Monday, 30 April 2012

The Ideal Sailing Boat

Well I didn’t quite get to the point of listing suitable boats this weekend but I’m getting closer to specifying what I’m looking for. Here's a checklist ( love checklists). If you're on the same course, feel free to use it for setting out your own preferences.

Sailing boat
Cruising not limited by fuel. The wind is (kind of free). Sailing is more fun and more comfortable than power. Technology is more understandable to me. I have time in plenty but money is a scarcer resource
Gunter would be really interesting - more sail control. Simple rig. Mast can be lowered or raised more easily for rivers and canals. Masts are easier to stow, within the length of the boat – no overhangs. If not, may have to put up with standard Bermudan. I’m assuming she’ll be a sloop or a cutter. Can’t imagine I’ll find a two master on such a small boat. Gaff might be fun. Haven’t considered a junk rig although some people swear by them.
Overall length
Accommodation on less than a 22ft hull would be cramped for two people on an extended cruise. Above 25ft makes single-handed sailing and maintenance more difficult
Happy to sacrifice cockpit space for cabin space. The larger the cabin the better
Draft / Keel
Shallow draft (less than 3ft) for canal work. Traditional keel for directional stability. Bilge keels so she can take the ground. Triple keel or long keel with bilge plates may be ideal. NO fin keel.
Powerful enough to drive the boat at maximum hull speed. Inboard if necessary. No transom hung outboard (just too plain ugly) Outboard in a well would be really good
GRP, sheathed Ply? (More info needed). Steel might be too heavy on a boat of this size.  Not confident with wood Restoring or maintaining a wooden vessel would be beyond my level of skill.
A boat with a reputation as a good sea boat. Safe and predictable even if slow. No skittish racing vessels. A traditional strong sea boat is first priority
If she meets the above criteria she’ll look good in my eyes anyway
Beggars can’t be choosers but she has to be ‘recoverable’ preferably through cleaning, polishing and painting. Essentially the hull, decks,  mast and engine have to be sound (even if sad and neglected looking)
Immaterial. There is an argument that says the older GRP boats were more strongly built (over built) because the technology wasn’t fully understood 
As low as possible. £10,000 is all I have for both purchase and renovation. Assume 50% on purchase and 50% on renovation?

22-24ft, GRP, shallow draft, Gunter sloop, inboard engine (or outboard in well), good accommodation for size, traditional, bilge or triple keel. With an excellent reputation as a sea-boat.

Why this kind of boat (see initial Post 'introduction')

Come on shipmates - if I've overlooked something tell me now before I start going down blind alleys (or sailing up inappropriate creaks)


Sunday, 29 April 2012

GRP Boats

Rule out GRP and you rule out a lot of boats
 I can't imagine many amature builders choosing to construct a vessel in this material without access to specialist environments and equipment. But as a secondhand purchase? Could it be a better buy than wood or steel?

 I was thinking about the ideal boat when I received Michael’s comments yesterday (See Sailing Contradictions 28'4/12) about the boats he had sailed. Like me, he ruled out wood (unless you have serious skills in that area) and he mentioned a couple of other craft which were produced in GRP. In earlier posts I considered the pros and cons of wood, steel and plywood. All have their advantages but the truth is, Michael has raised a really serious point here. If I want a low cost cruiser, I may have to consider GRP.

In some ways, that would be no bad thing, my woodworking skills are not good and I know nothing about working in steel, welding and that sort of thing. So would GRP be the sensible option?

When it first came onto the scene it was advertised as an inert ‘no-maintenance’ option. Owners used to boast of having to dust their bilges rather than having to pump them out and the general feeling was that GRP eclipsed all the other materials in all respects except perhaps cost.

Later, came the panic, the material seemed prone to a disease or virus – the dreaded ‘O’ word – Osmosis, AKA ‘Boat Pox’.

There were horror stories about the time and expense of repair even though reports of boats actually sinking due to the condition were rare indeed.

So, should GRP be on my list or not?

I guess the answer is ‘Yes it should’, because, quite frankly, my shortlist would be very short if I discounted any boat built of this material. ‘Yes’, also because I may have a better chance of maintaining GRP than other materials, and ‘Yes’ because my reading around the subject suggests that the older GRP boats seem to have suffered from Osmosis less than the more recent examples and, let’s face it, with my resources I’m hardly likely to be offered a recently built boat.

The reason given for the apparent superiority of old GRP seems to be that in the early days (1960’s) it was a less well understood material than today. As a result, designers and builders over-built and over-engineered their vessels. A 1960’s GRP boat that has not suffered Osmosis yet is unlikely to do so. Another factor to take into consideration is that our views and our treatments of Osmosis have changed over the years. It is no longer considered to be life-threatening and if you can find a boat which is currently free of the disease, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of ever getting it. Those steps seem to involve ‘painting on an additional barrier coat such as International Paint’s Gelshield. Well, scraping, filling, sanding and painting are within my skills set, so there should be no need to be afraid.

