Friday, December 28, 2012


There are three questions that I am asked most when I'm out and about with Solitude.
  1. Did you build that?
  2. How long did it take? 
  3. Is that the first boat you've built? --or-- How many boats have you built?
Name on my first boat, Fern
Readers of this blog know the answer to Questions 1 and 2. As for Question 3, Solitude is the fourth (and a half, if you count the cradle boat) boat I've built. Boats 2 and 3 where a Redfish cedar strip kayak and Pygmy Opsrey double kayak. My first boat was a small rowboat that I designed and built over the course of a lazy grad-school summer.
I had not set out to build a boat that summer. I had just taken a really class in Computation Fluid Dynamics, and I decided to apply my learnings from that class to write a simple 3D grid generator and inviscid solver. What a way to spend a summer...
I actually started writing the grid generator and was getting some good results. But the weather was getting nicer and nicer, and I felt an itch to be doing things outdoors. At the time, I lived about 1/2 mile from the boat launch at Magnusson Park. I thought, gosh, if I only had a small boat, something that I could transport down to the water and just float around on a nice day. I could build a boat!
In a confluence of events, earlier that year, I had been doing a lot of reading about the War of 1812, and that lead me to some books by Howard Chapelle, which lead to to Chapelle's Yacht Designing and Planning. Also, the Aero department's wood shop was under-utilized. I had the motive and the means. Time to get started.

Despite having read through Yacht Designing and Planning and a few other yacht design books, I really approached the design like an engineer. The design brief was something along these lines: A small row boat capable of carrying two people plus one medium dog, light enough for one person to carry, short enough to be build out of 8' long sheets of plywood. Don't ask how I came up with two people and a dog. Anyway, that was the mission to which the boat was point-designed.

The strongback/mold, with fairing strips

The next step was to draw up some plans. Being summertime, TA office was largely deserted, so I cleared out a large workspace amongst the desks. I didn't have a good feel for the correct dimensions for things, so, using assorted scraps of paper, cardboard, and whatever other office supplies I could scavenge, I started working on a mockup. I'd iterate between figuring out "ergonomic" assessments on the mockup, doing displacement calculations on the computer. After a couple of hours, I finally converged on something that I figured would work. I spent another day working up a lines drawing and drawings of each station.

That weekend, I went to the lumber store, and bought a bunch of materials with which to build a mold/strongback, mahogany timber for the frames and epoxy, bronze fasteners, and Gorilla glue to hold stuff together. Marine plywood for the sides came later.

Bending the gunwhales and chine into place

I figured the best thing to do was to build the boat upside-down on a mold. I'd build a keel and a traditional frame, and then sheath it in plywood. Beyond that, construction was a learning process. I hadn't really internalized any of the information I had read in any of the boat books I had read. Fancy structural element like knees, floors, keelsons, and rabbeted keels were unknown to me. For the most part, I was making it up as I went. I'd drive screws and nails in non-traditional places and if I lacked something to drive a fastener into, I'd invent whatever structure I decided was required.
I did pick up a few tricks from Brad, a fellow student who would occasionally drop by. He had built a boat with his dad many moons before, and shared some skills with me. For example. my first attempt and bending the gunwhales into place resulted in a broken gunwhale. For Round 2, Brad dropped by and gave me the idea of soaking them in water as I went to help them take the shape....a trick I'd use some time later on some of the more stubborn parts of Solitude.

Boat bones
Slowly, but surely, the boat took shape over the course of the summer. Soon the frame was complete, and to my delight it could even bee removed from the mold and not collapse on itself. Plywood sheathing came next. I cut some patterns, then cut the real things, did lots of dry fitting and final adjustments and then nailed everything down with bronze boat nails. At this point, the boat was in pretty good shape structurally, but certainly not watertight. So I mixed up some epoxy, thickened it, and proceeded to fill all of the seems with the stuff. I also added some lightweight fiberglass tape to the outsides of the seems. Looking back on it, I think I was on the verge of "inventing" stitch 'n glue!

