Tuesday, December 16, 2008

New Kayak Fishing Guide

Tony Mullins who built a Greenland kayak with me about 3 years ago has been training his grandson Sean in the kayak paddling arts. Sean in the meantime has graduated to fishing guide duties. Here's Sean in the back guiding his customer and uncle, Patrick. Note that Sean prefers a traditional Aleut paddle for taking the sports out to the prime fishing spots.

Also in attendance was Sean's cousin Cian in the middle of the boat. Cian is holding the net, ready to land the big ones.

New Kayak Launch

Here we are celebrating the launching of two new kayaks. Tony Mullins was the photographer. Champagne, courtesy of Sidney to the far left. Myself next to him followed by Rouben whose Greenland kayak is at the edge of the water, Don who helped his wife Suzanne in the yellow jacket build the baidarka in the foreground and at the far right, Judy who helped Rouben build his kayak. The tide was about as high as it goes. Another foot or so and the whole place would be under water. It had rained all morning so the actual tryout of the boats was in question. But I donned my gear and did the honors.

Balance brace with the Greenland kayak. I am showing this mostly so you can see what the skies looked like that day.

Here's the Greenland kayak in the resting position. Depth is quite low in back. Rouben wanted a boat that was easy to roll and yet would be suitable for paddling in real water. Unfortunately, it was totally flat that day and hard to test the boat in waves. But it felt like a fast boat. Unfortunately I didn't have my GPS along and couldn't do a speed test, but the shore was moving past at a respectable rate and I heard appreciative noises coming from the shore. So I suspect this is a pretty fast boat.

Here's the baidarka in the semi-inverted position. Yes, these can be rolled. This boat is 12 foot long and weighs 25 lbs.

Here's the baidarka in the upright position. Trim looks good. I widened out the back beyond what I have been doing and this solves the problem of the boats squatting down in back when it gets up to speed.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Contemporary Aleut Boat Builders

Mike Livingston is active in teaching traditional Aleut culture in Alaskan schools. It's not the only thing he does, but it's one of them. Besides making kayaks, Mike also teaches other skills such as wooden kayak hat construction, drum making, baidarka model making and Aleut language.

Here's Mike teaching wooden hat making to students at Aleut Culture Camp in Cold Bay. Mike is from Cold Bay. He went to school there. His dad met his mom here during WWII and decided to stay on after WWII.

Here's the older students from culture camp at Cold Bay School. Mike is to the far left. Teacher Kurt Schmidt is to the far right. Students came from a number of locations besides Cold Bay, Akutan, Nelson Lagoon and False Pass.

Here's a photo taken at the end of Culture Camp with a completed baidarka. From left to right, Mike, Kurt, myself, baidarka, Candace. We had to do some prep work ahead of culture camp, but students knocked out three boats in three days.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Aleut Boat Builders/Elders, part trois

Here are some more Aleut/Unangan boat builder photos. The first one is from a book written by Ethel Ross Oliver. She was a school teacher in Atka and wrote a book about it called Journal of an Aleutian Year. The picture is of Andrew Snigaroff standing in front of a baidarka frame he built.

I posted this picture somewhere on my website a few years ago and sometime after got an email from the grandson of Andrew Snigaroff wondering if I knew where that kayak had ended up. I did not know. And I have since lost the email sent by the grandson. I hope to find his email address again so I can find out a little more about Andrew. Apparently he was the last or one of the last baidarka builders on Atka.

The baidarka in the Phoebie Hearst Museum in Berkeley is also from Atka and looks very similar to this one, though not exactly the same. It may or may not have been built by Andrew Snigaroff. Based on stylistic differences, I'm inclined to think that it wasn't. But I'm only guessing.

The remaining pictures are all from a book called Contributions to Kayak Studies. The article was written by Eugene Arima and John Heath. The pictures were taken in Nikolski on Umnak Island in the 1930's.

The man holding the single hatch baidarka or Iqyax^ is Artie Ermeloff.

This photo is of Afenogin Ermeloff.

And Fred Bezezkoff holding an Ulux^tax^.

Bottom view of an iqyax, person holding the boat not identified.

