Return To Messing About In Boats' First Page


November 1, 1998 Issue


November 15, 1998 Issue

November 1, 1998 Issue


Crab Claw Cat

By Fred Shell

I have been messing around in boats since I was a kid, and have been designing and building boats professionally for the last 15 or so years. Recently, I have been very intrigued to see interest surfacing in the lateen sail rig (and its variations). This spring Boats had an article about rigs without masts, basically lateen, and more recently in your article on the AYRS there is mention of a new design by Dick Newick using a variation on the crab claw sail. I have also had recent inquiries from customers about using these sort of rigs.

To date, my boats have all used simple, but very effective, leg-o-mutton rigs, unstayed or semi-stayed (rope shrouds) with curved sprit booms. This, to me, IS a great sailing rig, especially if you add a mizzen and perhaps a small jib. These have worked very well on my monohull, catamaran, and trimaran designs. But still this lateen, crab claw shape is so appealing!

Crab Claw Cat In addition to the beauty of the thing, there are two honest technical factors which draw me to it. First, I would like to produce a design for an open, hard deck catamaran in the 16'-18' range. There is no place for an unstayed mast, but a lateen sail could be hung from a short bipod mast anchored in each hull. This bipod could be short enough to leave standing while trailering. Second is the possibility of developing lift, as well as drive, from the sail. Lift, of course, means less drag and more speed for the same size sail (and overturning force). A faster and more stable boat may be possible.

The quest goes on for the impossible in sailing, fast, comfortable, and cheap. Of course, I would like to design and build such a boat. The picture is of a simple model I built this spring. I hope to be launching a full size version in time for sea trials this season. Kits and finished boats will be made available if it proves out.

I will be trying a main of about 90 sq. ft. and a mizzen of about 35 sq. ft. Why a mizzen on a simple boat? Well, I'm glad I asked. I love mizzens! Let me count the reasons why.

First, trim. With a mizzen the sails can easily be set so that the boat will steer itself to windward (and sometimes off the wind also). I once thought the greatest joy in sailing was to sail a boat I built myself. I now know the ultimate joy, having a boat I built myself sail me. I love to sit back and feel the boat react, always finding the correct heading to keep itself in harmony with the wind. I sail in uncrowded waters and even doze sometimes while getting carried across the bay!

Second, control. The boat can be parked by letting the main loose and sheeting the mizzen in. It will drift backwards, but will remain bow to the wind. There are many situations where this maneuver can increase the sailors comfort and safety. The mizzen can also can be used to insure a fast tack by pulling it to windward. Some boats can even be tacked this way without touching the tiller.

Third, lower center of effort. The same sail area on a single mast boat will require a bigger sail, longer spars, and more purchase, and it will produce more overturning force. Granted, the single mast rigs will develop a little more power, but at the cost of more difficult (or expensive) to control sails.

Fourth, less need for a motor. Because of all the previously mentioned advantages, having a mizzen may allow you to avoid having a motor at all, or at least you may be able to get along with a simple electric. If the mizzen is kept simple, it will cost less than a gasoline outboard and it won't stink or disturb your peace and quiet. I'm afraid I have gone off on a tangent about mizzens (am I letting the tail wag the dog).

The design will use plywood deep vee hulls, with a solid flat cockpit about 8' square. An out-sloping backrest will go all the way around. This cockpit should be very comfortable as is, but the space is large enough for folding lawn chairs and maybe a sun umbrella. For overnighting, an inexpensive self contained tent can be set up. Gear such as this can be stowed in the hulls forward and aft of the cockpit. The construction is so simplified that an amateur should be able to build the boat from a kit in about a week.

In general concept, this design falls somewhere between a pontoon boat and the Sunfish. Certainly the incredible popularity of the Sunfish says something good about the lateen rig, a truly ancient rig which just might be ready for another try.

Shell Boats, RD 2, Box 289C, St. Albans, VT 05478
(802) 524-9645.


Top Of Page


November 15, 1998 Issue


The Chatham Gunning Skiff

By Edward F. Tucker

This type of skiff, or sharpie, as he used to call them, was first built by my Uncle Joe Nickerson, who was a market gunner at that time. He built her for the main purpose of sailing to the North Beach where duck shooting was good, and that was before automobiles had been made to go on the beach. They were made of boards that were 14' long by 14" wide which you could buy at the lumberyard for about $5. The lumber for the whole skiff wouldn't cost much more than $25.

