Muscongus Bay, early. Photo credit: Shemaya Laurel
*** May 5, 2022: Great Auk departs Joy Bay, southbound.
*** June 1: Arrive Connecticut River, anchoring in North Cove.
*** July 7: Arrive Joy Bay, home once again.
Suzanne worked out the number of days away: 64. In an interesting bit of synchronicity, this year I am 64 years old.
That was a big trip! The farthest point south was Sag Harbor, New York, which is out by the Hamptons on Long Island, where I had lovely visits with my friend JG and we made plans for more sailing.
JG at Haven’s Beach, Sag Harbor. Photo credit: Shemaya Laurel
Sag Harbor was one of the original destinations. The even bigger heart calling was the Connecticut River, and sailing up to Deep River, which felt like going home. The hills were right, and the trees, and the sun and the shape of the clouds, and the bits of gentle fog in the rain.
Connecticut River. Photo credit: Shemaya Laurel
It had been seven years since I sailed away, moving to Maine. And I love Maine, with its rocks and wild wind, and evergreens everywhere. But the Connecticut River feels like home. I didn’t grow up there, but close enough, and then lived for so many years right by its shores a little further north.
In Deep River I made a new friend, years ago. On the day we first launched Auklet, learning the yawl rig in opposing wind and river current, losing steering. Make sure that the mizzen sail is free, or you’re not going to be able to turn. Opposing wind and current pinning the boat, headed straight across the river for the shore, and that big steel sloop on its pilings. We didn’t hit it, anchoring just in time, but things got complicated. This led to meeting Warren Elliott, who was none too pleased at that first moment. And we became such good friends.
Apologies for the fuzzy picture – it was just dawn, as I was leaving, and only looks this bright thanks to adjusting afterwards. But you can still see Warren’s boat… Photo credit (such as it is): Shemaya Laurel
Warren was going to be 93 years old on May 23, and my mission in leaving Gouldsboro so early in the month, in the spring cold before leaves were even out on the trees, was to get there to see him. If not by his birthday, close. I didn’t say anything, ahead of time, because I was afraid I wouldn’t succeed – like last year, when I had set out but got only as far as Pemaquid. I didn’t want to call again to say it wasn’t going to happen. But I should have picked up the phone anyway.
Warren in the garden shed that he built, from wood that he milled… just like their whole house. Photo credit: Suzanne Jean
When things felt more assured I left a message, on May 23, singing happy birthday into Warren’s answering machine. This was from the water, having left Rockport, Mass. early in the morning, bound for Provincetown, which in a combination of losing both the wind and the tide became unattainable and led to sailing through the night, straight for the entrance to the Cape Cod Canal. But before night fell, there was that song, and I told him in the message that I thought I really would get there this time. I called again a few days later, leaving another message, and getting closer bit by bit.
Sunset about 7 miles off of Provincetown. I had already run through one battery bank for the motors by this point, and now the tide was running out of Cape Cod Bay. The breeze was forecast to come back around midnight, from a perfect direction for heading directly to the canal. Given all of this, it made sense to stay out. Best part: whales! There were several backs and spouts, a bit before this photo was taken, and then for a little while after dark, the sound of them breathing, and the scent of that bit of fish-breath. It was quite lovely to have the company. Photo credit: Shemaya Laurel
Ever so sadly, I missed Warren by a month. His wife, and my friend, Margo, called back with the sad news that he had passed away at the beginning of May, two days before I left home. We came so close to one more visit, after those long intervening years.
Sometimes being on the water is where I do my grieving. The ocean and the broad rivers sturdy enough to contain all those tears, and enough space to wail into the open skies.
Margo kindly invited me to come and stay at their dock, and I waited to see how my travels might go. In the end we had a beautiful visit, in my accustomed spot at Warren’s float.
Margo and Shemaya, having such good visits. Photo credit: Sandy Ward
This had become the place where we fitted out each year after putting Auklet in the water at the nearby ramp in Deep River, and was often where I returned, to pull the boat out of the water in the fall. Equaria, the big steel sloop that Warren had built himself, was still right there.
Equaria, and the riverboat Becky Thatcher in the background. Photo credit: Shemaya Laurel
Warren was a steelworker, in his younger days. He told stories about building a giant steel tower on an island in the Aleutians – I think he said it was 1000 feet tall. He said the height never bothered him. So welding the boat together was right up his alley, and once it was built it led to meeting Margo, and the two of them having wonderful trips sailing off to the Caribbean.
Warren and Margo out for a sail with me on Auklet in 2015. Photo credit: Shemaya Laurel
Coming home is like that. The sweetness of familiar shores, and as one gets older, the presence of those who are no longer here, holding their memories so close.
And now I am back in Maine, in this new home that has actually started to feel that way. I missed it when I was gone, and was surprised to find that the low sandy shores of southern New England felt foreign, from the water. Although I did get used to swimming in comfort, and to so many fewer rocks with which to play dodge’ems, in the swirling current. But now the evergreens feel like they make everything right, and the lobster boats are a welcome change from go-fast churners of a million wakes.
Besides that, people in Maine appreciate this boat. I had become accustomed to the lovely conversations, folks enjoying both Great Auk‘s oddball configuration and bright colors. These friendly encounters were rare in southern New England, where yacht clubs are a lot more common than fishing villages. A sailing houseboat felt out of place and not necessarily welcome, unlike in Maine where Great Auk is more of an attraction, and the frequent interest and appreciation feel extra welcoming in unfamiliar harbors.
Great Auk in Northwest Creek, near Sag Harbor, New York. One person was charmed by this boat, and she took this photo and sent it to JG. We thought we were about to have a word from the authorities, and it turned out to be not only not the authorities, but an admirer! Photo credit: Dee McQuire Renos
The trip overall was wonderful. Now and then it was a bit much, but then something nice would happen, and everything would feel right again. I am ecstatic about having been able to do it, and the boat having shown itself so capable. There were some repair issues, all to do with steering in one way or another, and there is more to address on that – it’s a heavy boat, with an enormous rudder, and the strain of roiled up seas can be substantial.
This was Cape Cod Bay, in the morning as we approached the canal entrance; the seas had actually come down a bit by the time there was enough light for a photo. The breeze filled in just fine in the middle of the night, making it easy to cover the 20 miles by early next morning. Bonus, all the nighttime fishing boats went away once the waves started building! But it was hard on the rudder connection. Photo credit: Shemaya Laurel
We’ll be addressing the rudder issue, and the boat will be better for it. In the meantime, the temporary repairs held up, and here we are home.
You would think that the original white lashings – a la Wharram catamarans – might’ve been the problem, but they weren’t. Much has been learned about more appropriate fastener arrangements, as well as wood type for that transom post (purpleheart, I have since been told, is the wood we should have used). Not having gotten bolts or wood quite right, under all that strain the lowest part of the transom post broke away, passing substantial strain on to the next set of lashings above. John York, friend of a friend in Cataumet, MA, came up with, and installed, the repair approach shown, after we went through various ideas and puzzles with the goal of a quick and effective temporary fix, that would get me and the boat safely home. Thanks to Jon Bower for introducing me to the Cataumet family! Photo credits: Shemaya Laurel
The lashing repair arrangement provided quite a bit of additional support to the broken piece, but there was still substantial movement side to side in waves, which was worrisome. When I was sailing the Bolger Glasshouse Chebacco Auklet a number of years ago I had the opportunity to visit with Susanne Altenburger, of Phil Bolger and Friends, and when I was back in the Gloucester area I stopped in to say hello, staying overnight in her adjacent cove. The next morning, rushing to beat the tide, Susanne kindly took a look at the situation and came up with the idea for these nifty and simple braces. In a couple of trips to her workshop she put together everything needed and screwed them onto the boat. Miraculous. Photo credit: Shemaya Laurel
One more bit of adjustment took place in Portsmouth, thanks to Luke Tanner. Luke not only brought his tools, but also food supplies, water, ice, and the most delicious cheeseburger and French fries that I had on the entire trip! By the time I left those southern shores, both the boat and I were in good order. Photo credit: Shemaya Laurel
My endless thanks go to the folks who helped with those repairs: most especially John York in Cataumet, MA; Susanne Altenburger in Gloucester, MA; and Luke Tanner, who made the trip to Portsmouth, NH to help out. The boat got home thanks to their kindnesses, as well as to the folks who made those connections possible. And further thanks to everybody along the way who made this trip such a joy. How appropriate, to come back to Joy Bay!
Great Auk arriving home after 64 days. Photo credit: Suzanne Jean
The bad news is that I have completely abandoned keeping logs. On the brighter side, photos remain both doable and engaging. So the departure date for this trip could be pieced together. It was a Thursday, at the end of May, and I was off for a little over three weeks. This was the sendoff from Gouldsboro Bay, with Chubba, Bonnie and friends.
