Boat Sailing (1908) Plywood Boats or to The Cheap Page or to The Odd Sails











WHEN I was a lad it was my good fortune to live beside an estuary of the sea, within a stones throw of a shipyard and several boat builders' shops. Mr. Shuttleworth, one of the boat builders, was famous for his ship's boats, and he built from twenty to thirty in the course of a year. It was his custom to allow the skippers a small amount for each old boat he replaced, and on the beach in front of his shop were generally to be seen several longboats, jolly boats, and yacht's cutters in a more or less creditable state of repair.




One of these caught my eye, as having in her the makings of a sound seagoing craft. She was a discarded lifeboat that had long seen service on a West India passenger steamer, but had been condemned for some trifling defects as is the custom on crack liners. She was thirty feet long, seven feet wide, and four feet deep, with the usual pointed lifeboat stern. Built of teak, she was copper fastened throughout. She looked weather beaten, it is true, and sadly needed a coat or two of paint; but when my stanch ally, Toby Page, an apprentice at the shipyard and a most ingenious craftsman withal, came to examine her he pronounced her sound as a roach. He agreed with me that, by the wise expenditure of a modest sum of money she might be converted into an able and comfortable cruiser.

Mr. Shuttleworth, approached on the subject of the boat, suggested terms quite within the modest limit of my purse, and I strode around my new purchase with all the proud airs of proprietorship.

To alter the boat into a seagoing cruiser, with the best possible accommodations compatible with her somewhat limited dimensions, was my next aim. She was to be decked, a trunk cabin fitted up, and a false keel added to give her stability and enable her to go to windward. For general handiness, I decided to rig her as a ketch. Thus there was plenty of work ahead, but, with the aid of a younger brother and the invaluable Toby Page, I felt in my bones that success was certain. The first job was to get her shored up on the beach with blocks under her keel and beneath her bilges, so that before we tackled the carpenter work we might give her hull a thorough cleaning outside and in, and then treat any leaks we might find. Our survey showed that although she would need a great many new rivets, being what is called "nail sick" in many places, her general condition was good. After scrubbing her with soap and soda we smoothed all the rough places with pumice stone. Then we filled her up to the gunwale with water, and marked every place where she leaked. Goodly streams came from many places. This, however, was to be expected owing to the craft's long exposure to all kinds of weather. We stood by her all day, pouring in an occasional bucketful to replace the water lost through leakage. We found that the planks absorbed much moisture, the wood swelling and the leaks perceptibly diminishing as time went on.

After a couple of days we let the water out, and when she was thoroughly dry, started in to make the hull tight. Her frames were in capital condition. We replaced all the loose rivets with new ones of a larger size, I hardening the old ones that needed attention with a few taps of the hammer from the inside, while my mate "held" with another hammer from the outside. We were mighty particular about this process, not "scamping" the work, but tackling every rivet in the boat conscientiously, until every faulty nail was replaced. Then with a kettle of boiling North Carolina tar in which pitch had been melted in the proportion of a pound to a gallon, we painted the inside of the boat up as high as the thwarts with this boiling mixture, rubbing it well into every crevice and ledge. The hot fluid, almost as thin as water, penetrated every crack. The dry and thirsty wood absorbed a great quantity of the penetrative compound, which dried hard as good varnish, and yet from the nature of its ingredients possessed a certain amount of elasticity. All was now ready for the carpenter work. Before taking the thwarts out we nailed several boards across the boat from gunwale to gunwale, so as to keep the hull in fair shape until we could get the deck beams in position. When the thwarts were removed we prepared for action.

We had purchased the following lumber:

Deck beams

60 feet by 1-1/2 by 2-inch Oak.

Shelf to support deck beams

Two strips of yellow pine, 33 feet long, 3 by 2 inches.

Mast thwarts

12 feet of oak plank, 1 foot wide and 1-1/2 inches thick.

False keel

One strip of yellow pine, 26 feet long, 4 by 2 inches. Another strip of yellow pine, 21 feet long, 4 by 2 inches.

Cabin sides

Two pieces of 1/2-inch oak plank, 10 feet long and 14 inches wide. These for the outside sheathing. For the inside ceiling, two pieces of 1-inch pine, 10 feet long and 16 inches wide.