I built my own oars too!

Sheathing the hull


Solitude III was not my first red boat!

A bunch of sanding came next. I did not coat the boat in unthickened epoxy as I would now. A the time, I didn't even know you could or would do such a thing! Instead, I applied a couple of coats of red paint and did the brightwork with a gloss furniture polyurethane (varnish, what is that????). I even painted her name, Fern, on the transom.

Bouyancy tests
At this point, I found myself in a quandary...I really wasn't sure of the best placement for the seat (or seats). What to do? Why, launch the boat and use a bunch of fellow grad students to figure it out experimentally. of course. So, that's what happened. The boat floated and the experiments worked, but things naturally erupted into mild chaos and tremendous fun, culminating in nearly losing both the both the boat and a fellow Fluids Labber out to sea.

I eventually installed the seats and hardware and finished the boat. I even used her a couple of times. She could carry quite a load, but had too little freeboard for comfort. She pulled easily and tracked horribly She was a little heavy to move around, but could be moved by one person...I'd say the difficultly in getting her to the water limited my use of her more than any other factor. 

The finished Fern

Like any wooden boat, Fern is a beautiful object, but she really isn't a good looking boat. Looking back on the design with more developed sensibilities, I would have given the design more shear, more freeboard, and moved the max half-breadth forward. Way forward. The biggest flaw in the design is that the max half-breadth is at the transom. No kidding.
Every now and then, I look and Fern's hull and contemplate its future. Sometimes I think about wrestling her onto the top of the car and using her, but generally cooler heads prevail and a more useful boat, like a kayak, gets a trip to the water instead. Sometimes, I dream about doing some major modifications to address her shortcomings. I can't get over the idea that I could add a deck, daggerboard and positive floatation, pull the rig off of a Laser, and have a pretty decent sailing dinghy. Actually, she'd probably be able to plane! But that's all a lot of work, and it changes the first boat I ever built into something other than what I designed her to be. So, for now, she sits in the garage, gathering dust.

This picture makes me want to take her out on the water again!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Under Wraps

In a final acknowledgement of seasonal defeat, I finally got Solitude III tucked in for winter.  I struck the sails and pulled a cheap boat cover over her.  In the coming weeks (or months), I am planning to strip her of her spars, add a couple of coats of varnish to them, and finish the long-delayed drop boards, gallows and companionway hatch.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2012

What Brings You Here?

One of the behind-the-scenes things that I have access to on this blog are some statistics about how many visitors I’ve had, which entries have been viewed the most, common search terms and referring URLs. Pretty neat stuff.

Most folks stumble onto this blog either via or Google. I really enjoy looking at the search terms that lead folks here. For the most part, the terms “PocketShip, “Pocket Ship,” and “Jon PocketShip ” are the avenues for people finding this blog. There have been a few folks who dropped by here looking for information about working with epoxy in cold weather or building a wooden mast. There have been some other queries that seem rather off topic, for example:
Glad I could help. 

The most viewed entry is, and has been for some time, “Re-Energized.” This entry’s enduring popularity. is puzzling to me. In looking back over the blog, I can pick out several entries that were better written (Lagging, Sole Man), more informative (Deck the Boat, Waiting for Epoxy), or more entertaining (Transform and Roll Out, Boatsanding Blues). I guess I don’t see what it is in that entry that others see. If anybody has any thoughts, please share them with me!

This all got me thinking about “audience.” I have been far from consistent in who I have considered my target audience in the various blog posts. Sometimes, I’ve targeted people who are actually building a PocketShip, assuming detailed knowledge of the design (e.g. what bulkhead #7 looks like). Other times, I’ve target more general interest boat building types. Sometimes, I’ve pontificated more on the human experience of building and sailing this boat. I guess the bottom line is that I really have been writing this for myself, and whatever mood I’ve been in at the time has dictated how I’ve approached writing a given entry.

