Pt 1, Ch 1/Canoeing, Sailing & Motor Boating/Miller



by Warren H. Miller.




MY boyhood town was located on a point of land commanding a beautiful blue harbor, an arm of the salt sea whence came in daily stately ships, standing in from the open roadstead and sweeping majestically through the crowds of small sail craft, until the grizzled port pilots gave the signal to let go anchor, or a puffing tug took charge and nosed them into the wharves. That was before the U.S. Government dredged out our harbor to admit steamers. We were a great sail ship port, and our people dealt in commodities that are carried from far distant lands. Later it all gave way to huge smoky steamers, laden with prosaic iron and coal, and the town became a big manufacturing center.

But we boys were of the sail period of the Republic; the salt sea was in our breath all day, and to be "Cap'n" of even a ten-foot sail dory was the ambition of every one of us when but six years old. By the age of ten we had usually learned to swim well and then had the parental permission to own a boat, a sailboat of course, usually rigged from bowsprit withe to topping lift cleat entirely by ourselves. There were plenty of fish to be caught, and the bay abounded in wild fowl, so that from April to hauling-out time in November we lived in or on the water. I carry the weatherbeaten tan of those days to this hour, and no amount of city living can eradicate it!

We usually began with a flat-bottomed batteau, fitted first with a sprit sail and centerboard or keel board, and later added the glory of bow deck, wash boards and standing rigging; sold the precious frigate at about the age of fifteen and acquired a round-bottomed sharpie; sold her and got a catboat; and, before we were nineteen years old, had graduated into the full glory of the racing 18-rater knockabout. And, as the port had a flourishing yacht club, we boys were much in demand for crews, both for racing and cruising. Our own particular crowd of five boys were the crew of the Ocean Spray, a forty-foot racing sloop, whose owner we were only too glad to help at over hauling time, in return for being taken on a cruise or two in the summer and allowed to help man the yacht in a race. It was a thorough school of seamanship -- I think every boy of our squad is today a yacht owner and a naval reservist -- and, though the motor boat with its general air of landlubberliness seems to have come to stay, the ancient sport of sailing is more than holding its own in dozens of ports along our seacoast.

My first cruiser was a thirteen-foot flat-bottomed batteau, four and a half foot beam, that cost me ten dollars just as she lay, a common rowboat, in Capt. Milham's slip. I bought her with the money of my eleventh Christmas, having convinced Pater the summer before that I could outswim him by challenging him to catch me. We were all in swimming off the end of Parker's pier, in about two fathoms of water, and Pater, after a vain chase of maybe twenty minutes, nearly got me; but I dived under him, and, coming up about where his heels were, I made fast and ducked him properly! And so that Christmas I received permission to buy my first boat.




She was a staunch, light batteau; two strakes, cedar planking; an able boat in the seaway that got up in every easterly blow that hit our harbor. I bought her in March (it seemed that January and February would never pass), and my first work was to paint her and put her overboard. That meant a can of copper paint for her bottom, a can of white lead for her outside, and a can of buff for the inside coating. These were all quart cans, as two coats each were needed, so the bill was $1.95 that stared me in the face. A whole lot for a boy of eleven years, but I raised it somehow. Her seams lay wide open, but the caulking was in good shape, so all she needed was putty in the seams and then the paint. Meanwhile, my chum Eber, who owned a similar boat, fifteen feet on the waterline, was happily working over his craft nearby in the warm spring sunshine, and we combined forces when it came to getting the boats overboard. Both promptly filled to the water's edge, as is the way with all flat-bottomed craft until the planks swell shut, but in a week they were ready to bail out and were tight as drums the rest of the summer.

My first problem was one that troubles many a boy, -- how to overcome leeway and how to make a rig for her. A flat-bottomed boat will skid over the water like a leaf if she has no centerboard. Leeboards are a clumsy and landlubberly contraption for a regular boat, though well enough on canoes, and a centerboard is rather expensive $2.75 was the best price I could get from the "Cap'ns" alongshore, who all did a bit of boat carpentry in the winter. My first scheme was a hinged centerboard. A piece of twelve-inch-wide yellow pine three feet long was secured for ten cents from the local wheelwright, and two stout galvanized iron hinges with brass pins were screwed to it, about eight inches from either end. The Margaret was then hauled up on the beach and turned on her side, while I attached this centerboard to the keel strip by its hinges. Two stout galvanized iron screw eyes were next screwed in the lower edge of the board, and from them was led out two pieces of flexible copper rope a yard long each and costing ten cents a foot. These fastened in cleats on opposite sides of the gunwale, and the board was then ready for use.

