Sunday, July 17, 2016

After her first 5 outings...

I think it's worth offering a few reflections based on our first few outings.

First off, as many have noted before me, there is nothing quite like the excitement and sense of pride in launching and sailing a boat the one has made with ones own hands. To the extent practically possible, I made EVERYTHING on this boat. Every single bit of it was made by me. That gives me a great sense of accomplishment. There are few things in my life that I can look back on with as much of a sense of unbridled pride.

Even my skeptical wife shows her excitement on launch day.
Puffin is not perfect, but then again, nothing in my life is. But she fulfills her purpose wonderfully. All the blemishes and imperfections simply vanish when you see her tied up to a dock, heeling over on a broad reach. She elicits admiring glances and comments wherever we go. Yesterday, my wife and I knocked around the inner harbor of Milwaukee on a day that was custom-tailored for sailing. It was great fun to have these huge 30' and 40', high-tech racing sailboats steer closer just to get a closer view of this little dinghy.

9 coats of spar varnish make for a shiny transom. Rudder checks and tiller are not yet complete at this point.

Reflecting on the project itself: when I undertook this commitment, I blithely thought I could knock it out in 5 or 6 months. I had no appreciation for the amount of work it would take to build a boat from scratch. I had almost no tools and fewer skills. I learned a tremendous amount...mostly from internet contact with other builders. I honestly don't think I could have done this without YouTube, and the host of other internet resources that are available.

Lovely wooden blocks courtesy of Joel Bergen. These are made with lignum vitae sheaves, oiled elm cheeks, hand bent stainless steel straps, and brass pinning. These became one of my favorite things to make. In fact, I just keep making them, because they're fun. I have more blocks in my garage than I will ever use!

How does Puffin sail? Give her 10-15kt breezes and this boat is fantastic. I'm still getting used to her ways, and every outing leaves me happier. She is very dry and very stable. I'm still working out how best to tack this boat. I've missed stays a few times, and wondering if it may be on account of mainsail twist on the gaff yard?? 

One of my favorite things is the hinged mainmast which allows me to rig/de-rig the boat in 10 minutes.

Stable and balanced? Puffin is self steering! I'm not a "small" guy. In this picture I'm standing on the seat. Although we didn't get a picture of it, I was up on top of the foredeck by the mainmast and felt very comfortable. 
Yesterday we were out on Lake Michigan in 2-3 seas with whitecaps and we caught a little bit of spray off the bow, but were perfectly dry otherwise. Honestly, I don't find the cockpit layout to be very comfortable for more than one or two people. But this may have more to do with how I have laid out the rigging.

The gaff yawl rig has a lot of strings to pull. I think it looks great. I think it sails just fine. But there's a LOT going on in the cockpit:

- Throat halyard
- Peak halyard
- Main sheet
- Port jib sheet
- St'bd jib sheet
- Jib furler
- Mizzen halyard
- Mizzen sheet
- Centerboard pennant
- Rudder uphaul
- Rudder downhaul
- Lazyjack/topping lift.
- Boom vang (not yet added).

That's a lot to single-hand. And because she's just a small boat, adding crew means slightly more confusion. In retrospect, I might have opted for a simpler rig. 

So what have I modified since launch day?

1) I hinged the tiller. The way my tiller sits on the rudder, without a hinge, I couldn't get the rudder hard over because the tiller would bump into the coamings. A simple hinge, like the one Barrett Faneuf made solved the problem.

2) Mizzen rigging. I swapped out my mizzen sprit boom for a simple boom on a homemade gooseneck. For some reason, I could not figure out how to make a snotter give me the sail shape I wanted for the mizzen.

3) Electric motor. I originally carved a pair of oars, but found that this boat is not well-suited for efficient oar propulsion. Based on where I placed the oar locks, and my lack of a proper seat, and the fact that she's pretty beamy, meant that I had heavy 9.5' oars that were difficult to manage and worse to store onboard. I sucked it up and bought one of Minn Kota's new EO electric outboard motors and put it on one of Duckworks' transom mount engine brackets.  I'm much happier with this arrangement, although it offends the purist in me. Now I can move to and from the dock and cruise through mooring fields at a comfy 5 kts. Supposedly, my 24v system will give 9 hours per charge. I haven't put that to the test. 

4) Mainsail luff lacing. My hinged main mast means every time I raise the main, my lacing would get tangled or snagged on the hinge bolt. I replaced the lacing with polyprop/velcro webbing "mast hoops". 

5) Lazy jacks. It seems like a lazy jacks on a small boat like this would be overkill. But given her gaff rig, without them it's almost impossible to lower the sail without having a disaster in the cockpit. I rigged a simple set of home-made jacks that also double as a topping lift. 

6) I'm making a travel cover. Because I leave the boat almost completely rigged (except the mizzen), there's a lot of lines flopping around 

Mods for this winter:  

1) I need to reinforce the transom in the motor mount area. I hadn't planned on having a motor hanging off the back, so the 9mm transom ply feels like it's got a little too much flex. 

2) I need to reconfigure my trailer to better suit the shape of the hull and give more over-the-road support. 

3) I need to put a bicyble inner-tube "gasket" on the bottom of the hull where the centerboard slot is. I think this would keep water from splashing into the hull from the opening of the centerboard case. 

4) I need to rethink the cam cleats. I'm not happy with them. A simple horn cleat I think is more secure and easier. 

5) I need to re-visit how I've rigged my mainsheet. Right now, it's just in the way a lot of the time.

6) Add boom vang.


  1. Congratulations. She looks beautiful. Well done, great job.

  2. Tacking, and getting caught in irons, mostly is about timing, and how aggressively, you handle the tiller.
    Congratulations on completion. Mine is about a month away.
    Florence, OR

  3. Yes congratulations on your very beautiful boat. I would like to ask you where you acquired the infomation on the folding main mast? Do you have any drawings of parts with dimensions?

    Geoff Adams
    Panama City, Fl

  4. John,

    Nice job! love the decking! I was hoping to find details on your hinged mast. Also, I noticed your comment about a simpler rig. I wonder if you've changed your mind, or if you would still start with the standing lug yawl if you could do it again?