But that’s not the point. What I what to know is, “why are you here?” What brought you to this blog, what information where you hoping to find, what would you like to hear more about??? Anybody want to share?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Food for Thought

Blogs and food.  Seems to be a marriage made in cyberspace heaven.   I often wonder how many blogs have at least one entry sharing recipes.  Ninety percent, perhaps?  Sure, there are dedicated recipe blogs.  And then there are cross over blogs, with topics like “recipes for parents,” “recipes from my travels,” “recipes for busy people,” and “recipes for graduate students (100 ways to serve ramen)”.  But even blogs where the theme and thesis are not food related have recipes on them.  Over the last year, I’ve seen recipe posts on at least four of my favorite sailing blogs on ThreeSheetsNW.  I even found a blog dedicated to cooking while cruising.   Since the weather right now generally precludes sailing, and my general post-partum boatbuilding malaise is persisting, maybe it is time I take the plunge into the overcrowded world of food blogging.

The theme of this blog is building and sailing my CLC PocketShip, Solitude III.   On the surface, that has nothing to do with food.  But, having spent the last two years building this boat, including many long all-day sessions of weekends, I have come to know the role that food plays in boatbuilding.  An empty stomach reduces patience and judgement.  Most of the flaws in my boat are the direct result of working on an empty stomach.
Of course, when you are boatbuilding, you want to spend your time building the boat!  So, fast, easy to prepare meals are a plus.  And since most building seems to occur in the winter months, hot, hearty food is desirable.    And since you are putting in a long, long day, what you really want is the food to be ready the moment you come in from the shop.  What means best accomplishes these ends?   No, the word I’m looking for is not “wife.”   Boatbuilders can cook too.  I’m thinking “crockpot!”

Here are some of my favorite recipes for boat building days:

Viscous Veggilicous Chili
This is based on a recipe I found in the local newpaper.  I've seen it printed in several other online "newpapers" since.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, chopped
  • 3 1/2 cups butternut squash, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can cannellini beans, drained, rinsed
  • 2 cans black beans, drained, rinsed
  • 2 cups broth or water
  • 1 can tomatoes with green chilies
  • 2 large poblano chilies, roasted, diced
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 6 leaves kale, sliced in ribbons
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • Fresh cilantro, chopped

1. Put the onions, jalapeños, garlic, squash, broth, beans, tomatoes, poblanos,and spice in the crock pot.  Cook on low 8-10 hours.  --OR-- If you want to do this on the stovetop, heat olive oil in a heavy, deep pot. Add onions and jalapeño; cook until softened. Add squash; cook until barely starting to soften, 8 minutes. Add garlic; cook 1 minute. Add beans, broth, tomatoes, poblanos, cumin, oregano, chili powder, salt and pepper to taste.  Cook over low heat until squash is tender and flavors start to come together.
2.  When you come in from the boatshop, and are ready to eat, add the greens and lime juice; cook until greens are wilted. Adjust seasoning; stir in fresh cilantro.

Adapted from

The Ragin' Cajun's Jambalaya

The original recipe was given to me by a coworker, based on his grandmother's recipe.  I've since tweaked it to "perfect it" to my tastes.

  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2-3 stalks of celery, chopped=
  • 2 bell peppers, any color, chopped
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1 can diced tomatoes with chilies (a.k.a. Rotel tomatoes)
  • 1-2lb sausage in casing.  Andoulle, if possible.  I've also used chicken sausage or Louisiana Hot Links to great success.
  • 1 cup rice.  I like to use a blend of wild rices available at Costco.  You definitely don't want to you white rice, because it'll turn into a giant mushy mess after 8 hours of cooking.
  • Salt, Pepper, Cajun seasoning