Putting Osmosis to one side for the moment, does GRP have any other qualities which need to be taken into account – are these other qualities in its favour or against it? Well, the notion of dusting rather than pumping bilges is attractive. To a large extent, the claim that it is an inert material are true, the marine environment in itself does not damage or degrade GRP as it would a raw steel hull, and as a moulded shape, it does not rely on frames and fixings to be held together.

Downsides?  Well. It is not maintenance free. It needs looking after as any material does. It can get Osmosis, and it becomes more brittle with age so it may be less able to absorb the knocks and shocks than wood or steel. Major repairs may need to be carried out in expensive temperature and humidity controlled environments – so if you buy a bad one, it can prove to be an expensive investment.

The trick, as with all materials, is to gain as much understanding of the material as you can. If there are blisters, you need to understand the cause, if there are cracks or patches of crazing, are they due to impact or internal stresses introduced during the building process? As with all renovation and repair, it is the underlying cause which has to be addressed rather than the cosmetic symptom.

Given a fair wind, I think I could deal with the cosmetics and the minor problems caused through heavy usage. It may be that an old GRP boat will need painting, but this only makes her as needy as a wood or steel vessel – no worse. But if there were inherent faults in the material introduced at the building stage I would struggle. 

If I’m going to get a sound low cost cruiser, I’m going to have to be a pretty good surveyor and I’m going to have to see beyond the cosmetics. It won’t matter how bad she looks now – in fact poor looks may help me achieve a reasonable price. What really matters is how much work and expertise, will I have to buy in.   Am I right here? Or have I missed a really important ( and potentially expensive) point?


Saturday, 28 April 2012

Sailing Contradictions

Saturday morning. Here we go, hell or high water, I WILL finish this weekend with a list of boats that might suit my purpose. Not ‘actual’ boats, but ‘makes or models’, then I can start to look for actual boats within my price range.

I have been pleasantly distracted and excited by an email I received this morning -an email of encouragement and advice. I won’t mention this chap’s name, although I hope he’ll click on the ‘follower’ button and publish his advice to me on the ‘comments’ so that others can read it.

I have an issue with Google’s use of the term ‘followers’ and I suspect it discourages people from signing up as a ‘follower’. Sailing people tend to be gregarious and generous of spirit, but they are often strong individualists with mildly anarchic tendencies who stand outside the herd, they would not describe themselves as ‘followers’ of anyone.  (long may this be the case!)

I’m not able to change Google terminology, but I can try to define it in terms that we here may find more acceptable. Here goes:

Click the follower sign: -  to encourage me to keep up this quest and as a way of linking yourself with like minded individuals. Writing is about communication, and communication should be (at least) a two way process.


We will consider ourselves as free independent skippers, captains of our own vessels, partners, comrades, co-conspirators, freethinking individuals of equal status, with a common interest – anything but followers!

Enough of this rant (except to say thank you to the author of the email) now I know I’m not alone in this endeavour and my drive for real freedom at the cost of lower income isn’t an irrational personal insanity!

His advice, by the way, was to look to the USA for inexpensive vessels. Prices there seem much lower than UK.


Friday, 27 April 2012

It Shouldn’t Happen To a Sailor (5)

Sailing, Mooring and Making a Big Splash At Plouer Sur Rance

It’s Friday evening and I have made a pact with myself. This weekend, hell or high water, I will consider all the options, wood, steel, GRP, gunter, gaff or lugger, sloop or ketch, fin keel or dagger board, inboard or outboard – AND I’ll compile a list of boats which seem to fit my criteria. Next week I’ll start a serious search for the ‘low cost cruiser’.

In the meantime, here is another true tale of misadventure – it really shouldn’t happen to a sailor!

The beautiful French port of St Malo, city of corsairs, lies at the seaward end of the estuary of the River Rance. For cruising folk visiting France, St Malo is the gateway to the beautiful Rance estuary, wide peaceful waters, set in a shallow picturesque valley of beautiful countryside and tiny granite settlements.

Towards the head of the estuary lies the village of Plouer Sur Rance with its tiny yacht harbour, created in the pool of a long-dormant tidal mill. The majority of berths in the marina are taken up by locals but to encourage tourists and to generate income for the local shops and restaurants, the village council reserves ten berths for visitors.

There are two things to know about Plouer Marina. Firstly, it has a wall to retain water within the basin at low tide. At high tide the wall is submerged. This presents no problem, it is well marked, but it does mean that at high tide there is a current of water running through the harbour over the wall. At low tide the wall ensures there is no real current at all.

Secondly, visitor boats are moored in pairs either side of very narrow floating finger pontoons which are perfectly fine most of the time when boats are moored alongside them. Take away the boats however, and stepping out on one of these narrow wobbly fingers is not dissimilar to tightrope walking. Stability comes not from the pontoon, but from the support provided to it by the buoyancy and stability of the boats tied alongside. Locals know this, visitors often discover the hard way.

