Monday, July 26, 2021

Getting ready to build a new self-steering gear...

So, yeah, about that new self-steering gear...

Right now I'm in the process of getting all the bits together to assemble a kit to build the it and the various pieces not readily available on a tropical island paradise are, mostly, currently winging their way to my PO box.

Putting together a "kit" before starting just about any boat project in my opinion is a must because when I do a project I like to do it full on and as non-stop as possible. Having all the needful bits in hand means you don't have to waste time running momentum killing errands.

Another advantage of putting together a kit for your project is that it forces you to get familiar with how it all goes together before you actually get to doing the actual work. Building projects in your head is a great way to see where problems may crop up and sort out workarounds and improvements to the mix. For instance, one part of the design bothered me because I don't enjoy tapping stainless steel rod and while going over the plans again and again while looking at suppliers catalogs I had a serendipitous moment where I came across an easy replacement method to get way from tapping rod which also makes the windvane simpler, offers easier adjustment, and saves some money in the process.

Lastly, done right, putting a kit together tends to save a significant amount of money while allowing a better quality of components. Just buying the various fasteners for the project off island saves me close to a couple hundred dollars compared to the silly pricing of stainless screws and bolts.right now I'm looking at a budget of around $350 for the complete self-steering gear but, when the gear is complete I'll be publishing all the various costs so we'll see how my current estimate holds up once the actual gear is complete.

Next up on the subject is why a chose this particular self-steering gear to build...

Saturday, July 17, 2021

on creative frugality and some coming changes...

There's a cooking channel that I really enjoy by Joshua Weissman and one his features are recipes where he does some established dish adding "But Better" or "But Cheaper" to the mix. It's entertaining and I've yet to come across an episode of his that did not have me wanting to get in the kitchen and get to doing.

For example...

Which has exactly "what the hell to do with VolkCruisers and frugal cruising?" you might ask.

What most people don't get is the whole idea here at VolksCruiser is to make the cruising experience more accessible to those with less disposable income or savings to do it with. I too often get emails to the site saying it's easy to sail and cruise cheap and all you have to do is to simply lower your standards and get into dirtbag camping mode which, to be honest, I find all sorts of insulting.

The fact is there's really very few reasons not to be comfortable cruising these days or, for that matter, thriving on a sustainable budget as opposed to being tarred with the dirtbag moniker as not quite hip or affluent enough to play with the "cool" kids.

Which brings us back to the whole "But Cheaper" and "But Better" additions that Joshua Weissman brought to my attention and morphed into a better way to think about VolksCruisers and frugal cruising...

It's all about doing it better and cheaper!

With an emphasis on doing it better.

Maybe a whole lot better.

So, with a nod to Mr Weissman, I'll be adding a series of articles to the mix of a "But Better" or "But Cheaper" nature and we'll show you examples of how not to just survive but thrive as we get into some serious creative frugality territory.

Since I'm just about to build a new self-steering gear I'll get started with how to put together a better windvane steering system but cheaper.

More soon come...

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Monday, July 5, 2021

regarding a very long voyage in a pretty small boat...

I read recently how Keith Leitzke has returned from another cruise to nowhere in particular and it got me thinking about a few things...

The first being how that Bill Lapworth's CAL 20 is still a great minimal cruising design in spite of the fact that it was never really designed to be one.

While I'm sure the Cal 20 would not be everyone's choice for a long sea voyage apparently Keith Leitzke thought it was just the thing for a four month or longer blue water voyage.

The fact that the Cal  20 has more than proven its blue water bona-fides with numerous trans-pacific voyages to its credit just goes to show that seaworthiness is not dependent on cost or size.

Of course, doing extreme blue water voyages in small boats means that one has to get creative to the Nth degree where space and loading is concerned. Seriously, just how do you store four months or more of provisions, water, and other needful gear?

Just thinking about how to store 120 gallons of water on a Cal 20, for starters, kinda makes my brain hurt! Throw in the provisions of even the most stoic menu for four+ months and you're talking about some genius creative use of space...

Well that or getting into TARDIS territory.

The important thing to keep in mind is that, obviously, it's been done so it's possible and knowing something is possible means all you have to do is figure it out because impossible is no longer an option.

Just sayin'

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Monday, June 28, 2021

A few quick thoughts...

A YouTube channel I have a love/hate relationship with has a Bluetooth enabled toilet and I just can't quite get my head around why one might actually need such a thing. 