After the sides were cut to shape, which wasn't much more than the rake of the stem, the stern, and a couple inches off amidships to give her a little shear, the two sides were nailed to the stem, bent around a form, and then fastened to the stern. She was then turned over, planed off, and the bottom nailed on. The bottom consisted of 6" boards nailed on with three 8-penny galvanized nails each side. These are then planed off and the whole thing turned over again. Two strips are fastened to keep the bottom boards from warping, and then a centerboard is cut in and nailed in. That is, the centerboard box is nailed in. The centerboard is pivoted at the forward lower end, usually by a wooden peg.

The cockpit is then framed in with pieces on the sides and a piece on the forward side with the crown cut. This took the forward deck strips which were a 6" board up the middle with the mast hole, and two 3" pieces on each side with a piece of canvas stretched over it, which made up the forward deck. This was made, not to walk on, but to throw grass on when gunning. A piece of coaming was nailed on the forward form. A seat was put in the forward part of the cockpit and oarlocks fitted in the side pieces.

These boats, when sailed, were steered by an oar on the lee side and were never fitted with a rudder. The sail was short on the mast and long on the boom which kept the center of effort low, which they needed because the boats were quite narrow on the bottom, being 3'2" or 3'4" at the most.

I had one of these boats on Old Harbor Station and used to come on liberty in it. One time there was a southeaster blowing, so I took in three reefs, sat in the stern with an oar over each quarter tor steering, and started across before the wind. My friend Ernie called the station to see if I was coming ashore. The man in the tower said, "he is just leaving." Ernie hung up, went to the window, and I was just coming ashore. The boats were that fast, especially when running before the wind.

One time later I built a double-ender, she was fast going to windward but not much going to leeward because she seemed to suck water in her sides aft. The square sterned boats would plane on a wave if the wind blew hard enough.

When Joe and a group of fishermen built a camp on North Beach, they all built gunning skiffs to go to the beach in. This resulted in racing and each person built his own to his ideas with the result that there were many and varied models made. As kids we used to borrow them and race about the harbor, where we learned to sail and steer with an oar over the side. It was easy because the boats had a weather helm, so you just had to hold her off when she had a natural tendency to come into the wind. Later on I built one for a friend of mine which I called a motorsailer. She was fairly flat bottomed att and was built to carry an outboard motor and a rudder. My friend used her as a yacht summers and stowed her in his damp cellar winters. She is now 60 years old and still going strong!

My cousin Joe's son built one with a bigger sail and with the bottom cut up aft quite a lot. She was fast in light winds, but no good in a breeze because she would squat too much. Everybody who built a boat had a different idea of how it should be. We used them mostly for gunning trips, but there was always a race when two of them got near each other. So they passed into history as a great boat and not an expensive one.

During the war, my friend left his boat with Mr. Baker, who turned her upside down on his stone wall. When I saw her after four years I was sick! You could throw a cat through the seams on her bottom. So I turned her over into the wet grass, left her there a few days, and then she swelled tight. After I gave her a coat of paint, she remained in good shape for many years afterward.

It speaks well for eastern pine which her bottom was planked with. I had made one skiff with western pine, and after it had been in the water a few days the bottom looked like a washboard. I used eastern pine, up to 8" wide with no trouble. Of course, I spaced them the thickness of a hacksaw blade and gave them a caulking seam, ran a strip of caulking in them, and puttied them. This made a good bottom and was trouble free.

I painted the bottom with copper paint, but some of the men used house paint because they didn't plan to use their boat after the gunning season. If they did leave them in, they would be covered with barnacles and have to be scraped off the next time they wanted to use them. The boats were painted brown to match the dead grass color in which the skiff would be hidden.

With the end of market gunning came the end of the gunning skiff, so to speak. A few of them laid around the shore and were used by us kids, but they gradually disappeared and are now completely unheard of.



Return To Messing About In Boats' First Page
Top Of Page


Please say you found them in By-The-Sea