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Designing the Slidavan telescopic ‘pop up’ caravan

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Design is such a fascinating subject. So much can influence a design, from the thoughts and experiences of the designer to the things that either they or the marketplace dictate. Often there is legislation to consider. All of these things can have a massive effect on the end result.

More even than this though is the aspect of practicality. This is at the very heart of design. For me it’s the overriding criteria for a design. Of course I don’t mind if it looks cool or funky at the same time but I find that if you design something practical so that it just works it’s easy for people to understand and a simple working functionality is clear for everyone to see.

Take the 2CV, a simpler more practical car could hardly be imagined and yet this tinny, slow little car caught the imagination of the world. But you can be sure, no matter how cute it was, if it couldn’t get you from A to B then it would have failed as a design. I’m not saying the Deux Chevaux was a great car but no one cared about that because it simply worked and this simple fact is enough to endear people to a design.

In designing the Slidavan I confess I focused pretty much exclusively on practicality. The bottom line is, it’s all very well designing a fancy caravan with a nice flowing aerodynamic shape but it just adds complication to the build and the fitting out and at the end of the day you still have to drag this massive lump through the air at great expense and some trepidation. Woodenwidget is all about offering plans that allow anyone to make a boat, bike or caravan. If the initial design is too complicated then the plans will be too.

If I couldn’t make the Slidavan aerodynamic, I could at least make it reduce in size when it was being towed, this makes much more sense to me. If you can make the caravan the same size and height as the tow car you can cut down on drag massively.

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Working on the practicality aspect again it seemed to me that the best way to get maximum interior volume and ease of build was to use a simple box shape. You get more in it and fitting out the interior is made much simpler as every angle is square. Ok, so a box is not great looking so it needed a simple way to disguise it. The answer was a curved roof.

This is perhaps the most complicated part of the Slidavan but it’s worth it because it puts a round shape on the top of the box which isn’t much I know but that one curved surface makes all the difference and draws your eyes away from the boxyness of the design. The curved roof also looks lovely when you are inside. What better than to look up and see curved varnished beams spanning your little home.

There is also a practical reason for having curved beams and that is because it is a good way to get extra headroom without paying a penalty for it. By lowering the sides, it helps the box to be longer, more rectangular and less like a cube. Again, it’s just a small thing but all these little things add up.

Curved beams, although a little time consuming to make, give so much to the design that it’s worth the extra effort. In any case, the end curves are cut out of the panels so don’t need beams and there are just a few in between and as they all share the same curvature, only one gluing jig is needed.

The down side to a curved roof is the difficulty that it brings to adding holes or hatches which are designed to go only on flat surfaces but quite honestly not having holes in a roof is a very good idea for lots of reasons. As nice as it might be to lay on your bunk looking out at the stars through a big hatch, the truth is condensation will form on a cold night and there is nothing more unpleasant than having a big cold drip of water in your ear at three in the morning. Ask me how I know.

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Also by curving the roof it reduces the chances of leaks as water cannot rest, it has to roll off. It does make using the roof for storage a bit more complicated but it wouldn’t be hard to make a simple framework over the whole lot if you wanted to. Solar panels are now available in flexible form so they could be laid over the top easily enough.

The Slidavan has two large windows, one in each side and another in the door at the rear so plenty of light comes in. There isn’t really a need for a hatch in the roof and since most of the heat is lost from warm air rising it seems to me that a hatch is just a good way of letting heat out of your space on a cold day.

All in all, not being able to put a hatch in the roof did not seem to me to be much of a sacrifice considering the advantages and great look of a curved roof somewhat reminiscent of a bow top gypsy caravan or a classic wooden yacht. One final advantage is the fact that a cloth roof is also very light and it always pays to reduce weight the higher up you go. It improves stability on the road.

The design, as all good practical designs often are, was born of necessity. I wanted a simple place to camp but I wanted comfort and space but nothing I saw on the market did anything for me. Everything was too big or too heavy. By researching caravans I discovered the rules and laws. What I discovered was that there are no special requirements for trailers under 500 kilos. They don’t even need brakes!

Normal caravans are so heavy that they need to be licenced and controlled. Your insurance will go up, you need special mirrors and you’ll drive so slowly that you’ll drive other road users quite mad. But what if you could make a caravan that weighed less than 500 kilos all in? Well, there are a few out there but they are all expensive, the cheapest I saw was about £4000 and it was just a cheap fibreglass moulded shape, too big to tow and yet too small to stand up or cook in. Some of the more expensive small caravans I saw were as much as £12000 but they had the same problems.

Teardrop campers seem popular, I suppose because they are small and relatively aerodynamic but there’s only a bed and if you want to cook, you have to go around the back. Maybe these caravans are designed for Africa or Australia or other rugged places where it never rains. Well I’m from Europe and it rains here so any caravan I wanted had to be big enough to stand up and cook in.

Obviously I considered a camper van but they are so expensive to run and they just sit there most of the year doing nothing which is a pitiful waste of money and resources. Plus they cost a fortune to buy and if they’re small enough to be economic to use, they’ll be too small and compromised inside.

Having discovered the laws about trailers it led me to thinking, why not make a lightweight caravan that simply bolts to a cheap naked trailer? So I began looking at ways to build a simple and light caravan. Having a simple box shape means making it couldn’t be easier. All I had to do was come up with a light and structurally rigid way of doing it.

The simplest, cheapest, lightest and easiest way I could come up with using easy to find commonplace materials was with was a sandwich of plywood over panels of extruded polystyrene to create a rigid, lightweight, tough, cheap and yet well insulated structure. One thing you do not want in a small space is condensation and this is why caravans are more comfortable than tents, because they are insulated.

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Here you can see one of the interior bulkheads being assembled. Note the wooden framework with the extruded polystyrene between the battens. A batten needs to be fitted everywhere a fastening will go. Another sheet of 3mm ply will be glued to this to complete the panel.

The down side to this system is the need for a very large and flat surface to make the panels on as twisted panels would stop a smooth telescopic action and the top section might jam. The other down side is that the framework needs to correspond to the window cut outs and interior pieces like bunks.

The first problem was easy enough to solve. The floor panel is large enough to use to assemble and glue all the other panels on. So long as you get the floor level it is easy enough and since the floor is made directly on to a square and flat trailer chassis it’s all good. As for positioning the interior framework well that’s just a question of pre planning where everything is going to go. Another big advantage to this system is that you really don’t need much space to build a Slidavan, although you do need a doorway wide enough to get the caravan out after it’s made! A single car garage is quite adequate.

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Here a panel is being glued. Weight is added to hold it down while the glue sets. The white panel with the curve on it is the jig for the roof beams. It is there to help add weight to ensure a good glue bond.

Experience comes in to design as well and having lived on a boat for over a quarter of a century I have learned a thing or two about small space living so I ought to be able to come up with a comfortable and yet practical interior design. The Slidavan is minimal and traditional in design. A bunk each side with the floor in the centre of the caravan under the highest part of the roof of course.

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The door at the back is just obvious. I don’t know why caravans so often have a side door. How can you load a bicycle or a sailing dinghy in from the side? The Slidavan can carry from 100 kilos of extra weight so why not use it to transport your toys at the same time?

How to raise and lower the telescopic top took a little while to work out. I thought it would be nice to have an electronic top that went up with just the flick of a switch but there is no easy way to do this and it adds weight, cost and complexity. Far better to have a simple separate system that is not attached to the caravan at all.

There was a caravan from many years ago called a Hi-Lo and it used a hydraulic cable system which lifted the four corners and I am sure it worked very well but the complexity and weight ruled out such an option for the Slidavan. I had to find a better way.

As the Slidavan is symmetrical it made sense to simply lift the upper section from the centre. So one of the curved beams is placed centrally and a lifting device placed directly under it. I couldn’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work so I set about experimenting. At first I used a simple 10 mm threaded bar but the threads were too fine and after a few operations it seized up. That would never do. Whatever system I came up with had to be reliable.

These days it’s possible to buy almost anything so I did some research and found what is called a leadscrew. It’s basically a threaded bar but with a greater pitch and squared off threads. It is designed to handle large loads. It’s exactly the kind of thread that you might find on a car scissor jack. I had hoped to be able to use and modify a car jack as they are easy to find and cheap. However the lift of the Slidavan’s upper section is 700 mm and no jack I could find had that kind of range. 

So the final lifting mechanism is a 12 mm diameter leadscrew with a 3 mm pitch. That means that for every revolution the upper section would lift 3 mm. A bronze nut was bought along with the leadscrew as it is much less likely to gall. This was fitted in to a wooden tube and cross brace. The whole lot operated with a battery powered drill. A thrust bearing is needed to take the force and the weight and this came from the head race of a bicycle. Perfect.

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It takes a couple of minutes to set up the lifting mechanism and less than a minute to raise the upper section the full distance. This is fast enough for anybody. Once the upper section is up four bolts are fitted to hold it in position and the lifting mechanism is then removed and stowed under a bunk. The lifting mechanism weighs just three kilos which is very light considering it is lifting about 100 kilos.

The overall length of the Slidavan is logically dictated by the length of a sheet of plywood but of course not every country uses the metric system and although the sizes between Imperial and Metric plywood is similar is isn’t the same so the plans had to take in to account the fact that Imperial ply is 62 mm shorter. Oh the demands on the designer. But no worries, I would never want to alienate anyone from building a Slidavan so even if you use Imperial materials you can still build yourself a Slidavan.

So with all the design issues solved it was time to make a Slidavan. I bought a new naked trailer from a French company called Norauto. It cost a very reasonable 500€. It has a track of about 160 cm so I would build the Slidavan over the wheels. They also sell a wider version so if you wanted you could build a Slidavan and place it between the wheels. It does mean that the Slidavan would be a bit narrower but of you were looking to go off road the extra stability that the wider trailer offers would be perfect.

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The building of the Slidavan was straightforward. You can make a panel a day so it would take nine days before all the panels were made. Since it doesn’t take that long to make a panel it made sense to laminate a roof beam a day to save time.

All of Woodenwidget’s designs are light weight. There are a lot of good reasons for this. Using less weight means less materials. Less materials means less waste and lower cost. When you’re making a folding dinghy you want it to be as light as possible otherwise it just makes handling it a pain. A caravan can be heavier but you will still pay for a cavalier attitude to weight reduction. Every single thing that goes in to a Slidavan adds weight. A screw might only weigh a fraction of a gram but multiply that by 1000 and suddenly you’re looking at a kilo or two. It is quite shocking how quickly the weight adds up. So it just makes sense to keep this in mind right from the very start of the design process through to the end product.

There are loads of other considerations of course. How would the gap between the panels be sealed? How would the top section be held to the bottom during transporation. One by one these issues were solved always by first looking at the lightest option and only accepting a heavier solution if a lighter one could not be found or would not function correctly.

In the end the Slidavan structure including the full interior came in at just 200 kilos which isn’t too bad at all. The trailer weighs about 100 kilos so the Slidavan has an unladen weight of about 300 kilos. The law states that you can tow a unbraked trailer with a gross capacity of 500 kilos so 300 kilos leaves a massive 200 kilos of payload if required. However not all cars are able to tow this much weight.

