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 (www.marlinbree.com) 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

05 Oct


How fast can you go in a small cruising boat?



Gerry Spiess and Yankee Girl arrive in Honolulu. Pic by Marlin Bree.

“When it comes to small boats,” my friend Gerry Spiess was explaining to me, “all the rules go out the window.”

Gerry is the champion small-craft sailor who set two world’s records by sailing his 10-foot homemade plywood sloop, Yankee Girl, across both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.

On the long reaches across the Pacific, he took only 34 days to sail 2,539 miles from Long Beach, California, to Honolulu, Hawaii. He had averaged 74.5 miles per day—an extraordinary run for a heavily laden boat with only a 9-foot waterline. Much larger sailboats do well to average a little over 100 miles per day.

He was bettering his North Atlantic record run. He had sailed out of Virginia Beach, Virginia, heading eastward to England. That sail took him an elapsed time of 53 days, 5 hours nonstop to Falmouth, 3,780 statute miles. He had averaged 60 miles a day an average speed of 2.5 miles per hour in storms, high waves, doldrums, and some good sailing. His best day’s run was 84 nautical miles.

Out of Honolulu and in the South Pacific’s trade winds, Yankee Girl began hitting 100 miles per day under her twin 29 square foot jibs.His best day’s run: a whopping 138.09 miles.

He abashedly jokes about his little boat’s speed: “I was asleep a third of the time.”


Marlin Bree (www.marlinbree.com) 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.

23 Jun


Pursuit of the Perfect Pram Continues (Readers’ Prams)


As part of the research for our article In Pursuit of the Perfect Pram (SCA Issue #106), we asked readers for information on their favorite prams. To our surprise we received a huge response, with many stories and photos. Because we couldn’t possibly include a photo of them all in the magazine, we’re publishing a bunch of them below. Thanks again to those who participated. —Eds

Christine DeMerchant built this 7′ Chuck Merrell-designed Apple Pie pram several years ago as a tender to her Tanzer 22 sailboat.



Jim Dumser’s young daughters, Hannah and Kyla, did most of the work in building the 7′-10″ stitch-and-glue D5 pram from plans available at Bateau.com



Gabe Leavitt of Oregon sails the Chesapeake Light Craft Eastport nesting pram with his daughter on Trillium Lake. Gabe says the kit went together in about five weeks, including paint, and it sails and rows well.



An 8′ pram designed by Graham Byrnes of B&B Yacht Design serves as a buffet table during a small-boat cruise to Panther Key by members of the Sailing Association of Marco Island, Florida. The nesting pram was built and photographed by Dan Singer.


Reader Mike Harper built this Howard Chapelle lapstrake pram, lofting the hull from lines in a Chapelle book. The pram is mostly used on Donner Lake in California.



Jack Vincent built this L. Francis Herreshoff-designed Neria pram more than 35 years ago, and recently restored the tender. He confirms Herreshoff’s view that the pram rows and tows very well.


Capt. Charlie Huie built this CLC Passagemaker Pram during a workshop in Port Townsend, WA, and finished it back home in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 2011.


This CLC Eastport pram was built eight years ago (and has survived a “lot of abuse” since then) by Syd Roberts, who says it’s easy enough to drag the 42-pound tender aboard his larger boat. “The boat tows well and is stable for an old dog,” reports Syd.



If you really want a lightweight pram, consider the skin-on-frame approach. This Stasha 7′ design, a 22-pound nesting model, is available from www.woodenwidget.com and was built by reader Martin Arlidge.



Richad Maldonado studied other pram designs and wondered if he might be able to come up with his own design…and build it from a single sheet of luan plywood and leftover scraps of wood. The result was Tartlet, an under-30-pound one-person micro-pram Richard uses on protected waters. “At its best,” says Richard, “the boat can look almost elegant, and at its worst Tartlet makes me think it looks like I’ve painted a coffin and put it in the water.”



Crayfish is a 4′ x 8′ stitch-and-glue pram designed by Richard Woods of Woods Designs. It weighs about 40 pounds, carries three adults, and as indicated in the attached photo of Richard standing on one side of the tender, it’s a very stable design.

