Monday, September 24, 2012

Getting to Know You -- Part III

Since launching, I have taken Solitude III out sailing a couple of times. These voyages have allowed me to slowly become more familiar with the boat: her likes, dislikes, and idiosyncrasies. Every boat is different, each has its good points and its bad. Keeping in mind the bias the undoubtedly results from having invested the last two years building this boat, I’d like to dedicate a few posts to exploring what I’ve learned thus far about this boat that I have built.

In this final entry in the series, I want to share some thoughts about the way the boat is rigged, adventures in dealingwith the trailer, and some of the ergonamics of the boat. 

The PocketShip Instruction manual includes a guide to rigging the boat in the same way the John C. Harris’ own PocketShip is rigged.  It also tries to make it clear that rigging, particularly deck layout, is a matter of personal preference and that the individual builder is free to rig the boat accordingly.

As a starting point, I basically rigged the boat per the manual, with some minor variations.  In the time I’ve spent sailing the boat, there are some things I’ve decided to change, mostly revolving around making things easier to manage from the cockpit.

In initially rigging the boat, I did not lead the line for the jib furler aft to the cockpit, instead just bringing it back to a cleat on the mast.  I don’t know why I thought that was a good idea!   It works, but the manifold benefits of being able to take in the jib from to cockpit, particularly when singlehanding.  So, that’s a change that I’ll make when I get a few minutes to do it. 

Aside from that, the jib furler is awesome.  I love to able to instantly take in the jib, particulary when singlehanding.  This is not to say that roller furling is a mere luxury item.  In a boat this size, I can’t imagine anything bigger or less-dexterous than a lemur crawling out the bowsprit to deal with a hanked-on jib!

As I found out when sailing PocketShip, when the wind gets into the 10-12 knot range, it is time to shorten sail.  As a result of the excitement we had trying to reef PocketShip’s mains’l at the Wooden Boat Festival, I’ve now rigged Solitude for jiffy reefing.  In talking with PocketShip designer John C. Harris after that experience, I also decided to add another 100lbs of ballast to Solitude to keep her on her feet better when the wind kicks up.  I have yet to take her out in a good wind since making these improvements, so I will have to report on their efficacy later. 

 I’m trying to decide whether I like the placement of the cleats for the jib sheets.  Right now, they are forward on the cabin, integral with the jib leads.  I’ve had some trouble when singlehanding getting the cleats to release.  The designer swears that it is dead simple if you flick the sheet just the right way.  I vaguely remember “The Flick” from some of the larger daysailers I sailed back in college, but clearly I’ve lost the touch.  So, I debating whether to lead the sheets to cleats further aft, or just be patient until I rediscover some skills.  I’m leaning toward the latter.

Dealing with the gaff is something new for me. I’m still experimenting with getting the peak and throat halyard set optimally.  I’ve noticed that I seem to tend to have the throat set a little low and the peak set a little high.  I’m also still struggling with neatly furling the mains’l, and dealing with the gaff while tackling that operation.  My friendly neighborhood  kayaker, Ralph, gave me a snap-on strap as a boat warming gift to help with that issue…a few more of those might solve the problem.

On the standing rigging side, I decided to go with turnbuckles on the shrouds, instead of the lashings specified by the designer.  So far I like them, though Dieter, who I sailed PocketShip with and discussed the pros and cons of the rig with at the Wooden Boat Festival, had a distinctly negative opinion of the turnbuckles.  I understand where he’s coming from, and I need to think about his input.

One more struggle has been with the bobstay.  The bobstay attaches to the hull via the boweye.  I have to unhook the bobstay whenever I put the boat on the trailer.  I had purchased the bobstay premade through CLC, so in theory, if my boat had built built per the plans, it should have fit.  But, alas, the plans are a little nonspecific about the location of thebow eye, and as a result, by boweye is a little lower on the hull, and thus the bobstay is a little short.  I can still get it shackled if someone pushes down on the bowsprit whilest I attach the shackle.   The problem is that if I’m singlehanding, I don’t have someone to push down on the bowsprit.  I do not know what my solution to this is going to be, though it will probably involve standing in the hardware section of Fisheries Supply for a very, very, very long time.


