Thursday, April 27, 2017

Talk in Boston

I'll give a talk and Q&A on QUIDNON at the Artisan's Asylum in Somerville, MA at 8pm on Thursday, May 4th. Hope to see you there.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Ridiculously versatile

The world is full of boats that do just one thing quite well. QUIDNON is not one of them: it does a great number of things adequately and just one thing ridiculously well.

Ocean yachts are designed for ocean cruising and racing. They make poor houseboats due to lack of space. They can’t go through shallows because they have a keel. They don’t make good canal boats because their masts can’t pass under low bridges. They require a crane or a Travelift for hauling them out for maintenance. They are expensive. They are also quite slow. They can’t carry much freight.

Motor boats are sometimes big enough to make good houseboats. They are either unable to make long ocean passages because of their limited range, or they are expensive to take on ocean passages because of fuel costs. They can go faster than sailing yachts, but then their fuel consumption becomes quite ridiculous. When used as houseboats, their large engines make a poor investment. They also require a crane or a Travelift for maintenance. Some of them can carry a considerable amount of freight, but this makes them slower and increases the fuel consumption.

Houseboats are either houses built on floats or boats that can’t handle rough water. They are reasonable to live on and can be used on rivers and canals, but they can’t venture out on the ocean, never mind make ocean passages. They don’t carry freight.

Houses are great to live in—much roomier than any boat. But they do have two major shortcomings: they don’t move, and they don’t float. This is increasingly a problem: lots of houses are lost to flooding every year, and the toll will only go up as oceans rise and extreme weather events associated with climate change become more frequent. If an area where you have built a house becomes unpleasant or dangerous, you can’t just move the house but have find yourself a new dwelling.

Boats do float, but with most boats nobody particularly wants to live on them on dry land. On land, both yachts and power boats have to be put up on jacks, and then living on them is like living in a treehouse, with a long climb up a ladder just to get home. If a flood causes them to float off the jacks, they are unlikely to settle back onto them. Instead, they fall over and get damaged. Then they don’t float any more.

Houseboats generally do better on dry land than other kinds of boats. The Dutch have built some houses on barges that are designed to float up and down. When the water is low, they bicycle home; when the water is high, they row a dinghy. That’s a good idea in a country that’s mostly under water. But I haven’t heard too many stories about people living on houseboats on dry land.

QUIDNON is specifically designed to do a great number of things adequately.

It makes a reasonable land-based residence that floats when it has to. Its bottom is flat, and it settles upright again once the waters recede. It is a second-floor walk-up, but then its roof makes a wonderful deck, and the cockpit makes a nice gazebo.

It makes a good houseboat of the sort that just stays at the dock: then you can skip the expense of the masts, the sails and the engine, and just live on it. If you want a comfortable, inexpensive DIY dockside dwelling that looks enough like a boat to not bother the neighbors, look no further.

When the time comes to move house, just drop in an outboard engine. It is a good boat for rivers and canals because it only draws a couple of feet. If all you need to do is motor to a different marina twice a year (to shift between summer and winter camp) or to go from a marina to a mooring field and back, there is no need for a dedicated engine. Instead, you can just drop in your dinghy engine into the engine well, then put it back on the dinghy.

If you want to go sailing, add masts and sails. Even with masts and sails added, it still makes a good canal boat, because you can drop the masts by yourself with just a comealong—no crane needed.

If you want to make ocean passages, that is not a problem either. QUIDNON has 130º of stability, making it quite safe, and is reasonably fast for its size, especially downwind. It isn’t fast upwind, particularly in rough seas—but then few people enjoy such a bone-shaking ride in any case. Some people view the ability to go upwind in any conditions as key, forgetting the fact that the entire planet has been explored and settled using boats that couldn’t go upwind any better than about 60º to the wind, tacking through 120-130º. If sailing upwind were important, people would have paid more attention to this problem. The only sailors who valued the ability to sail close to the wind were corsairs—pirates! In fact, most ocean sailing is still done off the wind or downwind, with the prevailing winds. Choose your courses the way the old-time mariners did, and you can even use QUIDNON to circumnavigate. And should you wish to carry a few tons of freight, there is plenty of room for it, and the extra weight won't make much of a difference.

When the time comes to haul out for maintenance, you don’t have to pay a crane operator and a marina. Just find a sandy spot that dries out at low tide, anchor there, and wait for the water to recede. The bottom is surfaced with roofing copper, and you just need to scrape off the seafood that grows on it where you can reach it. The rest of the seafood will get crushed against the sand.

And now, here is the thing that it does ridiculously well: getting around onerous regulations.

If you live in a house, you are subject to an ever-increasing number of regulations. You are limited in what you can build, where you can build it, what materials you can build it out of and what you can use it for. There is a permitting process to follow. You are usually forced to hook it up to utilities and to pay real estate tax on it. You are often required to hire licensed tradesmen to build and maintain a house. All said and done, many people pay close to half of their income just for a place to live. This would indicate that housing is basically a racket.

