Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Art of Knots

Although I'm a sailor and am consequently obsessed with boats and all things nautical, I've pretty much limited my knot tying efforts to those everyday useful easy ones like the bowline, the rolling hitch, the square knot, the stopper knot, etc. My girlfriend Michelle, however has taken to the art and craft of fancy knot tying and rope work with a passion. She's left me far behind in my meager knowledge of knots, and lately has enough 600-foot spools of manila on hand to rig a small schooner. Michelle got her inspiration from the late Captain Charles Strickland, who she met this past summer at Point Cadet Marina as he was in his last days battling cancer. Capt. Charley's dream was to pass on as much of his knowledge as possible before he was gone, and Michelle was an eager student during the brief visits they had while he could still teach.

Now she's making plaited rope door mats, bowls, trivets and monkey's fists keychains just to name a few. Here's some examples in the photos below:

This is a round Turk's Head mat that can be used in the galley or at home to put hot pots or dishes on.

This large door mat is called an "Ocean Plait" Made from 1/2-inch manila, it's durable and just gets better with the effects of age and weather. These are a great nautical touch for a sailor's front door, or for the dock or in the cockpit.

This cool knot is a Monkey's Fist. These small ones make great key chains that tell everyone you're a sailor. They are also usefull all over a boat where you need a handy pull, such as attached to zippers as my friend Artie has done on his sail covers. These small one's are made from 1/8-inch Dacron cord. They can be made most any size.

Email me for prices and shipping information at: if you are interested in any of these pieces of traditional nautical art, or if you have questions.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Replacing a Bowsprit

In my last post I described a simple kind of sailing I intend to pursue on a Wharram Tiki 21, a catamaran designed with low-tech, but appropriate technology based on the traditional "double canoes" of the Pacific Islands. All Wharram catamarans are designed to be simple to build and simple to repair, even on a remote beach where tools and materials are limited.

By contrast, most modern yachts are vastly more complex and utilize hundreds of specialized and expensive fittings. Working on them requires lots of tools, and almost all repairs on such vessels are costly and time-consuming.

The photo above shows the bowsprit and anchor platform on a Pacific Seacraft Orion 27 Cutter, one of the finest heavy-dispacement sailing craft of it's size in the world. I spent several hours yesterday with the owner, my good friend, Artie Vaughn, working together on the difficult task of removing this bowsprit, which was cracked when it came in contact with some pilings during Hurricane Katrina. Since I'm going to use the old one as a pattern to make the replacement, I needed to get it off in one piece. After removing the bow pulpit, teak anchor platform, forestay, bobstay, whisker stays and anchor rollers, we then found that the sprit was bedded to the deck with 5200 adhesive and bolted through massive mahogany samson posts with 1/2 inch threaded rod. There was no way those samson posts were coming out without tearing half the bow off the boat, so we had to cut the threaded rod and then alternately jump up and down on the end of the sprit and winch it upward with the staysail halyard to break it free. At last it came loose with only a small fracture on the bottom side.

Today I picked up the Douglass Fir 2 x 6s I ordered to build the new sprit, which will have to be laminated to the proper thickness, then tapered down and shaped to match the old one. Making it won't be near as hard as removing it and replacing it. While I'm at it I will make a new teak anchor platform to match the old one as well.

Artie and I are both addicted sailors who can never get enough of boats, but after days like yesterday we question why we bother. The amount of work is certainly disproportionate to the fun sometimes, especially for him with his massive and complicated vessel. But, in a week or two I'll deliver that new bowsprit to him and we will somehow get it reinstalled. Then there will soon come a Spring day when he'll be on a beam reach heading out into the Gulf and all the hard work will be forgotten. And hopefully, between working on everyone else's boat I'll find time as well to put my little catamaran back together and head out myself.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Tiki 21 Catamaran Project

I'm going back to a simpler kind of sailing for 2006 after loosing Intensity to hurricane Katrina. I've long been fascinated with James Wharram catamarans and built one of his smallest designs the Hitia 17 beachcruiser, back in 1997-98. (See a photo and description here) I had originally planned to build one of his Tiki 26 or Tiki 30 cruising catamarans, but instead bought my Grampian 26 (Intensity)and put most of my time and energy into refitting and cruising on it. The disadvantages of a deep-draft keel boat have long been apparent to me, and the lack of truly safe harbors on the Mississippi coast when a hurricane threatens is definitely one of those disadvantages.

Most multihulls are shallow draft, and Wharram catamarans are designed to really take advantage of this feature, with hull forms that require no underwater appendages such as centerboards or daggerboards to enable them to sail to weather. They can dry out on a falling tide and even the bigger ones can be sailed right up to the beach.

Although I have the building plans for the Tiki 26 and have long thought this was one of the most practical sizes for my needs, shortly after Katrina wrecked the Gulf coast I purchased a used Tiki 21 from a couple in Ocean Springs. The price was right and the catamaran came with a galvanized trailer. Trailerability was especially important to me with most of the marinas on the coast wiped out. I could bring the boat inland for a complete refit and take it back to the coast after some of the clean-up and rebuilding was done.

The Tiki 21 is an excellent beachcruiser style of boat. While too small to live aboard in the conventional manner, it does have a dry sea berth in each hull to make longer passages possible, and the expansive bridgedeck between the hulls makes a great platform to pitch a tent once the boat is anchored for the night. Although small, the Tiki 21 is a proven offshore passagemaker. It was designed as a coastal cruiser by James Wharram in the early 1980s and was never intended for long ocean passages. Despite this, a young man named Rory McDougall built one in Devon, England and left in 1991 bound for New Zealand. He eventually sailed on around the world, making the Tiki 21 the smallest catamaran in history to circumnavigate. He returned from the voyage enthusiastic about the boat, and continued to use it for shorter trips, with no desire to acquire a larger one. It takes a different sort of mentality to voyage that far on such a small, mostly open boat, but Rory's completion of the trip shows what is possible. As he said, his boat would be considered luxurious by the standards of the ancient Polynesian voyagers whose craft were Wharram's design inspiration.

Having traveled far in much smaller boats (namely canoes and sea kayaks), I'm familiar with the concept of simplicity and the advantages of carrying less and using less in the way of complex systems. The Hitia 17 that I built years ago was at the time my idea of a perfect small cruiser, but it's primary limitation was that there was no secure place anywhere on board to sleep while underway or to get out of the weather if caught out in bad conditions. It's also a bit limited in load carrying capacity for longer trips, where as the Tiki 21, with a capacity of 1,000 pounds, should have a good range for singlehanding, with room for everything one needs for this elemental form of cruising.

It seems to me that this boat, with its shallow draft of just 14 inches, stability and seaworthieness of it's deeply flared V-hulls with an overall beam of 12' and it's cruising speed of up to 10-12 knots in the right conditions, will be ideal for exploring the islands and estuaries of the Gulf coast. I can also envision cruising it among the far-flung mangrove cays of the Florida Keys and the Everglades, having a comfortable camping platform for overnight stops away from the mosquitoes and no-see-ums of the beach. A voyage across the Gulf Stream to cruise the Bahamas is certainly within its capacity for one willing to put up with a little discomfort, and such a trip is one of my goals for this boat.

Wharram catamarans are being built and sailed throughout the world, and many resources are avaiblable on the Internet for those interested in these boats. The best place to start is at the source itself: for information on all the designs available. As I complete the refit and modifications of my Tiki 21, I plan to post photos and commentary here for all who are interested.