This board worked rather well. A knot in the copper rope told me when she was perpendicular to the keel, when both ropes would be belayed on their cleats, and she held up well, making little leeway. When the boat began to heel down and move right along under a smart breeze the ropes thrummed as they cut through the water, making the whole boat vibrate and of course reducing her speed, so she was beaten by nearly every craft in the harbor that carried a sail.




My chum, who was a Florida boy and hated to be beaten, devised a keel board for his boat, preferring beaching troubles to going slow. He used a 7/8 x 12-in. yellow pine plank five feet long, cut on a long slant at both ends. This was spiked securely to a strip of 2 x 4-in. dressed pine running the full length of the keel board, and this in its turn was screwed to the bottom of his batteau. A second strip was screwed along the other side of his keel board and toenailed to it. The whole thing was then copper painted and it made a strong job, a deep, permanent keel in fact, and he lost no speed from copper ropes thrumming underneath. Of course his troubles came when he got into shallow waters or wanted to beach her, when that tender keel would strike and had to be nursed to prevent it going adrift. The photo shows how we made the latter type of board; they both cost about the same, $1.00, as we both were mighty short on the coin of the realm !

My first rig was a six-foot by six-foot leg-o'-mutton, made of two yards of unbleached muslin, the upper corner of which being cut off and added on below made the whole sail. It looked huge, in the house, and my mother was very much frightened at my carrying all that canvas (!) but on the boat it looked like a pocket handkerchief and just about gave her steerage way. The mast was a piece of bamboo picked up on the beach and the boom a square strip of yellow pine -- can you beat it for landlubberliness! However, in a hard blow the sail drew well enough to let me learn the simple arts of tacking, running free and running dead before a blow, and it was a much safer rig in the last case than one with a peak. This sail got dirty and mildewy, and, at the height of its disreputableness my father and old Cap'n Tom Little, the port pilot, decided that I had progressed far enough in sailing to carry a bit more canvas, and so I received permission to add a peak. This was done, a snowy triangle of unbleached muslin added to the filthy leg-o'-mutton, and with that and a light sprit spar to hold it out, I scandalized the harbor!

This in its turn got muddy and dirty from numerous shipwrecks and cruises up muddy saltwater creeks after snipe, and then I found another boom and a longer spar for a sprit and so added about two feet more to the leach of the sail, making it eight feet along the boom, six feet hoist and six feet head. This is about as small canvas as I would advise any boy starting out with, for a thirteen-foot boat; it gives her good speed and she is not set back so much on a tack by the tide drift. My sail now resembled Joseph's coat of many colors, but I did not care -- wasn't I the eleven-year-old "Cap'n" of a sailboat myself! And presently November came around and the hunting season was in full blast, so I spent more time in the forest with my air rifle than on the water in the Margaret, and soon she was hauled out and turned over, bottom up, on a pair of skids and left to the snows of winter.

But her skipper was not idle; far from it. My twelfth Christmas, word having gone throughout the family that I was going to rig the boat and put in a centerboard, and that cash would be very acceptable in lieu of presents, resulted in about $12 in my stocking. I needed a powder rifle and a tomahawk very badly but, oh, gee! I did need everything imaginable for that boat! A new main sail, a jib, spars, centerboard, bow deck, washboards, standing rigging, running rigging, anchor, paint -- what not! I spent all January planning, and resisting the temptation to sell her and add the money to my $12 to buy a round-bottomed boat, but I wisely stuck to the able little Margaret, for the other boat would need complete rigging too, and I did not propose to worry through another season half found. During February conferences with Cap'n John Milham, who was very busy building boats for the men at the yacht club, brought me his promise to put in a centerboard, put on washboards, bow deck and bowsprit all for five dollars, so this amount was set away until it would be needed in the spring. The remaining seven had to buy canvas for the sails, rope, blocks, spars, etc., and it required careful planning to make it cover all the necessities, while the rifle and tomahawk were relegated to another time. Mr. Kearney, owner of the sloop Kitty Maginn at the yacht club, coached me on the rig that was to be her final "grown-up" outfit.




