The purpose of this project is to design and mass-produce kits for a floating tiny house that can sail. It combines high-tech modeling and fabrication and low-tech assembly that can be carried out DIY-style on a riverbank or a beach. This boat is a 3-bedroom with a kitchen, a sauna and a dining room. The deck is big enough to throw dance parties. It can be used as a river boat, a canal boat or even a beach house. Oh, and it's rugged and stable enough to take out on the ocean. Kits will start at around $50k (USD). The design has been tested in simulation and prototype; full-scale production will begin next year.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Sails Revisited

Based on the positive test results from the 1:12 scale model, the design of Quidnon nouveau-retro Chinese Junk sails is almost fully baked. But there are a couple more bothersome problems to solve. Junk sails are attached to the mast using parrels, which are short lines or straps running along the battens and around the mast. This generally works rather well, but produces a couple of unintended effects:

1. The sail tends to rotate forward on the mast because the part of it that is aft of the mast is larger and therefore heavier. To counteract this tendency, Junk sails employ an additional control line called a “luff hauling parrel” which is laced through the front of the battens and then around the mast. It is yet another line to adjust, and it would be nice to get rid of it. Depending on the design of the sail, other minor control lines may be necessary as well, further complicating the handling.


2. On one of the tacks (depending on which side of the sail the mast is) the sail drapes over the mast, distorting its shape and making it a less efficient airfoil. Without this distortion, each panel of Quidnon’s sails forms a very efficient airfoil, similar to a Lateen sail. This is an important effect when sailing hard on the wind, making one tack significantly more efficient than the other.


To get rid of these unintended effects, I would like to introduce a new piece of rigging: the batten standoff. These are basically sticks that fasten onto the battens at one end and onto the parrels near the mast on the other. The batten standoffs do two things: they keep the sail from sliding fore-and-aft on the mast, and they push the sail away from the mast. Under most circumstances they are self-tending and don’t require adjustment.

At their ends near the mast, the standoffs are daisy-chained on lines—batten standoff lanyards—that hang down from the end of the halyard. These lines make sure that the standoffs hang almost but not quite horizontally: they have to slope slightly toward the mast, so that they don’t ride up the mast when under compression. If the mast is to starboard of the sail, it may be necessary to walk forward and pull down the batten standoff lanyards after reefing while sailing on a port tack, when the standoffs are under compression. When they are under tension, they will be pulled into position by the battens and settle a bit further by themselves due to gravity. Thus, when reefing while on a port tack, it is best to release the sheet first, allowing the sail to luff, then release the halyard partway, then haul in and tighten the reefing line, and finally haul in the sheet to power the sail back up.


The batten standoffs have to be cheap, light, reliable and easy to jury-rig or to replace when they fail. To achieve this, I intend to make them out of aluminum pipe. The pipe is cut to length, the ends are tapped, and stainless steel threaded rod is screwed into the ends. The mast end consists of a triple clamp, with two horizontal slots for the parrels and one vertical slot for the lanyard, all tightened together using a single Nylock nut. The batten end, which goes through a hole in the batten, has a couple of washers and a Nylock. There will have to be 24 batten standoffs (6 battens × 2 sides × 2 sails) and they will cost a bit of money to fabricate (out of aluminum pipe and bar and stainless steel threaded rod, two rubber washers and two Nylocks). But I think that the improved performance and the elimination of extra control lines will make it worth it.


There is also an element of perfectionism to it. There is some amount of extra joy to be had in looking up and seeing a perfect, maximally simple, undistorted form of the sail lit up by the sun against the sky.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Hull Shape Revisited

Click to enlarge
The second post on this blog, which I started almost exactly four years ago, was titled “Hull Shape” and featured the sketch shown on the left. A lot of work went into it. Concerns such as minimizing cost, maximizing ease of construction, maximizing interior living space and many others were addressed. A key feature of the design was the ability to combine the structure of the keelboard trunks with the water ballast tanks. Their position and size were based on many constraints, but the result was that water ballast alone turned out to be insufficient. Although it was more than enough to ensure stability under sail, more ballast would have to be added further aft in order for the boat to sit on its lines.

After many design iterations, the additional ballast was confined to a steel scrap-filled cement block bolted in place under the chain locker, which is, in turn, located under the cockpit. An entire sequence of steps was drawn up for dropping it out, with the boat in the water, before sweating the boat ashore using the anchor winch (to serve as a temporary beach house) and for winching and bolting it back into place with the boat once again in the water. But it was, essentially, a complication. And now, after four years of thinking through all of the various details, happily, it turns out to be unnecessary.

