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, 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?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Boat for the Reluctant Sailor

A couple of days ago I conducted an interesting social experiment. I joined the largest Facebook group dedicated to sailing a cruising, and started a discussion thread about QUIDNON:

“Looking for some advice from group members. For the past two years I have been working on a boat design with two other engineers. It is a 36-foot houseboat, with private accommodations for 3 couples and 2 single people. It is also a surprisingly seaworthy and competent sailboat. We've tested a radio-controlled scale model and it sails really well. Now we are looking forward to building the first full-size hull. It's going to be a kit boat, featuring high-tech manufacturing and rapid DIY assembly. Don't hold back, what do you think?”

The results were roughly as follows:

• It doesn’t have the proper lines of a sailing yacht, and is therefore ugly.

There is a certain image that sailboats are supposed to have, and anything that doesn’t fit with the image is by definition ugly. It is like approaching people who like Ferraris and Lambourghinis and trying to sell them a VW Bus.

• It doesn’t have the right elements to be a top-notch performer under sail, and wouldn’t win any races.

Saying “But it’s a houseboat!” doesn’t seem to have any effect. How well does a houseboat have to sail in order to be “A Houseboat that Sails”? Apparently, it has to be able to win ocean races. Just being able to move house whenever you like without burning fossil fuels… What was that? Hey, look, a squirrel!

• It doesn’t look expensive enough.

This last point was not made explicitly, but I sensed great discomfort when I mentioned how cheap it is, or the fact that moderately skilled people can assemble the boat from a kit on any riverbank or beach, roll it into the water and sail off, or that it uses an outboard engine in an inboard well to avoid the expense and the stink of a diesel, or that it never needs to be hauled out and have its bottom repainted because the bottom is clad in roofing copper… You see, an important function of owning a sailboat is to tell the world how rich you are. And what this boat tells the world is that you are happily living well below your means. Oh, the cognitive dissonance!

• It looks better without the masts and the sails.

Again, sailboats aren’t supposed to look like what it looks like. But without the masts, it looks like some kind of strange barge-like thing, doesn’t intrude on the sailboat space and is therefore inoffensive. Plus, if it no longer sails, then there is nothing further to discuss: problem solved! (But that is, in fact an option: if you don’t want to sail, you don’t need to install the mast tabernacles or the masts. Just place plugs in the 6-inch holes where the mast tabernacles penetrate the deck.)

The creature comforts, unprecedented in a 36-foot sailboat, such as three bedrooms with queen-size beds and full privacy, or the sauna, or a deck large enough to throw dance parties, left them entirely unimpressed. I guess sailboats are meant to be cramped, claustrophobic and uncomfortable. And houseboats aren’t supposed to be able to sail, at all.

I even came in for some insults, slander and abuse. One opinionated character with the last name Aass (can’t make this up!) made quite an… Aass of himself by claiming that I am clueless and running a scam. But that comes with the territory; after all, it’s Facebook, the natural habitat of the lonely half-crazed idiot.

In short, QUIDNON does not appeal to cruising sailors or racing sailors (and that’s pretty much who responded). To be sure, some people found the project fascinating and, based on the blog stats, went and read all about it. And some of them wished me and the project the very best luck. But the most vocal people were also the most negative. In all, it appears that most of the people who responded did so because QUIDNON rubbed them the wrong way in any one of several ways: it doesn’t fit the glamorous image of yachting, it is useless for either sport or ostentation, and it shows people the way to live and enjoy themselves on the water for very little money. Anathema!

And so who does QUIDNON appeal to? After all, 10,000 people visit this blog every month, close to 100 have already supported the crowdfunding campaign, and a dozen or so are seriously interested in building one, or having one built for them, once the design gets shaken out at full size.

There is one particular demographic that QUIDNON is explicitly designed to appeal to: wives of men who want to live aboard and like to sail. The vast majority of women have absolutely no interest in living aboard any of the typical commercially produced sailboats. Why is it so cramped? Where do you put the shoes? Where is the closet space I need? Why is there no bathtub? Why does it lean so much all the time? Why is the deck weirdly shaped and has strange hardware all over it? Why can’t it be like a proper deck/patio with room for a couple of chaise-lounges and a beach umbrella? Why do I keep bumping my head against things? Where do I hang the potted plants? Why is the refrigerator so tiny? A man may convince a woman to live aboard for a while even without coming up with good answers to any of these questions, but then longer-term the project is doomed.

And so the options are:

1. Abandon the dream of living aboard a sailboat and pay lots of money to live on land.

2. Get a houseboat and abandon the dream of sailing.

3. Get a houseboat to live on and a sailboat to sail around on, and go broke paying for both.

4. Get a divorce and live on a sailboat. (This happens surprisingly often; the call of the sea is sometimes stronger than the funny stuff Cupid coats his arrow tips with.)