Fore end of cabin

One piece of 1/2-inch oak, 4 feet long, 8 inches wide. This for the outside. For the inside, one piece of 1-inch pine, 4 feet long by 10 inches wide.

After end of cabin

20 feet of 6-inch yellow pine.


120 feet of 3/4-inch yellow pine, 6 inches wide, tongue and groove.

Cabin deck beams

40 feet of oak, 1-1/4 by 1 inch.

Cabin deck

45 feet of 3/4-inch pine, 6 inches wide, tongue and groove.


32 feet of spruce, 7 inches square.

Dandy mast

28 feet of spruce, 5 inches square.

Fore boom

10 feet 9 inches spruce, 3 inches square.

Fore gaff

10 feet 6 inches spruce, 2-1/2 inches square.

Dandy boom

12 feet 6 inches spruce, 2-1/2 inches square.


We were careful that these lengths of spruce should be free from cracks and knots; this is essential if you wish to whittle out a spar from the log with satisfaction and credit to yourself.

A careful and intelligent study of the plan shows every detail of the work. First, the shelf for the support of the deck beams was cut and secured on each side. The deck beams were cut with a slight crown, or curve, so as to give the water no chance to remain on deck. The mast thwarts and stringers were put in place after the deck beams. Next the deck was laid, being first planed perfectly smooth; galvanized wire nails being used for securing the tongued and grooved planks to the beams. Then we turned the boat bottom up and bolted on the two strips of the false keel, as shown in the plan. Then we righted her and went to work on the cabin, details of whose construction are clearly given in the drawings, which, it is necessary to observe, should be exactly followed.

The canvas used for covering the house and deck was number ten duck. The woodwork to be covered was given a generous coat of thick white lead paint mixed with equal parts of boiled linseed oil and spar varnish, the duck being stretched over it while the paint was still wet. This work required great care to make a neat and workmanlike job. The duck had to be well stretched and nailed down with copper tacks, for no others are satisfactory. When nailed down, we dampened the duck with salt water, which caused it to shrink a little and made a tighter fit. Then we painted with the same sort of mixture used on the woodwork before the duck got dry again, and the result was satisfactory.

The interior of a boat thus altered may be fitted up to suit the taste of the owner. I should advise the use of enamel paint inside, because it is so easily cleaned and always looks well. In the little cabin there is ample room for two to sleep and live comfortably. As for the accommodation in my own little boat, a yachting sybarite would doubtless have turned up his nose at the plain and unpretentious contrivances for comfort; but the interior suited me and my shipmate exactly.


We made the cockpit floor watertight with canvas; we did our cooking with an oil stove, which was unsatisfactory, the wickless, gas-generating variety not having been invented at that time.



The problems of ballast troubled me for a time. A cast-iron shoe bolted to the keel was my first idea, but as that would have been rather costly, and would be a fixed weight, too heavy for me and my chums to tackle when hauling the boat on the beach for the winter, or for cleaning and painting, I decided on inside ballast entirely. Pieces of old pig-iron, with the rust scraped off and covered with several coats of coal tar, applied boiling hot, were used; clean gravel, in bags made of old canvas of suitable size for compact storage, was also utilized. I do not recall the exact weight I put in the boat, but I remember that it took a long time to get her in trim to sail her fastest. I never regretted having no outside ballast, for the boat, with the weight properly distributed inside her hull, rode the waves as easy as an old shoe, without any laboring or straining, as is usually the case with all the ballast in one piece and bolted to the keel. We stowed it away so ingeniously and snugly, in sizes to fit, that it was neither unsightly nor inconvenient, the greater part being beneath the cabin floor and in the run. All of it was stowed so that it rested on the ribs of the boat and not on the planking.

The ketch rig, being so handy, I chose in preference to that of the yawl. I also chose to have the dandy, or jigger, cut like a leg-of-mutton sail, jig-headed, and thus without a gaff; let go the halyards, and it is the easiest sail to muzzle known to mariners. After we came to try the craft we found she would work under mainsail alone, or with foresail and jigger. The mainsail was very easy to reef, being all inboard. The stump bowsprit, with a sheave in it for the rope which held the anchor, we found a great convenience. Two single shrouds and a forestay of steel wire three-quarters of an inch in circumference, each with an eye splice to go over the mast head, were used on the fore, and shrouds of the same size supported the dandy mast. There were eyebolts through the foremast head for the throat and peak halyard blocks. All the blocks used were three and one-half inch, with patent sheaves, and all the rope for halyards was twelve thread manila. The sails were of light duck. The rudder was of oak, the tiller of ash.