The way Charles’ learned about the pontoon was particularly spectacular. He arrived aboard a friend’s motor cruisers at about six o’ clock one Friday evening, a time which the French often refer to as ‘The Blue Hour’, that particularly pleasant time after work on a Friday when you have the whole weekend before you; the time when you meet up with friends over a glass of Pernod or perhaps a Kir before heading for home.

At Plouer, ‘La Guitoon’, a waterside bar run by an old salt called Joe, is a particular favourite location. Most of the locals are boatmen, and from here you get a full view of the comings and goings within the harbour.

Charles and his skipper entered Plouer harbour at the top of the tide and were aware of the significant group of locals all of whom turned to see the English boat arrive.

            ‘The visitor berths are over there’, the skipper called to Charles. ‘Get up forward and be ready to jump off with the mooring line when I give the signal. We’ll show these guys how it should be done.’

Charles dutifully went forward and stood holding the pulpit with one hand and the rope in the other as the skipper casually turned the boat toward a gap in the pontoons. As he approached however, the boat speed increased due to the current of water passing across the submerged wall. The skipper reduced throttle but the vessel only seemed to accelerate. Finally, at the last minute, in a desperate attempt to avoid ploughing through the pontoons, he threw both engines into reverse. In so doing, he also threw Charles off the boat.

Fortunately for Charles, he managed to land upright on the pontoon. Unfortunately for Charles, the pontoon immediately sank under his weight and then resurfaced like a springboard - catapulting Charles headlong into the water.  

Of such incidents, legends are made. They’re still talking about this in Joes bar and Charles hasn’t returned. ‘Shame really, there’s a few guys who’d like to buy him a drink and shake his hand. You don’t get free entertainment like that every day.



Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Palm and Needle Whipping.

Yesterday, I posted up notes on how to whip a rope.  I mentioned though that common whipping has its limitations, basically it can come undone and if it frays, through usage and friction, the whole whipping can unravel. To make a more permanent job you’ll need a fairly large sail maker’s needle. They’re cheap enough and you can purchase them from most chandleries. They are triangular in section and thicker closer to the point. Professional sail markers drive them through rope and canvass using a ‘palm’ a sort of thimble which sits on the palm of your hand. For whipping small ropes you can probably get away without needing to purchase the palm.

Begin this whipping by threading the needle with a doubled length of twine and then driving the needle and twine clear through the centre of the rope. Then add the whipping turns around the rope making sure to capture and bury the loose ends of the twine under the whipping turns.

Work the turns along the rope until your whipping is long enough. 

Then drive the needle through one strand of the rope making sure the point emerges in the ‘contline’ between the strands. Getting technical here, the best way to understand the contline is to imagine a three stranded rope. The contline is the groove between each of the strands.


Now pass the twine up and over the whipping diagonally in line with the contline and stitch back through the next strand emerging in the next contline.

Continue working your way right around the rope. Technically speaking this part of the process is known as ‘worming’. If you want a Rolls Royce product, go around a second time. To secure the end, drive the needle straight through the rope and cut the twine as close to the rope as you can get.

The end result should look like this. 

This whipping is probably the best there is. It won’t shake loose or come off even if a number of the whipping strands are cut or chaffed through. Whip your rope ends in this way and you’ll be looking after your ship in a proper fashion and although it may seem rather subtle you’ll be amazed by the number of people who notice and admire your handiwork. I once sold a boat on the strength of my whipping. The purchaser took the view that such care and attention to detail with ropes was probably reflected in the way I had looked after the rest of the boat so he bought her without haggling.


Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Dealing with Frayed Ropes

Well I haven’t found my boat yet but there are practical things I can be getting on with. One of these is to make up some mooring lines. I don’t know how long they’ll need to be but at least I can get the rope and start preparing it.

‘By his ropes you shall know the measure of a seaman....’ Basically, you can spend thousands of pounds on your boat, lavish her with care and keep her spotlessly clean, but all your efforts will let you down if you don’t look after your ropes. Frayed or unravelled ends just won’t do.

Any kind of rope will unravel or fray once it has been cut, so whenever you purchase rope you have a problem to deal with. There are several options. Synthetic ropes are often cut for you at the chandlery using a hot knife. It melts the rope as it is cut and it offers some protection against the rope unravelling but it shouldn’t be considered to be a permanent solution. The application of a little more heat at home can ensure that the end of the rope is sealed but the resulting unsightly black blob of melted plastic at the end of each of your lines doesn’t make a positive statement about your ability as a seaman. If you want to earn the respect of real seamen you have to do something better than that. Some people bind their rope ends with black tape. It can be effective, but it doesn’t look good either, so why not try good old-fashioned whipping. It isn’t hard to do and it’ll impress those who know about boats, ropes and the ways of the sea. Here is the easiest option.


