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.

Friday, October 12, 2018

A HOUSEboat vs. a houseBOAT

The most important design aspect of a tiny house is the success of its interior layout. The tight quarters may look quaint on paper but in reality turn out to be claustrophobic. The need to stoop and to contort yourself to fit into the small spaces may lead to bumps on the head and cramps. Lack of storage may seem inspirational for those aspiring to minimize their earthly possessions, but inevitably results in clutter. Lack of private spaces may inspire greater intimacy short-term but lead to strained relations in the longer term. And so on.

The set of such problem to solve is even greater when designing a houseboat because of the need to compensate for the almost constant rocking motion in all but the most sheltered marinas and anchorages. Berths (beds) have to be oriented with the head pointing aft: cribs rock side to side and while having your feet bounce up and down is tolerable, having your head do the same generally isn’t. There can’t be any sharp corners, especially where your head or your knees and elbows might end up, and there have to be handholds within easy reach. Shelves and tables have to be fitted with fids to prevent items from rolling off. Dealing with the inevitable condensation is far more important on a boat due to its proximity to water. (Many sailboats will drip cold water on your head as you try to sleep.)

These problems are easily solved by paying a few million dollars for a megayacht, but our goal is to make living aboard an affordable, comfortable, competitive alternative to paying rent. Not only does this tiny house have to float, but it has to be mobile and move both under engine and under sail. The constraints that this imposes on its design are quite formidable. Consequently, only now, after several years of design effort, is it approaching the point where there are no conceptual problems that remain to be solved and construction planning can begin.

Until recently, the design was close but not quite all there. Headroom was adequate for a boat but not for a house—not enough for a tall person to stretch. The cabins were reasonably sized but odd-shaped because of the curvature of the hull. Ventilation was adequate in some spots but missing in others… and so on. The breakthrough came from a very simple realization:

If Quidnon doesn’t make a good tiny house, it won’t matter how good a boat it is.

Previously, we made an effort to appease boat enthusiasts who look for “sweet lines” (curves, that is) and sailing performance (sailing against the wind, that is). Curves are expensive because they add complexity in engineering and construction and result in lots of scrap, while sailing performance to windward is a ridiculous thing to strive for in a houseboat, especially one that has a motor that can be turned on whenever the wind becomes uncooperative.

The effort to indulge and appease the sensibilities of sailing enthusiasts was not successful. They thought that Quidnon was ugly, ungainly and uncompetitive—as a boat. What they thought of it as a house—specifically, as a tiny house—well, they probably didn’t. Sailing enthusiasts either have lots of money to burn or live vicariously through those who do and aren’t interested in tiny houses. And so their opinions didn’t help advance the project.

There is a basic rule that applies aboard boats: if a thing isn’t useful, then it belongs overboard. And so it will be with all of the non-practical considerations that have burdened this project since its inception. Quidnon is a HOUSEboat, not a houseBOAT. Since most of these considerations were purely aesthetic, jettisoning them will not negatively impact performance.

If Quidnon is first and foremost a house, then, like virtually all other houses, it should be rectilinear, with right angles everywhere; basically, a box. There are good reasons why houses are rectilinear: curved floors and slanted walls are nightmarish to live with and more expensive to build. In a rectilinear design all the dimensions can be read off just two drawings—plan and elevation; most of the cuts needed to make parts are at right angles, resulting in less scrap; most of the assembly can be done using a tape measure and a carpenter’s square.

Are there any boats that are rectilinear? Yes, there are, and they are quite ubiquitous. They are called barges. And so Quidnon is now a barge, with just a couple of small concessions to sailing efficiency: the bow is rounded rather than slanted and the aft section of the bottom is curved so that the transom just kisses the waterline. These tweaks improve performance somewhat: the bow generates less resistance while the transom doesn’t drag water behind it. These tweaks don’t add much to the cost or the complexity of the design and don’t produce too much scrap.

Speaking of scrap, minimizing it is key to minimizing the construction cost of the hull: it’s material that you pay for but then simply throw away. Not only that, but you have to actually make the scrap: every piece of wasted material has to be cut out of a piece of stock to make the piece that you are actually going to use. Quidnon minimizes scrap by using whole sheets of standard 4x8-foot (1220x2440mm) plywood as often as possible.

