Mark Wallace's Black Skiff

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Piloting, Part 2... Preparation


Google Maps

Google maps are available for virtually every location on earth. The resulting maps show roads and cities, in very fine detail as you zoom in.

The “Earth” option (click on lower left corner button, “Earth”) displays a satellite view of the map (or a 3-dimensional globe with the location highlighted.)

You can also enter a latitude and longitude. For example, enter “41 26.00 - 44 13.10” (without quotes) in the search field and it will show you a location in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. This would be useful if you are planning an offshore cruise and intend to mark your proposed course on the map.

Waterway Guide

Waterway Guide can also be printed (and waterproofed). They show anchorages as well as other features such as navigation buoys (click on the "I'm looking for..." drop down button).  Areas covered are Great Lakes, Lake Champlain, Saint Lawrence River, Georgian Bay, North Channel, US East Coast, Bahamas, Cuba, Inland rivers Chicago to Mobile and Gulf coast Florida Keys to Texas.

Tide and Current 

Tide and current tables from NOAA are only for the United States


Windfinder provides wind, temperature,  precipitation, cloud cover for 40,000 ‘stations’ around the world.

The iPad app (Windfinder Pro) displays, on a 3-hour basis, wind direction/speed, cloud cover, temperature, wave direction/height, and tide condition. All this information for ‘today’ and forecast for the next 9 days. Access this the day before you start and print.

Magnetic North (compass), True North (charts) & Declination

Charts and maps, including Google maps, use ‘true’ north (top of the map/chart is toward the North Pole). Actually, they use ‘grid north’, but for our piloting purposes, assume they are true north. However, compasses use ‘magnetic’ north. Azimuth readings taken off a chart (a true azimuth) must be converted to a magnetic azimuth… declination for the location is needed to do the conversion.

What is Declination? 

Declination defined by NOAA.
“Magnetic declination, sometimes called magnetic variation, is the angle between magnetic north and true north. Declination is positive [if magnetic north is] east of true north and negative when west. Magnetic declination changes over time and with location.“

Finding Declination

Go to this site to find the declination anyplace in the world and enter the location of your ‘cruise’.

Calculation example:

If the declination is 12°, 34'' W, I’d use -13° for our piloting purposes.  Here are the formulas to use:

Magnetic North = True North – Declination
If the azimuth on the chart is 327°t, then
Degrees magnetic = 327 minus (-13)
X°m = 327 - (-13)
= 340°m, the heading I would use on the compass.

True North = Magnetic North + Declination
If my compass reads 340°m, then
Degrees true = 340 plus (-13)
X° t = 340 + (-13)
= 327°t, the azimuth I would plot on the chart.

A Row Cruise Example

Let’s say I’m planning a row cruise in Barnegat Bay (New Jersey), exploring from Manahawkin Bridge north to Barnegat Light. I’d go to Google Maps. Using the built-in ‘distance tool’ (see Piloting: Part 1… Equipment for how to use this distance tool). I’d mark a proposed route . However, I’d want to explore the wildlife refuge on the Western shore north of the bridge, so the actual miles will probably be greater than the 30.4 miles I plotted.

Google Map of Proposed Route 

The launch site I’ll use is on the east end of Cedar Run Dock Road, so I print a chart, using the Waterway Guide that includes the launch site and Manahawkin Bridge.

Waterway Guide Chart: Launch Site to Manahawkin Bridge

 Rowing north in the Bay, I’ll go from Manahawkin Bridge to Sedge Island and I print that portion of the route.

...Manahawkin Bridge to Sedge Island

The next chart I print goes from Sedge Island up to Barnegat Inlet, where the lighthouse is located. The Waterway Guide shows two anchorages, one in an enclosed bay west of the light, but only accessible from the north and a second at Conklin Island. I’m not sure which anchorage I’ll use, depending upon how tired I am and which way the wind will be blowing.