Such a boat, judiciously handled, will ride out a heavy gale.






THE AMATEUR yachtsman should be able to make all the splices and most of the knots in common use. This knowledge will come in quite handy when fitting out his craft in the spring, and will save him the expense of hiring a sailor to do the work. I have spent many happy hours in rigging a fifteen-ton cutter, doing all the work myself (except stepping the mast) with the aid of a boy.



A few fathoms of rope, a marlinespike, a knife, a small pot of grease, a ball of spunyarn, another of marline and one of roping twine, and you are equipped for work. Splicing ropes and making fancy knots may be made a quite pleasant way of spending a winter's evening. It keeps one out of mischief, and the art once learned is rarely forgotten. I think if you follow my directions and take heed of the diagrams that accompany them (which I have taken pains to make as clear as possible) you will have no difficulty in becoming quite expert in the use of a marlinespike.


The ends of all ropes, whether belonging to the running or standing rigging, must be whipped with tarred roping twine or they will unravel. Take the rope in your left hand and lap the twine round it very tight a dozen times, taking care that the end lies under the first turns so as to secure it. Then make a loop with the twine and continue the lapping for four turns round the rope and the end of the twine, as shown above. Haul taut and cut off the end.


Unlay the rope and lay the strands E, F, G at the proper distance upon the strand shown at A. Now push the strand H through the strand next to it, as shown in B, having first opened it with a marlinespike. Strand I is then thrust over the part through which H was passed. Strand K is thrust through the third on the other side. Repeat the process with each strand, and then hammer the splice into shape with the butt of the marlinespike. Stretch and cut off the ends of the strands. If particular neatness is required, the strands, after having been passed through the standing part the first time, should be halved and passed again, and then still further tapered by being quartered before being passed for the third and last time. An eye splice is useful. Standing rigging should have eyes spliced in to go over the masthead, and for deadeyes to be turned in, etc.




Unlay the ends of two ropes of the same size and bring their ends together, as shown in Fig.1. Hold the rope D and the strands A, B and C in the left hand.

Pass the strand B over A and under C of rope H and haul taut. Pass strand G over B and under A. Pass strand F over the strand next to it and under the second. Turn the rope round and treat the other side in the same way, when the splice will be like Fig.2.

The single tucking of the strands will not, however, be strong enough, and the process should be repeated on both sides, halving the strands for the sake of neatness. This splice is used only for rope that is not required to run through a block.




[The original diagram is very small and fuzzy and the scan isn't any better; the labels follow no system I can see, so I don't think you should try Kenealy's Long and Short splices since I'm not sure what strand he means when. I did my best to place the ABCDE stuff in the proper places -- COD]

Unlay the ends of the two ropes that are to be joined some two or three feet, according to the size of the rope. Place the two ends together, as shown in Fig.1.

Unlay strand C and lead it back to A; then take D and lay it up in the space left by C. Do this with the strands E and F on the opposite side. The rope will now look like Fig.2.

Give the two middle strands, G and H, a lick of tar if, the rope is of hemp, and grease if of manila, and knot them together with an overhand knot, taking care that the knot is so formed as to follow the lay of the rope. Then halve these strands and pass them over one strand and under two. Treat the remaining strands in the same way, after which stretch the rope well and cut off the ends of the strands. A long splice is the neatest way there is of putting two ends of a rope together. If well made it does not increase the diameter of the rope, and therefore renders through blocks as though it did not exist. If one strand of a rope is chafed through while the other two are sound, a new strand may be put in to replace it, and the ends may be finished off in the same way as in a long splice.

A cut splice is made the same as an eye splice, only with two ropes instead of one.

It is used at the ends of ropes to prevent them from unreeving. There should always be one in the end of the mainsheet, which is difficult to reeve again in anything like a breeze.

It is always used to tie the reef points of a sail. First make an overhand knot and then pass the ends so that they take the same lay as the crossed parts of the overhand knot. If passed the other way, the knot will form what sailors call a granny, which will slip when it is subjected to a strain.