This method has its limitations but you don’t need any special equipment other than a knife. Once you’ve mastered the technique you’ll soon be able to apply the more sophisticated technique of palm and needle whipping which I’ll describe in a later post.
Common whipping begins with a loop of twine laid alongside the end of the rope or close to the location where the rope is to be cut).

A number of turns are then taken about the rope working up towards the end of the loop. Each turn covers more and more of the loop until the whipping is long enough and then the free end of the twine is passed through the loop.

Pull on the other end of the twine and the loop is pulled out of sight under the whipping, taking some of the end of your whipping twine with it.

This leaves you with a loose end of the twine at either end of the whipping. Cut these away as close to the whipping as you can and the job is done.
If you’re working with new rope, apply the whipping before you cut the rope. If you’re unsure about how many turns the whipping should have, the general rule is that the whipping should be at least as long as the diameter of the rope. One other thing to remember is that you should always work ‘against’ the lay of the rope. There are lots different types of whipping twine, and the one you use for common whipping will probably depend on the thickness of the rope you are working with and what you have laying about on the boat. I prefer to use a thin waxed sail maker’s twine.

So common whipping is easy to make, follow the illustrations above and you should have no problem. 


Monday, 23 April 2012

Steel Boats

What About A Steel Boat?

Thinking about wood as a boat building material the other day, led me, sadly, to the conclusion that it wasn’t for me. Wooden boats are truly beautiful, and if you’re looking for a more individual design, rather than something which dropped off the end of a production line, wood might be the obvious choice. The issue for me however, is that I simply don’t have the skill to build or maintain an old one.

So, what about steel? It seems to me that steel has some obvious advantages for a low cost cruiser, the main one being that a steel boat will be tougher, cheaper and more forgiving than other materials. It will dent rather than shatter or crack so some would argue it’s stronger than wood or GRP. In addition, if I needed a repair I'd find someone who could do it. There are steel workers and welders all over the world. The same cannot be said of GRP technologists.

If I were having a new boat built I think steel would be my material of choice. And, of all the steel cruising boats I have seen, the ‘Tahitiana’, from the drawing board of a US designer ‘Weston Farmer’ is the most beautiful, practical, blue water vessel I have ever seen. Ketch rigged, she would take you anywhere, she's a 36 footer.

Thirty foot seems to be the point at which volume overcomes the additional weight of the material. Under thirty foot, a steel boat is very heavy in comparison to wood or GRP. Unfortunately, this simple sailor ‘low cost cruiser’ will have to make do with an old used boat and this is where my problems begin. 

By definition, she would have to be very cheap and therefore she would be old. Old steel boats were susceptible to corrosion inside and out. To address these problems designers and builders often built them much heavier than need be so that a steel hull could lose a significant amount of thickness through corrosion without losing strength. As a result steel vessels were considered good as heavy duty workboats that could take a few knocks, but too heavy for pleasure boats - especially yachts.

Recent improvements in insulation materials have cured the internal condensation problems and modern coating materials have also significantly reduced outside corrosion. These days a modern well built steel vessel can be a light, dry, comfortable long term investment. Such a boat will be outside my price range though – so for me it’s back to dreaming of trade wind sailing on Tahitiana.

For more information on Tahitiana try :-

or click on the link way below


Sunday, 22 April 2012

Power Boat or Sailling Boat

Carry Out Your Own Survey

Well, I’ve spent the last couple of months thinking about this project of getting on the water on a ‘low income’, and I’m fairly convinced that a sailing boat will meet my needs and my pocket better than a power boat. Just to be sure though, I set myself the task of analysing and scrutinising the logic of my thinking. In the end I developed a survey questionnaire which I applied to myself. It would be helpful if you could try it for yourself and see if it works for you – essentially it needs road-testing.


1.   What is more important –
a) being on the water
b) getting there

2.   When you think about buying a boat do you -
a) consider the ‘environmental’ impact
b) set those issues aside

3.   Do you want to -
a) work with nature
b) have the power to overcome it

4.   Do you prefer to -
a) carry out most of your own maintenance
b) have a technician do it for you

5.   When it comes to buying a boat Are you -
a) limited by budget considerations
b) not worried about purchase and maintenance costs

6.   What is more important to you -
a) comfort
b) speed

7.   Does the challenge of learning something new -
a) excite you
b) fill you with fear

8.   What do you have more of -
a) time
b) money

9.   Which sounds do you prefer
a) the call of gulls, the hiss of the sea, a moaning wind
b) a roaring diesel engine

10. At the end of the trip what would prefer to remember
a) the beauty of the passage
b) the speed of the voyage
Now the way it works is that you should give yourself 1 point every time you answer ‘a’. Score more than five points and you should think about taking up sailing. Score ten and you probably already own a sailing boat!

This book, by the way, is an excellent starting point for learning about sailing :

The New Complete Sailing Manual
Steve Sleight
Published by Dorling Kindersley 2005
You might pick up a second hand copy on Amazon (scroll down)


Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Best Rig For A Sailing Cruiser? (3)

What About a Lugger?