5. Get a QUIDNON. It is every bit a houseboat and answers all of the above questions. In designing it, I thought extremely hard about putting in all the things that would convince my wife that living aboard is still reasonable and, on the other hand, about getting rid of all the things that she has hated about living aboard.

How well should a houseboat sail? Sailing performance comes at a cost in comfort, safety and skill level. Sailing a 36-foot high-performance racer is something of an art. Sail handling is quite demanding, and if you make a mistake you can capsize, hurt yourself or rip a very expensive sail. While sailing, you have to handle lines that are under a lot of tension—enough to rip your hands off if you aren’t careful. And none of that is necessary.

People who live on a houseboat and sometimes move house under sail have no specific reason to want to master that art and achieve that level of performance. They just want to get from Point A to Point B with a minimum of effort and drama. Other than moving house, the main reason to go sailing is to pass time, with company on board. This is best done on medium-breezy, sunny sommer days. Motor away from the dock, put the sails up, leave the engine idling away just in case, and noodle about the harbor. Time is not of the essence; safety and comfort are. And, of course, cost.

QUIDNON’s sails are controlled using just four ropes (called “lines”) and all of them are led right to the cockpit, go through clutch blocks, and then disappear under the cockpit floor, where they spool themselves up on take-up reels. Yes, you do need to learn what they are called and what they do, but that’s about it.

• Halyard: used to hoist the sail up the mast. The clutches for the other three lines have to be released before you do that.

• Reefing line: opposite of the halyard; used to reduce the area of sail that is up and keep it taut. The more wind there is, the less sail you have to raise to push QUIDNON along at its maximum warp 7.5 knots (8.5 MPH, 13.9 km/h). QUIDNON’s sails can be reefed down to just the upper two panels.

• Two sheets, one on each side: these pull the sail toward the centerline while keeping it from twisting. The closer to the wind you sail, the more you haul in the sheet.

Of these lines, only the halyard requires the use of the winch. To get a sail up (which is quite heavy), you release the clutches, loop the halyard around the anchor winch and crank.

There is more to sailing than that, but this information, plus what you can learn from any introductory book on sailing, will be enough for you to sail a QUIDNON.

QUIDNON should be able to make ocean passages in good weather. The preferred direction is definitely with the wind rather than against it. Going with the wind stretches out the waves; going against the wind causes them to bunch together. It is like the difference between driving through a hilly countryside and driving down a rutted, potholed road. Because of its blunt bow and high topsides QUIDNON may not be able to make good progress to windward in all conditions. But it should do well downwind in almost all conditions.

Keep in mind, almost the entire planet was explored and colonized using sailing ships that could barely go to windward at all. For every mile they made good to windward, they made two moving sideways. And so they mostly moved with prevailing winds or waited for favorable winds. They made laps around the North Atlantic going clockwise, to take advantage of the Coriolis effect: the rotation of the Earth causes both water and air to move clockwise in the northern hemisphere and counterclockwise in the southern. And QUIDNON can probably do the same, safely and comfortably.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Talk in Boston

I'll give a talk and Q&A on QUIDNON at the Artisan's Asylum in Somerville, MA at 8pm on Thursday, May 4th. Hope to see you there.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Ridiculously versatile

The world is full of boats that do just one thing quite well. QUIDNON is not one of them: it does a great number of things adequately and just one thing ridiculously well.

Ocean yachts are designed for ocean cruising and racing. They make poor houseboats due to lack of space. They can’t go through shallows because they have a keel. They don’t make good canal boats because their masts can’t pass under low bridges. They require a crane or a Travelift for hauling them out for maintenance. They are expensive. They are also quite slow. They can’t carry much freight.

Motor boats are sometimes big enough to make good houseboats. They are either unable to make long ocean passages because of their limited range, or they are expensive to take on ocean passages because of fuel costs. They can go faster than sailing yachts, but then their fuel consumption becomes quite ridiculous. When used as houseboats, their large engines make a poor investment. They also require a crane or a Travelift for maintenance. Some of them can carry a considerable amount of freight, but this makes them slower and increases the fuel consumption.

Houseboats are either houses built on floats or boats that can’t handle rough water. They are reasonable to live on and can be used on rivers and canals, but they can’t venture out on the ocean, never mind make ocean passages. They don’t carry freight.

Houses are great to live in—much roomier than any boat. But they do have two major shortcomings: they don’t move, and they don’t float. This is increasingly a problem: lots of houses are lost to flooding every year, and the toll will only go up as oceans rise and extreme weather events associated with climate change become more frequent. If an area where you have built a house becomes unpleasant or dangerous, you can’t just move the house but have find yourself a new dwelling.