One of the worst mistakes one can make is to build based on an imperfect plan: build in haste, as it were, repent at leisure. Four years may seem like a long time to design just one boat. Most boat designers worry about time to market, remaining competitive, keeping the money coming in and other such issues. I am not worried in the least about any of that. I just want to design a very good boat that I am going to like, and that plenty of others will too. I am quite a few years yet away from retirement, my son is a few years yet from being able to serve as master of a ship, and so I am not going to rush. When designing something and faced with a problem, bad ideas are the first to arrive, while the good ones can take a very long time.

That said, the project is moving along. Thanks to the crowdfunding exercise of last summer, we are now running on licensed/donated CAD software (instead of lots of evaluation versions) and have a new, powerful, dedicated server box for doing renderings and running simulations. There is a list of a dozen or so to-do items, none of them huge, that have to be worked out before we can have the plans analyzed and signed off on by a marine architect, and we have the money to pay him. The questions to be answered are along the lines of “How thick should we make the fiberglass”, “What gauge steel do we use” and so on. Once past that point we will accept equity investment and start building hulls in several places around the world where people are waiting for us.

That is actually a good position to be in, making it a very good time to try very hard to resolve the few remaining unsatisfactory issues with the design. The solid ballast box is one issue. The fact that the sails are much more efficient on one tack than the other when sailing close-hauled is another. We’ll deal with that one later; today we kill the solid ballast box.

When I drew up Quidnon’s initial lines, I tried to follow Phil Bolger’s advice about square boats—that complicating their hull shapes adds more to their complexity and expense than it adds to their performance. But here is a counterexample: I believe that this change will subtract from the expense (no more solid ballast box or the mounting brackets it requires; simpler hull shape aft because the recess for the box is no longer needed) while boosting performance.

Previously, the bottom of the hull forward of amidships consisted of the bottom and two sides joined at two chines. The angle between them was 100º aft of amidships while forward from amidships it decreased until they met at a point at top and center of the bow, where the angle between them went to 0. The modification is that forward of amidships there are now four surfaces rather than three that come together to a flat spot at top and center of the bow. The bottom is now formed from two surfaces, and the centerline, called the stem, is buried a bit deeper than the two chines. This modification adds the exact amount of buoyancy forward that’s needed to make the boat sit on its lines without the fixed ballast mounted aft.


But then there are the other benefits. First, there is the improved motoring performance. When sailing on almost any point of sail Quidnon heels over a bit and presents a lopsided “V” to the water, which cuts very well through the waves. But when motoring the hull sits level and the flat surface presented to the waves at the bow slows it down. Just a small amount of deadrise at the bow (that’s the term for the “V” shape of the bottom) is enough to deflect the flow of water to the sides rather than making the boat bounce up and down while pushing an energy-wasting roll of froth with the bow (a boat with “a bone in its teeth” is Bolger’s term for that effect).

Simulations using Orca3D software showed that prior to this change to the hull shape Quidnon would actually take less power to push forward at hull speed when loaded with 10 tons of cargo then when motoring empty. This was because when empty the stern would be quicker to bog down. Getting rid of the cargo box will lighten the stern, and the added buoyancy at the bow will extend the effective waterline length, both of these changes counteracting this tendency. Moreover, when motoring along rivers and canals with the masts dropped there is no reason not to drain the water ballast, to lighten the load. Under these circumstances, having solid ballast mounted aft would be most unhelpful. When motoring without the ballast, Quidnon may be able to push its hull speed somewhat. We’ll run simulations to confirm this.

One more benefit: the slight “V” shape at the bow will not only deflect the flow of water but also of floating debris and ice chunks. Without this feature, the debris would wash directly past the prop, possibly fouling it. And as for ice, Quidnon is by no means meant to serve as an icebreaker, but it should be able to sail through many forms of ice. Sailing through ice is a big topic, and I will take it up separately later, but Quidnon’s bow turns out to be almost perfect for powering through pancake ice, slush, thin crust and other varieties of frozen water that occur in the fall and the spring. Having an “icebreaker” bow surfaced with roofing copper may allow Quidnon to extend the season a month or so in each direction.

