDNON is far enough along to start entering actual engineering drawings into CAD. The plan is to use an NC mill to cut out quite a lot of the plywood shapes. To be sure, there will still be some pieces that will end up being precision-fitted using a Sawzall and a grinder.

The main assembly technique is what's known as “glue and screw”: some piece of the hull is covered with a thin layer of epoxy, and the next piece is laid over it and screwed down using square-drive stainless steel screws. Each piece to be screwed on is pre-drilled with countersink holes, so that the screws pull the pieces together very tight, squeezing out excess epoxy and creating a very tight bond.

Once the plywood shapes are cut out, construction will proceed roughly as follows.

1. On a large flat surface (preferably a hangar of some sort, with a concrete floor), the outer layer of panels that will make up the perfectly flat deck will be laid out, inner side up. The deck will be made of 18 4x8 panels of 3/8 plywood. Nylon straps will be laid underneath the plywood, to make it possible to pull the hull together, and to lift it by crane when the time comes.

2. The inner layer of panels that make up the deck is then glued&screwed to it. These panels are laid out so that the joints are all staggered nicely. The inner layer's edge is in 1.5" from the outer layer, creating a ledge. The ledge is scraped clean of epoxy after it sets but before it hardens.

3. The first deadlight strip is glued&screwed to the underside of the deck, all around, using the ledge as a guide. The screws are directed at a 45° angle down. Two more layers of deadlight strips are laid down, building up the thickness to 1.2". These are precision machined so that the deadlight holes match up. The outermost strip is 1" narrower than the other two, creating a ledge, which is scraped clean of epoxy.

4. The innermost layers of the topsides, the bottom and the transom are glued&screwed together, using 6"-wide strips of epoxy to cover the seams on the inside, and laid aside.

5. The bulkheads are assembled and framed using fir 2x4's, which are cut to the right bevel using a table saw, and glued&screwed to the underside of the deck.

6. The pre-assembled topsides and transom are maneuvered into position and glued&screwed to the deadlight strips, using the ledge as a guide, but the screws are not yet tightened.

7. The pre-assembled bottom is overlaid over the bulkheads, maneuvered into position, and screwed down at the bow.

8. The sides and the bottom are pulled together using straps and bits of angle iron to align the chines. Open stretches of the joint between the topsides and the bottom are saturated with epoxy. The screws joining the topsides to the deadlight strip are tightened, and the epoxy is allowed to set.

9. Once the epoxy has set, the straps are removed and the places on the chines which they masked are saturated with epoxy. The inside corner of the chines is filleted with thickened epoxy.

10. The hull is built up by glue&screwing additional layers of plywood to the topsides, the transom and the bottom. After each layer is added, the chines are fiberglassed with a layer of fiberglass tape.

11. Once the hull is built up to full thickness (3 layers of 1/2" plywood all around, 4 at the bottom). The chine runners are built up. The outermost layer of the bottom contains chine runners, to which additional crescents of plywood are epoxied and glassed to build up the chine runners to a 2" thickness.

12. Fiberglass mat is nailed to the topsides using bronze annular nails, saturated with epoxy, and ground off along the deadlight strips and the chines.

13. Three layers of fiberglass cloth are draped over the entire structure, deadlight strips included, and saturated with epoxy.

14. The bottom is barrier-coated, then bronze sheets are laid on the bottom and screwed down, each screw bedded with 3M 5200.

15. The topsides and the deadlight strips are faired and sanded for a flat surface, then primed and painted. The topsides are painted black for the best passive solar performance. The deadlight strips are left with the bright white primer, because they will be overlaid with bronze lexan which will give them color.

16. The hull is flipped over. The deck is covered with fiberglass mat (nailed down with bronze annular nails) and saturated with epoxy.

17. Three layers of fiberglass cloth are draped over the deck and saturated.

18. Aluminum diamond plate is overlaid on the deck and screwed down with screws bedded with 3M 5200.

19. Deck beams and gunwales (which are steamed out of solid hardwood) are lag-bolted up through the deck and to each other, sealed with epoxy, primed and painted.

20. The hull is now complete, ready to receive the pilot house and the cabin can be outfitted.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Electrical system

The primary purpose of QUIDNON is to serve as a floating residence. As such, it has to provide all the usual services that normally involve electricity: refrigeration, lighting, communications and the ability to charge mobile devices (cell phone, tablets, laptops). Where the energy for all this comes from depends on where the boat is. While marinas provide shore power (in North America this is either 30A or 50A 110VAC), this power is unavailable when living at anchor or at a mooring (the two most economical ways to live, since in many places, in Northeastern US especially, marina slip fees can add up to almost as much as renting an apartment on land.

With this in mind, I plan to equip QUIDNON for both marina living and for anchoring out. The elements I intend to use to piece together this system are all proven ones—I have used them all and found that they work and hold up extremely well. They are also all relatively cheap, by virtue of the fact that the word "marine" does not occur in their product descriptions.

When living at the marina, the usual procedure is to plug in a shore power cable and leave the battery charger on all the time. This keeps the batteries topped off all the time and in the fully charged state they last a very long time. Should shore power ever fail (because of a black-out or a transformer blow-out) the batteries provide uninterrupted power. When setting up a boat for marina living, it is very important to replace the stock shore cable plug with a SmartPlug, because the stock plug tends to burst into flames and burn the boat down. This almost happened to me—twice!

When living at a mooring or at anchor, QUIDNON has to generate its own electricity. During the summer months solar panels provide plenty of juice, but during the winter, when there is little sun, and when the solar panels are often covered up by snow, having a wind generator is very helpful. The usual procedure on yachts is to mount the wind generator atop a 10-foot pole, but that really doesn't get it up where the wind is strong, limiting its usefulness. On QUIDNON, there is not even a place to put a 10-foot pole that wouldn't interfere with the sails or the sheets, and so the only place to put wind generators is atop the masts, where there is room for two of them. This configuration is not recommended while sailing out on the ocean: the amount of windage and weight up top would pose a danger. But since the masts are easy to take down and put up, it's quite possible to have two configurations available, one for shoreside living, with two wind generators up top, and another for cruising, with the mastheads taken up with VHF antennae, nav/anchor lights and a wind instrument.

