Across the Great Divide

There is no love lost between sailors and powerboaters (forget jet skeeters). And so I know this post will be met with some derision by the purists. I get it, but how much sailing do they enjoy from their armchairs anyway?

UNA has been, and remains, my favorite boat. So little air moves her. Still, there are slick calm periods that can take the shine off a cruise. Long distances can become infinite when the wind quits. Perhaps my oars aren’t as optimal as they could be. I suspect I didn’t slim the shafts down for enough flex. That can be corrected. To date my average rowing speed for any length of time been sub 2 knots. UNA is a sailboat first. Most of those I sail with have motors, are determined to get to “point B” and relying on a cordial tow when the wind quits can try all involved. I either lose friends, find some pure sail-and-oar guys or find a compromise.

You see where this is going? Yep, I designed and built a motor mount for UNA. The plans showed a motor well. I elected not to build that early on. What started as a sketch melded into a plywood prototype that was adjusted and trimmed. A final piece was tooled in teak (I was confident in the solution).


Last week’s test run worked flawlessly.



stowed under seat

Advantages: there’s no well taking up storage aft or creating turbulence to an otherwise  smooth bottom. This engine “strut” follows the curve of the hull and can be stored against it in the gap outboard of the side seat or under the seat itself. Also, the engine can remain on the strut when anchored without interfering with my tent. And, once removed the threaded inserts do not snag anything. Leather pads under the thread protect the gunnel finish.

Disadvantages: a well keeps the prop in the water at all times. A good wake can create enough roll to lift the prop out of the water with the strut. To be used primarily in light to no wind conditions, this rarely is a problem.

engine on proto

Here’s the end result at 1/2 throttle and 5 knots. Nice and easy.

I’m happy with the results. Forgive me.

A Sticky Situation

A couple years ago I watched UNA’s foremast roll off the boat and land heel first on the concrete garage floor. There was a, “Crack”. Never good. Initial examination revealed nothing. I secured the pole back on the trailer. Not long thereafter when putting the boat away, I heard a rattle when I set the mast down before setting, I hear a rattle. This time I discovered a 18″ split between 2 of the staves where the mast was solid. At the time I decided to monitor it and ordered a fiberglass sock to repair the damage, but didn’t.

Many sails later, I found myself holding onto UNA with two-reefs and needing a third. We were bashing against wind, current and seas to gain shelter in Pulpit Harbor on Deer Island. That split was front and center in my thoughts. Thankfully UNA came through, but I had haunting doubts next time. I needed to fix the mast.

Once home, it was obvious the crack had lengthened. Another problem was the mast would swell and stick in the step on occasion demanding wrestling and wiggling to unstep. Putting a plastic bag on the foot had solved that hassle for too long. So, I hand planed the heel and sanded the problem section with the ROS and 80 grit to 16″ above the deck. The stick was then saturated the wood with straight epoxy and 2 layers of the fiberglass sock were snugged on. Epoxy splashed everywhere. The 90 degree heat rapidly accelerated the epoxy’s flash point. I panicked and ran for packaging tape and saran wrap to hold the works in check.

plastic wrapped and encapsulated goo

After an overnight set, I cut and peeled the plastic off. Some had doubled onto itself and became embedded in the epoxy. There were also a few air bubble craters.

Most of plastic removed
Some rapped plastic and pitting

Alternating stints with the belt and ROS sanders got things back smooth, though I questioned how presentable the fix would be.

Initial sanding. The itching begins.
Snow on Labor Day?


Glad I donned a mask. Dust was everywhere. Wish I had worn long sleeves. The itching began. After wet sanding (kept dust down), the results improved. I thought I’d have to paint the mast.

Wet sanding gave hope for a varnish finish.


Some of the outside layer of fiberglass was sanded off, but only slightly. Most of the dust was resin. One more coat of epoxy, a quick light sanding and 3 coats of varnish gets us whole again. Glad to cross this one off the list and now I have more confidence in UNA’s defense against the next blow.


Too Stinking Hot!

After last week in Maine, this Virginia summer has been hard to take. However, each time I sail UNA, I always come back with lessons and frequently a few more things I’d like to fix/change. None of these things concern the design. They are generally tweaks of detail. One lingering item on the list regards the floor boards. Varnished douglas fir is treacherous. Sprinkling salt in the last coat eliminated the slip, but the floors always felt damp despite repeated scrubbing. The salt was expected to dissolve away. Since I lucked into some teak (can’t beat free), I thickness planed some boards, cut them to shape and routed their edges to replace those existing.

I like the results and they feel great under bare feet. The center bilge access boards remain.  They look fine and I didn’t want to fix them yet. Too stinking hot!

