Sail and/or.

Future-boat project.

The Pocket rocket

Billy Bigsteps.

In my first post of this new series i taled about  getting back out on the water in a very different way to anything i have done previously and  i avoided as much as possible talking about the ‘object’ ie the boat first.    Even as i was writing the post i kept having to stay clear of talking about the potential boat rather than the function it will have to perform : in a way that is to help me stay as open minded as possible about the eventual form of the ‘thing’ and not get bogged down in the nuts and bolts.

In this post i want to lay out some more of what the task entails and how that should shape the eventual choice of design direction with the thing itself, and , as have already said, there are several ways to go about this.
Imagine for now that ‘thing’ is to be stored at home on it’s own trailer and a bit like my everyday hiking rucksack will be kept ready to go at all times….like today when iv’e had enough of writing i’ll just put my boots on, sling pack on back and go ! : i want it to be nearly that simple.        However, we are then going to have to tow the boat down to the local public slipway , and i noted yesteday that some dweeb of a BMW driver was still parked on it….one day me and him are going to have a few words about what public slipway’s are and what those ‘no parking’ signs actually mean.
At the slip i’m going to have to quickly strip the cover off, rig the boat and then deal with the trailer ; when i’m out for longer trips it will be best if i temporarily park ‘thing’ against the village pontoon, take the trailer home and then come back to the boat.        Lets say that the tide is flooding in the river and typically there isn’t much wind, if at all, so my plan is to head upriver on the tide.     This river, like many of the tidal rivers of the south west UK are in steep sided wooded valleys which often blanket the wind completely….equally sometimes they can act as wind tunnels in some sections !.
My intended put-in/launch point is high up the same tidal river where i kept my cruising boat on  it’s mooring but there is a lot more river above that point and which is hardly visited at all except by a few canoeists and kayakers. Of note, yesterday our local postie stopped me just as i was heading out on my daily dozen and asked me about the route i was taking….and he was particularly interested in walking along the same river : well, the story is that walking access along the river is actually very limited and it’s a surprisingly wild place with reed beds, muddy banks and small scrubby woodlands….almost a perfect small scale riverine wilderness.
A lot of the river is now shallow and muddy, which is fine, but it made me realise 2 things : firstly that i need to be able to move along it as quietly as a good canoeist does and that sometimes i will still want to stop, anchor and at least make a brew and maybe even bivouac in the ‘thing‘ itself.        That can be made to work in many sailing dinghy’s , with some modification, doesn’t work at all with canoe’s and sea kayaks and still pushes me towards the hybrid boat that can be sailed quietly, rowed efficiently and still has space for me to sleep on the sole with maybe a tarp stretched over the boom (or yard).

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Thus far the task seems to demand something that is long and slim and which rows easily but which has enough displacement to carry 2 people and a full camping kit and enough floor space to stretch out on the soleboards and at least make a brew.             That’s more suggestive of a working waterman’s pulling boat than a dedicated fast rowing machine.    Cruising under oar in specialised boats is definitely a fine sport and i’m sure very enjoyable…..but i like to sail when i can so that pulls me back to the either/or compromise of something that is orientated more towards a sailing craft which can be rowed at times or a primarily rowing boat that can be set up to sail….that’s not the easiest compromise !
Now though, the flood tide in the river has gone slack, iv’e had my brew and i notice that the lightest air is just starting to fill in from the west.
I push off the bank where i’d stopped for a quick leg stretch, ship the oars again and pulled steadily downstream, past the village and under the viaduct in the deepest part of the valley, then down past the somnolent boatyard and around the first bend to Cotehele quay and the first widening of the river.         Now, i swing the oars up into their stowed position along the gunnel , release the sail ties and hoist the big red boomless Lugs’l on it’s carbon fibre yard.
The combination of river flow, the first of the ebb and the lightest of breeze has me ghosting downriver past a long reed bed to starboard and farmland behind that. After a mile or so the reeds give way to river bank and then the small hamlet at Halton quay.       I ghost around the big inside bend at Pentille where i often used to anchor WABI”’ in the deep water but then i pick up a more consistent wind as i make the last turn above Weir Quay….now it’s sailing time, tack on tack and a fine beat down through the moorings , past the Spaniard Inn and into the wide ‘lake’ before the Tamar bridges.
Now, what i need from the boat changes again, now i need as much sail area as i can get away with to sail in the light and shifting breeze but i also need enough stability that i don’t just capsize in the gusts….now it’s all about sailpower and stability as i move up onto the gunnel to get my weight to windward. This, and what might follow is now open water, bigger waves and potentially the open channel swell ; this boat isn’t just to be a craft only suitable for sheltered rivers but has to be capable of doing it’s work along this bold coast.
What then is ‘Billy Bigsteps’ and the ‘Pocket Rocket’ ?
Well i’m glad you asked that, please allow me to introduce each concept.
1. The Pocket Rocket, is either a long and slim rowing boat that goes through the water like a hot knife through butter or it’s a powerful sailing dinghy, perhaps even a down-tuned racing dinghy that will slice through wave and plane downwind. Both are highly specialised end products of 2 very different design paths although like monkeys and men they started out , a long time past, at the same common ancestor. The sailing version might work because there’s plenty of available old and retired racing dinghy’s and maybe a few cruising dinghy’s…usually though the cruisers don’t have enough sail area. None of them make spectacular rowing boats because they are mostly too wide but if we say that my needs are 90% sail and 10 % oar then maybe that would be an acceptable compromise.
2.Billy Bigsteps, is something different and the way i see it is as a boat that is designed from the outset to be a multi purpose craft that will sail and row well and might even be originally designed to offer an open space to sleep and work in….one of the primary problems of the sailing ‘Rocket’ being that awkward centerboard case right where you want to lay out a sleeping bag !. Some designers have looked at this concept and come up with some good solutions and it’s a couple of those that i intend to take a look at in post 3 and then in post 4 i’ll take a speculative look at some existing ‘rockets’ to see if an old one might do the job .

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