Category: Uncategorized

19 Jun


Themed Issues —by Joshua Colvin



This might come as a surprise to some of you, but the selection of articles in each of our issues is more-or-less coincidental. Any apparent “theme” is mostly happenstance, as we typically run the articles in the order they were accepted. Whatever curating we do happens, for the most part, when we select and edit the original submissions.

Of course we’ll sometimes rush to print a time-sensitive article or rearrange the schedule of a few articles if we feel we need a little more regional diversity or more “how-to” or “adventure,” for example, but each magazine is mostly comprised simply of the next batch of articles in the queue.

I mention this only because we find it interesting that a lot of our magazines end up with an unmistakable theme anyway. Last issue (#110) was a good example. It so happened we had articles on human propulsion, a pedal-powered boat, a solar-powered boat, and a power-sailer—a sort of “Alternative Power”-themed edition was born. While it was a tinkerer’s dream, not everyone liked the esoteric content and shortage of sailboats. This helps explain why we avoid overt themed issues, as by their nature they please fewer readers. (Better, we think, that you occasionally skip a page or two you don’t find interesting, than receive a whole magazine focused on something you find uninspiring.)

Similarly, when we’re asked, “Why don’t you do more articles on (fill in the blank)?” our answer is usually, “Because we’re not getting any articles on (fill in the blank).” While we occasionally generate or solicit articles on a particular topic—like we did recently with Perfect Prams and Best Places to Sail—we’ve found the best material is generally whatever’s on the mind of those of you who contribute to this magazine. It certainly makes editorial direction simple: What topics do our readers want us to cover? The same ones covered in the articles they send us.

Speaking of themes, we’ve also noticed over the years that specific words or references sometimes appear multiple times in a single issue. Once it was Tinkerbelle—the boat and the book—that came up in a bunch of articles, then more recently it was Swallows and Amazons. For whatever reason “Huck Finn” made multiple appearances last issue. Maybe these repeat references aren’t so surprising—in fact they might do a better job explaining what our magazine is about than anything else we could come up with. Any fan of Tinkerbelle, Huck Finn or Swallows and Amazons will probably feel right at home with Small Craft Advisor. —Joshua Colvin

20 Mar


Escaping on a 10-foot Sailboat



by Marlin Bree

One of the many things I learned from working with Gerry Spiess, the sailor who designed, built and sailed his 10-foot boat, Yankee Girl to ocean-girdling records, was the importance of organization—and of his “book.”

He was never without a spiral bound tablet in which he jotted or drew some of the things he wanted to remember or do. The book was an example of the way he prepared himself and his little sloop for a record-breaking run across the North Atlantic, including diagrams of where he stowed his clothing and personal items. Every square inch of bilge space was accounted for. He even created a weight distribution plan, and a method for living for long periods of time at sea.

Since he couldn’t wash clothes in the salt water—and I suppose that in a 10-foot boat he didn’t really want to bother—he made visits to Salvation Army and other used clothing stores to buy clothing, wash them, air dry them at length outdoors, and store them in sealed large plastic condiment jars. He got these jars for free from a local school cafeteria.

He carried 35 pairs of shorts and T-shirts; 35 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of long johns, 10 pairs of pants, 10 pairs of short pants, 28 long-sleeved shirts, 8 short sleeved shirts, 2 belts, 5 caps, 1 pair of wool gloves, 3 pairs of rubber gloves, 3 pairs of tennis shoes, 1 down jacket, 5 sweaters, a scarf, 2 foul weather suits and 1 poncho. Each item was twisted up thoroughly so that it took up a minimum of space. He once showed me how little space a properly compacted a T-shirt required—I was amazed. Stylish fashion and pressed shirts were not his goal at sea.

The provisions added up. His empty hull weighed 750 pounds, but at departure with his clothing, food, gasoline, and all his gear aboard, Yankee Girl weighed 2,200 pounds.

On his voyage, he tossed his old, dirty clothes overboard to disintegrate in the ocean. His “book” showed him where to find each sealed condiment jar and what each contained. The jars of clothing served another function. During one stormy period, when the 10-foot boat fell off waves and bounced about terribly in high seas, the sealed up boat cabin became stuffy and foul smelling. He couldn’t open his ventilator because waves regularly overran the boat. He tried opening his hatch even for a short while but that only produced regular drenching below and he had to remove the water with a meat baster.

As he fought his way in 12-foot waves to the Gulf Stream he was only averaging 32 miles per day. At that speed, hit would take around 100 days to reach England. He had planned for a 60-day crossing, but had provisioned for 90. Trouble. He took a beating as the boat raced down the face of one wave then buried her bow in the next. He solved the ping-pong effect by crawling to the forepeak and wedging himself in among the gear. The small pocket of air soon became stale with his breath and he smell of the 60 gallons of pre-mixed gasoline he carried in the bilge. Guided by the light of his radio dial, he opened one of the plastic condiment pails to a welcoming whoosh sound. Eagerly, he stuck his nose inside and inhaled deeply. He was rewarded with the smells of fresh-washed clothing and the outdoors aroma of his native Minnesota. He was no longer in a tiny boat bashing its way through huge ocean waves or breathing foul below-decks air, he had escaped. He was home. ###


Marlin Bree ( is a contributing writer to Small Craft Advisor and the author of numerous boating books, including his own Boat Log & Record (SCA Library). He has twice won the coveted Grand Prize Award in Boating Writers International’s annual Writing Contest.