One of the big advantages of a boat the size of Solitude III is that it can be loaded on a trailer and towed easily.  The advantages of this are many.  You don’t have to pay moorage.  Anywhere with a road and a boat launch is your cruising ground. 

PocketShips everywhere are riding around on a rogues gallery of new, used, and repurposed trailers.  CLC offers a custom Trailex aluminum trailer; lightweight, but pricy.  PocketShip pathfinder Dave Curtis used an EZ-Loader…one of my top contenders.  Another of the PocketShip fraternity used a re-purposed, used trailer that was a little too small.  He hit a curb and the whole rig toppled over. 

I shopped far and wide, considered new, used, aluminum and galvanized, all sizes.  From a tow vehicle perspective, I couldn’t make a case for an aluminum trailer.     And I didn’t want to deal with the risk of any problems that might come along with a used trailer.  New boat, new trailer.  It’s only fair.

In the end, I selected a new King 15’-17’ galvanized trailer, with a 1750lb capacity.  Though the bare hull weight of the boat is in the neighborhood of 800lbs, with spars, rigging, ballast, and gear, the full up weight is more likely in the 1200-1500lb range, so including some buffer the 1750 lb rating seemed about right.   Another cool feature, the trailer has LED lights. 

My tow vehicle is my trusty 2006 Chrysler 300C, now equipped with a UHAUL-sourced trailer hitch.  Yes, the car has a HEMI.  This car has played a variety of roles in the life of Solitude III.   It has conveyed me to work, so that I might earn a paycheck so that I could afford to lavish Solitude with the good things in life.  It has hauled the countless board feet of lumber required to build Solitude.  It has whisked me to Port Townsend for the Wooden Boat Festival, when I’ve needed the motivation to continue my labors on Solitude.  So, it is only fitting that this trusty stead be pressed into service towing Solitude to the water and new adventures.

From a going-forward point of view, I don’t even notice the boat behind me.  I do see it in the gas mileage though.  The big V8 has cylinder deactivation, so during normal highway cruising, the car will return around 22mpg.  With the additional task of dragging Solitude III, all eight cylinders are making a contribution, as evidenced by the 14-15mpg displayed on the trip computer.

The trailer can be felt over a bumpy road…those springs that yield a 1750lb rating may be a touch still.  The car is also due for new shocks and struts, so that may help damp things out.  The trailer also makes itself known during decelerations.    The trailer has no surge brakes, and that added mass makes itself known through the brake pedal.

Arriving at the boat launch, I cast off the tie-downs, raise the mast, mount the outboard (I keep it in the boot of the car when I’m on the road), and doff my shoes and socks.   The whole procedure is currently taking me about 10 minutes.  Not bad.  Not bad, at all!  A tribute to the thoughtfulness John C. Harris put into the design. 

Next up, it is down the ramp.  With the combination of car (wheels pushed to the corners) and trailer (no drop axle), I have to back down until the car’s rear wheels are just at the water’s edge.  I set the brake, hop out of the car, wade into the water, unclip the winch strap and give a mildly might shove, setting Solitude free.  Hopefully I either have the bow line in my hand, or have a helper on the dock managing the mooring lines.  Park the car, attached the bobstay, and the operation is over.  It really is quick.

After an enjoyable time on the water, retrieval is almost as simple.  The only catch here is making sure that the boat’s keel is properly aligned and sitting in the keel box. In the water, pull out of the water (traction control plus plenty of power helps this!), strap here down and we’re good to go.  Upon arriving home


As I have stated before, this is one comfortable boat.  The cockpit is spacious and well laid out.  So far I have only ever had one passenger aboard while under sail, so I am looking forward to see how it is with three of four souls aboard. 

