Water-based Wood Dye

The Vintage Cherry dye transformed the very light mahogany—a cut-off is shown here— into a rich dark color that enhances the grain.

The outboard runabout, WORK OF ART, often stops people in their tracks when they see the deck with its beautiful, natural-looking wood color with sparkling grain highlights. No one has guessed that the wood under the varnish has been dyed.

Trim and Ballast

Some years back I was rowing in a race with my good friend Bill Gribbel in his tandem wherry, DONOGHUE. She was a copy of a circa-1870 pulling boat found, restored, and documented by the late Westport, Massachusetts, boatbuilder and designer Bob Baker. The wind was up and for 4 miles we pulled into it. . .


Four blades on a single arbor increase accuracy and dramatically shorten working time.

When I was getting ready to build a cedar-strip kayak, just the thought of ripping about 900′ of 1/4″ x 3/4″ cedar strips was daunting. Pushing 18′ planks through the tablesaw 50 times was not how I wanted to spend my time—I’m rather impatient and like getting jobs done quickly. I started playing with the idea . . .

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 . . .

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