My favorite choice for a wind generator is a Sunforce 44444 which puts out a maximum of 400W (though it hardly ever blows that hard). Previous versions haunted the harbor with an interesting wailing/keening/whispering noise, which scared off seagulls, cormorants and neighbors alike, but the carbon fiber blade design has since been improved, and the latest version is quiet enough to use in a marina.

For solar panels, my current favorite choice is Renegy's 100W polycrystalline panels.

They are manufactured with a strong aluminum frame, and bolt down nicely to aluminum square channel using the supplied brackets, making installation easy. QUIDNON's pilot house roof can accommodate 8 of these, with room to spare:

Then there is the question of where to store all this power. My solution, which I know works well from experience, is to use Trojan T-105 6V 125Ah batteries. I plan to put 8 of them, in 2 banks, in a large, plastic-lined, vented battery box down in the bilge, under the cabin sole.

The two requirements for the battery enclosure are that it must never leak acid into the bilge, and that any hydrogen gas generated while charging is vented overboard (hydrogen is explosive under a wide range of concentrations and its flames are hot and invisible).

With all the sundry pieces added in (charger, charge controller, inverter, shore cable and plug, circuit breakers, wiring and outlets) the budget for the entire electrical system comes in just under $6,000 or 12% of the total budget, which is quite reasonable for a comfortable off/on-grid set-up.

There is one caveat that needs to be made with regard to all electrical/electronic systems, which is that they all work until they don't, and when they stop working there is nothing to be done but replace the component that failed. In this they are quite unlike most other parts of the boat, which can be repaired, finessed, jury-rigged, stitched up, plugged up and so on. All can be said about the reliability of an electrical system is that it works at the moment, but this is no guarantee that it will still be working the next moment, no matter how "reliable" it's supposed to be or how much you paid for it. Thus, there is no way to design anything electrical to last for the life of the boat, and there is nothing to be done about it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Rudder Linkage Rethink

Jon from Virginia asked a really good question: What happens if one of the rudders gets hit sideways by something or other? Which part of the linkage gives way?

Well, this is something that does happen. I once had a towing rode get looped around the rudder blade, and it snapped my autopilot in half. After a bit of head-scratching, I came up with the following arrangement:

The stick pointing toward you is one of the tillers, which will actually be made of 1.5" round stock, but I am showing it as 1" square stock so that the drawing is easier to make and understand. The tiller is interrupted by 3 hinged plates (the axes of the hinge pins are shown in red). Front and back plates are welded to the tiller, and the front part of the tiller flops back and forth freely on the hinges. To stop that from happening under normal conditions, the two sides of the tiller are held together using a spring (here shown as a pink rubber band, to make it easier to draw, and also to be funny).

Under normal conditions, the spring is tight enough so that the hinges do not open. But under extreme overload conditions, the spring stretches, and one of the two hinges opens up, allowing the tiller to bend. When the extreme overload is removed, the spring snaps the plates back together, and all is well again.

In the real set-up, the spring will be tensioned using a bolt, to make the action adjustable. I will probably make it extra-tight to start with, then make it looser as I sail until it becomes a bit too loose, then tighten it up some, and leave it that way.

Nice feature of this set-up are:

• that the rudder linkage will not only refuse to destroy itself when a rudder blade is hit from the side, but
• that it will still be trying to steer, as well as possible under the circumstances,
• that one rudder going out commission temporarily will not affect the ability to steer with the other rudder, and
• that it will snap back into shape spontaneously and go right back to work once the overload condition is past.

Lastly, there is the need to do "back-end alignment" to make sure that the two rudder blades are perfectly symmetrical and don't cause any extra drag. To do this, I intend to add a bolt and a jam nut that goes through the outer one of the three plates on one of the tillers and pushes against a divet drilled into the next plate, opening the hinge up a crack.

I feel much better about it now.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Steering linkage

Because there are two rudders, and because they are angled out, to be maximally effective when the boat is heeled over, the steering linkage is rather intricate. Not counting the rudders and the wheel, there are 5 moving parts. The tie-rod and the aft whipstalk will be fabricated using 1-inch aluminum square stock, 1x¼" stainless steel strips and #10 stainless steel mechanical screws. The tillers will be made of 1.5" aluminum rod with flats milled into the ends at the right angles for attaching the stainless steel strips. The connections will be made using ¼" stainless steel bolts and Acetal washers. The entire assembly is intended to last for the life of the boat without any maintenance.

One interesting feature of this linkage is that it makes it possible to switch between wheel steering and tillerpilot steering at the pedestal. The wheel can be disconnected from the steering linkage simply by pulling back on it, causing the pinion gear splined to its shaft to disconnect from the rack which it drives. This is useful, because it lessens the inertial load on the tillerpilot from the angular momentum of the wheel. My preferred tillerpilot (Simrad TP32) can generate up to 100 lbs of force, but with considerable power drain and wear. With the wheel disconnected, the force required from it will be low, because the linkage is of lightweight aluminum and the rudders are balanced.

Another interesting feature this linkage makes possible is the ability to slow down the boat by toeing in the two rudders. That's right, unlike just about every other boat, QUIDNON will have a brake lever! The lever at the steering pedestal will drive a cable leading aft, which will act on the steering linkage to toe in the rudders. This feature will be useful when running downwind in overly boisterous conditions, because it will slow down the boat while pulling down the transom, lessening the likelihood of broaching or pitch-poling, and making it unnecessary (in most conditions) to use any of the usual techniques for slowing the boat down, such as trailing warps or deploying a drogue or a sea anchor.

