Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Dream Destroyed: Charlie's Resolution Shipwrecked

Below: Charle's Whipple's self-built Resolution - a sturdy little offshore cruiser built to handle the conditions of the Southern Ocean. The boat was just launched in April of this year, and now sadly, has been wrecked on the rocky coast of New Zealand in the first leg of a planned voyage around the world.

I've been checking in on Charlie Whipple's blog about the building of Resolution for more than two years now, since I first read an article in Small Craft Advisor about his plans to build the John Welsford Sundowner design and sail it around the world. It caught my attention because it was an interesting design: a small, but heavily-built displacement cruiser designed to handle a circumnavigation by way of the southern capes. Charlie Whipple's planned solo voyage around the world was an ambitious undertaking, but with dogged resolution he completed the first stage: building the stout little boat in two and a half years under the guidance of the designer at his shop in New Zealand.

Though only 21-feet long, this is one big pocket cruiser, and no small construction project to undertake, as you can see below in this photo of Charlie working in the cockpit before the decks were on.

John Welsford is known for designing beautiful small boats, and even many of his open boats have undertaken impressive offshore voyages. The Sundowner design was specifically drawn for Charlie's requirements as an evolution of Welsford's tiny offshore cruiser design he called Swaggie. Simplicity of systems were a priority in these requirements, but no compromises were to be made in the area of strength. The result was one stout and good-looking little voyager. Below you can see Charlie at the dock with Resolution shortly after the launching.

I learned of Resolution's tragic end just this morning as I browsed through the latest threads on the Sailfar.net forum. (The thread can be found at this link). There are also links from this thread to some video footage of the boat awash in the surf off a rocky shore. Charlie was rescued unhurt by a search and rescue helicopter after setting off a distress signal from his EPIRB.

Though his boat could have probably survived anything he would have likely encountered out at sea, what did him in was the rocks of land as he apparently got off course near shore while sleeping or extremely fatigued. This is always a danger of singlehanded sailing and illustrates again how boats are safer far at sea than anywhere near land. This same scenario has been repeated over and over and could happen to anyone who pushes themselves to exhaustion on a singlehanded or shorthanded voyage where getting enough rest is difficult. Even the great singlehanding legend, Bernard Moitessier lost his boat Marie-Therese II in the same manner in the West Indies. Having experienced hallucinations myself while trying to stay awake at the helm for more than 36 hours, I know all too well how disoriented one can become.

I really hate to hear about the loss of such a fine little boat after so much hard work was put into building her. I was really looking forward to reading Charlie's voyage reports as he made his way around the world, and I wish him the best now in whatever he does, whether it means starting over or moving on to a different dream. Having lost a cruising boat to a hurricane myself, I can relate in some way to pain he must feel.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Furled Sails Podcast On the Road

In the past few months I've been spending a lot of time on the road, including several 14-hour one way trips to south Florida to work in the Boatsmith shop with my friend David Halladay. I like time on the road to think, and often drive with no music or other distractions, but there's no doubt that the time can pass faster when you have something interesting to listen to. Last summer I purchased my first Ipod and uploaded all of my music library, clearing up space in my small truck by eliminating the need for carrying all those CDs around. But even though I love music, I get tired of it after a few hours and want to hear something else.

What could be better for a sailor, boatbuilder, and kayaker than a series of interesting podcasts featuring interviews with some of the leading small boat adventurers and designers in the world? When I discovered Furled Sails, billed as "the world's first sailng podcast," I knew I had found something to help those long hours on the road fly by.

Furled Sails is hosted by Noel and Christy Davis, who are based in the Florida panhandle and are active small boat sailors and adventurers themselves. They had the excellent idea of creating this podcast by conducting telephone interviews with noteworthy individuals in the world of small boat sailing, building and design, and now the site contains well over 100 archived interviews that you can download and listen to for free. Noel and Christy have managed to land interviews with some of the biggest names in boating, and their list of guests includes the likes of John Guzzwell, Lin and Larry Pardey, Webb Chiles, Ted Brewer, George Buehler, Jimmy Cornell, and Reese Palley, to name just a few. Their boating interests seem to lie closely in line with my own, in that most of the designers and adventurers profiled are proponents of small, simple vessels, both wind-driven and human powered with paddles or oars.