For example, the deck layout is 16x36 feet. Ignoring the openings for the hatches, cockpit and engine well, which do generate some amount of scrap, it is constructed out of two layers of ¾-inch (20mm) plywood screwed and epoxied together (which is then covered with a layer of fiberglass and epoxy and surfaced with aluminum diamond hatch).

Note the tiling pattern: in order for none of the seams to overlap between the two layers, out of the 36 pieces of plywood only five need to be cut in two. This is most easily done on a panel saw. The layer with the cuts will be ¼ of an inch narrower than the layer made up of whole sheets because of the 1/8 kerf of the cuts. But ¼ of an inch distributed across 7 gaps is less than 1mm per gap and is negligible.

Similarly for the sides and the bottom. Each side is made of 18 sheets of 4x8, only one of which has to be cut in half lengthwise. Some amount of scrap then needs to be cut away to make the profile of the bottom and the bow. But then the construction of the bottom hardly generates any scrap at all. The overall goal is to have less than 10% of the plywood end up as scrap.

In addition to minimizing scrap, the barge hull shape has made it possible to dramatically improve the ergonomics of the cabin layout. Headroom is 6½ feet (2m) just about everywhere. There are four double-berths (beds) that are 6 ½ by 4 feet (2m by 120 cm). Most importantly, there is now room for a very comfortably sized stateroom (living room) in the bow.

Let’s take a tour of Quidnon’s redesigned cabin, starting at the bow and working our way toward the transom.

When I first started designing Quidnon, the very first seemingly insoluble problem I came across was where to put the couch, the coffee table and the TV. Few reasonable people would agree to live in a house that’s missing a living room, a den or similar. Having looked at a lot of boat designs, both sail and power, none of the reasonably small, reasonably priced ones had anything that resembled the traditional living room found in most homes. A good living room has a couch, one or two armchairs, a place for a TV set, a few end tables and a coffee table to tie it all together. The best ones have lots of natural light and a great view.

So, how can Quidnon provide all of that? Switching to a barge hull opened up what was before an awkward, cramped wedge-shaped space in the bow (that is found on most boats) into a spacious 160 sq. ft. (15 m2) rectangle. There is room for a wrap-around couch, two end tables, a huge 3 by 6 foot coffee table and enough bulkhead space to mount two 50-inch screens.

There is also quite a bit of storage space: 10 cu. ft. inside each of the end tables and 20 more under each of the port and starboard settees (couches; the seats tilt up) for a total of 60 cu. ft. (1.7 m3).

Above the settees there are two rows of shelves with 34 linear feet of shelf space, enough to hold a 500-volume library.

Above the shelves is a row of deadlights (which are portlights that do not open). The commercially available deadlights and portlights start at around $200 each. For Quidnon’s 44 deadlights, that would come to at least $8800. To avoid this expense, Quidnon’s deadlights are just 1 ft. diameter holes milled through the hull with a layer of 1/4-inch polycarbonate plastic caulked and fastened over them on the outside. Since the holes weaken the structure of the sides by around 50%, this is compensated for by doubling the hull thickness by adding two strips of plywood, 16 inches wide, over the holes. The materials cost for the additional plywood and the polycarbonate is around $1200.

Lastly, the two red boxes in the two corners of the bow are air vents that are connected to a deck arch above. The vents are louvered and can be adjusted for both intake and exhaust of outside air.

Moving aft from the stateroom is the salon, which can be partitioned from the stateroom by a folding divider.

The salon contains two facing settees (couches) with a drop-leaf table between them. On both sides of each settee is an end table. The seats of the settees tilt up to provide access to the storage space beneath them, providing, together with the end tables, 40 cu. ft. of storage space.

In the center of the table, between the two drop leafs, is a vertical slot that is ideal for securely holding laptops and tablets, cell phones, keys, wallets and other small but important items.

Above the table is a large translucent hatch (skylight, shown in light green) that provides a lot of light. It is designed to prevent ingress of all forms of water (rainwater, sea spray, condensation) and can be angled up slightly for ventilation. It can be removed completely for loading and unloading, making it unnecessary to haul heavy loads up and down the companionway ladder. A deck arch, mounted directly above it, provides an attachment point for a hoist.