Referring to the schematic diagram below, the green vertical plane on the left is the transom. The two rudder shafts are mounted to the outside of it, using brackets. Each rudder shaft is joined to a tiller through a horizontal pivot (axes of the pivot points are shown in blue) and each tiller is joined to one end of a tie-rod using vertical pivots. At its center the tie-rod is joined to the aft whip-stalk using a two-axis pivot (left/right and fore/aft). Steering action is indicated using red and green arrows (red for starboard, green for port).

The aft whip-stalk is connected to the steering shaft through a fore-and-aft pivot. The steering shaft is mounted to the deck by brackets and rocks left/right along the centerline of the boat. It penetrates the aft wall of the pilot house and runs forward to the steering pedestal.

The forward whipstalk is connected directly to the steering shaft inside the pedestal. At the top of the forward whipstalk is a rack, which is moved left/right by a pinion gear splined to the wheel shaft. The forward whip-stalk also holds a pin (not shown) for mounting a tillerpilot. Before engaging the tillerpilot, the tip of its telescoping arm is snapped onto the pin, and the wheel is pulled back on its shaft, disengaging the pinion from the rack in order to reduce the load on the tillerpilot.

Magenta arrows indicate the action of the brake lever. When actuated, it introduces a bend into the aft whipstalk, making it shorter. In turn, this causes the two tillers to pivot down. Because of the angle of the rudder posts, this has the effect of towing in the rudder blades by a few degrees.

Referring to the diagram above, the axes of the tillers incorporate a 10º twist, each in the opposite direction. Because of this deviation from horizontal, when the tie-rod (shown here in cyan) is pulled down, the rudder posts (yellow) rotate inward. When the rudder blades are towed in, they pull down the transom and induce drag. Note that it will still be possible to steer the boat even with the rudders toed in.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Concrete Bottom Rethought

I haven't studied concrete to any great extent—up until now. It is ubiquitous, and is one of the most ancient and well-understood construction materials, right after mud brick and plaster. It has a bad reputation as a boatbuilding material because of all the failed ferrocement projects, but that's not concrete, that's cement plaster over wire mesh. I was planning to do something different: create a steel-reinforced concrete slab for the bottom. And so I delved into the details on engineering concrete slabs, and came up with an answer that didn't please me at all.

Concrete has excellent compressive strength, and unreinforced concrete blocks can be stacked miles high before the bottom-most blocks gets crushed. But its strength under tension is more or less nonexistent, and to avoid placing it under tension ancient builders had a rule that the compressive force has to be concentrated within the middle third of a column. Modern builders work around this problem by making concrete into a composite, by embedding a rebar cage or mesh in a concrete slab, with enough thickness on either side so that when, under load, the armature stretches, the slab bends hardly at all. Because, it did bend, cracks would instantly open up on the convex side, letting in moisture, causing the rebar to corrode, expand, and cause “spalling” (meaning the concrete structure falls apart). What's more, this is bound to happen eventually in any case, and so reinfoced concrete slabs are engieered for eventual failure by being over-reinforced and under-cemented, because then they give warning of impending disaster in the form of cracks, as opposed to failing catastrophically.

Neither “eventual failure” nor “failing catastrophically” sounded good to me, and so I set out to calculate the required concrete slab thickness for QUIDNON's bottom, and came up with 6 inches. That translates to 16 tons of weight, not counting the rebar, the sides, and all the other structures I wanted to cast into the bottom. With all of that, the weight would push 20 tons of ballast, and that's just too much.

Also keep in mind that nobody has ever tried to join a concrete bottom to a plywood top, so I would be doing something rather experimental, if not to say adventurous. And adventurousness is, to me, akin to incompetence: I like my engineering tasks to be as boring as possible. The fun part comes after I do my boring engineering work, build it, and hand it over to other people to try to destroy. And find that they can't without trying really really hard. In general, there are two approaches to solving engineering problem: look it up (best) and guess the answer (not as good). In this case, I would only know that I guessed right if I manage to sail QUIDNON in all sorts of conditions and observe that nothing catastrophic happens, so I'd rather adhere to the much safer “look it up” strategy.

And so I decided to backtrack, and make the bottom out of plywood and fiberglass. The boat still needs ballast. There will be 5.8 tons of water ballast, which is good, but most of it is forward of the center-line. It needs to be balanced by about as much ballast aft. It works out to a 1-foot-thick slab of reinforced concrete located aft of the centerboard trunks, between the trunks and the aft cabins, under the galley, the heads and the companionway ladder. It will incorporate a rebar cage, located about 2 inches up from the bottom of the slab. That's because this concrete slab will serve as the mast step for the mainmast, taking a compression load from it, which will stretch the rebar at the bottom while compressing the concrete at the top. Here it is, shown in purple:

In addition to providing a counterbalance to the water ballast and serving as a mast step, the concrete slab will provide thermal mass. I will pour it over a few layers of dry fiberglass cloth encapsulated in plastic, to thermally insulated it from the hull and from the seawater below, and I will provide a couple of air conduits through it. One of them will be used for the exhaust of a rocket stove, to heat it up; the other will be used as part of the interior ventilation system, to keep the cabin warm. I will cover the rocket stove design in a future post.

As for the foremast step, that will just be a fat stick of wood spanning the width of the hull. I'll fiberglass the bottom of the stick, to take the tension load, so that the load on the stick itself is purely compressive.

As far as joining the bottom to the sides, I intend to follow the procedure that Chris Morejohn used on HOGFISH and his other designs: screw, glue and tape. I don't have his drawings with me, but from memory it looks something like this:
The edges of the plywood are screwed together, the joint is saturated with thickened epoxy with a high-strength adhesive filler, then fiberglass tape is applied over the joint, and then the procedure is repeated, screwing and gluing each additional layer of plywood until the right thickness is reached. Then the whole structure gets covered with fiberglass mat, which is nailed down using bronze annular nails, and saturated with epoxy. Then three layers of fiberglass cloth are applied over that. Then the topsides are made smooth using fairing compound, primed and painted. In the case of QUIDNON, the bottom will receive a layer of copper cladding, so that it never needs painting.

