In the wind, our canal boat, BONZO, wanders like an off-leash dog. The design, Phil Thiel’s Escargot, is intended for thin 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 are flat sides, each measuring 70 sq ft, so when the wind’s on the beam, BONZO’s bow falls off, sometimes quite precipitously. And 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. The boat is also slow to respond to turns.
I thought a leeboard, something you don’t often see on powerboats, might help. A little more lateral resistance would both keep BONZO on course in the wind and provide a pivot point for turning. I got some confirmation of the notion of improving steering just a few days before I started the project when I saw a Boston Whaler equipped with two large leeboards. Its owner had it outfitted as a push boat with two braced, vertical bumpers on the bow and was using it to move a houseboat out of a marina slip, a job that required maneuvering in close quarters. He said that he could spin his Whaler around in its own length with the leeboards in place.
At a local store selling salvaged construction materials, I bought a gymnasium bleacher seat, 16′ of flawless 1-1/8″ vertical-grained Douglas fir. I edge-glued a full-width piece to a 3″ strip to get a 12″ wide leeboard that would fit right under the sheer guard and ride above the waterline when retracted. The 4′ length would put 30” of the board beneath the hull when deployed.
I took BONZO out on Puget Sound for an overnight cruise and the leeboard seemed to live up to my expectations. Turning was sharper and in what little wind I had, leecocking didn’t seem to be a problem. When we get out of the August doldrums into the fine sailing breezes, we’ll be able to do some more testing. We’ve already rigged the boat with a mast partner and a new mast to carry a square sail I made for one of my other boats. I’d only intended it for downwind sailing, but who knows, maybe with the new leeboard we’ll soon be sailing on a beam reach in a canal boat.
The homeward leg of my overnight cruise with BONZO was on Monday, August 21, the day of the solar eclipse; Puget Sound was to get a 95 percent eclipse at 10:20 am. I anchored on the east side of the Sound that morning. I didn’t have goggles for viewing the eclipse directly, so I had to improvise. I took a section of the stovepipe from the stove, and used rubber bands to hold a piece of tin foil over one end and a square of toilet paper over the other. I didn’t have a pin to poke a hole in the tinfoil, so I pulled a bristle from a wire brush that we use to clean the portable gas grill we often carry aboard.
Just before the peak of the eclipse, the breeze turned cool and fog settled in over the Sound and shore. It didn’t get as dark as I had hoped, but the sunlight took on an odd silvery cast. I retreated to the cabin, slipped the stovepipe into the sleeve of a black jacket, and aimed it out the slightly open doorway at the sun. Each pinhole cast a crescent image of the shadowed sun.
As the sun was returned to its full brightness, the fog cleared, and I headed home with BONZO, leeboard deployed, running straight and true.