I dont' know if any of the men pictures built any of these boats or which ones they built, but it's safe to assume that they all knew how to build baidarkas. Hats off to them all.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Aleut Boat Builders/Elders

I found some photos of Aleut boat builders/elders and am posting them here as promised. These photos and captions were posted at the school in Akutan, Alaska. I shot photos of the photos when I was there in about 2004 helping Kurt Schmidt teach baidarka building in shop class.

This is a photo of Bill Tcheripanoff ca. 1970. He's holding up a piece of braided seal or sea lion intestine. At the time, Bill was being interviewed by Joelle Robert-Lamblin, a French anthropologist about the topic of baidarkas.

Here's another photo of Bill Tcheripanoff about a dozen years after the previous picture was taken. He's holding a fox trap in his lap.

Here's the caption that went with the photo.

This one is a photo of Sergie Sovoroff and one of the baidarka models that he built.

And here's the caption that went with the photo of Sergie. By the way, Mike Livingston studied with Sergie and told me that Sergie's models are in museums all over the place, but never with his name on them.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Aleut Boat Builders

Mike Livingston asked me if I had anything on Aleut elders on my website. I told him no, reason being that I have never had a chance to talk to any of them. But I told him that I had hoped to put something about Aleut boat builders on my website. This isn't it, but I will be working on it. Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Genuine Eskimo Kayak For Sale

Bob Hoerger of Palo Alto brought the following ad from the November 1940 issue of Pacific Motorboat to my attention:

FOR SALE: Genuine Eskimo kayak with skin cover, recently brought from Alaska. Well constructed. Balances easily. Good for fishing and sport on river, lake, or bay. M. Lantis, Berkeley, Calif.

Some of you may recognize M. Lantis as the woman who collected the baidarka in the collection of the museum of anthropology at the University of California in Berkeley. Whether this was another kayak or the one that is now in the museum is not known. This ad was placed in 1940 and the boat in the museum was collected in 1934 and is lacking its skin. But who knows. M. Lantis may have tried to sell the boat, not found a buyer, stripped off its skin and then donated it to the museum.

Skinboat Rendezvous

We had a skinboat rendezvous yesterday in Alameda. Several skin boat builders brought their boats for review by each other and the general public. Thanks to a notice in the San Francisco Chronicle, quite a few people turned out. Fellow skin boaters Tony Mullins and Dave Browne did much of the heavy lifting. Dave Browne did the majority of the promotional work and organization of the event. I just showed up with boats and brats, that's bratwurst for the uninitiated. I got so busy talking to people and setting them up with boats that I forgot to take pictures except at the start of the event. Oh well.

Here's Tony on the left and Dave on the right unloading boats at Encinal beach.

Encinal beach wasn't far from my shop so I was able to pile a bunch of boats on top of my car without tying them down carefully.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


No, not the one in the Caribbean, the one in Northern California.
This is where the Arcata crowd paddles. Trinidad Head, a big rock connected to the coast by a low land bridge blocks the prevailing NW swell and forms a natural harbor in its shadow.Here's the view to the northeast and the unprotected beach. If the swell is low, people can take off here with their kayaks.

Here's a view southeast, the sheltered water and natural harbor in the shadow of Trinidad head. Here paddlers can launch even when swells are running 20 feet. They can paddle sheltered water all day or nudge their way around the corner and push into the swell for big elevator rides or head for the shore for some rock gardening.

Stability, part 2

Scroll down for stability part 1. This is stability part 2. The stability of kayaks is not just an attribute of the boat, but an attribute of a conglomerate of factors. Let me list them:

1) Water conditions
2) Boat shape
3) Boat loading
4) Skill of the paddler
5) The paddle
6) Wind

About the only factors that people typically take into consideration when trying to measure boat stability are factors 2 and 3.

Stability is considered to be a characteristic of the boat and the paddler is victim or beneficiary as the case may be of the boat's inherent stability. But realistically, the paddler has to be considered a part of the boat since he/she not only affects how the boat sits in the water but is also an integral part of its stabilizing system which may include ballast and cargo, but will also include a paddle.

The paddle of a kayak in the hands of a skilled paddler acts like an outrigger and increases the effective width of the kayak from around 2 feet to about 4 to 5 feet, making the boat considerably more stable, so stable in fact that the boat need not capsize except under the most extreme conditions, and if it does, the paddle in the hands of the skilled paddler makes the kayak self righting.