For example, Bernie my trusty Panda 4×4 1.2 litre with just 65 hp is allowed to tow 400 unbraked kilos so that reduces the pay load to 100 kilos but that is still an awful lot of gear and in any case it would be far better to put stores and such like in the tow car and try and leave the Slidavan as light as possible.

Towing the Slidavan is a doddle. You can feel the extra weight when pulling away and going up steep hills but otherwise it’s all too easy to forget you’re towing a caravan! But as the Slidavan is no wider or higher than Bernie if I go for a gap with the car I don’t have to worry that the Slidavan won’t fit. On the road you can zoom along, even through the bends. The low centre of gravity keeps the Slidavan following like a trusty Spaniel. Not once has it felt even slightly dodgy. Even at speed on the motorway. Even being passed by big lorries is no problem. It hardly moves at all. It’s very reassuring. I have been blown about more in other cars without a trailer.

Theory is all well and good but the proof is in the pudding as they say. I have no idea what that means but it sounds good. Proof that tucking the Slidavan in behind the tow car comes in many forms. From the excellent stability under all conditions and from the way the front of the Slidavan stays clean while the rest of it can get quite dirty especially in the rain. But the best proof of all is the barely noticeable increase in fuel consumption

Since I have owned Bernie I have never managed to average better than 7.4 litres per 100 kms (or about 38 mpg) the Panda 4×4 was never a very economical car with it’s lofty stance, fat tyres and 4 wheel drive system but after 1000 kms of varied driving I was surprised to see that my average had barely increased to 7.7 litres (36 mpg) and that’s not just towing the Slidavan that’s with a well loaded car. I would have expected a slight raise in consumption just carrying the extra weight so it looks like the Slidavan hardly affects fuel consumption at all which is fantastic and sure proof that the concept is sound.

One thing I did do which may have made a large difference was to move the Slidavan closer to the car than a normal trailer or caravan. For some reason there is always a very long gap between the front of the caravan and the back of the car. I was not sure why this is done but perhaps for two reasons. One, to give more articulation when going backwards and two, so that you can open the tailgate of the car without it clobbering the caravan.

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What I can tell you is that I can still easily open the tailgate and even on full lock going forwards in the tightest circles the Slidavan does not get close to the car. And as for going backwards, well why bother? When your caravan is so light, why not just unhitch it and move it by hand? It’s too easy. I believe it is because I moved the Slidavan closer to the car that the fuel consumption is so good. Because it’s so tucked in it in effect becomes an extension of the car. Of course there is skin friction but the bulk of the air is deflected by the car. Result.

So the Slidavan looks cool, tows well, doesn’t increase fuel consumption particularly and is good at speed on the motorway. What is it like to live in? Well I have been traveling and living in the Slidavan for a few weeks now and I must say it is a very nice place to spend time. One day it rained all day. And I mean it rained. Did I care? Not a bit of it. Totally dry and warm. The double glazed windows didn’t even steam up. With its high attractive ceiling you don’t feel cramped or claustrophobic at all. Everyone who sees the Slidavan say the same thing and words like: Massive, spacious and huge are used.

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This amuses me no end as the Slidavan is a very small caravan but it doesn’t feel small. This is partly because of the high ceiling which runs the full length of the cabin and the large windows which let in a lot of light but also it’s because the front panel is painted white. The white panel was done so that it could be used as a 60” projection screen! But another advantage is the way it reflects light around the cabin.

Lighting is achieved by a strip of LEDs hidden behind the forward beam. You can’t see the strip and the light it gives off is excellent and because it reflects off the white wall it illuminates the whole Slidavan very well. The white wall also adds a feeling of spaciousness while the wood panels offer warmth and ambience. It’s a nice contrast.

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The bed is luxury epitomised. Each single bunk is easily wide enough to sleep on but if you want a massive, spacious and very comfy double bed simply drop in the two seat backs between the bunks. Now you have a 1.6 m wide bed six feet long.

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There is a table which attaches to the forward mounting bolts and is very strong and stable. It can be removed in seconds by undoing a couple of wing nuts. The galley area is on the left hand side. It’s nice cooking by the double stable door and looking out. There’s a sink and two burner hob all in one fitted and it’s more than enough.

If you want you could fit another work top on the other side but I decided to leave it open and fit a small shelf instead. As it turns out it was a good move. It gives more options. If you wanted a shower you could hang a curtain and use that area. Or you could put a cold box or a chemical toilet there. There is no shortage of storage in a Slidavan with massive space under each bunk. It’s fair to say that you’d probably exceed the gross weight long before you filled up all the cupboards.

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Along the way everyone is fascinated by the Slidavan and perhaps a little jealous too. After all they have to crawl along towing their one ton (or more) caravan. They need a bigger car, wider mirrors, their caravan needs special insurance and a log book plus caravans are one of the most disliked forms of transport on the road. They simply cannot go fast, they can’t go up hills, they can’t drive down narrow lanes, they can’t go off road and they are a nightmare to manoeuvre. None of these failings apply to a Slidavan that’s because on the road it is a small trailer yet in the campsite it is a spacious, comfy and fully insulated caravan. Truly the best of both worlds.

So if you want a Slidavan you’ll have to make one. It would make a great winter project in time for adventuring the following summer wherever you want to go. With its high ground clearance, narrow stance, light weight and low centre of gravity you could take a Slidavan to places no one would dream of taking a normal caravan!

It takes about 200 hours to build a Slidavan and if you buy all new parts it might cost about £3000 to make. That’s a fair chunk of change but see if you can find anything even half as good to buy for double that. This is cheap caravanning! One of the things that has quite shocked me is the sheer cost of a caravan and the equipment you need. I thought yachting was expensive but caravanning is not so far behind. So the Slidavan and a small tow car is one way of reducing the costs enormously and if you buy secondhand parts you could reduce the costs dramatically.

To learn more or buy plans please visit woodenwidget.com and if you do buy plans we will plant five trees on your behalf.

Happy camping

Categories
boats

A very customised Fliptail 7

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Woodenwidget has been selling plans to build folding boats for over ten years and in that time many builders have been kind enough to share their attempts. It is always a delight to see how builders finish their boats. Some copy the plans exactly, even down to the same type of wood and fabric. Most personalise their craft in some way but do not deviate from the plans structurally but every now and then an ambitious builder lets their imagination run wild.

Alex is one of these builders. He owns a rather lovely small classic yacht and he wanted to try and match a dinghy to it. His emails were intriguing and right up to the end I had no idea what he was up to because he said he didn’t want to send any pics until the boat was finished.

So when I finally saw the pictures I was so impressed. He was worried that as the designer of the Fliptail I might be somehow offended by his modifications but nothing could be further from the truth. The pleasure I get from seeing what people do with the design is very heartening.

What you see below is basically the email I got from Alex with his comments and pictures which explain it all much better than I could.

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Hello Benjy,

As promised, some construction photos and final results of my Fliptail 7, "Foal", tender to my 19′ Ralph Stanley sloop, "Bucephalus".

First off, I want to say explicitly that none of the diversions I made from your plans were because I felt the design was in any way flawed. All the significant changes were because I’m fussy about wanting something aesthetically just so, or to fit her into her very specific role as a tender. Your plans were excellent, far better thought out than my modifications, and any difficulties I encountered in the construction were entirely my own doing, as would be any failures of the vessel as I built her.

The first big change I made, of course, was making her a peapod, double-ended. This was pretty straightforward: figure out the midpoints of all the longitudinal elements, backbone and hoops, and then mirror the bow section. For instance, two stems:

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You can’t have too many clamps:

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With the hoops, I went a little further off piste. I knew I wanted a concave sheerline, and the best way to accomplish that in this situation was to have hoops with a fair curve, and then angle them down slightly. So the hoops are a slightly different shape than the typical Fliptail’s; significantly, there is no absolutely straight section, they are curved throughout. They still start from the same principles and basic dimensions, though –and they still take a lot of clamps:

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Turns out you can’t get 10mm plywood over here. Even high end wood suppliers stock in 1mm increments up to 9mm, then jump to 12mm. For the sake of lightness, as well as because 12mm wouldn’t fit when folded up, I used 9mm okume. It turns out it’s pretty flexible stuff, when you’re sitting on it, but I think it’ll be fine. Again, I slightly tweaked her plan view, even beyond making her double-ended, to fit the differently-curved hoops:

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Given that she will be used in a salt water environment, all hardware is either brass or bronze. This includes 1/4"-20 bronze carriage bolts for the floorboard supports, since I didn’t have a full 10mm of ply to countersink for machine screws. (As an aside, reconciling your metric instructions to my SAE working habits and materials suppliers was a challenge in its own right):

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A minor change of detail, on the keel cheeks, to remove a sharp point:

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I couldn’t bear to let the offcuts off the ends of the hoops go to waste, and since I wanted something a little curvier at the ends of the hoops than the cedar wedges specced in the plans, to show the sheer better, I used the offcuts thus:

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Foal’s construction sequence has been considerably different from that you outline for the typical Fliptail. I have done a lot of pre-fitting of parts, since I’m detailing them differently, which means I need to assemble, disassemble, adjust, check the fit, and only then start varnishing and painting, once they’re shaped as I want them. The complexities of changing her to have a concave sheer made things even more difficult, as everything had to be assembled, scrutinized, and adjusted many times to be sure the curves were coming out right. It has definitely slowed the process, but I think the results are worth it.

To match her parent vessel, Foal is painted blue-grey inside, with bright trim.

Lower hoops in place:

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Stem detail. The oak bearing pads, laminated to the stem and sternpost, have their outside faces canted out about 6°, to angle the upper hoops downward and create the concave sheerline. Angling the hoops down reduces her freeboard by a couple inches, but the geometry also works to give her sides a bit more flare:

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Since I had the ash offcuts on hand, and it makes nice detailing when finished bright, the floorboard supports and upper hoop supports are of ash instead of cedar. Since the assembly process was slow anyhow, I took the time to laminate the brace-blocks onto the floorboard supports, instead of screwing them on, and shaped some curves to get rid of some weight and lighten them visually. I also glued a pad across the end grain where the lower hoops bear, to protect the end grain from splitting. In this photo, the bolts all have yet to get their nylock nuts, and be trimmed to length:

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Sternpost detail. I left the pads long to create a fairlead, either for a towline, for towing Bucephalus, or for rowing out a kedge, or taking a warp ashore for mooring or warping in. The hoops also sit an inch lower on the sternpost than on the stem, to enhance her sheer:

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Upper hoops in place, with temporary vertical supports to fine tune the sheerline. Angling the upper hoops down to create the sheer had the effect of flaring the sides, which angled the bottoms of the upper hoop supports inward, and in turn meant the floorboard supports needed to be shortened:

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You can see the 12° of "deck camber" a bit better here:

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Final vertical supports in place, but not yet varnished. There’s only so much you can do to add sheer to a 7′ boat, but from a little distance, she does have the tiny bit I had hoped for:

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I have an unreasonable hatred of barrel-bolts. To avoid using them, I instead shaped the heads of #6 screws on my lathe to remove the flare of the heads, and screwed them into the endgrain of the vertical supports. I then drilled into the floorboard supports and lined the sockets with open-ended Chicago screws left over from the floorboard hinges. The Chicago screws have a slight crown to the end, which provides both a strike plate for the screws/pins and a little more clearance to allow water to drain off. It takes stretching the fabric a bit to get the verticals into place, but they hold their position quite well:

