Mark Wallace's Black Skiff

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Getting Back Aboard

The set of drawings below from West Marine shows the difficulties of getting back aboard a boat when you have either fallen overboard or the boat has capsized. Their recommendation is to use a fixed or telescoping ladder. However, in many small boats, including many oar cruisers, this is not practical due to storage issues. And in some cases, the hull is too narrow to support the weight of a person coming in over the side.

West Marine's View of Reboarding Alternatives

What are the alternatives?

Joel Bergen’s (Joel's Navigator Site) alternative is to tie a length of one-inch (25mm) nylon webbing to two adjoining frames to form a loop that is about 20” below the waterline when deployed. Joel found that 20” was long enough for him to put one foot on the loop and pull himself into the boat.

Joel Bergen's Strap to Reboard

On a narrow boat, the loop could be at the transom to prevent the boat from tipping over again. For additional stability, attach a paddle float, such as these to an oar that is held down athwart-ship to both gunnels. Then use the loop to lift yourself over the gunnel (on the paddle float side) and ‘roll’ into the boat. This is the technique that sea-kayakers use to re-enter a kayak.

A variation of Joel’s nylon webbing is to use a stirrup, such as this, or one you make, attached to a length of ¼” (6mm) line cleated/tied in the boat and able to be reached when you are in the water. This is the way that Howard Rice reboarded a Scamp in this video.

If your small boat has a rudder,  horizontal slots, big enough to hold your foot, can be cut into the rudder blade and provide a 'ladder' to get into the boat from the water.

Rob Rohde-Szudy, in an article in Duckworks, describes a folding ladder designed and built by Kilburn Adams that can be attached to the transom of a boat.

Kilburn Adams Folding Ladder 
Al Burke, describes a variation of this folding ladder in this article.

Al Burke's Folding Ladder
For my custom Michalak Tween, I made a portable folding ladder that stores on the after deck with a bungie cord.

The Folding Ladder Stored (Transom to the left)

The forward end of the ladder hooks under the after coaming to prevent it from lifting when weight is put on the ladder.

The Forward End of The Ladder

The ladder is unfolded and the bungie cord is re-used to hold down the after end of the ladder. It is designed such that both the middle and bottom sections of the ladder will not swing forward when using the ladder.

The Ladder (almost) Unfolded
BoatUS has an article, with videos, focused on testing and recommendations regarding commercial boarding ladders.


Tells us in the comments below how you have rigged your boat in order to reenter it from the water.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Pacific Loon: A SoF Oar Cruiser

The Pacific Loon is a Skin on Frame (SoF) rowboat that is 13' 4" (4.1m) long, 4' 8" (1.4m) beam available in plan, paper patterns or kit form.

Two Pacific Loons Loaded for Cruising

Actually, this is not just a rowboat that can be converted into an oar cruiser. It IS an Oar Cruiser, designed for cruising, although it functions beautifully for fishing or just sightseeing. The custom tent for sleeping on board can be made from the included plans.

The Tent for the Pacific Loon -- Plans Included

The frame is an ingenious design that goes together, as Matt Hickey (owner and designer at “Hermit Cove Boats) says, “…like Ikea furniture.” This approach guarantees that all components of the frame will be perfectly aligned and locked together. The design includes a floor that sits on top of the frames (a couple of inches above the skin) and is long enough and wide enough to be a comfortable sleeping platform.

A Composit Picture of the Frame

The design, based on Phil Bolger’s recreational rower (see The Folding Schooner... Chapter 21), is comfortable and can easily carry a passenger for day trips with its two rowing positions.

Rowing from the Forward Rowing Position with a Passenger

The topside flare, freeboard and lightness of the hull all ensure that the Loon can handle rough water.

Rowing in Rough Waters

Matt says she is not a fast rower…“If I row the 14 foot Loon at an easy pace she goes 2.5 knots. If I throw my back into it, 3 knots.” That’s the price of sea worthiness, comfort and carrying capacity.

I really like this boat for her designed-in cruising ability. And she’s pretty.

Let me know your thoughts in the Comments below.

(Thanks to Matt Hickey and Friends for all the photos)

Friday, August 19, 2016

CATCH: Another Anchoring Technique

In last week’s post, we showed you Joel Bergen’s description of anchoring your boat off shore, yet able to retrieve it after you camped on shore. His technique is called the “clothesline rig”.

In the July 2016 issue of Small Boats Monthly, Chris Cunningham describes another technique for anchoring your boat off shore while you stay on shore. Chris refers to this as the “Tsimshian” technique. It requires only half the amount of ‘retrieval’ line that the clothesline rig requires. 

