GREAT AUK in The Narrows – pencil on paper, by Dave McDermott

It’s been much too long since you all have had proper news from this corner of Maine. Here’s a rather lengthy report; you can scroll through for pictures for the capsule version…

The boat went into the water on April 14, put in at our local boat ramp and driven to our float with a borrowed gasoline outboard. GREAT AUK was delivered by the boatyard folks, because Maine was just going into the first coronavirus lockdown. They launched it at the ramp:

Photo credit Bonnie Kane

Then they motored up the bay on the high tide, right to our float. Two of the boatyard folks drove from the ramp to the house by car and went down to the float to catch lines, while Suzanne and I watched from a good spot on the bank up above the shore. Coronavirus was not so well understood then, and we were taking very good care about nobody touching anything that somebody else not in their “pod” might have recently handled.

There’s Jon, on the float. [Photo credit Shemaya Laurel]
Photo credit Shemaya Laurel

Then Jon, being impressively strong, put the outboard on his shoulder and hiked it up the path to their vehicles, and they all drove off.

Over the next days, projects commenced. The electric motor cables and steering linkages were connected, and the boat became capable of going out to the mooring unassisted. The mooring was switched over to its summer ball and pennant, ready for a boat. MARIGOLD, the little Portland Pudgy, went in the water so we could get back to shore, with GREAT AUK left safely riding in the channel for storms.

Yours truly, on that first trip out to the mooring. [Photo credit Suzanne Jean]
Suzanne having some fun with the wind gauge. The boat looked so bare back then! [Photo credit Shemaya Laurel]
The view from MARIGOLD [Photo credit Shemaya Laurel]

All of this was none too soon, as April is early to put a boat in the water here in Maine. The ice was long gone (this year) but the spring gales were not. Over the next few weeks we had THREE gales, one that actually had a storm warning and blew at about 50 knots, steady, just offshore from here. One time, when the wind was only supposed to be up to about 20 to 25, we let the boat stay at the float. That one came in from the south, getting up to more like 30, and the somewhat sketchy anchoring arrangement for the float (big enough mushroom anchor, but not enough mud) dragged. It’s just as well this happened at night – one couldn’t have done a thing about it, and it would have been horrifying to watch.

As it was, in the morning the storm was over and the tide was out. Boat and float had shifted about 10 feet north, just enough for the boat to settle on top of the jumble of good-sized rocks to the side of its regular berth on the mud (the float came down comfortably where the boat ordinarily belongs). Fortunately I do NOT have good photos of what that looked like. All I can say is, thank heavens for the copper sheathing on the bottom of the boat.

You can’t really see the rocks in this photo – too much backlighting from the sunrise. Maybe that’s better! [Photo credit Shemaya Laurel]

Then things needed to be put right again. We tied lines, waited for the water, moved the boat and float back to where they had started (easy now that they were floating again, and the wind gone), waited for the water to go down, rearranged the chains that hold the float, connecting them to circles of chain around massive rocks, and watched as the water came back to see if we had gotten the tensions right.

Suzanne, the chain, and the giant rock. [Photo credit Shemaya Laurel]

Got some more chains over the next two days, added them to more rocks, and eventually breathed a big sigh of relief, feeling much more confident that we would not be seeing the boat perched in that terrible position again, we very much hope.

Things improved from there, but it was a big project; then we started on some of the others.

Tiller steering is extremely difficult with this boat, and was going to be logistically complicated any way around. Wheels (plural) at two steering stations was the approach that would solve a lot of problems, from visibility forward, to comfort and ease, as well as adding mechanical advantage to make the steering easier. The steering project should have its own post… It might eventually, but suffice it to say that this involved steering shafts, sprockets, chain, cables, and sheaves, above and below deck, all lined up just right, and with very, very strong attachments. Plus a big bronze piece called a quadrant that had to be attached to the rudder, through the transom. It’s been an education. The folks from the boatyard kindly came over and helped with the hardest parts, while Suzanne and I did the pieces we could. It took months. But it was worth it.

A careful look will show that there are no chains or cables inside that box – that came next. [Photo credit Shemaya Laurel]
Our friend from Dyer Bay, testing out the steering. She calls this the Rainbow Pirate Boat. [Photo credit Chrissy Hemphill]

Along the way we also reinforced the tabernacle supports, both at the partners and the step. The partners and step were built according to our original mast/tabernacle plan, which was improvised, because a mast is not part of the original SHANTY Triloboat. This plan was done with some input from Triloboats designer Dave Zeiger, who has put masts and tabernacles on other Triloboat designs. But seeing the results in person, and thinking further about strains on the freestanding mast, I felt that some extra reinforcement was in order. Dave concurred, somewhat emphatically for somebody who is ordinarily so laid back. Now with the additional support in place, that tabernacle shouldn’t be shifting anywhere.