On both sides of the salon are pilot berths. They are accessed through hatches that are above the backs of the settees and are separated from the salon by double longitudinal bulkheads that form the walls of the keelboard trunks. The pilot berths’ hatch doors are thick and filled with foam, and together with the double bulkheads provide excellent sound insulation and privacy.

The pilot berths (beds) are 6.5 by 4 feet—large enough to comfortably sleep two adults.

At the foot of each berth is a sea chest that provides 20 cu. ft. of storage space for clothing, children’s toys (the pilot berths are perfect for children and as nurseries) and other possessions.

The pilot berths are supplied with fresh air through air vents connected to a deck arch above. With the pilot berth hatches open, they can also provide fresh air to the salon.

Below the pilot berths are the water tanks. At 135 cu. ft. each, the two tanks provide 8 tonnes of salt water ballast. Fresh water is stored within these tanks inside floating bladders—up to 2000 gallons of it. As fresh water is used up, it is replaced by water from the outside using a pressure-activated pump. The use of water ballast adds a lot of versatility. It is necessary when moving under sail and/or through large seas; it is helpful when docked or at anchor, to reduce motion; it isn’t necessary or helpful when motoring on inland waterways and being able to dump it when hauling out or when recovering from a hard grounding is a positive benefit. It also saves lots of money (the equivalent weight in lead would cost over $16,000) and provides the added benefit of being able to store 2000 gallons of fresh water.

Moving further aft, there is the galley (kitchen) to starboard (right), the heads (bathroom) to port and a companionway (vestibule) in the center. Only the galley is shown in the elevation drawing. The galley cabinets provide 50 cu. ft. of pantry space.

The heads offers the usual amenities, including a full-size shower stall that can be fitted with a bathtub. All sorts of options are possible for both the galley and the heads, including composting toilets, flex-fuel stoves and the likes. If the stove in the heads is eliminated (not everyone plans to overwinter aboard in the Arctic or needs an on-board sauna) then there is enough room for a vertically stacked washer-dryer unit.

The companionway is an open area that links together the heads, the galley, two aft cabins, the salon and the cockpit via the companionway ladder. At the bottom of the companionway ladder is a foot locker while hooks along the sides of the companionway are for hanging outdoor clothing.

Aft of the companionway are the two aft cabins. Each has a table with a seat, a row of shelves and a double berth. The table can be used as a chart table and the shelves packed with navigation equipment, but it can also be used for doing any other type of sit-down work. Space under the berth provides 40 cu. ft. of storage space.

The aft cabins and the heads can be closed off using sliding doors (shown in magenta). These doors are counterweighted so that they don’t spontaneously slide back and forth due to the motion of the boat but stay in place.

Between the two aft cabins is the utility chase that includes the cockpit, the anchor chain and line locker beneath it, the engine well and the gasoline tank and propane locker further aft. The engine well is heavily insulated to dampen the engine noise when motoring. Since the engine is a gasoline outboard rather than a diesel, it produces a high-pitched whine rather than a heavy throb, and is easier to suppress using a few layers of foam.

This, then, is the tiny house that will also function as a houseboat and a sailboat. Some things about it are still distinctly odd for a house; the shape of the windows for one, the fact that you enter it via the roof (deck) for another. But this can’t be helped; if you could enter it at ground level, then so could water, and house windows don’t work at all when submerged.

Now that Quidnon is barge-shaped with no funny angles the joinery has become dead simple. It involves plywood panels screwed and glued to softwood strips. And then the entire hull gets fiberglassed on the outside, making it relatively indestructible.

Quidnon’s conceptual design is now complete. What lies ahead is producing the detailed mechanical drawings, the bill of materials, a parts list and a set of assembly instructions. Much to the dismay of boat hobbyists and enthusiasts, the sailors among them especially, it is manifestly and resolutely a HOUSEboat, not a houseBOAT. It will get built, and people will live aboard it. Once in a while this shoebox of a boat will erect its masts, drop in a motor, hoist the sails, promenade around the harbor in stately splendor and eventually disappear over the horizon, to the slackjawed amazement of tourists and bystanders.