Aside from the skill of the paddler, the second biggest factor that impacts stability of the kayak is its cargo and the weight distribution of the paddler. A kayak by itself is fairly stable. However, a paddler will move the center of gravity upward and make the boat less stable. The heavier and taller the paddler, the worse the effect on stability. The easiest way to counter the weight of the paddler is to add ballast in the bilge of the kayak. According to stability curves published in Sea Kayaker Magazine, ballast has a much greater positive effect on kayak stability than does hull form. But recreational kayaks on day trips are mostly paddled empty so that stability becomes primarily a result of hull form.

The only down side of ballast is that it make the boat harder to propel. Oh well.

Finally, there is the matter of the paddler's skill I will return to this topic at another time, along with the influence of water conditions and wind.

Arcata Boat Show

I went up to the Arcata Wooden Boat show in June. Just publishing photos now. Modern boats don't much impress me. I guess it's the esthetics of plywood I'm not in love with. Sure it's practical and easy and strong and low maintenance and waterproof and everything, but it has all the charm of a forest service outhouse.

So there were actually a number of boats at the show that impressed me, but here are the two highlights. Appropriately for redwood country, these boats were made out of redwood.

This boat was no longer in any shape to use, but it was a local adaptation, probably early 20th century to Humboldt bay. It was carved out of a single redwood log. The log had probably been at least 6 foot in diameter possibly 8.

Here's another redwood dugout, this one fashioned by members of the local Indian tribe. I have seen these boats in museums or in photos and they seemed hopelessly ponderous and heavy. Yes they are heavy, but they are not ponderous. They are meant to be river boats and as such have a good amount of rocker and a fairly flat bottom which lets you turn them on a dime. The boat will literally spin on its own axis like a shallow dish. Although the boat weighs about 400 pounds, it is quite nimble and moves along nicely once under way. Plus the center of gravity is so low that you can stand on the gunwales and not tip it over. Sebastian, here pictured jumped up and down on the gunwales without managing to capsize it. Appropriate technology as they say in progressive circles.

Driftwood Projects, Part 1

Here's a handy dandy kayak rack I made out of driftwood. The driftwood happend to be two by six planks of redwood that were floating around the bay. I ripped them and fashioned an A-frame style rack held together with deck screws, our culture's answer to everything, one step up from duct tape. I wanted to lash the frame together in keeping with the construction of the kayaks, but the screws were just easier. The tarp was meant to keep the sun off the kayaks, not the rain. But the setup was only partly successful, mostly because the tarp was too short. I need to work on that. There are also hellacious winds in the area. On summer afternoons, the wind blows about 20mph off the water, then eddies behind the shop and due to some aerodynamic miracle blows sideways at about 30mph which sets the tarp flapping and snapping something awful.

Arcata Kayak Building Class

I did a Greenland kayak building class up in Arcata, CA. For those of you not into CA geography, Arcata is on the north end of Humboldt Bay which is not too far from the Oregon border and right in the heart of redwood country.
Here's the group with their finished boats. Michael Morris's boat was a little over 17 feet long. Everyone else built 15 footers. They do a lot of rock gardening up near Trinidad so they thought that shorter boats might be handy.

Here's the group on the water in Humboldt bay. The bay is a little warmer than the open ocean, but these guys were more or less duded up for immersion, complete with drysuits and neoprene head gear. The water is cold up there.

Wolfgang and the Whale

I did a boat building class up in Arcata, CA. First day I got there, I joined some of the local paddlers on the water. About 15 minutes into the paddle, whales showed up, snorting and breathing deeply and flipping flukes, etc. This was my first whale sighting. No big deal for people on the coast, but my first in 8 years in CA.