Take the end (1) of the rope in the right hand and the standing part (2) in the left hand. Lay the end over the standing part and turn the left wrist so that the standing part forms a loop (4) enclosing the end. Next lead the end back of the standing part (3) and above the loop, and bring the end down through the loop as shown.

This is a very useful knot.







It is made by passing the end of a rope round its standing part and forming a bowline as above.







To make it, double the rope and take the doubled end (1) in the right hand, the standing part (2) of the rope in the left hand. Lay the end over the standing part, and by turning the left wrist form a loop (3) having the end inside. Next pull up enough of the end (1) to dip under the bight (4), bringing the end towards the right and dipping it under the bight, then passing it up to the left over the loop and hauling taut.


Pass the end of the rope round the standing part and bring it up through the bight. This makes a half hitch. Repeat the process and haul taut. If the knot is to bear a great strain, seize the end back with spunyarn to the standing part.


Pass the end of a rope round the spar, then round the standing part, then several times round its own part C against the lay of the rope.



Pass two turns round the spar, then lead the end back round the standing part and underneath all the turns, bringing it round to its own part and back again over the two outer turns and underneath the inner turn.




It is the simplest method known of making fast the end of a rope to the hook of a tackle. The figure is self-explanatory, the underneath part of the rope being jammed hard and fast by the strain on the book.

Make a bight with the end of one rope, and pass the end of the other through the bight from beneath, and round both parts with the end under its own standing part. The greater the strain, the faster will this bend jam.









Pass two round turns with the end of each rope over a spar, then take it before the standing part, pass it again under the spar and up through the bight.


It is made by driving two nails into a length of plank at a distance apart equal to the desired length of the strop. Make fast one end of a ball of spunyarn or knotted ropeyarns to one of the nails and pass it round the other, continuing the process until the strop is as thick as required. Marl it down with spunyarn and sew canvas or leather round it if intended for a block.



It is made of a single strand of rope. To make it, lay one end over the other at the size required, and with the long end follow the lay round until a ring is formed with three parts of the strand all 'round Finish by dividing the ends, overhand knotting, and passing them over one strand and under the other exactly as in a long splice. To make a neat job, use a strand from rope that has been some time in use and is well stretched. The strand should be about a foot more than three times the length of the strop, to allow for the knotting. It may be wormed and covered with canvas or leather if intended for a block.


Figs. 19 and 20 show a Wall Knot.



Unlay the end of a rope and with the strand A in Fig.19 form a bight, hold it down at the side B, pass the end of the next strand C, round A, the end of strand D round C and through the bight of A. Haul taut and the knot is made as in Fig.20.


This can be crowned by taking strand in Fig.21 and laying it over the top of the knot. Then lay B over A, and C over B and through the bight of A and haul taut.

Fig.22 shows a double wall and double crown, which is made by letting the ends follow their own parts round until all the parts appear double, first walling and then crowning.


Made by unlaying the end of a rope and taking the end A round the rope and through its own bight, the strand B underneath through the bight of A, and the strand C underneath through the bights of strands A and B, and hauling all the strands taut. This knot is used principally for the ends of lanyards. In making these knots a whipping of sailmaker's twine should be put round the rope where the knot is to be when formed.





This illustration shows the process of worming a rope, which consists of winding spunyarn of suitable size into the space between the strands with the lay of the rope, so as to make the rope smooth for parceling. This must be done with the rope on the stretch. A shows the spunyarn.


This illustration shows the process of parceling and serving. After the worming is finished wrap narrow strips of canvas-tarred, if the rope is of hemp, and painted if it is of wire-round the rope with the lay, secure the parceling to the rope by marling it with twine, the rope can then be served against the lay. Lay the serving mallet B with its groove on the rope. Take a turn with the spunyarn round the rope and head of the mallet, round the side next you, and two turns on the other side and twist it round the handle. Get an assistant to pass the ball A round the rope while you heave round the mallet. The last half-dozen turns of the service must have the end of the spunyarn put through them and hauled taut to secure it.



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1.0 07/30/00

Edited by Craig O'Donnell.
Etext & images ©2000 Craig O'Donnell, all the usual whining applies.