Previous posts about Gaff and Gunter rigs, left me wondering about the traditional craft in this neck of the woods, the Rance Estuary in Brittany France. The old boats here are Luggers. So, why was that? What did the old guys know about these craft that made them build more and more? According to my old copy of *The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea, they were a 17th or early 18th Century development used particularly for fishing and coastal trade. Essentially, they were more ‘Weatherly’ than their predecessors, the Square Riggers.  Come to think of it they are a kind of square rigger in that a Lugger has a square(ish) sail set fore and aft rather than across the hull. The Companion also suggests that Luggers were the rig of favour for smugglers and privateers. Interestingly, the town of St Malo at the mouth of the estuary, is known as the City of Corsairs (for Corsairs read Pirates).

The French often use the term ‘Chasse Maree’ to describe a lugger. The use of the term originated in Napoleonic times; a rough translation would be ‘Sea- Hunter’. The fastest of them carried a huge area of canvass spread over three masts carrying lugsails with a jib to complete the rig. Some of the larger vessels had long bowsprits and bumpkins and could also set a topsail above the main lugsail. The drawback, or the price they paid for speed, was in the number of crew needed to control the clouds of canvass. They were also slow downwind and could easily be caught by a more traditional square-rigger. The strategy adopted must have been to beat to windward of any vessel they wished to escape.  

Essentially there are two kinds of lugger. The original Lugsails were set up as ‘dipping luggers’, this required the crew to lower the sail sufficiently to enable the forward end of the lug together with the tack of the sail to be passed back around the mast whenever the vessel tacked through the wind. In this way the sail was always set to leeward of the mast on each tack.

A later version was known as the ‘standing lug’. With this rig, the forward end of the sail was browsed down as the vessel moved through the eye of the wind. It was less popular and rapidly developed into what we would now call the Gunter rig.

Does the Lugsail have a place on my ideal ‘low cost cruiser’? Probably not but they are very pretty boats and I’m pleased to have researched the possibility. Often, when deciding what you DO want, you have to consider and discount other options. Lugger’s lovely to watch but not for me.

*PS – the Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea is one book I will never part with. Its an essential resource for any boat person. You might pick one up on Amazon (scroll down if you want to order one).


Friday, 20 April 2012

What Is a Fast Boat?

So, my sailing boat will make 5 knots and your boat will make 6. Does it matter – really? And, if your boat is faster, is she a fast boat – and is mine therefore slow? Are we getting into the realms of philosophy? Am I losing the plot?

Well, if so, I blame it all on the recent posts

Boat design (1) Hull Shape’.


‘What the Brochures tell you’(April 2012)

Every question answered seems to pose another one. So here goes – if my boat were the only boat in the water, would she be a fast boat or a slow boat (see the link to philosophy – if a tree in the wood fell down and there was no one to hear it ……. )?

Time to consult the text books and here is a kind of answer. Speed over the water depends on a number of variables, the length and shape of the hull, the power of the engines. Obviously, a long waterline length and a shallow draft which allows the boat to rise above its bow wave is helpful but to get maximum effect you also need engines which can develop enough power to maximize the boat’s potential. But what happens if you are asked to compare boats of similar size or engine power, how can you define a boat as fast or slow for its length and engine power? Here’s one way used by boat designers who categorize boats as ‘low speed’, ‘medium speed’ or ‘high speed’ vessels – it is known as the speed/length ratio.

Boat Speed (V) is compared with Waterline Length (L)

(V) divided by the square root of (L) is the Speed/Length Ratio. If the answer to the equasion is 1.6 or less, the boat is a low speed vessel. Medium speed vessels will come out somewhere between 1.6 and 3. High speed vessels will score more that 3.

Here’s an example ---- a vessel capable of 6 knots (V) with a waterline length of 25ft (L).

Square root of 25 = 5. 

6 divided by 5 = 1.2

This would be defined as a slow boat

The same calculation applied to a vessel of 30ft waterline length capable of 20 knots would produce a speed/length ratio of 3.6 – this would be a fast boat

So, in searching for the ideal ‘Low Cost Cruiser’  what do I want fast or slow? Well there is a bit of pride in me which says I’d like to think that she can cover ground – but another part of me asks how much sacrifice in terms of comfort would I prepared to make to gain one knot over another vessel. Truth is …. probably not very much. A slow boat keeps you at sea for longer and if you don’t like being at sea – why go out there at all?


Thursday, 19 April 2012

Understanding Boat Hull Design

Thinking further after yesterdays post about ‘The Ideal Boat:What the Brochures Tell You’. Maybe I dived into the numbers and formulae too quickly. Brochures carry pictures as well and the shear ‘look’ of a boat can tell you a great deal about what the designer intended.

Hull design is a compromise between conflicting demands. Getting the hull shape right is probably the most demanding of all design tasks.