It's Been a While

It's been a while since I posted here. I'm back. Been busy actually doing stuff and blogging has taken a back seat. Hard to blog when you're not near your computer and the hardware configuration starts falling apart. My Pentax optio w30 has sort of gone into the tank and I was using it as my bloggo optical recorder on account of its compact size. It still takes pictures but they look like one of the lens elements shook loose and only part of the left half of the picture is in focus while the right hand side gets progressively more out of focus. So I had to revive the old Canon G1 and buy a new battery. etc. etc. Hardware impediments.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

On the stability of small boats, part 1

This is not going to be a detailed discussion on the stability of small boats. I will actually write something for my website and it will be concise and definitive.
My intent here is merely to commit myself to writing this new page for my web site.
What is prompting me to do it is the persistent mention of secondary stability in kayak and canoe magazines. Three things about this concept.
1) All kayakers use the term as in, "Yeah, I tried that boat. It has low initial stability but good secondary stability."
2) Attempts to find a definition of secondary stability on the internet come up with only a few definitions
3) Such definitions as you can find seem to be subjective and conflicting.
So I will tackle this topic as best as I can.
More to come; stay tuned.

On explaining stuff

Many years ago I had a job as a writer of technical manuals.
If a machine was novel or its working wasn't common knowledge, the manual usually had some kind of theory section in it that explained how the machine worked. The idea was that if you understood how a machine worked, then if you encountered one in a nonworking state, you might have some idea what was wrong with it.
Every once in a while, actually, fairly often, I would get stuck writing these theory sections. What I was writing just didn't sound good. Invariably, after getting up from my desk and walking over to the coffee machine and thinking about the problem, I would discover that the source of my ineffective prose was a lack of understanding of how the machine worked. I was trying to explain something that I didn't understand. I discovered that if I didn't understand something, I couldn't explain it. I further discovered that this rule was pretty much true of anyone who sets out to explain something.
So the next time you read an explanation that doesn't make sense, chances are the person explaining it doesn't understand how it works. Read my next post on stability of small boats for an example of a topic that hardly anyone understands but many people feel compelled to write about all the same.
The other possibility, especially in journalism, when explanations don't make sense, chances are, somebody is lying.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Today's Shipwreck

Boats don't last forever. Sooner or later they die, and when they do it's often right in the water in an inconvenient place. Often someone just abandons them and they get blown into shore. At other times, someone just ties them up to a dock and leaves them to rot.
In any case, I see them often enough while paddling about that I've started taking pictures of them as a kind of recurring phenomenon that seems worth documenting.
Here's today's wreck, a plastic sailboat that blew into shore. Make up your own story about how it got there.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Boys Build Boats

Some pictures of boats being built. A Greenland one and an Aleut one.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

May Day

My wife just informed me that today is May day. In many parts of the world, this is a holiday, kind of like Labor Day in the US. I suspect that we don't celebrate May Day in the US because of socialist overtones that the day has acquired. In any case, it is spring here in California. Currently, the locust trees are in bloom, and yesterday, the brown pelicans returned to SF Bay. Surely Summer must be near. Pictures of locusts and pelicans to follow.
A pelican fishing in the seaplane lagoon out front of the shop. They fly into the wind which is coming out of the west and when they see something in the water, they fold their wings, turn on their backs and hit the water with their beaks open. Even at a hundred yards distance when you can't hardly see the bird, you can still see the splash.
One of the locusts in bloom. We also have white ones.

How's the Book Coming, Part 2

For those of you paying attention to the title of the post, I skipped directly from part 0 to part 2. There is no part 1. The part zero comes from thermodynamics, where they elaborated the first and second laws and then some smartalek came along and elaborated an even more fundamental law and since they didn't want to renumber the other laws, they made this one the zeroth law of thermodynamics.
How's the book coming? I worked on it for a short time yesterday. What happens is that as I build boats or teach others how to build boats, a light comes on now and again and I have some insight into a better way to do something or discover what I think is a reason why something was done a certain way and then want to incorporate that into the book. And so, as one comment pointed out, the writer is under the illusion that he can never finish the book because there is always more to discover.
But regardless, I'm getting closer.
One of the problems of instructional book design is that I want to cover the construction of different models of baidarkas in this book as well as different construction techniques and am wrestling with the best way to approach this problem. For instance, you can join deck beams to the gunwales either by doweling them or by doing mortise and tenon construction. I favor doweling because it is faster and simpler. However, I do want to explain how to do mortise and tenon construction. Another instance of design variation would be the use of flat ribs vs. round ribs. My dilemma is how to best organize the information so as not to confuse the reader with a whole bunch of options.
I personally like information presented in a sequential manner and don't like having to skip around to consult appendices in other parts of the book, but to have all the options in the main flow of the book would be confusing, it seems. I think I'm talking myself into having a main flow, a recommended way of building the boat with options at the end of each chapter.
By the way, the second edition will have all the info from the first edition, but there will also be info on how to build different models of baidarkas, like the long skinny ones from Akun and a short version of my own creation, plus two seaters and so on. And there will be a lot more pictures. I want the thing to be more like a comic book with pictures leading the way.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Roger B. Smith Design Award Goes to ...