As it happens, I do have some Bluetooth headphones which I purchased because I wanted to be able to listen to music while working on boat projects but never use them because the signal drops out all the time and that really gets up my nose where listening to music is concerned.

But still, one wonders what sort of advantage a Bluetooth toilet has and WTF they actually cost.

That said, however misguided having to be connected to one's toilet via Bluetooth might be, it is preferable to some of the sailing channels which are starting to look a lot like infomercials instead of videos about cruising as one I recently viewed mentions the name of a certain purveyor of sewing machines, fabrics, and assorted notions so many times that the only words that comes to mind is "Set it and forget it!".

But wait, there's more! 

Well actually there isn't but the whole Ronco style of over-commercialization and  pandering is so far removed from the whole VolksCruiserish "Just find a good boat, fix it up, and sail off into the sunset on a sustainable budget" vibe most of the cruisers I admire adopt just depresses me.

Monday, June 14, 2021

The upside of DIY...

The other day a reader dropped me a line where the subject of DIY came up and he pointed out that, unlike me, he could afford to hire folks to do work for him and if you had to DIY you might want to consider something other than yachting as a lifestyle decision...

Not the first time I've heard that opinion and, I expect, most folks of the VolkCruiserish ilk will hear it as well.

What the reader in question doesn't quite get is that the advantages of doing work on your boat and its systems yourself has a great number of advantages which improve the sailing and cruising experience and the fact that it also allows you to save money in the process is just an added perk which is no bad thing.

Sadly, too many of the marine trades are not just over-priced but also woefully short on the needed skills that they charge you for. I've seen too many projects and repairs done by various contractors that not only did not fix the needful repairs but wound up creating more damage and problems that would be left for someone else to fix.  

An advantages of doing your own work is that you actually know how things are put together on your boat and that gives you the skill set to fix it when or if it needs to be sorted out. Sure there's a learning curve but it's a fairly easy one as almost all boat related work is just minimum wage level stuff mixed with common sense.

No rocket science involved.

Being able to handle maintenance and repairs is both empowering and adds greatly to the overall safety of the boat and its crew. Which, from where I sit, are the two most important reasons to get your DIY groove on.

Lastly, doing work that fixes things is mostly enjoyable and satisfying. Of course, not everyone enjoys all boat work and I'll be the first to admit I really do not like working on internal combustion engines as it's a UGH job as far as I'm concerned, Still, in spite of the UGH nature of working on engines, I find it especially satisfying when I'm able to fix one.

I'll also add that saving money is a game I really enjoy and the perks of doing my own work adds up to a considerable chunk of change in the process which makes DIY that much more enjoyable. Then again, some folks don't mind paying $4.99 for a  twenty-five cent machine screw and take pride in throwing around how much they paid for stuff as a badge of honor. Not sure where you stand on such things but the whole Boat Buck mentality seems somewhat questionable at best.

Oh yeah, on the whole yacht thing... I don't own a yacht, don't want to own a yacht, and cringe whenever I hear a boat described as a yacht or a person sailing it a yachtsman. So I'm not exactly the sort of person who would ever consider yachting as a lifestyle.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

A blast from the past on junk rig...

A Freedom cat ketch adapted to junk rig

 I wrote this back in 2008 on Boat Bits but it seems to have held up for the most part...

I suppose the minute you say lug rig that everyone assumes you are talking about the "Junk" rig which is certainly a type of lug rig but somewhat outside the mainstream we might just get the whole junk rig thing out of the way and as good as any place to start.

Colvin...Hasler...Van Loan..Mcleod important names for Lug nuts as all were big proponents of the junk rig in the early days and for a host of very good reasons you would be safe to follow their lead...The Junk rig certainly makes a lot of sense for a lot of people who sail.

The big thing about the junk rig is of course it is a docile rig... Stress free if you will...Its an easy rig to sail (but a very easy rig to sail badly and it is important to know the difference between the two) and there is a rather steep learning curve if you actually want to get the performance possible with the rig. Make no mistake this is not a Bermudan rig and if you try to sail it like one you will find that it will behave just like all of its detractors say it will...BADLY.

Its also a cheap rig and DIY safe on all levels so building it from mast to sails is well within even the most ham fisted tyros reach! Sounds perfect for folks like me...and did I mention CHEAP?

Of course you hear a lot of bad stuff about junk rigs and almost all of it from people who have never sailed a junk rig and many who have never even seen a junk rig sailing...This is not an unimportant fact when you consider that 95% of the information you receive via word of mouth on things junk is in fact pretty bogus. Luckily we have access to a lot of excellent information from those who really know what they speak of...