Eleven-foot boom, eight-foot gaff, eight-foot hoist and sixteen-foot leach were settled on for the mainsail, and thirteen-foot hoist, ten-foot six-inch luff and six-foot six-inch foot were the dimensions of the jib. My school arithmetic was taxed to the utmost to find out how many yards of canvas this called for, but we made it eighteen yards, and this was bought in American drilling at ten cents a yard (now about fourteen cents). Then, one sunny Saturday in March, we pegged out the dimensions of mainsail and jib on the lawn, running a cord from peg to peg so as to give us a full-sized outline of the mainsail. We gave the foot a one-foot rise, which brought us a tall, sassy peak. The canvas was then unrolled, the first strip being laid along the leach line, and this was cut to the string along head and foot. Each gore was then added to this, overlapping to the blue line on the canvas edge, and pinning every foot, cutting off along the sail outlines until both mainsail and jib lay rough finished on the lawn and there was but a small bit left of my roll of drilling.

With these sails I went home and cajoled mother into hemming them all around, sewing down the gore seams and finishing the sails for grommets, etc. With this light canvas, an ordinary house sewing machine with forty cotton thread and heavy needle is amply strong enough.

Before the next Saturday came around, oh, joy -- I had the mumps! No school for two weeks and only two days of misery -- that is what it means to a boy! No wonder that that disease (and measles) are considered by boys blessings in disguise, no matter what parents think of them! Two bad days in a darkened room, and then, still confined to my room, I was up and about. I had stored the closet full of salty paraphernalia: manila rope, sail needle and beeswax, a ball of sailmaker's twine, some smelly, tarry marline, brass grommets a box, galvanized pulley blocks -- a sailor's paradise forsooth! At the end of every seam I put in a 3/8-in. No.1 brass grommet. These little brass rings come in two parts, a "thimble" and a ring, costing 30 cents a gross box. You cut a hole with your scissors, insert the thimble through one side, slip over the ring on the other, and turn over the edges of the hat with a marlinespike or fid, or even a stout wire nail will answer. Finish with a blow of the hammer and there you are! Along head and foot these grommets go, not only at the end of every seam, but along the hem midway between the seams also, giving you one about every foot. Through them is rove the head rope and foot rope which secure the sail to gaff and boom respectively. Simply pass it round and round the spar taking in a grommet hole at every turn and securing with a double half hitch at the end of the spar.

I got in the grommets for both mainsail and jib and then went at sewing on the bolt rope. An ordinary hem will not do for a boat sail; it stretches too much and soon pulls the sail all out of shape so she will not draw well and you lose speed. You simply must have a bolt rope, a stout manila rope, sewed to the hem with sailmaker's twine. For a sail such as the Margaret's 3/8-in hemp rope is ample. Your twine should follow the lay of the rope, fitting neatly in the bottom of the twist and nowhere exposed to the rough usage that it will surely get if it goes round the bolt rope at any old angle. I had about a hundred feet of bolt rope to sew around the two sails, and it took two days to do it. Wax your twine religiously if you expect it to last.

With the bolt rope on, the sails began to take on a real seamanlike appearance, and my next job was to lay them out on the floor of the room and mark out the reef points. One must go in every seam, but do not put them in the plain body of the sail unless you reinforce the spot with a little square of canvas. As I did not have but a few gores in my sail I had to put in these little squares, every one of them hand stitched. The reef point hole itself can either have a small 1/4-inch grommet or a worked eyelet. The latter take longer but are stronger, and, as I had all the time in the world, I eyeletted them all, two rows of reef points, two feet apart vertically for the mainsail, and one row for the jib. To put in the reef points you cut pieces of white cotton rope (the 1/8-inch size for this small sail) two feet long. Stick it through the eyelet hole a foot, and tie a knot. Put another knot on the other side of the sail and your reef point is secure. Both ends of it are next to be lashed with waxed twine, for no seaman would tolerate a knot or a crown on the end of a reef point.

