A Trip Down The Mississippi, Fit 2 - Creative Modification; Or, Self-Discovery Through Marine Architecture
At the end of Fit 1, our new Banks dory was sitting covered in snow in my parents' back yard, a blank canvas ready for the brush. John and I had spent countless pleasantly contentious hours planning her equipment and arrangements. Smart young fellows - professional seamen - we knew what we wanted, and we thought we knew how to get it. In the main, we made design choices that paid off during the trip.
We wanted to live in her, so we needed sleeping accommodations. We also needed space to cook, store food, navigate, horse around in all day without being cramped; and John needed safe stowage for his guitar. We wanted VHF radio capability, for bridge-to-bridge traffic and calling the locks, and also so we could phone up friends via the Marine Operator (no cell phones then) and tell true fictions about our adventures. We had an open boat, but we wanted shelter from sun and rain, and privacy at night. We wanted to sleep tight, and no bugs to bite! And we needed a design that could morph into a sailboat after we'd conquered the mighty Mississippi, since our plan was to continue the adventure by making a coastwise trip around Florida and North to the Chesapeake Bay. We wanted it all - and we had an 18 foot Banks dory to fit it in. Piece of cake!
We figured Job 1 was incorporation of the architectural features that would let our motor-driven river boat become a sail-driven sea rover, and then fit the other requirements in around them. With much chewing of tongues and wrinkling of brows, more arguing, many a crumpled sheet of paper, and an adequate quantity of liquid inspiration, a set of leeboards and a kick-up rudder were designed. We decided on leeboards because we wanted to compromise neither the interior space of the boat, nor its simple strength, with a centerboard trunk. The leeboards, pivoting at the gunwale, would allow some fore-and-aft adjustment of the center of resistance - because being totally inexperienced in sail design, I wasn't sure just how the center of effort of the junk sail I'd drawn up would work out. I tried to set it up with the CE perhaps just a little aft of where it should be; we figured that (in imitation of Colvin's GAZELLE) we could always rig a small jib later, and lift the leeboards a bit, if we found we needed to move it forward relative to the CR.
Sounds like I knew what I was doing, doesn't it? Only sorta. I figured this stuff out by reading as little as I could get away with about "theory" - relying on the "practice" to iron out the wrinkles. Perhaps luckily, we never got to "practice" so far as sailing went! But I think it would have worked, at least going downwind.
Figuring out the sail plan & leeboards gave us the placement of the thwart that would brace the mast. We built up the thwart out of thin layers of exterior plywood glued together with WEST epoxy. It made a hell of a thwart, much stronger, probably, than it needed to be. John and I could jump on it together without any flexing. A hole bored, a step fitted - and we shipped our mast. The mast was the stub of a racing boat mast we'd gotten from my boatbuilder uncle (we cut off the rotten part). We'd need to replace it later on with a taller, stronger mast for the junk rig, but for now it was ideal. It gave us an antenna mount, and - when fitted with a boom and topping lift - provided ridge support for an awning we'd designed that was to convert into a tent at night.
Our convertible awning deserves description, because as the trip unfolded it was one of the most appreciated features of the boat. The awning was arranged along the boom, topped up to a height that gave us plenty of headroom. The shape of the awning reflected the shape of the dory, so it was wide amidships and tapered going aft - it shaded the after two thirds of the dory. Along the length of the awning, we fitted removable thwartships battens in pockets with holes in their outboard ends, lined up with corresponding holes in the awning; and through the holes we led light Nylon lines that secured to the gunwale under slight tension. So the whole thing stayed flat and very secure, even in high wind, the Nylon lines & flexible battens letting it spring a bit. We could even angle it - like cocking your hat - to face the weather if it was raining, or to meet the sun late in the day. Constructed like a junk-sail, it had a junk-sail's virtues - all the stresses spread evenly throughout the structure.
When we beached or anchored for the night, we'd slip out the battens, adjust the boom a bit, and drop the sides of the awning down to overlap the gunwale, where lines hooked over little cleats on the outboard side secured it tightly. Then it was a cosy tent - we could even close the ends, with panels that unfurled. If it was hot, we could leave the awning up, and unroll mosquito nets secured with Velcro. Taken all round, we blessed that thing every day for the comfort it gave, and snoozed sweetly every night beneath its shelter. That awning was one of the best things we did, and made the trip not only pleasurable, but actually possible. (You'll see in a later Fit why that was!)
For sleeping we turned to that venerable, practical, comfortable Native American invention, the hammock. We made our own, and they turned out very well. We had only one glitch to sort out, and John did the sorting. We'd originally imagined that the hammocks could be rigged all in one string, so to speak: the heads hooked together with a short run of rope. We'd hook the rope run over belaying pins set in the main thwart forward, and drop knots through notches in the false stern at the foot - voila! Instant foc's'le, neat and simple.
A little too simple, in practice - John was bigger than me, and since the hammocks were hooked together he would slowly sink as the night went on. By morning his derriere was grazing the deck with each swing of the boat while I, being lighter, rode high and comfortable. After a night or two spent demostrating of the law of gravity, we changed the design so that each hammock tied up individually.
Cooking was done on a Primus stove in a gimbaled mount that fit into a bracket screwed into one of the port side frames. It didn't do gourmet, but Primus stoves make good heat, so we had hot meals and coffee. When we were done we'd take it down, so it was never in the way.
With stove put away and hammocks stowed, the "bridge deck" was cleared for action on the river. Capacious and shady, it was a nice place to spend the day. Forward of the mast, most things, including John's indispensable guitar, were stowed in a fitted weatherproof box we made just forward of the thwart, the rest in waterproof bags stuffed wherever. A cooler held a few perishables. We stopped every other day or so for fresh ice - and occasionally to renew the beer supply (the cold liquid in the cans helped keep the food cool!) This simple camper boat design capably met all our needs, and kept us happy and comfortable for many weeks on the big river.
We also had a VHF, an anchor, oars, a sounding lead made the old-fashioned way with cloth and leather strips to tell the depth ("mark twain!!") - I made that more for fun than anything else, but we did use it once or twice - a kerosene riding light that had belonged to my folks' sailboat, a big manual bilge pump (we needed that baby once!), and other necessary stuff. And of course we had a small Mercury outboard and two gas cans. We found we could go for days on eight gallons of gas. It was fun to stop at a marina and watch the other boats fill up - the counter would spin round to $100, $200, $300, and more. . . and some of them were doing this every day! Then we'd spend $12 to fill our cans, and get back on the river.
So that was our boat. All things considered, we were more than happy with our mode of transport - our portable little world. But I haven't mentioned her name! In that I was a little disappointed. Since we were using a junk rig we'd decided to name her in Chinese, as well. John's sister was a Chinese speaker who lived and worked in China a good deal - she ought to be an expert. We asked her for a good name in Chinese. She answered (I think without too much thought) that a common boat name in China was SEA DRAGON. I was disappointed - though I'm not sure what I was hoping for. But having asked her, we didn't see that we could reject the suggestion, either. So SEADRAGON she was, though, in fact, she would never see the sea.
In Fit 3 we'll start the trip - and then stop it cold - and then start it again. Stay tuned for more!