"What a boring design!" you might say. But that's how I like it. The fun part will be in seeing how it performs in big waves and lots of wind.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Boats for post-cheap oil survival

This is a guest post from Ian Swan. As some of you know, I have sold my shoreside residence, and for more than a year now I have been living aboard and sailing up and down the east coast of the US. I have done this both as a lifestyle choice and as a way to minimize costs, including fuel costs, and to maximize the available options. For many of you, such a dramatic change of habits is out of the question. But this is not to say that you should neglect to look at boats as an important element of your post-collapse preparations. Ian's article takes this subject, which for most people resides in the realm of daydreams, and brings it down to the level of practical reality. Unlike many sailing experts that might try to impress you with their opinions, Ian knows his stuff, and, very importantly, he isn't trying to sell you anything. So if you are one of the many people who think that having a "just in case" boat might be a good idea, but have not acted on it, this article is for you.

To introduce myself: I am a New Zealander living near the coast in the North Island. I also lived for nine years in the South Pacific Islands, where I was able to observe primitive, third world living conditions. I share the view that peak oil is going to have a big effect on our lifestyles, and the simultaneous arrival of economic troubles and climate change is setting up a "perfect storm". If things collapse as Dmitry, I, and many others are expecting, you may find yourself in the same situation as a third world hunter (fisherman), gatherer, and farmer. That was the normal situation for many in the South Pacific Islands when I lived there. I'm not saying that we will return to the stone age, or even to the dark ages, but cheap oil -- the basis on which the edifice of our current society is built -- is gone, and the debt bomb is about to explode at the same time. This combination could create a tipping point that could cast you into an economic and social situation which will rival the Great Depression. If you agree with this (and if you are visiting this site it suggests you might) then you should make some preparations, at least in your mind, about what you would do, and how you might survive in this scenario.

Specifically, you might want to ponder the question of food. It has always struck me how much easier it is to get protein from the sea by fishing, and gathering shellfish, crabs, and so on, compared with land-based hunting and gardening. The same applies to a lesser degree to a lake or a large river. There is always food to be had where land meets water, it's a particularly productive environment, once things settle down in a post collapse environment, living near water will offer many opportunities for fishing and hunting, and travel by water. One of the keys to exploiting the sea coast or a lake for food is a boat, or a canoe, and this brings me to the point of this article: we have an opportunity to prepare for post-oil and post-consumer society by getting an appropriate boat, or, better yet, several appropriate boats, as I have.

The use of boats as a means of transport should also be considered. In common with Dmitry, I believe that sail is the way to go. If the boat is small enough, then rowing or sculling can be the source of auxiliary power. The smaller the boat, the more effective and practical this manual propulsion can be.

This article is not intended to be an introduction to boating, so if boats, and especially sailboats, are outside your experience, then I suggest that you get some books on the subject. Older books may be better, since what I am suggesting here is not particularly modern or high tech.

If your experience is with power boats, then I would suggest that you need to change your thinking. The cost and availability of fuel may soon make a modern powerboat a useless asset. The large, high speed "fizz boat" is the pinnacle of gross, wasteful overconsumption of oil-based fuel. Fuel consumption in big, fast powerboats can sometimes be measured in gallons per minute, and it is certainly many gallons per hour. They make Hummers look good.

There is an opportunity right now to try and get used sailboats and sails, which can often be had for very little. A great place to start is your local Craig's list. A boat is quite a big item, so you don't want to have to go far to get one, or the cost of delivery will become significant. If the boat is a real bargain, it may be worth traveling to get it. Even if the hull itself is worthless, what's on it may be very valuable indeed. For instance, the modern Dacron sail is a dramatic improvement over a canvass/cotton sail in terms of durability and function. If, at some time in the future, when modern synthetic fiber is no longer available or affordable, you try to fit out a sailboat, you will curse your lack of foresight in not obtaining a cheap old Dacron sail. Oars are not cheap or easy to make either, so if you see some cheap used oars, grab them.

Think about what might happen to you and your family in a collapse scenario, and also think about what boat might be useful for your location and situation. Even if you live miles from water, have you seen how useful boats become if you are caught in a flood? Right now, there is the opportunity to buy, or even to get for free, old sailboats that are sitting unused and deteriorating in backyards. I know this because I have collected quite a few of them myself, often for a fraction of the value of their fittings and construction costs. One of the reasons for this is that most people do not want small sailboats any more: they want big yachts or high performance racing sailboats such as Lazers and Hobie cats, which leaves the older class of boats unloved and unwanted. Owners also do not want wood, or plywood, for the maintenance problem; so these go cheaply too. There are two types of sailboats available that I think are most suited to the "survivalist" and these are the small trailer sailer and the small sailing dinghy. I am not talking about a boat to live on, but a boat that you can use for fishing, perhaps to make short coastal passages, on lakes and rivers: something that might carry you plus a small load of cargo for trade if such conditions arose. A boat has huge carrying capacity compared to a cart, and, once it is supported by the virtually frictionless water, takes very little energy to move. The trailer boat is mobile, compared to a boat on a mooring or at a marina, and mobility gives you choice of location. The ongoing cost and worry of boats sitting in the water is a killer. I don't recommend them, unless you know that you are going to use them a lot, and have plenty of money. A boat sitting on a trailer, under a tarp, in your back yard, will cost you nothing.

If you study the canal boat industry, you will discover that boats have enormous energy efficiency and cargo weight advantages over the horse and cart and the pack horse. The canal boat was only replaced by rail because of its low speed. Take away cheap oil, and the boat will make an instant comeback as a freight carrier. Take away the roads, and suddenly the rivers and the seacoast will provide the only access. I grew up in a town called "Te Awamutu". Which literally translates from the Maori language as "The Path End". It was the point at which the local river was no longer deep enough to navigate by canoe. That's the way it was; and it soon may become that way again.