Every hull is unique but generally they conform to one of three basic shapes. Understand the shape and you’ll know a lot about a boat before you step on board.

The Displacement Hull

Think of a traditional fishing trawler or an off-shore sailing cruiser. These boats have a deep draft. They are heavy, stable and predictable in a seaway. Sailing cruisers of this type will plod on for hours without attention to the helm but they are slow.  They ‘push’ their way through the water building up a bow wave but they are too heavy to climb over it so their speed is severely limited. Try to increase speed and you’ll burn increasing amounts of fuel for very little gain.  

The Planing Hull

Think of a flat stone skimming over the water. These boats have a flat spoon-like underwater shape. They sit on the water rather than in it and are designed to climb over the bow-wave so speed isn’t inhibited. Planing hulls need plenty of volume aft to stop the stern burying as the bow rises so they have wide transoms. Speed is determined by your nerve and the power of engine but there are drawbacks. A planning boat has no ‘grip’ on the water. She’s as happy siding sideways as driving forwards so at low speeds she is difficult to control. At high speed the ‘slamming motion’ can loosen your teeth. If your engine fails in heavy weather you have a serious problem, she’ll bounce like a cork and may ship gallons of water over that low wide stern.

The Semi displacement Hull

This is the designer’s compromise between the two extremes. A semi-displacement hull will rise over the bow wave when enough power is applied but at lower speeds there is still enough hull under the surface to ‘bite’ the water. A typical 22ft semi-displacement motor cruiser will behave as a displacement hull at speeds below 7 knots and then rise over the bow-wave to attain 16 knots when the engines are opened up. Some argue that semi-displacement is neither fish nor fowl. At low speed they don’t behave as well as displacement hulls and at high speed they simply aren’t as fast as planing hulls. They still need that wide transom for buoyancy but without the speed of a planning hull they may slide and broach in following seas.

Here I have described three extremes. In reality a designer looking for a mass market will design a boat which tends towards one of these categories to get some of the advantages of a particular hull form without incurring the disadvantages which come with the out and out extreme examples. A careful look at hull form can tell you a great deal.

By way of example, look at this old Westerly Centaur. Publicity of the day described her as a ‘Gentleman’s Yacht’, but that distinctive bow shape, with the moulding for throwing spray away from her when punching into the waves, AND the fact that she carried a large (for her day) 25hp inboard engine, tends to suggest she’s a motor-sailer in disguise. 

Alternatively look at a modern Cornish Crabber, her retro gaff rig suggests, she’s heavy and slow. The hull lines however, suggest she’ll be surprisingly faster than her looks would suggest.

The more you look, the more you’ll see. The old guys knew this intuitively and could predict a ship’s likely behaviour from a half hull model carved out by the builder. The key message for us is that we have to be clear about what we want our boats to do and we have to develop an understanding of the design elements which deliver those qualities.


Wednesday, 18 April 2012

What The Boat Brochures Tell You

In thinking about the ideal second-hand cheap boat, it helps if you can get your hands on the brochure which would have been published when the boat was in production.

The photography will be superb. Sunshine, a sparkling sea and a cabin table with flowers and even a bowl of fruit on it. The brochure puts on rose tinted spectacles for you but if you know how to read between the lines and you have a calculator handy, you can discover a whole lot more. Here’s how to take off those rose tinted specs and gain a more realistic view of the type of boat which takes your fancy.

Bear in mind though, that the types of old boats likely to come within the 'Simple Sailing Low Cost Cruising' price range are probably from the pre-metric age,  ‘old numbers’ feet and inches for lengths,  pounds, and ounces for weight.

Beyond the pictures there is information about the overall length of the craft (LOA) and her waterline length (LWL), as well as the Weight of the Boat (Displacement) the Beam and the Ballast.

For sailing boats the square root of the LWL [in feet] multiplied by 1.25, will give you her optimum speed. 

Ballast divided by Displacement [in lbs] will give you a figure expressed as a percentage. The higher the number, the more stable or ‘stiff’ the boat will be. Some traditional heavy cruising boats will carry over 50% of their weight in ballast. More modern craft tend to be lighter and rely on a broad beam for their length to keep them upright. A comparison between boats in terms of Displacement/Ballast Ratios and Length/Beam ratios can tell you a great deal about what the designer intended.

For planing boats, you can also work out the speed a boat needs to achieve before she rises over her bow wave and begins to fly. The calculation is that planing begins when the speed divided by the square root of the LWL is equal to 2. A 36 foot LWL boat therefore would need to achieve twelve knots before she could begin to plane – 12 (speed) / 6 (square root of 36) = 2.

Armed with a good book on boat design, you can find out a great deal about a boat simply by doing a few sums. 

It's also helps to take a careful second look at the photos and imagine what life aboard would be like in a bouncing seaway with all the family aboard. Still interested? Then she’s worth putting on the list of serious possibilities.