Well worth the read if you camp on shore and want to anchor your boat off shore.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Making Spoon Blade Oars

Oars are the ‘drive train’ for an oar cruiser. Just like the engine, transmission and differential in a car, we need them to be sized correctly and strong enough. This post is a rewrite (because I’ve made changes to the oars) of a 2014 article in Duckworks called “New Oars for Raven”.

I searched for oar plans and found these. They are for 7.5' (2286 mm) oars. I expanded the spoon and loom length proportionally to create 8' (2438 mm) oars. I ripped two clear, straight 8' x 4" x 3/4" (2438 x 102 x 19 mm) Radiata pine planks to 1.5" (38 mm) width, swapped two of them end-for-end so the grain would be opposing each other, stacked them (with wax  paper between the two stacks), slathered Titebond 3 on the facing surfaces and clamped tight overnight. Result was two 1.5" x 1.5" x 8' (38 x 38 x 2438 mm) straight oar loom blanks.

Layup of four 8' x 1.5" x 3/4" (2438 x 38 x 19mm) for the two oars

On the table saw, tapered the oar blanks according to the plans. Result was a 1.5" (38 mm) square cross section that ran from the handle end to the lock location and tapered from lock (1.5" (38 mm) wide) to 3/4" (19 mm) wide at the spoon end. I kept the glue joint parallel to the blade face.

Used a band saw to cut the curve into the loom for the spoon blade. The end of the loom was now 3/4" by 1/8" (19 x 3.2 mm).

The band to be glued on the face of the blade came from 1" by 1/4" (25 x 6 mm) Western Red Cedar, tapered down to 1/8" (3.2 mm) at each end.

The blades were cut from 1/4" (6 mm) Okume, after checking that it would make the bend in the blade. I penciled in the edges of both the loom and the ‘band’ on the blade to act as index lines for masking (the blue stuff) to minimize glue spreading.

A trial layup (see below) showed that the loom was not tight up against the blade about 6" (152 mm) from the end of the loom. Using a pair of wedges, I was able to force the loom up against the blade… then glued and let dry for two days. A sigh of relief when I undid the clamps and it retained the required curve.

Layup for gluing the blade to the loom

Using a draw knife, thumb plane, 1.5" (38 mm) plywood template and sandpaper, I rounded the loom starting at the lock, out to the start of the blade.

Tools used to shape the looms

With a chisel, rasp, file and sandpaper, shaped the 5.5" (140 mm) handles. Pictured below is the handle shape (1" to 1.25" [23 x 25 mm] diameter).

Tapered handles

Sanded everything and then applied two coats of Watco Teak Oil to everything except the handles. Added two coats of urethane varnish on the blades. The picture below shows the shape and curve of the blades.

Finished blades

To protect the oar at the lock, I wrapped the loom with mason’s string.

Using Duckworks 5/32" (4 mm) Solid Braid Polyester Line and Nylon Micro Clamcleat with Fairlead, created adjustable stops for the oars which enable quick adjustment for changing the 'gear' on the oars. This works really well.

The picture below shows how the clamcleat is mounted on the bottom side of the oar with the line looping around the lock and hitched to blade side of the loom. The toggle hanging below the lock is a 7/16" (11 mm) cylinder, bored down the center to take a short piece of the polyester line. A slot is cut half the length of the toggle to enable it to pivot (for removing the lock), yet prevent losing the lock during normal use.

Adjustable stop and toggle to hold the lock

The oars have been in use for three seasons. Only maintenance has been a light sanding and another coat of varnish on the blades. There has been no delamination or opening of any glue joints as the result of using only Titebond 3. I’m very happy with the design/build and would do the same for the next pair of oars I build.

Sunday, August 7, 2016



This post is focused on anchoring  row cruisers, boats about 12’ to 18’ (3.6m to 5.5m) long, weighing 100 to 250 pounds (45kg to 115kg), plus crew/equipment weight and with low windage.


…what are some anchors appropriate for row cruisers?

Sea-Dog Claw Hook Anchor

This light-weight (2.2 pounds, 1kg) anchor is available at Duckworks. It is appropriate for a “lunch hook”, not for overnight.


Mantus Dinghy Anchor

The Mantus Dinghy Anchor weighs just 2 pounds (.9kg) and is suitable as a 'lunch hook'. Notice that unlike other Mantus anchors (below), there is no hoop to 'right' the anchor, but rather just a straight rod.