Boats do float, but with most boats nobody particularly wants to live on them on dry land. On land, both yachts and power boats have to be put up on jacks, and then living on them is like living in a treehouse, with a long climb up a ladder just to get home. If a flood causes them to float off the jacks, they are unlikely to settle back onto them. Instead, they fall over and get damaged. Then they don’t float any more.

Houseboats generally do better on dry land than other kinds of boats. The Dutch have built some houses on barges that are designed to float up and down. When the water is low, they bicycle home; when the water is high, they row a dinghy. That’s a good idea in a country that’s mostly under water. But I haven’t heard too many stories about people living on houseboats on dry land.

QUIDNON is specifically designed to do a great number of things adequately.

It makes a reasonable land-based residence that floats when it has to. Its bottom is flat, and it settles upright again once the waters recede. It is a second-floor walk-up, but then its roof makes a wonderful deck, and the cockpit makes a nice gazebo.

It makes a good houseboat of the sort that just stays at the dock: then you can skip the expense of the masts, the sails and the engine, and just live on it. If you want a comfortable, inexpensive DIY dockside dwelling that looks enough like a boat to not bother the neighbors, look no further.

When the time comes to move house, just drop in an outboard engine. It is a good boat for rivers and canals because it only draws a couple of feet. If all you need to do is motor to a different marina twice a year (to shift between summer and winter camp) or to go from a marina to a mooring field and back, there is no need for a dedicated engine. Instead, you can just drop in your dinghy engine into the engine well, then put it back on the dinghy.

If you want to go sailing, add masts and sails. Even with masts and sails added, it still makes a good canal boat, because you can drop the masts by yourself with just a comealong—no crane needed.

If you want to make ocean passages, that is not a problem either. QUIDNON has 130º of stability, making it quite safe, and is reasonably fast for its size, especially downwind. It isn’t fast upwind, particularly in rough seas—but then few people enjoy such a bone-shaking ride in any case. Some people view the ability to go upwind in any conditions as key, forgetting the fact that the entire planet has been explored and settled using boats that couldn’t go upwind any better than about 60º to the wind, tacking through 120-130º. If sailing upwind were important, people would have paid more attention to this problem. The only sailors who valued the ability to sail close to the wind were corsairs—pirates! In fact, most ocean sailing is still done off the wind or downwind, with the prevailing winds. Choose your courses the way the old-time mariners did, and you can even use QUIDNON to circumnavigate. And should you wish to carry a few tons of freight, there is plenty of room for it, and the extra weight won't make much of a difference.

When the time comes to haul out for maintenance, you don’t have to pay a crane operator and a marina. Just find a sandy spot that dries out at low tide, anchor there, and wait for the water to recede. The bottom is surfaced with roofing copper, and you just need to scrape off the seafood that grows on it where you can reach it. The rest of the seafood will get crushed against the sand.

And now, here is the thing that it does ridiculously well: getting around onerous regulations.

If you live in a house, you are subject to an ever-increasing number of regulations. You are limited in what you can build, where you can build it, what materials you can build it out of and what you can use it for. There is a permitting process to follow. You are usually forced to hook it up to utilities and to pay real estate tax on it. You are often required to hire licensed tradesmen to build and maintain a house. All said and done, many people pay close to half of their income just for a place to live. This would indicate that housing is basically a racket.

If you live on a boat, the regulations are few. There is nobody to stop you from building whatever boat you want. There is generally no permitting process, except for mooring permits in certain areas. States will try to charge you for registration, but you can get around this by documenting your boat with the Coast Guard.

There are rarely any issues with storing a boat on land that you own or lease. If you also own or lease the boat, who is to say that you aren’t allowed to live on it? If putting it on land is still problematic, dig a reflecting pool and put QUIDNON in it. Lakes, rivers and harbors are generally considered free to anchor in. If a piece of land is particularly prone to floods, you generally can’t get a building permit to put up a house on it. But there is nothing to stop you from putting a boat on it.

With most boats, when you buy it you pay the designer, the manufacturer and his workers, and the investors’ profits—in addition to all the materials and supplies. With QUIDNON, the design was done by volunteers who designed the boat for themselves, you provide your own assembly labor, and your only costs are the materials and supplies and for somebody to mind the numerically controlled mill to cut out the parts for the kit.

QUIDNON may not be as posh and sporty as a yacht, not as fast as a power boat, and not as roomy as a house. The one thing that it does ridiculously well is set you free. First, there is financial freedom: no rent or mortgage, no real estate taxes, no need to pay tradespeople. Second, there is freedom of movement: sail or motor anywhere you want, stay for as long as you like. Haul it out and use it as a beach house on some nice uninhabited island, then push it back in the water and sail off again.