If you live on a boat, the regulations are few. There is nobody to stop you from building whatever boat you want. There is generally no permitting process, except for mooring permits in certain areas. States will try to charge you for registration, but you can get around this by documenting your boat with the Coast Guard.

There are rarely any issues with storing a boat on land that you own or lease. If you also own or lease the boat, who is to say that you aren’t allowed to live on it? If putting it on land is still problematic, dig a reflecting pool and put QUIDNON in it. Lakes, rivers and harbors are generally considered free to anchor in. If a piece of land is particularly prone to floods, you generally can’t get a building permit to put up a house on it. But there is nothing to stop you from putting a boat on it.

With most boats, when you buy it you pay the designer, the manufacturer and his workers, and the investors’ profits—in addition to all the materials and supplies. With QUIDNON, the design was done by volunteers who designed the boat for themselves, you provide your own assembly labor, and your only costs are the materials and supplies and for somebody to mind the numerically controlled mill to cut out the parts for the kit.

QUIDNON may not be as posh and sporty as a yacht, not as fast as a power boat, and not as roomy as a house. The one thing that it does ridiculously well is set you free. First, there is financial freedom: no rent or mortgage, no real estate taxes, no need to pay tradespeople. Second, there is freedom of movement: sail or motor anywhere you want, stay for as long as you like. Haul it out and use it as a beach house on some nice uninhabited island, then push it back in the water and sail off again.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Announcing: QUIDNON Crowdfuding Campaign


For the next month or so we will be trying to raise money to build the first QUIDNON. If you want to see this project realized, please consider making a contribution.

We have t-shirts, posters and books for those who donate.

And if you donate $500 or more (USD) we will do our best to deduct the amount of your donation from the price of your eventual order of the QUIDNON kit (if and when it becomes available).

Friday, April 7, 2017

A Guided Tour

There are lots of exciting developments for this project. First, we are zeroing in on the design, putting the finishing touches on various pieces. Second, we are about to announce the crowdfunding campaign to the world, so stay tuned.

In this post I will provide a look at all the more important elements of the design by presenting and narrating detailed views of the 3D model.

We start our tour underwater, as a scuba diver would, approaching a floating QUIDNON from below.


The hull is shown as translucent, to allow you to see the very substantial internal structure. The two keelboards and the two rudder blades hang down at a 10º angle, which is optimal for when the hull is heeled, since a hull this wide (16 feet) isn't going to heel more than about 10º.

The circles on the keelboards (and the rudder blades further aft) are where plates of led ballast will be embedded in the plywood sandwich. The extra weight is enough to oppose the buoyancy of the blades, allowing them to drift down when sailing slowly, but keeping them light enough so that they can bounce off the bottom in the shallows without suffering damage. When sailing fast, downhaul lines keep the keelboards and the rudder blades down against the resistance of the water rushing past. The downhauls are secured using autorelease cam cleats that pop open if a keelboard or a rudder blade encounters something solid. The skipper would then wake up and do an emergency 180º turn, or look at the depth sounder, shrug, and re-tighten and re-secure the downhaul that just popped.


Along the chines between the sides and the bottom are chine runners. They are designed to provide lateral resistance when sailing through shallows, with the keelboards raised, or bouncing along the bottom ineffectually. This feature allows QUIDNON to tack through a shallow spot that only has around 2 feet of water and also allows it to sail off the wind with the keelboards raised, decreasing drag.

The propeller from the outboard engine, in its inboard outboard well, is visible further aft. The engine moves up and down on a track, and can be raised while sailing, to further reduce drag.


Floating gently toward the transom, we notice an interesting recess in the bottom just forward of the engine well. That is where the solid ballast is hung. It is externally mounted, so that it can be dropped before hauling out on a beach, then winched into place once afloat again. It consists of a cement block with steel scrap embedded in it. It's got an eye for attaching a line in its center and 4 pieces of threaded rod—one in each corner. To mount it in place, somebody has to dive down and tie a line to the eye, then stick that eye through a hole in the center of the chain locker, which is right above where the ballast block goes and right below the cockpit. The block is then pulled into position using a comealong. Once in position, the 4 pieces of threaded rod poke through openings in the bottom of the chain locker and secured using nuts.


Finally, we reach the transom, which is going to have a swim step and a boarding ladder, but they aren't shown because we aren't done designing them yet. Note that the bottom is slightly flared as it reaches the transom. This is to provide clearance for the rudder assembly, which is tilted 10º. Also note the recess in the center of the transom, which is to keep the stream of water from the propeller from hitting the transom. For those interested in QUIDNON trivia, the horizontal panel right above that recess is officially called "the taint."

The rudder posts (pipes, actually) are bent forward slightly, so that the pivot point of the rudder blades is forward of their axis. This is done so that it is possible to adjust the angle of the rudder blades so that the steering is as close to completely neutral as you like, to provide fingertip steering, and to keep the autopilot from wasting energy. Most rudders pivot around their leading edge, or close to it, and take a lot of power to deflect. Some people find that sort of steering "sporty." But what works best is when rudder blades are adjusted so that they trail in the water if allowed to move freely but can be deflected with hardly any effort at all.