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I also re-invented the detail of how to locate the floorboard supports on the lower hoops. Instead of notching the lower hoops, I drove a 1/4" oak dowel through the keel, to serve as a stop for the floorboard supports when they are swung into place: (designer’s comment: Normally a small flat is cut on the upper side of the hoop and the floor support locates in the slot. This is so that when rowing you can put your feet on the supports and force against them. I worry that Alex’s solution is not ‘idiot proof’ but so long as he is aware of the issue, his solution is fine)

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Covering the modified hoops went just fine. To match Bucephalus –and my other dinghies– I used dark green fabric for the bottom panels and white for her topsides. For sealant I used up a couple partial tubes I had on hand of both 3M 4200UV and 3M 5200, aka "demon snot". In keeping with her bronze and brass hardware, for salt water resistance I used 1/4" monel staples, for longevity:

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Foal together with Bucephalus’s "home waters tender", Toggle:

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For a rubrail I did as I had done on Toggle, and used a length of 3-strand spun dacron (1/2"), long-spliced into a loop. I first routed a 1/4" radius cove 3/16" deep into the upper hoop, positioning the cove at the top edge of the hoop so that the rope would stand proud of the wood both on top as well as to the outside. This is because I’ve found that when coming along side a larger boat in any sort of a chop, a dinghy will tend to sort of scoop its rail up and into the larger boat, not just bang against it sideways, so padding along the top edge is warranted as well. (Also, bronze nylock nuts are now in place.):

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With the cove shaped, I stapled the top edge of the topsides fabric into the cove, so that the fabric turned over the bottom edge of the cove. Ideally this will ease some of the point-loading against the staples. The rope rubrail then covered the edge of the fabric and is secured in place by 3/4" #6 bronze round-head screws: you insert the screw in between two strands of the rope, and then drive it *through* the third strand and into the rail, so that when it is driven home, the head disappears beneath the first two strands. Be sure to use round-head screws for this, if you try it: flat-head screws tend to frazzle the rope as you’re driving them. There are slight bulges where the screws are, but those tend to get less obvious over time:

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At stem and stern I left bights of rope long enough both to let the hinges work and to use as lifting handles:

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The aft bight is longer, to work as a sling for rowing out an anchor:

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To take the strain of lifting, the rubrail is also seized to the upper hoops close to the stem and sternpost:

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The sternline is just girth hitched to the stern lifting becket, since it’s unlikely to take much strain, or even to get much use, but for a little bit of "bling" the painter is girth hitched to a bronze captive ring:

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As for where to put the oarlocks, it turns out your written instructions were, for me, exactly right: they work well immediately abaft the aft upper hoop supports. With two people in the boat, each sitting at the extreme ends, that position even works (sorta; adequately) to row stern-first and keep the boat a little better balanced on her waterline. Contrary to what you indicate in the instructions (yet again!), I installed the oarlocks to the inside of the rail rather than to the outside: I lose a couple inches breadth of effective rowing position, but it removes any chance of dinging the boat I’m coming along side of:

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And Foal has now had a preliminary bout of sea trials. I don’t have any photos of her under way, as I was the photographer and could not both row and operate a camera, but here’s proof that she does float:

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She also makes a very tidy package, with a pair of 6′ oars. I’m still working out the best way of lashing her for stowage, so please excuse the painter and sternline macrame:

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I am happy to confirm that she is surprisingly stable, and rows far, far better than I had expected (even with the rowlocks just clamped in place). I admit, I expected her to handle like an overturned umbrella in a duck pond, but that expectation was completely unjust, and her handling is stellar. I think she will be an even better tender than I had hoped for:

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Many thanks for all your support throughout the build. Let me know, now or in the future, if I can provide any details of Foal’s build, or the suppliers of her materials, for Wooden Widgets’ library of information.

All the very best,

Alex

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Categories
boats

Raymarine EV100 Tiller pilot review

Evolution2

Borrowed this pic from Raymarine. It shows the colour display and the EV 9 axis sensor.

Today I sea trialled the EV100 Tiller pilot and although I have only so far tested it on a flat sea under motor I have to say I am hugely impressed. It was a real joy to see the wake behind the boat which was straight as an arrow. This is the first time I have seen this on Doolittle. In the same conditions the TP30 would still have the boat weaving slightly. What else is good? The drive arm hardly moves. This is a massive improvement over the TP30 because one of the things that always annoyed me was the amount of unnecessary movement it used to make along with an annoying noise. The EV100 hardly moves and even when it does it is very quiet. The wireless remote is a fine accessory. I sat at the bows and happily changed course with it. Obviously this is hardly a comprehensive review but what I have seen is very hopeful.

Long gone are the Gain and SeaState that we’re used to. Replaced by a simple choice of three settings, Leisure, Cruising and Performance. I tried all three but I found that the Leisure setting held a near perfect course only deviating a couple of degrees. In Performance mode the pilot was a little more active and the course was held to within one degree which is pretty damned impressive. It will be interesting to see how this works with wind and waves. At one point we had some swell to deal with and the boat was rolling quite a lot yet despite that the tiller never moved. That kind of thing would have upset the TP30 for sure

No longer do you need to do a compass calibration by going round in slow circles although you can if you want. If not, the unit just does it itself automatically. You can lock the calibration later so the pilot doesn’t try to do it again. Right from the start the display was showing a compass reading which seemed almost bang on compared to the ship’s compass. I wasn’t expecting the compass to work straight out of the box with such accuracy. There is a dockside wizard which you need to run before seatrials but that is all. All that does is push the helm one way and ask you if it pushed it the right way and if it did you press ‘continue’ and that’s the pilot set up! In my case it didn’t push the helm the right way as I have the drive arm on Stb where as it should be on port. You could switch the polarity on the motor if you wanted to swing it around but since it is so easily done in the display I did that.

The drive arm is the same one that Autohelm have used for years. They no longer offer the GP unit which had a better (Swiss made) motor for longer life but you can still get your standard drive arm modified. To do that it has to go back to Raymarine. I was quite keen to do this until they told me how much it would cost. A shocking £1000!!! So I don’t think I’ll bother. Not quite sure how they justify such an enormous sum unless the motor is gold plated and studded with diamonds.

EV-100-Tiller-Pilot

The same old drive arm that Autohelm has sold for years. At least getting spares for it should be easy enough.

I don’t know how important it is but adjusted the rudder angle (the angle of the tiller from one side to the other) which default setting was 30 degrees. I reckoned it was actually about 33. I also adjusted the hard over time from the 4 sec default to 5.4 seconds which is what I timed it at. This is all in the instructions. It probably would have worked just fine on the default settings but I can play with this at a later date and see if it makes any difference to anything. There are settings for Sail boats, fast sailboats, motor boats etc and you can change the characteristics of the pilot by selecting a different type of boat. But for now I have followed the instructions to the letter and told the pilot it is steering a sailing boat.

The display is very nice with a very bright colour screen. The interface is pretty straightforward and simple to use. The display has a few settings for viewing with different colours, red for night time and of course the screen can be dimmed as well. You need to cut a big hole (about 3") to fit the display which is a bit of a shame. I fitted the display in the engine instrument panel. When I ordered Doolittle I asked Pacific Seacraft to fit the engine panel as far to one side as possible. I’m glad I did because there was JUST enough room to fit the display next to it. I also managed to fit the TWIST shower and two sockets, one for the new pilot and a 12 v supply which also powers up the TP30 which I shall keep for when/if the EV100 dies. Although they offer a 2 year guarantee which is extendable to three years for free if you register online. Not bad.

The installation was made much easier by the fact that the EV Unit (compass) can be placed anywhere above or below decks. I installed most of it (computer, wireless base station etc) behind the engine panel in a space which is used for nothing else. The EV unit lives in a locker far from electrical or magnetic interference. All the components are waterproofed but putting them somewhere that is always dry can’t hurt either.

The wiring up of the components is not straightforward although Raymarine have attempted to simplify the system with colour coded connections. The problem comes from wanting to have the wireless remote and an NMEA 0183 input to the pilot. Perhaps it is harder on my boat because I do not already have a seatalk system, only a Tacktick system (now owned by Raymarine but not seatalk) so it requires some complicated additions to make it all work.

The EV100 uses Raymarine’s latest protocol the SeatalkNG system. The wireless is Seatalk1 so one must buy a converter block ($100). It’s easy enough to wire up as the connections simply plug in to it. The NMEA is a bit more complicated as it first has to be converted to seatalk before it can work. This also requires another interface to do that ($200). I wired it all up on the table before installation to check it worked and also to get a better feel for how it goes together. It was quite shocking to see how many wires, cables and connectors there were.

At first I could not get the thing to work so I called Raymarine in the UK who were extremely helpful and we soon discovered why it wasn’t working. If you have not plugged into a blue socket you must fit the special blanks instead. Once I did this it all started working. So, not the simplest system to wire up since you need three power supplies, one for the NG converter, one for the Seatalk connector and one for the computer. But it was all made much easier by the fact that I could stick it all in the same place at the back of the boat. No need to dismantle the boat to feed wires through impossibly small conduit! Bonus.

Next I’ll have to connect up the NMEA Interface and feed the pilot with that info. They suggest that the pilot is fed with speed info from the log or at the very least SOG from the GPS. It helps the pilot to know what speed the boat is doing. It makes sense to me. Also the display can be programmed to display any number of NMEA info, from wind speed to depth so that’s useful too.

Next a sea trial with wind and waves and then I want to try and get it to steer to the wind as well. I’ll update this report when I have done that but I’d like the boat to be clean before I do that and since I didn’t haul last year it most certainly isn’t. I might even try one of the many steering patterns that are built into the EV-100 such as a figure of 8 or a cloverleaf just because I can!

 

Update July 2014

 

Well I finally got to try the EV100 in the real world. One thing is certain, the EV100 holds a fantastically accurate course. In fact it’s too accurate! What I mean by that is the pilot is working very hard to keep the boat on course. And this is on the lowest ‘leisure’ setting.

When it’s working hard, the drive is also noisy. Much noisier than the Simrad TP30. If it didn’t work so hard it probably wouldn’t matter but with its constant back and forth it gets extremely annoying and in fact if you are near it you cannot hear someone asking you something. It’s that loud. It’s a bit of a disappointment to be honest.

On day two of our sailing trip, headed downwind in 20 knots of wind, waves building the drive suddenly burst. So we put Dave (our ancient TP30) on instead and were amazed at how much quieter he is than the EV100. A very large difference. Maybe the Raymarine is ten times louder than the TP30. Is this just because the TP30 uses a belt drive whereas the Raymarine uses cogs only? Or maybe there was a problem with the Raymarine drive and working hard brought it to light.