35 comments:

  1. Looks great, and the overall concept change makes perfect sense. Do you have any ballpark on price point for total materials yet?

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    1. I don't want to go off half-cocked, but I think that we are still within the $50k budget for a habitable, floating hull. There are many ways to spend money on the sails and the engine, so I'll keep these separate.

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  2. This new interior Layout is way more appealing to me than the previous one. And as a sailor, I'd seriously consider a Quidnon.
    Do you already have any estimation of the overall cost of the boat in materials ?

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    1. Popular question! I need to have the hull drawn up, the panels and the cuts inventories and a bill of materials compiled. Then I'll be able to do a spreadsheet and determine the cost.

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  3. The Chinese junk is the historically classic house boat, of course not as sophisticated. How well will a barge take to the sea? Is there a keel or centerboard or sideboard (if that's what they're called) It looks wonderful.

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    1. Yes, there are two keelboards, and when ballasted with water it is quite stable.

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  4. have been following the Quidnon development for a little while, and your comments that Quidnon should now be considered a barge only confirms my instinct when I saw the plan, rigging and the use of a drop keel. Actually on the East Anglian Coast of the UK a type of vessel not so very different in concept has been in service for good few hundred years, they are generically known as Thames Sailing Barges. The last Sailing Barge was built in the early 1930s (of steel), but at the turn of the 19th-20th centuries there were many hundreds of them around the Thames and East Coast estuaries. They were very handsome craft and inspired any number of artists (of varying quality, admittedly) . They were intended as bulk carriers with a severe box-like sheer amidships but with an often elegant stern and transom and a straight stem forward. They were flat bottomed so they could rest on the estuarial mud when the tides receded or a campshed against a Thames wharf. They used leeboards rather than a centre board which might be an alternative arrangement for Quidnon as the floorspace is kept clear of any casings and the awkward leaky junction that you can get with the keel.They make excellent houseboats, but many were bought for a scrap price when motor barges came into general use but were never maintained to a high enough standard and most found their way eventually on to the saltings where their skeletons can still be seen. They are great fun to sail, but you need an able bodied crew of 2 who know their way around. In the old days they would have carried an apprentice as well hence the expression 'Two Men and a Boy'. Because they are fairly massive, on average about 90+ feet between perpendiculars and 20+ feet wide there is plenty of living space and I can attest to the fact that good stoves fore and aft keep the cabin very warm They sail pretty well and most surviving ones carry an auxiliary engine just in case. I know nothing about the East Coast of the US and perhaps the very efficient spritsail rig they use would not fare so well there. The Grand Bankers used schooner rig presumably for a reason. The hull can be simplified by using a buff or swimhead bow, lowering construction costs further. The traditional construction was pine on oak, but what not marine ply and laminated frames? If I had the wherewithal I might even try a prototype for the UK.....

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    1. The only two similarities I have been able to spot between Quidnon and a Thames barge is the word "barge" and the flat bottom. 90x20 feet is far too large to be affordable to keep in a marina, 3 crew is 2 too many, and the construction type runs against a rule found just about everywhere in the US these days: No wooden boats allowed. (Quidnon is considered a wood-cored fiberglass hull for documentation purposes.) It's fun to take a trip down memory lane and look at what once was, but Thames barges are gone for good.

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    2. Thanks Dmitry. I suppose we were spoiled for choice in 50s and 60s when these things could be bought for a song by the bohemian, the adventurous or those desperate for a roof over their heads. They were massive as I said, and shipwrights repairs are prohibitive. 30 years ago the replacement of a 6 inch by 12 inch by 20 foot rail came out at about £2,000. All the same, a man and his wife could manage to complete some limited coastal voyages if they were so inclined. ("East Coast Passage: The voyage of a Thames sailing barge", by D H Clarke) refers. No wooden boats allowed? Why? Sustainability?

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    3. Wooden boats are not allowed because they snap in half on a travelift, leak constantly and are a maintenance nightmare. The difference between wood and fiberglass is night and day.

