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.

Aboard BONZO, my sister Laurie serves up our favorite family dinner—a chicken, rice and broccoli casserole. The little round window over the bunks forward was our only view forward.

Aboard BONZO, my sister Laurie serves up our favorite family dinner—a chicken, rice, and broccoli casserole—during one of many meals afloat. The little round window (to right) over the berths was our only view forward.

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.

The forward end of the cabin was designed as sleeping quarters, with windows only on the sides of the cabin. We added a round windwo on the door, but it proved to small to be useful.

The forward end of the cabin was designed as sleeping quarters, with windows only on the sides of the cabin. After we added a round window on the door, we could get a peek over the bow, but the view was too restricted for navigating.

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.

The view forward was improved by the addition of three large windows.

The view forward was greatly improved by the addition of three large windows.

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.

What was originally the boat's sleeping quarters now serves as the pilothouse when underway in foul weather. The orange line at the top is connected to the kill switch, the line just below the window with the wooden bead controls the throttle, and the line at the bottom with the dowel attached operates the tiller. The plywood panel that is part of the sleeping platform has been temporarily replaced by a smaller piece that leaves an opening for a foot well.

What was originally the boat’s sleeping quarters now also serves as the pilothouse when we’re underway in foul weather. The orange cord at the top is connected to the kill switch, the line just below the window with the wooden bead controls the throttle, and the line at the bottom with the dowel attached operates the tiller. The plywood panel that is usually part of the sleeping platform has been temporarily replaced by a smaller piece that leaves an opening for a foot well.

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.

There are a few lines taking up space in the cockpit, but now I only need to be there to start the motor.

There are a few lines taking up some space in the cockpit, but they don’t get in the way of starting the motor and I can still operate everything if I need to move to the cockpit to maneuver through traffic or approach a dock.

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.End of article

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