IF any ambitious would-be mariner,
old or young, hailing from anywhere were to ask me what sort of a boat
I would recommend him to build or buy, I would answer him frankly that
an able catboat, with a centerboard and stationary ballast would, in my
judgment, be best. I would advise him to shun the "sandbaggers" not
that one cannot enjoy an immense amount of exciting sport in one of
them, but because they seem to me to be only fit for racing, and I will
tell you why. A man when he goes on a quiet cruise doesn't want to be
bothered by having to shift heavy bags of sand every time the boat goes
about. It is too much like hard work, and by the time your day's fun is
finished you feel stiff in the joints. I have other arguments against
the use of shifting ballast, but do not think any other save the one
mentioned is necessary.
This point disposed of let us confer. Of what shall the
stationary ballast for our able catboat consist? Outside lead is of
course the best, but its first cost is a serious matter. A cast-iron
false keel or shoe answers admirably, and is moderate in price. Some
persons object to it, claiming that it rusts and corrodes, that its
fastenings decay the wooden keel to which it is bolted, and that its
weight strains a boat and soon causes her to become leaky. There is of
course some truth in these charges; but if the boat is built by a
mechanic and not an impostor, none of these disadvantages will exist,
and the cast-iron keel will prove to be both efficient and economical.
But if, by straining a point, lead can be afforded,
procure it by all means and have it bolted on outside. It neither
tarnishes nor corrodes, and as it does not deteriorate, its marketable
value is always the same. Racing yachts have, however, been known to
sell for less than their lead ballast cost, but such instances are
rare. It should be borne in mind that the lower down the lead is placed
the less the quantity required, and the greater its efficiency.
There are always a number of secondhand catboats in the
market for sale at a reasonable rate, and an advertisement will bring
plenty of replies. But for a tyro to purchase a boat haphazard is a
mistake on general principles. It is like a sailor buying a horse. Get
some honest shipwright or boat builder to examine, say, some half-dozen
boats whose dimensions suit you, and whose prices are about what you
think you can afford. There are certain portions of a catboat that are
subject to violent strains when the craft is under way. The step of the
mast and the centerboard trunk are parts that require the vigilant eye
of an expert.
Human nature is prone to temptation, and paint and putty
are used quite often to conceal many important defects in a craft
advertised for sale. The keen eye of a mechanic who has served his time
to a boatbuilder will soon detect all deficiencies of this kind, will
ferret out rotten timbers, and under his advice and counsel you may
succeed in picking up at a bargain some sound, seaworthy and
serviceable craft in which you can enjoy yourself to your heart's
But if some rotten hull is foisted on you by an
unscrupulous person you will be apt to "kick yourself round the block,"
for she will be always in need of repairs, and in the end, when she is
finally condemned, you will find on figuring up the cost that it would
have been money in your pocket if you had built a new boat.
The principal boatbuilders of New York, New Jersey,
Connecticut and Massachusetts are men of high character, who take a
pride in their work (which is thoroughly first-class), and whose prices
are strictly moderate. Any one of these will construct a capital boat
of good model and fair speed. I am an old crank and a bigot in many
things appertaining to boats and the sea, but I hope that any reader of
this who is going to build a pleasure craft will follow my advice at
least in this instance: Let her be copper-fastened above and below the
waterline. Don't use a single galvanized nail or bolt in her
construction. See that the fastenings are clenched on a roove -- not
simply turned down. Don't spoil the ship for a paltry ha'porth of tar.
Many builders, for the sake of economy, use galvanized iron throughout,
and will take a solemn affidavit that it is quite as good as copper.
But in the innermost cockles of their hearts they know they are wrong.
Others more conscientious use copper fastenings below the waterline and
galvanized iron above; but copper throughout is my cry, and so will I
ever maintain while I am on this side of the Styx.
Sometimes one may pick up a good serviceable boat at a
Navy Yard sale. Uncle Sam's boats are of fair design and well built.
They are often condemned because they are what is called "nail sick," a
defect which can be easily remedied. Occasionally a steamship's
lifeboat can be bought for a trifle, and if it be fitted with a false
keel with an iron shoe on it, will prove thoroughly seaworthy and a
moderately good sailer.
Mr. E.F. Knight, the English barrister and author of the
"Cruise of the Falcon," tells how he bought a lifeboat condemned by the
Peninsular and Oriental Company. She was thirty feet long with a beam
of eight feet, very strong, being built of double skins of teak, and,
like all the lifeboats used by that company, an excellent sea boat.
This craft he timbered and decked, rigged her as a ketch, and crossed
the North Sea in her, going as far as Copenhagen and back, and
encountering plenty of bad weather during the adventurous voyage. Mr.
Knight is a believer in the pointed or lifeboat stern for a small
vessel. He was caught in a northwest gale, in the Gulf of Heligoland,
in the above-mentioned craft, and had to sail sixty miles before a high
and dangerous sea. His boat showed no tendency to broach to, "but
rushed straight ahead across the steep sea in a fashion that gave us
confidence and astonished us. Had she had the ordinary yacht's stern to
present to those following masses of water, instead of a graceful wedge
offering little resistance, we should have had a very uncomfortable
time of it. Many men dislike a pointed stern and consider it ugly.
However that may be it behaves handsomely, and we should certainly
recommend any amateur building a sailing boat for coasting purposes to
give her the lifeboat stern."
Mr. Knight fitted his boat with leeboards, which no doubt
served their purpose admirably. I should, however, favor a false keel
and an iron shoe as being more efficient and less unsightly. I should
not advise the purchaser of a condemned lifeboat to have her fitted
with a centerboard. The cost would be high, and unless the job was done
in a first-class manner by a man experienced at this sort of work it
would be very unsatisfactory.
A "nail-sick," clencher-built boat should be hauled up on
the beach and filled with water. Every leak should be marked on the
outside with chalk or white paint. After all the leaks have been
discovered, run the water out of her and dry her thoroughly. Next
examine every nail and try the lands or joinings of the planks with the
blade of a very thin knife. Any rivets which have worked loose must be
taken out and replaced with nails and rooves of a larger size. Through
the chief parts of the bottom it may be necessary to put an additional
nail between every two originally driven. Many of the old nails which
are only a little slack should be hardened at their clench by a few
taps from inside, one hand holding a "dollie" against the head of the
nail on the outside. Melt a pound of pitch in a gallon of boiling North
Carolina tar and give her bottom a good coat inside, filling the lands
or ledges well. The garboard strake fastenings and also those of the
hooded ends should be carefully caulked. So should the seams. The seams
of the planking should also be caulked.
There are various methods of making a boat unsinkable.
Cork is sometimes used, but it takes up too much room and is not so
buoyant as air. Copper or zinc cases, made to fit under the thwarts and
in various odd corners, have been fitted in boats, but their cost is
high. Amateurs have used powder flasks and cracker cans, with their
covers soldered on, cigar boxes, covered with duck and painted,
bladders inflated with air, etc., etc. A boat displacing one ton will
take about forty cubic feet of air to make her unsinkable.