Which brings us back to the names Colvin, Hasler, Mcleod, and Van Loan who all were nice enough to sit down and write excellent books on the subject so we would not have to figure it out all by ourselves.

Thomas Colvin has written a slew of books on sailing, cruising and building boats and anything he says you can pretty much take to the bank. Not a man who feels the need to follow the herd or bend to market pressure he is very much the real deal and unlike so many Naval Architects has actually built boats, lived aboard and cruised which in my book puts him way at the front of the herd and when he says something you can take it for granted that it's based on real experience. Sadly Tom Colvin is no longer with us and a lot of his books are now out of print but I believe are available used if you put in the effort to find them. A visit to Abe's books might be in order to chase down a copy of "Sailmaking: Making Chinese and other sails : Sailing Chinese Junks and Junk-rigged vessels" .

McLeod / Hasler wrote the most excellent "Practical Junk Rig" which is a thing of beauty almost a Coffee Table book on the subject and again written by a couple of guys who walk the talk and a tome that is needful to anyone considering or sailing the junk rig.

My favorite though is the very simple, Tract like and easily understood "The Chinese Sailing Rig - Design and Build Your Own Junk Rig" by Eric Van Loan which is short and very much to the point. Just what you need if you have a CAL 28 ( or whatever) and decide you want to design and build a junk rig for it that will WORK!

While the Van Loan book is my favorite (I do love simple!) and would be my choice if I were limited to one source, to be honest if you are going to do the Junk rig thing right you really need all three as they together pretty much contain all available information in book form on the rig and it is all needful information.

I should add at this point that there is the excellent Junk Rig Association which which is the best source of cutting edge development in what is trending in junk rig development.

While not really about the junk rig Annie Hills book "Voyaging on a Small Income" just might be the best book to read and get you started on the Junk express as it has a lot of Junk content and gives you a very good view of what sailing with a Junk Rig is all about...Annie Hill shows just what can be done with a simple Benford designed plywood boat called Badger and a junk rig on a budget. If you ever need a good example to throw in the face of someone who is going on about junk rigs being not a viable option just bring out the Badger card ...Works every time!

Monday, May 31, 2021

one sail to rule them all...

There are a lot of fans of the junk rig who, being fans and all are true believers when it comes to their preference of rigs. The junk rig is superior to all other rigs or in common parlance the junk rig is "the shit".

Me? Well I certainly think that the junk rig is a good rig but, where sailing is concerned, there really is no one rig that is the best in the general scheme of things. There are lots of rigs and they all have their strengths and weaknesses and while one rig or another might be "best" in a given situation for someone in particular, I hesitate to call any rig the best in the general sense.

But, as it happens, in the particular situation where someone is considering a rig for frugal cruising on a small (let's say thirty-feet or under) sailboat the junk does have a lot to recommend it.

  1. It's an inexpensive rig if done right.
  2. You don't need a lot of interior space devoted to sails,
  3. It's a docile rig
  4. The rig is very DIYable.
  5. It's very easy to reef.

For folks of the VolksCruiser persuasion sailing small boats the main points are that it's inexpensive, can be built/maintained easily, and you don't lose precious interior volume for a full set of sails. 

So yeah, it is an excellent rig for a VolksCruiser.

The question is whether or not it is excellent enough to replace a preexisting rig is something of a conundrum but, more about that in the next post.

Monday, May 17, 2021

An interview with Sailing Blowin' in the Wind...

I've gotten to the point that when someone writes me and says to check out a new YouTube channel I pretty much prepare for the worst. So, when a friend dropped me a line a while back and said I should really check out "Sailing Blowin' in the Wind" I wasn't exactly filled with enthusiasm. Face it, most of what passes for Sailing & Cruising content more than proves that Sturgeon's Law was actually overly optimistic.

Armed with the fact that I could always just turn off the computer if things became too dire, I followed the link and watched the first episode fully expecting it to be just another "Look at us we're wonderful" selfie-fest.

Nope, it was different. It was actually interesting and far from being the same old same. Better yet, I actually enjoyed it. OK, I'll admit to being a hard audience where film and video is concerned especially where sailing, boat building, and cruising content are concerned, but the main thing is that Sailing Blowin' in the Wind actually caught my interest and eighteen episode later I'm still watching. Need I say more?

I won't go into what actually transpires on the Sailing Blowin' in the Wind channel because you'll do better watching it it from the start. So I'll just say that Anna Key and Tom Break live on a 28-foot sailboat without an engine with their two boys, Roo and Zibby, and their two girls, Mia and Xani.

