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.

The dark ipe board on the outside of the leeboard is meant to provide a structure stronger than a pivot bolt going through the leeboard and the hull.

The dark ipe board on the outside of the leeboard is through-bolted to the sheer guard and the hull and meant to provide a structure stronger than just a pivot bolt going through the leeboard and the hull.

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.

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