Any sailors out there?

Looking for anyone with experience building and sailing smallish sailboats. I’ve done a little bit, but it’s not been my main thing. I’d like to run the plans of a possible scenario by someone with more experience. I’m pretty sure they are not absurdly stupid, but I want to make sure they are better than the “Hollywood-smart” sort of things would only work on McGyver’s 17th take.

Short version – as a “graduation test” kids dropped with the basic supplies (like food and hand tools) and a tight schedule need to make a boat largely with local materials. Is a small gaff-rig (using tent canvas) trimaran a stupid way to go?

10 thoughts on “Any sailors out there?

  1. If you want to keep the mast short, a gaff rig is a good choice. It’s not quite as efficient as a Bermuda (triangular mainsail) rig. If at all possible, a sloop rig — mainsail and jib — is the way to go, because that is a lot more efficient, reduces the size of the individual sails, etc. A sloop rig can be sailed without a rudder, at some loss of efficiency and pointing ability, but handy in case the rudder breaks.

    The above comes from sailing I did as a college student, so that’s about 40 years ago…

    I’m not sure if a trimaran is as easy to build as a plain single hull boat. It might be a faster boat, if that matters. It might be harder to handle in a strong wind especially if the sailors aren’t all that experienced. And for the same amount of material it would have less cargo capacity than a single hull.

    A question is whether it would want to have a fin keel, a centerboard, or leeboards. Leeboards are probably easiest to build, but not particularly familiar and require an extra step when going about. I’m not sure what people put on trimarans. Fins on the floats?

    A very traditional inexpensive Dutch sailboat is the “schouw” which has the advantage that it has a small number of surfaces bent only in one direction. In other words, if you had some 1×12 boards, you could make one of those easily. Most other sailboats have compound curves. shows one, and the drawings that illustrate the point I made. And here is some more, in English:

    1. They are going mostly with a fin keel – part of the program is doing some metal casting, and they managed some bronze. Not huge, but a decent dagger on each pontoon and the main hull, and a similar rudder. The pontoons are relatively long and narrow, so they’ll act almost like leeboards themselves. They considered sometime like a simple curve hull like the scow you pointed to (the Dutch do know something about boat building 🙂 ), but wanted something faster and went for broke, as it were. They don’t need to haul a huge amount – five people, some gear, and the food they collected – so maximizing capacity wasn’t a primary goal. They were starting largely from scratch, using local materials, so they were making the planking themselves – no pile of 1x12s to draw from.

    2. Nice thing about trimarans is the hull shapes are dead simple. Very little in the way of complex curves

    1. Short answer is they are starting with a canvas tent, and don’t have good way to sew / reconfigure the cloth, starting with a big rectangle of cloth, the left it largely whole. Second, a gaff rig gets more canvas higher, where the winds are faster, and they are expecting mostly light winds, and because of the stability the trimaran offers they are less concerned about flipping it. Didn’t say anything about a headsail or spinnaker. Haven’t written that part yet 🙂

  2. From what I remember, a triangular rig is more efficient, and depending on the setup, usually easier to put together (less line needed).

    With regard to sewing, will they have access to fire or any kind of plastic? Melted plastic is an effective fabric glue.

  3. A triangular rig is more efficient than a gaff rig, yes. That assumes you’re comparing the same number of square feet. But an efficient Bermuda rig also requires a significantly taller mast, so if you’re comparing equal mast height the gaff rig almost certainly wins.

    Rolf, are you talking about a trimaran with a ballasted fin? I didn’t know people did such a thing. Ballast keels are normally found in conventional boats, with V-shaped cross sections. By the way, the reason Dutch boats look as they (the term they use is “flat bottoms”) is to allow them to go aground, for example on a beach, and remain upright. And the sideboard deals with shallows well also, since it’s pivoted in the front.

    I have a nice book from the 1940s, “South Sea Vagabonds” by John Wray. It seems to be still in print, or again in print. It’s about an office worker who loses his job in the 1930s, then decides to build a sailboat in the front yard of his parent’s home, using lumber cut from flotsam trees, a hunk of scrap iron for the fin ballast, and so on. Pretty interesting. He does have the benefit of a saw mill for cutting the trees, but apart from that it’s really all manual labor, almost entirely one person.

    1. Not really a “ballasted” fin, but casting small, streamlined, bronze, dagger-shaped fins for each outrigger and the main hull to minimize slippage, secured a little aft of midship. Doing it was as much a “we can” as “we need to for a flatish-bottomed sailboat.” The pontoons are not as deep and sharp as modern trimaran rigs normally, so they were kind of needed. The beaches are steep enough they can still nudge her ashore without them touching. They don’t need it to be particularly rugged, and don’t plan on really going ashore more than once (at the end of the trip).

    1. Huh. Interesting. Learn something new every day. Thanks for the link.

      Yeah, the story didn’t necessarily HAVE to have a tirmaran, but it worked out that way, and it’s essentially done, starting editing and last second tweaks, and awaiting cover art.

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