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Archive for the ‘Boating’ Category

From time to time you hear stories about couples who, try as they might, just don’t share the same interests (cut to night club stand-up comedian: “My wife and I go out twice a week and we have a great time. She goes out on Tuesdays and I go out on Thursdays.” Rimshot. Applause) Interests like, for instance going out in boats. “Wife says sell” reads the plaintive classified ad in the boating magazine. But what if you found someone who liked boating. What if you found someone who not only liked boating, but liked it as much or more than you did? And what if you liked to not just go boating but to go boating really, really fast? If all of those things were true, then you would be Harold and Lorna Wilson, Canada’s powerboat racing couple.

HAW LMR LMC IV closeup winners

Beginning with summers in Muskoka as a young man, Harold discovered fast boats and wanted to go faster. Over a racing career that spanned nearly three decades, he worked his way up from outboards to unlimited hydroplanes. Along the way, he met Lorna Reid and she joined him in the cockpit. As a husband and wife racing team, they were unique. He drove and she served as riding mechanic on the water and mechanic on shore. Their first big victories as a team came in the 225 cubic inch hydroplane class, where they were world champions in 1933 and 1934.

LMC IV official photo 1935

Later on, they graduated to the big leagues and drove unlimited hydroplanes, competing in the Gold Cup, Harmsworth Trophy and President’s Cup races. All of their many raceboats boats were named Little Miss Canada and then Miss Canada. Here is Miss Canada III in 1939, the year she won the President’s Cup.

MC III Bridge shot Detroit hi angle

You can read the remarkable story of their racing careers in the article “Going Steady, Going Fast: The Powerboat Racing Team of Harold and Lorna Wilson,” which has just been published in the June issue of WoodenBoat magazine. You can learn more about the restoration of Miss Canada IV on the website of their son, Harry Wilson. You may see (but you’ll likely hear her long before you see her) Miss Canada IV herself out on the water in Muskoka this summer. You can see some stunning photos of Miss Canada IV after her re-launching in the summer of 2013 on the website of photographer Tim DuVernet. Finally, you can see Miss Canada III in the exhibit “Quest for Speed: The Story of Powerboat Racing” at the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, NY.

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I’ve been around canoes for a long time, arguably even in utero. This was courtesy of my parents, who met when they both worked at a YMCA camp in the 1950s. I won’t go as far as Farley Mowat and claim that I was conceived in a canoe, but insofar as the relationship that brought me into the world began and flourished at Camp Widjiwagan on the shore of Burntside Lake, and my father-to-be was in charge of the out-tripping department, I might say I was at least conceived of around canoes.

Like a lot of kids, I went to camp for several summers in my early teens. I knew I was going to camp, but when I arrived I was disappointed to find out that I was also going to church, whether I liked it or not, and that I had to learn to walk like an Indian to get to there. My appreciation of the inevitable lecture about the Great Spirit and the singing of Kum-Ba-Yah was always undercut by a pretty strong feeling, at least in an jumbled, inchoate 12-year old way, that nature, far from enfolding me in her bosom and the oneness of all creation, really didn’t give a damn, and would just as happily have me for lunch as refresh my mind and spirit.

A lot of my discomfort around the rituals and philosophy of camp had to do with Indians. Not  real First Nations, mind you, not actual living, breathing people you could talk to, but the Indian that I, the middle class urban white kid, was expected to become while I was at camp. We learned quickly that it wasn’t an option to go into the woods or into a canoe as ourselves, since we were expected to learn Indian “lore” and “ways” as a rite of passage and an introduction to the mystery. I can lay a lot of this at the feet of Ernest Thompson Seton, whose late 19th and early 20th advice on character formation and masturbation avoidance for young men borrowed heavily from a free-floating, heavily-idealized notion of Indian life, outlined in classic works like The Book of Woodcraft (1912, 1921), The Birchbark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians and (perhaps my favourite title) How Boys Can Form a Band of Indians.