Crayfish rowing

crayfish stability

Here’s another skin-on-frame pram with solid bottom panel and transoms, designed by Dana Munkelt. The 9′-6″ tender weighs about 47 pounds, and plans are available from Duckworks Boat Builder’s Supply.



Roy Schreyer designed Thorn several years ago for rowing, sailing and electric-outboard power. The 8′ pram is built with three sheets of 1/4″ plywood, and one of its unusual features is the full-length fore-and-aft bench seat, which allows different sitting positions for the rower and passenger(s). It also appears to be lower-slung than a lot of other pram models, so less windage but also less freeboard.


DSCN9962 touched upRSCN0097

Drew Fetherston built a modern version of an old Auray Pram design that was first celebrated more than 100 years ago, when British yachtsman Claude Worth visited the French fishing village of Auray and drew lines of the original 10′ prams used there. The newer, smaller plywood version is 7′-6″ and has a small bow transom that’s reminiscent of Norwegian prams. Drew found the Hannu Vartiala plans online, but mentions that the Vartiala website appears to have been dismantled. (Philip Bolger also drew plans based on the Auray Pram, for those who might be interested.) The photos show Drew’s pram, along with a shot of an original, smaller-model Auray Pram in France.




Reader David Whitehead send along this photo of his Carl Stambaugh-designed Baby Dink pram, built by Tieman Roe.


Donall Cullinane of Limerick, Ireland, built this Iain Oughtred-designed Granny Pram five years ago for his son Paul (then 6, now 11). Donall has a lug rig for the pram, which he says “works great,” allowing for a relatively large sail area and a mast that’s far forward in the boat.


Reader Chris Harlan has enjoyed sailing and racing many dinghies over the past 25 years, but one of his favorites is the Chesapeake Light Craft Passagemaker pram he built. “She’s a feisty, salty and capacious little pram,” Chris says, “performing best with two aboard. Despite the boat’s light weight, she can easily handle a 20-knot breeze. The pram bow makes for a very dry ride, even in blustery conditions, and her curvaceous lapstrakes produce a lovely and confidence-inspiring gurgle that continues to ring in my ears.”


David Whitney, of Auburn, Maine, bought this 7-foot fiberglass “mystery pram” on Craigslist and says it “rows like a charm and tows well behind his cruising sailboat.” He’d like to know who built the pram, if any fellow readers recognize the design.



Reader Marian Buszko built a CLC Eastport Pram, 7′-9″ overall, and entered the 2013 Everglades Challenge, becoming perhaps the smallest boat to finish the race. (Not only that, he continued beyond the finish line to circumnavigate the Florida coast, hauling out at St. Augustine…closer to his home.) During the event he hit a channel marker and damaged the pram’s bow, not compromising integrity of the hull but calling for repairs. During the repair, Marian’s friend Hugh Horton converted the pram to a pointy bow and extended the stern…making the boat about 11′ overall, but both of the extensions were above the waterline, so the hull is still essentially the same as originally built.


Scott Christianson was doing some volunteer work for The Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle, and was asked if he’d like to take on restoration of a damaged 9′-6″ Nutshell pram that had been donated and was taking up space in a storage container. Having graduated from a local boatbuilding school, Scott figured he could replace the split garboard plank, so he did a nice job of repairing the Joel White-designed pram–built originally in 1984 with cedar planks, copper clench nails and nice mahogany rails. Scott added a sailing rig, daggerboard trunk, rudder and tiller, and has enjoyed rowing and sailing the boat in local waters. (He even caught a coho salmon from the pram while rowing in Lake Washington last summer!)




Filed Under: Uncategorized

07 Jun


R2AK III Kicks Off


Photo Debra Colvin

An assortment of links to articles and media on this year’s Race to Alaska.—Eds

The R2AK homepage where you’ll find updates and team info.

Here’s the CBS Sunday Morning segment on R2AK by Luke Burbank.

A nice audio report from Nevada Public Radio.

An article focused on a team sailing a 27-foot O’Day.

Cruising World article on the race.

Here’s a newspaper article on Team Sistership

Today’s R2AK “Ruckus”