I wrote to Raymarine of course and heard the usual, ‘We’ve been selling these units for 15 years and they are very reliable’ etc. Well the EV100 is supposed to be automatic. It is supposed to calibrate itself and set its self depending on the sea state and as I was already on the lowest setting I didn’t see what I could do to slow it down. The instructions are not very helpful and in fact had no mention of the fact that if you manually turn on the Calibration lock setting you get further menus where you can in fact adjust the rudder damping! I wish I had known that before. I only found this out from the very helpful chap at Raymarine. Who also explained why changing the hard over time can also affect the performance.

Here’s what he said: The hardover time will influence the  rudder gain and increase or reduce the amount of rudder for a given off course error, changing the damping will reduce sensitivity and switching between Leisure and Racer will affect the response levels.

The manual simply says this:

After setting your Hard Over Time, observe your autopilot’s behaviour and if required, make small adjustments to the Hard Over Time value until a satisfactory result is achieved.

As you can see that is not very helpful at all. It’s almost as if the people writing the manual didn’t know how it worked either so decided to be vague and ambiguous instead. Perhaps for most people the new system works perfectly and doesn’t need any adjustment. However, I am not most people and it is extremely rare when a product works perfectly right out of the box.

When the drive burst it was working a lot but there was very little pressure on the helm so even like this I would not expect a drive designed for boats much bigger and heavier than mine to explode after just 12 hours use, certainly not when you consider that the TP30 costs half as much and Dave is ten years old and has steered the boat for 2000 hours even for 24 hours as we ran bare poled before a gale and right across the Atlantic Ocean. As I said I was disappointed when the new pilot turned out to be noisy and then burst, but not altogether surprised.

When I took the drive apart I immediately noticed that the four (plastic) cogs that fit around the motor’s brass drive cog had all been ruined by their pins smashing through them. The nice man at Raymarine has promised to send me some replacements to a friends and we will collect them from there in due course.

Now that I am able to change some settings I have hope that I will be able to get the system working properly and only moving when needed and not all the time! I don’t suppose there is much I can do to shut it up. I could try an insulated cover but I think there may be a problem with the drive. When it fell apart, the recirculating nut came unscrewed from the shaft. It may have been this that caused the problem in the first place. Maybe it just wasn’t tightened enough at the factory?

Also the casing does not align properly. Maybe this is not enough to effect the arm going in and out but it could mean that the O ring is not sealed correctly all the way around and it may mean that it is not completely water tight. I will probably send it back after the season and get them to replace the whole unit.

A comment or two about the display and its interface. The display is very nice and it is excellent to have extra info on another screen. But there is no easy way to adjust the screen for night time use. Yes, there is a red/black setting for using at night but the display brightness does not dim. That has to be done manually. So not only do you have to change the display once to get the night time setting but it needs adjusting again to lower the brightness. It just seems very clunky to me.

Also, another thing I did not discover until it was explained to me is that there is an option under diagnostics called ‘about pilot’ when you select this option it shows just what you would expect, the Version number and the serial number. But in fact this page can scroll and stupidly enough, once you select the up/down button to scroll the page, a small tab appears on the right! Now if that tab was always there, one would know that the pages scroll. I know it’s a small thing and I know that had I studied the instructions more carefully I would have learned this but it just stops the interface being intuitive.

The overall feel that I am getting is that this product needs some serious refining. It’s a great idea and I’m sure that they have got the basics right but it is crude, the interface is clunky, the instructions vague with far too much emphasis on the system just working perfectly straight away. Also having to use NMEA to seatalk to seatalk NG is just daft.

I’ll update this again soon and hopefully by then I will have some more positive news to impart! Until then…

 

Update Aug 2014

The nice man from Raymarine sent me a few spare planet gears to fix the drive. I used Loctite on the shaft so hopefully the drive won’t burst again. I also used plenty of silicone grease when I assembled the drive in an attempt to make it quieter.

The good news is that the drive is working fine and I have a working autopilot once more.

Since rebuilding the drive I have had plenty of opportunity and some good varied sailing conditions to really test the EV 100.

On the plus side, the EV 100 is able to steer my boat at high speeds whereas with ‘Dave’ the Simrad I always had to reef early or he would be unable to keep up and have us weaving all over the place. This is very welcome and encouraging. Admittedly the pilot still works hard and is still very noisy.

Although the pilot is supposed to learn the boat and adapt I do not feel that this has been happening. Even turning down the rudder damping all the way to its max setting of nine has not stopped the pilot working hard when the sea is up a bit. That said the boat steers a good course.

One can supposedly adjust the hard over time to help as well but despite trying a lot of different settings none seemed to make a difference as far as I could tell. So the only real settings you can change are the rudder damping and basic response modes.

The pilot seems to work best on the lowest ‘Leisure’ setting. with the rudder damping set at 9. However this setting is no good for sailing on a flat sea as the boat drifts way off course before making any adjustments.

There are some very annoying things about the EV 100 and one of them is that you cannot adjust the parameters without putting the pilot into standby! So someone has to take the helm while you adjust the pilot. This is hopeless. Even my Simrad allows on the hoof adjustment of all the important settings.

Even more annoying is the brightness adjuster. The short cut button to access this is actually on the standby button itself so if you want to adjust the screen brightness, something you might want to do a lot, you will first put the pilot in standby. So you will need to get back on course afterwards and press auto to re engage the autopilot. Brilliant.

So where am I? Luckily I still carry the Simrad tillerpilot which is quieter and still works better than the EV 100 in most conditions. The EV 100 is great for when it is rough and windy as it can keep the boat on course and of course one minds the noise a lot less when it is noisy and windy.

One day sailing with 15 knots of wind, all sail and a flat sea the EV 100 was able to hold a steady course but I had to set the rudder damping at 3 and despite being set on ‘Leisure’ would insist on small movements the whole time although the boat would probably sail itself in those conditions anyway.

I’m not sure what is to be done. My man in Raymarine is on holiday for a while. Maybe the software needs updating. Maybe there is some way to adjust the rudder damping to suit my boat better.

I also feel that although the EV 100 is supposed to recognise roll, it does not seem to. Sailing upwind on a flat sea, the pilot doesn’t move much if at all but when a passing boat makes waves and we roll, the pilot goes crazy when all it has to do is NOTHING. Maybe the ‘roll’ sensitivity can be modified in the software. This would also help when it is rough as most of the movement is roll. The boat tracks extremely well with its long keel so it’s not as if it is coming off course as it rolls.

So to date: It works well though moves far too much and is way too noisy but can cope when conditions are rough and windy. This is already a massive improvement on ‘Dave’ but it needs more refinement and adjustment. The interface is a big let down. Not being able to access important settings when in Auto mode is hopeless.

I will update this in the weeks to come and I try to get the EV 100 working quietly in all conditions.

 

Update 11 August 2014

 

Yet more exciting sailing to gain more knowledge of the EV 100. Again it has steered us downwind with a reef in the main and the staysail poled out in 25 kts with no trouble at all. That said it does this with a lot of fuss, almost as if the pilot is trying to justify itself by moving so much.

There seemed to be more roll however and that I believe is due to the fact that the pilot is over steering the boat. A boat travelling at 6 knots will change direction fast and it will heel over, then when it goes the other way it will do the same, each time adding to the roll. A curious thing happened at one point.

The pilot crashed. It brought up an alarm saying the speed data had been lost but in fact all the fields were replaced with dashes so something serious had gone wrong. What was amazing is how the pilot just stopped making noise, we started to roll less. In fact the drive was hardly moving at all, just making small gestures every now and then and yet it kept the boat on course. This was in 25 kts of wind from behind and fairly large waves too. It drifted about 7 degrees off course either side but that is more than acceptable under those conditions.

What it does prove is that the boat is capable of being steered in a straight line, even over waves with very little input from the rudder. So why is the pilot working so hard?

Personally I’d like to see a special menu that contains adjustments for all the parameters such as sea state, rudder gain and damping, roll, pitch and yaw. Then the three modes (leisure, Cruising and Performance) would make perfect sense.

I have since been in touch with Raymarine who have asked me for info on the version I have and the deviation (5%) how this will help I do not know but one has to be patient in these cases.

Also I tried the autotack function but cannot make it work at all. The boat turns initially well but then straightens up so barely manages to come through the wind. As far as I can tell the boat did not turn an equal distance from one tack to the other. My Tack Tick wind indicator on the top of the mast appears to be set correctly, with no more than a degree or two off so it seems unlikely this is it. I tried this a few times, on both tacks and with the same result. I thought it was because the rudder damping was set so high but I tried other settings with the same result. Also it seems the auto tack option is only available in Wind mode. I suppose I am meant to use the Autoturn function instead when steering to a compass course. In an attempt to simplify things it is actually more complicated.

This dumbing down of interfaces is all well and good if the system works as intended but when it goes wrong there are no adjustments to be made.

Although I think changes should be able to be made to the pilot without having to go into standby first the man from Raymarine thinks it’s safer not to. I think it’s ridiculous myself. An autopilot that can’t be adjusted on the hoof? That must be a first. I guess they’re working on the assumption that the pilot will just work and that there’s no need to address this issue.

So that’s where we are at the moment. Conclusion: It works better and quieter when it crashes but I have not managed to discover how to make it crash so until it happens again I can’t experiment further. When working normally it over steers regardless of the setting, rudder damping etc and because of that it wears the drive unnecessarily, makes noise, uses more power and makes the boat roll. That said, it does hold a good course, even if the boat is over powered or badly trimmed. This is good although it comes at a price.

I’m really not sure what Raymarine can do but even if they can’t make it work any better I will be able to live with it. I can use Dave for most of the time but if it’s windy or rough and I need more power and better course holding then I can use it. I’m thinking a good compromise would be to buy another TP30 and wire the motor direct and let the EV100 power that. At least it would be quieter!

Surely more to come soon….

14/8/14

Some more thoughts.

 

It always amuses me to read about a new product. Here’s what Raymarine say about the new EV100 pilot:

No calibration required!

Engineered for simplicity, Evolution autopilots eliminate the need for complicated set up and calibration. Once Evolution is installed, getting started is as easy as switching the autopilot on.

Thanks to the intelligent EV sensor core, the autopilot automatically evolves and adapts to your vessel’s steering characteristics without any user adjustments.

Well that’s not been my experience. Nice idea though. Or rather, maybe it has evolved and adapted to my vessels characteristics, it just hasn’t done it very well!

Evolution AI™

The culmination of Raymarine’s 30 years of autopilot expertise, FLIR Systems research and development, and advanced aerospace guidance technology, Evolution AI™ control algorithms deliver a new level of accurate autopilot control.

This innovative breakthrough in autopilot intelligence enables Evolution autopilots to perceive their environment and then instantly calculate and evolve steering commands to maximize performance. The result is precise and confident course keeping, regardless of vessel speed or sea conditions.

Hmmm…

I have recently discovered that the Interface Raymarine use in their displays is called LightHouse. Well it needs work. It could do with a way to reduce the brightness without having to put the pilot in standby first, or having to navigate through the menus to find the option that way. Then there needs to be a ‘Home’ button so that you don’t have to press ‘back’ five times to get back to the main screen.

Also it seems I may not be able to update the pilot, ecu and display as I don’t have any other Raymarine displays and it seems that you need one to be able to update. I hope that this isn’t the case but I won’t be at all surprised if it is.