  1. Put the chicken breasts in a pot of boiling water and boil until done.  Pull it out and let it cool. Reserve about 2 cups of the water.
  2. Once the chicken is cool, take two forks and shred it.  Season with salt, pepper, and cajun seasoning
  3. While the chicken is cooking and cooling, chop your veggies and sausages.  I like to slice the sausages on a bias, creating long, thin, ovoid, bite-size bits.
  4. Dump all the ingredients, including the 2 cups of water you reserved into the crock pot.  Cook on low for 8 hours while you go work on your boat! 
Lee Boatworks Beef Stew
  • 2 lbs stew beef or beef chuck, cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 tsp Worchestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups of beef broth
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 2 ribs of celery, chopped
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme
The amounts on the veggies are approximate.  I shoot for 2 lbs of meat and then fill the rest of the crock pot with veggies.  If I'm feeling crazy, I may also add in cauliflower, mushrooms, whatever!
  1. Put the flour, salt, pepper, and paprika into the crock pot.
  2. Drop meat into the crock pot and mix around with your hands, covering it in the flour mixture.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients, except for the thyme.
  4. Cook on low for 8 hours while you work on the boat.
  5. Mix in the thyme, and eat!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Close Enough

Vitamin D is important.  Indeed, WebMD says that "[r]esearch suggests that vitamin D could play a role in the prevention and treatment of a number of different conditions, including type1 and type 2 diabetes, hypertension, glucose intolerance, and multiple sclerosis."  Vitamin D deficiencies are  a serious health issue, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, where high latitudes and gray skies conspire to limit exposure to an essential source of Vitamin D, the sun.  Symptoms of Vitamin D deficiencies include a weaker immune system, fatigue, depression, and cognitive impairment.
Let's talk about cognitive impairment for a second.  Anybody who has lived in the Pacific Northwest knows not to trust the weatherman.  And yet, in spite of all experience, all knowledge, all reason, after a solid month of rain, when the weatherman predicts a day or two of sunshine with 10-15kts of wind, a person suffering from the cognitive impairment of a Vitamin D deficiency will choose to believe it and decide to go sailing.

At the guest dock.
'Twas a cold, cold morning, just a touch above freezing.  The sky was clear and the air was still.  According to the forecast, some fog would be rolling in for about and hour and the wind would kick up to about 10kts in short order.  I motored down from the boat launch to the guest dock at the south end of the marina.  There is a little coffee shop there, Meyers Cafe, and there I ate a leisurely breakfast, waiting for the fog to roll and and roll out again.

After a lingering over a vegetarian quiche and hot mocha, I began to doubt the whole fog thing.  It was not any warmer outside yet, but the sun was definitely in the sky and there was no sign of impending water vapor doom.  The wind still had not bothered to make itself felt, and honestly, in the back of my head, I knew that despite the forecast, it wasn't going to start gusting anytime soon.  Still a sunny day out on the water in November is not something to be turned down, even if it means cruising around under power.  So I hopped into Solitude, putted over to the fuel dock to top up my 1 1/4 gallon gas can, and pointed her nose toward the saltwater, full steam ahead.

What a great decision!  The sun was out in its full glory as Solitude chugged over the glassy waters of the Sound.  Guilt over having my sails furled was assuaged by the peacefulness of it all.  Blue skies and blue waters, mixed with occasional white wisps of clouds and with the golden browns of late fall highlighting the shore.

After leaving the Snohomish River, I pointed Solitude's nose NW.  About an hour and a 1/4 gallon of gas later, I was found myself just off of the north end of Hat Island.  I had considered simply circumnavigating tiny Hat Island, but  decided that there was not reason not to keep going.  A quick look at the map assured me that I could reach the town of Langley on Whidbey Island, run ashore, grab a bite to eat, and still make it back to the boat ramp before sunset (an important consideration, seeing as how I still haven't wired my nav lights).  So, onwards!

The Langley boat basin.
Langley is a cute-as-a-button little town.  They get their fare share of tourists and have a good compliment of restaurants, coffee shops, and bed-and-breakfasts.  I pulled into the densely packed harbor and upon consulting with the harbormaster, slid into a slip in the center of the tiny boat basin.  I trotted ashore and up into "downtown" Langley, in search of the perfect meal.  I ended up at the Useless Bay Coffee Company (Useless Bay is a bay just on the other side of the island), where I purchased a perfect-for-a-chilly-day bowl of pulled pork chili.  It was delicious!