It was really interesting to hear some of my favorite boating authors describing the adventures they wrote about in their books that I had read many years previously. I especially enjoyed the two-part series featuring John Guzzwell as he shared many interesting tidbits about his solo circumnavigation in a 20-foot homebuilt boat that were not included in his book:Trekka Round the World The Webb Chiles series was great as well; hearing him describing his ocean crossings in an 18-foot open boat (Chidiock Tichborne) and the intentional sinking of his perfectly seaworthy cruising boat: Resurgam.

If you are a sailor, boatbuilder, kayaker, canoeist or just an armchair adventurer, you are certain to find something of interest among the archived podcasts on Furled Sails. Here are are some of the most recent shows, in chronological order:

Serge Testa

Floating Fox

Fine Tolerance 1

Fine Tolerance 2

Mississippi voyage

Lugnut 1

Lugnut 2

Robby Smith 1

Robby Smith 2

Sailing Grace

Jimmy Cornell

Webb Chiles 1

Webb Chiles 2

John Wellsford 1

John Wellsford 2


Shane St. Clair 1

Shane St. Clair 2

You can download and listen to these and all the other podcasts directly on the Furled Sails website, or if you have iTunes installed in your computer you can go to the iTunes store and search under the "podcasts" category for "Furled Sails." You can then upload as many of the individual shows as you like for free into your iTunes library and sync it to your iPod. This is what I do each time I am anticipating a road trip and I look forward to hearing four or five new interviews each time I head to Florida. Since most of the interviews are more than 45 minutes long, the miles slip away as I get inspired by the words of people doing the things I am most interested in. This is way better than anything I could find on the radio - and best of all - there are no commercials. Christy and Noel are providing a great service and it's obviously a labor of love. Check it out. You won't regret it. http://www.furledsails.com/

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Boatbuilding with Non-Marine Materials

Below: Joubert Marine Plywood - an example of some of the finest boatbuilding plywood you can buy. This is 6mm Okoume plywood manufactured in France to the BS 1088 standard. Each sheet has the Lloyd's of London stamp of approval.

I was recently involved in a discussion on the Wharram catamaran forum regarding the cost of building a boat and the question of whether or not it is necessary to use "marine" grade materials in the construction. (View discussion here)

This is something I've been meaning to address here anyway, as the cost of most boatbuilding materials are going up and probably will continue to do so. In the often long and difficult decision making process that proceeds the beginning of a new boat construction project or the refitting of an old one, cost is certainly an issue for most of us. Although we would like to be able to nail down a number before ordering the first piece of wood or gallon of epoxy, accurately estimating the cost of a project is difficult, even for professionals, as there are so many variables. This is especially true for boat projects larger than canoes, kayaks or the simplest of skiffs. Cruising boats with interior accommodations, auxiliary power and sailing rigs can vary widely in cost depending on the care and thought taken in the selection of each and every component.

Since the hull (or hulls in the case of catamarans and trimarans) is usually the first part built in a new boat construction project, many builders are tempted right from the beginning to save money on hull materials. Plywood and epoxy composite is perhaps the most common type of wooden boat construction chosen by first time builders, especially since there are so many intriguing designs available for all types of vessels using some form of this construction. Many new builders incorrectly see the plywood as a major component of the boat, (after all, it is a plywood boat, right?) but the reality of it is that in most modern designs that rely heavily on epoxy for the assembly, sheathing and fairing of the hull, the plywood cost is a small percentage in relation to other materials. In fact on a boat like the Tiki 26 catamaran that I am building, the plywood cost is in the range of 10 to 12-percent of the the complete boat, in sailaway condition. And this percentage is based on using the good stuff - BS-1088 Okoume marine ply from Joubert, as pictured above.

The temptation to save money by purchasing non-marine plywood can be quite strong, especially when a new builder prices marine plywood for the first time. But the cheaper alternatives are, unfortunately, miserably inadequate in most cases, depending on the design being built. The Tiki 26 is a good example, as it is a cruising size boat, but being a catamaran, depends on strong but lightweight materials for good performance. The hulls, decks and cabins are all built of just 6mm (or 1/4-inch) thick plywood to keep the total boat weight in the range of 1500 lbs. Yet, this is a sailboat designed to go offshore and cope with the conditions that can be expected in that environment. The design is well proven for its intended use, and of course, the thin plywood is reinforced with well-engineered interior stringers and the epoxy joinery and sheathing methods employed in its construction, but still, 6 millimeters is a thin skin. It would not do to have core voids or cores with lots of knots or partial panels of a lesser grade wood in the interior of a plywood hull skin that thin. To get the full strength required by the design, a quality marine plywood with cores as good as the face veneers is clearly the best choice.