“Before.” Besides additional support for the tabernacle, the lower deck needed to be made watertight where the tabernacle passes through. [Photo credit Suzanne Jean]
It’s just possible, in the lower left corner of the photo above, to make out the 2 x 6 that is now lagged into those lower stringers below the deck. This ensures that the base of the tabernacle cannot kick forward. [Photo credit Suzanne Jean]
The bowsprits, through-bolted in place, are an integral part of the beefed up partners supporting the tabernacle. The doubled 2×6’s facing the camera are lagged into the original 2×10’s inside the foredeck box. [Photo credit Shemaya Laurel] (By the way, I was holding the camera crooked – the boat is actually perfectly flat, side to side, on the mud.)

Eventually we also started rigging. The mainsail from AUKLET is just big enough for this boat, and has been pressed into service. This sail will eventually be returned to AUKLET, and another one made for this boat, but it’s perfect for initial testing. By the middle of August all was ready to go, and on a day with very light wind we followed the tide out of Joy Bay. Dave and Jeannie McDermott saw us go, from their cottage on the east side of the bay.

First sail. And it steers, even in that very light breeze. [Photo credit Dave McDermott]

And then Dave did the beautiful drawing at the top of this post.

Chubba and Bonnie came out in their skiff, once we were out into Gouldsboro Bay.

Chubba, Bonnie, and canine crew Emma. The view is looking back toward Joy Bay through The Narrows. [Photo credit Shemaya Laurel]

The wind died completely, and we had a lovely visit, riding the light current south, talking, and Bonnie taking great pictures.

We had the sail raised super high, to catch the very light breath of air. [Photo credit Bonnie Kane]
The tanbark sail color changes so much, depending on the light. [Photo credit Bonnie Kane]
Happy campers! [Photo credit Bonnie Kane]

Just after Bonnie and Chubba headed off, a bit of a breeze came up, and we got to see the boat really sail. Miraculously, it worked. It steered, it balanced on the wind, and when it came time to try tacking I was perfectly delighted to find that putting the wheel over resulted in the boat coming about. I think that was the most suspenseful moment of this entire endeavor, seeing if tacking would work. And it did!

Suzanne likes steering, now that we finally have a boat with a wheel! [Photo credit Shemaya Laurel]
On Gouldsboro Bay that same day, after the breeze filled in. [Photo credit Chubba Kane]

As it turns out, the boat will even sail into the wind a little bit, given reasonably flat water and just a little bit of favorable current. GREAT AUK is designed as a motorsailor, expected to rely on the electric outboard for going upwind. But we made progress down the bay, in a number of tacks into the breeze that had come up from the south, before turning for a nice run back toward home.

With attention to planning for moving with both current and wind, it’s surprising how much can be done with this boat without turning on the motor at all. On that first day, we motored away from the float to get out from the shore – about 200 yards – and then shut it off. The motor didn’t go on again until we came back to the mooring, just southeast of Stevens Point, to wait for the tide. I turned just a little late when we tried to pick the mooring up under sail, with the current running in. This led to employing “crass mechanical measures” as Bill Cheney puts it; otherwise we would have made it, and the motor would not have been started again until docking. (I wasn’t inspired to try docking under sail on the first day, with so little experience of how this unusual hull handles.) That was all pretty exciting for a first outing under sail, including the excursion out of Joy Bay, and a couple of miles down Gouldsboro Bay to Point Francis and back.

NOAA chart #13324 detail. This chart will come in handy a little further down, too…

While we were getting the rigging in order, I had also been arranging the cabin for sleeping and general living. With the boat going up and down on the mud right at the float it was easy to gradually get things set up, and then to try sleeping aboard. It was a major treat, even before going anywhere at all, to have such a comfortable place to be, right by the shore. This is what I had envisioned, going into this project: a nice spot out of the wind, dry when it rains, and flat when the tide goes out, right there down the path from the house. With a view. It was worth all the effort, just for that.

Even better, then I went sailing. After that first sea trial under sail it was clear that the boat would work for going places too. As a test, I headed off down Gouldsboro Bay and around Dyer Point, out by the Sally Islands, to go into Dyer Bay, which is the next long skinny water to the east. Amazingly, after all this time since we moved here I had never gone all the way up Dyer Bay, even though it is really just around the corner. This was a lovely opportunity to explore, and to get in touch with folks I had recently met who live up that way. Quite a bit of fun was had, including some good sailing in both very light and somewhat stronger breezes.