Climbing aboard using the imaginary swim step and boarding ladder, we see the cockpit populated by two creepy mannequins (they are very useful for figuring out ergonomics, but we are looking for better-looking ones). The seated mannequin is holding onto an imaginary tiller. Yes, QUIDNON uses tiller steering instead of wheel steering, for the following reasons:

1. Whether wheel or tiller, hand-steering is rarely done, because most of the steering is done by autopilot. I generally turn on autopilot seconds after casting off and turn it off again seconds before anchoring or docking. But a wheel clutters up the cockpit the entire time, while the tiller can be folded away when it isn't being used.

2. When you do have to hand-steer it is usually when docking or casting off, and what you want is a tiller anyway, so that you can freely swing it from side to side, instead of having to spin the wheel.

3. Most of the reason to use a wheel is that it allows for a lot of leverage. But who needs leverage when you have neutral steering? The only time you won't have neutral steering on QUIDNON is when you are in the shallows and the rudder blades are kicking up, but then you should slow the heck down immediately. And if you are moving slowly you don't need amplification anyway.

4. If you find that you need to hand-steer for a long time—if the autopilot dies, or if you need to hand-steer because you are ghosting to windward in a fickle breeze and the "sail to wind" function isn't working—then what you want is a tiler, not a wheel. With a wheel, there is just one steering position: standing behind the wheel. With a tiller, you can sit, stand, recline, use your feet, use your hips, tuck the tiller extension under your armpit or rig something up using bungee cords and a line tied to one of the sheets.


Here are the details of QUIDNON's steering linkage. Rudder arms and the tie-rod that connects them are shown in purple. The tie-rod is slightly shorter than the distance between the rudder posts. This is called Ackermann geometry, and allows the boat to efficiently pivot around the keelboards without generating drag, because the rudder blade closer to the center of the circle is deflected farther than the other. Along the centerline is the tiller, connected to one of the rudder arms using a diagonal linkage which allows a certain amount of amplification, to limit the swing range of the tiller to the confines of the cockpit. The tiller is a telescoping tiller that consists of a housing, the tiller itself, and the tiller extension.


Below the steering linkage is the equipment chase. QUIDNON's aft section consists of 2 aft cabins, and between them is a wedge-shaped space taken up by everything that doesn't belong in the cabin. Working from the transom forward, the rearmost section houses the gas tank and two 20-lb. propane cylinders. Forward of that is the engine well. Forward of the engine well, we have the solid ballast block at the bottom, the chain locker above it, and the cockpit well above that.


Here is another view of the cockpit. Note that there are lots of places to sit: down below, with your feet in the cockpit well; up above, on the raised lazarettes, with your feet on the seats, and inside the dodger if the weather is nasty. And you can hand-steer using the tiller extension no matter where you sit.

But you will probably be spending most of the time down below in the cabin, which is accessed using the companionway hatch and the companionway ladder.


This ladder is built right into the structure of the boat and is much more comfortable to use than most companionway ladders found on sailboats of this size. It is also much more than the ladder. At the bottom it has a footwear locker. Next, behind the first step, is a row of plumbing valves. Above it is a row of switches that control various pumps and alarms. Above it is the AC 110V/220Vcontrol panel, for shore power. And above that is the DC 12V control panel. This is a very convenient place to put all this stuff, from every angle.


To port and to starboard aft of the companionway ladder are the two aft cabins. Each has a double berth and a table, and is suitable for a couple. The aft cabins have doors, which aren't shown, because we haven't designed them yet.


Forward of the aft cabin on the port side is the heads, which has a full-size shower stall and can also be used as a sauna. We are trying to design other things into it: a bathtub, a washbasin big enough to bathe infants are both on the list. It will contain a stove that will work either on solid fuel (wood, charcoal) or propane, heat water and provide warm air that will be circulated throughout the cabin by injecting it under the cabin sole.

On the starboard side, across from the heads is the galley, which I won't show you because we are not done designing it yet. It will include all the usual stuff: a sink, a propane range and a fridge, but it will also include a stove, similar to the one in the heads, that will boil water and can be configured to be used for cooking, baking or smoking.


Forward of the galley and the heads is the salon, occupied by some more creepy mannequins. It is large enough to throw dinner parties for up to a dozen people. Above the drop-leaf table there is a large hatch, so that the space is very well lit. There is plenty of storage space behind the backs and under the seats of the settees.


To port and to starboard of the salon are the two pilot berths. They are large enough to sleep one adult, a couple who are intimate and as many as 4 children. They have a sliding door, which allows some amount of privacy. Here is another view of the pilot berth, this time looking forward.


The pipe you see is used to route uphaul and downhaul lines from the keelboard to the deck, and from there to the cockpit.