My Ryobi R1801M router is a piece of crap. I think the intentions of the designers were honorable, but in the interest of economy, they made the screw mechanism which you use to set the depth of the router bit out of plastic. Nothing wrong with plastic of course except that in this case, the plastic of the screw mechanism reacts with the sap in the sawdust and glues the screw mechanism shut so you can no longer adjust bit depth thereby rendering the whole router useless, unless you don't care how deep you rout something.
My solution was fairly simple. I took a Dremel tool with a cutoff bit to the router and cut through the plastic screw collar, peeled it loose from the body of the router to which it had glued itself and then was once again able to turn the screw collar and adjust router depth.
This operation had all the subtlety of a frontal lobotomy performed with a screw driver, but it was effective.

In case you're wondering who Roger B. Smith was, he was the CEO of GM for most of the 1980's. He tried to make GM profitable by cutting down on quality. Given that he was an accountant by training and not an engineer, this no doubt seemed like a reasonable approach to him. If you sell millions of cars per year and you can save a few bucks per car by cutting corners on quality, you can save yourself a few million bucks.
No doubt the good folks at Ryobi were inspired by the example of Roger B. Smith and decided to save money by using plastic for the screw mechanism instead of metal, thereby boosting the profitability of the company and the approval of Mr. Smith from beyond the grave.
But wait, there's more: I just went to the RYOBI web site www.ryobi.com. This site is even more lame than their power tools. On the other hand, they seem to have hired some American ad agency to sell tools to women and have this woman with the suspect name of Norma Vally who seems to be the mascot for their chixcanfix website http://www.chixcanfix.com/ Picture of Norma below - picture pulled off the website - it comes in three parts, norma_top.jpg, norma_mid and norma_bottom.jpg. Any failure of the parts to align is entirely due to limitations of the blogger software which auto-sizes all graphics.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pt. Hope Kayak Revisited

Two days ago the wind was blowing straight out of the west and whipping up whitecaps. So I thought it was time to give the Pt. Hope boat another try. As you may remember, its flatwater performance was unremarkable. Because the boat is short it has no glide. Because the keel line sweeps up at the stern, it does not track well. And because the bow is fairly blunt, the boat pushes a fair amount of water.
But I suspected that all these apparent faults might turn out to be virtues under the proper conditions. And in wind and short chop they were. The boat seemed to be just the right length for short steep wind waves. It rose nicely to the waves. The full bow no doubt helped as did the upswept keel line at the stern. At no point did the bow punch into an oncoming wave. By the same token, lack of glide in chop was not an issue. I don't think any kayak would have much glide in such conditions. And tracking was not an issue either. The wind and the waves were pushing the boat around to such an extent that lack of tracking wasn't noticeable.
So all in all, the boat was well behaved in rough water. I suspect that these were the conditions that it was designed for.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Almquist Lumber 2nd Annual Wooden Boat Show

I have been invited to come up to Arcata for the second annual wooden boat show put on by Almquist lumber. The date is May 17 for anyone wanting to stop by and talk skinboat. Check out the website at http://www.almquistlumber.com/boatwoods.html
While up there, I will be checking out Trinidad for suitability as a TAKS site. Then, end of June, I will be back and doing a Greenland boatbuilding course. More on that to come.

TAKS 2008, The Blue Water Symposium

TAKS 2008 is coming up in October. For those of you who don't know what TAKS is, it's the Traditional Arctic Kayak Symposium. This year, we're looking at three possible sites for the symposium. There is of course San Simeon where we had it the last two years, but this year, we're also looking at Mendocino and Trinidad, which is north of Arcata. Mendocino is about 3.5 hours north of San Francisco. Trinidad is 6 hours north of San Francisco.
John Petersen is headed up to Mendo today, Tuesday. He's going to check it out to consider suitability for TAKS. He will also head up to Trinidad a day or so later to check it out. Stay tuned, as they say for more info.
John Petersen and furry friend on the way up to Mendocino.

