Archives: Small Boats

Sailing Charlie’s 19 footer VaLaura and waiting for the call

Sailing Charlie’s 19 footer VaLaura and waiting for the call

The drive down with Susan was great. When we arrived to Charlie’s office, also a marina and boatyard, and we found Charlie and his staff laughing nervously. They apparently had escaped tragedy when putting  VaLaura in the water. VaLaura is a Cape Dory Typhoon, a very cute boat with a full keel. Somewhere, Charlie had read that this type of boat was sometimes launched from a hook located in the middle of the boat, right before the companion way. Because the boat weight less than a ton, Charlie and his crew decided to lift it with a mast stepping crane. The plan was set, and then trouble began. The crane had to attempt several times before lifting the boat. Once the boat was in the air it was obvious that it was not balance and the bow started to pull the weight. Long story short, Charlie’s landlady and boat yard owner best known as, screaming Shelia, not by Charlie, saw this and went right to where they were and started …. she later printed a photo of how the typhoon looked in the air and gave it to Charlie so that he would never do that mistake again! it was pretty funny.

Anyway after a number of laughs, Sam, one of Charlie’s employees and a good sailor, Charlie and Jaxon worked on stepping the mast and rigging. Then we took VaLaura for a sail.

After a good 30 min of sailing Jax and I drove to Egg Harbor to wait for the boat owner’s call, which never arrived! at around 6pm we headed home and had an excellent dinner with Charlie and Susan, followed by drinking a bottle of wine and looking at old photos from their cruising years. Pretty cool stuff!

Thinking about heads/toilets for the Ranger 28

Let me just start this one out by telling you all that we are SO STUPIDLY EXCITED about getting our Ranger 28. We will be in Door County, WI early Saturday to meet the owner, pay and search for any accessories and the dozen plus sails in his attic. WOW, this is happening! We have been talking about it since the day we met and it is happening now – right on schedule – three years later:)

Assuming all goes to plan (which typically would be an odd assumption, but seems to be pretty realistic right now), we will be spending Tuesday night on the boat and potentially 2-3 more nights after that. You might be wondering, is the boat ready for them? Are they ready for the boat? Well, so are we.. Here’s one thing we know we still need to figure out though – we are going to need a head (toilet) if we plan to spend any number of days, nights or hours on the boat next week.

The lack of installed head on this boat is definitely the biggest giveaway that the past owners did not live aboard this Ranger, but rater were much more focused on the racer half of “cruiser-racer“. Not only did they not have a head, but my guess is that the whole cabin really hasn’t seen too much use over the years. All the action was abovedecks as it were. Good news overall, simply because it means the interior has very little wear and tear. Bad news because there are a few obvious livability omissions that would have been taken care of 35 years ago, if this Ranger 28 was a live aboard at all – like the lack of a head.

So, we have been searching and researching marine heads, but definitely started out the process with a bias. That bias was that we were both pretty partial to idea of composting heads. The concept seems ideal from nearly every perspective and aligns quite directly with our goal of exploring liveaboard sailing as an affordable and sustainable means to explore the world and productive world citizens while doing it. All that said, the KEY for us is that we need living aboard to add as little excess stress to our lives as possible. Not splashy buckets or pails, no portapotties underneath the v-berth, and most of all no marine toilet plumbing. I have just enough plumbing competency to fix or install things occasionally -in fact,  just enough to know that I want to do as little of the toilet-related type as possible. Composting toilets/heads come with all there own baggage of course, but they do not come with plumbing or “pump-outs” and those are really big pluses in our book.

The world of composting toilets is rather big now. There are huge expensive models with electronics, heaters, fans everywhere, etc., super simple units and of course the multitude of DIY models – many of which are made from 5-gallon buckets. Virtually none of these will work for our space and needs. The main limiting factors are either large size or lack of integrated ventilation. And that leads us to Composting Marine Heads, like Airhead and Nature’s Head. Designed and sold by sailboat owners/users, these super-compact units are carefully planned and replanned to meet the needs of folks staying or living on small boats – Great!

I won’t go through all the details now, but suffice it to say that we ended up ordering the Airhead today and are really excited to get it shipped and installed. Keep tuned for more details and installation and usage notes

Sailing Papaya, small tragedy strikes!

I wish I could visually tell you the end of our three day Alcort Sailfish building adventure! but we lost the camera!!!! luckily not our big Cannon but the little one that had all the photos from sailing and the last stages of the project! Isn’t that a tragedy! I don’t know how to explain this without getting upset. So… you know when you see something somewhere, where it shouldn’t be and you think…. wow I should really move that… and then you don’t. That happened.