By this time I was allowed at large, as the mumps were about over, but had not returned to school, and my first excursion was to the shipyards where the incessant clicking of the caulking mallets had been calling to me through the open windows of my room. It was late in March, and the tall-sparred three-masted schooners were riding high in the dry docks, their bulging sides covered with busy men driving in the oakum that was to make them tight and sound for the season. Oh, the Time of the Caulking Mallets! It comes along about Lent (and tops and marbles for the small boys), but for us seafaring youths it meant boat work in the balmy spring sunshine and good times to come! I headed for a soaking pool filled with spruce spars of every conceivable length, all with the bark on and all as straight as so many lances. They are sold at twenty-five cents an inch across the butt, and I was not long in picking out a 2-1/4 inch stick 14 ft. 6 in. long that was to be my future mainmast. Back to the house, where with plane and spokeshave the bark was peeled off and the mast got ready for slushing with beef tallow. This is rubbed in by hand -- a seaman's delight -- three or four times until enough is absorbed by the spruce to make the mast rings slide freely.

My friend the wheelwright supplied the boom and gaff -- two 1-1/2-inch square spruce strips, entirely free from knots, -- and these I worked down to a round with plane, spokeshave and sandpaper, tapering them to an inch for the gaff and 11/4 inch for the boom. The stock cost 30 cents in the rough. Any lumber mill nowadays can furnish you these spruce sticks already round and only requiring tapering, any diameter you prefer, so all three spars can now be had anywhere just as easily as if a shipyard were handy.

And now to bend on the sails! First the galvanized mast rings, six of them, were lashed to the luff of the sail at each point where a brass grommet marked the end of a seam. Next the mast was erected alongside the back porch, and the rings with sail attached slipped over it. Then gaff and boom were tapered with a sharp flat cut where the jaws were to go and the latter sawn out of inch oak and whittled and sandpapered smooth. Most boys get these jaws too wide and clumsy so that when put on they do not hug the mast closely. The way to cut them is with the back of the jaw along the grain and a quarter circle of the radius of the mast struck, after allowing not over an inch for the thickness of the horn of the jaw. Then a taper is struck from the heel of the jaw to its aft end and you have a narrow, thin, strong jaw of oak, which, when bolted to boom and gaff, will lie close to the mast.

These went on as described, also a hole bored through the boom and gaff near the meeting point of the jaws, through which was rove the 1/8-inch cotton rope which was to lash head and foot of sail to the spars. A double crown knot of this rope stopped it from pulling through the hole, and then the foot of the sail was lashed to the boom by running this rope around and around the boom, taking in a grommet along the foot at each turn. The two lower corners of the sail are called the tack and clew; the clew being the corner at the aft end of boom. To secure the tack, the lash rope must take one turn through the tack grommet before running out along the boom. To secure the clew the sail is pulled out tight, seeing that all lashing is taken up snug, and then she is belayed with a turn through clew grommet and a double half hitch around the boom. The boom ought to be about a foot longer than the sail, to allow for stretching, also the lash rope must be about three feet longer because when you come to reef you will need the end of this rope to belay the cringle, which is the last grommet at the end of the line of reef points, in the hem of the leach. All of which I attended to in a seamanlike manner and did the same by the gaff. The two upper corners of the sail along the gaff are called the throat and peak.

The next thing was to bend on the running rigging. The throat halyard for so small a sail as this is simply tied to a screw eye driven into the gaff near the meeting point of the jaws. The peak halyard requires a block, and the location of this block on the gaff takes some experiment. If too far in it will tend to draw too hard on the throat of the sail, if too far out will hoist the peak too hard. A little trial will give about the right place.

The mast needs a galvanized iron withe with four rings standing out from it. To the aft ring is lashed the galvanized double pulley block which takes throat and peak halyards; to the forward ring the wire rope jib stay; and to the two side rings the wire rope shrouds. I whittled a shallow collar on the mast head and fitted the withe over it tight. Then I had a perfectly lovely tarry half hour "serving" the ends of those wire ropes with marline. This is a tarry hemp cord which fairly reeks of ships and shipping, and to this day I keep a wad of it in my pocket so that if I see too many gardens I can take a sniff of it and feel all right again! Wire rope cannot be tied without making a landlubberly job of it, so the end is passed through the ring on your mast withe, bent over in an eye and the end lashed to the standing part with marline. This is called serving it, and you have a little serving mallet over which a couple of turns of the marline are taken and then this is passed around and around the wire by its handle. The pressure exerted by it is so great that it makes the marline lie flat and sweat tar so as to make a neat smooth job of your lashing. The wire rope for my boat was the smallest obtainable, 3/16-inch diameter.