I would have liked to stay longer and explore the town some more, but it was time to get back to the boat in order to get home before sundown.  Langley will definitely be the destination of a summertime overnight cruise in the future.

South end of Camano Island
South end of Hat Island.  Hat Island is also named
Gedney Island, but nobody calls it that. 
I steamed back, this time via the south side of Hat Island.  As the shadows grew long, I pulled back into the Snohomish River and was tied up at the boat launch just as the sun hit the horizon.  As I was getting Solitude ready for the trailer, a liveaboard from a trawler over in the yacht basin walked over, wanting to know more about my little boat.  Would have liked to talked more, but I had to get Solitude buttoned up and home before it got too late. 

What a great day.  Yes, it would have been nice to sail, but you take what you can get this time of year.  And what I got was awesome!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Legends of the (Northwest) Fall

Fall in the Northwest can be non-conducive to providing many decent sailing opportunities.  I should preface this by saying that Fall usually begins around the second week in October, plus or minus a week depending on the year.  Before that, it is summer.   And summer begins July 5th, but that is a different story. 
A "great" day for sailing.
At any rate, during Autumn, you have to expand your definition of “good sailing conditions.”  You also have to seize any opportunity to get out that you can!

There are limitations.  The days have shortened to the point that nipping out for a quick sail really is not a worthwhile proposition, so, at least for working stiffs, sailing opportunities are confined to weekends.  Even on weekends, you have to commit to getting out on the water early, because the daylight isn’t going to hang around forever. 

Then there’s the weather.    The peerless, idyllic summer days are gone.  The skies are going to be grey.  You have to mentally redefine a “sunny day” to mean “hmm…I think I see a spot of blue over there!” 

The weather pattern also tends to be dominated by endless series of storms moving in off the ocean.   It tends to be either gale force winds and raining, or totally calm and drizzling.  Sometimes the rain stops, though you still have to cope with grey skies and at least the threat of rain.  You have to be ready, or at least resigned to the fact, that you are going to get damp.  Maybe not drenched, but damp.  But you can’t rule out getting drenched either, I suppose.
Since the weather is cooler, really the best you can hope for is wet and cold.  Having the usual mixture of Scandinavian stoicism and Gore-Tex present in most native Pacific Northwesterners can help one shrug off the wet and cold.  After all, umbrellas are for wimps and tourists. 

Under a "hole in the sky,"  courtesy of the rain
shadow of the Olympic Mountains
Once you’ve pushed past the wet and cold, you have to conquer the winds.  As mentioned before, Aeolus shows bipolar tendencies this time of year.  I’m guessing it is due to a lack of Vitamin D.   Anyway, neither dead calms nor Small Craft Advisory conditions as are really ideal for spending time in the cold and wet in a small craft.  There is a secret, though.  There are brief periods right before or right after a storm, just as a system is moving in or out, that the winds are just right for truly exhilarating sailing.  These windows of opportunity maybe only a couple of hours long, or may even last nearly a full day.  Know when these are coming, carve out some time, grab your rain gear, and you are set! 
There's something else...the Olympic Mountains.  They are due east.  Incoming weather has to go around them, either to the north or the south.  Where the weather that went around the south and the weather that went around the north collide, well, that's called the Convergence Zone, and it can be very, very, very wet.  But, but, if the wind is blowing just right, you may find yourself  in the rain shadow of the Olympic and it will be sunny when it is grey and rainy everywhere else. 