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24 Jan


Good Little Ship


An excerpt for the new book, Good Little Ship: Arthur Ransome, Nancy Blackett and the Goblin, by Peter Willis.


‘A little white cutter with red sails was coming in towards the moored boats.’For the four children, paddling about in a dinghy among the moorings, this sighting is the beginning of an encounter which will lead to them sailing this same boat—alone and unaided, through varied perils—across the North Sea to Holland.

The children are fictitious as, for the most part, is their adventure: this is the start of Arthur Ransome’s We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea. But the location is real enough—Pin Mill on the River Orwell in Suffolk, where Ransome was living while he wrote the book. As for the ‘little white cutter’, she has a fictional name, but she was, and is, very real indeed. Ransome had not long previously sailed his own newly-acquired boat up that same river, and into those same moorings. He had named her the Nancy Blackett, but in We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea, she becomes the Goblin.

‘Funny name for a boat,’ comments Roger, the youngest of the children, who is reading the name on a vacant mooring buoy. ‘I wonder where she is?’

They soon find out, for sure enough, the boat coming up the river is the Goblin, and she is being sailed single-handed.

Someone was busy on her foredeck. As they watched, they saw the tall red mainsail
crumple and fall in great folds on top of the cabin. ‘There’s no-one at the tiller’,
said John. ‘I say,’ said Roger. ‘Is he all alone?’

Indeed he is, but he seems to know his boat well enough, as he prepares to sail onto his mooring, using the jib, watched by the children who pull their dinghy clear just in time.

He was standing up, steering with a foot on the tiller, with his eyes on the buoy ahead of him. Suddenly, when he was still a few yards from it, they saw him stoop and then run forward along the side deck. The jib was flapping. The young man had grabbed the boathook, and was waiting, ready to reach down and catch the buoy.

‘He’ll just do it,’ Titty said, almost in a whisper.
‘Beautifully,’ said John.
‘Oh,’ gasped Titty. ‘He can’t reach it.’

For the boat has stopped moving a moment too soon. The boathook is an inch too short, then a foot. She is being swept back by the tide onto other moored boats. In desperation the skipper hurls a rope to the children in the dinghy; John makes it fast to the buoy in a swift, seamanlike manner, and they are thus, with a bowline knot, instantly bonded with the Goblin and her skipper.

These are the children originally encountered by readers of Arthur Ransome as the Swallows in Swallows and Amazons, the first of his children’s novels, where they enjoy dinghy-sailing adventures in the Lake District. Swallow, sailed by the Walker children, Captain John, Mate Susan, Able-Seaman Titty and Ship’s Boy Roger, and Amazon—of which the ‘master and part-owner’ is Nancy Blackett, with her sister Peggy ‘mate and part-owner of the same’—were both based on real dinghies. Their lake is a fictional construct, but it combines elements of Coniston and Windermere, and individual locations are identifiable.

Book for sale from SCA here.

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24 Jan


When Steering is a Drag



The rudder began vibrating and then groaning. In a quick-rising Lake Superior storm I was slewing along on a series of big waves, sometimes going sideways. My home-built plywood rudder was taking a beating.

Bending over Persistence’s transom, I saw that the blade seemed OK. Still with all the racketing and noise, the rudder was under considerable stress.

What if the rudder broke? How would I steer in a storm?

I had a plan: I would attach a line from my portside cockpit winch to my big 14-pound Danforth, and then attach another line from my starboard winch to the Danforth. And throw everything overboard. The Danforth would drag in the heavy weather’s following seas but I could crank it from side to side.

All this was theoretical.

I had tried something like this before. For my young son I had built a toy boat out of a 2 x 4 piece of lumber and wrapped a knot around one end. In the water, towing it behind my boat, the toy boat swung to one side and my 17-foot sailboat would turn that way. Eureka! Accidentally, I had another steering method.

That would be my untried plan. But one day I heard the tale of Dudley Dix, the ingenious South African designer who draws and sails marvelous ocean racers—built out of plywood—to frolic in the boisterous waters off Cape Town, not far from the horrific seas at the Cape of Good Hope.

He was blasting along in his 36-foot plywood rocket in the Cape Town-to-Rio ocean race. Suddenly his plywood blade broke. Black Cat spun around. Dudley went below, found a large bucket, tied two lines to its handle, connected each line to a cockpit winch, and threw the bucket overboard.The steering drogue worked fine, he told me, and he and his crew sailed confidently several days with the lash up, ignoring offers of a tow from other boats.

The bucket? It was a heavy-duty metal bucket of the type South African construction workers and bricklayers use. In the trans-oceanic race, rules require the sailors to carry a bucket aboard.

I don’t carry a bucket, but I do have three Danforths and a mud anchor onboard. Maybe they’d work in an emergency.
Marlin Bree ( used the bucket steering story in a chapter in his novel, Broken Seas (SCA Library). He is a contributing writer to Small Craft Advisor and the author of numerous boating books. He has twice won the coveted Grand Prize Award in Boating Writers International’s annual Writing Contest.

Filed Under: Uncategorized