Texts for training the future defenders of the empire, these books combined instructions for parts of your body you were supposed to touch and parts you weren’t with paeans to the Noble Savage and confirmation of the inherent rightness of muscular Christianity. As Seton ever-so-earnestly maintains in The Book of Woodcraft, “. . .more nations have been wiped out by sex abuse than by bloody war. The nation that does not bring up its youth with pure ideals is certainly going to destruction.” (p. 240). If Krupp had manufactured sex toys and dirty magazines instead of artillery, the Germans might have won the war! I can only wonder what became of those lost souls who not only didn’t want to pretend to be an Indian but did want to abuse themselves, and in the woods, no less. They were probably beyond redemption. Imitate the Indians and learn to walk softly on the earth but for goodness’ sake don’t touch yourself because you’ll contribute to the collapse of western civilization.

This philosophy bothered me then and it hasn’t gotten any better in the many years since I last went to summer camp. As an urban white kid, I knew that I couldn’t have become an Indian, or even convincingly acted like one, if I tried for 100 years. Maybe it was just because I suspected that the truth of “the Indian way” wouldn’t manifest itself to non-believers like me, the way only the faithful can see the image of the virgin on the wall of the carwash, or maybe it was because I just didn’t have Grey Owl’s duplicitous sangfroid or his desire to pass in someone else’s culture. I also didn’t want to learn to walk like an Indian in the woods. The woods were fine, to a point, but couldn’t I just learn to walk through them as myself?

The most discomfiting part of the whole experience was unfortunately supposed to be the highlight: the grand council fire. This reminded me of my childhood’s big Sunday roast beef dinners, presented as a treat, and an expensive one at that, for which we were expected to be grateful, but which I usually spent most of the meal trying to re-arrange on my plate to make it look as if I’d eaten some of it. The core of the council fire experience was sitting around a campfire with a bunch of other kids like myself, led through ersatz myth and ritual by a university professor who, for the evening, had turned himself into a great chief who had travelled across the lake in his underwater canoe to lead us in a council fire and tell us legends. This wasn’t my culture, for sure, and it was a little embarrassing to be play-acting at someone else’s, even for an evening. I mean, it wasn’t as if we’d actually sat down and talked about Canada’s First Nations, and who they were, or how they related to canoes and canoeing and the landscape and natural world or, heaven forbid, even had a real Indian come and talk to us directly. This wouldn’t have been possible anyways because there weren’t any Indians around summer camp, at least not the one I went to. This wasn’t thoughtful study, it was a redface minstrel show, and I had to take part whether I liked it or not. It was even worse than skit night.

Much as I enjoyed certain aspects of summer camp (canoes, boats, horses, water, occasionally the dining hall), there were also other parts that were just horrifying. You never knew when you were going to be pounced on and organized into an activity by an overly-cheerful counselor. The most intense of these people were like a combination of the briskly-efficient nurse who tells you, even as she’s pulling on her rubber gloves, that “it won’t hurt a bit and bend over and cough please” and the activity director from a senior citizens’ bus trip. That kind of aggressive cheerfulness, which can’t abide dis-organized, non-group activity, always made me want to run as fast as I could in the opposite direction. The fact that the most aggressively-promoted of these activities took place in groups only made it worse. I worked very hard at perfecting my own version of “capture the flag,” which I called “find a place to hide until it’s all over.”

The camp I went to was pretty hard core in its approach and old-school in its methods. The older you got, the more you went out on canoe trips and the less time you spent in camp. Canoe trips were carried out in a fleet of wood-canvas canoes. They were probably Chestnuts, though I don’t recall for sure. Elderly they certainly were, and covered in layers and layers of paint and patches, to a point where a canoe that originally weighed maybe 75 lbs dry was probably up in the 90s by the time it was placed on our shoulders. And these weren’t broad and mighty shoulders, either. These were skinny, 12-year old shoulders, at least in my case attached to a body that had grown up well before it had grown out.

On “out-trips,” as these expeditions were called, these canoes were accompanied by a traditional backpack known as the Trapper Nelson. The Trapper Nelson was technically a pack-board, a wooden frame with vertical uprights covered by green duck canvas. You could lash all sorts of things to it, but we usually used it with a bag that was held on by wire passed through screw-eyes that protruded through eyelets in a flap at each side of the bag. The whole thing was made from pine or spruce and waterproofed green canvas, a big rectangular bag with a top flap and green webbing straps. The tops and bottoms of the posts were covered with aluminum caps stapled on, and the whole thing smelled like insect repellent, woodsmoke, wax and dirt. In the grand tradition of the army, whose equipment this pack resembled, they seemed to come most often in two sizes with respect to our young shoulders: too large and too small. Sometimes, on one of the interminable character-building portages we endured, if the counselors weren’t looking and you edged forward or back to the right spot in the canoe you were carrying on your shoulders, the gunwales could be balanced on the posts to transfer the weight to a different part of your anatomy for a moment.