I love my tiller.  I made mine out of 1” thick ash (ground down to ¾” to fit the rudder), instead of the ¾” dimension specified in the plans.  One thing I really noticed when at the helm of PocketShip, was that the little ¾” tiller made the helm feel a little sloppy and that tiller deformed under load.  The tiller also felt a little too small, too dainty.  Solitude’s has a nice, solid feel, doesn’t noticeably deform under load, and has a more comfortable grip, at least for me.  Not only is it good for handling the boat, but it could easily be unshipped and used as a club to fend off pirates, always an important consideration. 

I went to a talk by John Harris at the Wooden Boat Festival in which he talked about the design of this boat.  One thing that he considered important was that the boat be dry.  Thus far, I’d say he succeeded.  When motoring back to Boat Haven from Port Hudson directly into the chop in ~15kts of wind, there was a small amount of spray that made it to my lips.  This was a pretty extreme case, and either slowing down a touch or coming off the wind two points  alleviated it.  I have yet to take any spray in the cockpit while under sail. 

One thing that I’m less than happy with is probably mine own fault, and that’s the motor controls.  I find it a little tough to get into a position where I can comfortably manage the throttle, fwd/neutral, the motor’s tiller and the boat’s tiller, and my body all at the same time.  In high gain, precision tasks, like docking, something always seems to be in the way.  I think that if I had mounted the outboard on the port side instead of the starboard side it would have been better.

In Conclusion

So, these are the things that I have learnt about my little boat so far.  I’m sure that the more I sail her, the more I will learn.  It is a pleasure to learnmore about this thing that I have built, though maybe a little surreal.  It still hard to believe that my little boat, this project I’ve been working on in the garage, is a really a working, seaworthy, sailing vessel.


  1. What is are the alleged advantages of lashed shrouds over turnbuckles? I have always wondered about this. My instinct (for a gaffer) would be lashing, but turnbuckles seem much more convenient. Does it have anything to do with stress on the chainplates and, by extension, the hull?

    Which brings me neatly to another question! The PocketShip mast is deck-stepped via a tabernacle. I notice that the only below-decks structural support is bulkhead #2 (forward cabin bulkhead). Is that adequate to spread the compression (and fore-aft) loads through the hull? I'm guessing it must be, or we'd see the results in parting hull/deck structures!

    1. Hi Mark,

      The critism of the turnbuckles was aimed at the lock nuts used on either side of the buckle. The argument is that if those things work their way loose, the the buckle will spin loose under load, and in short order you will find yourself dimsasted and quite sad. He's right about the consequences, I just don't know how easy it is for those nuts to get loose. Right now I'm doing periodic sign of looseness yet. On the other hand, a lashing would be cheap and easy.

      On question #2, the deck in that area is pretty well supported. Though most of the compression load gets transmitted into bulkhead #2, bulkhead #1, the hull sides, and the sides of the dorade boxes are all very nearby and definitely carry some of the load too. The twisting loads are reacted into bulkhead #2 and the foredeck (either through fillets, or in Solitude's case, bits of timber and bolts). The fore-aft loads are picked up by the shrouds, jib halyard, and bulkhead #2.

      There has been one case (under sail) of a hull/deck seperation on a PocketShip. However, that builder had not reinforced the bulkhead-to-cabin deck joint with fiberglass, as the plans dictate you should.

  2. Hi,

    Turnbuckles (instead of lashings) for the shrouds would seem to ease the problem of obtaining the proper tension on the shrouds (as the designer urges to prevent tabernacle/mast/bulkhead separations).

    Can you recall the specifications of your turnbuckles (size, make, source....)? And have you any further thoughts about your removable tabernacle? JH posted a suggested design for the backing plate and bolts on the PS forum. Did you follow this suggestion and how has it worked out?

    Thanks, and great blog. Halfway through my own PS build, awaiting warmer weather in NH.


    1. Hi Mark,

      I do not recall the details. I bought them off the shelf at Fisheries Supply. They looked "about right" and the specs said that they could carry a significant load.
      I did not do a backing plate on the tabernacle, just four big bolts and big washers. It works ok. Part of me would feel much better if it was glued in, especially since I cannot get the boat back in the garage anyway.
      On the bright side, it does make it easies when it is time to re-varnish the tabernacle.
      Hope you build is going well.