Being chased by a nasty looking raincloud.
I took Solitude III out recently during one of these windows.  Sailing was fantastic.  The wind was right around 12 kts, just at the point at I still feel comfortable singlehanding without a reef in.  Solitude moved fast on the beat downriver.  I had other commitments later in the day, so I made just out to the saltwater before I had to turn back….being chased by a very dark raincloud the whole way back.   It only  started drizzling just after I pulled S.III back on her trailer.   I only snuck in about an hour of sailing, but it was sure worth it! 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Post Partum

Such emptiness!
It has been just a little over a month since I launched Solitude III.  In the rush to get the boat together in time for the Wooden Boat Festival, many things were left undone.  I had the best intentions of pulling things back apart and finishing things right.  At the pace that I had been working, there was probably less than two weeks of work to do.

Of course, this is not what happened.  The first hiccup was the just stayed nice! This highly unusual meteorological happening allowed me to actually use the boat instead of work on it.  Sanding and varnish could wait.

The real problem though has been motivation.  I just haven't felt like getting home from work, changing clothes, going outside, and laboring away for an hour or two every night.  After that big, sustained push to get the boat where it is, I'm tired.

There is also something about not having the boat in the garage that is creating both mental and practical hurdles.  On the practical side, it means that some tasks are more complicated. To varnish the dropboard retainers of companionway hatch, I would have to construct some sort of tent to protect the wet varnish from dust, bugs, and dew.  Coating the dropboards with epoxy would necessitate creating a second set of temporary dropboards so that the cabin can be secure and weathertight while the originals are drying on the bench.  And so on.

But there is a mental aspect to it too.  The boat was built in the garage. That's where work on the boat has always been done, where it should be done.  Not just that, but there has always been a boat under construction in this garage since I moved in!  Now the nest is empty.  How can I work on the boat if it is not there?

This is not to say that I haven't done any work on the boat in the past month.  The boom gallows finally got sanded and recieved its first coat of epoxy. The radio is now wired and functional.  I've made some rigging tweeks.  But seem like pretty small accomplishments compared to what yet remains.   It is true that continuing to take polite nibbles will eventually complete a large number of tasks, there are some tasks that will require concerted effort, like unbending the sails, removing and adding several more coats of varnish to the spars.  I guess that is what winter is for.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Gone Fishin'

"This isn't good fishing, its great fishing!"
"Coho fishing is on fire at Shipwreck".
"Its like Sekiu on steroids."
Solitude III is a sailboat.  Its main purpose in life is to bring pleasure and passage through sailing.  But when the fishing reports for your home waters are like those above, how can one resist mounting a couple of fishing rod holders, gassing up the trolling motor, and going fishing with dad?
From the Log of the Solitude III
4 September, 2012
Dad gets the fishing gear ready
"Today, Solitude went on her first fishing trip.  We were the only sailboat at the boat ramp, and had the only car serving as a tow vehicle.  After launching at Everett, Dad and I took her to Mukilteo and started fishing for Coho.  We fished from Mukilteo to Possession Point to nearly Edmonds and then back north again. 

The stanchions for the boom gallows
made a great place to clamp on rod holders
"We covered over 30 miles according to the GPS, on less than 1 gallon of gas.  Solitude get better gas mileage than my car!  In all fairness, going with the current helped a lot.  Still, the motor ran over 9 hours and only required its 1 liter tank to be filled three times.
"Fishing had cooled down since we saw those exciting reports in the newspapers.  No fish were landed aboard Solitude, and we only saw a two or three other boats catch anything. 
"We did see some warbirds fly overhead, including a B-25, P-51, Spitfire, and several others.  We also saw the USS Nimitz pass by on her way out to sea.
Everybody wanted to go fishing, even the Navy!
"On the trip back, we finally shut the motor off and sailed for a while.  But after about five or ten minutes of great sailing, the wind suddenly dropped and we had to fire up the noisemaker again.
"All in all, a great day on the water."

A great day for fishing!  Note, you can still see Nimitz off the port bow.

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.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Getting to Know You -- Part II

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 post, I want to make a few comments about the little noisemaker hanging off Solitude's otherwise pretty transom.