Below the pilot berths are the ballast tanks, filled with seawater. Freshwater is stored in bladders that float within the ballast tanks. Since seawater, even if strained, contains some number of living organisms who will take up residence inside the tanks, consume nutrients and oxygen and then die, periodically these tanks will need cleaning out. This is done by draining them one tank at a time, then climbing inside and scrubbing them down. Here is a mannequin bravely going where no mannequin has gone before.


And here is the view looking toward is the U-berth. Most sailboats of this size has V-berths: awkward, wedge-shaped spaces that offer the best place to sleep in spite of having too little room in the leg area and not enough headroom. Since QUIDNON's bow is not V-shaped but U-shaped, it has a U-berth instead.


We haven't quite worked out what to do with it yet, but the space definitely has potential. For example, it can be set up with sliding doors and used as a master bedroom, at which point QUIDNON becomes capable of housing 3 couples and their children. Here is a view of the salon looking from the U-berth.


Finally, here is a top view of the entire cabin. As you see, QUIDNON can house an awful lot of creepy mannequins! (Prompting one wit to declare that it may be suitable as a slave ship.) But here is the really important point: this is an awful lot of boat in a 36-foot package.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

QUIDNON is featured in this month's MAIB!

A write-up on Quidnon has been published in Bob Hicks' venerable publication, Messing About in Boats. Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Parbuckle and Launch

Most of what it will take to assemble QUIDNON from a kit is quite easy. The plywood panels that make up the core of the hull are fitted together using mortise and tenon joins which are then fixed in place using wedges driven in with a mallet. Outer layers of plywood are glued on and screwed in place using an electric drill. Joints are saturated with epoxy and filleted using brushes and other hand tools. An outer layer of fiberglass is applied to the hull by draping it in fiberglass cloth and saturating it with epoxy using rollers. Most of these are fun activities for family and friends. But there are two operations that are daunting for even the seasoned and experienced DIY people: flipping the hull over, and launching it.

No doubt, some people will simply hire a crane—twice, at around $1000 each time. But that seems like a lot of money for 10 minutes of work. On the other hand, 4x4 timbers, carriage bolts, nylon rope and comealongs are quite cheap, and there is a great deal of satisfaction to be had in carrying on such an impressive task without any power tools.


The hull is initially assembled upside-down. A build platform is erected on the ground, allowing for a crawlspace underneath to get inside the hull, and leveled using wedges. The deck is then assembled on the platform, followed by the bulkheads, the interior panels, the sides and the bottom. The entire bottom section of the hull is then fiberglassed. The bottom is sheathed in copper and the topsides are faired and painted.

The hull then has to be flipped right-side-up. This operation is known as parbuckling, and is standard procedure for salvaging large vessels. For example, the cruise ship Costa Concordia, which sank off the coast of Italy when its idiot-captain ran it aground was parbuckled and refloated. That salvage operation cost $1.5 billion—as much as that ship cost to build. But that ship was bigger than Titanic. The cost to parbuckle QUIDNON should be just a few hundred dollars—cheaper than hiring a crane.

The first step is to construct a cage around the hull. Vertical timbers are added to the build platform. Horizontal timbers are blocked against the bottom. All of these are fastened together using carriage bolts. Next, posts are driven into the ground on both sides of the hull, and ropes are attached to the cage. Comealongs are used to lift the hull and also to let it down gently once it goes past the tipping point. A few square bales of hay would be helpful to avoid hard landings. The following sequence of diagrams shows the steps of the process.


Once the hull is right-side-up, most of the parbuckling cage can be dismantled, leaving the hull sitting on a skid. Then the deck and the superstructure can be finished. The deck is fiberglassed and sheathed with aluminum diamond plate. Bulwarks, deck arches and the cockpit are added, along with other essentials such as deck cleats. The hull is then ready for launch. Everything else—plumbing, wiring, engine installation, mast tabernacles, masts and sails, etc.—can be done with it floating at the dock.

The easiest launch scenario involves a boat ramp. Then it’s just a matter of pushing the hull, on its skid, to the boat ramp, by rolling it over logs, and pushing it in the water. But it is unlikely that any given patch of shoreline that’s amenable to having a QUIDNON built on it is going to come equipped with a boat ramp. If the boat ramp is not right at the build site, then the hull would have to be transported to it on a flatbed. Since QUIDNON’s hull is 16 feet wide, it is considered a wide load, and transporting it over public roads would require permitting, a signal car and a pile of cash.

The alternative is to build QUIDNON on the water, and then just push it in. Most likely, the building site is going to be a riverbank of some sort. If there is a seawall and the water comes close to the top of it at high tide, then the hull can simply be pushed over it at high tide. If there is no seawall, then perhaps it can be dug down to a slope, to make an improvised boat ramp, but such activities are often frowned upon because they cause coastline erosion. If the body of water is a tidal estuary, erosion is already likely to be a problem.

