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
PLAN OF A 30-FOOT LIFEBOAT
CONVERTED INTO A KETCH-RIGGED SAILING YACHT.
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:
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
12 feet of oak plank, 1 foot wide and 1-1/2 inches
One strip of yellow pine, 26 feet long, 4 by 2
inches. Another strip of yellow pine, 21 feet long, 4 by 2 inches.
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.
45 feet of 3/4-inch pine, 6 inches wide, tongue and
32 feet of spruce, 7 inches square.
28 feet of spruce, 5 inches square.
10 feet 9 inches spruce, 3 inches square.
10 feet 6 inches spruce, 2-1/2 inches square.
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
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
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