Under Power
There has been an ongoing discussion raging, seemingly forever, on the PocketShip forum as to what the right motor is for this boat. One group of partisans feels pretty strongly that 2hp is all you’ll ever need for a boat this size. Then, there’s the “I’d like to have just a little more, just in case” camp, which tends to lean towards the 3.5hp class motors. And then there is the “slippery slope” crowd. They usually start out a 2 hp, decided that want some buffer, so they step up to 3.5hp, but then for the same weight they could have a 5hp, and then they need a big external gas tank and reverse, and before long they’re at 6hp. I went down the slippery slope many a time in debating which outboard to get for Solitude. Fortunately, in the end, I managed to claw back up to the top of the slope and selected a 2.5hp Suzuki outboard.

I have used the motor in a variety of conditions, in winds from 0-20 kts, in calm seas and 2-3 foot chop, and with and against a reasonable current. In all cases I found the motor to be adequate. In calm seas, I hit 4.5 kts at about ½ throttle. Against the wind in a chop, I wasn’t quite so fast, but was still clearing a good 3 kts at ½ throttle. I tried punching it up to full throttle to see what more I could get out of it, but really only got more noise with no major increase in speed for my efforts.

A bigger issue is at the slow end. Even at idle, I feel like the motor is pushing me a little too fast. When navigating through the slalom course of tightly packed yachts on the way to my slip at the Wooden Boat Festival, I was constantly rocking in and out of gear to keep my speed down.

The motor has a number of pluses. It is very lightweight, coming in at under 30lbs. It seems to be reliable and easy to start so far. It has a real, shiftable neutral, instead of the stupid centrifugal clutch that some other small motors (the 2 hp Honda) have. It is water cooled, so it is relatively quiet. Of course, it is water cooled, so I have to flush it out any time I use it in saltwater.

The 2.5hp Suzuki has an integral 1 liter gas tank, and no provision for connecting an external tank. The motor is quite economical, and I haven’t run out of gas on the water yet, but I will admit to a degree of range anxiety nevertheless.

Another thing I’m not totally sold on is the 360 deg steering. Maybe I’m too set in my ways or too used to having a reverse. While there is certainly some advantage in being able to point the thrust vector whichever direction, I’m still having a tough time intuiting which direction to point it to achieve a desired, at least in the “reverse” direction. I don’t have that trouble with a motor that is in reverse. I wonder if it is psychological.
There is another problem with the 360 deg steering. It is very easy to turn the prop so it faces the rudder. The slipstream of the prop impinges on the motor, wrenching the helm hard a-starboard. Not pleasant.
So, there are pluses and minuses to the motor. I guess the bottom line is that I’m satisfied with the little noisemaker, find it to be a good match for the boat, and probably would select it again over its competitors.
As a footnote, I should also say that there is still a part of me that loathes having a motor on a sailboat. I consider it a necessary evil, though, from both a safety and convenience point of view. I wouldn’t want to venture out into Puget Sound without it. But I’ve brought Solitude up to the dock twice now, once singlehanded, under sail alone, and find that a far more satisfying act of seamanship than running the noisemaker.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Getting to Know You -- Part I

Since launch, 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 post, I'll tackle the meat and potatoes of the matter, Solitude III's handling under sail.  Future posts will examine my thoughts on her rigging, how she handles under power and other practical matters.
Sailing Qualities
This is, of course, all first impressions and may change as I spend more time under sail.  But, man, what a first impression.  This boat likes to sail!

Upwind, the boat is surprisingly close-winded for a gaff rigged vessel.  I’d estimate that she can get to within 45-50 degrees of the wind, close hauled.   My going in expectation was more like 55 deg.  The boat will heel over delightfully, popping quite readily up onto her chine and then becoming quite stiff.  As I experienced when sailing PocketShip, in big puffs, she’ll heel over a little more, letting the rubrail kiss the water.  Though at this point the crew took action to depower the sails a bit, she didn’t feel like she really wanted to go any farther.