So first some positive things. The end of the project was success! in just two hours we were able to put all the parts together, load the boat, Papaya, to Manilejo, with the help of Mark, and we drove it to Wolf Lake. By the way, I never anticipated the boat being as heavy as it is! I can usually carry things, I mean I’m not extremely strong but I’m an active person who regularly does some push ups. Anyway, there were moments that I would be trying to lift the boat with all my strength and still fail. Jaxon, was more successful than me at it, but we still needed each other to make any progress.

Papaya, our Alcort Sailfish from the 60′s performed perfectly. The rudder needs a tiny bit of adjustments but not much. After two hours of sailing we called it a day because it wasn’t too warm outside. When we were packing up I set the camera on top of the car while we loaded the boat. Jaxon asked me about the camera and I told him where it was, he thought about moving it but didn’t. Point made, we think we left it on top of the car and lost it on our way home. Which is not too far away. Today we went out looking for it, but did not found it. The road out of the lake is very rocky, so we think it must have fallen somewhere there. We only saw one other car while we were there, but we have no clue who they are. Anyway, I have a feeling that we will find the camera and that I’ll be able to post some awesome photos! if not…. I don’t know…. I’ll be upset for a while and remember to never again leave anything on top of the car!

Homebuilt rudder & centerboard for Alcort Sailfish Sailboat (part 2/3)

(Part 1 of this quick series described researching and preparing for this project. It is available here: Homebuilt rudder & centerboard for Alcort Sailfish Sailboat (part 1/3) )

Building the rudder, centerboard and tiller

The actual build process for these three parts was actually pretty straightforward. We traced our cardboard cutouts onto 3/4 inch plywood added about a 1/4 inch all around (for the bevel), beveled the edges with a electric planer, refined the edges with a handheld sander (medium grit paper), hand sanded with finer grit, drilled a hole in the rudder for the tiller attachment and gave each piece two coats of clear polyurethane over two days. Easypeazy. We used some scrap Oak for the tiller. The longer (closer to the rudder) piece is about 2.5 feet and the shorter extension is another 1.5. These got sanded all around also, had their ends rounded off with a vertical reciprocating sander and got a couple layers of polyurethane also.

The hardware was a bit trickier. Metal just isn’t quite as easy to work with when all is said and done. I’ll let the below photos do the explaining. I can say that the tools used were:

  • Small Hobart wire-feed arc welder
  • Angle grinder with cutoff and grinding wheels
  • Machinist vice
  • Assorted pliers, vice-grips, small hammers, screw drivers and other miscellanea

Metal-working photos

Homebuilt rudder & centerboard for Alcort Sailfish Sailboat (part 1/3)

Homebuilt rudder & centerboard for Alcort Sailfish Sailboat (part 1/3)

Caye and I just put the finishing touches on a quick DIY rudder, tiller, centerboard and all related hardware for our Alcort Sailfish sailboat. For a quick overview of the boat and how it came into our possession, see Introducing Papaya, our Alcort Sailfish.

The research, design and build process was spread over three partial days in mid-June. I am including the key bits in detail in three short posts. Caye also posted a number of the nicer photos from the project: photo links If anyone is looking for more guidance, just leave a comment here and we can work through some solutions together.


Apparently the Alcort Sailfish never gained the wild popularity of her younger sister, the Sunfish and as such only saw a limited number of production hulls (300ish I believe), before being discontinued in the late 60s. This combined with the fact that 90% of Google results for Sailfish + (insert part name here) just turn up Sunfish parts (aka “sailfish rudder” turns up TONS of nice/cheap “sunfish rudders” for sale) – which anyone who has tried knows, are frustratingly close to fitting the Alcort Sailfish, but not quite. So, long story short, there isn’t a whole lot in the wide world of web to help out the curious backyard boat repair person.
Our main research goal for the project was simply determining the form and dimensions for the rudder and centerboard (I was more than willing to improvise on wood selection and creating the metal hardware with some scrap metal, a machinist vise and our little Hobart wire feed welder). The dimensional data that ended up helping us most was found on, a website full of beautiful boat parts, hand crafted by John Owens in Troup, Texas. The product photo of his beautiful Sailfish rudder was a sufficiently accurate profile to the extent that we were able to load it into Photoshop and create a nice outline. Next step was to print the newly made outline and trace it onto some transparent plastic (recycled packaging) with market, hook up the old overhead projector (salvaged from Beloit College dumpsters) and trace the design onto cardboard at scale. The target dimensions were also taken from Jon’s site: 8.75″ x 24.5″ x 3/4.
You may have noticed that the centerboard hasn’t gotten much love at this point. First off, we simply didn’t find any dimensions around the net. Secondly, we didn’t find any great profile shots, which in the end meant that we just didn’t have enough data to justify the Photoshop + transparency paper + projector + cardboard technique. Instead we went for the old classic, eyeballing. Our eyeballing was based on a similar photo to the one at left. Looks like the centerboard is about a third again as long as the rudder, right? Yep, we thought so too. So 34 inches was our magic length for the centerboard. 3/4″ plywood was used again, as it fit nicely in the hull’s centerboard “slot”. We measured the slot’s width as well and it came in at about… not actually sure about this one, Caye threw away the used envelope I was taking notes on (twice) :-/ I’ll go measure that again tomorrow. To get the shape, we drew out a rectangle with the the aforementioned dimensions and sketched in the shape while looking at a few Googled photos. Tadaa!

