Tuesday, February 28, 2023

It ain't magic!

My friend Bob is sailing his homebuilt Puddle Duck Racer at Cedar Key, Florida. He is using a sail rig from a windsurfer. As plain as these boats are, they sail well and cost very little to make. He and his dog are having a great time. But simple boats can also be beautiful creations of things like mahogany and teak and have high prices.

There can be great pleasure in sailing a smallish boat with a simple sail rig. But it doesn't happen by magic. And the same sort of thing can happen when paddling a canoe or kayak.

Here is how it seems to work: your boat or canoe is relatively small--canoes always are--and therefore light. You steer it with a simple tiller or tiller extension. You control the sail with just one 'sheet.' (There may be some minor other controls that can mostly be 'set-and-forget.')

You position yourself comfortably (being comfortable is important, as we will investigate later).

With a bit of practice and familiarization you learn to feel every motion of the boat, to sense the pressure on the tiller, and the tug of the sail on the sheet. And then 'simplicity' sneaks in. While you pay attention to the wind and water (with sight, hearing, feel), sailing starts to become somewhat autonomous. Your hands make small adjustments almost without conscious thought.You can devote your mind to the world at large, sing songs, write poetry or a great novel, all without deserting your obligations for ship handling because you have assimilated many of the tasks that are needed, made them a part of your being, not just a conscious list of details. And then if a gust threatens, you snap to a higher level of focus.

Of course, some of this can happen on a larger boat with greater weight, more sails, more strings to pull, and perhaps more mechanisms to accommodate. But that requires more, perhaps much more, conscious attention.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023


I'm Bob, aka the Aged Mariner. (I am old but not yet quite ancient and so far I don't have an albatross hanging around.)

Simple sailing, with the jib sail left behind. With my son on a Canadian lake.

Almost 50 years ago friends took me sailing in a boat like the one above and I got hooked. I bought an inexpensive 12 foot 'mini-scow' and sailed it for years, but then got the bug for a bigger boat and began a extensive series of buying, sailing, then selling ever larger boats, up to the mid-20 foot range. Work, family, and other obligations kept me from buying anything I couldn't tow, but I did crew for friends with larger cruising boats.

I have gradually come to my senses and realized that, for me, smaller and simple boats provide much more pleasure. I can take a small boat or sailing canoe to water, unpack it and have it ready to sail in about 10 minutes. I can then sail on modest bodies of water for an hour or two, pack it for the road, and be on my way with little fuss. And these smaller craft tend to be modestly priced.

The boat in the picture is a version of the classic 16'9" O'Day Daysailer. While I love those boats, rigging it is rather a chore. I have now moved downscale, very happily.

There is an old saying: 'Old sailors never die, they just get a little dinghy.' Or maybe it should be 'old sailors get smarter.'

This blog will be about the pleasures and possibilities of simple boats, simple sails, and simple sailing, including how to create one's own sail rigs, make sails, transport them, and love them.

I am creating a parallel blog, called 'Sew Big, Sew Heavy,' that deals with the mechanics of crafting large or dense sewn objects, including sails. Find it at https://www.sewbig.net/

It ain't magic! My friend Bob is sailing his homebuilt Puddle Duck Racer at Cedar Key, Florida. He is using a sail rig from a windsurfer...