A better approach is to shore up the riverbank by dumping riprap to just above the high tide line. (If there is existing riprap, that’s of course even better.) The riprap can serve as a foundation for a concrete launchpad. The launch procedure, illustrated by the following diagrams, involves pushing or dragging the hull, on its skid, to the launchpad. Spring lines are then connected to the transom and belayed at the launchpad. The hull is then pushed past its tipping point. Spring lines are then eased symmetrically, allowing it to slide into the water. Finally, when the transom is already afloat and just the front of the skid remains on the launchpad, a workboat pulls the hull the rest of the way into the water. The skid is then released and retrieved. QUIDNON can then be moved to a dock.


Yes, this does sound rather adventurous for a DIY project, and yes, it is possible to build a QUIDNON at a boatyard that’s equipped with a crane and a travelift, and let professionals handle the heavy moving operations. But the point is, it is going to be possible to build a QUIDNON on any relatively flat patch of land next to water and launch it using nothing more than some hand tools and a few comealongs.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Surviving Winter Aboard

Life aboard can be perfectly pleasant when it’s warm outside, but when the weather turns cold a number of unpleasant factors conspire to make most sailboats, power boats and houseboats uncomfortable. This article attacks the problem from three directions. First is an explanation of all the factors that make overwintering aboard a typical commercially built recreational boat rather unpleasant. Next, I describe how those intrepid souls who do overwinter aboard in northern climates cope with these factors. Last, I describe how all of these factors are carefully avoided in the design of QUIDNON, “a houseboat that sails.”

Typical Problems

First, the vast majority of boats is badly insulated. In most sailboats, the windows (deadlights, portlights and hatches) are concentrated on the cabin top, and are single-glazed with just one layer of transparent plastic. Warm air rises, heat concentrates under the cabin top, and is then efficiently conducted to the outside. The sides are generally not insulated at all, causing a cold downdraft to bathe the backs of those seated in the salon. The bilge is not insulated either, meaning that the cabin soles are close to the same temperature as the outside water, which in the colder climates tends to linger around the freezing point for several months.

Although the volume inside the boat is quite small compared to a house, theoretically making it easy to heat, the lack of insulation makes the space feel cold even if the air temperature right under the cabin top is uncomfortably warm. When seated in the salon, which is how people tend to spend most of their time, their feet are freezing-cold, their backs are bathed in cold air, and their heads are hot. This is not particularly comfortable.

The second major problem is condensation. The human body evaporates water through the skin and through respiration, and all of this water condenses on cold surfaces. When it condenses on the various windows, it then drips down on whatever is directly below them. Few things are more unpleasant then feeling a trickle of freezing-cold water on your head or neck as you are trying to sleep. This indoor rain can also destroy laptops and other electronics. When it condenses on the sides of the hull, inside lockers and other spaces, it causes mold to grow there. If you are lucky, it is white mold, which washes out; if you are not, it will be black mold, which leaves an indelible stain and can sicken people.

The condensation problem is made much worse by cooking, or even boiling water to make tea, which dumps a lot of moisture into a small volume of air. Most sailboats are not equipped with vent hoods over the galley range, and the only option for getting rid of the excess moisture is to open the companionway hatch. But this causes virtually all of the warm air trapped inside the cabin to immediately escape outdoors, making the cabin unbearably cold.

Condensation affects all the objects stored inside the cabin. Clothing becomes dank and moldy unless it is kept in tightly sealed plastic bags or containers. Bedding and mattresses becomes saturated with moisture, making it impossible to get warm at night, while a lack of dry sunny days makes it impossible to dry it out by hauling it out on deck during the day. Books becomes warped and papers roll up into tubes. Envelopes seal themselves shut.

Another problem with overwintering aboard is the smell. When it is warm outside, the boat can be very well ventilated, making it less of a problem. But in the winter, with everything sealed tight to keep in the warmth, a boat quickly develops a musty odor, or worse. It is exacerbated by pockets of mold which develop in hard-to-reach pockets and crevices between the hull and the interior cabinetry. A cat litter box, used by just one small cat, can make the smell unbearable. Polite acquaintances decline invitations to visit you; rude ones say things like “Oy, what’s with the bloody pong?”

Often, a major source of the smell is the sanitation system. The toilet and the holding tank themselves are rarely the problem, because they are vented to the outside and made of materials that are largely impermeable to smell. More often, the problem comes from the use of sanitation hose used to plumb the system together. The installation is almost always an afterthought, with components crammed in wherever there is space for them and linked together using generous lengths of reinforced vinyl hose, which blocks liquids but not smells and quickly begins to stink all the way through. On one boat I noticed that the cold water tap in the heads has a very distinctive smell when it was first turned on which quickly disappeared. The culprit, it turned out, was a single zip-tie, added by some person in a futile attempt to keep the bilge tidy, which clamped the cold water hose tightly against the sanitation hose that ran through the bilge. I snipped the zip-tie, and the smell gradually went away.