Carrying Place Cove, in Dyer Bay [Photo credit Shemaya Laurel]

Anchoring, or rather, retrieving the anchor, was a bit tricky. The boat has two bowsprits with rollers at the front for anchor handling. In any bit of breeze, whenever the boat swings to one side or the other as the anchor is being pulled in, the rope and chain want to jump off their roller. It’s also a good bit of work to hold a line under that kind of strain, without an easy rest along the way; that big cabin really catches the wind, and pulls quite a bit in even a mild breeze. A chain stopper, which would also serve as a guide to keep the rode from jumping off its roller, was in order.

The simple kind of chain stopper from the boat store wasn’t going to work, because of the angles involved when pulling in the rode by hand, or when using the big winch on the side of the tabernacle. Annie Hill generously shared a whole series of photos of her arrangement that solves this problem, which helped with understanding just what was needed.

Annie’s chain stopper, on her stunningly gorgeous boat just nearing completion. For a wonderful account of her boat build, see [Photo credit Annie Hill]

Making a chain stopper like Annie’s would involve custom welding and metalwork, to adapt an off-the-shelf anchor roller. That prospect was daunting to arrange, especially on short notice so there would be time to go sailing before the season got too late. We decided to put together an interim version mostly out of wood. This we could do right away, thanks to some help from Chipper and his band saw, and a collection of bolts that were easy to get. I already had a small metal slotted flap, which I took from a commercially available chain stopper that hadn’t worked out; attaching this small plate to a larger piece of wood did the trick as far as grabbing the chain. A picture is better for explaining:

Things are looking incredibly clean, all brand-new like that… [Photo credit Suzanne Jean]

The result is quite sturdy, and just needs a couple of additional bits of thin metal to protect the wood from wearing away when the chain drags in from an angle. In fact, the whole thing has been working so well that I’m in no hurry to replace it.

Once the chain stopper was in order, the boat really became a free bird. Supplies were loaded on – food and water – and I started making longer trips.

On the open water, headed for Frenchman Bay just after sunrise. [Photo credit Shemaya Laurel]

In Jones Cove, Gouldsboro, off of Frenchman Bay [with special thanks to Faith and Craig of for this photo]

I had thought to sail this boat with crew, but coronavirus threw a real wrench in that plan. Suzanne had kindly come for the first sea trial under sail, but a daysail down the Bay is pretty much the limit of her interest in the actual floating part of this project. So given that there is nobody else in our “pod,” solo it was. As it has turned out, this has been workable. I’m looking forward to an autopilot, which will make things a lot easier for longer trips, but the boat is surprisingly good at steering itself with the wheel locked, and it was generally doable to go a bit of a distance.

Approaching Sorrento, in Frenchman Bay [Photo credit Christopher Lariviere]

GREAT AUK is also surprisingly capable, much more so than I expected. While my original plan was to stick to protected bays and coves, with carefully timed forays in very settled weather to get around the points that divide those sheltered waters, the boat is happy to do more. It is heavily ballasted by the large battery banks for the electric motor, as well as by the rather thick copper plate sheathing on the bottom. The boat moves happily over waves, and will run downwind with a sense of real security, including when the breeze comes up.

Going across the wind as the waves get bigger does not inspire so much confidence. Not having a keel, if the boat did go over things would be very bad. All the weight on the flat bottom, and the buoyancy of the large cabin sides, would probably keep it from rolling over – but only if gear inside the cabin did not fall and break the windows on the downside of that roll. The prospect of that gives me fits, and gear tiedowns are an ongoing project.

So I have been carefully feeling my way, both adapting to the greater than expected capabilities of the boat, and finding the edges where its design as a houseboat/barge delineates the limits of what is prudent to undertake.

Interestingly, Dave Zeiger, the designer of the boat, who has been sailing flat bottomed barges for decades, pointed out that the bottom of the boat really wants to match the surface of the water. So if the boat is sailing across the waves, completely apart from any heeling due to the wind, the boat is adjusting its orientation to match the angled surface of those waves. This is much more pronounced than in a boat with a curved hull, which tends to respond more to the weight of its ballast, preferring to be a bit more upright. In a barge, if the waves are not dangerously steep – nowhere near enough to tip the boat past its point of secondary stability – and the sail is managed cautiously, then the angle on the waves is really not the boat trying to roll over; it’s just adapting to the surface of the water that it is on. I found this very, very reassuring, and have been gradually coming to trust the boat more, at the same time as keeping an eye to the limits of its overall stability.