We cursed them when we carried them on portages, but for me these canoes were also the saving grace of the whole summer camp experience. With my abhorrence of structured recreation, which extends in a long and awkward arc from childhood’s forced participation in baseball to a complete lack of interest in team sports as an adult, my favourite part of the day was after dinner when the waterfront was opened for free time. All of the boats in the camp’s motley fleet were fair game, including the old Chestnuts, a down-at-the-heels Klepper folding kayak and several much-patched, high-mileage fiberglass whitewater boats. Once you had passed the swimming test, you could choose any boat you wanted to take out. Better still, you didn’t have to pretend to be anyone else to use it.

The high-liners of the waterfront were the counselors. One of these young men (old to us, but he might have been all of 17) in particular could heel his canoe so far over, paddling solo from the middle of the boat, that the bottom of the gunwale just brushed the still evening surface of the lake. This was cool, and we all strove mightily to imitate him. The further down you could go, and the steadier the canoe was, the higher your status rose. I learned later that this style of paddling was awkwardly known as “Omering” after 1930s canoe guide Omer Stringer, latterly more famous as the eponym of the Beaver Canoe t-shirt and sweatshirt empire. All I knew at the time was that this was the “proper” way to paddle solo.

Later on, I would find words to describe this experience. At university, I would first read of “the still point of the turning world. . .of the still point there the dance is, but neither arrest nor movement” and think of how much Eliot’s meditations on equilibrium, equipoise and the continuum of time reminded me of balancing that canoe on the boundary between air and water. I would also learn about hull forms and the turn of the bilge and tumblehome and the physics of how bodies move through water. I even tried to learn naval architecture until I was defeated by math.

At that moment, though, what was most important about paddling those canoes was that it was worth everything I had to put up with to get there: the Indian play-acting, the forced jollity of organized games and “ice-breaker” activities, the occasional Lord of the Flies-style cruelty inflicted when groups of young boys are brought together in close quarters and the pantheistic moralizing of summer camp. On those summer nights, alone in a big old canoe on a quiet lake, I learned that while I didn’t always like playing with other kids, or playing at being other people, or being told what to do and when, I really, really liked playing with boats. I’m still at it.

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Over the years, I’ve written a lot of book reviews for publications such as The International Journal of Maritime History, The Northern Mariner/Le Marin du Nord and WoodenBoat magazine. Lately, I’ve also been reviewing boats. This is, if anything, more fun than reviewing books about boats, though unfortunately you don’t get to keep the boat at the end of the review(!).

Last year, I reviewed a Sea Flea outboard hydroplane. This year, it was the Mirror Dinghy and a Peterborough Canoe Company “Nomad” longitudinal strip outboard runabout.

mirror dinghy 4

If you’ve spent any time at all in sailing clubs in North America or Europe, chances are you’ve seen at least a few of the many dinghies drawn by the English designer and boatbuilder Jack Holt (1912–1995), who drew more than 40 boats during his long career. He was noted for his early adoption of marine plywood with a particular focus on dinghies that could be home-built by amateurs. Two of his more distinctive designs are the Enterprise (1956), with its baby blue sails, and the Mirror (1962), with its red sailcloth. Interestingly, the Enterprise (The News Chronicle) and the Mirror (The Daily Mirror) are, along with the DN Iceboat (The Detroit News), three small craft designs sponsored by newspapers that have gone on to great success.

According to the international class association, more than 70,000 of these small dinghies have been built worldwide, and the Mirror is now an international one-design class overseen by the International Sailing Federation (ISAF). Mirror hull #1, EILEEN, was constructed in 1963 and is now in the collection of the National Maritime Museum Cornwall in Falmouth, England. Originally gunter-rigged, the class now also permits a Bermudan mainsail. The Mirror was an early design to employ stitch-and-glue construction. Home-built boats still use this method, but some professionally built hulls are also available in foam-sandwich fiberglass in the United Kingdom. The first generation of spars was all wood, but masts are now commonly aluminum.