 

Update 21/8/14

 

Oh dear. The man at Raymarine has asked me to compare the various compass readings on the pilot against a fixed one. I did this but frankly don’t see what good it will do. The deviation was small on all points. He also asked me for all the info regarding the settings I have used but it is getting boring now. Clearly there is something wrong.

I decided to try and reinitialize the pilot. This can be done by restarting the compass. But in my case it simply says ‘task completed’ and seems very pleased with itself even though it has managed to come up with a deviation figure of 188 degrees. Apparently going around in circles will change this but all I get is dizzy and a figure of —

So now I have no working pilot.

The man at Raymarine has been very patient (as I have) but he now suggests I call in an engineer to sort the problem. Funny this: I have been here before and after that last time I vowed never to buy another Raymarine product as long as I lived. Will I never learn? That was on my old boat. The engineer came and he was about as useful as a chocolate fireguard. He had no idea why the pilot wouldn’t work and I suspect the engineer that will come this time will be none the wiser.

Either I have been supplied with a dodgy unit or the EV100 won’t work properly on a Dana unless one accepts a lot of unnecessary movement and noise. Now I have to waste more time with an engineer on the boat while we go through all the obvious stuff all over again. I suspect the man at Raymarine thinks I am an idiot and have poorly installed the pilot. Despite that he has at least offered to pay for an engineer to visit even though I installed the pilot myself. So full marks for Raymarine’s willingness to solve the issues I have been having.

The saddest thing about all this is that had the pilot worked well from the start (as it should have done if their blurb is to be believed) I probably would never have started to look closer and discovered an almost endless host of issues.

It has been an education fitting this pilot. Until it starts working properly on my boat I cannot recommend it at all. Had it worked I might forgive the limited adjustments, the poor interface, the noisy drive and the three different NMEA protocols and their associated wiring and converters. Far too complicated.

 

Update Sept 14

 

The software has been updated. The engineer came with a Raymarine chart plotter that he had to wire up and use to get the updates onto the EV.

Then I was told to turn off the calibration and compass lock, make sure the speedo is working and turn at at least 4 knots through a 3 to 4 minute circle. Yeah right. I can see them there laughing at the thought of me driving round in circles. Like I haven’t got anything better to do with my time. Emails back and forth. Waiting for an engineer. Staying in expensive ports while waiting. I am getting very bored with all this.

So I went around in circles for half an hour and nothing has changed. Still just — marked for the deviation and if I try a compass reset it comes back straight away to the 188 degree variation.

Then I got a call from the French engineer who came. The fact that the deviation is 188 degrees is no problem. So long as the light in top of the sensor is green and constant it’s fine. Well it is but Raymarine UK say that it is not fine and should be replaced.

 

Update 22/9/2014

This morning a new compass arrived which was duly fitted. Straight away the pilot seemed to work better with very little movement and fairly quick responses to what wind and wave there was. It is impossible to tell with so small a test if the pilot will work better in more severe conditions but it proves one thing and that is there was a problem with the EV compass sensor.

This explains a lot. If the compass is sending dubious information, the best autopilot in the world won’t work well. There’s no reason why the EV won’t steer my boat especially as it is an easy boat to steer by hand in the first place.

So apart from the drive exploding, the compass unit failing, the strange interface and inability to change certain parameters while in auto mode it seems to work well. Raymarine have been very helpful and got to the root of the problem eventually.

I’ll update this blog sometime in the future after the EV has had a proper work out in all conditions. What I can say is that on a flat sea under motor it works very well. For the rest you’ll just have to wait.

Update March 15

 

It was a lovely day with a nice breeze blowing. ‘Let’s go sailing’ I said and so we did. A great opportunity to use my new working pilot. My arse. As soon as I put it on I could tell there was something wrong. The boat would come off course and sails would start flogging. Frankly it was pathetic. ‘Here we go again’ I thought.

Despite messing with hard over times, response levels, rudder damping, nothing I could do would make the pilot steer the boat. So I checked the deviation only to find that instead of reading a nice small number like 4, it said —. This basically means that the deviation is over 25 degrees and there is a problem.

So with little to lose I decided to restart the compass. Again it came up with 188 degrees. The man at Raymarine says this is perfectly normal and what it actually means is that I now have to turn in a circle at more than four knots taking four minutes and that I must have a speed input into the pilot. The man at Raymarine thinks I don’t understand this. True, I think it extremely strange than rather than say, ‘go around in a circle’ the display simply says 188 degrees. Nothing in the manual makes this any clearer.

So I wrote to Raymarine. Again. The reply was hysterical. ‘Go around in circles at four knots etc’. You are having a laugh right? Clearly there is a problem. The pilot has never worked well from the start and I realise that reading through this fiasco I have been making excuses for this pilot because I so want it to work although it clearly doesn’t and never has.  I am done with going around in circles. It’s all supposed to be automatic anyway. What’s with all this compass calibration anyway?

Anyway the upshot is this. It’s going back to Raymarine. I have insisted on a complete new system in the hope that there is some strange bug that causes the pilot to be chronically inconsistent and lose its mind every time I want to use it. I am thoroughly disappointed. What a waste of money and my time.

Maybe a new unit will work better although I hold out little hope but I have to at least try. There’s a gaping hole in my boat where the display should be for a start. There’s no guarantee that they will give me a new system. But that’s up to them. If they do, it will be the least they can do to sort me out. If they don’t I’ll just put it down to experience and make sure that the next time I absolutely DO NOT buy anything from Raymarine. Twice bitten Thrice shy!

Update: April 2015

 

Duly received the complete new unit. Installation was easy as all the screws and cables were still there.

I ran through the settings changing it to Sail and telling it what kind of rudder I have etc and then went out to calibrate the compass. This is automatically achieved when the boat turns through a circle at some speed.

The first time I did this with the old unit, it initialised before the boat was even out of the marina. I thought it a bit odd at the time. This time the deviation was still marked — even once out at sea. After about three quarters of a circle the deviation came up initially at 0 degrees but soon after 5 degrees. This is exactly what should have happened with the original unit.

The last time I used the old unit, the deviation had disappeared and gone back to showing — it also wouldn’t steer the boat. Somehow it had lost the plot from one day to the next. Not that it ever worked properly in the first place.

This time the boat immediately held a steady course. The wake behind the boat straight as an arrow and what is even more encouraging is the fact that the turns were crisp and fast and the boat would come back on its new course quickly. The original unit never worked like that.

Admittedly I have only tested the EV100 under motor but already this seems a vast improvement and when I switch the unit on and off it does not lose the deviation setting.

Maybe I got an early test version before. Maybe it was just a dud, I don’t know. I’ll update when the EV100 has been tested under sail too. Fingers crossed.

Update May 2015

 

Finally some good news to report. I have had a chance to test the new EV100 under a variety of conditions and am pleased to report that it works well. It could do with some fine tuning but straight out of the box with no adjustments it has managed to steer the boat under sail, in light airs, with more wind, with the spinnaker up and with waves.

What is apparent is that this EV100 is nothing like the one I had before. This one is quieter as it moves less. It only really moves when the boat does and if the boat yaws strongly, the pilot moves strongly too. It seems like it is working as it should be.

Obviously it will need to be tested more thoroughly over a longer period of time but I can say that it works better now than the Simrad. It is stronger and more able to cope without having to reef down so early. It seems more intelligent than the Simrad. One senses that there is a brain inside that does something more than just turn left or right.

If only it had been working like this last year when I had more time to test it. I’ll update this post in the months to come after the EV100 has had a proper work out.

Categories
Bicycles boats

Foldavan lightweight folding bicycle caravan

L1012587

The Woodenwidget ‘Foldavan’ bicycle caravan. Here it is in ‘Road’ mode. At just 30 kilos it is easy to tow.

For all of you out there who love bicycle camping but don’t like the discomfort or the hassle that goes with it will rejoice in the news that Woodenwidget have just released the Foldavan folding bicycle caravan. No more struggling to find a flat stone free surface to pitch your tent. You can stop practically anywhere in a caravan. If you’re thinking that towing a caravan sounds like hard work well think again. The Foldavan’s pretty tear drop shape is aerodynamic and it only weighs from 30 kilos. The caravan also acts as a trailer and can carry 75 kilos with ease. To make it really effortless, use an electric bike and put a larger, long-range battery in the Foldavan.

If it’s going to work in the real world, a bicycle caravan needs to be small enough to be transported easily and yet big enough for real comfort. Yet it mustn’t be too big or you won’t be able to get anywhere with it. It would also be nice if it was cheap to build, was aerodynamic and light so it was easy to tow. And wouldn’t it be great if you could fit in a sailing dinghy and take that camping as well. Well you may not believe this but the Foldavan does all this and more.

foldavan4

In full ‘Camping’ mode the Foldavan offers extremely comfortable and spacious comfort for two. Here it is shown with both sides unzipped to take advantage of the sunny weather.

You can’t buy a Foldavan but you can buy plans that will tell you how to build one. The Foldavan has been designed to be easy to build and thanks to Woodenwidget’s ingenious step by step illustrated instructions there is no reason why you couldn’t make one for yourself and there is an important reason for doing so apart from saving money. You will achieve a great sense of satisfaction from building a Foldavan and you will revel in the pride that comes when you tell your impressed on lookers that you made it yourself. And when you think about how you used to rough it in a tent you will smile all the more.

Not everyone is going to start their biking holiday from their home base so it is imperative that the Foldavan can pack away small enough so it can be easily carried to another destination. The Foldavan compresses to just 210 mm wide and will fit on most car roof racks. It may even fit inside some estate cars. Another advantage of this narrow ‘Stow Mode’ is that your Foldavan can be safely stowed away somewhere indoors without it getting in the way when you’re not using it.

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The Foldavan with wheels off, compressed down to ‘Stow’ mode and lashed to a roof rack.

On the road, the Foldavan opens to 60 cm. This is about the same as the width of most handlebars. If you can pass with your bicycle you can probably pass with the Foldavan. It has a low centre of gravity so it is able to negotiate even quite rough terrain (especially when laden) If it is windy you can unzip the sides to let the wind pass through and stop it from getting blown over. With a trailer you can carry a lot more stuff than if you only had a bicycle. This increases your comfort levels.

When you arrive at your chosen camp site it takes less than three minutes to put the Foldavan in ‘Camping Mode’, a full metre wide and over a metre of headroom. The thick mattress is in two pieces and ensures extreme comfort and jealous looks from your neighbours. You can camp in places where you wouldn’t be able to pitch a tent. You don’t have to worry about stones poking you in the back, rough terrain, insects, damp ground, sudden rain etc. If you would like a slightly wider version you can even build a Foldavan to be a wopping 1.2 metres wide.

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The Foldavan in ‘Stow’ mode. With the wheels off it is just 21 cm wide.

The concise illustrated plans cost just £30 and contain a wealth of information for the first time builder or the experienced alike. Lots of advice on where to find the materials you need. How to work with tools, advice on alternative building options, how to finish your Foldavan and lots more. Even if you’ve never made anything like this in your life, if you are prepared to have a go and have a few basic tools you can build yourself a Foldavan and personalise it in any way you like. You could change the fabric, cover it in a camouflage fabric and use it as a hide or just to blend in to nature better. You could have a pink one or have zebra stripes. You could do you own paint job on it. The choices are almost endless. The materials needed to build a Foldavan are all easy to find almost anywhere in the world in varying qualities to suit your budget. You could make a Foldavan for next to nothing using reclaimed timber and secondhand parts. It takes about 50 hours to build a Foldavan.