Obviously not the same old same cruising story. 


Now let's get to the interview...

Why not get to the important stuff first and deal with the elephant in the room. So, just how many ukuleles or musical instruments do you have aboard Blowin' in the Wind?

We've been caught red-handed—we’re already going to start sounding like very bad minimalists! Until this summer we had four soprano ukuleles, one each for the three older kids and one for Anna. Since then, we've been gifted a concert ukulele and a "guitalele," which is a six-stringed instrument rather like a very small guitar. We also bought some bongo drums, and Anna has hopes of acquiring a small steel-tongue drum and a baritone ukulele down the road, maybe after some of the kids are grown and take some of their instruments with them. (;  It's getting a little out of control here, but the music has become a bigger part of our life than we expected, especially since it has become such a vital part of our video-making.

Six people on a 28-foot boat?

It's a lot of people in a small space, but in our defense there were berths for six adults when we moved aboard. When we got started looking for boats, we listened to what people around us were saying and kept our eyes out for something in that 35-40' range, but we quickly realized that those larger boats rarely had more beds: there was just more space (a bigger galley or nav station) and a bigger price tag. We ultimately decided that the extra amenities weren't worth the extra cost (costs that would keep adding dollars per foot every time we pulled onto a dock, got the bottom cleaned, etc.)

As we circled back around to what we really cared about—nimbleness and ability to be single-handed, affordability, and sturdiness—it became very clear that we would do much better with a smaller boat than a bigger one. And even if it meant being close together, we could actually be together instead of leaning on a full-time job for years to pay off the boat. When we stepped onto Blowin' in the Wind, we thought she was a 30, not a 28—the designer made great use of every foot, and we fell in love with her right away.

I get that. Having built and cruised various boats which don't pass the "group think" of what a cruising boat is supposed to be, the whole "You're going to cruise in that?" gets old real fast. Obviously you're not just doing a different boat, you're also doing things differently to make Blowin' in the Wind more livable and cruise-worthy. How is that going?

Some things are going great and some things are a struggle. The interior space that we opened up when we took out the engine is fantastic. It's created a great flow of space and the kids have lots of places that they can hide and play and make messes and create elaborate battles or creations with the few toys we have on board. And since we closed up all of the thru-hulls, Anna has been able to sleep through the night without ever waking up with dreams that the boat is sinking. We don't really miss fancy things like the water heater, electric water pumps, or the other gadgets that we've gotten rid of because those are just things that we  don't have to be stressed anymore about not knowing how to fix.

Most of the changes we've made have caused very little extra hassle. It's taken some time to get used to the rhythm of managing the composting head and of taking the sink buckets out to dump them instead of using the standard pump-out system and draining water through the thru-hulls, but we don't mind that work and have adapted to it really well. And the daily maintenance work replaces the big repairs in which you're knee deep in leaky head hoses, which it's easy to overlook when things are working. In general, every time we take out a system and replace it with a simpler version, life gets a little bit harder but a little bit better. Those little additions of time do add up, and when we press toward some of our more extreme goals, like producing no trash, things can get overwhelming. But for the most part things are going remarkably well. We're becoming increasingly comfortable in our increasingly unique boat.

How's the yuloh working out?

The yuloh, and lack of engine generally, has been one of the biggest challenges. On our shakedown journey everything was going swimmingly until we got caught in a surprising current, lost sail power, and couldn't get the yuloh out fast enough to get around a tight corner. That shook us somewhat, and has led us to re-think some things. My home-made yuloh is very heavy, so we're going to try a smaller sculling oar that's easier to deploy but that can still push us, and we're going to trade out the wheel for a tiller so that there's less congestion in the aft area of the cockpit, and we'll see where we are at that point. Lots of people are telling us that we should attach an outboard or at least have one for the dinghy to tow us through tight spots. We're considering that option going forward, though I really would prefer to keep things as simple as possible so that I don't have something (that I can't fix) break at just the moment I'm counting on it.

Nothing improves one's sailing skills more than simply not having an engine. Do you have a drifter?

That's right. And I would add that nothing improves your awareness of your environment, either. When you're relying on an engine, it's really easy to be blissfully unaware of what the tides and currents are doing, and what the weather might do should you get delayed, and while it ends up being no problem for most people most of the time, I'm glad for the need to be aware. It's making me a better sailor already—though I'm starting from being a total novice, so that's not saying much. No, we don't have a drifter, but our boat does very well under our 150% genoa, even in very light winds.