Tuesday, 17 April 2012

It Shouldn’t Happen To A Sailor (4)

Extreme Sailing on Ullswater

April, Lake District in UK, Ullswater lake, land of Wordsworth’s famous daffodils. Gerry has a new boat and can’t wait to launch her on the lake. April can still be pretty raw in these northern regions. Is it Spring yet or is it still winter? The jury is out.

Gerry tows the new boat up from Manchester. The weight of the boat is such that he’s towing at the legal limit for his car  - and the additional gear - rope, anchors, sails, etc makes the rig illegal. One trick he read about though is to pile as much boat-gear as you can into the car. That way, in the eyes of the law, you are not ‘towing’ additional weight; you just have a very heavy vehicle.

This strategy causes some family upset. Gerry’s wife objects to making the trip sitting in the back seat on an anchor with a boat cooker on her lap. A somewhat terse conversation leads to a compromise about the amount of gear that needs to be taken on this first trip and the gear is stripped down to bare essentials. Other, ‘nice to have but not essential’ equipment can be taken on the next trip.

The ground was hard with frost when they arrived. Still, the day was bright and the frozen earth made for an easy haul from the road to lake edge for the launch from the trailer. All went well, the boat was soon floating against the pontoon and Gerry was the proudest of men; probably the first boat owner to launch that season. After a hurried lunch of coffee and sandwiches in the car Gerry suggested a brief trial sail before heading for home.
‘Nothing too long,’ he told his wife, ‘just an hour to make sure the rigging is set up right’
She agreed reluctantly after pointing out that the outboard motor was one of the items left behind in Manchester.
            ‘ It’s OK, we won’t need it.’ Said Gerry, ‘There’s a steady breeze, and we’ll only be out for an hour.’ 

Ullswater Lake is nine miles long; the shores are steep fells side, home to a particularly hardy breed of sheep and not much else. They were half way along the length of the lake, about five miles across the water from their mooring when the wind died. 

By four pm, they were drifting towards the far shore in the gathering darkness of a short winter’s day. No, motor, no paddles, no additional warm clothes.  Even if the boat drifted into the shore, they faced a fourteen mile trek around the lake back to the safety of their car. Gerry studied a map.
‘There’s hotel on the far side.’ He suggested optimistically.’ If we can drift into the shore and secure the boat we could follow a track along the water’s edge. It’s probably no more than a mile away from where we’ll fetch up.’

An hour later the couple were feeling their way along the rough track in absolute darkness. There was no sign of the hotel, which should have been visible by now.
            ‘It’s probably around the next bend’, said Gerry, unable to explain the absence of any welcoming light. They eventually stumbled into the driveway only to find that the hotel was in darkness. It hadn’t opened for the season yet. Nobody home.

Back on the boat, the couple scoured every locker, for anything to add comfort to their miserable lot. No light, no food, no drink, no berth cushions to sleep on, no cooker for heat. Nothing other than the clothes they sat in and a set of keys for a car that was just too far away. Then, just as it seems that things could get no worse… it began to snow.


Monday, 16 April 2012

Essential Reading for Sailors (3)

RYA Manual of Seamanship

Tom Cunliffe

This book, part of the RYA Yachtmaster Series is a ‘must have’ for anyone who puts to sea in a small boat. Although written with sail boats in mind, much of the advice and wisdom is equally applicable to motor vessels also. It deals with hull form, speed in theory and practice, the motive force of sails and power units, ropes and rope work, boat handling, anchoring, mooring handling heavy weather, storm survival, dealing with emergencies, fog, manners and customs of the sea, dinghy work, river seamanship, grounding and wind and waves – an awful lot of information in one hundred and seventy well illustrated pages.

The author, Tom Cunliffe will need little introduction to most boat-owners and there can be few writers better qualified to write on this subject, having spent a lifetime serving before the mast in small sailing ships, racing, skippering yachts for private owners and serving as a mate on British registered coasting vessels as well as teaching.

So, if you want to know how to coil rope, what flag to fly or how best to survive unexpected heavy weather – this is the book to tell you and the advice contained within its pages is the best you can get.

Tom Cunliffe’s Manual of Seamanship is essential reading for anyone taking an RYA Dayskipper, Yachtmaster course or, for that matter, anyone who puts to sea.

RYA Manual of Seamanship Title        

Author     Tom Cunliffe

ISBN         978-1-905104079

Publisher    Royal Yachting Association 2007


Sunday, 15 April 2012

Beating The No Boat Blues

Low Cost Ocean Kayak

Ok well, I finally did it! Faced with a sailing famine and no prospect of sailing until I have identified and renovated a low cost cruiser, I bit the bullet this weekend and, on the advice of friends, found a cheap second-hand two-seater, sit-on-top kayak – an ‘Ocean Kayak’ Malibu 2XL (scroll down for link). She’s the largest in this particular manufacturer’s range and carries the name XL because of the added buoyancy in the stern - probably a good idea, given that I’m not exactly a small guy.I also looked at an Intex Inflatable Kayak that I could have bought new for the same price. It was a close call between the two, the Intex could have fitted in a bag in the boot of my car and later could also have been stowed on the boat.The Ocean Kayak though, was here in someone's back yard and ready to use. I would have had to order and wait delivery of the Intex.