The Carbon Footprint of a Foldavan is small because all the materials are easy to find and can be sourced locally. As if this wasn’t already fantastic enough Woodenwidget will plant 5 trees on your behalf when you buy plans. And if you buy the Foldavan/dinghy combo deal you save £10 and they will plant ten trees on your behalf. Plans can be bought on line and downloaded in a matter or minutes at www.woodenwidget.com

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The Foldavan in ‘Stow’ mode.

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There’s even room inside for a Woodenwidget folding dinghy. This is the Fliptail 6

Update 4/1/14

Some of the comments on various sites make interesting reading but what is becoming clear is that many people are quick to dis the Foldavan as a toy. These cynics have obviously not taken the time to find out more which is a shame but there will always be doubters even when the body of evidence is overwhelming.

Many people seem to think that it’s going to be easier to carry a tent. Maybe this is true but the beautiful thing about a Foldavan is that you don’t need to find a suitable surface to pitch your tent on. There is nothing worse that a stony or rough uneven surface for trying to get a good night’s sleep. Having a Foldavan opens up a whole load of new environments that were previously unavailable to tents.

The advantages are massive. Apart from the divine comfort that having a full mattress allows, you are less affected by insects or sudden rain and uneven or hard ground.

I suspect that the same doubters that think it is better to carry their stuff on a bike rather than tow something. What may surprise these people is just how easy it is to tow a trailer with the added advantage that you need to brackets or panniers on your bike which means when you get set up at camp you can use an unencumbered bike to get about and explore on.

Another comment that seems to be fairly common is that it will blow over in the first bit of wind. Well, first of all if it’s windy you probably won’t even want to ride a bike, let along tow a trailer but again these cynics have not bothered to either think about this or look further. It’s very simple. Just unzip the sides and the Foldavan is now extremely stable. Only 20% of the weight is above the base. It is a surprisingly stable trailer.

I hear the same comments about the Woodenwidget range of dinghies. Because they are light and made with fabric people simply assume that they must be unstable but I can tell you than a well designed light dinghy can easily be much more stable than a badly designed heavy one.

Obviously the Foldavan is only for those people who want to carry a lot of stuff and be extremely comfy when camping. Not everyone wants to rough it. The Foldavan is far from being a toy. It is far more sensible and practical than most people realise.

However I am not discouraged. They used to think the world was flat. Opinions change once the cynics and doubters have had their say. I do not know why people are so dismissive of new ideas. It’s very simple really. If you don’t like something. Don’t buy it!

 

Update July 2015

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The Foldavan in le Loire (France) Summer 2014

Well it has been quite a year. The Foldavan almost outsold the Fliptail dinghy, Woodenwidget’s most popular dinghy. The Foldavan has proved very popular, particularly in Germany and the USA.

One Foldavan was used by an American couple who used it to explore the wine regions of France. They amazed me by managing to put their Foldavan on the train. I knew the Foldavan was compact when folded but it is still quite long. However this didn’t seem to matter.

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The Foldavan outside a church in the heart of France

Here’s what they said about using their Foldavan:

Hello, I just wanted to tell everybody that my girlfriend and I took the foldavan on a two month trip through France in September/October and it didn’t fall over once. Not once. Wind is not an issue. Also, when it was raining we stayed so dry and comfy and best of all off the ground! (Only way I could be convinced to camp). When we wanted to go to a different region we put the foldavan in stow mode and took it on the train. It even went on the TGV (high speed trains in France). Everybody along our route just loved it we made so many friends. We biked through the Loire, Alsace and Burgundy. I am not an experienced cyclist but I towed it 10 miles a day with relative ease. It was the coolest way to travel!

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Here’s their Foldavan arriving in California. You can even put a Foldavan in the hold of an airplane! That’s versatility for you.

With almost 100,000 views of the Foldavan video on Youtube it seems that the Foldavan is gathering a steady following. The cynics are being out numbered and those who want to have comfort and cool when they go camping are seeing the sense in the Foldavan.

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The Foldavan in Stow mode on a French train! How many caravans can you think of that would fit on a train?

Also there is the fact that you can’t simply buy a Foldavan, you have to make it first. There is way more satisfaction to be had from using something you yourself have made with your own hands. The Foldavan may not be for everyone but it is certainly appealing to a lot of folk out there.

Categories
Uncategorized

Splinterbike Haibrid Wooden Bicycle

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The Haibrid from Splinterbike. Wooden frame, wheel rims and handlebars.

Recently I made a promo video to promote the Foldavan bicycle caravan and I thought it would be a good idea to borrow a wooden bicycle so I got in touch with a few companies who made them. I didn’t have much luck but I kept trying. Then I came across the Haibrid made by a very interesting fellow called Michael Thompson who you may have heard of from his previous project, the SplinterBike, a bicycle made entirely of wood which currently holds the world speed record for an all wooden bicycle. He kindly agreed to lend me his demonstrater for a week.

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Here you can clearly see the quality of craftsmanship that has gone into the T section frame.

The Haibrid is a different beast altogether. This limited edition is made from sustainably sourced American black walnut and European birch wood and is an elegant looking machine. Obviously a bicycle made completely from wood just isn’t practical for every day use so the drive train is metal but the frame, wheel rims and handlebars are made of wood.

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Even the detail on the wooden handlebar ends is considered.

Most of the metal parts are made by Sturmey Archer and they are very high quality. I particularly liked the ‘handbrake’ option on the rear brake. This is an essential option for any bike because it removes the chance of the bike falling over when you lean it against something. The brakes are in the hubs which helps add to the very clean look of the Haibrid.

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Sturmey Archer three speed hub and brake. It has a very smooth action.

There are three gears in the rear hub and the system is very smooth. I felt the bike could have done with a tooth less on the rear sprocket but this is something that is easy enough to change at some point.

The seat post and handlebar attachment is pretty standard and the Haibrid has a lovely Brooks titanium saddle fitted finished with copper rivets. I found it a bit hard but a Brooks saddle takes many weeks of use to become comfy. The handlebar grips are also made by Brooks and are leather with a metal end. Very smart and nice to grip. No expense has been spared on the gear on this bike, it’s all top notch stuff.

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Wooden rims and fat brown tyres is a unique look. Gives a comfy ride too.

The wheels are made of birch by August Wheelworks and are really quite something. Fitted with brown fat tyres for a very comfy ride they really look the business. There are many wooden bikes out there but few have wooden wheels. It’s a nice touch.

As a boat builder and someone who works with wood I can appreciate the work and detail that has gone into the bike. Michael tells me that 2500 hours of development and testing went into the Haibrid. I can well believe it. The frame is made with a combination of steam bending, vacuum lamination and CNC machining.

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What’s it like to ride? I prefer to sit a little more upright but that is just a personal opinion and in any case a change of handlebar would sort that out. Otherwise the geometry is good although the high cross bar might not be to everyone’s taste. Michael tells me he is working on a Ladies bike with a lower cross bar. It is a comfy bike to ride and very smooth. The brakes were a bit unfeeling but effective for all that. Gear changes are smooth and seamless.

All in all the Haibrid is a very sweet bike. It’s not particularly light but neither is it heavy. As one French mate said, it’s an ‘honest’ weight. I would say that sums it up about right. Michael tells me the frame itself weighs less than 3 kilos. The wooden wheels are about 40% heavier than metal rims.

This kind of exclusivity and craftsmanship doesn’t come cheap, nor should it. Each Haibrid takes 200 hours to hand build and finish in a special UV lacquer. The price of £6600 reflects that. Michael is working on bikes using other woods such as Brazilian Mahogany, Santos Rosewood and English Ash. Splendid.

Contact Michael Thompson at Splinterbike for more info or to place your order!

Categories
boats

What is the perfect dinghy?

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OK, so that is a trick question because all dinghies are a compromise. In an ideal world we’d probably like a 4 metre rib with a 40 hp engine on the back that can carry 4 at high speed in the roughest weather. The reality is that a boat like this will be costly and impossible to use in the real world. I mean, for starters, where would you put it when it wasn’t being used?

Before you can decide which dinghy is best for you you’ll have a list of priorities. For example, here are a long list of features that are important. They are in no particular order. That is for you to decide.

Cost: Only you know how much you are willing to pay for a dinghy but remember that the more you pay, the more desirable your dinghy will be to thieves and the more upset you will be when it’s damaged or stolen.

Buoyancy: What will happen when your dinghy is swamped by waves and starts to fill with water? Will it stay afloat even with occupants? Of course buoyancy can be easily added at the cost of inconvenience. The best is built in buoyancy in the way of water tight compartments but having these adds weight and reduces options for storing.

Stability: Small boats are notoriously tippy and only careful use will keep them afloat. If you are light and nimble then this probably won’t matter to you but if not you will probably want something that is very stable such as an inflatable dinghy.

Stowage: It’s all very well having an 10 foot dinghy but only if you have somewhere to store it when not in use. A dinghy can be towed of course but when it gets rough it might become a liability, fill with water, flip over and sink or smash into the back of your yacht. The safest place to stow a dinghy is aboard the mother yacht be it in special davits, lashed to the deck or stowed below.

Rowing: Inflatable boats do not row well and this is why most owners also buy an outboard to go with it but outboards are noisy and smelly and pollute. They are heavy and hard to put on the dinghy and take up a lot of valuable stowage space. You will never offend anyone by rowing.

Sailing: Not all dinghies can sail, or be made to sail. Various attempts to make inflatables sail have been tried but the high drag, lack of lateral resistance and floppy structure makes the inflatable a poor sailor.

Outboards: They are costly, liable to theft, they can go wrong, take up space, pollute, make noise and smell. You may not need one if you buy something other than an inflatable.

Size: How many people do you need to carry? How able are they? How much do they weigh? Do you really want to carry all the extra weight of boat around for an occasional use? Would you be better with a smaller boat and make more trips to and from the shore?

Build your own: There are a lot of plans out there if you are the DIY type. This gives you the option of getting what you want although ultimately it may not be cheaper than buying a ready made boat.

So lets look in more detail at the options. First we’ll discuss the different types of dinghy and tenders available.

Inflatable beach toys: These are cheap inflatable boats with no safety features whatsoever. They are usually made of one continuous tube so if you get a hole in it, the entire boat will deflate and it will sink. They are not very tough and so easily damaged. They generally cannot take an outboard (petrol or electric) and will probably not have a decent system for attaching oars.

If you are in a warm environment and you never go more than a few metres from the mother ship and you can swim then a beach toy will get you to the shore and back. The reason why people buy them is because they are cheap. Generally a poor choice for a yacht tender.

PVC Inflatable dinghy: This is one up from a beach toy and will have at least two or more air chambers so that if the skin is punctured it will not sink. It will be made with a better quality, thicker skin that is more resistant. It may have the option to mount a small electric motor and will certainly have a system that allows it to be rowed.