That said, in the meantime, you might want to consider kedging as another needful tool in your engineless quiver.

Kedging was ultimately how we got off the dock we got caught on during our shakedown, and it's a really critical tool for us. We keep a light "lunch anchor" on hand in the cockpit as a brake and I've got a second heavy anchor there as well so that they're ready to hand if we need them.

You've mentioned the Pardeys but do you have any other influences in your quest for a simpler nautical lifestyle? Annie Hill, Jerome Fitzgerald for instance?

We hadn’t heard of Annie Hill or Jerome Fitzgerald, but thanks for the tip! As for other influences, we're big idea people, and so a lot of what we bring to sailing comes from thinkers of the past, folks like Diogenes, Simone Weil, St. Francis of Assisi. One really critical nautical influence is a family that calls themselves the Coconuts, who have been sailing an engineless sailboat with four kids for years now. Drake Paragon made a lovely 5-part documentary about them, and they've been a great encouragement to us largely because they've show that sailing with a family and without an engine is possible. We figure that if they can make it across the Atlantic, we should be able to make it to the Caribbean.

Another practical influence for us is Helen and Scott Nearing, authors of The Good Life, who bought a farm and committed themselves to working only half days half of the year supporting themselves so that they would have time to read, think and write. We really respect the way that they were able to make that a priority and stick to it. A big reason we sought out this life, and that we try to keep it simple, is to carve out time in our days for artistic work and for contemplation (both for us and for our kids). I don't think that we can underestimate the damage that lack of that kind of time is doing to our society, generally, and so it's a priority for us and something we want to protect for our whole family.

How would you define your current cruising plans?

Equivocally. Tom's just back from a trip to the Bahamas where he got some open water experience and some sailing time in around the islands, and we're all really excited to get moving in some direction, but we're not exactly sure what direction that's going to be at the moment. Hurricane season is creeping up on us, and while we have some desire to make tracks for the Luperon in the Dominican Republic before the worst of hurricane season hits, that's seeming like a long journey on a short timeframe right now. So we'll either make the leap, hide out in Florida somewhere, or head north until next season.

Beyond the short term we really want to sail the Caribbean. We want to spend good chunks of time in both Spanish and French speaking countries to get language intensives for the whole family. It's kind of amazing just how much of world history winds its way through those islands—how many cultures have met, clashed, and melded in wildly different ways from island to island, so we're excited to explore the islands and learn from them about different ways to live. Anna especially has desires to visit Chile and the boys want to surf in Hawaii, and I would love to hike the Camino de Santiago in Europe. Those points on the map seem really far away right now, but who knows what the future will bring.

Do you have a target budget?

Our target is the federal poverty level for our family, which in 2020 was $35,610, or just about $3000 a month. That's pretty attainable for us while underway, in general. It's actually pretty important to us to be able to live at the poverty line. We want to use as few resources as possible, and not spending money is the easiest way to do that. Beyond that, though, the poverty line ought to be an attainable goal for everyone, and I think we would feel bad living a lifestyle that isn't, at least in principle, open to everyone.

The target is of course a target, and we've had varying degrees of success hitting it. Some of the things that have gotten in the way are boat-related things: boat work is expensive and can crash a budget pretty quickly. Tom worked a full-time job for a couple of years that increased our income and allowed us to do work on the boat that would have been a stretch on the poverty-line budget.  

Since then, Tom left the full-time job and we continue to work the budget from both ends: trying to reduce our spending to get it under the poverty line, and to increase our income to get it over the poverty line. We're getting closer, but we're not yet "in the black," and therefore continue to switch between travel and focus on our artistic work and periods when we do work to re-fill the "cruising kitty."

Any ideas or cunning plans you're currently working on?

Well, we’re artists, so we’re full of ideas. We both really love an aphorism by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, “What good is a book that doesn’t lead you beyond all books?” So we’re trying to make a YouTube channel that leads us beyond all YouTube channels, that might even lead us…outside. It’s our most cunning plan yet. We are, however, still in need of a cunning plan to get out of the next inlet…

Friday, May 14, 2021

An interesting video and a coming attraction...

Another excellent video by Blowin' in the Wind...


As it happens we'll be having an interview here on VolksCruiser Monday with the Blowin' in the Wind folk so you might want to drop in on Monday and check it out.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Something special for those "Shrimpy" fans...

There is a great article in Voiles et Voiliers on Shane Acton and Shrimpy. Really worth the read even if you have to use Google translate to do it.

Need I say more?