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By Paul Austin - Dallas, Texas - USA

Cruising and Bruising


In his book, Still More Good Boats, Roger Taylor tells the story of F.C. Wederkinch who came to the designer William Hand. Taylor says Hand made his living designing heavy motorsailer ketches. However Hand drew for Wederkinch a 35 foot light schooner. Wederkinch used it as a fishing boat off the coast of Texas.

Taylor then comments in his own way--

The coast of Texas! One stares at the words in disbelief. Clearly the states of Maine and Oregon have coasts, but Texas? One invisions cow-boys warning their herds away from some alien liquid lapping the edge of a ranch. You have to open the atlas to prove to yourself that - yes- Texas really does have a coast...

Wa’ll pilgrim, you just now bring that dag-nabit goll durn Yankee tenderfoot deep keeler down here to the Texas 200, we’ll show you a mighty fine coastline you ain’t never gonna forget.

That made me to think, what kind of cruiser could ply the Texas coast today? While the Texas coast is out of the Gulf Stream, the currents along the shoal islands can be strong and certainly the winds pulled off the Rockies by the warm moist Gulf waters are strong. Where I live in Dallas, the winds can be 20-25 mph with-out any sort of bad weather. Our shoals are not as famous as the Outer Banks of North Carolina or the rocky islands of Maine, but they’re there nonetheless.

So I got to thinking about cruising the Texas coast, and the kind of vessel that could do it. Let’s begin with some questions. I don’t want to sail for weeks, and I don’t want to sail to Florida. Time and distance, these things will help me choose a cruising boat. I’ll need to get my boat away from a hurricane but I don’t need to cross an ocean. And I’ll want to crank the boat upon a trailer. Trailers have 8 feet of width, so with a 6 foot beam around 18 feet of on deck length would make a nice 3-1 ratio.

The sails would have to be low aspect. Two masts, three sails with high sprits to dump any sudden gust of wind without losing all momentum.

Now for the hull. This is the difficult part. Since I will be beaching the boat every night, it will need to be shallow draft, but a centerboard or leeboard boat does not handle rough weather. A keel will ride out rough weather but it won’t allow me to beach the boat. A body of lines deeper in the water will give me more living space but it requires more ballast and more keel. A flat bottomed boat will enable me to beach it but the flat bottom pounds the surf and it’s precarious to launch through waves when I leave the beach. A double-ended boat is the best at sea but if the ends are pinched, it will pitch in heavy waves.

So what I’ll need is a hull that can be beached, can handle rough weather until I can bring it into a protected beach, will sit flat on the beach, and can be launched the next day. This is my shape.

The old timers have an interesting comment on lapstrake verses carvel. The men who made the sea their life’s work say that the water’s friction builds up along the smooth waterline of the carvel craft, unless the designer has curved the planks in a refined manner; while the laps break up this friction as the waves bubble along the laps, making a lapstrake boat faster through the open water.

In any event, as you can see I’ve drawn a small bilge panel to ease the waterflow and to create an inside floor. This provides a place for some but not much inside ballast. Outside ballast can provide protection for the out-side of the hull, but it strains the hull. The best inside ballast is concrete poured right on the wood but I’ll use sand and rebar. Ballast low on a deep keel can make the ship tipsy, so I like the ballast right at the bottom panels. The displacement/length ratio should be above 80, around 150 to 220.

Above the deck, seaworthiness comes in several factors. The hull beam shouldn’t be too narrow. If I’d made the length/width ration 4/1, this boat would be faster to windward, but more dangerous in rough seas, with a cramped interior space unless it’s twice as long. I’ve put some curvature to the bow sections to keep the waves from pounding. The sheerline is high with an imitation channel on the sheerstrake, to bounce the water away from the deck. The forward and aft bulkheads create a space for buoyancy and weight. If there is no weight in the ends, the boat becomes too pitchy. So the bow and stern anchors go in those compartments.

The rudder shouldn’t be too thin; this makes the helm too sensitive, prone to tossing the crew around. So the designer Roger Marshall says the rudder thickness should be 10% of the chord length. A rudder hung on the stern will give better tracking, but a rudder hung through the hull will give quicker turning.

The skeg I’ve drawn for this view adds some wetted surface but it takes some pressure off the rudder hard-ware. If there’s going to be debris where you sail, a skeg helps. Without a skeg the rudder takes the pressure of the sea, leading to fatigue at the helm, not a good thing.

The cockpit also helps seaworthiness. Cruisers need to give the helmsman some visibility from the tiller, even if he is watching his compass. A cockpit that narrows at the helm will enable you to brace yourself. Rod Stephens used to say, if a cockpit doesn’t drain in 3 minutes the drains are not large enough. Of course, if your ship has capsized, you can forget about Rod. The fastest drain, or scupper, arrangement is if the cockpit sole goes all the way to the transom.