...Sedge Island to Barnegat Light
Since I may be exploring around Barnegat Inlet, I also do a more detailed chart of the area.

Detail of Barnegat Inlet Area Along with a Magnetic Azimuth ("81 m") from Conklin Anchorage to the Light

I do want to explore the Wildlife Refuge, so I print a chart that covers most of the Refuge.

Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge

Adding 'Compass Azimuths' to a Chart

When planning a cruise, I may want to not only mark the chart with my proposed route, along with detail charts throughout the route, but also to add compass headings for my proposed route and bearings to land based objects that are on the chart and will be visible.

To do that, I must convert the azimuth reading from the chart to a magnetic reading I'll use on my compass. To get the magnetic azimuth, use the formula:
Magnetic = True minus Declination.
I remember this with "magnetic-minus" (M and M). So I take the chart (true) reading and subtract the declination... for this area, the declination is 13° West, or -13. An example is in the chart below.

From the chart, the true azimuth from just northwest of Barnegat Light to the mouth of Forked River is "328°t". Applying these numbers to the formula, m = 328 - (-13) and therefore the magnetic course is 341°m. Disregarding wind and current, if I maintain a heading of 341°m from the tip of the peninsula northwest of the Lighthouse, I'll be at the mouth of Forked River.

But please note, if I use the true azimuth (from reading the chart) on my compass, I'd follow the dotted line (328°m) and end up south of Forked River.

Example of not applying a declination correction

Tide and Wind Charts

The tidal range at Barnegat Inlet is 3 to 4 feet (.9m to 1.2m). I’ll print the tide chart for each day I’ll be on the water just before I leave.

Tide Chart for Barnegat Inlet

Also, the day before I leave, I’ll print the Windfinder Table that gives me a good indication of the weather to expect.
Example of a Windfinder Table

Other Preparation

One of the preparation steps you can take that will pay ‘piloting dividends’ for ALL your row cruises is to calculate rowing speed under various conditions.

Example, using my iPhone Cyclemeter app, I rowed a half mile in 8”35’’’ for a speed of 3.74 mph (a little above average ‘cruising speed’ for me) using 166 strokes, which works out to 15.9 feet per stroke (let’s call it 16 feet per stroke) and a stroke rate of 19 strokes a minute. Of course, how tired I am, wind and current conditions all will affect the outcome, but setting base line numbers (more than just this one base line)  for different conditions gives me the ability to estimate distance using just time or number of strokes. We’ll talk more about estimating distance in a later post in this series on piloting.

The ‘speed’ formulas to remember are:

  • Distance (in miles/kilometers) equals Speed (in miles/kilometers per hour) multiplied by time (in HOURS)
  • D = ST (Think “D STREET”)
    • (Divide both sides of the equation by T results in Speed = D/T)
    • (Or divide both sides by S results in Time = D/S)
  • 60 times Distance (in miles/kilometers) equals Speed (in mileskilometers per hour) multiplied by time (in MINUTES)
  • 60D = ST (think “60 D STREET”)
    • (Divide both sides of the equation by T results in Speed = 60D/T)
    • (Or divide both sides by S results in Time = 60D/S)

Water ‘proof’ the charts you’ve printed out with a clear finish  such as Rust-Oleum Clear.

To keep the charts dry, yet available, make a water resistant chart holder.

For example, varnish or paint a plywood base 8½” by 11” (assuming the charts/tables you print are on 8½” by 11” paper). Cut a piece of clear acrylic (Lucite, Plexiglas, etc.) 9” by 11½“. Glue a ¼“ wide piece of self-stick weather stripping around all four sides of the bottom of the acrylic so that the plywood base, and charts, fit inside the weather stripping and up against the acrylic. Hold it all together with spring clips. The weather strip will prevent rain/spray from seeping under the edge of the acrylic (though it will not protect the charts under the acrylic from total immersion).

Chart Case

The fine print...

