Making a Slicker Trailer

A few years ago, I had added some small pieces of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) across the centerline of one of the trailers plywood decks to reduce the friction of bare wood. I was pleased with how much easier it made launching and retrieving my 14′ Whitehall, so when I modified that trailer with a longer tongue for my 19’ Caledonia yawl, I decided to replace the carpet-padding on the bunks with StarBoard by King Plastics, a slippery marine-grade HDPE. I bought 3/8″ StarBoard for the two bunks, stiff enough to keep its shape and thick enough to accommodate countersinks for screws. The material is easily worked with common shop tools. I quickly rounded the corners with a router and drilled holes with Fuller bits and Forstner bits. I used galvanized screws to secure the StarBoard to the 2×6 bunks. The HDPE was more than solid enough to keep the screw heads from pushing past the countersinks.

Quick Whippings

One of the first things that my father-in-law taught me was how to make the end of a line shipshape by applying a whipping. The method that he taught me is known as the “common whipping,” multiple turns of whipping twine with its ends pulled underneath the turns. The common whipping is quick and easy but prone to slipping off the end of the line and will come completely apart if any part of it is cut or chafed. Two other options—the Admiralty whipping and the West Country whipping—are more secure, nearly as easy to execute, and don’t require a needle.

Long-Reach Clamps

When I made a new set of long-reach clamps, I used the cam idea but did away with the metal straps and used a single length of cord instead. I didn’t bother with the semi-circular notch for the cam that’s cut into the jaw; it’s the fussiest part of making Brenne clamp. I went through a few iterations of the new design, with each less complicated than the one that preceded it and, as is often the case, the simplest solution was the best solution.

Cleating the Main

Sometimes there are not enough hands to hold the main, steer the boat, and do something else; sometimes you just get tired and it’s a relief to have a cleat to hold the sheet. Dinghy racers are well familiar with this, and for many years have used various forms of quick-release jam and cam cleats. But sailors who haven’t grown up with them may not be fast enough to free the sheet, and so sometimes wind up taking a swim.

4 Practical Tips

Tie-down straps with cam buckles are very tidy devices for holding kayaks and canoes securely on roof racks, as well as a host of other applications, but they’re not so tidy when they’re piled in the back of the car waiting to be used. The 1” webbing common to most straps doesn’t take as well to a loose coil as rope does, and winding them in a tight coil around the buckle requires something to keep them from coming undone. A better way to coil straps comes from the days when computers stored data on punched paper tape. Russ, a former Army intelligence officer turned kayaker, coiled tie-down straps the same way he had coiled paper tape by wrapping it in figure-8 turns around his extended thumb and pinky finger. The figure-8s have the advantage of alternating twists, so when the coil is undone, the webbing isn’t tangled up on itself.

Anchors Astray

should have known better. The slough where I dropped anchor for the night was among the many tidal backwaters of the Snohomish River near Everett, Washington. The sloughs were littered with waterlogged driftwood, some of it exposed at low tide, the rest permanently submerged. I dropped my expensive stainless-steel anchor for the night and in . . .

A Cartop Water Tank

Bringing the pressure up to 40 psi is sufficient to propel the remaining 4 gallons of water out of the tank. The nozzle I have on the hose will shoot 30’ and, when wide open, empty the tank in 1-½ minutes. I can always carry extra fresh water in the car if I need to reload the tank.

Maintaining Trailer Bearings

Spring is our time to recommission our fleet of four trailers, so I recently made the rounds to check the condition of lights, tires, axles, and bearings. I found that the grease in the bearings of one of our trailers had a milky brown appearance, rather than the clear, thick motor-oil appearance that it normally has. The light color was an indication that water had found its way into the grease. Grease that has been overheated by friction-generated heat will be darker than new grease. With this trailer, it’s likely that the seals had failed and the bearing needed to be removed, cleaned, and inspected. The cleaned bearings or their replacements then get repacked with grease and reinstalled with new seals.

Sharpening Files

My equipment includes three glass flower vases I bought at Goodwill for 69 cents apiece. A thin stick and some small spring clamps hold the tangs out of the acid. Drain cleaner provides sulfuric acid to etch the files and a saturated baking-soda solution neutralizes the acid. The third vase has a fresh-water rinse. The file card (lower left) cleans file teeth and shop-made tools of copper, brass, and steel remove the debris the file card leaves behind.

Files don’t get the attention that planes and chisels receive, but they are cutting tools and they work best when they’re sharp. Because files are made of very hardened high-carbon steel and their teeth are numerous and small, the easiest way to sharpen them is with an acid. I’ve used vinegar (acetic acid) and drain cleaner (sulfuric acid). An acid reacts with the iron in steel, removing metal from the surface. Picture a dull cutting edge as rounded over with wear. As the metal dissolves, the radius of the curve diminishes, and the edge gets sharper.

Knots and Toggles for Bungee Cord

The Angler's Loop (both horizontal) and the Zeppelin Bend (vertical) will hold in bungee cord without coming undone or jamming.

Bungee cord is very useful stuff aboard a boat, but the precut bungees, fitted with metal hooks or plastic balls on the ends, are not always well suited to the applications I have in mind. The stretch of the cord itself might accommodate the length required for a particular job, though if the bungee is on the short side the extra tension makes it hard to work with—and if it’s too long, making extra wraps to take up the slack takes time, often when there’s good reason for haste. I’ve never liked the metal hooks (they often snag things), and the plastic balls sometimes get loose and whip around like a monkey’s fist on a heaving line.

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