Initially I had thoughts of sailing to southern New England, and ridiculous amounts of food and water were stowed. But departure was a couple of weeks later than hoped because of how much time it took to complete all the 12 V wiring and autopilot installation. By a week after we were on our way (myself and Great Auk) the weather pattern was getting ready to change over to summer, with consistently south and west winds.
In the end, we went as far as the harbor in the Pemaquid River, on the west side of Pemaquid Point, around the backside of that big peninsula that is about halfway between Penobscot Bay and Portland. This was a good run, including some nice explorations of Muscongus Bay. Muscongus is the next big indentation in the coast west of Penobscot Bay, filled with interesting islands. I hadn’t been around that southwest corner of Penobscot Bay since the big move to Maine, over five years ago. It was nice to bust out a little bit.
Some adventures were had, over the course of those three weeks, particularly related to sailing in somewhat more demanding conditions in order to take advantage of that early east wind. The boat is more capable than one would think from looking at its flat bottom and straight across barge bow. In a good breeze, down or across the wind, Great Auk likes to sail between 4 and 4 1/2 knots. The boat will go 5, but things start to feel strained, on both rigging and steering, and it makes more sense to reef (or reef more) and take the pressure off.
One morning, after several days of erroneous weather reports that forecast bigger wind which did not materialize, I chose a route that would’ve been perfectly reasonable in milder conditions than the ones that developed. I should not know that the boat is capable of what we did – in theory one would keep oneself out of that kind of situation – but it has been very relaxing to have this benchmark, now that it’s done. Taking smaller waves in this boat no longer fazes me in the least!
There were of course many peaceful harbors on this trip, as well as lovely visits with my Aunt Patsy and various friends, and some very sweet days of sailing. An especial standout was Louds Island in Muscongus Bay. This island has a drying harbor on the east side, and I had the good fortune to pass nearby at just the right time to get a good look at it at low tide, and then when the water came back to go in for the night. Bonus, while waiting for the tide the boat got to go down on a sand bar outside the harbor! Drying out on a sand bar was actually one of my goals for this expedition, and I had no idea that I would get to do it this soon. Because of this boat’s flat bottom, it’s perfect for settling down on tideflats. Downeast is almost entirely mud, wherever the water is peaceful enough to do this, which is not terribly satisfying for stepping off the boat when it’s aground. Sand is a completely other matter, and spending time on wide, protected sandflats was one of my motivations for wanting to sail to southern New England. Although I didn’t get there (this time), I did get to have my fun stepping off the boat onto this really nice bar. It made me incredibly happy.
On this trip there was also quite a bit of night sailing. This was to catch the favorable wind and tide, but happened to coincide with that I enjoy being out in the night quite a lot. Further, so close to the solstice, one can go to sleep early, wake up at about 2 AM and set out in the dark, and by 3:30 AM the light is already starting to show in the eastern sky.
During the day there was a good bit of motoring, with that hefty 48 V Torqeedo. I do very little motoring at night, as it’s challenging to dodge the lobster pot buoys, which can get hung up in the motor. Under sail, the boat can just run right over them without problems. The boat really could use the second motor on the back – which I haven’t yet done – for good steering control in gusty changing wind when under power. But apart from that complication, the motor arrangement worked out amazingly well. The solar panels all over the top of the cabin make a real difference in range, even when the motor is drawing more electricity than the panels are producing. The solar charging extends the run time for a given battery bank considerably, and if one travels slowly on a sunny day – say about 2 knots on flat water – the charging will keep pace with the draw from the motor, making the run time unlimited. Routinely, dodging that south wind, we would start early before the breeze came up and motor for two or three hours to jump to the next harbor upwind, sometimes driving pretty hard into the breeze as it started to fill in for the day. The batteries replenished easily once the motor was not being used, and the entire trip was done without using any shore power at all, maintaining both 48 V battery banks, recharged to full capacity within a day of even quite demanding motor runs. Cloudy days charge more slowly, but still take care of business.
This is a Torqeedo 4.0 outboard, 48 V, running off of one or the other of two battery banks, each made of 4 (four) 12 volt 100 amp hour AGM batteries, connected in series to make the 48 V. The solar panels for the motor are 4 (four) 12 volt Xantrex 165 Watt flexible panels attached with adhesive to the top of the cabin. Interestingly, Xantrex technical support said that it would be fine to wire these in series, to make the output for 48 volt batteries – and it has been. But the instructions that came with the panels said that they should not be combined in that way. Regardless, it has worked out fine.
The charge controller is a “Victron BlueSolar MPPT 150/45-Tr” with which I’ve been hugely happy. It talks to the smartphone, and shows off how hard the solar panels have been working, including with a very informative history tab. So far, on a day with excellent sunshine and lots of motor use, the maximum energy produced has been shown as 4 kW, which works out to roughly 80 amp hours for that one day. Not bad!
Piecing together the plan for that system was an enormous job. I am not receiving anything for mentioning the manufacturers, and am including the information above only in hopes of helping others along the way.
Anyway, that’s how we got around: sometimes sailing, when the wind was blessedly workable (no significant upwind sailing in this barge houseboat), often motor sailing, and rarely motoring with the sail not even raised. One of the advantages of having put so much time and effort into sailing motorless over these last years is that I was able to gauge situations of limited wind, judging how long it would take to do what I was hoping to do, as far as destinations and timing, if entirely under sail. Those runs entirely under sail can be exhausting, and the comparison to what was possible using the motor was striking. I have rather sheepishly been telling numerous friends and acquaintances that I’ve become “motor woman.” But at least there are no fossil fuels involved!
Eventually it became clear that it was time to turn around, and let go of the big southerly goal. Every single day in the extended 10 day forecast promised south and southwest winds, with the pattern likely to continue. Also, I felt that my health was not as up to snuff as I would have liked, for venturing so far from home. Sometimes being on the boat has been truly magical, with my well-being improving the longer I stayed. This time, it was instead going the other way. Too many crazy nights, and long days, and apparent limits to the stamina I had upon which to draw.
Suzanne came to meet me in Pemaquid Harbor, to help with doing an adjustment on the autopilot motor position, which had been shifted on the day with those big waves. We had not foreseen a couple of tools, and bolts, that would be needed to really complete this repair in a lasting way, and at a three hour drive from home, I was already well beyond how far Suzanne wanted to travel to meet me, though she generously made that trek, with both tools and supplies. All of the various issues converged, and after Suzanne had gone home, I decided to make Pemaquid my turnaround point.
In hindsight, that was an excellent call. There wasn’t another decent batch of easterly wind for close to a month, and it didn’t last – we are solidly into the summer weather pattern. And there was fun to be had along the way, heading back east.
Not being in a rush anymore, I went all the way up to the head of Penobscot Bay, had some lovely visits with sailor friends, and then ventured up the Penobscot River to Bangor, some 25 river miles inland. (In the chart shown earlier, Bangor is a bit further north, outside the frame where the Penobscot River runs off the top edge of the chart.) This diversion was partly for the adventure, but mostly to get to do more visiting, with friends made over this past year and a half via zoom, as we have worked together to address the woeful state of US politics during these last few years. Some adventure was had on the river, which should have its own post. The lovely visits made it all worth it.
Then I ran for home. It’s amazing what the motor makes possible. By motor sailing when the breeze was in those light times, which previously, in other boats, involved tremendous amounts of floating around, Great Auk and I got a good head start on the miles. Once the wind would really fill in for the day we would blast along entirely under sail. We left from East Hampden, a mile or so south of Bangor, at 3:30 AM, just as the tide started to run out. With the assist of that marvelous current in the river – outbound tide plus the river’s natural flow – we had covered the 23 miles to where the river opens into Penobscot Bay by about nine in the morning.
Once out of the river, as there was so much of the day left to go, and another couple of hours of workable tide to make the turn that one really must get to before the incoming tide starts running strongly north, we hustled south, and indeed got around the corner of Cape Rosier before everything turned. This set things up for riding the flood tide further toward home, and by the end of the day we were putting the anchor down in Mackerel Cove on Swan’s Island, some 50+ miles from where we had begun that morning. In a barge houseboat! The design really has been showing itself surprisingly capable.
The next day would have been ideal for sailing home the rest of the way, on a good 10 to 15 southwest wind, but it would have been another long day, and rest was in order. The day off was delightful, in such a pretty spot.
The morning after that the tide was not right until about 10 AM, so there was no need for a crazy-early start. There was also not a tremendous amount of wind. We got underway using the same approach from the other day, motor-sailing during the morning light breeze to get a bit of a head start, and running all under sail once the wind filled in. (I still cringe to admit this part about the motor, particularly on this blog where I know that some confirmed motorless sailors are reading about this unfortunate conversion.)
By evening we had covered another 33 miles, and were back in Joy Bay, anchored for the night and ready to go in to our float with the early morning high tide. This was none too soon, as there does seem to be a more significant health thing going on, rather than the regular run of long-term issues that can be accommodated one way or another. And it’s nice to be home!
Now I’ve been back for a few weeks, regaining some strength, and having decided that manual hauling of a heavy primary anchor and chain has become a serious impediment to my solo boat fun, as well as to the range of crew possibilities. Great Auk is in the process of acquiring an electric windlass. Installation is not simple, but is progressing. That will get its own post.
In the meantime, it was a great trip to start off the summer. The starry and moonlit night sailing was exceptional, and the boat has shown itself to be a sturdy traveler. Being just early July, and with excellent sailing possible through September, we are hoping for a good bit more.
Here’s a Peep Hen story, and a development from this event that took over 10 years to show results.
In something like 2008, Rachel Gimbel and I were sailing my Peep, Serenity, down the Connecticut River from Hartford to Long Island sound. In the section just before Essex, Connecticut, we had a day with a strong northerly wind, at least 20 knots, and gusting higher. The sail was double reefed, and partly scandalized, with the yard let down to about horizontal to dump more wind, which was coming from almost directly astern. That last sail adjustment made things truly manageable, and we were blasting along, covering a mile on the chart every 10 minutes; this put us at 6 knots, probably with a little help from the current. That’s really fast, for a 14′, chunky boat! And heavily loaded for a substantial trip.
Right around when we were going to pass the entrance to Hamburg Cove, a large power cruiser came up from behind, off our starboard quarter. We thought “oh geez, crazy traffic,” which is not terribly uncommon on the Connecticut River. But the power cruiser, at shouting distance in the strong wind, started matching our speed, moving together side-by-side with enough space to not be too scary. A man on the cruiser shouted over to us “I designed that boat.” And then introduced himself – Reuben Trane! That was hugely exciting, which I hollered back to him enthusiastically. He and his companion took pictures, though I’ve never seen them. It must’ve been a sight, with the Peep blasting along like that in the whitecaps.
Reuben then explained that the boat he was on was his new project. It had a substantial cabin, with the top covered with solar panels, which were powering the boat. I later looked it up on the Internet, and it made a major impression on me. It was way out of my price range, and fancier than my general taste, but I really loved that spacious deck, and the cabintop covered with enough solar panels to make the boat go. The only thing missing was sailing capability to go with it.
That image stayed in mind ever since, and a few years ago when I decided to do something about a different boat (there’s a fleet, including the Peep Hen and a 20 foot Bolger Chebacco) I had my chance. I had done a lot of crazy cruising in the Chebacco, and some stints of several weeks at a time in the Peep, and I thought I might be done sailing. That idea lasted until I realized that what I really wanted was to be comfortable at the same time as being afloat. A sail was crucial, but so was something more like a houseboat layout with a spacious cabin and a bunch of open deck, and, for a change, a sturdy motor. I wanted that motor to be electric, and solar, for the quiet, the ease, and the environmental benefits as well as the independence from fuel docks and marina electricity.
Reuben Trane’s power cruiser had two out of those three wish-list characteristics, just missing the sail. Sailing barges could put it all together, and that’s what developed. The result looks nothing like Reuben’s big power cruiser, but the new boat (24′ x 8′ and built out of plywood) has the spaciousness, the solar panels all over the top of the cabin, and the electric motor, that had all stayed in mind for so long since that day on the river.
Thank you, Reuben – that momentary meeting on the Connecticut is really what led to this. And your courage to design “unique” looking boats like the Peep Hen opened up my thinking on getting one’s eye accustomed to outside-the-box approaches that serve the desired uses of a boat. This (along with later help from Phil Bolger’s work) set me up to also embrace Dave Zeiger’s sailing barge Triloboats design, and the combination has brought about Great Auk. The result is giving me great joy.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The wind died completely, and we had a lovely visit, riding the light current south, talking, and Bonnie taking great pictures.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 winter cover went on this past week, so the boat is snug, ready for the weather.
Over these next months, when things are warm enough we’ll keep working on projects.
Years ago, in writing back and forth with Dave Zeiger about his Triloboats designs, he used the above term, which sent me running for my dictionary. “Pulchritudinously challenged” was how he described his Triloboats designs; I thought it was just stunning of him to get right out in front of that touchy issue. The boats can be an acquired taste, visually, and it took some time for my eye to adjust. However, form follows function, and I am nothing if not smitten by good, capable function.
My new boat, GREAT AUK, is a variation on Dave’s SHANTY Triloboat design ( http://www.triloboats.com ). I made some adjustments, to suit my particular wish list. Mainly, the cabin is shortened, providing substantial outdoor deck space, and the entire deck, inside and out, is all on the same level. The giant tabernacle forward provides for low stress raising and lowering of the mast, which is raked forward for ease of sailing with its junk rig.
All of this, as far as I’m concerned, is funny-looking. I went crazy with the paint scheme partly just to have some fun, and partly because no matter how it was painted, there is no way this boat was going to blend into the background and be unnoticeable. Since one of my highest priorities is also avoiding getting run over by large traffic, bright colors provided for some additional safety too, following on the original theme.
Basically, this boat is a mobility-accessible party/houseboat, a bit more seaworthy than those nice flat-decked pontoon party boats, and capable of a certain amount of sailing. It’s arranged for its occupants to be able to get out of the weather, at the same time as enjoying all the beautiful scenery, having good visibility from inside when underway, and warming up on cool days in the northern sun.
Triloboats are designed for easy building, and for taking the bottom – going aground when the tide goes out – in comfort and safety. The copper sheathing means no bottom painting, and extra protection if one goes down on a bit of a rock where one was hoping for flat mud or sand. The straight sides are less complicated to build, and use construction materials more efficiently, than curvier shapes, with the trade-off being the loss of a certain amount of gracefulness of line.
As Dave said, it is indeed pulchritudinously challenged. But cute, in its own way, and functional enough to make up for all of it. In case anybody was wondering, and might have been afraid to bring up that touchy subject.
[Drawing: Christopher Lariviere]
All of this is of course now carrying on in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Maine is on lockdown, with the roads gone eerily quiet and our usual nice visits with friends and neighbors shut down. So boats carry on. I was recently quite sick, and am better now – no official test, but it’s possible that it was the real thing. An antibody development opportunity. Wishing everybody, around the world, all the very, very best as we move through this time.
There are enough nice photos of GREAT AUK’s mast going up and down that the subject really warrants its own post. And it really has been a bit of a project, overall. Photo credit for all the above: Suzanne Jean
One of the design goals for this boat has been that the mast should be easy to raise and lower, without drama, or strain, and without having to rustle up extra-muscly help. This approach makes the mast consistent with the design goals for the boat overall: ease of use, ease of maintenance, and general comfort (not necessarily in that order). Thus we have that high tabernacle, which allows the mast to lie comfortably on the top of the cabin, with enough of the lower mast below the pivot to form a substantial lever that provides for simple winching, both up and down. (We had a couple of complications that led to that upper pin being so close to the edge; bronze reinforcing straps can be seen in the third photo below.) Photo credit: Christopher Lariviere Photo credit: West Cove Boat Yard shop cam Photo credit: West Cove Boat Yard shop cam
Passage under bridges, generally, and under the bridge on the north side of Mount Desert Island, specifically, have been particular inspirations for this setup. Ease of trailer launching and retrieval has also been high on the list. I’m happy to say that testing the system has been quite successful. There will be some complexity when it comes to managing the junk sail bundle during this operation, which we’ll figure out in the spring, but all is looking very hopeful.
Originally, this boat was going to have an aluminum flagpole mainmast. I had tried once in the past to find a way to get a carbon mast for AUKLET, but was unsuccessful – the spar company that I approached said they could do it, but after a lengthy two months of repeated phone calls and emails to check on progress toward an actual work order, they very apologetically said that they could not do it after all. The boat was too small, and they did not have an appropriate mandrel for building a round, tapered spar that would suit the situation. Time was pressing by that point, and AUKLET acquired an aluminum flagpole. This worked out, but stepping and unstepping were not entirely smooth.
This time, at the ideal serendipitous moment in our building process I ran across a notice about somebody who had just gotten a carbon mast for their relatively small junk rig cruising boat. The company that had built it was quite happy about this, and featured the project on their website. How perfect! They were not only familiar with the overall concept (different in various respects from western rig masts), but happy about it! I was on the phone with them within days, and we started working out the design questions. Thanks so much to Nate Williams at GMT Composites in Rhode Island. Their website is here: http://www.gmtcomposites.com (Nope, not receiving anything for posting this, or for any clicks – just eternally grateful!)
If I had known just how well the tabernacle and winch arrangement was going to work, I might have gone with the aluminum flagpole approach for GREAT AUK, in spite of the weight. The tabernacle structure and the worm gear could easily handle it. But at the time of decision-making, all of our struggles with the weight of AUKLET’s mainmast were high in mind. That mast is hard to put up and down, as well as being hard to move on and off the boat even after the mast is horizontal. Far too many times I have looked on with trepidation, as two strong people have dealt with the awkwardness of anything to do with moving that pole. It’s not even that heavy, as these things go, at about 80 pounds. But still, the whole process has not inspired confidence.
The mast for GREAT AUK would be 4 feet taller, and heavier, in aluminum. It’s also high on the boat, adding weight where you don’t want it on a flat-bottomed barge hull, with no keel to bring it back up if it goes over. Carbon masts don’t come cheap, but the trade-off in ease and peace of mind was substantial. And there was that serendipitous availability, at just the right moment.
GMT Composites was quite thorough in their design process, and it gave me the opportunity to learn more about mast design and boat stability tables, which involve a fairly technical calculation process from which I had previously shied away. AUKLET’s mainmast was originally wood, built as designed by Phil Bolger for that boat’s original gaff rig. But then before we launched AUKLET for the first time, we had a delamination nightmare. This led to swiping the aluminum mast from the Peep Hen, because it was available in the garage. The sail area for the Paradox rig that went onto AUKLET was smaller than that of the Peep Hen, so it seemed reasonable to do this. But that Peep Hen mast never inspired confidence. It flexed quite a bit, and just made you think it could break, looking at it under trying conditions. So when we did the junk rig, and needed a taller mast anyway, I got a flagpole that was 1 inch larger in diameter than the one from the Peep. It looked sturdy, and in use was never frightening, including in some quite demanding situations. I was confident in copying that for this new boat, especially since the plan was to use the very same junk mainsail from AUKLET. (Technically that was not quite comparable, or proper – AUKLET heels easily, reducing strain on the mast, while a big flat barge will be quite stiff, increasing mast strain for the same wind and the same sail area.)
The dimensions of that 4″ flagpole are what I gave to Nate at GMT. He then asked if we had the “righting moment” for this hull. Now that’s a can of worms! Triloboats designer Dave Zeiger was gone sailing, and not reachable at that time. It turns out that righting moment is actually not one figure, but properly a table of figures, calculated from possible different angles of heel (leaning to the side) for the boat.
As it happens, the owner of West Cove Boat Yard, Christopher Lariviere, is both a person with a mechanical engineering degree and CAD skills. He’s the one who has done the nice CAD drawings of the plans for GREAT AUK, for our build there at WCBY, and he used work that he had already put together to calculate this new set of figures.
Christopher wrote this wonderful explanation of these calculations, at the time we were working through this:
The righting moment is not a single number but is a function of heel. Just so you know this is how it is done:
1) First you figure out where the center of mass of the boat is (mostly where it is vertically). You do this by figuring out the mass of all the individual parts of the boat and their individual centers of mass. Then you calculate the mass weighted average height for sum of the components which is the vertical center of mass. My calculation (on a spreadsheet) shows a total weight of components of 4900 lbs and a center of mass of 24.4″ above the very bottom of the boat.
2) You then place the hull at a variety of angles of heel in the cad drawing and let it figure out how much of the hull will be submerged and where the center of buoyancy is located. The horizontal distance between the center of buoyancy and the center of mass is your righting arm. The righting arm length times the mass of the boat gives you the righting moment.
For example, let’s say the boat heels to port 10 degrees. This causes the hull on port to submerge into the water a bit and the hull on starboard to come up out of the water a bit. So the center of buoyancy moves to port. The center of buoyancy is pushing up. The center of mass is pushing down. The result is the the boat tries to right itself.
Now if the hull continues to heel to port further and further, eventually you reach a point where the center of mass moves past the center of buoyancy. When this happens the righting moment changes sign and the boat flips over. So as long as your righting moment is positive you are ok.
I set the hull at different angles of heel and found the numbers:
As you can see even with 55 degrees of heel, the boat is still stable. However you can also see that the righting moment is dropping quite quickly at 55 deg of heel so you don’t want to go much further!
Attached [shown below] is a cad image of the hull sitting at 55 degree of heel and the resulting center of bouyancy. The starboard side of the hull is sitting way out of the water! Scary but still stable.
~ Christopher Lariviere, from May, 2019 email (shared here with his permission)
Drawing: Christopher Lariviere
Scary indeed! Makes my stomach do flips, just looking at that…
Meanwhile, I had sent that righting moment table off to Nate at GMT Composites. His conclusion was that we needed a 4 inch diameter carbon mast, at minimum. A 5 inch diameter carbon mast would be truly stout, but a lot more costly; the 4 inch version just squeaked in, for satisfying the design numbers. Interestingly, it turned out that the 4 inch diameter aluminum mast would have been seriously below the proper specs.
Since then I have had the occasion to really go through the materials at the JRA (Junk Rig Association) website for calculating junk rig mast dimensions (links at bottom of post). I did this for another project with which I am helping, and it was illuminating to finally get a little more understanding of those figures. In fact, going by the JRA-sourced calculations (thank you Arne Kverneland), an aluminum mast for GREAT AUK would indeed be more appropriately 6 inches in diameter with a 1/8 inch wall thickness.
Sometimes serendipity comes in many forms. Not driven hard, I think that the aluminum mast I was originally considering might have been okay. But I’m very happy to have a mast that is actually sized according to some appropriate math. I’m also very happy to have a carbon mast that, at an amazing 22 pounds (!), is truly manageable for people with a wide range of strengths. Feeling sheepish about the extravagance, I did get it painted an innocuous color, in hopes of very few people noticing that it’s not more basic aluminum… Photo credit: Nate Williams
Installing this nice carbon mast came with its own challenges, mainly to do with the holes for the 1/2 inch steel rods that form the upper pivot and the lower locking pin. Both of these horizontal holes in the mast need to be lined up with matching holes on either side of the tabernacle, which is not so easy to work out.
With an aluminum mast, you could use an extra long bit, start with the hole in the tabernacle (being very careful that everything is square), and then drill through into the aluminum, out the other side of the aluminum, and through the other side of the tabernacle. Easy peasy, the path for the pin would be all lined up. But with carbon, the holes for those pins need to be specially reinforced, and they are built at the same time as the mast. Photo credit: Nate Williams
Drilling through the tabernacle and hoping for the best, as far as hitting those existing holes, was a scary thought, and much pondering and a bit of postponing was going on at the boatyard, in the face of this task. I had no good solution either – Theo, in Holyoke, had done some very clever alignment by sight when we changed masts on AUKLET, and had to match existing holes in the aluminum. But it was chancy, even though it worked, and she has an extraordinary eye.
Fortunately, one of the crew at West Cove came upon that drilling conversation and had a much better approach (also saying, “no, that line up and hope for the best is never going to work!”) But he had a tremendous low-stress way to take care of this, which I’m explaining in detail for anybody who might be presented with the same problem:
First you take two pieces of “G 10″ tubing, with 1/4″ thick walls. G 10 is a fancy fiber-reinforced plastic that takes well to epoxy and is very, very strong (it can be found at places like McMaster-Carr). You cut sections of that tubing that are the length of the thickness of each side of the tabernacle (about 3 inches in this case). The outside diameter of that G 10 tubing is 1 inch. Then you drill a hole in each side of the tabernacle that is noticeably bigger than 1 inch – at least 1-1/8”. This way, you can position the mast, put the (well-waxed) pin through the hole in the mast, put the G 10 tubes on either end of the pin, slide them into the oversized holes in the tabernacle sides, and then glue those G 10 tubes into position inside the tabernacle sides, filling the gaps with thickened epoxy. Brilliant! This way the G 10 pieces can set themselves at exactly the correct alignment for the pin, and then become a permanent part of the tabernacle. Once the hinge pin and tabernacle/G 10 holes are in position, with epoxy hardened, then the mast is raised and the same procedure happens for the locking pin. You might notice in the photo that epoxy was injected through smaller holes perpendicular to the G 10 tubes… Photo credit: Christopher Lariviere
This is a puzzle that has followed me for so many years, and I am delighted to know this new approach. Thank you Durwood (aka Keith Fage)!!!
As described in more detail in the previous post, the mast raises and lowers with a worm gear winch. It’s working like a charm, and the whole thing looks so sharp, all raised. Photo credit: Suzanne Jean
Over the winter we’ll be working out a cap for the top of the mast, and a set of Dyneema webbing loops for a masthead fitting, to hold the various rigging lines and blocks. This will be somewhat similar to the masthead webbing on MARIGOLD, the Portland Pudgy dinghy seen in previous posts. Annie Hill and Arne Kverneland, both of the JRA, but on opposite sides of the world, have successfully used webbing masthead fittings for boats of around 24 feet, which gives me confidence in the approach. It’s easier than getting a custom metal fitting fabricated, and also adds much less weight to the top of the mast.
Originally I was puzzling about how to fit a bracket for a tricolor navigation light at the top of the mast, in a way that would not conflict with the webbing loops. There was also the question of a bracket for a VHF antenna, looking toward the possibility of AIS (the electronics that helps you not get run over in fog), like on AUKLET. I’m still curious as to how Annie made that work on her cruising boat, without chafe issues between the webbing and the light bracket – if she used one.
As the pondering was going on, Suzanne helpfully pointed out that this boat really isn’t intended for big open water, where lights mounted on the cabin or deck can be obscured by large waves. This point about the intended use is quite true, so that took care of the lights question, and bypassed some significant effort and complication that would be involved in running those wires up the mast, at the same time as allowing for its raising and lowering. Navigation lights will be mounted on the cabin.
Then there’s the question of AIS, but this also has has a simpler answer. Powerboats, without masts, also use AIS. The antenna is different: tall, skinny, and flexible, intended to be mounted on the top of the cabin, with a hinge so it can lie flat when not needed, or for trailering. This setup will be easy, and with the cabin top already about 7 feet above the water it should be high enough to work just fine. So the mast can be completely uninvolved in wiring, which is a great relief. All wires from lights and possible AIS can run directly into the cabin, right near their eventual destination. It’s nice to get to cross a complication off the list before it even starts!
So that’s the full story on GREAT AUK’s mast. When spring comes we’ll put on the sail and have some fun seeing how it goes. In the meantime, we get to keep tinkering with the boat, which is being a pretty good time in itself.
Thanks to everybody who is involved in this project! What a great group.
In addition to Race to Alaska prep, this past winter and spring also included work on a boatbuilding project. When the trip out west for the r2ak had to be called off, it was quite a bit of consolation to turn full focus to working on this closer-to-home effort. Balancing both projects was a bit much, and dividing the blog across the two of them seemed particularly chaotic, so I didn’t. But it did feel like I was leaving out quite a bit of the story, and I’m glad to be coming to it now. On the plus side, readers get to see a whole lot of progress all at once, rather than waiting for gradual installments!
A couple of years ago at the end of the sailing season, folks might recall that for a period of time I had decided I was completely done, as far as boats. That feeling lasted intact until about March of the following spring. Then, on a comparatively warm spring day – probably meaning about 40°F – sitting by the bay and looking out from the trees I had the small stirrings of a little bit of an itch to be on the water again. This was in contrast to the entire winter of clearly feeling that I was completely happy to see the ocean, ongoing, from a nice perch on solid ground.
When this stirring happened, it led to the question of what felt different. What was the pull, and what were the parts in which I no longer had any interest whatsoever, that had led to my grand decision about coming ashore. Two things came to mind: fear of rocks, and being completely over the various discomforts of sailing and sailboats.
Fear of rocks did not mean just any rocks. It meant big rocks with substantial waves breaking on them, the kind that can smash boats; that are so unforgiving in the face of miscalculations and mistakes related to tide, current, wind, and so many other details. The kind of rocks that test your seamanship, in keeping those rocks beautiful and interesting at an appropriately safe distance, and that keep a person up at night, checking to see that anchors have held, in an unexpected wind shift, or sailing away at two in the morning. I was tired of that worry, and of the constant underlying tension that is an appropriate part of keeping boat and crew well and safe, in the face of the multitude of shifting variables that are also what make boats and sailing so interesting.
Looking out on that day in March, at our protected Joy Bay, it occurred to me that I could be floating in beautiful places well away from breaking waves. Following that thought, like a thin thread down a path, it occurred to me that boats designed for protected coves can be comfortable. Full headroom, space to walk around, shelter from the sun and rain, and room to sit visiting with friends who are also comfortable. In chairs.
What I was describing in my mind was a “party boat.” Like those craft with aluminum pontoons, and awnings, and people enjoying a nice day on the lake. However, the vision of aluminum pontoons settling on a small but perhaps jagged rock when the tide goes out really took the fun out of that mental image. Still, the wide-open deck, and sun and rain protection, fit the bill precisely. It reminded me of the workboats that I have admired up and down the coast: barges with a pilothouse, used for everything from setting and pulling moorings, to driving piles, to carrying work or fishing gear from one place to another. What was so appealing was the deck space, the shelter that was as simple as going through a door, all on deck level, and, because I am a homegrown engineering nerd, the lifting boom/crane, for doing all manner of projects. Added to all of this, I do still like the idea of sailing, to get from one place to another.
Next thing you know, especially after conversations with Dave Zeiger of http://www.Triloboats.com, a boat plan was taking shape that would address this entire wish list. Bonus, Triloboats can be seriously sturdy. With copper sheet on the flat bottom, there are no maintenance issues to do with bottom paint, and the plywood construction has extra protection in case of the aforementioned possibilities of the tide letting the boat down on something other than plain mud or sand.
A high tabernacle, built sturdily, turned out to be acceptable to the folks who know the design issues. This allowed for the addition of a mast with a comparatively small sail that would clear the cabin, and would work for sailing downwind and across the wind, as well as for letting the mast down for travel underneath bridges, and raising it easily afterwards. Upwind possibilities remain to be seen, but the design goals for travel involve timing with the weather, and an electric motor with a substantial battery supply for mild upwind work. Leeboards were originally considered a possible later addition, but have now been included in the original building plans. This goes a long way to decrease worries about possible tracking and turning problems, as well as likely expanding the boat’s sailing capabilities.
About a year and a half ago this idea developed into a foamcore model.
Studying the model solidified my sense that what had happened was not that I was indeed permanently done sailing, but that my interests had evolved, and that I had grown into a different boat. I love AUKLET, for all of the boat’s capabilities and strengths, and for all the incredible time that we have spent. But for where things are now, it’s not the right craft. This might change, and AUKLET is not nearly up for sale, but we are now well down the path of the “next boat.”
Construction of GREAT AUK began this spring, at a small boatyard in Sorrento, Maine, about a 20 minute trip by road from where I live. Triloboats are easy to build, being designed for quick construction. It’s quite possible that the boatyard work will be done sometime next month, in August, and GREAT AUK will come here where we can complete rigging, and do the wiring for the electric motor system. It’s all quite exciting, and the next post will catch up on details of the build. It’s actually very close to done. I couldn’t be more thrilled. [Photo: Jon Mickel] [Photo: Suzanne Jean]
GREAT AUK’s design is a variation on Dave Zeiger’s SHANTY T24x8 Triloboat design, which can be seen here (once on this page, click on the link for SHANTY): http://triloboats.com/order.html
The GREAT AUK model was built by Chipper Daley, of Gouldsboro, Maine.
My very great thanks go to Dave Zeiger, Chipper Daley, Jon Mickel and Christopher Lariviere for all of their help in working out the details of this design. It’s been such a great process figuring it out together. Looking forward to seeing it float!
I’d also like to acknowledge the various friends who have talked with me about the design, and have led to it being a better boat: Suzanne Jean, Anke Wagner, Tim Pfeiffer, Chubba Kane, Annie Hill, Joanne Moesswilde, Janet Mascaro, Barbara Stone, Janine Georgette, Annie Keough, Peggy Drake, Warren Elliott, and Dave and Jeannie McDermott. Thank you all, for so many good “boat” conversations!
And many thanks to everybody at West Cove Boat Yard who have been building the boat. Special thanks to Jon Mickel, service manager at the boatyard, who has been doing so much to coordinate the project.
*** A version of this article will be appearing in the February, 2019 Junk Rig Association magazine; for unfamiliar terminology, be sure to check out the links in the “glossary” tab at the top of the Auklet blog. For loads more information on junk rig, and to receive the upcoming JR dinghy issue electronically or in print, consider joining the JRA! https://junkrigassociation.org/join_jra ***
The Portland Pudgy is a roto-molded polyethylene double walled 7’8″ dinghy, marketed as a combination dinghy/lifeboat for cruising sailors. A sailing rig, designed to break down and stow in the compartment in between the inner and outer hull, is available complete with a telescoping aluminum mast. In many ways the original sailing rig is well thought out, but it is not designed with easy reefing in mind. Other than the reefing issue, the Pudgy is an outstanding boat for sailing on its own. This made my own Pudgy, Marigold, seem a particularly good candidate for conversion to junk rig, for local sailing from our tidal dock. An endearing characteristic of the design is that when the boat is not loaded the drain plug can be removed, which makes the cockpit self bailing, so the boat requires no attention after heavy rains. All Marigold needed was a junk rig to make the sailing just as easy.
The original rig, perpetually reefed for safety when gusty wind could come up at short notice. Photo credit: Suzanne Jean
Fortunately, this Pudgy JR conversion has been done before! Marcus Raimon, and his little Portland Pudgy Pugwash, have already demonstrated just how well it can work. Marcus kindly provided dimensions of his rig, which made for a great starting point.
Designing and building Marigold‘s junk rig was fairly straightforward. The boat already had mast partners and step, rudder and tiller, and daggerboards that fit into molded slots port and starboard. Looking at the book Practical Junk Rig, and thinking about the length of the boat, it seemed appealing to go with a Hasler/McLeod sail, with a 6 foot batten length that was only slightly longer than what Marcus was using. We really miss Theo, since moving from Holyoke – she did such beautiful drawings, but we are muddling through. Suzanne and I traced this picture from Practical Junk Rig, and then filled in the measurements. This method really suffered at the throat of the sail, because of the small scale, and I can think of better ways to do it now, to more clearly show that topmost 4 inches of the luff. But I’m including this rough sketch and notes to show that you really can make it work anyway.
This is what we built the sail from, and it does still drive the boat, including upwind. Approximate math tells us that the sail is in the neighborhood of 45-47 square feet, without the missing bottom panel, which would add another 7.25 square feet. The diagonal measurement of 7’9.5″ sets the angle of the lower battens, which are intentionally not 90° in the H-M design. That diagonal line should land right at the throat, where the yard meets the sail, and there should be 2 inches, on center, from the uppermost parallel batten to the fanned batten, and then two inches again to the yard. But it works even if you goof that up a little bit, as we did…
Construction was a simple operation with UV stabilized polytarp, cord, and tape, with no sewing whatsoever. Our approach followed the assembly guidelines on the website http://www.PDRacer.com, as well as instructions that came with a different sail kit from PolySail International, saved from another project. In the end, we used bright orange UV stabilized polytarp, bought from a generic tarp store online. The color was chosen in hopes of avoiding getting run over while sailing such a small boat.
Starting off with a flat sail design made layout particularly easy, with one complication. Actual tarp sizes are smaller than the dimensions under which they are sold. The original sail plan called for five parallelogram panels, which we happily laid out… And discovered that the fanned top of the sail ran right off the edge of the tarp. Nominal and actual tarp dimensions are not the same! Which I knew, but had not realized by quite how much. Photo above and below: Suzanne Jean
This was solved by redrawing, with one less parallelogram panel, and rubbing off the original lines.
With the outline in place, and batten positions marked for later, the next step was to put double-sided carpet tape just to the outside of the perimeter outline.
Below, Suzanne is trimming the excess tarp from the outside of that additional width of tape.
Once the tarp (now a sail cutout) was down to a manageable size, most of the rest of the work took place indoors, where it was considerably warmer. A non-stretch polyester perimeter line was laid alongside the inside edge of the double-sided carpet tape, the second backing pulled off, and the edge of the tarp folded across the non-stretch line and stuck down with the tape. Because we used tape rather than stitching, the usual edge-webbing for junk rig sail construction would not work, but the line folded into the tarp seems to be doing the job just fine for this small sail. Shemaya folding in perimeter line. Photo: Suzanne Jean
Corner patches were added to the head and throat, using more double-sided tape and triangles of tarp.
After all that was in place we added Gorilla Tape – especially heavy-duty duct tape – to cover all the folded edges. I believe that the layers of tape are also helping to take the place of the webbing that would normally be added to the perimeter of a stitched JR sail. The purpose of the webbing is to prevent stretch; the tape layers seem to be adding quite a bit of additional support to the perimeter line, together making the edge of the sail quite stable.
Once the tape was on, grommets went in at the head and throat. This could be done more simply, but we had the grommet kit already, so we went ahead with this version. For an effective low-cost alternative, check out this riveted “jiffy grommet” available from Sailrite (link included for readers’ convenience – I am not receiving anything for printing it): https://www.sailrite.com/Jiffy-Grommet
Photos below are of regular spurred grommet installation with hammer and dies.
Battens were attached next, made up of 1/2″ OD x .035 wall thickness aluminum tube (https://www.onlinemetals.com/merchant.cfm?pid=4352&step=4&showunits=inches&id=71&top_cat=60 – nope, not receiving anything for posting). Wooden molding from the hardware store went on the other side of the tarp, with plastic wire ties sandwiching it all together. We simply used an awl to poke the holes, not being inspired about breathing burning plastic that would have come with the method that involves burning – and thus sealing – holes with a soldering iron. The small holes seem to be holding up just fine in use, without the melting. Machine screws, with flat washers and nyloc nuts, fasten the batten ends, and the same screws hold webbing loops for attaching rigging. If I were to do this again, I would fasten the aft webbing loops so as to straddle the ends of the battens, which would help the sheetlets avoid getting stuck on one side when tacking. It was a bit of an ordeal getting the machine screws through the heavy tape, so I’m in no hurry to take it apart just to change it over.
The yard was not yet in place in the above photo, but it’s just a piece of dowel “closet rod” from the hardware store, 1 1/8″ in diameter. I was concerned that this might not be strong enough, and planned that if there were a problem I would add more material by lashing it on, but it seems to be just fine in use as it is. The yard is attached to the sail with plastic wire ties, as well as with lashing through holes drilled at either end for tying to the head and throat grommets.
The boom is simply another batten, on the foot of the sail, with no extra reinforcement. It’s an endearing characteristic of junk rig that the boom carries very little strain, because the sheet parts go to each batten. For this reason the boom can be lightweight, making it much less of a swinging hazard than the heavier Western variety.
The masthead fitting is particularly important in a junk rig, because of the various lines that support the sail bundle. This fitting is ordinarily a custom metal band or cap with rings for attaching the rigging. The one for Marigold, however, is made out of webbing. My many thanks go to Annie Hill for this suggestion, which is what she did on her bigger boat Fantail; the webbing masthead fitting is easy, lightweight, and simple, and works like a charm. It fits snugly on the top of the mast, and though I had originally planned to add a couple of small screws to make sure it stayed in place, inertia set in and I decided to try it without. With all the downward pull of the lines, the webbing has shown no inclination whatsoever to come loose, and being such a small dinghy it has felt acceptable to leave the webbing unfastened, avoiding holes in the wood and possible water issues with screws that are removed every year.
One caveat is that it’s important to use webbing that is UV stable. The polypropylene that is often used for sail ties will degrade in the sun in short order, completely losing its strength and becoming a safety hazard. Polyester is more suitable, as are some of the high-tech modern materials, though I used nylon because I had it on hand. The nylon seems to be working out just fine; in this use there is no problem if it stretches a bit, and it appears to be holding up well enough to the sun. For a detailed discussion of webbing material characteristics, see http://www.sailrite.com/Notions/Webbings. (Link included for readers’ convenience – I am not receiving anything for printing it.)
The knot seen in the masthead fitting picture below is the “water bowline,” which I happened to come across last year; it has become my new favorite knot. This photo was taken after the end of the sailing season, without any adjustment or retightening. The water bowline has been great for rigging, because even with slippery modern line it does not work loose on its own in the way that regular bowlines or two half hitches often do when they are unloaded and shaken, as happens so often on a sailboat. I’m delighted to have done away with using waxed thread to secure the tail of every rigging knot. As an aside, here’s my favorite video for how to tie this knot: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDhqEtfWCcg Shown on a scrap of dowel, not the actual mast. Photo: Suzanne Jean
Once we had all the various pieces in order, we had a tremendous amount of fun rigging the whole thing in the living room. I could not be more pleased at the ease of working on such a small sailboat rig. My fun seems to be magnified, the smaller the boats get – it’s easy, it’s lightweight, and something about raising the mast and sail right there in the living room still makes me laugh.
The original aluminum mast was too short for the new rig, mainly because the telescoping tubes had frozen with corrosion in the mast’s shortened “reefed” position. Being inclined for very simple test materials, we got a 12′ piece of “closet rod” dowel from the hardware store, which is hardwood of some indeterminate kind. This is the same material that we used for the yard, except that this one for the mast is 1 1/2 inches in diameter, which is the largest size available at our local store.
On the boat, a 3 foot piece of aluminum tubing with an outside diameter of 2 inches fits into the original partners and step. The closet rod mast drops down into that aluminum tube, with a bit of play at the top of the tube, which benefits from the addition of a couple of small wedges. The mast step that is molded into the Portland Pudgy is slightly tapered, so the heel of the whole arrangement has been without play, both for the aluminum tube and for the dowel mast inside it.
The original theory of this tubing arrangement was partly that it would provide extra strength at the partners, along with being the correct size for the existing partners and step. But the bigger reason was that the sail bundle, with all the batten parrels, could then be dropped down over the aluminum tubing, and the wooden mast could be removed without fussing with the parrels, which would be all in order when the mast was put back in place for sailing.
In practice, the dinghy does not seem to mind having the mast left up at the float, including in some pretty bouncy waves, and when the little boat dries out with the tide it has seemed fine as well. Some of the lines that go to the masthead are also not perfectly simple to release, which one needs to do in order to allow enough room to lift the mast clear of the aluminum tubing. Because of this complication, and because the boat was faring well with the mast in place, in the end we just left the mast stepped until the time came to break everything down for winter. I do think that the tubing has provided useful additional support for the lowest part of the skinny dowel, especially at the partners.
The sail bundle stows well in the boat when not in use. There is only one aft lift (lazy jack), and it fastens to the boom by clipping into a small carabiner that is lashed to the boom. To stow the sail, the aft lift is unclipped and slid forward, allowing the sail bundle to come down securely into the cockpit where it gets tied to one side. Photo: Suzanne Jean
The boat sails nicely with the new rig, and is generally balanced in spite of the changes, except for upwind when it rather predictably tends toward lee helm. This upwind issue is a result of the new sail area forward of the mast, and is easily corrected with the tack hauling parrel, using it to shift the lower part of the sail farther aft which restores the overall balance. Batten parrels are cut long, so that off the wind the tack hauling parrel can be let out, easing the sail forward across the mast and doing away with weather helm.
After sailing in choppy water it became apparent that the rig would also benefit from a yard hauling parrel. It’s completely unnecessary under many conditions, but in the right kind of chop the yard thrashes enough to make one worry about breakage. The yard hauling parrel was simple to add, and took care of the hazard while also improving the sailing, as it stopped the wind from being repeatedly knocked out of the sail in light air conditions with waves.
Then there’s the sheet arrangement. The original rig for this boat used a line traveler for the sheet block, simply attached through holes at either side of the tiller on the transom. With the JR rig, using 6 foot battens, it works well to run the sheet back and forth from the blocks on the sheetlets to three blocks at the transom, which are tied individually into a substitute line in place of that original traveler. In this photo the sail was reefed, so the lowest section of the sheet is bypassed, using the sheet as it exits the second stern block instead of the third.
Some discussion has been had in the JRA fora that perhaps all those sheet parts are not necessary for such small boats. I figured that rigging it this way was an experiment, and that I might end up doing away with some of those parts. In practice, I’ve liked them after all. They require much less strength than a single sheet, which is convenient when one is not in the most ergonomic position for hauling on lines, being reclined in the bottom of a dinghy.
Also worth a mention, for those of us in the “not perfectly spry” category of years or circumstance, is that I ended up leading the halyard and the tack hauling parrel back to a handy spot that is reachable from the comfort of my usual sailing position. This is not fancy: the boat has attachment points forward and aft, low in the cockpit on each side, that were originally intended for lifting the boat on davits. A scrap of line, with two loops tied into it close to hand, is stretched out between the two starboard lifting rings; those loops make perfectly reasonable spots for quick slip knots for the halyard and tack hauling parrel. Someday cam cleats might be nice, particularly for one-handed use while also steering, but the present set up is working well enough for now, and is quite an improvement over scrambling forward. This arrangement is a little bit visible in the earlier photo of the stowed sail in the boat at the float.
Photo: Craig Pursell
All in all, the junk rig for the Portland Pudgy feels like quite a success, and a real improvement on the original rig when it comes to local daysailing. The junk rig reefs quickly and easily in our gusty and changeable protected-water winds, and over the summer and fall I was impressed with how much more secure I felt in the little boat, compared to previous forays with the old rig and too much sail area, which had made for a bit of a reminder of the real possibilities for dumping an 8 foot dinghy. Furling the sail is also vastly easier than the previous arrangement, which had required standing and wrestling the sail and boom up against the mast for tying, and removing the whole business, mast and all, when not in use.
Additionally, the original rig was prone to substantial lee helm and weather helm, as wind intensity and point of sail changed. This was a particular problem with the somewhat flexible plastic rudder, which was strained by these steering issues in strong wind. Being able to shift the JR sail forward and aft, using the tack hauling parrel, has meant a significant improvement in both safety and comfort, as it has taken the strain off the steering.
Since the new rig feels like a keeper, a “proper” mast is now in the works, being built of tapered spruce and close to 14 feet in height. This extra height will allow plenty of room for adding that bottom panel back onto the sail, which was otherwise going to be a bit cramped. The new mast will fit the existing partners and step, with no aluminum tube. I am also having some small thoughts of trying a cambered sail for comparison, though there are no immediate plans.
Just as it is, the new rig has made the Pudgy even more of a pleasure than it already was, for all sorts of sailing around the neighborhood. Photo: Suzanne Jean
Arriving in Rockland Harbor anchorage, after quite a flurry. Yes, the clew on that sail could use an additional line down to the boom… Photo credit: Teeter Bibber
The most alarming thing that happened in the Peep Hen this year had to do with sailing in quite strong wind gusts, that were blasting in from radically different directions compared to wherever the last one had come from. In this situation, the boat can go a long ways toward ending up right over on its side. Being a Peep Hen, with heavy ballast in its box keel, it does reliably come back upright, but it’s the one situation in this boat where, from my perspective, things really are not fun. It’s worth considering the details on this possibility, if one is inclined to test the limits on this particular boat.
Ordinarily, the Peep Hen does very, very well. Especially when loaded for cruising, it’s comfortable, and easy to sail in a perfectly reasonable range of coastal conditions. It’s a little snappy when it’s not loaded, but water, food, and gear for multiple nights take care of that nicely. Twice this summer, both times in harbors in Penobscot Bay, things got more complicated. Both happened in strong, gusting northwest wind. I have friends who decline to sail their bigger boats on those days in this area, and I’m understanding that thinking quite a bit better lately.
The first time this problem came up was after a half a day of sailing on a beam reach, going south from Belfast and headed for Rockland. The wind increased as things went along, but the boat was fine. The handheld anemometer showed gusts to about 18 knots, right there at cockpit level, but they arrived more or less from the same direction, and the boat was already making good speed in the steadier wind of 12 to 14 knots. Eventually I put in a reef, which settled things down nicely.
A bit later I was working my way into Rockland Harbor, and without realizing it had happened, picked up a lobster trap buoy and its line, hooked on the rudder. The boat steered funny, and was slow, and three times I looked over the stern, expecting to see something amiss, but nothing showed. In the past, hooking a lobster trap line (called a “pot warp” in this area) has stopped the boat dead, unceremoniously turning the bow away from the wind. This day, the wind was so strong that we (boat and I) were towing that lobster trap behind us, all the while tacking into the inner part of the harbor. Good grief.
This would have been enough complication for one day (never mind with the problem still unrecognized) but the next thing that happened was that ferocious wind gusts came blasting from the land, toward the mouth of the harbor. Just like that, the boat was well over on its side, and not nearly as inclined to come right back up as is usually the case. Having such high topsides, water did not quite pour over the gunwale into the cockpit, but very nearly. The boat was over well past 45°, but as there is no clinometer (yet!) we don’t have figures for it.
Ordinarily it has worked out very well in this boat to sail with the main sheet wrapped in a couple of figure eights around a vertical pin in the tiller. We have used that pin to replace the clam cleat that the boat came with, because the clam cleat was prone to jamming. The pin arrangement is easy to release, but stays put.
Fastening the main sheet at all goes against conventional wisdom, which says that on a small boat one should never have the main sheet cleated; rather one should be somehow holding it, so that it can be released instantly in case of problems.
My experience with this particular boat has been that it’s possible to get away with fastening the sheet in most situations, because when there is a big gust of wind, simply turning the boat into the wind with the tiller is enough to release the strain and let the boat get back on its feet, which it does immediately. The only situation where I’m in the habit of holding the sheet is if there’s not enough room to make that turn, either because of other boats, the shoreline, or stray rocks and other obstacles. Otherwise, it has worked out fine to have the sheet wrapped on that pin.
Not so, on this day! There was of course a cure for this alarming heeling in the gusts: to go back to holding the sheet, so that it could be quickly released when the boat started to get pushed over. It also helped to leave the sail set further out than normal for sailing upwind, and both of these things I eventually did. But it was still shocking to have had the boat go over so far, to put the tiller completely to leeward, and to have the boat not come up immediately, and it took more than one round to begin to figure it all out. It was as if the boat had no headway because of recovering from the previous pushing-over, so the steering had no effect, and the rudder was unable to turn the boat into the wind and let it come back up. In hindsight, it’s also possible that the boat was over so far that the rudder was out of the water anyway. Either way, the lobster trap interfering with forward motion was not helping the situation!
Eventually I looked, yet again, over the stern, and this time could see the line stretching down into the water, and the buoy pinned tightly to the lowest part of the far side of the rudder, where it had been well hidden from my vantage point on the other side of the boat. Five minutes later the buoy and its line were popped loose with a boat hook, and the boat was free, though it was still a bit of a project to get to the upwind corner of the harbor where I had planned to anchor.
During the worst of this whole production, the wind on the handheld anemometer registered gusts of 22 knots, and sustained wind of 18 knots. Heaven only knows why, with all that going on, one of my priorities was holding that gauge up in the air for its little propeller to catch the wind! Though it can be comforting, because though the numbers are somewhat high, you would swear that the wind was something like 35 or 40, and of course it wasn’t. Seeing those objective figures helps with relaxing about the whole situation. A gauge mounted at the top of the mast probably would have read about 5 knots higher, based on my experience with wind speeds reported by NOAA, but the handheld one is in the ballpark.
The biggest question, analyzing this experience after the fact, had to do with whether the lobster trap was the primary cause of the problem, or if the high gusts coming from such different directions would have created all that trouble by themselves. I was happy to live in suspense about this, rather than repeating those particular conditions. There were whitecaps everywhere, in spite of the wind only having a couple of hundred yards of fetch as it came off the land onto the water, and it wasn’t a storm. Sheesh.
As it turned out, a few weeks later, again in Penobscot Bay but this time at Holbrook Island, there was enough wind, shifting and gusting, to try it again. Too bad! But it was fascinating. This time there was definitely no lobster trap, and the wind was not quite as strong, but I unfortunately started out with a full sail, with no reefs. Gusts registered 16 to 18 knots on the same meter, but like the previous time, their direction was shifting dramatically, and in between the gusts the wind was barely blowing. In the same way as before, the boat would have no speed, because of the lull between the gusts, and then blam, we would be a whisker away from taking water over the side.
On a boat with more average topsides, meaning the part of the hull between the waterline and the gunwale, taking a little water over the rail happens a lot more often, because the boat does not need to be over nearly so far before the rail is dipping into the water’s surface. Because of the design of the Peep Hen, this is not true on this boat – taking water over the side means that your other biggest concern is keeping yourself from falling right out, because the boat is over so far. Though the tiller makes an outstanding handhold.
At any rate, during this new rendition of the same test, the original goal was to move across the relatively small, enclosed harbor from the visitor float on the public access island, to my destination of a particularly well-protected anchoring spot a few hundred yards upwind. The breeze had come up quite a bit while the boat was at the float, and although there were no whitecaps the gusts were strong, and shifting dramatically. Setting out from the float it seemed sensible to keep some sail area, in hopes of making progress in tacking upwind to the anchoring spot. Reefing ahead of time would have been better!
As it was, once again the boat was being instantly flattened in the giant gusts. Releasing the sheet helped, but because the boat was getting no speed in between being pushed over, it did, indeed, not work to turn into the wind to relieve the strain of the gusts. Extraordinary.
This all went on for close to an hour, this second time around, and included putting in a reef and eventually inching up the inside of the island to my anchoring destination. The effort was successful, but not pleasant. I missed AUKLET, both for the junk rig which is so easily reefed, and for the better behavior of the larger boat in this sort of wind.
In hindsight, I’ve learned quite a bit, both about how to read the conditions, and what to expect from the Peep Hen based on what I am seeing, as well as about how to judge the options of a particular moment, in order to stay out of this kind of situation in the first place. That’s all to the good, and in fact I’m happy to have had the opportunity to learn all of this. There were many, many sailing days this summer and fall, and only a small part of two of those included this kind of unpleasantness. In both of those problematic situations it would have been possible to make other choices and to have avoided those experiences entirely, if I had known what I was getting myself in for. Now I know!
The takeaway from all of this is that strong wind in this boat is okay if it’s something like consistent, allowing the boat to be up to speed for handling gusts. Trying to sail upwind in strongly gusting harbor wind, with dramatic shifts in direction and minimal wind between the gusts, is a recipe for a good bit of difficulty. It’s not likely to be nice in pretty much any boat when that sort of thing is going on, but it’s a real hazard in the Peep Hen. In the future I will sit tight, not pulling up the anchor if those conditions are going on or forecast, and will modify destinations if I’m already out, so as to sail across the wind. Further, if need be I will accept a perhaps rolling anchorage rather than insisting on an upwind attempt at that time. It’s much clearer to me now, where the hazards lie, and as a result those hazards are much more avoidable.
The boat is still great. It is after all 14 feet long, and there are limits. It’s good to know more about where those limits are!
Note: complications with lobster trap lines are also mostly unnecessary, for this style of sailboat, with the addition of a small piece of material at the back of the keel: a section of sail batten or similar plastic, or metal bar, which is fastened to the underside of the keel, and will guide lines harmlessly across the gap between keel and rudder. This is in the works for SERENITY, now that the boat is up on its trailer.
The Peep Hen is, after all, quite a small boat; it was interesting, this summer and fall, to find out a little bit more about what works, and where the limits start to show, for this design. SERENITY is out of the water now (photos from the nice day we had hauling it are coming sometime soon) and I’ve been reflecting on what I learned in these last months.
In average conditions, the Peep Hen does fine. It is sturdier than most boats its size, because of the ballasted keel, and is very dry, and generally a lot of fun.
Then there are the considerations that come up when the wind and/or water are something other than average. There are three main categories for the new information gained: tacking in less than ideal conditions; strong wind that is gusting and shifting; and drying out on soft surfaces. This post will address tacking, with each of the other issues appearing in their own blog entries over the next few days.
Learning to tack this boat reliably has been fascinating. Many thanks to folks on the Hensnest Yahoo group (https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Hensnest/info), who offered crucial advice after a day when I had troubles in stronger wind and a steep chop, finding it impossible to get the boat to go about. This was only sorted out by turning all the way around in a circle and jibing; the boat was on thin ice as far as its happy home, by the end of that experience. But as so often, this had more to do with the operator than the boat.
There are several strategies which help with tacking that I was already using: watching the waves for the least disruptive moment to turn; picking up speed before going about; and shifting weight across the boat to leeward as the turn is being made. Additionally, in general it’s a good idea to put the tiller only partway over, letting the rudder do the job of turning without being far enough to the side to act as a brake; I was doing that gentle turning too.
Having one sail and a centerboard has been new for me, and this is both a big source of the problem, and where all that good advice has been particularly helpful. I have now learned that, first off, letting the centerboard all the way down provides a better pivot point for the boat, which helps it to turn. Second, when the sail is sheeted in tight it will help the wind to push the back end of the boat around. The nuances of this second adjustment only became clear gradually.
The Peep Hen has a boom gallows, that wooden bar above the back end of the cockpit, supported by a couple of poles and some bracing. (On my boat this is lowered to match the original drawing – on most production Peep Hens it’s taller, which might or might not interfere with the boom coming across the cockpit. It’s also pretty much wrapped up in the stowed green cockpit awning, in the photo below.) One of the bonus advantages of either version of this gallows arrangement is that it provides a very accurate reference point for the position of the boom relative to the centerline of the boat. Ordinarily, when sailing upwind it is my habit to keep the boom adjusted 3 or 4 inches to the outside of the gallows. If you sheet the sail in too tight, the sail looks great, but boat speed is seriously diminished. The outside position seems to work as the best compromise for upwind progress.
After receiving all the great advice from the Hensnest folks, a few days later I was again out in windy and choppy conditions, sailing upwind and needing to tack. I put the centerboard all the way down, and was delighted to find that tacking worked like a charm, every time. This was vastly different from the previous round, and led me to believe that the centerboard position was doing the whole job. Because I was sailing alone and it seemed like a lot to manage, I did not try pulling in the sheet as I was going about, and was quite happy to see the whole business work without that extra step, repeatedly.
Some time later, different day, more wind, more waves, I confidently made sure that the centerboard was all the way down, went to tack, and failed, falling back on the original tack. Fortunately this was not a problem, with the shore at a good distance. Three more tries, still no successful tack. The waves were fairly large, and chaotic, in the oversize tide rip that happens at the north end of Penobscot Bay between Stockton Springs and Castine, with a good strong wind of 15 to 20 knots, against the tide. Not that I would do that twice!
As this non-tacking was going on I was reflecting on those various bits of Hensnest advice, and eventually realized that because of the hefty wind, I was sailing with the sail adjusted farther out than normal, so that it would be luffing a little bit. There was already one reef in, and that bit of luffing made the boat more manageable, especially in the gusts. The sail was out about 6 inches farther than usual, which in the grand scheme of things is not that much. Still, adjusting it closer in was worth a try. In came the sheet, bringing the boom to its more customary position, and next try the boat turned through the wind as if it always did that. And every time after, in that same chaotic wind and waves. Just a few inches of adjustment made all the difference in the maneuver working or not.
Since that time I have discovered that for extra push, as the boat goes around it’s not too hard to grab one line of the sheet where it runs between the block on the boom and the one on the back end of the tiller, and to just pull on that line sideways as one moves across the boat during the tack. It sounds awful, but it’s really not so hard, and it draws the sail in tight without any other adjustments. Then you just let go once the boat starts to come across the wind. (The main sheet on SERENITY is typically cleated – more on this in the section on large gusts.)
With all of these strategies, the Peep Hen has become a boat that tacks reliably. I’m delighted to not be using the motor to assist with failed tacks, which is what I used to do in those trips a few years ago. Even the designer has been quoted as saying that it’s good to keep the motor running for sailing upwind in this boat. Having to do that was going to be a dealbreaker these days, perhaps sending the boat to a new home, and I’m very happy to find that it doesn’t have to be the case.
Originally, in taking the Peep Hen out I missed having a second sail, whether jib or mizzen, particularly for making turns. Over these last months it feels like I’ve become a better sailor, understanding more clearly what drives the boat; I’m looking forward to seeing how this new understanding opens up possibilities for more nuanced sailhandling, when next I’m out in a boat with more than one sail!