Mantus Anchors Keyed to the Chart Below

The Mantus 8 pound (3.6kg) and 13 pound (5.9kg) portrayed above is sized as stated in the table below:


Rocna 33 Pound (15kg) Anchor

Rocna has both a 9 and 13 pound (4kg and 5.9kg) anchors that look like the image above.


For a detailed review, with photos, of a wide variety of anchor types, see Christine DeMerchant’s  Table of Anchor Types.


Note: Some anchors, such as the Rocna Fisherman’s Anchor, have a ‘shackle rail’ that enables the shackle that connects the anchor to the chain to slide from one end of the anchor shank to the other (blade) end. This enables the anchor to be ‘broken loose’ from the bottom by pulling on the blade end of the anchor rather than the shank end. These types of anchors are very effective as a ‘lunch hook’… temporary anchoring during the day. However, these anchors should never be used for overnight anchoring, because a wind/tide shift can move the boat in the opposite direction from where it was anchored and break the anchor loose rather than pivoting the anchor to the new direction.

To be able to break out an anchor (without a 'shackle rail'), you can attach a line to the 'fluke end' of the anchor (many anchors such as Rocna provide an attachment point for this line). The line should be at least as long as the deepest water you will anchor in and have very visible float on the end. This line will (hopefully) enable you to retrieve an anchor that, for example, is jammed under a rock.

Anchor to Boat Connection

…how is the anchor attached to the boat?

Here is a summary of the recommendations gleaned from many sources:

  • The anchor end of the warp should be 10 to 20 feet (3 to 6m) of ¼ inch (6mm) chain, which fulfills two important needs:

  1. Helps protects the rest of the warp (which is rope) from being cut/abraded in the most vulnerable area next to the anchor
  2. Provides weight at the anchor end of the warp to help hold the shank of the anchor low, which, in turn, helps keep the anchor from breaking loose.

    According to First Chain Supply, the ‘working load limit’ of ¼ inch chain varies from 1300 to 3150 pounds (590kg to 1429kg) depending upon which chain you purchase.

  • The remainder of the warp should be nylon rope…Nylon because of its abrasion resistance and its ability to remain strong when stretched (up to 30%). For oar cruisers, either

  1. quarter inch (6mm) 1,486 pounds (674kg), minimum breaking strength or
  2. three-eighths (10mm) 3,240 (1470kg) minimum breaking strength according to Web Rigging Supply.

    NOTE: It is better to NOT use thicker (than 6 or 10mm) nylon rope because it will not provide sufficient ‘elasticity’ needed to ease the peak loads on the anchor as the boat surges due to wind and waves.

    How much rope warp? The general rule is that the rope warp should be seven (7) times the distance from where the warp leaves the boat (typically the top of the fore deck) to the bottom at high tide. For example, if the bow is 18 inches (457mm) above the waterline and the water is 10 feet (3m) deep at high tide, then the amount of rope warp to be paid out should be 7 times 11.5, or 81 feet (25m). How much rope warp you carry depends on where you typically will be anchoring.

  • All connections in the warp must be of highest quality, stainless steel (or galvanized) and sized correctly for the chain and rope:

  1. Anchor to Chain: Use a shackle such as these from Duckworks   with the ‘pin’ wired to the shackle (called “mousing”) so that it will not twist off.
  2. Chain to Rope Warp: Use another shackle (as in Anchor to Chain) attached to a thimbled eye splice, nylon rope warp.

    The thimble should have two whippings, one on each side of the thimble, to hold the thimble in the eye splice loop as the nylon rope stretches. (I had an anchor line almost part on me when the thimble came out of the eye-splice loop and the shackle was close to wearing through the eye splice.)

  • Rope Warp to Boat: Typically, the warp is brought over a bow chock such as this one  from Duckworks.

    It is critical that the chock be strongly fastened (bolted) as close to the edge of the deck/gunnel as possible to ensure that the rope warp does not rub against a sharp edge as it leads down to the water.

    The rope warp is then lead to a (through bolted) horn cleat such as these that is accessible from the cockpit.

Anchor Rigs

…how do I make the anchor accessible from the rowing position (cockpit)?

In most oar cruisers (and many other small cruisers), the bow of the boat is often at the end of a narrow deck that can be treacherous to crawl on. Setting and retrieving the anchor needs to be done from the cockpit, yet the anchor line must ultimately be lead from the bow of the boat.

