Copper Guards

This is one of a pair of oars that I built and equipped with copper tips in 1985. That winter they survived a 2,400-mile, 2-1/2 month row from Pittsburgh to Cedar Key, Florida. They've been in use on and off since then.

The traditional approach has been to cover the blade tips with sheet copper. The copper guards look good, take wear well, and make a good do-it-yourself project. I always put copper guards on my spoon-bladed oars. The tips are thin and have cross grain that makes them more fragile than straight-bladed oars; fortunately, the tips are straight across and easy to wrap with copper.

Power Carving

Angle grinders are designed for working metal; equipped with flap sanders and blades designed for wood they have plenty of power to do quick work.

Some of the woodworking tasks we take on in boatbuilding have a lot in common with sculpture, as we carve our way from a block to a purposeful shape. When I started making spoon-bladed oars I used gouges, curved spokeshaves, and my father’s Stanley 100-1/2, a small spoon bottom plane. I later turned to a Makita 125mm disc sander as a quicker way to work concave shapes. It spun at a screaming 4,500 rpm and used stiff resin-fiber discs that cut aggressively. It could shape the power face of a spoon blade when the edge of the disc was set at an appropriate angle to the wood. It made for quick work, albeit dusty and noisy, but the discs didn’t last long and tended to scorch the wood when their grit dulled.

Doughnut Fenders

A half hitch in the tail end, pulled up tight against the last wrap, keeps the fender from getting looser with use and age.

In the eyes of our traditionally minded peers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore my wife Jenny and I tread dangerously close to the gates of hell by sailing a fiberglass boat. Our redemption comes by way of the plywood lapstrake tender we built for it. I had installed a robust length of line along the outwale to provide a nice cushion to protect the mothership, but we needed something more to protect our tender from the dinghy dock and the loitering tenders-of-others.

Sliding-Seat Conversion

The sliding seat rig, spanning a thwart in the author's dory, has shorter tracks than those used in racing shells, but is well suited to using the same oars and locks that are used for fixed-seat rowing. Note the foot brace secured to the floorboards under the aft thwart.

I’d been thinking about building a sliding seat for my dory, so I clamped the Ducker slide into it for a test. I knew there would be clearance for the oar handles over my thighs, because I could sit on a throw cushion and still have room. I rowed 15 or so miles in 4 hours, much fartherthan I anticipated. I liked it, and decided to make one for the dory. I dug around my shop and came up with a couple of tracks and a seat.

A Downdraft Table

A simple downdraft table can put the space between the rip-fence rails to good use.

Building and maintaining a wooden boat involves a lot of sanding and a lot of dust. I have an exhaust fan for the shop, a dust collector connected to my tablesaw and jointer, and shop-vacuum connections for the belt sander, disc sander, bandsaw, and random-orbit sander. My latest addition to my arsenal of dust-collection devices is a shop-built downdraft table. It comes in handy capturing the dust from small pieces created by hand-sanding or that escapes the random-orbit sander.


A locker door is in the works in the foreground, with excess epoxy seeping through the holes in the perforated release film and darkening the bleeder fabric. The suction cup fitting at the end of the hose to the vacuum pump is at the back to the left and the pressure gauge is to the right.

You may think vacuum-bagging is intimidating but it is an easy multi-purpose technique that’s within reach of most amateur boatbuilders. While vacuum-bagging an entire hull may be beyond the means and requirements of the home boatbuilder, there are lots of small parts that would benefit from a simple vacuum system.

Mud Pattens

Mud pattens have been in use for centuries and are effective for walking on mud. They’re squares of wood or plywood with three cleats on the bottom, and two loops of thick rope on top. A separate length of lighter rope binds the thicker rope over the boot heel and instep. It’s best to use line that is not slippery, such as nylon, so the knots don’t loosen.

Back-Country Baking

These peanut butter-chocolate rolls were baked using a pot-in-pot method. Three rocks in the larger put elevate the smaller pot to keep boiling water under the smaller pot. Not shown is the pot lid. The rolls aren't browned, but they're fully cooked.

I once looked forward to camp sweets just as much as our young daughters do now. Pineapple-cherry dump cake baked in a Dutch oven was a staple of my Boy Scout troop campouts. The recipe was easy: dump a can of pineapples and cherry-pie filling in the Dutch oven, top with a cake mix, put the lid on and cover oven with coals. Dutch ovens can be used to make a wide variety of cakes, pies, and casseroles.

A Simple Tiller Tender

The bungee doesn't need to be removed to use the tiller. Just push it or pull it and it will hold the new rudder angle.

In my years of solo cruising in small boats I’ve found that there are many times when it’s helpful to have both hands free while sailing. I can free one hand by securing mainsheet with a cam cleat or slippery hitch, and then I just need something to hold the tiller in place so I can grab a bite to eat, take a compass bearing, or pull on a jacket.

Mizzen Staysails Add Power

The author's red mizzen staysail was designed and made for WAXWING, his François Vivier-designed, lug-yawl rigged Ilur.

My camp-cruising boat is rigged as a lug yawl, with a powerful and well-behaved pair of sails that is ideal for solo sailing. My cruising grounds tend to have very light morning winds during the summer months, and despite my boat’s ample sail area I have looked for ways to improve light-air performance. Enter the mizzen staysail. I first saw one in use on the Maine coast, where Harris Bucklin and his wife Barbara were flying one in ghosting conditions on their Ian Oughtred-designed Caledonia yawl. The blue sail was not only eye catching, it was also a demonstrably effective bit of sailcloth, providing a notable gain in speed over several other Caledonia yawls sailing in company with them.

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