Although one can occasionally find good-looking exterior plywood at Home Depot or the local independent building supply vendor, the quality is never consistent from bundle to bundle and even varies a lot with individual sheets. Cut into most of this plywood and you will find even greater inconsistencies in the cores. Having built many cabinets and other residential carpentry projects over a period of years, I have seen the quality of almost all commonly available plywood decrease - from cabinet grade birch to exterior BC yellow pine. It's hard to find plywood that is adequate for even the roughest construction these days, much less any that would be good for a boat hull.

But having said this, there are exceptions and there are types of boats that are designed to allow for a margin of poorer quality materials. A type that comes to mind are the shallow draft cruising designs of Reuel Parker. His cold-molded construction method is designed to allow layers of lesser grade exterior plywood to build up the hull to the required thickness. There is a margin for these poorer grade laminates in such hulls because of the much greater overall thickness of the hull skin, particularly on the bottom.

This drawing below, scanned from Parker's book, The New Cold-Molded Boatbuilding: From Lofting to Launching, illustrates the layers used to build up these heavy hulls. In this case two opposing diagonal layers of 3/4-inch thick plywood strips are laminated over a longitudinal layer of 5/8-inch solid tongue-and-groove planking. Used this way, good quality exterior construction grade plywood of Doug fir or Southern Yellow Pine can be perfectly adequate, as the hull is not depending on one thin sheet for all it's strength. Cutting the plywood into the 9 1/2-inch wide strips as shown here also allows you to easily see if there are any huge voids in the core and allows you to discard the worst parts of a given 4 x 8-foot sheet.

The other case for non-marine plywood is in the construction of small, simple skiffs that are inexpensive in terms of both time and money invested, and can be viewed as somewhat disposable after a few years of use. In this case you might want to save some money by using a good exterior grade plywood, sealed well with epoxy. If the boat is maintained and kept out of the weather when not in use, it could last a very long time. I've built two Phil Bolger dinghies this way, using exterior grade 1/4" Luan plywood, the type sold as "underlayment" for flooring in my local building supply. At about $10 per sheet, it's cheap and can sometimes be of surprisingly good quality.

Here's one of the dinghies - the Bolger "Nymph" design - which makes an excellent rowing tender for a cruising boat. I built this one with cheap Luan right from the plans given in Dynamite Payson's Build the New Instant Boats. This particular one, built for a friend to use in his fishing pond, has not seen much hard use. My other one spent several years stored upside down on the deck of my Grampian 26 and was used extensively as a dinghy the entire time I owned the boat. It's a little beaten up and rough, but still sound and seaworthy.

What it comes down to in choosing construction materials for a boat is the intended use of the vessel and also the size of your investment in time and materials. For a dinghy like the one shown above, it's optional as to whether you want to use BS-1088 Okoume at more than $60 per sheet or exterior Luan for about $10-15 per sheet. The time to build the dinghy is only a relatively small investment of evenings and maybe a couple of weekends. If you get a few years of service out of it, your time and money will be well spent.

If you are considering building a cruising-sized vessel from wood composite construction, however, especially a lightweight multihull, the time and hard labor required will more than offset the difference in plywood costs. Not many people can look at such a boat as "disposable," so consideration must be given to insuring the vessel has a long life and retains a decent resale value throughout that life. The best way to do this is to use high quality materials throughout and to document this use for a possible future buyer. The ease of working with top quality marine plywood is another factor that makes the whole project more pleasant and saves a lot of labor on fitting and finishing plywood parts. A well-built and properly maintained wooden boat built this way of excellent materials can be expected to last a lifetime and beyond. Anyone willing to put a couple thousand hours of their life into the construction of a cruising boat should expect nothing less.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Montgomery 17 Trailer Sailor Crosses the Pacific

This is Strawanza, a custom-built Montgomery 17 trailor sailor that has crossed most of the Pacific and is enroute to the West coast of Africa.