Lastly, this change to the bow shape adds a welcome visual feature to what was previously a rather blank and featureless bow. Now, Quidnon’s hull shape is not designed to titillate—it will do enough other things that other boats can’t do to make up for its somewhat unexciting hull shape—but having a bow that looks more like a bow than like half a transom is a nod in the general direction of boating fashion that some people would I am sure welcome.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

World's Largest Playground

Lake Baikal
Quite a number of people in the world have taken up a nomadic lifestyle by living aboard boats. Instead of cooperatively running in the rat race, they have escaped and now work some vague and sketchy internet-based job while sailing around the islands of the Caribbean or around the Mediterranean, with the Greek islands a particular favorite. Other favorite cruising grounds, for those who don’t much care for the open ocean, include the canals of England or Canal du Midi in France. The Inside Passage which runs up the coast of British Columbia from Washington state to Alaska is another favored playground. The Intracoastal Waterway that runs along the Eastern Seaboard (and is lovingly called “the ditch”) is said to start in Boston, Massachusetts, but can really only be said to exist between Norfolk, Virginia and Brownsville, Texas, on the Mexican border. The more adventurous go through Panama Canal and go island-hopping among Pacific atolls. There are many others. But there is one truly gigantic cruising ground that is charted, dredged, has plenty to see and plenty to do, but remains almost entirely unexplored.

The boats used depend on the application: the seaworthier sailboats—keelboats and catamarans—for the ocean, while motor boats are restricted to the coasts, the canals and the rivers. There are exceptions: plenty of keelboats try to get through the Intracoastal and often end up running aground, and every autumn a steady stream of sailboats and catamarans arrives from Canada via the Erie Canal and Hudson River with their masts down (to make it under the bridges) and their decks a mad tangle of rigging.

There is a lot to like about cruising: the relaxed, unhurried lifestyle (you move at your own pace with no schedules to hurry you along); there is the chance to explore new places that are not easily accessible except by water and therefore not likely to be overrun with tourists; the intimate contact with nature and the chance to observe it daily at close range.

One of the biggest problems with cruising is that it’s boring: virtually all of the cruising grounds have been mapped out, with detailed cruising guides telling you where to go and what to look at. Essentially, when you go cruising, you are signing up to do something that’s already been done.

Another problem with cruising is rich people. Now, there is nothing wrong with being rich, and a good quote to remember is Deng Xiaoping’s 致富光荣 (zhìfù guāngróng): “To get rich is glorious!” The problem is with people who try to act rich around you while you are trying to ignore all of that competitive nonsense and just have a good time. To quote me: “To act rich is in bad taste.”

An associated problem is that cruising tends to be expensive: the industrial sector that supplies the boats is competitive, and it competes on the basis of ostentation—in sportiness and luxury—while catering primarily to those who want to act rich. And what sits at the intersection of sportiness and luxury is a financial black hole: the boats that result from this process are maintenance nightmares, and the most common topic of discussion among cruisers is getting their broken stuff fixed, wherever they happen to end up.

And the offshoot of all this is that most cruisers happen to be over the hill. The vast majority of those I’ve seen are baby boomers squandering their children’s inheritance on expensive toys, marina transient fees (which cost as much as hotel room stays) and lots of trips to local restaurants. Most of them are reasonably friendly and personable, but what they mostly talk about is insipid: the quality of the food and the service, the weather and, of course, what broke and how they fixed it or are planning to. If this doesn’t sound too adventurous or exciting to you, then perhaps you are right.

And then it occurred to me that there is a cruising destination that hasn’t been explored at all: Russia. Russia has the largest network of navigable waterways in the world: over 100,000 km long. The European part of it is 6,500 km long, all of it dredged to 4 m (13 feet). A system of canals connect it into a single network of waterways that reaches from the Baltic to the Ural mountains and from the Arctic Ocean to the Black Sea. The following map shows all of the navigable waterways in light blue.

Click to enlarge

Of particular interest is the area just inland from St. Petersburg, which is on the Baltic Sea. River Neva, which is short and wide, connects it to Ladoga Lake, which is the largest lake in Europe. It has islands, fjords and plenty of good sailing. From there is the somewhat smaller Onega Lake, and rivers and canals then run on to Moscow and a ring of cities around it, which are some of the most spectacular travel destinations in Russia, featuring medieval fortresses and monasteries, most of them accessible from the water. South from there, the mighty Volga River takes you through most of the rest of Russia’s historical heartland. Then, via the Volga-Don Canal, you can cross over to River Don, which takes you to the Black Sea.

There are a few logistical problems with going on such a cruising adventure. One is that no foreign-flagged vessels are allowed on Russia’s inland waterways. Another is that a local skipper, who speaks fluent Russian and knows the local regulations, is an absolute requirement. Also, any small craft that goes on this adventure has to be maximally self-sufficient: there are few to no marinas offering yacht repair services to be found. Lastly, the cruising season runs from May through October. It can be stretched by a few weeks each way further south, but nobody in their right mind would brave River Neva before the end of April, when Onega Lake has dumped its load of winter ice into the Baltic. But none of these problems is insoluble.