Finally the peak and throat halyards were rove, and up went my new sail for the first time! She set nice and flat after taking up here and there, and the next thing to do was to put a draw in it. The "set" of sails explains all the reason why one boat will beat another with identically the same hull and rig and sailed equally well. Too flat a sail means a slow boat; too loose, a poor pointer. The ideal shape is a sail, nice and flat aft, and full along the luff, the shape of an aeroplane wing or bird's wing. The wind shoots into such a sail, expends its energy and is slid out along the flat leach. If the latter is baggy, the wind will get trapped in it and hold back the boat, hence, for large sails, the necessity for battens in the leach. My sail was too small for that. By setting up hard on the peak so as to throw a quantity of wrinkles into the luff, the fullness desired is in a way attained. I helped it by letting out a trifle of lashing rope along head and foot just aft of throat and tack.



Then I went down to the shore where I found Cap'n Jack already started on my boat. He had gotten out a centerboard log of 1-1/2 x 5-inch clear white pine and had slotted it for a 24-inch board. Maybe I didn't camp out on a saw horse for the rest of the afternoon and watch him make that board! First went in two 2 x 1-inch uprights a foot high and were securely spiked with galvanized nails into each end of the slot. To these were nailed the two trunk sides of 7/8 x 14-inch clear white pine stock, 28 inches long. These were caulked where they abutted on the log and were white leaded along the uprights and log before nailing fast up through the bottom of the latter.

Next, the board itself was made, of a single 7/8-inch plank of hard yellow pine, with a couple of iron rods driven through it to prevent warping. These were upset at the ends and then the board was put in the trunk in position and an inch hole drilled through both sides of the trunk and the board down in the for'd lower corner where the pivot pin was to go. This was next put in, a simple pin whittled of white pine and driven through. Then Cap'n Jack laid out, on the keel of my precious boat, a centerboard slot, drilled an inch hole through keel, bottom boards and keelson at each end of the slot and joined the holes by two long saw cuts. The bottom boards were then caulked and painted where they crossed the keelson and finally some wicking soaked in white lead was laid around the edges of the slot and the centerboard trunk screwed fast. At last I had a board!

Next day he began with the washboards and bow deck. Two white pine planks we held in the position they were to go, along the sides, and the line of the gunwale was scribed on the plank from below. A line parallel to this and six inches inside was next struck, and the Cap'n labored with his rip saw until he had the two washboards cut out and ready to fit. They were then nailed down through the top into the gunwales and an inch half-round strip run along the gunwale to cover the crack.

Along the inner edge went the coaming, a piece of 3/4-inch by 3-inch yellow pine board, with a strip of cove molding in the corners. The coaming ended with a square fit about six inches aft of the mast. Next Cap'n Jack put in oak deck carlines every foot, sawed to give about two inches crown to the deck, and then ran the mast plank from coaming forward over the stem. This plank was six inches wide and the ends of the washboards or "plank sheer" as they are called in boatbuilding butted against it. The space left was then filled with small deck strips, two inches wide, so accurately laid together that not a crack between them could be discerned. But of course this would never do for sea service, they would leak -- all these deck cracks -- with the first sea that came over the bows, so the Cap'n began caulking all the seams just as if they were in the bottom of the boat! Even I was not prepared for such thoroughness as that, but, let me tell you, that is what you have to have in an able sea boat! Then the seams were all payed with paint and puttied, and then the first coat of paint went on.

The Cap'n next began pottering about with a stick of spruce, carrying the while a quizzical smile on his grizzled features, and suddenly I realized with a jump of joy that he was making my bowsprit! A husky stick it was, six feet long, 2 inches square at the butt, and fined to an octagon after it stood out over the stem. He bolted it through the deck carlines, put on a two-ring withe and ran an iron rod down to her stem from the bowsprit end.