The practical, useful sailboat you should be looking out for is a 10 to 14-foot open sailing dinghy or a 14- to 18-foot cabin trailer sailer. These are boats of a size that you can manhandle to launch if necessary. You could drag then up a beach on rollers with manpower or block and tackle. A 20 foot boat is getting pretty big, but may be manageable if you have lots of strong men. You can get a plywood boat very cheaply, but the reason for this is that it may be rotten. In fact, I usually assume that it is, and only agree to pay salvage value. If it is on a trailer, the value of the trailer may be as much as the boat. What comes with the boat, in terms of gear and fittings, may be worth even more than the boat. I paid $500 for a derelict 21-foot boat that had an anchor, chain and rode that were worth $250 second hand and easily $500 to replace new. It also had a mast and rigging, two sets of sails (one brand new), lots of stainless steel fittings, and safety gear. I will probably never repair this boat, but I have it blocked up as a little emergency "cabin". Did I mention that it has 500 lbs of lead in the keel? (Lead now goes for about 90 cents a pound.) All this gear is worth something to me as I have other boats worthy of repair. In a survival situation, all this stuff will be gold. To be a collector like me, you have to have space to store the boats, and I am lucky as I have a small farm and some old barns. But there must be a few of you out there who have the space to store one boat at least.

An 11 or 12-foot dinghy is a good size for a fishing boat that can be sailed or rowed. A boat like this could be either plywood or fiberglass. Fiberglass will cost you more and be heavier, but it will also be virtually indestructible if it is well-made. An aluminum mast, with stainless wire rigging, and a Dacron sail are all standard on modern sailing dinghies. There should be a mainsheet and a pulley set for the mainsail, which vary in quality and can be expensive to buy new, and maybe a foresail jib with sheets. In New Zealand there is a dinghy of this type, called a Sunburst. The Mirror Dinghy would be the British equivalent. It was designed in the 1960s as a "family boat": mom, dad and the kids could go out for a sail or fishing. The kids could learn to row and to sail. It could take a little 3-horsepower outboard for longer trips. Great concept! What happened? It became a racing class. The boats were "refined," made self-bailing, no seats, redesigned for speed and minimum weight, and now cost $14,000 for a competitive boat. They are fragile and completely useless for fishing. This has been the pattern for modern sailing dinghies: they are fast, unstable, and uncomfortable. Most are unsuited to use as our "survival" utilitarian boat. You might be able to adapt one of these racing machines, making it useful by reducing the sail, fitting oarlocks for oars and adding seats and floorboards to give it strength. But even if you can't, at least you will get a mast and sails. I actually got one racing skiff with 4 sets of sails for $100. I figure the sails could be used on a big family trailer sailer for light wind days. But there are also perfectly reasonable sailboats out there if you look.

Whatever you can get in the way of a hull, a mast and some sails will be vastly supeior to anything that you might construct if you were to start from scratch. Of course is possible to build a wooden boat from timbers, make a mast from a straight pole, weave a sail from flax or cotton, and make the rigging from wire and rope. But this is a skilled task way beyond most of us, and I can assure you that having some kind of boat ready made -- any kind -- will be a lot easier. What I see as most important in a collapse situation is being able to make the transition from being completely dependent on the supermarket as your main food source to becoming self sufficient, and from the motor car and airplane to the horse and the boat for transport (and bicycles while they last). Eventually we, or the community we are part of, will have to re-learn the skills to make things from scratch with hand tools, and to croos oceans hand-made boats, as we had done for centuries. That's fine, but meanwhile, in the short term, we need to eat, and there is good fishing on that reef a mile offshore.

So if you have a driveway or a back yard you can use to store a boat, start looking now. A good size for trailer yacht is in the 16 to 22-foot range; they run up to 25-30 feet but these are expensive monsters, and you would need a big SUV or truck to haul and launch them. You would have to pay more for a fiberglass hull, but if you look on Craig's List or other local sources you will find the odd one going cheap for various reasons. Sometimes the owner just wants to move an unused boat and does not have the time or energy to "sell" it. Wives sometimes have a role in these decisions to sell boats. You just have to be there at the right time. Right now, people are under pressure financially, and need to sell their unused stuff, which may include their boat. I have bought some very well-made plywood boats a fiberglass outer layer (GOP, glass over plywood). I have also seen hulls that you could punch your fist through, as they were not made of marine ply. I see smaller, older fiberglass (GRP, glass reinforced plastic) trailer yachts on Craigs list in the $1000 to $2500 range. A new boat, provided someone is still making them, would cost $20,000 or more. Depending on your level mechanical skill, an outboard motor that comes with the boat may be worth having, especially if it is a simple 2-stroke. A new outboard may cost more than an old boat. Post cheap oil, an old, inefficient 2-stroke outboard may be expensive to run, but even when fuel is very expensive, a small engine may be a lifesaver when needed in an emergency, and worth having. If you only use it as a backup, fuel cost is minimal.

The trailer yacht usually has a small cabin with sleeping space for two (or more, but they have to be very good friends) and a minimal setup for cooking. It can be used for overnight trips, and is secure and dry in bad weather. It can be used as a sleeping "cabin" even on land. If it is raining and blowing hard, it will be more secure than a tent. There is usually a lifting centerboard, which allows the boat to be beached and sailed in shallow waters, which is a very useful feature. A conventional keelboat is very restricted as to where it can navigate. It is possible to capsize some trailer sailboats as the ballast is usually not as massive as with a keelboat, so be aware these boats are not bombproof, and sail conservatively until you really know what you are doing. With these boats, you have to be aware of what's happening with the wind and react quickly and appropriately. They are not ocean going yachts unless so equipped and sailed by experienced sailors. The reason I suggest older and second hand boats is that you get a lot of boat for your money. You don't want to spend a lot on something you might not use. Recycling is always a good principle.