Specifically, it has occurred to me that Quidnon, by its design, makes it a splendid choice as a platform for such an adventure. It is simple, rugged, quickly and cheaply constructed from commonly available materials and parts, is safe in both deep and shallow water, and can be set up for comfortable living in a harsh climate. I will explain the details of this in the next post. Meanwhile, please enjoy the scenery!

Caspian Sea
Volga Delta
Yenisei River
Ladoga Lake

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Self-Sufficient Haulout

A self-sufficient sailor needs to be able to get his boat in and out of the water either with minimal assistance or entirely unassisted.

This need arises in a variety of situations, both common and less so:

1. To deal with maintenance and emergencies.

1.A. To redo the bottom paint and to make emergency repairs that cannot be done with the boat in the water. With Quidnon, the list of such emergencies is much smaller than with most boats. There is no engine shaft, cutlass bearing or propeller; these are integral to the outboard engine, which is easy to pull out for servicing. There are no through-hulls below the water line; raw water intakes for the ballast tanks are via siphons. The bottom is surfaced with roofing copper that lasts longer the useful lifetime of the boat. The sides below the waterline need to be scrubbed and painted periodically, but this can be done with the boat drying out at low tide. Marine growth on the bottom, which cannot be reached while the boat is drying out, simply gets crushed and ground off against the sand or gravel and falls off. Still, there are situations when a haulout is needed for maintenance.

2.B. To get out of the water if a hurricane or a typhoon is bearing down on you. The easiest thing to do is to run Quidnon into the shallows in a sheltered spot and to run long lines out to surrounding rocks and trees. But an even better option is to haul it clear of the water first. While other yachts are busy hunting around for a hurricane hole (a sheltered spot with enough water to get in and out without running aground) or wait in line at a boatyard or a marina for an (expensive) emergency haulout, the captain of a Quidnon has plenty of options.

2. To turn Quidnon into a waterside home.

2.A. Suppose you arrive at a tropical island and decide that you want to spend a few months there, subsisting on fresh-caught fish and crabs, coconuts, sea bird eggs, growing a patch of taro or yucca and generally lazing around. There is nobody around to assist you. You enter the lagoon, find a nice sheltered spot with an easy grade up a white sand beach, let Quidnon nose up to it, jump overboard, wade ashore, walk the anchor ashore, dragging the chain, and bury it in the sand. Then you drain the ballast tanks and unbolt and drop the solid ballast box that fits snugly in a recess under the cockpit. Finally, you spend an hour or so working the anchor winch while placing coconut palm logs under the hull for it to roll over. Voilà! Quidnon is now a beach house: it doesn’t rock, the bottom doesn’t accumulate seafood, and getting ashore is as easy as climbing down a ladder.

2.B. You spend your summers cruising inland lakes, rivers and canals, catching and drying fish, hunting wild game and harvesting wild-growing fruits and vegetables along the shoreline. Autumn arrives, it starts snowing and the waterways start icing over. Before they become icebound and dangerous you pick a spot where you want to overwinter: somewhere sheltered, with plenty of firewood available locally. If you are lucky, you find a spot that has something like a beach, with no more than a 10º grade. Failing that, you grab a shovel and an axe (to chop through tree roots) and dig down a slope. Then you follow the same procedure as above. If you are quite far north where temperatures stay below freezing for months on end, it would make sense to insulate the hull on the outside by piling snow against it (snow is an excellent insulator, and is free).

There are lots of other, less extreme scenarios. For example:

3.A. You either own or lease a patch of land next to a waterway and build a boat ramp. Then, equipped with nothing more than a boat trailer and a pickup truck or an SUV you can either live on a Quidnon ashore or put it in the water and go cruising. This would be ideal in colder climates, where you would prefer to stay put during the winter. In going through the Intracoastal Waterway, I saw plenty of places where such a lifestyle would make sense. People there tend to have a full-size house and a half-size boat, but why not have a full-size boat and a small, utilitarian structure on land used as a workshop and for storage?

3.B. For those who have a shoreside dwelling, it is perfectly reasonable to own a Quidnon but only use it during the warmer months. But storing a boat, whether in the water or on shore, is often an expensive proposition. But there are plenty of creative ways to store boats in close proximity to boat ramps. For example, people who own vacation properties are often quite happy to have you pay a little bit of rent—much less than a marina or a boatyard would charge—to store your boat on their land during the off-season. Again, all you need is a trailer, a good-sized pickup truck or SUV and a boat ramp that’s nearby. (If it’s farther away, you will need highway permits and signal cars, because Quidnon qualifies as a “wide load.”)