I will be headed up to Arcata in May to check it out and will try to swing by Mendocino. Both are no doubt cool places.
We are also trying out slogans for TAKS. Somebody pointed out that TAKS is one of the few of these kind of events that happens on the open coast with the attendant surf and potentially rough conditions. So we're playing around with that idea - the blue water symposium.
So we still don't know where the symposium will be this year, but it will be October 3, 4 and 5.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


See a few posts back for seaworthiness. Seaworthiness has something to do with stability and stability is aided by a low center of gravity. But heavier boats glide better as well because they have greater momentum than a lighter boat at the same speed. So we're hoping that you can make your kayak heavier and therefore more seaworthy. The Aleuts reportedly carried ballast in their kayaks, ballast equaling roughly the weight of their kayaks.
So today I went out in my Aleut kayak and brought along one of those three sandbags pictured above. These guys weigh about 35 pound apiece. The idea was to place a sandbag in back of the cockpit to see how that would affect handling of the kayak. First of all, 35 pounds is fairly heavy and hard to push around in a boat with ribs. 15 pound sand bags might be a better choice. Not only is 35 pounds heavy, but it's also too big and hard to get into a tight boat.
But on to the effect of 35 pounds on handling. As expected, a heavier boat is harder to accelerate. I was expecting the effect to be negligible, but instead, it was noticable. Glide improves, I suppose but paddling definitely takes more effort with a heavier boat. I had been hoping that the extra weight would affect mostly acceleration, but it affects cruising at constant speed as well. I suppose. Wetted surface increases as does the amount of water that needs to be pushed out of the way by a heavier boat. All in all, extra ballast on flat water is mostly an annoyance. Whatever is gained isn't worth the extra effort.
But I'm still holding out for improved performance in rough water. I'll have to give the sandbags another try next time the wind blows.

The Olive Drab Helicopters

Lots of noise outside yesterday. So I looked and found these helicopters hanging around the gray ships of the reserve fleet. Big helicopters. It occurred to me today that it would be hard to keep these sort of things going on recycled frenchfry oil. Of course, if I was in the military, I wouldn't mind being the guy that drives up to the backs of ethnic restaurants to collect the used oil. Come to think of it, my job in the army was kind of like that. I was the guy who drove around the country side to fetch and deliver, sort of the company gofer. Meanwhile, while the petroleum lasts, we fire these things up with more conventional petrofuels.

Looks kind of like a dragonfly doesn't it?

Paddle Decorations

I made a paddle for one of the local paddlers. He wanted decorations on it. I did a NW Coast design for him. In the process, I also did a few extra designs just to play around. The designs came from a book on native tattoos. I'm thinking of coming up with a bunch of these images suitable for a kayak paddle in case people want their paddles personalized.

This is an eagle - see claws at the bottom. Looked more like a crab to me at first glance, but really, it's an eagle. The interesting thing I found out as part of my research is that 2D art of the NW uses a lot of standard pictorial elements for making up pictures, like the oval or the oval with a little dart in it and so on. It's almost like forming words out of limited number of letters, only it's done in 2D and scaled to various sizes.

The bishop. I like this one for some reason. I think it's because of its iconic simplicity.

Wood Gathering

I almost finished my driftwood kayak rack earlier this week but was a few sticks short of a complete rack. So off to the Alameda driftwood repository at a secluded part of the island. This particular part of the island is situated in such a way that late winter high tides co-inciding with storms blowing from the south pile up consideral amounts of lumber on top of the riprap that re-enforces that part of the shore. Pictures follow. Ice plants were in bloom and the view was unusually lovely. I managed to find two 2x6x10's nailed together, threw them in the water and towed them back to the shop. Successful outing.

The view toward the bay bridge. The pictures turned out blurry. I had the camera inside my pfd. Must have fogged up the lens. Still, the flowers are pretty in an impressionistic sort of way. The dark blue blob to the right of the bridge is Yerba Buena Island. The light blue blob in back of the bridge is Mt. Tamalpais.