What we’ve discussed here is the basic cruise preparation from a piloting point of view… Preparation of your boat, your fitness, your food and your equipment all must be done in addition to the piloting preparation introduced here.

I’m not a professional pilot. I try to be accurate and I check my information, but I’m not perfect. This post is for information purposes and is intended to be only a starting point for learning the skills of piloting. As with any activity with a small boat, there is always the opportunity for ugly surprises. Practice the skills under ideal circumstances and you’ll increase the probability of being able to use the skills during an ugly surprise to keep you and your boat safe.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A Row Cruise...Interested?

Two of us are thinking about a 'row cruise' for 2017 and would like to find out your interest in joining us. This, like many Messabouts, is a non-planned, non-event...just a bunch of boaters who just happen to go out at the same day and time. No one is the 'leader' and everyone is responsible for his/her self.


Barnegat Bay in New Jersey, centered around Long Beach Island

Proposed Row Cruise Area

The ramp on the west side of the Bay (south end of Cedar Run Dock Road) is free, but no dedicated parking. The ramp in Long Beach Island has a fee and provides parking.

The anchorage at the bottom of the map is "Shooting Thorofare" and is well protected from all directions.

Just north of Shooting Thorofare is the National Estuarine Research Reserve. About five miles south of Shooting Thorofare is the North Brigantine State Natural Area.

North of the Route 72 bridge (leading to Long Beach Island), on the west side of the Bay, is Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. There is a well protected anchorage at the north end of the Wildlife Refuge on Conklin Island. Another protected anchorage is at Barnegat light.


Early spring or late fall 2017

This avoids the brutal hot humid days of Summer, avoids the hordes of boats (especially if we go in October)… and most importantly, avoids Greenhead Flies (Tabanus Nigrovittatus… the Cruise Missile of the insect world…June through early September).

Our thinking is that this would be a three-day cruise (two nights), 10-13 miles the first day. Second day exploration of either the National Estuarine Research Reserve and/or the North Brigantine Natural State Area  (going south from the launch) or the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge and/or Barnegat Light going north from the launch. Third day another 10-13 miles returning to the launch area... lots of alternatives.


On board your boat. There are no NJ State Camping Grounds available in the area (accessible by boat).

Next Step:

Let us know if you are interested by either writing in Comments below or emailing me at

Sunday, October 23, 2016

John Welsford's Joansa as an Oar Cruiser

One of John Welsford’s beautiful boats is Joansa, a 15’ 6” (4.6m) rowing boat. With some relatively minor modifications, none of which change the hull, she can be turned into a fine oar cruiser.  First, let’s look at Joansa as designed.

Rick Fletcher’s Joansa with an added foredeck

Rick has done a beautiful job in building his Joansa… his site  contains detailed photos of every building step, along with a description of what he did, and why. For anyone building a plywood lapstrake boat, this site is well worth a visit and study.

Frames with bottom planks installed
Interior of Rick’s Joansa with foredeck beams installed

My thoughts on making this an ‘oar cruiser’ as I define it in this blog would be to do the following:

  • Add a water-tight bulkhead, with large access hatch, at each end of a 7’ (2.1m) rowing/sleeping cockpit, eliminating the designed fore- and aft-seats
  • Add a set of floorboards to the cockpit to provide a dry sleeping platform and attachment points for rowing seat and foot rests
  • Add a fore- and aft-deck, using skin-on-frame, that results in a cockpit opening of 4’ to 5’ (1.2m to 1.5m) long. These decks would partially cover the ends of the sleeping area.
  • Add a frame to support a ‘tent’ to provide sitting headroom and rain protection for sleeping. See the post on shelters for ideas on how to do this.

In private correspondence with John Welsford, he told me he saw no issue with these modifications.