Even if you plan to sail whenever possible, fuel efficiency is still an important consideration. One small trailer sailboat I bought has a small air cooled 3HP diesel engine in it. I would think you could hardly get a more energy efficient fishing boat than this. At slow speed, it goes for miles on a pint of diesel. The problem with many fishing vessels these days is that the cost of fuel is not covered by the value of the catch. Whole fleets of them sit tied up at the dock. This relates to the depletion of fish stocks as well as to fuel costs, but the result is the same: only a very appropriately sized and fuel efficient boat will remain economic on a cost/catch ratio. I think that my boat, with sail backup, might actually be efficient enough. The key to the fuel efficiency of small trailer sailboats is that they are displacement hulls being driven at less than their hull speed. This means they are slow, 5-6 mph, but very efficient. The faster you try to go, the less efficient they will be. In certain conditions, you can use motor and sail together. When fuel gets really expensive, motoring in a small boat may actually be the most efficient way of maximizing the load/mile of the fuel. It won't be fast, but it may be cost effective.

Other boat options to consider, which may be appropriate to individual situations, are kayaks, canoes, folding boats (Portabote is one company that makes them), and inflatable boats. I recently bought an inflatable kayak with the idea that I could carry it deflated on my back on a bike explore waterways that I can bike to. I can use it as a platform for spear fishing or shellfish collecting. Kayaks and canoes are good for small shallow rivers and lakes and can be carried by hand across or around obstacles. But people also make long ocean trips in appropriately equipped kayaks, and they make good fishing platforms with the right gear. Modern plastic kayaks are very durable.

Inflatable boats can be stored in small spaces, carried more easily deflated, and are very stable and great load carriers. They are harder to row, especially upwind, because of their high windage. When I was in the islands, I had a 10-foot inflatable which I could carry inflated on my back. I could carry it down steep banks and launch in places you could never get a trailer. The boat would carry 4 men and scuba gear for 4. A similar size hard dinghy would not do that safely. It was appropriate to the task and situation. But an inflatable is not as durable or long-lasting as aluminum or fiberglass, and is only good as a short-term survival boat. Portabotes, on the other hand, are made of thick dense plastic and fold up. You can row them and there is the possibility of a small sail, or a small motor. They are quite durable, and may be appropriate for your circumstances. Have a look at them on their website.

I hope I have given you some food for thought. The time to prepare is now, an the time to practice self sufficiency is now. And besides, boating and fishing are fun, an what could be a better incentive than that?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

What's new in square boats

I. Y. Repin
Barge Haulers on the Volga
Long-time readers of this blog probably know that there are such things in the world as square boats, and that they tend to do all that intricately modeled boats do, better and for a lot less money, plus they have a host of other advantages. But such knowledge is rare, even among sailors. I speak from experience, having recently spent a fair amount of time working on a square boat—my old Hogfish, which I have sold, and which is hauled out in a boatyard, being readied for her next tour of duty in the Caribbean and then, via the Canal, the Pacific. As I worked, various types of boaty/yachty people would come up to me and ask me questions. The typical question was “What is this thing?” usually followed by a comment, such as “It looks really unusual.”

Friday, January 23, 2015

Keeping costs down

The ways I have found to save money on this project are too numerous to list. Here are some of the highlights.

Not using marine grade plywood and using exterior-grade AC plywood instead will save $13,000.

Not using expensive veneers or solid hardwoods in the cabin paneling, and using painted plywood and plastic laminates for countertops and tabletops will save around $2000.

Linoleum tile for the cabin sole will save a few thousand.

Not using portlights but using deadlights covered over with lexan will save at least $3000.

Using concrete for ballast saves a lot. Lead is around $15 per pound for wheel weights (a convenient form); concrete is $0.25 a pound. A 3" slab of concrete will weigh around 17,000 lbs, or $4250. The lead equivalent would have cost $255,000.


There will be about 60 sheaves in a number of blocks for routing all the lines, over a dozen fairleads (rounded holes for feeding lines through without resistance or chafe. If purchased from a marine parts supplier, each sheave works out to about $30, or around $120. So I plan to make my own. A 3.5" diameter Acetal (Delrin) rod is about $50 a foot; grooved on a lathe, chopped into 1" disks and drilled through the center, each foot length makes 10 sheaves, at $5 a sheave. To make blocks, 1"x1/4" aluminum bar is drilled and bent into various shapes, then bolted together using 1/4" stainless steel bolts and washers. The cost savings are around 60%.

Most sailboats use fairly thick double-braided Dacron line, which is quite expensive. QUIDNON will use 1/4" 3-strand nylon for the sheets, $60 total. For everything else, 3/8" polypropylene "trucker's rope" will suffice, about $150 total.


A great deal of expense goes into "marine-grade" wiring and electrical fixtures. Marine-grade means tinned wire rather than stranded copper. Experience shows it to be unnecessary. The cheapest way to wire a boat is to use heavy-duty extension chords. An AC circuit beaker panel is around $150 from home depot; a similar-featured marine-grade one is around $350. The situation is similar for DC circuitry; marine grade parts more than twice the cost of RV parts.


The most cost-effective solution is to use PEX plumbing, available from Home Depot. Runs of pipe will be kept short by locating both the heads and the galley close together and directly aft of the water tanks. Instead of deck fills for the water tanks there will be hose connectors hidden behind plates set into the topsides. These will make it possible to use tarps stretched over dinghy forks for rainwater collection while at anchor. The two sides of the pilot house roof will drain into their respective tanks via additional runs of hose.


Having used both a regular marine toilet and a composting one, I have decided that I hate both, but that I hate the regular marine toilet even more. This is normal; toilets aboard small boats always elicit strong emotions and lots of discussion. The least offensive solution I can think of is as follows:

There are two seats. The one for “number one” is plumbed directly into the shower sump and drained overboard immediately. This is not illegal; storing and dumping urine is illegal in some harbors; urinating directly into the water is not. The seat for “number two” will use a two-bucket system: while one is being used for collection, the other is composting away, and when the time comes to dump its contents (overboard or in the marina dumpster, as local conditions dictate) it is light and looks and smells like soil.