How big does your sailboat have to be to cross an ocean? If you believe what most of the writers in the yachting press would have you believe, you need at least a 40-footer. At least that was the case until recently. In the current issue of Sail, the typical advertising-driven sailing rag with glossy full page ads for yachts costing a half a million dollars or more, the "new boat roundup" cover story attempts to explain why 50' is the new 40'. The article, entitled: Life Begins at 50, profiles 38 production sailboat designs ranging in size from 50 to 60 feet.

It seems that for some reason most boat owners are always craving a larger boat, no matter what size they currently sail. According to the article, average boat size has been on the rise for years, and the author claims this is a logical progression from the days when most boats in any given harbor were under 40 feet. Logical? Please tell me why? The sea hasn't changed since the 1950's, 60's and 70's when all kinds of adventurers like John Guzzwell, Robin Lee Graham, Tania Abei, Lin and Larry Pardey and countless others were circumnavigating the globe in boats under 30 feet. What has changed is that navigation equipment, communications technology, safety gear, and boat construction methods have gotten much better. So you would think that small boat voyaging would be more popular and more doable than ever before and with a greater margin of safety.

The truth is, there are still a lot of adventurous sailors out there making incredible voyages in small boats. Just after flipping through this latest issue of Sail magazine, I came across a link on the Sailfar.net forum about a Montgomery 17 trailer sailor making landfall in Vanuatu. That may not sound all that extraordinary until you read further and see that this single-handed voyager departed from the coast of California.

Willi, an experienced solo sailor from Austria, commissioned a custom crafted Montgomery 17 from Montgomery Boats in Dana Point, California. He had read about the Montgomery 17's racing record, the strength of its construction, and proven seaworthiness of the Lyle Hess designed pocket cruiser. Montgomery 17's have cruised the Caribbean, sailed from California to Hawaii and from Cape Hatteras to San Diego via the Panama Canal, and sailed the length of the Mississippi. Many others have crossed the Sea of Cortez and have made countless trips to Catalina and the Channel Islands.

Willi's voyage is perhaps the most ambitious of them all, however. His homeport and yacht club is in Namibia, on the West coast of Africa. He will sail his custom Montgomery 17, which he christened Strawanza down the coast of California from San Diego, across the Pacific, then cross the Indian Ocean, to round the Cape of Good Hope and up the West coast of Africa to home. Planned time enroute, including stopovers is around 15 months.

The photo below gives you an idea just how small a Montgomery 17 is, but despite appearances, this is a boat that can go to weather, is self-righting and can carry food, water, supplies and safety gear for 100 days at sea.

The Norvane Self Steering gear bolted on the transom is not something you see every day on a trailer sailor. Many more photos and descriptions of the modifications done to Strawanza can be found here.

There's no question that crossing oceans in a 17-foot sailboat is not for everyone, but then again, neither is owning a 50 to 60-foot luxury yacht. There are a lot of happy mediums and lots of boats in the 20-32 foot range that can do the job in safety, a degree of comfort, and for a reasonable outlay in purchase price or refitting of a tired, old example. Voyages like Strawanza, serve as inspiration and reassurance for those of us who want to go to sea but don't want to grow old being melon farmers while trying to earn enough to pay for the boats magazines like Sail tell us we should be sailing.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Another Backwoods Drifter Finished

The Mississippi Backwoods Drifter that I've been working on in my spare time is now complete and has been picked up by the owner, who will use it around the creeks and bayous of Mandeville, Louisiana. I hope he will send some photos of the boat in the water when he launches it. Here are some shots I took in the backyard just before he arrived to get it on Tuesday.

This particular boat is modified slightly from the original Drifter I designed for Ernest Herndon, which is double-ended and identical bow and stern. The modification here is a partial transom above the waterline, allowing for the use of an electric trolling motor. The hull shape is the same below the waterline, so the easy paddling characteristics of the design have been retained.

Here is a close-up of the modified stern, showing the teak motor mount that was left unfinished. The rest of the solid trim is ash; epoxy coated and varnished.

Here's a view of the interior from the stern showing the varnished Okoume plywood and ash trim. The mid-ships seat can be adjusted fore and aft to properly distribute weight depending on if the boat is used solo or with two paddlers.

I really like this modified version of the Backwoods Drifter, and wish I had the time to build one for my own use. Maybe someday, but that will have to wait until my Tiki 26 project is done.

"A boat is freedom, not just a way to reach a goal."
Bernard Moitessier - A Sea Vagabond's World


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