New anchor box: Walmart flexible rectangular milk crate

Also, my previous anchor bag, a modified cotton laundry hamper, never dried out. Found a good practical substitute. As a bonus, it can double as a lobster pen on the next trip north! $5 a lobster was awesome.


I’ve loads of photos and videos to make sense of from our trip north so, stay tuned.

Pitch a Tent

UNA’s tent has gone through a number of evolutions, mostly in details. Originally designed to use the main mast as a ridge pole, it worked well. The wedge shape seems to hang downwind even with the mizzen furled. However there were some sacrifices (aside from not being my bed at home). The biggest loss was a dampening effect the raised mast has on a rolling boat. Even lowering the centerboard left too quick a rolling motion. Also, threading the velcro straps through footmans loops under the gunnel was easy on the pavement, but a hassle on the water. So, I replaced the loops with snaps. This works great. With snaps every 12″ I’ve a good setup for the boat cover I want to build.

I had raised the tent with the main halyard from a D ring while leaving the mast stepped, but there was too much sagging. Now I’ve solved that problem by pulling the tent from loops at both ends.

The last drawback was the amount of air (or rain) that might blow in from the forward opening. This we reduced by stuffing bags in the opening which was temporary at best. Now we have a separate mini tent over the bow which overlaps the main tent.

The end solution leaves only mosquito netting to figure out. In the meantime, we have an army netting that can be hung inside the tent or a Thermocell to repel the pests.

Tent with bow closure
leather on bow tent for mooring or anchor line wear





after end of tent hung by halyard on mizzen and tensioned by string back to mast.
Interior is a jumble, but has adequate sitting room aft of the thwart.

My sewing technique is not there yet, but with each project we’re improving. I’m happy with this solution. If a real blow is expected one night, hopefully I won’t be aboard, but if necessary, the setup can use the lowered main mast too. And should you need to escape fast, the snaps are not too difficult to release and open. Some mornings I’ll unsnap just a few starboard aft snaps to gain more headroom and scout the horizon while still being largely protected from the breeze while the coffee is brewing. Now we just need to find a new horizon.

It’s the Rub

I’ve use terry cloth, folded felts, carpet, carpet with tee shirt, etc. Nothing saved the varnish on UNA’s gunwale from the torture of the trailer straps while on the road. So I think I’ve come up with a solution. I made a flat on the gunwale and screwed scraps of naval brass on. They are just proud of the gunwale surface and should do the trick.

varnished flat
installed half oval naval brass
offending strap


A Stitch In Time … Saves The Varnish

I’m sure as UNA ages her owner will favor more paint over varnish, but for now, he can’t “let her go”. One area of constant wear on the finish has been between the tiller extension and gunwale. Though the extension has a pronounced “hump” to clear the gunwale and smooth edges, it has regularly sawed off the rail’s finish. Just over an hour’s worth of work and $7 of scrap leather hopefully fixes the problem. For oar leathers, diamond hole chisels were purchased. Reused here, a long 30″ strip of suede was punched to be sewn onto the tiller.

chisel and scrap demo.

The strip width is 1/8″ shy of wrapping around the tiller. This allows one to draw the leather tight around the stick. Once punched, the leather was soaked in warm water for 10 minutes. Then the strip was dabbed dry and stitched with a double strand of waxed twine onto the tiller. Initially the stitches were on top of the stick. I moved them to the side before the leather dried too much. Looks better I think.

tiller extension with leather
close up

This should solve that problem. Now on to solving the slick floors with some anti-skid.

"On the Road": An Improved Rolling Rig for UNA

We’ve got big plans for UNA this year. I feel that most of the detail bugs have been shaken from her. She could stand the extra coats of varnish that never made it in the build. And, added creature comforts like a boat tent, storage bags, oar pads, and reworked mizzen controls should enhance the experience. All of this and more will get a good evaluation on the water soon.

An afternoon last fall.

A final winter project will allow for more to come along. With plans for hauling UNA to places distant, I built a second tier onto her trailer after a quick model in SketchUp.

trailer rack


This “box kite” will allow more boats to roll with us. I can easily carry 3 kayaks high and a small dinghy (Gigi?) slung under the upper cross beams.

The box is constructed from 2x2x1/8 aluminum angle. I purchased 100′ in four 25′ lengths from B&G Metals east of town. Strong, light, fairly non-corrosive, and easily cut with a hacksaw, the frame went together quickly. 3/8″ SS bolts with washers and aircraft nuts hold it all together. Cross braces keep the whole thing rigid and square. 5/16″ square U bolts clamp the frame back to the trailer. Its not going anywhere. A second set of lights increase the rig’s visibility. At 6′ width, it meets the beam of the truck and still has an inch or two to let UNA slip through on the inside. Some left over from fixing up fiberglass edges of another now protects varnished outwales from metal angles. All tolled, not bad for $150, eh?