The cost of this system is the cost of the plywood shelf on which the seats are installed ($20 finished) plus two 5-gallon buckets ($6), two toilet seats ($12), a computer fan ventilating the buckets ($12). The rest is odds and ends: a length of sanitation hose and some 12V wiring to hook up the fan, a large funnel and some sanitation hose to hook up the drain for the #1 toilet seat.

The "marine" alternative is a marine toilet ($140 for the cheapest one), holding tank, macerator pump, deck fitting for pump-out, through-hulls for raw water intake for flushing and discharge (while at sea), lots of hose, electronic holding tank overflow sensor (the most important part of the whole system, believe me!) lots of sanitation hose... ugh!


The entire instrumentation budget is around $3000. It will include a GPS chartplotter with a touchscreen, radar, depth sounder/fishfinder, VHF radio and autopilot with sail-to-compass and sail-to-wind capabilities. An AIS receiver integrated with the chartplotter (which displays ships' names right on the chart, together with their radar blip) would cost an additional $300 or so.

With all these various cost savings, there is a good chance that the total sail-away price of this boat will come in under $50,000, my labor not included.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Deck and pilot house

Most sailboats have low topsides, making them look sleek and sexy. But then the deck ends up too low to walk under down below without having to stoop. To compensate, most of them have a silly little structure called a cabin-top, which is basically an elongated box to accommodate your head while you make your way through the cabin. Many designers streamline the shape of the cabin-top. This adds nothing to the aerodynamics of the hull, while making it more likely that somebody will slip and fall while stumbling around on a wet and slippery deck. The narrow little passageways on both sides of the cabin-top, called the side-decks, are often too narrow for two people to get past each other.

On QUIDNON the topsides are high enough to provide 6 feet of headroom down below, and to keep most of the salt spray off the deck when sailing. There is no cabin-top because the deck is a flush deck—from one side of the boat all the way to the other. It is flat, not “whale-backed,” so that people can stroll about the deck with a comfortably horizontal surface under their feet. And I want to make every effort to keep it relatively uncluttered, so that it can serve as many different functions as there are situations in life.

But that, it turns out, is quite a challenge. The unavoidable obstructions are the following.

1. Two anchor rollers at the bow, with shallow channels made of SeaBoard (HDPE plastic) leading the chain past two additional vertical-axis rollers which deflect the chain from each bow roller to the anchor winch in the cockpit. The bow rollers are angled down, so that to let go the anchor it is sufficient to release the chain. This arrangement allows a single-hander to steer the boat while simultaneously laying out or hauling in the anchor, making single-handed anchoring in crowded anchorages less of an adventure and less of a menace to society. The reason the anchor rollers are offset to the sides is that, given its blunt bow, QUIDNON would make continuous slapping noises if anchored directly from the bow, whereas if anchored from the offset rollers it will cut through the waves with one of its hard chines and ride quietly.

2. All the lines to control the sails and the centerboards go to the pilot house. All but one of them go through three sets of sheaves; the foresail sheet requires one more so as not to interfere with the pilot house door. For each mast, these include:

• Halyard, with a 4-part purchase between the masthead and the shackle that attaches to the yard.
• Sheet, which goes to the sheet block. For the foresail, the sheet block is located on the boom gallows; for the mainsail, it is mounted on the roof of the pilot house.
• Aft topping lift, which is used to lift the sails off the boom gallows or the pilot house roof when raising them. Since the entire sail bundle, with the boom, the yard, 5 battens, 500 square feet of canvas, parrels and other bits and pieces weighs a lot, the topping lift is hauled up using a 4-part purchase near the masthead, same as the one used for the halyard.
• Two sets of reefing lines, each of which is attached to a block hanging off two neighboring battens, so that 4 different reefs are possible, with the deepest reef leaving up just the triangular "storm sail."
• A yard hauling parrel, which is used to pull the yard to the mast.

For each sail, two lines are not led back to the cockpit, because they hardly ever need adjusting once the sail has been rigged. These are:

• Boom downhaul, which keeps the sail from riding up the mast. It goes from the boom to a padeye on deck just aft of the mast.
• Forward topping lift, which holds up the front end of the boom when the sail is down, and is slack when the sail is up. It goes from the masthead, through a padeye in the front of the boom, back up to the masthead, through a sheave, and back down to a cleat bolted to the tabernacle.

3. Two centerboard purchases. These are 3-part purchases that slide along the deck. When tensioned, the blocks hang just above the deck, so that if a centerboard hits an underwater obstacle, the clatter of the block against the deck serves as a depth sounder of last resort. The line that goes from the centerboard to the sliding block is under quite a bit of tension, and the best material to use for it is Spectra braid of similar. To give the sliding block enough room to slide, the line from the tip of each centerboard is led up through the aft end of the centerboard trunk, over a sheave, forward to the front of the centerboard trunk, up to the deck through a 3" PVC pipe, and over another sheave. The pipe doubles as a deck drain: water is allowed to drain freely from the deck through the pipe and into the centerboard trunk.

4. Three deck beams made of 4x6 fir (or larch?) sticks, lightly fiberglassed and painted to preserve them. I initially thought of putting them below deck, but then realized that they are needed above deck for a number of reasons, plus people would curse me for this decision every time they knock their heads against it while walking through the cabin. The upper edges of the deck beams are rounded off, while their lower edges have slots in them to send through the chains and the lines. Their functions are:

• Along with the gunwales, which they abut, support the stanchion bases for the lifelines, which I will discuss in a future post.
• Reinforce the deck, especially at the masts, where the blocks through which the mast tabernacles emerge are bolted to them.
• Reinforce the deck around the deck hatch. The beams run just forward and just aft of the hole in the deck, making up for the weakness it introduces. The dam that surrounds the hatch opening works together with the deck beams, acting as a longitudinal stiffener.
• Support dinghies when they are carried on deck, bottom up, without interfering with any of the lines, and provide a way to lash the dinghies down.
• When breaking waves inundate the deck, steer them away from the pilot house and toward the scuppers.
• When all hell breaks loose and sails come tumbling down from the mast in a heap, provide lots of places to lash them down quickly.

