The cabin of our Escargot canal boat, BONZO, is quite cozy. The woodstove keeps it warm and cushions on the seats make it comfortable. While we’re at anchor or having dinner drifting across the lake everybody is content, but at some point, someone has to step out into the not-so-cozy cockpit to start the motor and steer the canal boat back to the launch ramp. That task usually falls to me or to my son, Nate.
There’s a bit of shelter in the cockpit behind the cabin’s aft wall, but that only blocks a bit of the wind and rain. Nate and I usually keep each other company and keep our collars zipped up and our hands stuffed in jacket pockets while one of us steers straddling the tiller. When someone opens the cabin door to offer us something to eat, some of the warm air in the cabin escapes and wafts around us.
A few years ago, for a cruise up the Snohomish River with Nate and my daughter Ali, I had installed a round 4″ plexiglass window in the door to the foredeck and installed a loop of line from the rudder and single line from the outboard’s kill switch. We could get out of the weather to steer, but the view forward was limited and the seating was uncomfortable, so we resigned ourselves to taking the helm in the cockpit.
This year I revived the idea of a sheltered helm. I put three large forward-facing windows in the front of the cabin, reinstalled the rudder and kill-switch lines, and added a pair of lines to control the throttle. A stick clamped to the outboard’s bracket holds the tiller upright, and a yoke pressed on the throttle provides some leverage and finer control. Taking out two of the sleeping platform panels and replacing them with short seats provides a footwell for comfortable upright seating.
We took BONZO out for an early family Thanksgiving dinner on a clear cool November evening. There were six of us aboard, and we ate our fill while taking in the night skyline of downtown Seattle and its glittering reflection on the inky black water of Lake Union. When it was time to head back to the ramp, Nate took the helm in our fo’c’s’le-turned-pilothouse and I slipped out to the cockpit to start the outboard before taking a seat alongside Nate. I had the advantage of having a bulkhead backrest that was warmed by the wood stove on its other side.
Nate must have appreciated the comfort more than I did. He has done several weekend trips from Lake Union to Lake Washington’s Andrews Bay, the only place within the city limits where boats are permitted to anchor. It’s a four-hour passage each way, and on at least one trip BONZO was fighting a stiff headwind and a chop that sent blasts spray across the cabin roof.
There are, of course, lots of factory-made systems that bring all of the controls of an outboard forward, but our sticks-and-string system cost next to nothing, and there’s the pleasure of seeing that our Rube Goldberg version actually works.