Looks distorted, but it is square!

Rubber gaskets slipped between the galvanized steel trailer and aluminum frame should deter corrosion between the dissimilar metals. For cushioning the top cross beams I may glue on some closed cell foam. Not sure yet.

A close up: side marker, edging trim and cross braces.

That’s enough of the piddling now. The temps are warm enough. Lets go sailing!

Oarlock Resolution

UNA’s winter “To Do List” is actually shrinking. Most of the tasks have been subtle refinements like loops for the reefing crinkles along with rings and snap hooks for easier use of that gear. The previously used cunningham hooks dropped out repeatedly when reef lines weren’t tensioned. Flailing hooks while raising or lowering the sail are never good. Scratch that off the List.

Dynema loops and bronze snap hook.


Mainsail reefing tack and micro block.

Other improvements like the tent and associated canvas storage bags will keep things neat and functional. One item on the list was not one I relished taking on, but it needed to be done. As a sail and oar boat, one of UNA’s strengths should be rowing. After several sessions behind the oars, I finally come to the realization that my little boat needed a better set up. Despite all the testing and fitting of oarlocks in the garage during the build, the in the water test was lacking. At first I attributed the deficiency to my lack of skill (some may still be that). The main reason? The inboard gunwale mounted oar sockets did not get the horns high enough for the oar to clear the outboard edge of the gunwale if one really horsed on the oars and dug deep.

First try: angled sockets.
Angled again.

The solution was to raise the sockets 1/2-3/4″. I did not see an elegant solution with the current angled sockets, so I removed them, fared the gunwale, fashioned new pads from cherry scraps, and fitted standard sockets to them.

New cherry pad temporarily mounted.


Old mounting holes plugged.

I thought the new sockets would be more locked in if semi-recessed. With nearly 10′ oars, there is a tremendous load exerted on this part of the boat. A barbed drill bit and some chisel action helped pare the pad down.

Socket recess.


The old sockets will go toward the dinghy “Gigi”. She hangs in the shed now ready for some sanding and paint. Warmer temps are needed for that.

Socket pads are now epoxied onto the boat. Varnish coats will have to wait for some warmer couple of days. Epoxy was coated inside the body of the pad as well as inside the hole now in the gunnel for the socket and horn to protrude and weep any water that might otherwise collect.


I think this will be a big improvement. The focus can now be on slimming the oar shafts down a tad for a springier pull and thereby lighten the outboard ends for better balanced sculls. Cheers-

Bag It

About a week ago I purchased 100′ of 2x2x1/8″ angle to fabricate a second tier on UNA’s trailer to haul either the new dink “GiGi” or canoes or kayaks. Last week I hack sawed lengths for horizontals and uprights. This week bolts arrived and today I bolted the pieces together and now a box wraps around UNA. I’m undecided on how I want to cross brace this box, so in usual form I stopped that project and picked up on another.

The new boat tent needed a storage place. The forward locker and lazarette fill quickly with more weather sensitive stuff (sleeping bags, clothes, camera, food, etc.). There happens to be an unused out of the way spot under the side seats port and starboard. This is just perfect for a bag storing the tent. So, my $30 sewing machine builds a 24″x4″x8″ bag with zipper and hanging loops. With each project our “sail loft” gains skill. One bag quickly led to a second to “balance” things out. Check ’em out-

Zippered bag with Velcro end strap.
Stainless steel footman loops are mounted under the seat for strapping in the bags.
P & S pair

This was an easy project that suited the tent well and leaves a second bag for miscellaneous items like sail ties, horn, flashlight, or whatever. All the materials are leftovers from the tent making. SurLast, 1″ webbing, plastic zipper, and Velcro.

bag installed to port.

Post 100! A Solution To Open Boat Shelter

 Two years ago, almost to the day, my daughter suggested that I “blog” my then current building of a cedar strip kayak called the Outer Island. I didn’t give it much thought other than I didn’t want my efforts here to die on the vine from a lack of ideas or happenings to report. Thus far, we’ve found a few things to yammer about. It all has become an interesting and entertaining adventure … well, at least for one person, me.

 And so, I give you post #100, a milestone of sorts, though merely bush league in achievement for many. All in all, it has been enjoyable to share “the process” of messing with these boats.
So, let’s have at it.