Joansa has excellent rough water capabilities

John Welsford:
“I drew Joansa for myself, it was well past midwinter and someone had taken my boat away and not returned it.  Oh, they’d given me a handful of money for it, but a couple of months later and thinking that I might not be on the water the coming summer I was halfway regretting selling her. 
So I sat down and thought about it. 
Here in Auckland, New Zealand we have a lot of long tidal estuaries, not used a lot for boating, plus we’ve a great collection of islands just off the coast.   With two small children in the family and a full time job meant that time for building a new boat was limited. So Joansa was drawn up to be a fast rowing boat, one that could carry all of us out for a picnic, or me plus camping gear for a few days, and to make sure I was back home on the nominated day it needed to be able to carry a small outboard. 
Joansa eventuated, based loosely on the Amesbury Dory Skiffs native to that town on the north eastern coast of the USA, but much much lighter and with the stern widened just a little to carry the 2 hp Honda outboard I had at the time. 
She has a flat panel  bottom to emulate the Dory style. Three plywood planks a side over stringers held by plywood web frames, bouyancy built in under the forward and after seats, and a traditional working boat gunwale with its double stringers and blocking.
It took me about 2 months part time to build, probably about 50 hours or so to get her ready to paint.. Mind you I was drawing the plans as I went so that took a few of those hours.  I didn’t make a fancy job of her, I’m a fan of “tidy workboat” finishes but I did put some time into a really nice pair of oars, that makes a huge difference to a sporting rowing boat and I’ve included drawings for those in the plans. 
That first summer saw me win an 8 mile rowing race for fixed seat boats, explore two major estuaries I’d not been on before, and escorted by my wife Denny in her kayak, me carrying all the gear and our daughter spent 10 days camp cruising among the islands and inlets north of Auckland.  
Sometimes the simplest boats give the greatest pleasure."

Plans are available on John's site.

Joansa Specifications

Tell us in the Comments below what you think of Joansa as an ‘Oar Cruiser’.

PS: "Joansa" is an amalgamation of three of John's children's names: John, Jan and sarina... Brendan was born after Joansa was launched and named.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Piloting, Part 1...Equipment


Piloting consists of...

... planning where you want to go and the route(s) you’ll take to get there…
... then determining, on an ongoing basis, where are you currently…
... and your direction/speed to get to the next way-point, taking into account wind, current and hazards.

GPS systems are...

  • Reliable,
  • Accurate,
  • Amazingly easy to use,
  • Provide ‘real-time’ feedback on speed, direction and location,
  • Can be inexpensive… (I use the “Cyclemeter” app on my iPhone [less than US$10] which has settings for virtually every sport, including rowing and paddling, and it fulfills all of the characteristics above)
  • …all this, until the battery runs down or you drop it overboard or you leave it in your truck’s glove compartment.

So ‘piloting’ consists of a set of skills you need to safely go from point A to point B on the water, regardless of the state of your GPS. These piloting skills are

  • Fun to learn and practice, and can be life-saving… Magellan, Vasco de Gama, Columbus, Pacific Islanders all used piloting skills to explore the earth… no GPS. Participants in the R2AK, Texas 200, The Everglade Challenge (to name just a few) require piloting skills (in addition to GPS) to be safe and get to the finish line.
  • One other point… knowing and practicing piloting skills makes you much more confident in your ability to safely cruise.

Let’s start with things you could use when piloting.

“Equipment” you may need


The single most important ‘piloting’ equipment you need (personal opinion). With it,
you can

  • maintain a constant direction regardless of fog and/or rain
  • take a ‘bearing’ to any object to help determine your current position and/or speed

See this post on compasses.  We’ll cover using the compass in future posts.


Charts contain a wealth of information that affects your safety and gives you the ability to know where you are and help you plan your route.

Virtually all the information available on chart sources listed below is available on-line. Screen shots can be printed. You can use the “distance” tool in Google Maps to mark your planned route. Here’s how:
Right click on the Google map, left click “measure distance”. A circle appears, drag it to your starting point, right click again at your next way-point and click “distance to here”. Left click to add more way-points. You can move any way-point by dragging. Change between miles and km by clicking the scale in the lower right corner.

