I didn’t expect this nautical non-sequitur, but even a career technomad needs to get shaken out of a rut now and again.
Way back in 1993, after ten years and 17,000 miles of wandering the US aboard my “computerized recumbent bicycle,” I decided to build an amphibian pedal/solar/sail micro-trimaran and chase the same crazy dream on water, heading down the Missouri River and turning right to begin the Great Loop of coastal and inland waterways… about 10,000 miles. The plan was gizmologically intense, and published 145 Microship Status Reports during the development decade that followed. A 132-mile mini-expedition happened in 2001, then another year or two of refinement… and then, as life evolved, I quietly moved on to other things, eventually wanting a boat big enough to live aboard. The little boatlet sat untouched, a forgotten centerpiece of my life.
Well, OK, that was frustrating. Ten years of intense effort for a piece of dusty artwork, occasionally shown to lab visitors? I reluctantly listed her on Yachtworld, but the market for geeky unfinished one-person amphibian multi-mode micro-trimarans is not exactly booming. I posted a few articles about loaning her to the right person in the hopes of seeing my labor of love get Out There to do a proper expedition… even if not with me. Nothing came of that either.
But a couple of months ago, taking a break from the seemingly endless Nomadness project, I went for a stroll on the docks over at the Port of Friday Harbor. I chatted with a friendly fellow traveling through the islands on his homemade Marsh Duck, then another couple of guys on a beautiful wooden boat named Tern. “Gosh, I wish I had a little boat…” I mused, imagining how much fun it would be to hop in and go for a sail, not needing crew, not worried about back pain or projects… hey, wait! I have a little boat! One that consumed a quarter of my adult life! I think I even smote myself on the forehead as I doubled my pace and hurried back to Nomadness to start the (deliberately short) to-do list.
In less than a month, she was on the water:
But let’s back up a bit. Getting her splashed was an adventure, and took advantage of one of the most complex and time-consuming parts of the project… the landing gear.
Energized by the plan, I threw myself into preparations: renting a slip at the port, buying a registration sticker, replacing the very dead split-open marine battery with a new pair of golf-cart monsters, adding a solar charger, recharging the hydraulic system with water, fixing the LED navlights, and tweaking things I had barely touched since the turn of the century. When the day arrived, I was fortunate to have the assistance of three friends: Paul Elliott of Valis (a lovely Pacific Seacraft 44 sailboat… he’s on the left in the photo below), and Al & Kristi Thomason of Viking Star (45′ Monk trawler). Geeks, muscles, and an event photographer, all rolled into a fun day with people I enjoy… how much luckier could I get?
Holding the crane-control pendant (up, down, in, out) in one hand, I got her clear of the rail and threw myself into the arm that swings it around. Paul managed a pair of looped-back control lines he had fashioned with old halyards to keep it properly oriented, and Al waited on the water in his inflatable dinghy. It looked like a long way down… but only took about a minute once in the air.
There was no dock adjacent to the crane, so the plan was for him to catch the boat, free the slings, lash himself alongside, and trundle off to a more suitable location for mast-raising and climbing aboard before making the run to my slip. In this photo, Al has the Microship under tow…
After we tidied up the crane and Paul recovered all the deployment lines, I shouldered the mast and started trotting out to the breakwater to meet my little boatlet… already looking almost comically small against a backdrop of yachts. The tiny amas were no match for our first planned landing spot (behind a 70-footer, as I recall), so we located an open area on the walkway and Al brought her alongside. The task now was to step the mast, leading to what quickly became known as our Iwo Jima moment:
(The mast has Delrin bearings at the base, which drop into a Teflon-anodized aluminum tube solidly glassed to the forward bulkhead. It can be rotated via a long loop of line and the double furling drum, allowing the 93 square-foot sail to be deployed or retracted from the safety of the cockpit.)
A Month of Micro-Adventures
Launch date was June 26, and I am writing this exactly one month later. She has been off the dock 14 times, covering somewhere around 50 miles, getting slowly refined one piece at a time. It’s a short hike from Nomadness to Microship via foot, bicycle, dinghy, or kayak… and I’ve been delighted to discover that when it’s a nice day in the San Juan Islands I can just go sailing. What a strange concept.
She sails well, other than making a bit more leeway than I would like (probably a result of the flat canoe hull, daggerboard notwithstanding)… and I was particularly pleased that the furler is now behaving. In the photo above, the black plastic “shelf” under the drum is a recent addition, helping keep the line from falling off, wrapping around the mast base, and making it impossible to stow the sail without clambering awkwardly forward and unwinding it… a tricky and dangerous maneuver even in mild conditions. This is assisted by a small block on a bungee in the cockpit to keep the loop tensioned when not immobilized by a pair of cam cleats.
How is it otherwise? Well, look at this happy selfie taken outside Parks Bay on Shaw Island, just after crossing San Juan Channel:
One of the greatest pleasures of all this is being able to focus on the sailing, something I’ve been missing during this long dock marathon in Nomadness. As some wise person once observed, “the smaller the boat, the bigger the adventure,” and I am suddenly attuned to every wake, tide rip, frond of Nereocystis Leutkeana, and creak of my little ship. I’m getting to know local waters, and taking the time to enjoy the moments instead
I’d like to share a few tech details of the boatlet, but I think I’ll save that for next time; I’ve been tweaking the hydraulic system (getting rid of a leaky over-pressure valve that was letting the rudder drift up, along with identifying the cause of some steering mushiness), trying to get an APRS tracker going, muttering about RFI from the solar MPPT charger, fiddling with video monitoring, researching a suitable fixed-mount VHF to replace the dead one installed 12 years ago, assembling a simple on-water bivouac system to extend my range, gathering the parts for a “clothesline” anchoring rig to allow beaching in tidal waters, and so on. This machine was never truly finished, back when the project wound down in 2002, but current plans are much more modest than the high-stress large-scale expedition for which she was designed.
And yarrrh… it was blowin’ half a gale. We had no business out there, but were making for Hicks Bay… then the eddies kicked up around Reid Rock and swept us off course, streamers flying off the waves, whirlpools spinning logs, birds screeching, rudder hard over as we fought off a gybe, too much sail out, wakes from fender-slappin’ powerboats throwing spray off the amas, crossbeams a-creakin’. It was grim, I tell you. Them what died… them was the lucky ones…