Another factor is the bridge deck, as in the drawing below.

On the left) is the traditional production boat bridge deck, draining any water a). On the right is the arrangement I’ll use. The little box will have a lid for stuff, although I don’t know what.

Another factor is handholds, due to the movement of the ship. I’ve said the stern of the cockpit can’t be too wide, or the helmsman will get thrown around. Down in the cabin this is also true. My cabin is small, really only a place to sleep and eat and--well, whatever-- but in larger boats handholds are important. If the roof sup-ports for the cabin roof are fore and aft, they can serve as handholds. Having a hold on a bulkhead near an opening also works. Cups on hooks bang around and can get knocked off, but cups stacked will stay in place.

The deck strength and attachment to the hull is important. Friends don’t allow friends to build light decks. Decks strengthen the hull, even in small boats, and they keep the boat dry. I’ve put a small bulwark on this boat with overhangs to throw the sea back where it belongs, but still the deck needs to be 1/2” plywood with canvas over it. I’d use a strong-sized clamp for the beams to be notched and glued in one direction while the hull planks are nailed in the other.

With latitudinal resistance we have some choices. Below are the shapes usually designed for production fiberglass cruisers. They are strong enough,with modern epoxies and chemicals, but they don’t provide any stability when the winds blow and squalls come at sea. The gap between the keel and rudder moves the ship in most conditions, but not in rough weather.

The deep long keel on the right is slower to windward and with the wind astern, but in a blow it keeps the ship upright. However, you can’t beach either one of these ships, which is why they carry dinghys A center-board duplicates the underwater profile of the boat on the left, but it’s not enough in a blow. So what can we do? Some designers have put on a relatively shallow keel with centerboard dangling from the bottom of the keel.

This is not bad at sea. It can give you some peace of mind that your boat doesn’t have a hole in the bottom, but it can’t be beached,either. So I’m proposing an old solution.

The idea here is that both boards will fold up to the depth of the bilge runners. The forward board folded has six inches more depth than the runners with a metal strip on its edge, to hit the sand and instant before the runners. It pivots on a pin through the outer keel, that’s why the trunk can be so small. This makes two ad-vantages, but it means the keel must be about 4 inches thick.

Inside the cabin, the area for preparing food is forward. A small ledge comes off the forward board trunk upon which to sit. The bunk is no more than a thick mattress inside a 6 inch tall frame. Bunks on a board even with a cushion or mattress are not comfortable on your back at sea. They have to be built with some degree of give. This means springs or a pipe berth unless the mattress is thick. A berth 2 feet wide is not wide enough to get a good night’s sleep. In a small cruiser you don’t need a sink, just a big pan. A sink requires a hole in the hull; this is not a good idea in a small cruiser. The hull needs all the strength for its weight it can get. Concerning ice-chests, if you put it in the cabin the cabin’s heat due to cooking will ruin what the ice-chest is trying to do. Put the ice-chest under the cockpit seats if you can. It’s much easier to get at and it can be cleaned and aired much easier. A chest 12 inches by 12 inches by 3 feet will hold plenty.

A cruiser must have a tight seal. The cabin and all hatches have to be watertight. As long as water doesn’t get in a boat, it can be kept on its feet. The cockpit sole must really be about 10 inches above the load water-line for it to really drain; so many designs have cockpits that only drain when the boat is level. You won’t get that at sea.

A high freeboard can prevent a sea from entering the cockpit and cabin, but the coaming will have to be carried well aft to guide the water around the cockpit. You have to look at the boat’s deck and rail when it is heeled. Does it lead the water out the stern or into the cockpit? The scuppers need to be aft, otherwise the water will always be sloshing forward at the cabin door. Actually, a little tumblehome is better than a bulwark or high rails. And the cabin door HAS to be watertight unless you have a bridge deck.

This is a schooner designed in the 1930s. Look at the size of that coaming. You’d have to hire a burro to get over that. But any wave over the topside is going to get run a) to the scuppers above the rudder post. The coaming gives some shade, some protection from the wind and a feeling of enclosure.

Finally, lashing the boom. You’ll be shortening sail at sea. That means the boat will get thrown around while you’re trying to control the boom. You can get knocked overboard unless you have a way to lash down the boom while you’re working. At sea a boom getting tossed like Marilyn Monroe’s skirt in that picture is a threat. If your cruiser is too small for a crutch, use rope lashings until the sail is down or up.

Now since I’m no designer, don’t build this--you’re probably cackling over the thought that you ever would. What I am recommending is a heavy double-ender; a fairly low aspect set of sails that can be altered for wind conditions; have enough wetted surface to ride out a blow; light and ventilation; use wood joinery instead of glue when you can; a narrow cabin with handholds is safer; no mast in the cabin; and finally use one of the Duckworks designers--I deny all alleged wrongdoing.


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