(Next up, tracing, cutting, painting and more… “Homebuilt rudder & centerboard for Alcort Sailfish Sailboat- (part 2/3)”

Cutting, welding and painting the rudder, tiller and center board

Cutting, welding and painting the rudder, tiller and center board

June 12 we woke up an went right to work on our job, which is managing our green hosting and web development business. Jackson started this company after graduating from college and when I graduated I joined the team, as a volunteer because I can’t work in US until I file for a VISA change. Anyway that is completely off topic! The point is that after our job we started working on the next steps of our Sailfish. To read the juicy details of our project you should read Jaxon’s post, “Homebuilt rudder & centerboard for Alcort Sailfish Sailboat“. Anyway, I will just go through the quick details. We started out by cutting the wood, 3/4 inch plywood into the needed shapes. Before I go any further, I want to say that we are very fortunate because Mark, Jaxon’s dad, owns a huge amount of building tools, which makes it infinitely easier for us to do these projects. Mark owns Gimme Shelter a construction company that builds green homes in Wisconsin and most old tools end up in the Klein residency and we use them thoroughly when we are here. In my time knowing this family I have learned to use power tools exactly 95% more than I ever wanted and I am thankful for that. So we cut the wood and sanded it.

I then started to cover them with clear polyurethane so that they won’t rot after a months of exposure to water. Jaxon started welding and grinding the different metal parts. I am glad he is willing to do those parts, because I for sure do not enjoy grinding. When we were working on Manilejo (our 1990 Volvo 240DL Station Wagon) I was grinding some nails and half the blade broke! it doesn’t sound to intense and for sure wasn’t at the moment because it just kind off broke a f
lew somewhere. Once we realized we panicked, a little, by the thought that it could have ended up in my brain, eye or any part of my body or any of the people around me. That was the end of my grinding career, at least for now.

After the first coat we let the wood dry. I went inside to keep working while Jaxon finished the different metal parts.

Sketching the centerboard and tiller of our Sailfish

Sketching the centerboard and tiller of our Sailfish

The construction of the centerboard and tiller started with an in depth research that you can read in Jaxon’s “Homebuilt rudder & centerboard fr Alcort Sailfish Sailboat” post. After we came to a conclusion of the estimated measurements of the rudder we imported a photo of one into Photoshop and transformed it to fit in a 8.5 x 11 piece of paper. We printed the outline and I traced it into a piece of plastic that we later used to project it to a piece of cardboard with an old school, incredibly cool projector.

After making sure the measurements were correct I traced the projected rudder into the cardboard and cut it.

After this we eyed-balled how much the centerboard would measure in comparison to the rudder. We had to do this because we were not able to find one web-site that had the correct measurement of the centerboard! there were a lot for Sunfish, but none for our Sailfish a.k.a Papaya. So we decide to do some 3rd grade math and see what happened.

Now our last step was to test our estimates in the actual boat. Cutting, Painting and welding was left for the next day.



First Stages of our Alcort Sailfish Sailboat

First Stages of our Alcort Sailfish Sailboat

Jaxon bought this Alcort Sailfish in 2003. After only a couple months of sailing it, he left the rudder, tiller and center board at Wolf Lake in Almond WI. When he went back to get them, oddly enough they were gone (coming from Ecuador I thought it wasn’t that weird that someone took them, but apparently in little town-village in the middle of Wisconsin that rarely happens)   that was the end of the Sailfish for the moment. For the whole time we have known each other we have talked about getting the boat in good condition but it never happened until three days ago. In the following posts I will explain in a slight detail the building of these different parts. Jaxon with probably go in depth in his posts! we just work that way lol, I can’t focus my attention in only one think for a long time, I’m (according to me) good at multi-tasking. Jax, on the other hand, has all the patience in the world to explain stuff, that’s why he is such an amazing teacher! Anyway if you are looking for an overview read my posts, if looking for a tutorial he’s the go to person.

These are some photos of how the Sailfish was when we started the project.

Next two days will be spent, cleaning it up, building a tiller, rudder and centerboard.

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