The Kayak came with seat, paddles and wheels for towing from car to water and she seems ideal for short cruises in relatively sheltered water -should be good as a fishing platform too.

Daytime temperature was only eight degrees C here in Jersey today, but the sun was shining and there was a neap tide (currents not so strong) so it seemed like a good day for a trial sail off the shallow and sheltered east coast of the Island.

The experience was great fun and we discovered that with two paddlers, it is possible to attain and maintain a reasonable speed through the water. It can be hard work against the wind though. I took up the rear berth and Susan, being much much lighter than me, settled in the bows with our on-eyed dog (Jack) and paddled from there.

Initially, I was pleased to be wearing a wet suit, partly because the water at this time of year is distinctly chilly, and partly because for much of the time, I was under a constant deluge of water, a by-product of Susan’s somewhat personalised paddling technique. Later on, after an hour or so paddling, I was happy to take it off.

If I were writing this for a commercial publication, I’d be quoting weights and comparing prices and handling characteristics. This isn’t a commercial site but suffice it to say that the Kayak did pretty much what I expected, it was easier to handle that I thought it would be – and here is the real bonus – it was remarkably stable. There was never any question of rolling or falling out.

Another unexpected bonus was that we discovered that you can ‘sail’ a kayak. Well that might be a bit of an exaggeration but on our way home, with the wind on our backs, Susan opened an umbrella. We stopped paddling and my handheld GPS recorded 5 knots over the ground for a good couple of miles, our efforts were restricted to simply sticking a paddle in the water now and again to maintain direction. Now that’s the sort of kayaking that I like. Question is, has anyone ever thought of adding some kind of temporary keel and a sail? Maybe this summer isn’t going to be so bad after all.


Saturday, 14 April 2012

The Best Rig For A Sailing Cruiser? (2)

Gaff Rigged Sailing 

Thinking the other day about Gunter rig, set off a whole train of thought about alternatives to the Bermudan rig and whether any of them might be more appropriate to my needs. There is a part of me which says that all these old rigs, gaff, lug, or gunter had a purpose. There would have been reason behind a decision to rig a boat this way or that and maybe we’re missing out on something by simply accepting that a Bermudan sloop is the only rig for a modern cruising vessel.

The older rigs were generally developed for working vessels and it would suit owners to develop rigs powerful enough to drive the vessel with a minimal wages bill for paid crew. One way to do this would be to divide the sail area into manageable sizes of canvass. So a gaff cutter, for example, would have a mainsail, topsail, and two small foresails; lots of canvass, but no individual sail which could not be handled by a single man or boy.  Obviously, in the UK with its changeable but predominantly westerly winds, there would be local variations but it’s also worth remembering that these old guys worked with the elements not against them. Deadlines were less specific and the notion of thrashing up a channel against wind and tide would seem idiotic to them. No, they’d take the obvious and easy solution drop anchor and wait. It was more sensible to them to have a vessel which could take advantage of favourable conditions than build something designed to fight the elements.  In terms of resources they were ‘time rich, cash poor’ and the rigs they developed reflected this – Now, does it strike you that there are some parallels here? I’m in the fortunate position to have plenty of time but few resources ‘Simple Sailing, Low Cost Cruising’ isn’t that what I’m trying to achieve?

So gaff, has to be an obvious consideration, when all is said and done it isn’t too dissimilar to a Gunter. The main difference I guess is that the sail is more square, (having four sides rather than three) and the additional spar stands away from the mast rather than being an extension of it. Not so good to windward as a Bermudan, but faster on a reach and at least as fast on a run. Unlike the Gunter rig It is possible to have backstays to support the mast but they have to be ‘running backstays’, i.e., you unfasten one and tie the other whenever you gibe, otherwise they foul the gaff as it comes across. At sea, on a steady course, this wouldn’t be much of a chore but in confined waters where you are gibing frequently it could become a bit of a pain.  In light airs, you raise a top-sail on its own spar above the main, and in heavier winds, you reduce the area of canvass by removing it. When you bring the top-sail down the spar comes with it so, as with the gunter rig, reefing effectively reduces the height of your mast and lowers the centre of gravity, making for a stiffer vessel.

The interesting thing about gaff from my point of view though is that it is relatively inexpensive. There isn’t a great deal of science to sail design for a gaffer, and (so I’m told) you could make your own sails.
The downside? Well, obviously a gaffer won’t point so high to windward, and unlike a gunter rigged vessel the mast may not be so easy to raise and lower. There are a lot more ‘ropes’  with a gaff-rigged boat than with a Bermudan, but then, more ropes means more fun – nobody should go sailing if they don’t like hauling on rope!