"Map" View of Google Map with Route Marked as Described Above
"Earth" View of Same Map

Sources for charts:

Waterway Guide provides all the detail you want for free. However,  you’ll need to print screen shots to have the information on hand (or use your laptop/tablet… battery charge issues again).  Areas covered are Great Lakes, Lake Champlain, Saint Lawrence River, Georgian Bay, North Channel, US East Coast, Bahamas, Cuba, Inland rivers Chicago to Mobile and Gulf coast Florida Keys to Texas.

They also sell printed books of waterway guides for the same areas, spiral bound. There are many other sources for charts on the internet.

Screen Shot of a Waterway Guide Map Showing Ancorages


A time piece, such as a watch with a second hand, can be used to help measure distance OR speed.

Tide and Current Tables

This NOAA site, for the US, contains a wealth of tide and current data, by date, in both graph and text files. In the ‘planning’ stages of a cruise, you could print out the data you need by date and location.

Tide/Current Graph for Barnegat Light Inlet Sept. 19, 2016

Another source of tidal information (as well as wind, precipitation and temperature) is Windfinder. There are both iOS and Android apps available, and it covers over 40,000 sites around the world.

Other 'equipment' that may be useful

  • Small plastic protractor to measure azimuth on charts/maps.
  • Small ruler. 
  • Grease pen to write on acrylic (cover of chart holder).
  • Note that there are other optional tools that you can use to pilot. We’ll cover those tools in posts that focus on specific uses of the tools.

Future posts

We’ve defined piloting as
...planning where you want to go and the route you’ll take to get there…
...then determining your current position…
   ...and your bearing to get to the next ‘way-point’...
...always taking into account wind, current and hazards.

Given that definition, the next post will be on planning.


The information in this (and future posts on this topic of piloting) come from my own experience and David Burch’s book, Fundamentals of Kayak Navigation, published 1987 by The Globe Pequet Press, Chester, Connecticut. There are many other sources of piloting information available on the internet, as well as other books and publications.

The fine print...

I’m not a professional pilot. I try to be accurate and I check my information, but I’m not perfect. This post is for information purposes and is intended to be only a starting point for learning the skills of piloting. As with any activity with a small boat, there is always the opportunity for ugly surprises. Practice the skills under ideal circumstances and you’ll increase the probability of being able to use these skills during an ugly surprise to keep you and your boat safe.

Sunday, October 9, 2016


Hatches… coverings for holes in the deck and bulkheads in order to keep water out, yet provide access. There are many commercial hatches available or you can make your own.

Commercial Hatches

Duckworks sells many hatches and deckplates:

  • Rectangular Bulkhead Access Doors
  • Deckplates that are pull-up style (with an integrated toggle), pry-up (with a screwdriver), screw–out  (typically a quarter turn to remove), and others that are semi-permanent (screwed down)
  • Round and oval kayak hatches using flexible material that snaps over a permanently installed base
  • Screw-out hatches that have an integrated bag on the inside for holding small items.
  • Sizes vary from 4” (102mm) (opening) to 8”… The access doors come in a variety of sizes.

Commercial Hatch Kits

Ashlyn and Russell Brown of Port Townsend Watercraft (PTW) sell flush hatches kits such as these.

PTW Flush Hatch Installed


Chesapeake Light Craft sell flush hatch kits very similar to those of PTW.

Make Your Own Hatches

Russel Brown (of PTW) also has a very complete set of instructions for how to install his hatch kits. These instructions can also be used to make your own hatches, which is what John Welsford does for his boats.


Sven Yrvind makes his own hatches.

Sven Yrvind's Hatches, Gluing the Frames

And Installing the Gaskets


A “how-to” article on building a Griffith Hatch

Plans for a Griffith Hatch


Jim Michalak’s article on how he makes hatches for his boats.