Some number of live-aboards favor composting heads over the conventional ones with holding tanks. These accumulate solids in a vented bucket, allowing them to decompose down to soil. They tend to work reasonably well during the summer, but in the winter months, when air in the cabin, and especially in the head, becomes saturated with moisture, the solids in the bucket never dry out, and are liable to become infested with all sorts of nasties. My least favorite are tiny black flies which don’t bite but find their way into everything—a less than appetizing development given where they’ve been.

Yet another unpleasant aspect of spending winters aboard is that the cramped environment of the typical sailboat cabin, which is essentially a tunnel, produces claustrophobia and can lead to cabin fever. Some of the cramped conditions on a sailboat are there by design, and are unnecessary. One of these is the division of the deck into side-decks and a cabin top. The side decks cut in on interior space, producing the feeling that the walls are coming in on you. Another is the choice of a pointed bow, which forces the forward cabin into a wedge-shaped “V-berth”. The cramped conditions are exacerbated by the common choice of dark wood paneling instead of cheerful bright-colored paints, which makes the cabin cavernous and dark. Nor is the situation helped by the small light fixtures commonly used on sailboats, which are unable to dispel the gloom.

All of these things are potentially quite unpleasant, but generally sublethal. But winters aboard offer some nastier surprises, in the form of snow and ice. A good-sized winter storm can pile enough snow and ice on deck to make the hull ride low in the water, submerging through-hulls that are designed to be just above the waterline. If the water trapped inside the through-hulls then freezes (there is usually a lens of fresh water floating on top of salt water, and it freezes first), it can burst the hose just inside the through-hull and flood and sink the boat.

In many cases the leak from a cracked through-hull or a burst hose is small enough for the bilge pump to keep up with it, but what if the bilge pump is frozen solid? Even if the cabin is heated, the bilge pump, sitting far down in the bilge, does not benefit from any of this heat. If seawater temperature outside is just below the freezing point for fresh water, then the water in the bilge, being composed mostly of fresh water from condensation, can freeze, and the bilge pump will blow fuses and refuse to turn.

And even if the bilge pump does work, what if there is no electricity to power it? Snow storms often cause power outages; at one marina where I overwintered the transformers on the dock got drowned and blown out by the storm surge, and power remained off for days. A few boats have solar panels which can power a few vital systems in a pinch, but there is no sunlight available during a snowstorm. Some boats have wind generators, but what if the snowstorm is also relatively windless?

Even if no through-hulls fail and the bilge pump runs, when electricity goes off many people find it impossible to keep the boat warm enough to keep the on-board plumbing systems from freezing and bursting. A few higher-end boats have diesel-powered heating systems that provide an autonomous source of heat (as long as there is diesel in the tank); in others live-aboards install propane heaters (which must be vented through flues, since propane burns to carbon dioxide and water vapor, which exacerbates the condensation problem. But many people who overwinter aboard use electric space heaters.

And that leaves only two ways to cope: winterize the plumbing systems by flushing them with antifreeze and drink out of a jerrican all winter, or keep the plumbing systems running and bet on being able to keep the boat warm enough all winter. The problem with winterizing is that in the dead of winter water tends to get shut off for periods of time, and people who don’t have access to their own water tanks lose all access to water.

The last problem worth mentioning is sea ice. If it gets cold enough long enough, ice can form all around the hull and crush it. At one marina in Boston, when a cold snap was preceded by a wind storm, all the boats froze in while listing at a 10º angle, leaned over by the force of the wind, and remained stuck that way for a weak. People didn’t much like living with their entire world tilted. But the ice didn’t get thick enough to crush any of the hulls.

Typical Solutions

Most people who overwinter aboard choose to shrink-wrap their boats. Some hire contractors, while others organize with their neighbors and pool resource to buy shrink-wrap, propane-fired heat guns and other supplies. Most people try to get their shrink-wrap up by Thanksgiving. Having the entire deck of the boat cocooned in plastic makes it much better insulated by eliminating wind chill. It also provides quite a lot of free heat—during the day—by trapping heat from sunlight. Sometimes this greenhouse effect gets to be too much, and by the end of March, when the nights are still too cold to take the shrink-wrap off, daytime temperatures under the shrink-wrap can become uncomfortably hot. People end up cutting holes in the plastic to vent off some of the heat during the day, and then put up with the resulting chill during the night.

Most of the work in shrink-wrapping a boat goes into erecting a ribbed skeleton to support the shrink-wrap. After numerous failed experiments with PVC, bamboo, dimensioned lumber and other materials, it has been conclusively demonstrated that the best material for the job is electrical conduit, with lots of ribs holding up a backbone. The problem with it is that all of this bulky bent tubing has to be stored somewhere during the warmer months. I’ve successfully used a different approach: instead of building a frame, I simply built a strong backbone out of dimensioned lumber, supported it using the mast and propped up using posts elsewhere, and then ran lots of straps to the gunwales.