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  5. I'm interested; I'm close to a few decent lakes (at least for now) and have stayed with friends on houseboats up there. They tend to be longer, 40 - 55 feet is common where I've stayed, but you're looking at three times the cost and lacking the weather resiliency.

    How well do you expect them to cluster? And how would you link them safely so create a community above, homes below? I assume it would create a common deck with cockpits giving access to individual homes?


    If commercial portholes cost $ 2,200, consider selling them as an upgrade for $ 3,000. Some would likely pay the extra for aesthetic reasons - or to meet marina standards.

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    1. Boats often raft up in order to throw a party, and Quidnon could raft up perfectly well, especially with other Quidnons. A longer-term clustering arrangement would not be popular because it reduces privacy and safety.

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  6. Hello Dmitry, I followed the project from start and was pleased with the initial design concept, mainly because of what I thought was a sensible mix of usability and aesthetic considerations. After reading this, hindsight tells me that the change is justified. The main consideration is affordable housing for an uncertain future, the additional one being able to move around. Weighing the whole set of purposes under the influence of sailors (I am one) of the project might have distorted the ranking of priorities. being also en experienced builder of wood and composite constructions I will allow myself some comments after seing detailed plans. A while back I was horrified reading the concept of a concrete bottom with a wooden hull and how to join them. I did not comment then, but immediately the saying "then the bottom fell out" appeared in my head. On any moving structure, combining materials of vastly different characteristics is THE key point. (You know this as an engineer, but maybe not in detail out of practical experience). I am a machine dealer and service pro, fixing things that move constantly under heavy load. This teaches you how material joints behave under stress. On the practicalities of living aboard, I will not comment. This is where your family brings in the experience. Best of luck and I will continue to follow the project with intense interest! Winfried

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    1. Most of the houses I see are just such composite constructions: they have a concrete bottom and a wooden hull. Based on what you say, somebody ought to knock them all down. We've abandoned the idea of a concrete bottom during the first few weeks of the project; it's been years since anyone thought about it.

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  7. Dmitry,,,
    Once again, you've made changes enhancing the original concept, and again I approve. (Big Whoop-dee-do!) The interior layout seems much more user-friendly and the ample storage more usable. The ballast/fresh-water-storage solution is brilliant, especially with some kind of manual shtf pumping option.
    Dmitry--curious here. Are all the smallest pictured blue dots mast locations? Why do they appear to not be located on the centerline? I'm guessing it's a drawing' whoopsie', because I can't imagine a logical engineering reason (or my eyes being that far off).
    In partial answer to Harry Lerwill, I'm thinking about a pintle/ring hookup similar to those used in the military, with some additional vibration/jerking dampening between hulls. (That is, unless someone can explain why that is just another of my hare-brained ideas.)
    Speaking of which, I'd also love to understand the effect of two linked hulls underway in stern-to-bow configuration, with a transom-wide, secured-at-the-chine length of smooth, boat-wide, semi-rigid material, that deployed from the leading hull, would fill/flatten the water-space between hulls so as to emulate a +70' boat, with hopefully a greater resultant hull speed. I'd guess either boat could then be considered to be a tow boat or a boat-under-tow, with or without motor/sails used as supplemental power.
    And last but not least, with masts/sails stowed and deck cleared how big a helicopter pad could the second boat provide? Hmmmmmm, if only I knew someone with a copter,,,, or for that matter, the scratch for the two boats. Seriously, without a problem I can imagine the house-barge and clinic/laboratory/mobile maritime work/fabrication shop/vacation-dive/fishing destination, extended family getaway, place of worship or alternatively bar/brothel and any other boat-use combinations people will dream up. Be prepared for orders two at a time.
    I love your work Dmitri, and greatly appreciate the way that you think, not to mention that of the collective hive-brain of the supporters you have attracted. Thanks to all.

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    1. I plan to include a foot pump for access to water if there is no electricity or if the pump fails. It's an emergency survival must-have.

      The masts are offset because when they are taken down they sit side by side on the deck arches after sliding through the pipe that is the upper portion of the hinged mast tabernacles. I haven't explained this part of the (re)design yet, but it makes the task of putting up and lowering the masts unassisted much easier. The sideways offset makes no difference at all as far as sailing.