They cost more than a beach toy and are generally no larger than 8 feet long. These are a bit safer than a beach toy but the PVC is relatively easily damaged and they will not be very resistant to damage from use or sunshine. Not a bad choice for a yacht tender as they are not expensive but far better to invest in a better quality inflatable made from Hypalon.

Hypalon inflatable dinghy: This is the most common choice of yacht tender. The Hypalon fabric is highly resistant to wear and UV damage. The boat will be made of several sections so will remain afloat even if one tube is punctured. They are very stable and good for heavy or clumsy people.

There are a host of advantages to inflatables which is probably why they are so popular as dinghies. They come with fabric floors, fabric floors with slats, inflatable floors or hard floors (RIBs)

They won’t damage the yacht when along side so they can be left in the water alongside the yacht. They can generally plane at speed with a big enough outboard. And of course they can be deflated for stowage although this takes some time. As does re-inflating them again later. A good pump is essential but even still, it can take a long time to pump it up. You can buy electric pumps which work well but are extremely loud and annoying.

On the down side, Inflatables are very heavy and hard to move about. Even deflated the smallest inflatable will be a bulky nuisance, either getting in the way on deck or struggling to stow it in a locker. This is probably why most people do not deflate them and either tow them or stow them on deck.

Towing an inflatable will cause drag and if the weather gets nasty it might even flip. Never tow an inflatable with a motor attached! If you decide to stow it on deck, you will have to get it there and most people use a halyard. In any case it’s almost always a two man job and when stowed on deck it’s likely to restrict vision and cause drag when sailing to windward or end up catching ropes and sheets. Not to mention restricting movement on deck. A complete pain in other words!

Inflatables are also very desirable to thieves because they are so common and they all look similar. They are not good to row and I have seen quite a few people get into trouble on windy days quite unable to get back to their yacht. This is why most are fitted with an outboard but then you are faced with the various problems that this brings, such as removal and storage on the boat, carrying yet another explosive fuel aboard not to mention the smell or the pollution and the fact that they can quite spoil an idyllic anchorage when there are dozens of them buzzing back and forth all day.

Sometimes it’s quicker to get the oars out and simply row to the shore but for some reason most owners just equate the inflatable with an outboard. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen a couple struggling to get the engine off the boat and onto the dinghy, then of course the engine won’t start or needs filling with fuel. It really would have been much less effort to paddle ashore!

Inflatable kayaks: Some people like kayaks for a dinghy and in some ways they are much better than an inflatable. Their more boat like shape means that they paddle well so you do not need an outboard. They deflate and stow easier too as they generally do not have solid floors to worry about.

Hard dinghies: The best bet from a performance point of view is always a hard dinghy. They are tough, usually have built in buoyancy (which can double as waterproof containers) row well and take an outboard. The down side is that they are heavy and hard to stow. If you use a dinghy a lot and have space for it, a hard dinghy is the best. It can also be converted to a sailing boat and that is excellent fun.

Nesting dinghies: This is a hard dinghy in two (or more) parts. The idea is that one half fits inside the other for stowing. This gives all the advantages of a solid dinghy but with a few more options for stowing. Some can be converted to sailing boats but they are generally heavier.

Folding dinghies: There are a lot of folding dinghies and if well engineered can be just as good as a hard dinghy. The downside of the folding dinghy is usually that it cannot have built in buoyancy so will rely on an external system such as buoyancy bags. Some can also sail. Often they are complicated and slow to assemble and have essential pieces which can get lost. They can also be very costly.

The best choice for me?

With the above information, you should be able to work out what kind of dinghy would best suit you and your situation. For example, if you want a dinghy that can sail, then you won’t be choosing an inflatable dinghy. If you want one that also rows, again the inflatable is not your best choice.

For me, the best dinghy that I could have would be a solid one because it can row and sail well. But the problem I have is where would I store such a dinghy aboard my boat? The answer is that I can’t! I have tried inflatables and while I appreciate their stability and buoyancy I do not like the fact that they don’t row well and can’t sail. Nor do I like their folded bulk or weight, nor their popularity with thieves!

What is best for me is a hard dinghy that can stow. So I am looking at either a nesting or a folding dinghy. Over the last 20 years I have tried all of the above suggestions and each has its good and bad points. It’s for you to decide which features you can live with and those you can live without.

After the basic fact that I have to be able to stow and deploy my dinghy easily, there’s no doubt that the ability to row and sail is high on my list of priorities as is stability. At the end of the day I have had the most success with folding dinghies. They just make so much sense.

 

Looking in detail as some of the choices of dinghy

The Inflatable Dinghy

The inflatable is the most common form of tender. There are many reasons for this as we have already discussed but one of the main reasons for their popularity probably has to do with cost and availability. The market is saturated with models from many different companies, there’s so much competition that prices are kept generally low and you will find inflatables for sale in every ship chandlers the world over.

Prices start from about 300€ which is about as cheap as any dinghy on the market but because they do not row well and cannot generally sail one must also cost in the price of an outboard engine. Even the smallest outboard engine will cost at least 400€. Then you must ask yourself where will you store the outboard when it is not in use? You may have a locker you can put it in but outboards are smelly things and the smell can end up penetrating the rest of the boat which is not pleasant. Many people fit a bracket to the pushpit at the stern where the outboard is stowed. This will mean the addition of a bracket (and more cost) plus the outboard will be always out in the elements which will quickly degrade it and lower its value. You can of course get a cover made but again this all adds to the cost.

The outboard on a bracket also adds weight and windage where you don’t want it. It might even get in the way. It is also vulnerable to theft and makes the boat look fussy. It will certainly need a lock to deter thieves but unfortunately a lock will not stop a determined thief.

Blowing up and deflating an inflatable is a miserable experience. Most dinghies come with a foot pump but they are very annoying to use and it can take as much as 20 minutes to inflate even the smallest boat with one. They are also very badly made and generally break or leak after a very short time. An inflatable boat that cannot be inflated is as useful as a chocolate fireguard!

There are other options of course. The hand operated pumps that you stand on are a much better way to inflate a dinghy but again, it’s more cost and they are quite bulky. Or you can buy an electric inflator but they cost and need power and worst of all are extremely noisy. Making this kind of noise in a peaceful anchorage will not endear you to your neighbours.

Inflatables are generally pretty tough and hard wearing but they don’t like to be left out in the sun. Being regularly folded also puts creases in the fabric which in time can cause leaks. The most common problem with inflatables is that the transom comes unglued. Small holes can be repaired easily with a patch and there are products that can fix quite big tears with a clamping system.

So I think you can see that the inflatable seems like a good idea at first but once you consider the realities and extra costs and hassle involved you might want to think again. If you can leave the dinghy inflated at all times with the engine fitted then the inflatable makes a lot of sense but not many boats are big enough to allow this.

The cheaper inflatables have a simple rubber floor which is very flexible and very annoying because it is always moving. When water gets in (as it will) you will get wet feet as the weight of your body will always create a low spot where water runs to.

The next step up is a slatted floor. This adds cost and complexity and makes the stowed package a bit more bulky and heavy. It is still far from ideal as you will still have your feet in water. The nest step up from slats is an inflatable floor. This works very well giving the boat good stiffness and it also means that you have a chance of keeping your feet dry. The down side is that it adds weight and takes longer to inflate. An inflatable floor adds cost too.

The ultimate inflatable is the RIB (rigid inflatable boat) which is basically a narrow hard dinghy with inflatable sides. Obviously these are heavier, more costly and do not roll up although the sides can be deflated to reduce its size a little. They offer the best performance of all inflatables.

There is one last kind of small RIB that needs a mention, it’s a jet boat, a sort of mix between a RIB and a Jetski and I for one have never understood why anyone would buy one. They have an inboard engine which takes up loads of interior volume and are hopeless to manoeuvre. They are noisy and smelly and expensive and heavy and frankly make a very poor tender for any yacht.

 

The Hard dinghy

The hard dinghy is the best performer of all the dinghies you can have. They can be rowed, sailed, motored or even sculled along. They are tough and much better looking (generally) than inflatables and can be painted to match the mother ship. They are most often made in wood, ply, alloy, plastic or grp.

The biggest problem with a hard dinghy is that they are heavy and bulky in as much that they do not reduce in any way for stowing. Some hard dinghies can be modified in shape to fit on a certain place on deck. If you have space you can maybe store the dinghy inverted on the cabin top. The bigger boats store them upright and stow things in it and then use a cover to stop water getting in. Stowing the dinghy the right way up makes it quicker to deploy.

If there is no room on deck then you may be able to use davits. These are basically arms normally attached right at the back of the boat that are used to easily lift the dinghy out of the water even with an engine still fitted. It is a quick and easy system that often uses a purchase to make lifting the weight easier.

The problem with davits are many fold however. All that ease comes at a price. Firstly the davits will need to be attached to the boat. Because of the weight and leverage involved they will not only have to be strong but more importantly so will the boat where they are bolted on. It is entirely possible that the boat will need to be reinforced before davits can be used. This obviously adds cost and weight.

Once the davits are in place you will then discover that your rearward visibility has been seriously compromised. This is more than just an inconvenience, it is also potentially dangerous as you are just as likely to get run down from behind as anywhere else! Also if you moor stern to, such as in the Med a dinghy in davits off the stern will mean you will have no choice but to moor bows to.

The boat’s sailing performance will also be seriously hampered by a dinghy in davits, not only is that a fair bit of weight very poorly placed high up and right at the stern but it will create a lot of drag, no problem if you are always running downwind but as we all know reality just ain’t like that.

There is also a chance that the boat and the dinghy can be damaged by wave action as the boat is completely vulnerable stuck out the back as it is. A dinghy in davits must be very well attached and tied up to the davits so that it cannot move under any circumstances but it will also need a cover to keep water out.

The last point is that if you do have a problem with the dinghy in davits you might find yourself hanging out over the back of the boat to deal with the problem. This is not very wise and quite dangerous.

So as you can see, the main problem with a hard dinghy is where to put it when it’s not in use. Hard dinghies are available to buy ready made, in kit form or available for home build from plans.

 

Nesting dinghies

Nesting dinghies share most of the attributes of a hard dinghy but with the advantage that they can be effectively cut in two and stowed one half inside the other to reduce their size. They are probably going to be somewhat heavier than a standard hard dinghy as they have a join which tends to add complication and weight.

Sometimes the shape of the dinghy is compromised by the nesting action. Generally the bow section is made to fit into the stern section but this sometimes leads to a compromise bow shape that lacks buoyancy and reduces interior volume.

One of the biggest problems with nesting dinghies is the rowing position which is often logically placed above the join but is often too far forward. It may work fine with two occupants but it may be very bows down when rowing alone. It’s a small detail but where you sit when rowing in a small boat makes a fantastic difference to the way it rows.

Sometimes nesting dinghies can be somewhat complicated to assemble and it may not be possible to assemble the boat in the water. If this is the case, the dinghy cannot be launched easily in two halves so you will have to struggle with the weight of the complete boat.

Obviously nesting dinghies will be more costly than an ordinary hard dinghy. But if you insist on a hard dinghy but don’t have much space perhaps a nesting dinghy is the way to go. Even if it cannot be assembled in the water it will probably still be faster to assemble and launch than it would be to inflate and launch an inflatable dinghy.