Shrink-wrapping the boat provides insulation for the deck but leaves the sides uninsulated. Here, a number of different approaches have been tried. There are two main difficulties with insulating most hulls. First, it is very difficult to get insulation into some of the more awkward and hard-to-reach spaces. Second, most hulls are designed with compound curves (concave on the inside, convex on the outside) whereas most cost-effective insulation materials come in flat, sheet form, and crafting complex curves out of flat stock is a geometric exercise that is beyond most people’s skills.

The easiest to insulate are the deadlights, portlights and hatches, which leak the most heat and cause the greatest nuisance by dripping condensation. In the mid-Atlantic states, where freezing temperatures are rare, it is often sufficient to cover them with a layer of bubble-wrap held in place using transparent packing tape. This prevents them from leaking heat and dripping while still admitting plenty of daylight into the cabin. In colder climes, the hatches can be insulated by force-fitting them with polyurethane foam plugs and sealing them on the inside with radiant barrier mounted on double-stick tape.

Although the problem with condensation, and the resulting mold, is chronic on many boats, especially in wintertime, many people have figured out how to keep mold under control using vinegar and tea tree oil. A gallon of white vinegar is enough to wipe down the inside of every locker, cabinet and enclosed space in a good-sized boat. A good technique is to spray it around using a spray bottle, then wipe with a sponge. Vinegar is an acid, and fungi does not like acids. Where vinegar fails to dissuade them, tea tree oil finishes the job.

I have had mixed results with composting toilets, especially in wintertime, when the condensation in the cabin causes solids in the compost bucket to turn to liquid and to come alive with various unwelcome guests. At various times, I have found myself dosing that bucket with various substances: pete moss, Spanish moss, wood chips, mulch scooped up from under the bushes in a nearby city park, boric acid… What worked best, of all things, was a substance called diatomaceous earth, which contains the fossilized remains of tiny marine organisms—diatoms—which function as miniature razor blades, slicing up the waxy bodies of insects and insect larvae. And what worked best, hands down, was dumping the whole mess into a contractor-grade garbage bag and tossing it in the marina dumpster, and then using the marina’s toilets from then on.

I have also had mixed results with keeping the bilge and the plumbing system from freezing, and many a plumbing a fixture have I been forced to rip out and replace with… stuff from the garden supply section of the local hardware store. Along the way I found out that a few small water leaks here and there are actually beneficial. A water leak from the hot water heater can keep the bilge pump from freezing. When hooked up to shore water, it is very helpful to leave all the taps running a little during the colder nights. Keeping the water moving effectively dissuades it from trying to crystallize.

Some marinas have winter water systems that use hose submerged under the floating docks, so that they do not freeze. The challenge there is to get the water to the boat without having it freeze. The recommended solution is to wrap the length of hose exposed to freezing air in heat tape (plugged into the AC system) and thermal insulation. This works well enough as long as there is shore power. A common design flaw is to put the connector for the shore water hose nowhere near the waterline, requiring a much longer run of heated hose than should be necessary.

Where ice gets thick and solid enough to endanger crushing the hull a common solution is to run bubblers around it, to keep the ice from forming. I haven’t had any experience with these bubblers, but apparently they do work, although they suffer from the same worst-case-scenario problem as other on-board systems: what happens when the electricity goes off for an extended period of time? Then the drill becomes to go out every few hours and manually smash the ice all around the boat.

QUIDNON’s Approach

The purpose of the design exercise that is the QUIDNON project is to take our decade of experience living aboard in various conditions, from subtropical summers to northern winters, and accentuate the positives while eliminating the negatives.

The first negative to eliminate is the bad distribution of heat. The first step is to insulate the sides, the deck and the transom. This is best done using 1.5-inch foam, which comes in 2x8-foot tongue-and-groove slabs, and radiant barrier, which comes in rolls of various widths and lengths. Both of these materials are quite cheap for the quantities needed, and easy to install because QUIDNON has just three curved surfaces—the bottom, which doesn’t need to be insulated except at the bow where it comes up out of the water, and the sides—and these curved surfaces are planar rather than compound curves.

The easiest procedure for installing the radiant barrier, which is essentially bubble wrap that incorporates aluminum foil layers, is directly onto the hull surfaces using double-stick mounting tape. The slabs of foam insulation can then be cut exactly to size and press-fit into place with a bead of expanding foam all around, for a tight seal. The foam can then be covered with thin (1/8-inch) plywood sheets. Light-colored plywoods, such as birch and white pine, can be polyurethaned (on both sides, to seal the wood); darker shades of wood should be painted white or off-white, to avoid creating a gloomy atmosphere.

I have used this procedure on two boats so far, and it made a big difference. Whereas before the cabin felt cold and drafty when heated to 70ºF, with the insulation in place it felt reasonably warm at 62ºF.