      To raft up two or more Quidnons, I would use a few old car tires hung overboard as fenders and some dock line running between deck cleats.

      Linking up hulls while underway is a bad idea. If one Quidnon tows the other, the length of the towing line has to be determined based on sea state. It's quite an art.

      A minimum helipad is 60x60 feet and Quidnon's deck is 16x36. Do the math.

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  8. I'm a non-sailor.

    In light of current events and large piles of [former boat] debris in the florida panhandle, Quidnon has what size outboard? what speed? what range? Is it ever possible to get out of harm's way?

    Or Quidnon takes a licking and keeps on ticking?

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    1. The best engine for a Quidnon is a Yamaha t50. And the best way to survive a hurricane with a Quidnon is to motor into the mangroves, empty the ballast tanks, run it aground in the shallows, then run dock lines/chains to all the surrounding trees. Make sure there is enough slack in the lines to float up during the storm surge. Then fill the ballast tanks, take off the sails and secure them on deck, take down the masts, completely clear the decks and hunker down.

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  9. Mother Earth News had a great design of a house boat back in the 1980s that I wanted to build and is available via this link
    https://www.motherearthnews.com/diy/build-a-houseboat

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    1. There's plenty of shantyboat designs like that. Too much house, too little boat.

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  10. Actually, They get "knocked down" all the time. Unless extensively and expensively re-enforced, the junction between the concrete foundation and the "sticks" is what fails first in most earthquakes.

    Of course, this is way off topic. If the Quidon isn't a jon boat, or a triloboat, or a houseBOAT.., is sure as hell isn't a "stick built" house either. (Full disclosure, I intend to build one)

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    1. Structurally, Quidnon is a set of box sections inside a fiberglass box. It should be plenty strong to be tossed about by the waves. It should even stand up to small rocks thanks to the copper cladding.

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  11. Dave Zs triloboat site is fun to peruse but nice to see such detail fronted for one design. And the critical stuff too: like adequate ventilation and light, etc.. Down the line, once Quidnon gets built, it would be nice to see some alternate versions. This one is obviously aimed at a family or large groups of people. Can't help but wonder how cool it would be to have a long lean version for a couple or a smaller one for a solo sailor or the gal-guy who wants a stealth apartment in U.K. cities but can also go out in the country when desired. Maybe like linux folks will seize on the concept and tweak it into a new variant.

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    1. It will be interesting to see what people do with it, although I won't allow anyone to refer to their mods as a Quidnon. It's a bit like the Model T: as Henry Ford put it, he'll make it in any color as long as it's black. I don't want people doing their own thing, getting themselves killed, and then I end up getting blamed for their mistakes.

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  12. How much will you charge for the plans?

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    1. I haven't set a price yet. What would you suggest? Some rules of thumb exist, such as labor = materials, and 10% of labor is intellectual. So, if materials cost $50k then plans should cost 1/10 of that, or $5k. But I'll probably set it quite a bit lower than that. The plans will include not just the usual drawings, but drawings that include each panel to be fabricated, order of assembly, various other fabrication procedures and quality control steps and much else.

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  13. I wouldn't say Quidnon is really a HOUSEboat, more a HOUSEBOAT, as it appears to me that both aspects are given equal weight, at least compared to the usual RV-on-pontoons that is usually called a "houseboat".

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    1. The real problem is with sailboat snobs who expect "sweet lines" and windward performance under sail (even through most cruising sailors motorsail or motor to windward rather than "beat").

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    2. I also like "sweet lines" and performance, but not in my house. Which is why in addition to a practical Quidnon, I would also have a tender that had those features to go do the "fun" sailing in.

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    3. For super-fun sailing and shore access in most conditions including heavy surf I would recommend a proa where the ama (outrigger) nests inside the aka (main hull). A couple of these will fit on Quidnon's deck.

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  14. I understand that Quidnon would be available as either a flat-packed kit or DIY plans; but would the flat packed kit suffer from new import tariffs? Or do you plan to have a kit-maker in the US as well?

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    1. It doesn't make sense to ship plywood across oceans, and cutting plywood up into panels is an easy thing to arrange for anywhere where plywood is available.

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