The dinghy measures 10’11” LOA x 4’7” beam, with a board-down draft of 28”. Sail area is 49 sq ft in the main, 20 sq ft in the jib, and the spinnaker adds an additional 47 sq ft. The racing crew is two, but the boat can easily accommodate three adults or an adult and several children for daysailing. Plans for this strict one-design are not commercially available, and Mirrors are sold only as complete kits, hull kits, bare hulls, or sail-away boats.Mirror dinghies can often be found on the used-boat market in central and eastern Canada, particularly through the website of the Ontario Mirror Dinghy Association at www.mirrorsailing.ca.

Mirror dinghy kits are available in North America from Mirror Sailing Development, 34 Lee Ave., Bradford, ON, l3Z 1A9, Canada, 905–775–4771, lbellamy@ca.inter.net. General information about the class is available from the International Mirror Class Association www.mirrorsailing.org and www.dinghyalmanac.com/mirror, where you will find links to national associations in Australia, Canada, Ireland, Japan, The Netherlands, South Africa, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

nomad page 1959 pcc catalogue

The Nomad was from the upper end of the Peterborough Canoe Company’s outboard offerings. Owners could have the boat as an open outboard or add steering, windshield and deck hardware to turn the Nomad into the double-cockpit runabout shown here. The sail-away price in 1959 was $730.00.

Over the years, Ken Lavalette and his crew at Woodwind Yachts in Nestleton, Ontario, have restored more than 50 cedar-strip boats. Well-loved and well-used, they often come into his shop more than a little worse for wear and leave looking a whole lot better. As he worked on these boats over the years, it occurred to Ken that often the number of hours required to restore them wasn’t far off what it would take to build one from scratch. At 15’ LOA and 5’ beam, the Nomad was big enough to carry some people and some gear, but small enough to be easily trailered and stored. Was there a market for a new traditionally-built cedar-strip runabout?

nomad 1

There was only one way to find out, so he measured an original 1957-58 Nomad and built the robust, nearly-solid mould required for this method of construction. He left the hull shape unchanged from the original, but increased the scantlings of the stem, keel, ribs, transom, planking and deck slightly based on what he had learned from his many restorations of this type. Underway, the boat feels solid and reliable. 25 mph is not at all fast by today’s standards, but it’s a speed that will get you where you want to go and still let you have a pleasant conversation on the way. It might also save enough on gas, even with an older two-stroke, to let you pay for dinner when you get there.

With simple lines and an elegant all-bright finish, the boat is a head-turner both on the water and on the road. New Peterborough Nomads built in the traditional longitudinal cedar strip technique and equipped with re-built 1950s outboards are available from Woodwind Yachts. Used cedar-strip boats in a variety of sizes and configurations can often be found for sale in classified ads and at antique and classic boat shows and auctions.

Both reviews appear in WoodenBoat Magazine’s 2014 Small Boatswhich is on newsstands now.

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sea flea 6

I like food. No, I mean I really like food. And when I say that, I mean I like the whole food chain from top to bottom, beginning with marshmallow fluff and continuing through potato chips right up to really old asiago, punchy merlot and artisanal ciabatta with a roasted garlic, sundried tomato and balsamic tapenade.

I’m kind of the same way about boats, too. Sure, I have my preferences, but really I just like stuff that floats, and as they say, ” a bad day on the water is often better than a good day at the office.”

So, earlier this year when I received an email from Robin Jettinghoff at WoodenBoat that would allow me to broaden my boating horizons, I jumped at the chance. Robin asked me if I would review a boat for the 2013 edition of WoodenBoat Magazine’s Small Boats, and not just any old boat, but a classic little outboard hydroplane known as a “Sea Flea.” I said “but of course,” and she put me in touch with the good folks at Muskoka Sea Flea who arranged to get some boats together at one of their cottages. Mid-morning on a bright summer day, my son Benjamin and I arrived with our PFD’s, some cameras and a change of clothes. And then some boats arrived. And then some more boats arrived. And pretty soon, there were kids and grownups and little outboard hydroplanes everywhere.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As well as being used by parents and kids, these boats are often built by parents and kids. Like so many dreams, they began in the pages of magazines like Popular Mechanics, or Science & Mechanics.