The next problem to tackle is distributing of heat around the cabin. If this is done badly, the result is cold feet and an uncomfortably warm head. QUIDNON’s solution is made easy by the distribution of cabin soles: the two lowest points are the galley and the heads, where heat is generated in the form of warm air using electricity, propane or solid fuel (the difference is essentially in the choice of firebox). This warm air is then injected under the cabin soles in the galley and the heads. All of the spaces below the cabin soles are interconnected by openings in the bulkheads and partitions which separate them, allowing the warm air to rise to where it’s needed, aft to the aft cabins and forward into the salon and the “U-berth”, and from there to the various lockers and other spaces, making sure than every space and every surface inside the boat is warm and dry. To reduce the amount of heat that is conducted overboard through the bottom, the bottom is lined with a layer of radiant barrier.

This technique of distributing the heat starting with all of the enclosed volumes and finishing with the habitable space reduces condensation by a large amount, eliminating pockets where mold can take root, but there are two other condensation-related problems to solve. The first is to make sure that the deadlights and the hatches don’t drip condensation on whatever happens to be below, people and laptops especially. This is achieved by double-glazing all of the portlights that wrap around the entire boat, just under the flush deck. A thick round plate of polycarbonate plastic is caulked and screwed into place on the outside; a much thinner layer of the same is screwed in place on the inside but is not caulked so that air pressure inside and outside the deadlight is allowed to equalize. The large main hatch in the deck, which is right over the salon table, is also double-glazed. Here, the inner layer is perfectly airtight, while condensation that forms on the outer layer is provided with a trickle path that leads onto the deck rather than into the cabin. One last window—the one in the companionway door, which slides down into the chain locker when open—is single-glazed, for the specific purpose of attracting all of the condensation and allowing it drip down into the chain locker and from there run overboard.

The problem of excessive moisture produced by cooking and showering is dealt with by providing exhaust fans in both the galley and the heads which vent through two flues. In the galley, a vent hood eliminates moisture and smells coming from the stove; in the heads, an exhaust fan eliminates water vapor from showering and the inevitable smells.

The smell coming from the sanitation hose that connects the toilet to the holding tank and the holding tank to the pump-out fitting on deck is eliminated by not using sanitation hose at all. The toilet is placed directly on top of the holding tank, which is a sheet metal box with a screw-down lid that serves as its pedestal. It is connected to the pump-out fitting on deck using a steel pipe, not hose. None of these are the least bit permeable to smell. With a bit of cleverness and the flush toilet replaced with one that separates liquids from solids the same arrangement can be used for a composting toilet. Although composting toilets have certain merits, being able to put your QUIDNON on AirBNB, if it is outfitted with one, is not one of them.

The problem of a sailboat cabin being dark, cavernous and cramped is dealt in a number of ways. The paneling inside is not stained and varnished but painted using very durable two-part polyurethane paint. The flush deck adds lots of airspace under the deck, and eliminates the effect of the walls coming in on you created by the side-decks. The feeling of spaciousness is further enhanced by the full headroom in most of the cabin (the sleeping areas in the aft cabins, the pilot berths and the U-berth are the only exceptions). The many deadlights and the large main hatch admit plenty of daylight, while at night the darkness is dispelled by long strings of lights mounted along the inside edges of the deck, producing a diffuse glow that accentuates the considerable (by boat standards) interior volume of the cabin.

QUIDNON deals with the considerable nature of through-hulls under or close to the waterline by not having any. There is no inboard engine, and therefore no propeller shaft and no seals to go with it. Nor is there a raw water intake for the engine. The raw water that is used as ballast is pumped in through siphons that are lowered down into the engine well.

The problem of a frozen bilge, and a frozen bilge pump, is resolved by not having a bilge at all. The bottom is flat, and although a bilge pump is mounted at its lowest point, it virtually never runs unless there is a leak or a spill. The shower stall has a separate sump and bilge pump, which pumps water directly overboard.

The problem of keeping the boat from freezing when severe weather knocks out shore power is solved by providing a variety of alternative sources of heat and hot water. Under normal conditions many people will decide to heat with electricity. It is more expensive, but less bother. If shore power is unavailable, the next fallback is propane. There are two propane tanks in the propane locker: one for the galley range, the other for the heaters. More tanks can be stored on deck. If propane runs out, the fireboxes can be converted to run on solid fuel (by sliding out the propane burner and sliding in a grille and an ash box) and kept burning using wood or charcoal. (Not all marinas allow the use of solid fuel, but it’s usually possible to get away with it in a pinch by not telling anyone.)

Much of the expense and the difficulty of shrink-wrapping the boat is eliminated by making it very easy to enclose all of the deck space between and including the two deck arches. The roof and the sides are created by lacing the tops of the arches together using rope, then draping a tarp over the entire structure. From the front and the back, the space is enclosed using two large curtains. The enclosed space is large enough to provide extra storage and living space. An additional curtain hung over the entrance to the dodger that encloses the companionway hatch will prevent warmth from quickly escaping from the cabin when the companionway hatch is opened. The area forward of the forward deck arch, which includes part of the main hatch, is best kept open, to be used as a patio on the warmer days.

With all of of these systems in place and functioning, QUIDNON should make a for a perfectly pleasant winter sojourn even in the snowy north.