My Boats

Every waterman needs (at least) two boats.  One that you can throw on the roof of a car for a quick dunk and another for hauling out friends and family.  So far, I’ve kept my fleet to that rule.

Boat one is Terrapin, an Adirondack guideboat.

This boat is kevlar and was built about eight years ago by the fine folks at Adirondack Guide-boat of Vermont.

I’ve taken Terrapin on class one rivers, camp-cruising from Olympia to Port Townsend Washington, and in moving water dodging logs and debris. All of my trips have been with just me in the boat. In calmer water I have taken out two boys under twelve, two other adults, and occasionally one other adult. As the boys have grown, they’ve become more comfortable and understanding about how to move around in the boat and what can (fishing from the seat, dragging toy boats, splashing) and can’t work (standing up, rocking).

As the boat gets more loaded, it gets more stable, but the freeboard goes down (yes, I know that sounds obvious, but it is an important consideration). So the speed and seaworthiness also shifts depending on the weight. I feel perfectly comfortable in small waves or boat wakes when alone. The more people in the boat, the more careful you need to be about shipping water and the passengers destabilizing things. I’ve done a capsize drill and found that I had to push the boat under to get it to fill with water. Getting it bailed out is a little more difficult though!

The boat’s strengths are its flexibility to carry various loads/passengers, its light weight and portability, ability to handle waves, and the ease with which you can row it for long periods.

The boat’s weaknesses include the low freeboard at the mid-point, it doesn’t turn extremely quickly to avoid unforeseen dangers, and that you can’t really move around much in it, which can be tiresome on a long trip.

For sailing and taking a crew there’s Row Bird, an Arctic Tern, sail and oar boat designed by Iain Oughtred.  Drawings with dimensions (this is a PDF).


Built largely by Andy Boat and Andy Bike, I’ve had Row Bird on the water since August 2012 and am pretty fond of her performance and looks.  She’s got a lapstrake plywood hull and lots of different kinds of solid wood trim and spars.  I really like how quickly the boat rigs up and how simple everything is once you’re underway.  There are no pesky stays and only a mainsheet in the cockpit, so there’s ample room in the middle (except for those long oars always underfoot).  It holds a lot stuff and people, and is very comfortable.

People told me lugsails wouldn’t go to windward too well.  This one doesn’t point as high as a sloop, but is no slouch.  Downwind she really gets going nicely.  In light wind Row Bird moves along just fine, but isn’t the fastest thing on the water.  She seems confident in all conditions I’ve taken her out in so far, but she certainly performs best in winds over 5kts.

Lastly, Row Bird has a push-pull tiller.  It was weird at first, but within a few minutes, it feels just as natural as a traditional one.  My advice: never look at it while you are steering.  It’s like hearing a recording of your own voice or watching yourself on TV- it just messes up your perception.

Nerdy Details

This page is not for the typical reader.  It is for those people who are equally  interested in building boats as using them.  If you read beyond this, you’ve been warned.  This is serious nerd territory…

I don’t claim to know a whole lot about boats, but here are a few things my friends or I have done so far.  Inspiration came from Joel’s Navigator page which has super helpful info for folks putting together a boat.  I’d be happy if mine is half as good:

Canvas Stuff:

My cover was made using my design with Andy Bike sewing and refining it.  Two inch PVC pipe was used to make a tall frame and ridgepole with he idea being that it is light, strong, cheap, and won’t soak up water.  I made it steep sided so water would not pool up.  Backpack buckles/cinches make it quick to tension the top.  The colors are goofy, but when you make something on the cheap out of scraps, you just hope for functionality.

Andy Bike and I made some big, long bags for the spars.  I keep the sails lashed to the spars and just roll them up and slide them in the bags.



We sewed a bunch of big handles on the bags which makes it really easy to haul the spars around.
We sewed a bunch of big handles on the bags which makes it really easy to haul the spars around.

The boat rides on a slightly modified King KB910 trailer which I’m pretty happy with (but good luck finding a used model).


Photos from Andy Boat who did all the woodwork.

Varnishing & Painting:

I used both nice bristle brushes and foam brushes.  Those foam brushes are good for the straightaways.  Brushes for anything round.   The foamies are cheap, but the quality varies: some are fine, some are much stiffer and more useful- buy carefully.  I used some weenie rollers on the outside of the hull, but found a regular brush was critical for tipping and smoothing the dreaded runny, stinky, and sticky Petit Easypoxy marine paint (which is very durable).

I did all my varnishing by hanging spars, knees, etc. with a combination of thick, bendable electric wires and wire coat hangers made into hooks.  Heavy fishing line and eyelets were used to suspend the spars.  This was cheap and easy.


Andy Bike was the lead sailmaker.  We sewed these in my living room.  And now a word from our sailmaker, “Andy Bike here. Bruce asked me to write up some nerdy details about making the sails for Row Bird. So here goes…   Like every good home sailmaking project, this one began by re-arranging furniture to clear a large enough space to lay out the main sail. Once we had a suitable space, we began rolling out and cutting fabric. Wait… I’m already ahead of myself. Lemme back up to the design process. From the get go I was pushing the idea that it wasn’t too late to put a motor mount on the back of Row Bird. Bruce wouldn’t succumb to even my best pro-motor argument, so we stuck our noses in the sail plan and with the help of my trusty scale-ruler and some SOA CAH TOA action, we were able to come up with the necessary measurements for laying out the sail full size. Now that we had a plan in hand we began cutting fabric. A traditional approach would have been to build the sail with vertical seams, but we went with a more modern cross cut style construction (cross cut= seams oriented perpendicular to the back edge of the sail). We used Challenge Sailcloth’s 3.8 ounce Performance Cruise fabric. The basic sail was sewn together and cut out. Up to this point we were probably 3 Saturdays into the sail making process and we had a full-size raw sail to show for it. But we weren’t even halfway done. The sewing doldrums don’t really set in until you start reinforcing the corners and reefs for grommets. Getting all those on took a couple more Saturdays. One helpful hint (if you’re reading this thinking to build your own sails): is to put the reef tie-downs… the ones in the middle of the sail… an inch or 2 lower than the Clew and Tack rings for that reef. That way when you reef you can tie the excess sail material to the boom without risking tearing the sail. Anyway, all the load bearing grommets are 14mm Inox rings and the intermediate grommets are #0 nickel plated brass spur grommets.”

FamilyChristmas2012 071


Following the theme that this is a working boat, I didn’t freak out about matching in any way.  I just got the best quality, lowest price stuff I could.  There is a lot of bronze on the boat, but plenty of stainless, plastic, etc.

Making a Mast Traveler:

close up mast traveler

I cut this tubular webbing open with scissors, slid in a thick piece of crate strapping salvaged from a stone tile store.
I cut the tubular webbing open with scissors, slid in a thick piece of crate strapping (salvaged from a stone tile store) to make the loop rigid.
I used a hot knife to seal the tubing back up.
I used a hot knife to seal the tubing back up.
I sewed a carabiner in place and sewed the webbing together to keep the loop from popping open when sailing.  The tape is there to stop the end of the webbing from rubbing.



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