A Norwegian Tiller Keeper

A push-pull tiller requires a different kind of keeper than one for a conventional tiller.

Solo sailors of small open boats have a problem: While we’re sailing we’re stuck minding the helm. Occasionally there’s a need to go forward to adjust the downhaul or centerboard, use both hands to steady the binoculars, change a setting on the GPS, or eat lunch. Some boats can hold a course on their own, . . .

Exploring the Poles

Tom Shepard poles a railbird skiff in the shallow waters of the Delaware River basin. The skiff is in the collection of Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

A while back, I read a blog post that urged those of us with small boats to explore the shallows and marshes by poling our craft where the water’s too shallow for motors, and the grass and reeds are so tall that you can’t see much more than 20′ through them if you’re sitting down . .

Joe’s Roller Cart

Decades ago, my friend Joe Liener introduced me to duckers and melonseeds at his little boathouse in Wittman, Maryland, on the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay. Joe had retired some years back from his job as the master of the Philadelphia Naval Yard boatshop where he used what he called a spar cart to . . .


The author's pogies were quick and inexpensive to make and have lasted for 14 years.

If I can keep my head, feet and hands warm while I’m rowing in cold weather, the rest of me stays warm; pogies are my winter hand covering of choice. I sewed my pogies 14 years ago from wind-blocking fleece and I’m still using them to row on cold winter days. Pogies are remarkably simple and . . .

Topsails for Sprit Rigs

The placement of a melonseed skiff's mast so far forward, rules out setting the topsail while afloat. Other boats that have the mast set farther aft and offer the sailer good footing and stability won't have to be rigged while ashore.

I have always liked sailing in light air. Ghosting along close to shore on a quiet evening feels like magic, especially in a small boat. But light-air sailing, though relaxing, is surprisingly challenging. In moderate winds, any boat competently handled can attain hull speed, but light wind requires sharp skills and careful attention to detail to . . .

Pythagorean Mooring

At Nubble Beach on Maine’s Butter Island, the tide exposes several hundred feet of beach at low ebb. Here, the anchor was set just beyond the low tide mark, and the extra warp was walked out the rocky promontory to secure the boats. With this adaptation of the Pythagorean system, the boats can be pulled into water even deeper than it is where the anchor is set.

A first read about the Pythagorean mooring technique in Roger Barnes’s delightful and informative book, The Dinghy Cruising Companion, when it was published in 2014. It is a simple and clever way to anchor a small boat without using a clothesline loop or outhaul setup. As described, a Pythagorean mooring, named after geometry’s theorem of…

Knees and Breasthooks

This apple-crook breasthook is in a New York Whitehall built in 1983. Well cured before it was installed, it hasn't checked or separated from the surrounding structure.

Boats have several places where two surfaces come together at an angle, and special pieces—breasthooks and knees—are used join them together and add strength. Breasthooks are V-shaped blocks at the acute angle at the bow and, on double-enders, at the stern as well. Knees are supports closer to a right angle, and on open boats . . .

Tacking for Rowing

Lowering the centerboard and "tacking" can make rowing to weather easier than fighting the wind head on.

When comparing rowing and sailing strategies for an oar-and-sail boat, it is easy to assume that rowing a direct leg upwind might prevail over a sailing a zigzag course to weather. Fighting for the short, straight line with oars makes sense. But does it always? When I want to go rowing, wind is not . . .

Synthetic Fiber Rigging

Dyneema rope, with spliced in stainless-steel thimbles and simple lashings, makes strong, do-it-yourself standing rigging.

For small boats with standing rigging, steel was once the only choice, and it had to be ordered from a rigging shop with its fittings installed. In recent years Dynex Dux and STS, made from Dyneema SK-75 high-modulus polyethylene (HMPE), have become available. While high-strength fiber rope has been around for some time now, it . . .

Tsimshian anchoring

I used the Siwash system frequently with my Gokstad faering on a second cruise up the Inside Passage. The anchor is ready to drop over the side with the retrieval line secured to the stock and the chain, rode, and painter joined to the shank.

The first time I rowed up the Inside Passage—from Washington’s Puget Sound to Prince Rupert, British Columbia—I used a long loop of line to pull the boat to and from the anchor during my stops on land. But it required an awful lot of line and wasn’t worth the trouble unless I was going to . . .

« Previous PageNext Page »