Here's the wood, all shapes and sizes.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


I just picked up a book called Seaworthiness, The Forgotten Factor, by C.A. Marchaj at one of the local used bookstores. The prose is a little dense but the author has a lot of good things to say. The author's premise is essentially that yacht racing has forced the design of racing yachts toward speed at the expense of seaworthiness and comfort. And unfortunately, racing fashions also seem to set the tone for cruising yacht design. The book was published in 1986 and it is quite possible that things have changed, but I suspect not much. Fashion after all trumps function every time. So the book focuses not on what makes a boat fast, the prime concern of racers but rather on what makes a boat seaworthy, the thing that should be of prime concern to the cruising yachtsman.
So why do I read books about sailboats when I am a builder of kayaks? Two reasons: one is that I am starting to get interested in sailing and two that the study of kayak performance seems restricted to stability measurements on flat water and hull efficiency in tow tests. Another way of putting point two is that the only two things that kayak designers have any measure for is how far you can lean a kayak before it capsizes and how much resistance it offers to towing at various speeds. If you want to know how boats behave in other than flat water, you have to look beyond the kayak literature.
And so it came as a pleasant surprise to find C.A. Marchaj's book on seaworthiness. Here was chapter after chapter of examination not only how a boat behaves in waves, but also how a boat behaves at various degrees of heel. Not all of this stuff applies to kayaks, but most of it at least gets a reader like me thinking about how kayaks and sailboats are different. But they are also the same in some ways. Forces that apply to one apply to the other. The question is what does one want to do about them and what sort of strategy works for a kayak but against a sailboat and vice versa. But above all, the book adds a third dimension to the discussion of how a boat behaves on water. A boat moves not just forward and backward and sideways, but up and down as well. Hull shape needs to take into consideration not just the movement on a flat surface but the movement in a vertical direction as well.
Perhaps the greatest difference between a sailboat and a kayak is that sailboats in general are not meant to be inverted, that is, capsized. They are not built for complete inversion. Once they go past a certain angle of heel, they are likely to flood and sink. Not so a kayak. A kayak is so unstable in general that occasional inversion is generally expected and planned for. Surfing likewise is dangerous to sailboats but kayakers often seek out surf and when they do, they are likely to do so in kayaks that are especially designed for the surf.
But the majority of recreational kayakers want to move about the surface of the water just like their sailboating cousins, that is without unplanned inversion while covering adequate distances. It is for these sort of kayaking conditions that Marchaj's book is instructive. That is to say, it attempts to answer the question, how can we built boats that behave well in rough water and avoid capsize. As such, it is a useful book even for the kayak builder.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Sunset Cruise on the Bay

Sunday I went out on Tim Anderson's Free Yacht. See here for more details on how he got this free yacht.

Tim is a first rate scrounger and thus an embodiment of the skinboat ethic. The skinboat ethic is that nothing should be bought that can be scrounged. It's not every skinboat builder's ethic, but it is mine and it used to be the ethic of the original skinboat builders. Not that they had a choice. They had to build their boats out of found materials. We don't. Nowadays they don't either. And so they don't. Tim taking a call.

This was a sunset cruise. Start out at about 5:30 and go till sunset at about 7:30.

The sun being close to setting, the golden gate toward the left.

I don't know anything about sailing, but it seems like the trimaran has certain assets, the main being that it is wide and so there is not much of the usual heeling over and scrambling to stay more or less upright that you get with keel boats. Given this property, there is not so much of the usual annoying scrambling about. One can settle into a spot and stay there.
Another asset of the trimaran is relatively shallow draft. One does not have to worry as much about running aground on mud flats and resting there until the tide comes in again.

Tim took a bunch of people aboard for this cruise, something like 18 and we all fit comfortably on the deck. Different people took turns at the tiller, steering the boat this way and that. Sailing is a pleasant activity, provided where one aims to go can be gotten to by a zigzag course. Our intention was to head over to Treasure Island to pick someone up, but the wind was directly off Treasure island and so the tacks were long and didn't produce much forward progress. Not much one can do about that. But anyway, we ran out of time and turned back to run before the wind toward the harbor in Emeryville.

It was nice to be out on the water and have the wind in our face. All in all an experience that is the perfect antidote to life in the city and all its discontents.