The pilot house

The pilot house serves the following purposes:

• Keep the crew out of the elements. (As I mentioned, my goal is to make a sailboat that can cross an ocean without making the helmsman change out of his bathrobe and bunny slippers, or put down his mug of hot cocoa.) I am designing QUIDNON so that it can be sailed without a deck crew.
• Provide additional buoyancy when the boat is knocked down on its beam ends. The doors of the pilot house are close to the center-line, mounted on the outside, and the sides of the pilot house are completely watertight, so that when the boat is knocked down on its beam ends and one side of the pilot house is submerged, it remains watertight, provides additional buoyancy, makes the boat harder to capsize and increases the righting moment of the hull.
• Keep water from inundating the cabin, be it rain, spindrift, breaking waves crashing on deck or solid sea water in the event of a knockdown or a capsize.
• Provide the helmsman with a panoramic view of the surroundings and a good view of the sails.
• Provide access to the transom for handling the stern line and the aft spring line when docking.
• Provide more living space during the warm months of the year
• Provide storage space during the cold months of the year, serving as a “mud room.”
• Serve as a greenhouse for potted plants.
• Provide a large surface for rainwater collection.
• Provide a mounting surface for solar panels.
• Provide a mounting place for mainsail sheet blocks.
• Serve as boom gallows for the mainsail.

At the center of the pilot house is the helm. It shows a wheel, although my general preference is for a tiller. This is because I hardly ever steer by hand, letting the autopilot attend to the course-keeping, but when I do hand-steer it's because I want quick, precise results: I am tacking or gybing or maneuvering in close quarters. About the only time a wheel is really useful is when motoring down canals. But most people prefer a wheel.

I haven't yet figured out a way to combine wheel steering with the use of a tillerpilot (Simrad TP32 is the most cost-effective and reliable autopilot solution I have found so far for both steering a compass course and sailing to wind.) Nor do I know exactly how the steering linkages are going to be laid out. These are subjects for a future post.

The wheel is mounted on the instrument pedestal, which will carry a compass, an integrated GPS chartplotter/sonar/radar display, a VHF radio and the engine controls (starter button, kill switch, shift lever and throttle). The helmsman's seat is an armchair that pivots left and right for hauling on lines, slides forward when it's time to hand-steer, and slides back again when the autopilot takes over, so that the helmsman can use the wheel as a footrest, lean back and read a book. Directly above the helmsman's seat is a skylight, affording a full view of the sails, so that the sheets can be trimmed accurately without having to do any rubbernecking. Most of the sailing will be done by pushing buttons on the autohelm's remote control and by making small adjustments to the sheets.

To the right and the left of the helmsman's seat are boxes of line. The junk rig does not require the use of winches because it uses purchases everywhere they are necessary, but this results in a really huge amount of line, which, if allowed to pile up randomly, creates a rat's nest of kinks and tangles, which can be dangerous. The row of boxes to starboard is for the mainsail; the one to port is for the foresail. There are also boxes for the centerboard purchases, each on its corresponding side. There are dedicated boxes for sheets, halyards, and centerboard purchases, and a common box for topping lifts, reefing lines and yard hauling parrels, which don't generate as big a mess. Each box is equipped with a sheave to send the line up to the box, a fairlead to let it enter the box and either a jam cleat (for sheets, which are trimmed frequently, and centerboard control lines) or horn cleats (for all the other lines, which are handled infrequently but need to be made fast very reliably. Because of the use of purchases, the line can be relatively thin and inexpensive: 1/4-inch nylon for sheets; 3/8 Dacron for centerboards and halyards, which need to be low-stretch; 3/8 polypropylene for the rest.

Just to starboard of the instrument pedestal is the anchor winch, with the chain locker directly below and the anchor chain fed down to it through a pipe. My preference is for a manual three-speed winch because electric winches kill batteries in a big hurry. Electric winches introduce unnecessary expense and complexity.

Forward of the instrument pedestal is the companionway. It is surrounded by a 1-foot-high dam (higher toward the front), which is meant to prevent water from pouring into the cabin if a wave should succeed in entering the pilot house. The companionway hatch is 2 feet wide, and has doors that resemble bulkhead doors which flop open to the left and right and hang down alongside the dam. A chin-up bar at the front of the companionway hatch makes it possible to swing down into the cabin instead of using the ladder. The companionway doors serve the following needs:

• Prevent heat from escaping when the cabin is being heated
• Prevent light pollution from the cabin from interfering with the helmsman's night vision
• Provide a way of locking the cabin securely
• Keep water out of the cabin should the pilot house get swept away by a rogue wave or a force-5 hurricane

Along the sides of the pilot house are two large settees with lockers underneath. These can serve as additional berths when two too many guests show up, or as preferred places to sleep in hot weather, when the cabin remains sweltering all night, while the pilot house gets cooled off quickly by the evening breeze.

The pilot house has 4 doors. The two that are forward are hinged, while the two that are aft are sliding doors because there is no room aft for hinged doors to swing open. They overlap their openings by a generous amount, so that they are unlikely to yield when hit by a wave. The windows in the doors are made of overlapping ¼-inch Lexan backed by square aluminum pipe. The thresholds of the doors are 6 inches above deck, to provide another defense against water ingress.

One feature of the pilot house that may not seem entirely satisfactory is the lack of ample headroom: along the centerline, it is just 4'6", while along the sides it is just 4 feet. The idea is to provide sufficient headroom when seated, but not to provide standing room of any sort. Moving around the pilot house will be similar to moving around in a minibus or a small airplane. Of course, it is possible to build the pilot house taller, but this would incur some penalties: it would create more windage and hurt the boat's performance when sailing to windward, and it would either reduce the sail area or require taller masts, and call for more ballast. And so I feel it is best to leave the pilot house as a place to sit, and the deck as a place to go and stretch one's legs.