Plans for a Michalak Hatch


The “Simplicity Boats” site (see “Boat Camping Ideas >> Big sleep space in small boats”) contains this method for making inexpensive hatches.
“Cheap hatch idea:  At a local pool cleaning company, they gave me (for
free) some 6 (23 L) and 12 gallon buckets that have locking screw top lids.
The 6 gallon buckets have a 12" (305mm) diameter, and the 12 gallon buckets have
a 15" (381mm) diameter.  Cut 3-4" (76-102 mm) off the top of the bucket and mount it
to the bulkhead, screw the top on and presto, a cheap water tight hatch.”

Methods for Holding Down Hatches 

This article in the Chesapeake Light Craft site shows how to hold down hatches from inside the compartment.


Here are some other methods:


Sven Yrvind uses the method illustrated below for securely tying down his hatches.

An Off-center Lever Tensions a Dyneema Line to Hold Down the Hatch 

Advice from Colin Angus on Hatches for Rough Water

From Angus adventure handbook (under “Introduction to Ocean Rowing >> Equipment >> Hatches”)

"All entrances to storage compartments or the cabin must be sealable using good-quality hatches.  The entrances of the main cabin and the ventilation hatch should be transparent to let light through and to offer visibility.  Lewmar makes excellent-quality aluminum framed hatches with Plexiglas panels. Hatch prices are exorbitant but unavoidable.  The cost of hatches for a new boat can be $4000 or more. 
Choosing appropriate round hatches for deck locker access is crucial.  The deck area is constantly awash, and if low-quality hatches are used, you will pay the price later.  The Whale Henderson TCL4 Hatch works well.  The lid is made from two pieces – the outer threaded ring which pivots around the stationary centre cap and O-ring. 
Important: Never use deck hatches where the lid is made from just one part.  These lids twist and contort the O-ring when they are being screwed down.  Some rowers, trying to save money, have used these hatches with disastrous results. 
All fittings on a boat, including hatch bases should be bolted on and never screwed. Bolts should be backed with adequate washers or plates. Caulking techniques are essential, and follow precisely instructions provided. 
Testing Hatches:  Inspect all gaskets and O-rings on hatches for signs of decay or damage, and replace if necessary.  Also examine the connecting surfaces for dings or distortion.  And finally, and very importantly, seal your entire boat and fire a high-pressure water hose over the entire structure and on the joining surfaces of all hatches. Any leaks should be remedied." 

Let us know of other ways you use to securely close deck and bulkhead openings… ways that are waterproof and yet provide easy access.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

A Minimalist Oar Cruiser

Paul Butler designed, among a wide range of boats and other projects, a Montana Guide Boat. The Guide Boat is 11’ 6” (3.5m) long, double ended, flat bottomed and weighs 60 pounds (27 Kg).

The Montana Guide Boat Weighs 60 pounds

She’ll carry 250 pounds (113 Kg) and has 4 water-tight compartments, two at each end of the center cockpit. The two end compartments are accessed through deck plates, while the two inner compartments are accessed through bulkhead mounted hatches. These hatches not only provide access but also, when left open, give room for your feet for sleeping.

The Guide Boat can be rowed, paddled, poled and, with the addition of a short outrigger, powered by a small electric trolling motor.

Rowing with 6' (1.8m) Oars

Stable Enough to Fly Fish 

Hoops attached to the coaming support a tent.

Cockpit Showing Tent Supports and Plank Rowing Seat
Comment from a builder:
“It actually rows better than I expected with my 6 foot oars, sitting on the removable plank seat. It didn’t paddle very well however, with me kneeling, but I added a small shallow keel and that made a lot of difference.”
The Montana Guide Boat is not going to be very fast, but would be an ideal oar cruiser that is easy to build, easy to car top, and provides basic protection for ‘weekend cruises’ in protected waters.

Plans are in a 40 page building guide that includes lots of options and comments from builders.