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February 1, 2000 Issue


February 15, 2000 Issue




February 1, 2000 Issue

Traditional vs Modern Skiff Construction

By Mike Moore

The topic of traditional versus modem construction of wooden boats is going around again, so I'd like to pass on my experience with a traditional-built skiff used in a modem setting.

Several years ago I was interested in getting a good rowing skiff, and I was also wanting to try the old time pine tar and oil finish as well, This type of finish is usually used on lumber as opposed to plywood. But, since I don't live near the water, I needed a boat that would spend a lot of time on a trailer in my backyard. The boat would go into the water for a few hours every couple of weeks, and for longer periods on vacations, A plywood skiff is supposed the be the best answer for my situation.

In his book Skiffs and Schooners, Pete Culler gives three options for cross planking flat bottom skiffs. For boats that spend most of the time in the water, he recommends tight uncaulked seams. For boats that spend an equal amount of time in and out of water, caulked seams with an outguage are better. And for boats that spend most of the time out of water, he suggests splines between the cross planks. Since I like the looks of a cross planked skiff, I decided to go with the last option.

A local builder was interested in the project, and we settled on the 16' "Uncle Gabe" skiff from Sam Rabl's book Boutbuilding in Your Own Backyard. The boat was built as per the instructions, with white pine for the planking, ash and fir for the trim, and oak for the transon, frames and stem. The boards for the cross planked bottom were grooved on a table saw to accept the 1/2"x 31 8" splines. The splines were fit into the grooves between the cross planks, along with some bedding compound, and tben the bottom was screwed onto the chines, with a tight fit between the planks. The builder advises this was an easy operation.

The interior of the boat and the outside of the transom were given several applications of linseed oil and pine tar. The exterior was painted with oil base enamel and the bottom was painted with red enamel instead of anti fouling paint.

After four years of use the boat is doing well. I've only had one seep so far, at the chine where a plank had cupped. This was easily fixed with caulking. The seams open and close in response to the weather, but not enough to drop the splines. The seams quickly tighten when exposed to water, and I've not yet missed a launch due to open seams. For long distance trailering I usually put a bucket of water and some rags in the boat. The water sloshes out and around and keeps everything tight, and sometimes soaks passersby. I don't know for certain, but I feel like the splines give the cross planking a sort of unibody effect, strengthening the bottom for trailering.

I like the oil finish. It's much easier to apply in the tight crannies of the interior as compared to paint. The floor boards seem to wear better than painted floors, which seem to chip and peel. The wood has darkened but has kept its strength. Every month or so I wash the boat with Murphy Oil Soap, and apply some more oil and pine tar. This usually is an enjoyable activity (possibly due to solvent buzz) and a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.

The boat itself is large and steady, definitely not a performance racing machine. It's just light enough to pull onshore over log rollers, which I do to prevent the bottom from over swelling if I'm keeping the boat in the water for more than a day. The skiff trims well with one or two rowers, and is very good for one person, standing up and sculling with an oar over the transom.

If I build another of these boats, I'd keep the bottom planks to maximum of 4" width, which supposedly reduces the cupping of the planks. In order to optimize the rowing trim, I would install temporary braces in the boat, and launch it, then determine the best position for the front and middle thwarts. An advantage of a stick-built skiff is that the materials are pleasant to work with. The finshed boat has a hefty stability compared with the skittishness of a plywood boat. And when not in use, it looks good wherever it is.

Mike Moore, 2402 W. Front St., Burlington, NC 27215



February 15, 2000

DreamBoats: The Handling of the Lugsail

By Richard Carsen

Already in 1936 our instructor in seamanship, telling us why he had advised the Royal Dutch Navy to use the split lug on their lifeboats, stated flatly that noone knew how to handle a lugsail anymore. Professionals like fishermen or harbor boatmen, had already turned to motors. The economic advantages were just too obvious. Even the navy used motors for their ship-to-shore craft. But when in a disaster one was left in a lifeboat maybe hundreds, even thousands, of miles offshore, a motor would not be of much use; one couldn't store enough gas as the available space was needed for people, water, other supplies.

So it wasn't until 1942, when anchored in the harbor of Alexandria, that I had the opportunity to study, and actually handle the lugsail. Something very odd occurred. 'Tho lugsailed harbor boats were tacking all around us, and we were even using them to go ashore, what was happening escaped me.

I would like to point out that when Magellan first sailed across the Pacific, he reported that he came to this island where the natives couldn't see his ship! We are so accustomed to thinking of our seeing as objective, that we have a hard time conceiving that we constantly telling ourselves, explaining to ourselves what it is we see. This is called, "The Inner Dialogue" when you can make this stop, you suddenly become aware of an entirely different world, where you see forcefields and lines of force (read the books of Castaneda for explanations). Therefore, do not be dismayed if you do not immediately "get it". Before you can "see" it, the mind has to be introduced to, and accept, the idea.

We are so conditioned by the ability of our modem sail to swing from one side to the other, that we cannot conceive how this can be accomplished when there is a mast in between. One thing was obvious, they were not taking the sail down when tacking. But what were they doing? Although it was done before my very eyes, I did not seem to "catch" it. This must be common with western observers, and the very reason why in book after book so much balderdash is written, even today, about the Arabian lug.

As I could not see it, I began to think about it as to what had to happen to swing the sail, If not brought down to the deck, there seem to remain two possibilities; either you force sail and yard around the back of the mast, which means letting go of the tack and taking it around the back of the mast, and resetting it again, or loosening up the sheet and carrying that around the front of the mast, forcing yard and sail to turn around itself in front of the mast, and carrying the sheet back on the other side and resetting it. I came to the conclusion that the latter maneuver was done in the Arabian craft, although I still had a hard time actually "catching them at it" as they tacked their boats. By the way, most Mediterranean lateen sails use the former method; so did the boatmen around the southern coasts of England.



Four Open Water Rowing Craft

Over the past several years, there has been growing interest in the pastime and sport of open water rowing. The number of competitions and competitors has been steadily increasing, many schools and programs have built large-scale boats, and cruises of varying lengths have been undertaken and chronicled. There is even a new and successful newsletter, called Open Water Rowing, which reports on this activity on an international scale.

In essence, open water rowing revolves around boats which are designed to be seaworthy enough to use regularly on rivers, sounds, and the open ocean. While sliding seat boats evolved to provide ultimate performance on a closed course in perfect conditions, open water boats evolved to function capably in the conditions one is bound to meet on the waters to anywhere. This allows for unlimited use of these vessels in all but the most extreme of conditions, opening up all locations and schedules to frequent use of these boats.

In offering these four new boats (of which the 15' and 17' especially fulfill the requirements of an open water single/double), we are attempting to meet the lack of a truly capable, inexpensive, introductory boat for those wishing to enter the sport of open water rowing. The boats we are offering incorporate a plywood hull, with glass tape construction at the chines and batten seam at the second strake.

The hull design is of a modified dory type, which simply means there is a narrow flat bottom, with two strakes of topside planking. This makes for a boat that is stable, easily driven under oars, capable of carrying a heavy load, and remarkably seaworthy. The 17'Light Gunning Dory is intended to be competitive in open water racing, either as a single or double.

In keeping with the objective of providing an introductory open water rowing boat, the pricing of these boats has been kept as reasonable as possible. It is our hope that these boats will play a part in the continued growth of open water rowing as a competitive sport and healthful activity.

If you have any questions, or would like to review the model and drawings of these boats, please call Jon or Rick at (860) 388-2343. Seth Persson Boat Builders, 18 Riverside Ave., Old Saybrook, CT 06475

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