 Open boat sailing, while minimal, does require some basic necessities, food and shelter being primary. Especially, if one is to extend one’s cruising grounds. However, as simple as putting a tent or awning could be on such boats, you would not believe the countless solutions out there. Some are quite clever, but most are Rube Goldberg contraptions giving no thought to the frequent, and at times, surprise blow ups on the Chesapeake Bay, or elsewhere for that matter. The proverbial middle of the night fire drill is never welcomed. Sure, you could pitch a tent ashore. In fact, sometimes that may be more prudent. Yet, to anchor one’s boat in a secluded cove can deliver a special satisfaction and comfort if properly done. Camping ashore can leave you wondering if your probable trespass will be discovered. Snakes, or worse, could add to the on shore fun too.

Study model
Initial sketching

 So, a tent for UNA seems necessary. Starting with the KISS principle and with my model in hand we fashioned a few scenarios at small scale. A list of desired design features came to mind:

  1. Quick and easy set up.
  2. Compact for storing.
  3. Room for 2 persons albeit cozy in size.
  4. Reduced windage for a calmer ride in the event of a blow.
  5. Ready access to the anchor rode.
  6. Double as an awning when shade is welcomed at anchor.
 Our first attempt took the fly from our shore tent and fixed that across the cockpit. It was a close fit, but just shy of overlapping the gunwale. Covering only a portion of the cockpit, it had too much windage IMHO. (Some info previously shown discussed here).

Rain fly applied.

 A more obvious option strung a ridge line between the masts for throwing over a tarp. This one was studied quite a bit, but it too gave more windage than I desired and no matter how hard I strung the ridge it still sagged appreciably thereby hindering interior volume where needed. 

 A third scenario employed house wrap and bowed battens temporarily to make a roomy “cave,” but setting it all up looked to be a pain and while you could use tent poles instead, the pieces seemed too many. Limited storage of “stuff” on a small boat really makes itself evident. Several cruises are still needed to pare down what’s already lugged along.

Crew under bowed tent.

 A final alternative used the light main mast in a lowered position serving as a ridge beam.  If the weather really got howling, you don’t want the mast up anyway. Though the mast may help dampen  rolling, a lowered centerboard will suffice to do the same. Another quick mock-up showed particular promise. Drafting the solution helped with a cloth order of Sur Last. This is a lighter alternative from Sunbrella and is less expensive to boot. The material has served well in the building of UNA’s sail bags and spar covers. While not quite as water repellent as Sunbrella, Sur Last did pass a soaking test from the garden hose.

Tyvek and mast ridge pole with the happy crew.

As a better illustration, here is a drafted version:

 Additional canvass or insect netting panels may be added fore and aft at a later time if needed. Otherwise, a nice wedge is formed for easy weathercocking. This will have benefits for ventilation as well as riding a blow.

the “weathervane” mock-up.

view from aft.

“escape” corner pulled back.

 Now the project is near completion. We’ve good slope to shed rain, ample height for relaxing and cooking in the aft cockpit. The studying took quite some time, but the build actually went rather quickly.

 Some tugging here and there will yank the wrinkles out. The lower edges are secured by Velcro straps through footman loops mounted under the gunwale. No knots! It is hard to see in these pics, but there is a “D” ring sewn in the middle of the ridge if for some reason leaving the main mast up is required. 

Straps every 2′. Four per side.

Velcro strap close up
stainless footmans loop.

 The footman loops are 2′ on center and may double as attachment points for a boat cover down the road. For now, UNA sleeps in a garage.

 The heal of the mast wears a small neoprene sock to prevent scaring of the deck. The tent ridge is 1″ tubular nylon webbing with a loop to drop over the stem (again, no knots).

mast sock and ridge webbing loop.

 The mast’s after end hangs from the mizzen mast by a secondary halyard run through a SS ring secured by a loop of Dyneema. Once the ridge webbing and edges are secured, raising the high end of the mast tightens the whole affair.

A secondary halyard from mizzen mast raises ridge pole.
A soft Dyneema loop and SS ring make for the second halyard.

Lastly, a light 1/8″ Dacron line was threaded through a sleeve in the bottom edge to snug the skirt in. Wind and/or rain should not get through here.

Snugged canvass edge with light continuous line.

 With a furled mizzen, most of the windage is held aft. UNA should ride well with this setup. The necessity for any end panels will be evaluated in field later. No doubt a removable shroud forward may be added later. The window shown in the drafted elevation might also be nice. In the field testing is needed now. How long until Spring arrives?

 The whole shebang bundles nicely. We’ll sew a sack for storage later too.

tent bundled.

And there you have it, number 100 in the bag. Thanks for following along.