Dave is, of course sensibly, stressing that I am sailing this boat well beyond its design specifications. While other Triloboat designs are intended to be capable in more demanding conditions, this one really is meant to be a houseboat. But I am intrigued by what appears to be possible.

Also contributing to my sense of security is an aspect of the design that I added, drawing on traditional boatbuilding in Asia. Below deck, this box barge hull is divided by solid bulkheads into 6 separate watertight compartments. These have been functioning as intended: if water gets into one (we are still working out hatch gasketing), the other compartments are unaffected. Once the hatches are all reliably sealed, the boat is not likely to sink, even if somehow covered with water. The cabin, cockpit, and foredeck are all above that watertight box, meaning that waves where they don’t belong would be messy if they washed through the cabin, but would not affect the boat’s floating. Likewise, if there were a hole or a leak in one of the compartments, the rest of the compartments would still be intact and watertight. The only catch has been the steering cables running below deck, which has added a bit of complication, but it’s still pretty good.

I would however really like the boat to stay right side up, and I’m paying careful attention as I learn the way GREAT AUK handles.

The other funny thing going on is that, as readers of this blog might remember, a while back I had decided that I might very well be done with sailing. Then the idea for this boat came along, for peaceful floating in gentle coves, which did still seem appealing. The project has taken a good three years, from its first ideas, and while I have done a bit of local sailing in the intervening time, mostly I had a big rest from knocking myself out going distances in boats. Typical of rest, somewhat more substantial forays are starting to look a little more interesting again, especially given the opportunity to be truly comfortable at the same time.

This year, I was gone on the boat for a total of about five weeks, in a series of shorter trips with time at home in between. The longest voyage was to Rockport, in Penobscot Bay, where I had the great fun of going to see my Aunt Patsy, as well as cousins and friends.

My Aunt Patsy – of course we’re all pretty much incognito these days! [Photo credit Shemaya Laurel]

Adventures were had throughout those weeks afloat, including a good bit of night sailing to catch the favorable wind and tide. It was a pleasure.

The boat came out of the water on October 26th.

This can be done with a regular good-sized pickup truck on a ramp; the tractor and beach approach is just how they handle trailer launch/retrieval at the boatyard. [Photo credit Shemaya Laurel]

There’s been some additional work at West Cove: bronze angle is now on the chines, for extra protection from rocks, and the “leeboard retaining bars” have each been reinforced with a metal strip (not yet attached in this photo, but visible on the floor), as the oak alone showed a somewhat alarming amount of flex when on the upwind side with the leeboard down.

Now GREAT AUK is home on the trailer, in a pullout at the upper end of the driveway.

Parked. [Photo credit Shemaya Laurel]

Solar panels went on the top of the cabin over the course of the fall; wiring is still in progress. Installation of an autopilot is also underway.

The longer solar panel at the back is for the 12 V system. The other four are tied together to charge the 48 V battery banks for the motor. [Photo credit Suzanne Jean]
Shemaya working out measurements. That black motor on the right is the drive for the autopilot. Huge! It’ll have a box around it, once it’s all installed. [Photo credit Suzanne Jean]

The winter cover went on this past week, so the boat is snug, ready for the weather.

The white PVC pipes are lashed to the boat, as well as being dropped down over 3 foot pieces of rebar banged about halfway into the gravel. The hoops are 1.5 inch waterpipe, which slide into the white 2″ schedule 40 pipe. Hose clamps on the black pipe work as stops at the tops of the PVC. [Photo credit Shemaya Laurel]
Thank you Chubba, for the help, and for the brilliant idea about the black water pipe! [Photo credit Shemaya Laurel]
Pretty nice in there when the sun shines… [Photo credit Shemaya Laurel]
One of the reasons for doing the winter cover this way was to keep the tarp completely away from the solar panels and the wires at the edge of the cabin. There is now a “ridge pole” of 1×3 wood strapping running the long way at the top of the hoops, preventing the hoops from tipping forward or aft, and the tarp from sagging between the hoops under snow. [Photo credit Shemaya Laurel]
Done! [Photo credit Suzanne Jean]

Over these next months, when things are warm enough we’ll keep working on projects.

And spring is coming…

The cove at Schoodic Pond Island, looking west across Frenchman Bay, toward Mount Desert Island/Acadia National Park. [Photo credit Shemaya Laurel]



About Triloboats:

The boatbuilders:
West Cove Boat Yard
Sorrento, Maine

GREAT AUK drawings, model, and construction photos: