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Anke and I are building our next boat, and writing about it at Access to the net comes and goes, so I'll be writing in fits and spurts.

Please feel free to browse the archives, leave comments where you will and write, and I'll respond as I can.

Fair winds!

Dave and Anke
triloboats swirl gmail daughter com

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Winter Birds

By Shel Silverstien

Winter Birds

Autumn is a time of visible transition.

Verdant leaves funk or flame before skurriling to ground. Seawater clears, revealing empty aquatic volume where lately salmon swam and swarmed. Birds write their winged cuniforms across a lonelier sky.

People, too, flow southward in search of sun. Or, with a hint of irony, snow. Those on the water, especially, if not driven by some economic necessity, leave the long straights and stretches to we few weird-birds who haunt them at the dark of the year.

But we're in good company!

We have a special place in our hearts for the birds who stay on... ravens, crows and eagles, owls, loons, herons, kingfishers, duck of several species, juncos, thrushes, ousels, gulls and cormorants. Geese and swans make their appearances, too, often lingering long. There are little brown birds whose names I don't know, working the bush for seed and the tideline for buglings.

I take special pleasure in watching them revel in winter, right through its sterner moments. They wash and preen and fluff themselves against the cold, chattering and flirting it up. As if this were paradise. As if they were born and bred for it.

It's true that nature extends her cold claw this time of year, culling the exhausted, the inattentive, the unlucky or those whose genes bet the wrong way. Toes to the fire, I wonder at their thoughts through the long, boreal nights of rain and snow and darkness. But those who remain feed each day to keep the fires burning within their breasts.

And come spring again, their young hatch out into the waxing day.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Pop Up Tents

Commercial Pop Up TentsFrom springwire... toss in the air to unfurl

Live in the sunshine
Swim the sea
Drink the wild air
-- Emerson

Pop-Up Tents

Most of the barge/scow hulls in the world have wide open decks, with hatches as needed. Why? Cheap and flexible.

Most of the yachts in the world have fixed, trunk cabins as superstructure with fixed, furnished interiors. Why? Um. Well... at a guess? Tradition? Laziness? We're all wannabee ocean crossers? Harder to say.

Trunk cabins and furniture break up the open spaces and limit our options. True, they don't have to be set up at the end of a long day. Or in the rain. Or in the dark. In our boats, we've always chosen this style, but only after a good deal of waffling.

Of course, a mix is always an option. Just because we're designing box barges doesn't mean we have to stay in the box!  An aft trunk cabin, say, with the whole forward deck flush and extensible is entirely possible.

So let's take a look at open deck, flexi-space architecture, extended by pop-up tents. Here, I'll present three types I find especially attractive.

Hatch Cover Tent

This approach, shown on my T24x4,6,8 SANDBOX design, simply tilts the midships hatch up, then puts a custom fabric shell over it. The flap, shown, ties to the gallows to provide a vestibule of sorts.

The idea is to work with existing hatches, using the covers as structure for the fabric shell, and the hatch coamings as landingss for it. One could cant the hatch cover, as shown, split it in two for side walls, or raise it at both ends for a more horizontal roof.

Supporting struts for the hatch require a little ingenuity, but nothing others haven't solved for us, time and again.

Pram Style Tents
This one from check 'em out!

Pram style tents have hoops that go to a common point, and rotate around that point. They can be fully or partially erected for anywhere from stowed flat to full coverage.

Hoops don't have to be round, as shown here... they can be more or less squared off to clear rectangular hatches when stowed (with maybe a little arc on the upper edge for rain shedding).

These have been used on boats very successfully for small hatch openings (JESTER pram hoods by 'Blondie' Hasler and Scott McCleod), and for large, open spaces (TIKI tents by James Wharram).

Advantages are quick and easy set-up, many intermediate positions and fold-flat for low windage.

Lightweight Emergency Shelter
by Patrick Wharram
This third approach is by Patrick Wharram (no known relation to James Wharram). It's superficially similar to the pram approach, but the lower hoops do not go to a common point. This allows a longer run than is possible with the pram.

Alongside a hatch, a pair of tracks can guide slides at the bottom of the hoop Vees. This can be extruded aluminum or DIY wood T- or C- track. Like the pram style tent, this can be erected fully or partially, depending on conditions. Again, hoops can be squared off if desired.

Framed Structures on WATERPOD
Note fabric biminies and domes on framed structures

Here we see a fairly complex set of frames that spread fabrics along over the decks of WATERPOD. These can range from very simple to very complex (the actual build sports a geodesic dome!).

Frames can be multi-purposed to provide security for the crew, mount solar panels and other gear, even support rigging. Fabric can be stretched over set frames in different ways, depending on conditions.

Here's another example... a fishing boat from Lago Maggiore, Italy:


So lots of options, not to mention just setting up a regular old tent on the flat deck.

Pop up tents can be tailored to the weather... open and airy in the heat. Cozy and insulated in the cold and wet. They may be aided and abetted by pop up or inflatable furniture - chairs, loveseats, tables, bunks and shelving - all deployed and arranged for the needs of the day.

Flexible spaces for changing needs.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Ambiguous Uncertainty. Adaptability. Stillness in Transition.

Ambiguous Uncertainty. 
Stillness in Transition.
-- Chinese qualities associated with SLACKTIDE

Greetings, Friends... I apologize for my abrupt disappearance! Two deceased computers and a minimal internet access point pretty much put the world on read-only status.

We have substantially completed WAYWARD ex T32x8 LUNA, and are now sailed to our winter caretaking gig in Baranof Warmsprings Bay. Her split junk rig is a prototype, which checked out this summer... we'll be building final sails this winter.

However, there's been a substantial change in our lives.

We've taken on a new cruising partner, Casey Phillips. For various reasons, neither his boat (S/V BRISK) nor ours are suitable for the three of us, so we'll likely be building again in a way that can accommodate our new 'footprint'. Quick and dirty, this time, but with better on-board internet access and geared for older age cruising. Down the road.

Thank you for your interest in Triloboats and our lives on the water. I'll definitely be writing more this winter, and hope not to drop out like that again!

Fair winds,

Dave, Anke and Casey

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Good Knife, Bad Knife

Our Knives currently in service On Board and at the Work Site

Son, when ya gotcher bollocks snarled o' the mainsheets, 'tis no time to be fumblin' in yer pocket fer a knife!
-- Old Salt Advocating a Sheath Knife in Characteristically Declarative Form

Good Knife, Bad Knife

The Good Knife has been a boon to our species since the first flint was napped. A keen edge and stout blade have been the sailor's friend since the first line was spliced. To a boatwright, it's the first tool in hand and the last to be set aside.

Its edge is the stuff of legend... forged in the fires of Vulcan hisself, it must only be sharpened on stones quarried by the full moon, using potent unguents, trigonometries and incantations. It's virtue must be guarded against the coarseness of base matter and the corruption of oxidation. Purified and preserved, it may be drawn in the day of need to slay the Dragon.


Hyperbole aside, a Good Knife can mark, slice, part, shave and – in a pinch – perform minor surgery. Its virtues and minutia are compared and contrasted down to the least degree. It's design and creation are the hallmarks of art and mastery.

But the BAD Knife... who has sung its praises? What sailor hath come forth to speak on its behalf? Plenty with high standards come forth to diss it. Life's too short, and all that. Well, here once again, to give voice to the down-trodden...

Since my early days as a sea-faring wood-butcher, I've carried two knives on my belt. One is a Good Knife, and the other Bad.

The Bad Knife, as you might expect, handles the dirty work. You know... scraping paint, cleaning fouled screw threads, cutting cardboard patterns, excavating a fastener, paring wood of dubious provenance, cutting down to a metal backstop, working around glue, a cautious bit of prying, working where a bump or slip will send it to Davey Jone's... in short, 99% of the jobs around the water.

The Bad Knife is the jack-of-all-trades. Johnny-on-the-spot. The tool at hand that saves you that return trip up and out of the bilge, down a ladder to rummage through the toolbox for that specialized tool that claim to do a momentary job a mere fraction of a bit better. The Bad Knife sneers at all those sissified tools populating those glossy catalogues. Sniggers at that prissy Good Knife, come to that.

It's got to be cheap. One step up from disposable. If possible, bought in quantity. If you don't run through them, so much the better. If you do, a Zen/Amazon non-attachment is a fine thing (AmaZen?).

It needs to be able to take a reasonable edge without putting too much time into it. Zip, zap and git 'er did. If it takes more than five minutes to restore the edge, it's too hard, and treading on the Good Knife's territory. Forget about removing minor nicks and notches. If it has to be sharpened more than once a week (barring the occasional, kamikaze mission), it's too soft.

Or thereabouts... your call. Point is, its steel must be bad enough to abuse, but not so bad it's useless. Where those endpoints lie is up to you.

A thickish blade is fine, in theory, as we'll want to beat on it, often with a hammer or axe. But we're most of us sailing small boats, so we won't be parting giant hawsers. Unless we want to chop the mast down with our blade, a thin-ish one will do. A little less than 1/8th inch (3mm) has been plenty for all I've ever asked of them.

For the Bad Knife, I've personally come to like full-tang, drop-tip style, without handle cheeks and no serration. This type lies flat and unobtrusive as possible... easier to wear without hanging up on every durn thing, and to stow several cheek-on-jowl If it comes with a paracord wrap, I don't take it off, but if not, I don't add it. All things being equal, a simple handle is cheaper without the extra materials and labor costs.

Two blades of a single make can be used, one designated as Good, the other Bad. In this case, I'd err on the side of better steel. I can live with abusing a hard edge, but not with abuse from a soft one! Seriously, a dull blade is dangerous... we're looking for one that can stand up reasonably well to insult and injury.

Ironically, the humble sheath merits more mention than it generally receives.

Personally, I like to make one sheath to fit my standard Good Knife, Bad Knife and marlinespike. I like one sheathed inboard and riding a bit high; the other outboard and a bit lower... enough difference that I can pull my choice by feel alone. In-line works okay, too, with relatively slender blades. I like the marlinespike aft. All three snugly fit to expose only enough 'hook' to get a good finger grip on it. If one has handle cheeks, it goes outboard. If the handle has no hook at its handle end, I like to add one (don't care for lanyards which hang up).

I like to wear it just aft of my hip blade on the strong arm side. Not so far back I sit on it, but far enough that it doesn't get between me and my hip when I'm working on my side. This is more comfortable, and I can still access it from behind. A stiff belt and loop help keep it in place and from flopping.

In practice... I'm between custom sheaths at the prolonged moment, making do with the wretched contraptions contrapted by those who sell the knives. They're just tolerable enough to keep replacing them off any given day's priority. But that's no praise at all.

Any knife with a bad sheath is at best compromised; at worst dangerous.

* * * * *

A Few Bargain Knives

All the knives listed here are inexpensive. 'Gooder' knives can be had, but they cost enough that you would NOT want to lose one overboard. Remember, too... the harder the steel, the more time and trouble spent attaining and maintaining its edge in mixed use!

(Frost) Mora – From Mora Sweden, this line includes mostly Sloyd pattern knives (drop tip on a slender profile; good shape for carving and general) with a narrow, full-length tang. Made for carving, hunting and the fishing industry. Models with laminated blades are exceptional, with a very hard layer sandwiched between two softer layers. This takes a great edge... it is therefore somewhat brittle. The softer layers support the blade as a whole.

Mora knives were once dirt cheap... no longer, but still a bargain. The laminated blades, especially, put a top-of-the-line edge in our hands for cheap (about US$25 as I write). Blanks are often available, but can cost as much or more than the finished knife. Their sheaths vary, but I don't care for any they provide.

The laminated Mora in the leading picture is my Good Knife of choice..

Old Hickory and Ontario – These and similar are generally sold as kitchen knives, and some of their paring knives come in handy sizes with full tang. Larger styles can be treated as blanks to shape your own. Relatively inexpensive and made with high-carbon steel, they can handle most jobs with ease. No sheaths.

Opinel – A French shepherd's knife, these are inexpensive, locking folders (Anke likes them; they're a little bulky for my taste). High carbon steel for a good edge, but the lack of any tang leaves them a shade delicate.

Schrade OLD TIMER Barlow – This is a folding knife well-made to a pattern that combines a general purpose blade with a carving blade in a compact, pocket-friendly shape. It sells cheap enough (about US$15 as I write... cheaper at other vendors) that we get extras as first-knife gifts for children whose parents deem them ready. My only quibble is that they don't have locking blades (nor do any other Barlows I've seen).

For boat-work, it handles the fine end of things that a bigger knife finds clumsy.

US Custom Design SURVIVOR – Dedicated Bad Knife... easily takes an okay edge but won't hold it long. These run about US$7.00 and come in several styles including drop-point (shown) and tanto. The style shown carries a full-thickness back 2/3rds of its length... this takes more abuse than styes which taper the whole length. I file the sharp corners and - if I get around to it - I'll grind off those finger guards. But quite usable as is.

Tiny print declares them to be “hand forged in China”, but 'forged' is stretching it. Cheap Chinese goods can vary wildly in quality, but so far, the batch we got is just about right. Webbing sheath... works. but barely.

Knives of this sort abound, and I did some spelunking around before I found this brand. Nothing too special about them. But be aware that many of these cheap-o's tend to dull at the first swipe. If you find a make that has okay steel, it probably pays to stick with it until a tried-and-true replacement is found.

Good Knife Wanted – What I'd like to find is a moderately priced, laminated steel blade that was a near companion to the SURVIVOR pattern (shown above) and flat-blade style. I'd settle for decent steel with middling qualities, buy two, and use one for Good and the other Bad. If the set came with a marlinspike and a well-thought-out sheath... well... one can only dream.

Like so many things in life, DIY is usually the only way to get exactly what we want at a price we can afford.

Bonus Tip:

We often need to scrape away paint to glue this or that in place.

Fastest method I've found is to draw the contact outline. Use the knife point dragged at right angles to the blade, diagonally across the grain, closely spaced. Cross-hatch the other way. This disrupts the integrity of the paint/primer film. It can now be scraped or sliced away with relative ease.

Bad Knife, of course.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

If Everyone Did That

Endless Suburbia
by Niko Niko

from JPG Magazine

Thank you, gentlemen. 

If you noticed, everyone started off with their own stride, their own pace. Mr. Pitts, taking his time. He knew he'll get there one day. Mr. Cameron, you could see him thinking, "Is this right? It might be right. It might be right. I know that. Maybe not. I don't know." Mr. Overstreet, driven by deeper force. Yes. We know that. All right. Now, I didn't bring them up here to ridicule them. I brought them up here to illustrate the point of conformity: the difficulty in maintaining your own beliefs in the face of others. Now, those of you -- I see the look in your eyes like, "I would've walked differently." Well, ask yourselves why you were clapping. Now, we all have a great need for acceptance. But you must trust that your beliefs are unique, your own, even though others may think them odd or unpopular, even though the herd may go, "That's bad." Robert Frost said, "Two roads diverged in a wood and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." Now, I want you to find your own walk right now. Your own way of striding, pacing. Any direction. Anything you want. Whether it's proud, whether it's silly, anything. 

Gentlemen, the courtyard is yours.

-- Mr. Keating to his students from Dead Poet's Society

If Everyone Did That...

If you are thinking of-, embarking upon- or engaged in a life anywhere to the side of the Main Stream, someone has likely harrumphed and said, “If everyone did that...”.

The simple act of disgorging this elliptical sentence fragment is meant to demonstrate the ridiculous nature of that. Whatever that is.

That is to differ.

Should 'everyone', it is implied, differ as you do, Civilization would collapse. No one would grow food (say those who have never worked a farm). No one would produce (say those who 'manage'). No one would create (say those who consume).

Though you might well earn your living, pay your way (stay out of debt) and must needs be creative in your entire approach to an 'under'-documented lifestyle, the way you differ is felt to be somehow subversive and/or parasitic.

Ironically, to stand out from the crowd is an urge that can seem obsessive. These same folks tend to produce, buy or sell soap in one form or another. But a fine mansion, yacht or car; fashionable pursuits, attire and tastes; a partner who reflects well... these comprise the 'standard of living' which we challenge by stepping a bit away.

The less of our life comes in some, off-the-shelf package, the greater the challenge. To ourselves, but also to them.

And how do we differ? After all, we're not talking nihilism or even cannibalism.

We live at or near the fringes of society. Consume less. Spend proportionally less of our lives developing purchasing power. Pay proportionally fewer taxes. A little more of our labor is physical, self-directed and unpaid. Not all that different, really.

There is the issue of play. We get more of it, and it shows. We don't have to work for the money to spend on vacation, and we can well afford the time. Living as and where one likes, why would one vacate? Go visitin'? Travel? Sure. But vacation? No, thanks.

Turn it around... what would happen if everyone did as everyone does? WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get). Can't say that business-as-usual looks too good from here to the side.

What would happen if everyone did as we do?

My guess is, the Market would adjust, and maybe even settle down to a 'real' economy. Most of us would be happier and healthier. Good times rather than (an endless parade of) nice things.

The Planet and all who live on it would breathe a little easier.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Rant and Roar: The Problem of Purity

We'll rant and we'll roar, like true British sailors,
We'll rant and we'll roar, all across the salt sea...
-- British Sea Chanty

Rant and Roar: The Problem of Purity

Jerome 'Jay' FitzGerald is one of the sailors I very much respect, albeit across quite a gulf of attitude and approach.

Jay makes a case for 'pure' sailing vessels in fierce terms. While some are affronted, I confess to enjoying a passionate and provocative rant. He challenges me to review my own choices, ever a worthwhile venture.

For him, a vessel with a motor is not a sailboat, but rather a sail assisted powerboat.

In his Wind and Tide: An Introduction to Cruising in Pure Sailing Craft, he writes (his emphasis):
...Without the engine, had they encountered [a] hundred feet of contrary current and not been able to deal with it – even after a thousand miles, they still would have failed to make port. Properly, then, their [dependence on power] ratio should be expressed as 100% power-assisted sail, as they would have been helpless without the engine. It is important to note that in any activity that is judged by its completion, a 1% failure means a 100% failure... Let us be 100% sailors...
Strong words, and a stirring call to develop the full range of a sailor's skills for the safety and sheer joy they afford. In his writings, he shares many of those skills, and further elaborates on his themes.

I find it instructive to examine why it is that his position is not my own, despite that I'm a passionate advocate of wind-and-muscle cruising.

There is the matter of purity. I'm allergic to the notion. Purity seems to me a questionable gradient.

Which is more pure? A fiberglass or plywood hull? How about one made of timbers 'harvested' from a forest? A sail of dacron or of Egyptian cotton? How about if I grow, spin and weave the cloth? A bronze or galvanized fitting? How 'bout I make my own from drift teak? Am I pure, yet?

I'm unlikely to personally participate in any production aspect of the wholesale form of these items. None come without environmental cost. Sure, some more than others, but purity is hardly the standard in cost/benefit analysis.

In Jay's argument, “a hundred feet of contrary current”, insurmountable to the impure sailor absent engine assist, marks a 'failed voyage'.

Thing is, being thwarted within spitting distance of harbor happens frequently to us 'pure sailors'. It happens to Jay. More skill and a more able boat, the less often is all. The voyage takes another turn and takes a while longer... it may not end until that port is eventually made, but neither has it failed.

If ya survive, ya think ya had a good time!

Similarly, where Jay argues the superior aesthetics of engine-free sailing, I sympathize, but recognize personal preferences. He argues the character building virtues of adversity. Me? I go out of my way to avoid 'em!

Jay eloquently argues that pure sail is cheaper, simpler, and safer than having a motor. Now he's talkin'! Here I have no qualms or quibbles. It's not that hundred feet of contrary current that's the problem; it's the motor quitting in the jaws at port's entrance, with all sail stowed on a dark and stormy night. We'd never be there without faith in our engine.

So I find myself rather pragmatic than pure.

Sifting through the fun of a good rant, I agree that engines can slow the learning curve and substitute for skill. I agree that the aesthetic and challenge of sail can be quashed by the motor. I agree that they can tempt one into situations beyond our engine-less abilities and quit, abandoning us to fate.

They can and often do.

But we each of us face the sea with our own set of values, abilities, proclivities and context. One sailor may advise another, but we must each steer our own course, sailing a thousand choices. Ultimately, our choices, intersecting with the sea, determine the voyage. Caution's a virtue, no matter how we roll. We learn as we go, usually via whatever set of hard knocks we've arranged for ourselves.

And fair winds to us all!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A First Look at Vertical Sculling Oars

The downward edge is the leading edge.
Note upward bend at the inboard end.
Atsushi Doi''s I-Scull from his US Patent
The downward edge is the leading edge.
Note upward bend at the inboard end.
In recent versions, the handle pin has been moved to the upper side.

In a fishtail gleam
 She leans to kiss me as she goes...
-- From The King of Britain's Daughter(?) byGillian Clarke

A First Look at Vertical Sculling Oars

The Chinese Yuloh and similar Japanese Ryo are horizontal blade sculling systems. The blade follows a 'falling leaf' pattern, angling across the sweep and switching leading edges at the end of each stroke, and kicking up a little turbulent 'fuss' at each switch.

Atsushi Doi, Douglas Martin and others have been taking a good look at vertical blade sculling systems.

The blade is still swept to and fro, but the forward edge always leads, with less fuss at the switch (especially once moving forward). This otherwise wasted energy is, in theory, availlable to generate thrust.

A second refinement is that the relatively high aspect ratio blade (long for its height) is not only allowed, but encouraged to twist, much as might a propeller blade. This has positive, hydrodynamic effects (laminar effects discussed here). In part, water is turned and tossed aftward... increasing its equal and opposite thrust forward.

In Douglas Martin's oar, shown above, the slender tip is hooked aft of the blade's Center of Lateral Resistance (CLR). As the blade is pushed sideways (albeit at an angle) through the water, it resists and twists the flexible end of the blade, causing it to lag behind the plane of the main blade.

Atsushi Doi gets a similar effect via a small fin attached low on the blade. Not nearly as pretty, in my opinion, but is powerful, removable and allows easy experimentation.

Atsushi Doi's Ve-Scull Fin

In a yuloh/ryo, the inboard end of the loom bends downward (or the mechanical equivalent). A lanyard led from this end to deck torques the loom outboard over the top, helping its horizontal blade to reverse.

 In a Atsushi/Martin oar, the inboard end of the loom bends upward. A lanyard led from this end to deck torques the loom inboard over the top, helping the leading edge reverse.

If all goes according to theory, the same thrust should be developed with less effort than horizontal blades, or more thrust with the same effort.

As a bonus, the vertical blade system appears much easier to use than yuloh/ryos (which can be challenging for  beginners). The video beow shows a monkey flinging down the gauntlet by using one of Atsuhi Doi's oars on the first go! 

So I'm jazzed!


There is considerable interest in these (including my own), and information is beginning to fill in. Most of it is for small craft, but there is now at least one video available for larger craft (relevant section comes after a bit).

Be aware that Atsushi Doi has patented several of his approaches to vertical blade sculling oars. While DIY is allowed, commercially interested persons should be aware of his intellectual rights.


Atsushi Doi's Pages (translated and hosted in English)
Reprint from Small Boat Journal... note 'sculling aid' toward bottom.
YouTube, image and web searches using such phrases as "atsushi doi scull" and "vertical blade scull"