Here’s one way to enable anchoring from the cockpit, yet have the rope warp lead from the front of the deck:
At home, make up a light ‘tether’ line about 15 feet (4.5m) long with either a loop or a steel ring such as this on one end. Install a small cleat on the deck near the cockpit. 
Before leaving the dock/ramp, place the anchor, chain and rope warp (coiled in a figure 8 to eliminate kinks in the line) in a box or bucket with the rope warp on top. 
Run the anchor line though the loop/ring on the end of the tether line, forward to the bow chock and then back and hitched to the anchoring cleat (that is bolted securely to the boat). 
Tie off the other end of the tether to the small cleat. 
When anchored, pulling on the tether will bring the rope warp back to the side of the cockpit so you can lift out the anchor and stow it.
Sometimes, you may want to anchor off a beach, and yet be able to bring the boat up to the beach to get ashore, leaving the boat firmly anchored a short distance off shore.

Joel Bergen, in his “Joel’s Navigator Site” (an excellent source for a wide variety of “tips and tricks” focused on building, outfitting and cruising in small boats (including his Welsford Navigator) recommends this technique for anchoring off a beach, yet providing “dry” access to the beach. I’ve copied the diagram below… see the link for a narrative description on how to set it up and use the technique.

Beach Anchoring Diagram


…how do I set and retrieve the anchor?

Setting the anchor:

Make sure both the ‘tether’ AND the end of the anchor rope warp are firmly cleated (ask me why this is REALLY important). Place the coil of rope warp on the cockpit floor or deck. Slowly drop the anchor over the side of the boat, paying out the chain and rope warp slowly as the boat moves back due to wind or tide. (Note that the loop/ring on the tether will move forward of the bow and is to have NO strain in it). (Note: do NOT throw the anchor and chain overboard… high probability that the chain will fall on top of the anchor and the two will become tangled.)

When sufficient rope warp has been paid out (aka “scope”), re-cleat the rope warp securely to the ‘anchoring’ cleat. You may have to row away from the anchor to securely set it. Ensure that the anchor has set by taking two compass bearing to fixed objects ashore.

If sleeping aboard, set an alarm every hour and check that the anchor has not dragged. (I was in a 38 foot cruiser that was anchored in a fully protected cove with just a gentle breeze… plenty of scope with a heavy Danforth anchor. It dragged. One fluke on the anchor had impaled an empty Clorox bottle and could not properly dig in.)

Retrieving the anchor:

Untie the rope warp from the anchor cleat (and then cleat the END of the warp to the cleat). Pull the boat forward using the rope warp (the ‘tether’ is still loose) until the boat is close to the anchor… re-cleat the rope warp. Pull on the tether to get the rope warp and chain to the side of the boat at the cockpit. Haul the warp, chain and anchor aboard. Re-stow the anchor, chain and rope warp (in a figure eight coil) in the anchor box.

See both John Welsford’s and Christine DeMerchant’s articles referenced below for detailed explanations of anchoring.


"Staying Where You Want to Be" by John Welsford
In his article, John recommends that the minimum anchor for overnight is 15 pounds… it’s not a function of boat size (nor boat weight) but rather that the anchor is heavy enough to bury… he suggests using 20 feet of ¼ inch galvanized steel chain and 150 feet of Nylon and recommends two different anchors to handle different bottom conditions. The article includes his own story of anchoring during a surprise storm and the lessons learned.

Also see this article by Christine DeMerchant for a thorough and practical article on how to set and retrieve an anchor. (This is another site which is well worth perusing.)

Let me know of other tips and techniques you have for anchoring. For example:

How do you rig the anchor so you can set and retrieve it without climbing onto the foredeck?

How do you store the chain, rope warp and anchor?

Note: In July 2016, there was a  thread in regarding storage of anchors in larger cruisers.

Friday, August 5, 2016

CATCH: A Resource for Cruising

Colin Angus is well-traveled.

  • First person to circle the world exclusively by human power
  • First to raft the world’s fifth longest river, the Yenisey
  • Completed descent of the Amazon River from source to sea
  • Traveled from Scotland to Syria by bicycle and rowboat with wife Julie 
  • Sailed from Spain to the Middle East investigating the domestication of the olive tree
  • In 2011 rowed the 1,100 km (683 miles) around Vancouver Island in 15 days, 11 hours, and 47 minutes, setting a new record for the fastest human powered circumnavigation of the island
  • Listed by Outside Magazine as one of the world’s top 25 bold visionaries.
  • National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year award (2007)
  • Single-handed winner of the 2016 R2AK

Why say all this?

Because this list demonstrates his credentials for writing an “adventure handbook” that describes equipment and techniques that he has used in his (and wife Julie’s) travels.

Whether you are contemplating rowing across the Pacific, an overnight row up the Hudson River or just get a vicarious thrill reading about such adventures, visit Colin’s Adventure Handbook on Ocean Rowing.