The mechanics of a self-sufficient Quidnon haulout are as follows.

1. Get rid of all ballast. Fully ballasted, Quidnon weighs in at 12 tons, 8 of which is ballast. Of that, 5 tons is water ballast, which can be made to disappear by draining the tanks. The remaining 3 tons is solid ballast consisting of steel scrap encapsulated in a concrete block bolted into a recess in the bottom directly under the cockpit and held in place by several large bolts and a purchase. To remove the solid ballast, with the boat in the water, it is necessary to rig and tighten the purchase, undo the nuts on the bolts (which are along the sides of the chain locker below the cockpit, so the cockpit sole needs to be removed to access them), then ease the ballast down to the bottom using the purchase. Finally you would probably want to attach a line and a buoy to the ballast block before letting go of it, so that you can find and retrieve it later.

2. If your haulout spot has overhead obstructions (tree branches, power lines) remove the sails and drop the masts. This can be done by one person using a comealong. Once down, the sails and the masts are lashed down on top of the deck arches, to keep them safe and out of the way. On the other hand, if your haulout spot is exposed, you may want to leave the masts up and mount wind generators on top of them, to avail yourself of the free, though somewhat unreliable electricity.

3. Let Quidnon nose up to a grade no more than 10º. The maximum slope for boat ramps is 15% grade, which is 8.5º; most beaches are less than that. If you are hauling over ground solid enough for logs to roll, all you need are the rollers; if not, you will need to lay down some logs to serve as rails. Walk the anchor ashore and bury it, as described above. Work a log under the skids, then work the anchor winch to move the boat forward. The first log will try to squirm out and will require some gentle persuasion using a sledgehammer. Repeat. Catch the logs that slip out the back and move them to the front.

4. The amount of time required to move Quidnon 100 feet up a 10º grade using a crab winch (where a single person rocks a winch handle back and forth) is around an hour of steady effort (assuming a person can generate 100W of power) not including the time needed to move and pound in logs, drink water, curse, swat insects and whatever else. Reasonably, it adds up to a few hours’ work for one reasonably fit person. Of course, if you have a 1kW generator, an electric winch and a couple of helpers you can get this accomplished in around 20 minutes.

Quidnon will come equipped with rails, integral to the keelboard trunks and surfaced with bronze angle to distribute the load and to resist abrasion. The round logs are not included and would need to be procured locally. Driftwood is often a good, free source, and can be collected beforehand in preparation and stored on deck. It can be used as firewood afterward.

Once Quidnon is far enough from the water, it is important to level it, by digging down or by pounding in wedges. It is rather important that it doesn’t try to roll back into the water one stormy night while you are asleep. On the other hand, if your haulout spot is in an area that is considered dicy from a security standpoint, you may want to crank the boat around, so that it faces the water, and rig up a system so that a few blows with a sledgehammer and a few minutes on the anchor winch will cause it to roll back into the water (or onto the ice) and, one would hope, away from danger.

Incidentally, although this is hardly their main function, the rails over which Quidnon is rolled ashore can also be used to turn Quidnon into a sled, over ice. Ice provides a nearly frictionless surface, and it should be possible for a few people to haul Quidnon to a new location a few miles over ice. This trick may come in handy if halfway through the winter the game or the firewood at a haulout site on one side of a river becomes depleted. A particularly adventurous Quidnon skipper might even consider putting up a bit of sail and taking advantage of a winter windstorm to try a bit of ice sailing. (It would make sense to put up a bit of each sail, and to use the sheets for steering, because the rudders won’t be of much use when gliding over ice… unless the adventurous skipper takes the time to fit them with skates.

If these scenarios seem outlandish to you, then consider the more prosaic ones: while all the other skippers are waiting around with their wallets wide open—for the diesel mechanic to fix their engine, for a scuba diver to cut away the dock line that got wrapped around their prop, for the travelift to haul them out of the water and put them up on jacks so that they can paint their bottom or fix a leaky through-hull, or for a crane to remove their mast so that it can be worked on it—you would be off on your next adventure, self-sufficient and free.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Prince Kropotkin is for sale!

I am selling my sailboat in preparation for building the first Quidnon. It's a proven and capable ocean cruiser set up for living aboard, either at a marina, at a mooring or anchor, for coastal cruising and for the open ocean. It's in good condition, carefully maintained, reasonably priced at 28,500 USD and is a turnkey solution for someone who wants to live aboard and cruise around. Here is the full listing with all the details. If you are interested, please contact the broker, Capt. Mark Covington.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Speech



How would you like to build yourself a free place to live that doesn't take up land?