Preparations 8/20

The most boring part of any job/challenge/trip is the preparations yet it is crucial to success. For painting, the boring part is all the surface preparation and taping. For a trip it is the packing. For the Everglades Challenge it is not only the packing but getting the boat ready. Accordingly, this portion of the blog may not be the most interesting. Scott Gosnell and I agreed that I would work on getting the boat ready while he would figure out provisioning for the challenge.

I have already done several things to the boat to make it suite my purposes including spending the occasional overnight on the boat. I already did use the Picnic Cat for the 2020 Florida 120 challenge back in May and found it to be very comfortable including sleeping onboard despite using a simple boom tent to keep the dew off.

Sails and Rigging

One of the first things I did was to replace all of the running rigging including changing the throat halyard, the halyard that raises the front part of the sail on a gaff rig, from a one part to two part purchase by adding a pulley. This makes it the same level of purchase as the peak halyard, the part that raises the back of the sail, allowing you to grab and pull on both at the same rate. Makes raising quicker though the extra purchase on the halyard makes it stick a bit when you try and lower the sail.

I also experimented with using a bigger sail, something I did with the Com Pac Suncat I owned to great effect. I sail a lot in light winds and a gaff sail reefs well without changing the balance of the boat. Honestly, I should have sailed the boat with the original rig more before experimenting because the original sail area is quite good as is. I ended up taking the original sail to Schurr Sail loft in Pensacola to get some needed repairs done and add another line of reef points. If the winds get really light on the Everglades Challenge, I am going to replicate a strategy John Bell (aka Mister Moon) and I did in his Core Sound 17: add a light wind sail. We can add a jib but just in very light winds so that we don’t stress the standing rigging.

Working on the rigging and trying out the new bimini

I made two changes to the standing rigging. First, I put quick links on the shrouds. The turnbuckles had a tendency to bind on the shroud plates (at the attachment points) and bend before you realized what was going on. Second, the previous owner had damaged the sail slot on the mast by not insuring the boom, sail, and gaff were below the tabernacle before lowering the mast. The damaged slot caused issues when trying to raise or lower the mast and also was a potential point of failure. Fortunately, the top of the mast has the same dimensions as the bottom including the sail slot so I just swapped ends and reattached all of the hardware.

Cockpit

Having no cabin, the Picnic Cat is basically all cockpit. Makes for a huge comfortable area for us to lounge in. My first fix was to wash and then teak oil the wood in the cockpit including the cockpit grate, centerboard trunk top, and the hinged seat. The tiller took a bit more work being a denser sort of wood. I also added a bimini as you can see from the preceding picture. Given the importance of shade when sailing in the south, the bimini is the maximum size I could fit under the boom and behind the mainsheet.

Newly cleaned and oiled wood

I also made a filler board to bridge the seat to the centerboard trunk forward making for a larger sleeping platform. The filler board is hinged so it stores easily below. Not sure if we will use it on the challenge…. The full length seat cushions came with the boat but I do need to modify them into three sections so it is easier to get to the storage below. Finally, I raised the level of the wooden platform under the tiller to match the height of the seat cushions…more room to store underneath and holds the cushions in place.

Tiller/Rudder

On the tiller, I added my standard tiller tamer which is a line attached to either side of the rear corner of the boat that goes through a cleat on the bottom of the tiller. A bungee cord on one corner gives the needed tension and allows for the tiller tamer to be disengaged. I also added an extension to the tiller so I could lean back on the cockpit seat. I used one of the rear support poles that came with the bimini and some hardware I bought from Duckworksbbs.com to make the tiller extension.

Tiller tamer and tiller extension. Parts for tiller extension purchased from duckworksbbs.com

Storage/Flotation

The storage on the Com Pac Picnic Cat is absolutely huge! It is under all the seats and even runs under the cockpit sole. The latter is a bit of a problem as small items have a tendency to roll to the very lowest point and become irretrievable. My earlier solution was to put plastic storage bins under the seats but this proved to still be awkward. Also, while the Picnic Cat has built in flotation…it may not be sufficient for the weight of the skippers and extra gear for the boat. While I was browsing the internet looking for beach rollers….I came across a solution for both issues.

Walmart sells thick vinyl inflatable exercise rollers. (https://www.walmart.com/ip/Inflatable-roller-30-x-7-blue/33852874). I purchased four of these to inflate and stick under the cockpit sole. They both act as additional flotation and wedge in tightly enough to provide a barrier to items getting lost under the sole. They also might serve as rollers to get the boat off the beach. (you have to beach launch boats at Ft. DeSoto at the start).

Inflated roller 30″ x 7″ roller.
Roller tucks under the sole for both flotation and to block small items from going to the lowest point in the boat.

Alternative Propulsion

The whole goal of the Everglades Challenge is to go 300 miles on renewable energy. The simplest way is to paddle which is truly the origins of the Everglades Challenge and its parent group The Watertribe. It is a collection of expedition kayakers. Early on a bunch of sailors stepped up wanting to be included and Chief, who is the grand poo-bah of the watertribe group, added sailboats as a class. Sailboats are allows to use both sail and manual (oars or paddles) propulsion. There is an experimental class that allows for electric motors using renewable (solar panels and the like) propulsion. I mentioned this last as a possibility to Scott G. but was shot down…he wants to earn it the hard way.

So, how does one move a Picnic Cat when there is no wind and motors aren’t allowed? The challenge is both the wide beam and high freeboard of the Picnic Cat. The very dimensions that make it a capacious and stable sailboat for this challenge also make it a pain to move if the wind doesn’t cooperate. I happened to have a sturdy pair of aluminum and plastic take-apart oars that were a standard six foot in length but not near the 9 foot needed given the dimensions of the Picnic Cat. How did I get those dimensions? There are plenty of websites that give you various mathematical formula you can use to calculate. I also happened to have some aluminum tubing left over from my failed experiment in increasing the sail area of the Picnic Cat. I added this tubing to the oars so I now have 9’6″ take apart oars that will work with the boat yet are small enough to store down below. When taken apart, they also make suitable paddles for waterways too narrow for 16 foot span of oars.

Nine foot six inch oars are amazing to see. Fortunately, being aluminum, the weight isn’t too bad on these.
When taken apart, the are small enough to store down below. The one section makes a decent sized paddle for tight waterways.

To Do List:

I still have a long to-do list. Will write out both as a good place to keep my list and for any comments readers would like to make.

  1. Make a dodger: Block both the spray and give the off-watch crew a protected spot to sleep.
  2. Modify cockpit cushions: divide the one part cushions into three part cushions so can access under seat storage without having to take the whole cushion off. Also add snaps to keep the cushions in the boat.
  3. Buy ruddercraft.com rudder: A nice foil shaped rudder (current one is an aluminium slab) will improve performance including speed and pointing ability.
  4. Add oarlocks: Can’t use the oars I modified without
  5. Replace the shroud turnbuckles: repeated binding and bending may have weakened the metal.
  6. Add masthead flotation: Capsizing is a real possibility even in a boat as stable as the Picnic Cat. Don’t need much flotation at the masthead to prevent this.

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