Stretcher Steering

The Gokstad faering I built for a 1,000-mile row up the Inside Passage of British Columbia and Alaska was a very well-mannered boat, but with two of us rowing I often found myself pulling harder on one side to maintain a straight course. It’s all too easy to assume it’s the other rower that’s making the corrections necessary, but leveling accusations against a partner isn’t good for crew morale. I made a small rudder especially for rowing and connected its tiller with two lines to a footboard tiller. That kept the peace aboard the boat and allowed both of us to row each in our own way without quarreling about someone putting uneven pressure on the oars.


  y earliest memories of sailing date back to the 1950s when I was growing up in Edmonds, Washington, a small town on the shores of Puget Sound. I was in first or second grade then, too young to appreciate the boat that my father brought home. He had seen it languishing alongside a barn . . .

I’ve got a not-so-peaceful, uneasy feelin’

The feeling that led to me to turn tail was not new to me; I had just learned to give it the attention it deserved. Many years ago, I had set out to go kayaking on Puget Sound while there was a strong southwesterly blowing. The conditions were perfect for some exciting paddling and downwind surfing. I’d gone out many times in the same conditions, always thoroughly enjoyed them, and came back elated. This one time I was feeling a bit off as I paddled the mile and a half in the lee of West Point, just north of downtown Seattle. As I drew near the end of the point I could see the waves tumbling by just beyond the lighthouse. The conditions were perfect.

A Man of Means by No Means

To the west, 50 yards away across a flat plain of tawny salt-marsh grass, we spotted a man in a plaid shirt and a green baseball cap walking toward us. His conversation with us had apparently started well before we could hear his voice, and by the time we shook hands with him and introduced ourselves he was well into the story of his life and how he came to be here in the middle of a coastal marsh. This was Arthur Dennan. He was 61, but his weather-creased face and silvery beard made him look a decade older.

Coming in from the Cold

This year I revived the idea a sheltered helm. I put three large forward-facing windows in the front of the cabin, reinstalled the rudder and kill-switch lines, and added a pair of lines to control the throttle. A stick clamped to the outboard’s bracket holds the tiller upright, and a yoke pressed on the throttle provides some leverage and finer control. Taking out two of the sleeping platform panels and replacing them with short seats provides a footwell for comfortable upright seating.

All-Terrain Roller

Several years ago, I had toyed with the idea of using an inflatable boat fender as a roller. The type of fender with a hole down the middle makes it possible to skewer one with a steel rod for an axle. The roller cart I made worked, but I didn’t really need it because I could just as easily carry a kayak on my shoulder. If I made a cart for the canoe with a larger fender, I thought I might have an easier time launching my canoe. Fenders are quite expensive, but I’ve had the good fortune to live by a mile-long lake almost completely hemmed in by marinas and there are a lot of runaway fenders. Just this fall I found five tucked under wharves and in the brambles.

Surviving Hurricane Harvey

The damage at Farley Boat Works was extensive and restoration efforts are underway.

n August 25, Hurricane Harvey tore through Port Aransas, Texas, bringing 130 mph winds and a 9′ tidal surge. I had been corresponding with Rick Pratt, the director of Port Aransas Museum and a boat builder at Farley Boat Works, an extension of the museum. He emailed me on September 1, a week after the . . .

A Leeboard for a Motorboat

Our canal boat, BONZO, wanders in the wind like on off-leash dog. The design, Phil Thiel’s Escargot, is intended for narrow waters that aren’t likely to be subject to breezes, but my son Nate and I often get into little skirmishes with the wind on Seattle’s Lake Union, Lake Washington, and Puget Sound. The hull draws only 6″ and above the waterline there are flat sides, each measuring 70 sq ft, so when the wind’s on the beam, BONZO’s bow falls off, sometimes quite precipitously. Motoring into a headwind is like balancing a broom upside down—there’s a lot of movement at the bottom to keep the top in line.

Looking Back at What’s Ahead

The wide-angle mirror shows what's ahead as well as enough of a view to the side to hold a course at the right distance from shore.

A few years ago I adapted my W.P. Stevens-designed decked lapstrake canoe for sliding-seat rowing. The canoe has taken well to oars and outriggers and now makes better speed than with a pair of paddles, but it’s no longer so easy to see where I’m going. Out on open water I can look over my shoulder occasionally and not worry about running into something, but I prefer getting my exercise on the flat protected waters of Seattle’s ship canal where I have to keep an eye out for tugs, barges, pleasure craft, and racing shells, as well as often erratic rental kayaks and electric launches.

Drifting Off

My last moments of wakefulness in bed would be colored by the failures I’d experienced during my day in the workshop. At some point I shifted my thinking as I drifted off to sleep and focused on the work ahead rather than behind. Anticipating and solving boatbuilding problems became my nighttime routine and a very reliable way to fall pleasantly asleep no matter what distressing things might have happened during the day.

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