"Thar, sonny, ye kin set up on yer jib stay till ye bend the mast out'n her before ever thet bowsprit will lift!" Indeed you could pick up the whole boat by her bowsprit, as I did many times afterward.

The Cap'n still had a little time left in his day, and so he examined my rudder with a sardonic grin.

"Looks like a potato paddle, and is hung like a barn door!"
vouchsafed he.

A little rummaging in the shop brought forth some more white pine and soon he had sawn the rudder as shown in our drawings, reinforced with a strip along the bottom to prevent it warping, and then the Cap'n made me put on the rudder irons and do it right. My carpentry was of the let-it-go-at-that kind, but the Cap'n soon made me realize that sea carpentry is "do it right or don't do it at all!"

Next day I brought down the sails and put in a joyful day rigging her, while all the weatherbeaten Cap'ns alongshore hee-hawed and admired the diminutive yacht. I first tried to hold the shrouds with screw eyes but they pulled right out, so I dug up 60 cents and bought the smallest galvanized iron chain plates, 5 inches long, and these were screwed to the sides of the boat about eight inches aft of the mast step. An eye was next put in the shroud wire and the shrouds hove up tight, with three or four turns of marline running from the chain plate eye to the shroud eye. Then the jib stay was run from the masthead withe with a set of iron rings for the jib luff grommets to tie to.

In a larger boat you would use jib hanks, which can be snapped over the stay, but they do not come small enough for a diminutive yacht of 13 feet LWL, so I used inch galvanized iron rings instead. This jib stay up, the double block for throat and peak halyard was next secured to the after masthead withe eye with a few turns of marline and the same was done to the jib halyard block at the forward eye.

Then a jib downhaul block at the bowsprit tip, and I was ready for the running rigging. This was all l/4-inch white cotton rope, and after being rove through the proper blocks and secured to the spars I put on the cleats to which each was attached. You want these in galvanized iron, about the six-inch size, one each, for throat and peak mainsail halyards, jib halyard, jib downhaul, port and starboard jib sheets, and one for the main sheet on the stern transom under the tiller. For a sail of this size the main sheet can be just a 1/4 inch hemp rope, single, no blocks being needed. A topping lift for the main boom will also be wanted to prevent the boom dropping in the water, when the sail is let down and the boom happens to be outboard, and this I put on next, securing at the aft masthead eye and tying with a double half hitch at the aft boom end to give the right topping of the boom about two feet above the deck.

She was now ready to spread her wings. I ran the boat ashore on a convenient sand beach where she could face the wind, for it is better to make the first try with your rigging when the boat is on something solid or she will go all over the lot and maybe upset while you are tuning up this and that. Next I hauled away on throat and peak mainsail halyards and up went the snowy white sail!

Aye, but that was a joyful sight! Then the jib, and now they were both flapping in the wind, everything drawing well and it was time to be off for a trial spin. I shoved her off, let down the board and gathered in the main sheet, and presently she filled and was away! Speed ! -- you bet! She made all her previous time look like racing a dock. And now for the first time I had to hike well over the side in the puffs, and now and then had to spill wind when it drove her lee washboards under and water came over the side. But I was satisfied -- she made the lighthouse a mile down the harbor in a little less than no time, it seemed to me!

Mainsail was a bit too flat, but I soon remedied that by heaving to and hauling on the peak halyard so as to throw a mass of wrinkles in along the luff. At first the jib got away with me, as I had never had so large a jib to manage. Never have the jib up without the mainsail first, for its tendency is to haul the bow of the boat away from the wind and you have no steering control over her at all. In coming up into the wind the jib is a great help in going about quickly if you hold the weather sheet fast until the wind has had a chance to get on the other side of the jib thus throwing her bow around.

    Click here for a larger image.


But all these points of handling sails must be left for another chapter; suffice to conclude with the reflection that I now had a fine, fast, able little racer and cruiser that I could go anywhere in, sleep in at night, sail ten miles or fifty, or just knock about the bay in, and the whole cost of changing her from a plain batteau to practically a small skipjack yacht was not over fourteen dollars. How I handled her, raced her and cruised her, and how to build such a batteau from the planks up will be told in succeeding chapters.


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