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Putting Flotsam to Work

I took a look around my shop, and in the debris of projects past, I could see my boating future.

I should call this new design Flotsam, as the inspirations for her are generated by a shop filled with the packed storage lockers, corners and shelves that come with more than 40 years of designing and building custom boats.

We had just finished a large solar-electric catamaran project, and it was high time to lessen the chaos. The battlefield of the shop floor was cluttered with leftover, well, everything. We were blowing down dust from the rafters, straightening out woodpiles, cleaning up the epoxy corner, and collecting the strewn-about carcasses of the fallen for storage in the plumbing, electrics, mechanicals, hardware and sandpaper lockers. At another time of the year, one might call this spring housecleaning, but in this case, it was autumn. I was shorthanded too, as most of my crew was taking long-needed vacations from Covid-tempered boatbuilding.

I must confess, though, that it didn’t take me long to get distracted. The first object of my fascination was a heavy-duty hydraulic steering ram that had serious leaking issues in early sea trials. I guess I should have sent it back to my supplier, but rather than plague him with a 6-month-old ram that had barely a couple of hours of use, I decided to take it to a local hydraulic shop and have the seals replaced. The repair took two weeks, and the cost was $125. Now, the mechanical locker shelves have a $1,400 ram amid the remnants of other projects.

This find gave me pause, and I wondered just how many of these parts and pieces I had squirreled away over the years. Were there enough to start a new boatbuilding project?

A quick trip to the back of the shop exposed a treasure trove. There were rows and rows of items, some just as dear as the hydraulic ram. There was an old Gardner 6LW diesel engine in the corner, about 6 feet long and 4 feet tall, almost a ton of heavy-duty engine. She was a running takeout purchased just after taking a deposit on a new boat project, at one of the rare times when I was feeling a bit flush. There was also a reduction gear nearby, purchased for the same project to replace the one attached to the Gardner that was defective.

Other explorations unearthed marine water closets, anchors and spare rodes. Back at my office were a couple of compasses, older in style but with plenty of useful life left to them. I found an older steering wheel that I had made for one of my larger designs, but replaced with a stainless-steel model because my customer didn’t like an old-style spoked wheel.

This was getting fun. I could see the dream project Flotsam taking shape.

This design calls for standing headroom in the robust engineering spaces and throughout the three-stateroom layout for my wife and me, and chosen guests, on our roaming adventures.

This design calls for standing headroom in the robust engineering spaces and throughout the three-stateroom layout for my wife and me, and chosen guests, on our roaming adventures.

This will be no ordinary boat, and certainly not your gold-plated cruiser requiring the same or more time spent cleaning, polishing and otherwise pampering. I am taking a page from my life and experience of cruising in an 87-year-old fishing boat. Far from a yacht, she has simple finishes, nothing too shiny or pretentious, but just good old single-part paint applied on a frequent basis to keep her looking shipshape. There will be no hours of cleaning and polishing of Flotsam to get back onto the boat with whatever treasures I might have found beachcombing. A little sand or mud on the shoes will be quickly douched with a bucket of salt water.

But the finishes of the boat are not the only change from your more normal yacht use. The layout, configuration and uses of this boat will be less a swanky yacht club tenant and more a tramp freighter—one that would never deign to have a scheduled stop at a port of call instead of trading goods on the spot. Flotsam will not be for fishing (at least I don’t think she’ll have a fish hold) but there will be a space where I can carry cargo or offload stores with her mast cranes. The cargo space will measure a full 450 cubic feet. This should allow me to load up with everything enough to keep me happy.

She’ll be a sturdy boat capable of cruising high latitudes, and as seaworthy as can be. Power will be my freshly rebuilt Gardner 6LW, more than a ton of iron in her bilge that is slow-turning and efficient. There will also be a generator for powering the lights, systems, electric motors for the mast cranes, davits, a bow thruster and an anchor windlass. A watermaker will be installed, and a washer and dryer. I want all the functions of home so that my wife and I can have a second home on the water.

Flotsam will also have plenty of covered deck space and a right proper pilothouse, with a pilot berth abaft a forward--facing seat for daily naps while underway. I will be right at hand if something needs attention, but a quick nap grabbed at sea is a rare and wonderful sensation.

Berthage is handled in three staterooms below the pilothouse and bow areas. There is a large head for guests with a built-in shower, and another head up on deck in true workboat fashion (allowing privacy unparalleled by enclosed cabin heads that are so popular these days). An owner’s stateroom is immediately below the pilothouse, with an athwartships queen berth and true access to both sides for making up the bed each morning.

The engine room is accessed through the master stateroom or the cockpit. Either access can be done safely at sea without introducing the elements into the critical machinery areas. Fuel oil capacity is almost 2,000 gallons, but the Gardner doesn’t burn much, and our range will be far in excess of 2,000 nautical miles. With the watermaker, frequent stops for potable water wouldn’t have to be done.

This design can be built as a simple pilothouse boat, or she can have a flybridge. The drawing I am showing here is for the bald-headed version. It will be an entertaining debate about the advantages and disadvantages of the flybridge. I think the more inclined I am for high-latitudes work, the less I would be inclined to have the flybridge—but with a wife originally from Mexico, there is always the potential to cruise south and chase the sun. Being able to helm from above would certainly be an attribute on those bright and sunny days in shallow waters. I might take a page from older commercial designs and have a weldment for a flybridge framework with laced canvas for the enclosure. With simple repeater instruments, a con and steering controls, I could have both versions without issue.

Flotsam is a page from the past in shape and intention, and a page from the future for what would be a truly amazing adventure of creation and concept.

Now, I must work on two giant impediments to moving forward on this design: the funds to start building, and, more important, the tacit permission of my wife. With the latter being as least as difficult as the former to acquire.