(more…)

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One of the things I’ve always found almost as interesting as boats is images of boats, especially pop culture and advertising images. Pop culture? Really? But it’s so, well, so popular. What does it really have to say? A lot, I think.

The same argument is sometimes levelled at pleasure boating as not being a subject worthy of serious study because it “only” deals with pleasure (as if the pursuit of pleasure hasn’t been a constant of human affairs for some time now). The thing about pleasure boating, and its wealthy cousin yachting, is that they’re of significance precisely because they’re not serious (unless you’re trying to win the America‘s Cup, perhaps), and this is what makes them important. The purchase of a pleasure boat is the ultimate discretionary expenditure. There’s no practical reason to own it unless you want to, or you think it’s beautiful, or it makes you happy, or all three. If you think about it, then, these purchases can tell us about what we really want, unfettered by the practicalities that constrain our everyday acquisitions. If pleasure boats are an interesting place to study people, therefore, then advertising for pleasure boats, or that uses pleasure boats, is a great place to find out what we all desire.

I’ve been collecting images of pleasure boating for a while now, and for me it’s a real pleasure because I only acquire things that interest me. No scheme, no system, no need to have footnotes or be representative of a particular historical style or period. I just get things I like. I think I’ll share some of these with you from time to time, so here’s a few to start us off. These are all on the theme of canoes and double paddles.

Our 1890s friend here with the snappy beanie, striped shirt and moustache to match is paddling a sturdy little Rob Roy type. He’s also advertising coffee while he enjoys boating. Here’s what the back of the card looks like:

And the connection between Lion coffee and canoeing is, well, it is what ever you would like it to be. As it it says at the top, you had to buy the coffee to get this charming trade card.

On a less muscular and manly note, we have some very slender 1880s young ladies paddling some very slender Rob Roy canoes. I’m not sure what the displacement of the hull in the background is, but I would think that it’s not suited to rough water use. This is a lovely, serene pastoral image, perfect to accompany your note to a friend.

Skip ahead a few years to the 1920s, and this trim couple have been so rejuvenated by taking Dr. Roussel’s anti-anemia remedy that they are able to paddle in perfect synchronization–as the tag line says, it gives you strength.

And here’s a personal favourite. Once again, nothing says Rob Roy canoe like a striped t-shirt. One of the earliest pieces in my little collection, this tiny tobacco card, measuring 3″ x 1  1/2″,  is from 1888, one of a set that depicted a rather ecclectic group of watercraft ranging from iceboats to battleships.  It is also one of the earlier instances I’ve seen of the slightly disturbing pairing of canoeing [think healthy, outdoors, clean] with tobacco and smoking [think the opposite]. This ran all the way through to Camel cigarette ads in the 1980s that showed our hero lighting up as he paddled.

There’s so much to like about this image, including its well-proportioned canoe, the tam on the paddler’s head, the artful spray of water fro the upper paddle blade and the large, pointillist printing dots. Two nice boats in the background too, one with a dipping lug to the left and another canoe or two to the right.

Until next time. . .

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In the December, 1886, issue of Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly magazine, the noted American journalist and yachtsman W.P. Stephens, about whom I’ve written before, published an article called “Why We Canoe.” You can read the text of the article online here, courtesy of Google and the Hathi Digital Library.

Stephens was a tireless promoter of the sport of canoeing, and especially canoeing under sail, and with his canoe Jersey Blue was a fixture in the early days of the American Canoe Association. A copy of his wonderful Canoe and Boatbuilding: A Complete Manual for Amateurs should be on the shelf of anyone with even a passing interest in canoe sailing and late 19th century small craft. The book went through many editions, and original copies can be found for sale at a reasonable price. It’s also been reprinted. My friend Dan Miller over at Dragonfly Canoe Works has kindly made it possible to read the book online. As important as the book, but much harder to find, are the plates, which originally came out in a companion volume. In 1987, as the date on the cover of my well-thumbed copy says, Mystic Seaport Museum collated and re-published a complete set. Mystic also holds Stephens’s drawings and papers, a veritable treasure trove of canoeing and yachting history.