Compared to the dinghies that I’ve spent most of my sailing time in, Solitude feels like she takes a long time getting though a tack, and takes a little time accelerating again on the other tack.  Despite this, Solitude holds her way well through a tack, and feels like you’d really have to make a hash of it to get caught in irons.  About halfway through the tack, the helm will suddenly get really light, and you lose a good sense of where the tiller is.  Several times now I’ve found myself inadvertently easing the helm as a result.  I can see this leading to me getting caught in irons if I don’t watch it, though I haven’t yet.  So, I need to be extra vigilant in keeping the helm a-lee when I’m coming about!

One of the idiosyncrasies of the design is that in tacking, it is important to avoid sheeting in the jib all the way until the boat gathers some way.  Sheeting in too soon leads to the boat continuing to fall off until she gets moving again.  I had expected this, based on both reports of the designer and reading about this “feature” on other traditionally rigged boats.  Still, knowledge is no replacement for experience, and I’ve already racked up several falling-off-due-to-oversheeting-the-jib incidents.   My current procedure when tacking is to let the jib fly, tack, build some way, and then sheet in the jib.  I don’t find this procedure aesthetically pleasing, though, since the jib spends a lot of time flopping about.  In future outings, I will be trying lightly sheeting the jib right after the tack, and then setting it properly when the boat is ready for it.  More experiments to come.

Her best point of sail seems to be a good beam reach.  Coming off the wind from close hauled, there is a point where the boat will give you a swift kick in the pants and leap up in speed.  Find that sweet spot, and the boat will yield a sailing experience second-to none. 

Things tame down going downwind.  That big mainsail will still push the boat pretty good, but everything feels relaxed.  The main tends to blank the jib quite a bit going with the wind.  Furling the jib would probably be just as well in these cases, but I’ve found I can bear off until I’m on a dead run and get the boat going wing-on-wing with relative ease.  On a run, the sails are very communicative, and they’ll let you know when they want to gybe.  The jib seems to always want to gybe first, which is a feature I like.  Sailing Lasers, I developed a dislike of gybing…the sail would sometimes just go, the mainsheet would hang up on the transom, and I’d be capsized before I could do anything about it.  Gybing Solitude provides good therapy for that trauma.

The PocketShip design is a touch overpowered.  I forget what her sail area-to-displacement is, but it is a big number.  This has some pluses, of course.  That big mains’l really makes the boat sporty in good winds, and gives her the ability to make good even in the lightest of airs.  On Solitude’s maiden voyage, we were pulling a solid 4.5-5 kts on a reach in about 7 kts of wind.  Sailing PocketShip, in conditions where we admittedly should have had a reef in, we were pushing 7 kts at times.  Maybe someone sitting in a 32 footer wouldn't bat an eyelash at these speeds, but this is all on a boat with a 13’8” waterline.  Hull speed is theoretically just shy of 5 kts.  The big sail, combined with a hull featuring a nice sharp entry and a nice, clean, racing-dinghy-like run aft really can combine for some outsized performance!  At the opposite end of the spectrum, last Thursday, I had Solitude out in winds of up to 2-3kts.  The boat cleared 2kts easily close hauled.  On a run, there wasn’t even enough wind to keep the jib filled, and Solitude was still good for 1.5 kts.

In terms of sail trim, I’ve found the jib is pretty sensitive on the wind.  The main, being the big, low-aspect ratio wing that it is, is much less sensitive, at least from a performance perspective.  That being said, the trim of the main does seem to play a pretty big role in balance of the boat.  When taking up a new point of sail, I’ll trim out the jib to just where it wants to be (and it always wants to be just where it wants to be), and then trim main in such a way as to dial in a fairly neutral helm. 
When hearing I've finally launched the mystery boat that's been in my garage, folks invariably ask how she sails.  I answer, "oh-so-sweetly."  She really is a sweetheart under sail, meeting or exceeding all of my expectations.  And if there is an area in which a sailboat should excel, it is sailing!