The article is vintage Stephens, arguing strongly in favour of his preferred type of sailing canoe, the all-’round paddling/sailing boat, suitable for extended cruising. He notes with approval the recent development of classification rules by the American Canoe Association, designed “to prevent, as far as possible, the construction of racing canoes.” Unfortunately for Stephens but fortunately for those of us who enjoy 16-30s, ICs and other “dangerous racing freaks,” as he condemned them, racing craft did develop.

His article contains some charming engravings of mid-1880s canoes that were just on the verge of the bifurcation in design that began to occur under the pressures of racing under sail. The four illustrated here are exemplars of what Stephens considered to be wholesome types.

Atlantis was owned by the noted Adirondack writer, photographer and artist Seneca Ray Stoddard.

Robert Tyson’s Isabel was well known on the Toronto waterfront and at the Toronto Canoe Club, as was her skipper and his characteristic tam, with its cap ribbons hanging down behind. Like many canoeists of this era, Tyson tinkered incessantly with his rig, and Isabel exhibits one of his interesting innovations. The unique bent mast serves least two purposes. The first one is to get the rig as far forward as possible without putting the mast right up in the eyes of the canoe. Combined with the heavy roach, held out by battens, this gives a big mainsail with a low centre of effort. The spar extending below the boom also permits a vang to be used, something not normally possible because of the low boom on sailing canoes which would create too shallow an angle for a vang to be effective.

Marion B ‘s mainsail displays the turtle totem of Albany, NY’s Mohican Canoe Club, one of the powerhouses of organized canoeing in the late 19th century. The standing lug rig with its two reefing battens is an early example of what would become known as the Mohican rig. Later versions pulled the whole sail aft of the mast and did away with the small portion extending forward, using elaborate hardware to attach the yard, battens and luff. Owned by General Oliver, Marion B was be decisively outsailed in the 1886 ACA meet by Commodore Gibson’s new Rushton-built canoe Vesper.

Siren represents one of the main types of early sailing canoe, the Nautilus (the others being the Rob Roy and the Shadow) The Nautilus type originated with a number of canoes of that name sailed by Warington Baden Powell. In their first incarnations, they were solidly constructed seaboats with moveable inside ballast and heavy boilerplate centreboards, sailed semi-prone. As the caption indicates, this American canoe, though ostensibly a Nautilus type, is already being sailed from the deck and not below. It was but a short step (a short slide, actually) from sitting on the weather edge of the deck to sitting outboard on a sliding seat, so notwithstanding Stephens’ misgivings about racing canoes, the wind of change was already filling these small sails.

Until next time. . .

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Back in the second post in this series, I was thinking about how to translate the arc bottom of the original sailing canoe into something I could build in stitch and glue. Using the original linesplan, I’ve modeled several different version of the hull in Delftship that allow me to make some numerical comparisons between them. All I’ve changed in each case is the number of chines and the underwater shape–everything else is the same (with the exception of some small changes to the bow profile to accommodate an additional chine). The design waterline and draft of 4″ are as on the original plans, and all these hulls are shown in a full bow-on view.

Here’s the original arc-bottomed hull, which displaces .117 short tons, or 234 lbs.

Here’s the same hull with all of the arc taken out of the bottom sections so that there’s just a straight section from chine to keel. This results in a significantly lower displacement of only .075 tons, or 150 lbs. How much displacement do we want or need? Well, I’d say something at least equal to the original hull. I’m also keeping in mind the displacement of my hard-chine 16-30 hull, which is .133 tons, or 266 lbs. From my experience in building and sailing those boats, they float pretty much on their marks with a sailor of average weight, so there’s a good comparison for what displacement we should shoot for in a two-masted, decked 16′ sailing canoe built in stitch and glue. I don’t think 150 lbs is going to do it.

Here I’ve added another chine and pulled it down amidships to make a nearly flat bottom. I may have overdone it on the extra volume, though, because now our displacement is up to .139 tons, or 278 lbs. I’m not sure we need quite all of that.

If I introduce just a little deadrise into the midships sections, leaving the ends unchanged, the displacement decreases to  .128 tons, or 256 lbs, which is pretty close to our 16-30 hull.

So far, so good. The next step is to add the deck and deck camber, put the bulkheads in the right places instead of just at a uniform 1′ interval and expand the individual hull panels. Then, I’ll buy some balsa wood and make a 1 1/2″ – 1′ model.

Until next time. . .

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