Most nesting dinghies have some kind of built in buoyancy which is safe but reduces interior volume and adds weight.

Nesting dinghies are available to buy ready made, in kit form or available for home build from plans.

 

Folding dinghies

Ever since Noah, people have been looking for the perfect dinghy, one that does everything a good dinghy should do but weighs very little and packs away easily to a small package. In some respects folding dinghies are the closest mankind has ever come to this utopian dream. Not surprisingly there is a large choice of folding dinghies made from many different materials.

There are many designs to choose from some made of wood or alloy, some with a framework and a canvas type of material. The more solid versions are often heavy and take some time to assemble with many parts needed which make them difficult to assemble on the limited space of a yacht deck.

There are so many different types of folding dinghy that it is hard to generalise. Some can sail, some can take an engine, some can plane, some are extremely tough, others less so. Some can be assembled in moments, others take a bit longer. What they all share is the ability to reduce in size massively to make stowage easier. Most folding dinghies row well and certainly better than any inflatable.

Some folding dinghies are very tough but if they are tough it means that they are heavy. The lighter versions use a fabric that is similar to an inflatable and can be damaged through misuse but like the inflatable they can be quickly and easily repaired if holed.

Folding dinghies do not have built in buoyancy although they may float depending on the material they are made of. However it is easy enough to add buoyancy bags although this does make assembling them take a bit longer.

They are available to buy off the shelf, in kit form or even for home build from plans.

 

Looking at some available dinghies

 

Inflatable dinghies

Inflatables are available to buy anywhere in the world and the choice of boat is enormous. Generally they are all similar in shape, colour and ability but with differences in quality and details. Some of them are very high tech

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This is a typical inflatable boat. This one has slatted floors which offer some rigidity to the floor but not too much weight. It also allows the boat to be easily rolled up. Often inflatables have the oars always attached but more often than not the oars are not of a good quality. One of the reasons why an inflatable rows so badly is because the oars are too short.

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This is an inflatable boat with an inflatable floor. It makes for a much stiffer boat and it’s possible to keep your feet dry. The bulkiness of the floor (even deflated) makes the boat more bulky and heavy when rolled. If you add one feature, you lose another. This is true for all boats.

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Here is the classic Avon Redcrest. It’s been around for decades and has a dedicated following. What makes it different from most inflatables is that it has a rounded shape at the stern. The problem with this is that although you can add an outboard the force of the engine makes the tubes move and the motor can flop about. That is why most inflatables have pointed ends so that a solid wooden transom can be fitted.

Hard dinghies

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The clever Walker Bay range of hard dinghies. Made from super tough moulded plastic and easily converted to a sailing dinghy. The only real problem with hard dinghies is where to stow them. Even an 8 foot hard dinghy will be too hard to stow and lift aboard most cruising yachts.

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The Elterwater Pram dinghy. These can be built from plans or you can buy a kit of ready made pieces to glue together. Available from Fyne boat Kits.

There are a huge amount of hard dinghies available on the market in all shapes and sizes made from any number of materials. Most will row well and some can be sailed. If you have space and don’t mind the weight then a hard dinghy may be for you.

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For those who insist on a hard dinghy there is the Woodenwidget Deckster with its removable front section that allows it to be stowed around a mast. Even though the Deckster can be nicely stowed it still shares all the other issues that hard dinghies have such as being heavy and reducing forward visibility. It does however row, sail and motor and can even use the revolutionary Hobie Mirage drive.

Nesting dinghies

 

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This is a true hard dinghy but it comes in two pieces. One side nests inside the other. nesting dinghies share all of the issues with hard dinghies but often have additional issues. Sometimes the hull shape is compromised to allow one side to nest inside the other. The join adds complexity and weight. Nesting boats cannot always be assembled in the water. This one comes from Nestaway who have an impressive range of nesting boats. The weight of this boat is about 50 kilos which doesn’t sound much until you try and move it about.

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The Woodenwidget Stasha. The lightest nesting dinghy in the world. At just ten kilos it’s child’s play to move around. Made from an ash framework then covered with heat shrink Dacron it rows, motors and even sails extremely well.

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The Woodenwidget Stasha nested. The Stasha is unusual for two reasons, one; it can be assembled in moments either ashore or afloat and it’s the rear section which nests inside from front section. This makes for a much less compromised hull shape and a more balanced rowing position.

 

Folding dinghies

 

There is a huge range of folding dinghies. Some, like the Seahopper are more like hard dinghies that fold. Others like the Woodenwidget Fliptail are super lightweight for ease of use.

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The beautifully made Seahopper folding boat. This is like a hard dinghy that can fold though it must be said it is fairly longwinded and complicated to assemble and there are many pieces involved as you can see from the pic below.

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A great folding boat though a bit complicated but if you want a folding boat that behaves like a hard dinghy then this would be ideal.

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Here’s the Flapdoodle folding dinghy which can be built from plans.

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This is the Porta-Bote a polypropylene folding boat. It looks a bit strange but has sold in the thousands over many years. Super tough and light but it still has extra pieces that need to be put in place. Not the cheapest folding boat available but it is quality.

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Here is the classic Woodenwidget Origami folding dinghy. They don’t come much more simple than this. Available in two sizes (6’ & 8’) they are available in plan form only but the boat is so simple to make and the plans so comprehensive that almost anyone can build themselves one. They might look a bit box like but they are surprisingly stable and work very well indeed.

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Here is the Origami 6 when folded. At just 15 kilos it’s one of the lightest folding boats you can find. It has built in carry handles so is very easy to carry.

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Here is the Woodenwidget Fliptail 6 and 7 foot versions. Like all Woodenwidget designs they row, motor and sail. Pretty, light, stable, tough, easy to assemble with no extra parts to forget (all pieces needed to erect the dinghy are always attached to the boat) the Fliptail has to be one of the most versatile folding boats in the world. Available to build from plans.

So there you are. I hope a fairly comprehensive explanation about the compromises one has to make when choosing a dinghy and a basic oversight into what is available on the market. I hope it has been of help to you

Categories
boats

The Stasha ST (see-through) The lightest see-through nesting sailing dinghy in the world.

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Quite odd, a see-through dinghy but rather funky too. Leica M9 Elmar 50 2.8

It always seemed like a great idea, to cover a dinghy with see-through material rather than boring PVC so I finally got around to it. The dacron skin on the Stasha needed replacing so I thought a little experiment was in order.

There are no screws or staples holding the material down. It is all done with VHB tape. This is a double sided acrylic foam tape which has phenomenal sticking abilities. The advantages of using VHB is that it is so clean and so neat compared to trying to do the same thing with a sealant. The time saved is enormous.

The down side of VHB is the shocking cost of the stuff. 3M make the best but it can cost 80€ a roll (33m) or more! There are cheaper brands which are fine for this application, even they stick tenaciously to the window material. It comes in many colours including clear.

The window material adds about a kilo to the weight of the dinghy which is not much but it is noticeably heavier than when it had the dacron skin.

Now all I have to do is test it for a few months to see whether or not it is durable and safe.

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Quite hard to photograph and show the invisible covering. Here the Stasha ST (see-through) floats. Leica M9, Elmar 50 2.8

It certainly is a lot of fun using a transparent dinghy and the looks you get are most amusing. It must be said that there are not that many lightweight wooden see-through nesting dinghies out there.

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And like all Woodenwidget dinghies, the Stasha also sails and sails very well. Here’s a short video

 

For more info about the Stasha, click here

Categories
boats

Woodenwidget launch the Fliptail 7

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The Woodenwidget Fliptail folding dinghy. Available in 6 and 7 foot versions.

Looking for a small and light yet competent and stable little dinghy for your yacht? Or a easy to transport craft that you can use to go fishing in? Or amuse the kids during a camping trip? Then look no further. Woodenwidget, already famous for their range of dinghy designs for the spatially challenged have introduced the Fliptail 7 folding dinghy.

The Fliptail 7 really does everything. It weighs only 18 kilos and has built in handles which make it really easy to move. It folds flat in moments ensuring that you can find a place to store it wherever that may be. There are no separate pieces to get lost. All the pieces needed to assemble the dinghy are always attached to it.

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The Fliptail 7 under sail.

It can carry three people and it rows well. The floors are off the bottom of the boat so you never get a wet bottom. If you don’t want to row then you can even fit an outboard motor of up to 3.3 hp. With this engine, the Fliptail can plane at speeds of up to 14 knots! If noise is not your thing then you can easily adapt the Fliptail to a competent little sailing boat with a lift up keel and a free standing mast.

So what’s the catch? You have to build it yourself! But actually that is not so hard as it sounds as one of the great things about Woodenwidget plans is the way that they have been created to lead the builder through the whole process in a step by step manner using just simple measurements. You do not have to have any prior boat building experience at all. All you need is a bit of confidence and the ability to use a jigsaw and a plane.

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The Origami 6, mast and sail on a Fiat 126.

All aspects of boat building, from using and sharpening tools to mixing epoxy glue are discussed in the plans. Every step of the build is illustrated with quality pictures taken during the actual build of a dinghy. Plans cost from just £25 and Woodenwidget will even plant a tree in your behalf for every set of plans sold.

Other designs in the range include the Deckster, a hard dinghy with a removable section which allows it to be stowed at the foot of a mast. The Deckster can be modified to take the revolutionary Hobie Mirage drive to propel it. If you want a super light dinghy, take a look at the Stasha. It’s the World’s lightest nesting dinghy weighing as much as a baby bird! ( A wandering Albatross chick weighs 10 kilos!).

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The Stasha nesting sailing dinghy. The rear section comes off and fits inside the front part for easy stowing. Both sections float independently making the Stasha easy to assemble ashore or on the water.

Maybe you want the simplest folding dinghy? Then the Origami is for you. Made from plywood and PVC cloth, the Origami is well proven and much tougher than it looks. It comes in two sizes, a 6 and an 8 foot version.

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The classic Origami 6 on the plane with a 3.3hp motor. Speeds of up to 14 knots have been registered.

So if you always fancied building your own boat, then maybe now is the time. It’s never been easier.

Please visit www.woodenwidget.com  to learn more. There are also plenty of revealing videos on the site showing the various dinghies sailing, rowing and planing.

Categories
boats Leica m9 Uncategorized

Filming using a remote control drone

The sailing regatta at St Tropez in October is always fun. It’s the last one of the season and everyone is looking forward to a well earned break at the end of it. Frankly I don’t know how the crews do it, racing everyday and drinking every night. They do this for 6 months of the year but at St Tropez it gets a bit mental. The atmosphere is excellent and there’s always something going on.

This year, I met the team from airmotion.ch through a friend. They have a remote control drone that enables filming with a new and unique view that often can’t be obtained any other way. The ‘drone’ they use is cutting edge and full of electronics which enable the camera platform to always remain level thanks to a pair of gyros. It can rotate, tip up and down and sway from side to side. Obviously there is also control of the platform remotely as well. 

Naturally I offered my new Fliptail dinghy as a perfect subject to film and they were happy to oblige as they were looking to build up their portfolio with interesting subjects and besides they are young with tons of energy and so we set off with fresh batteries to Port Grimaud, a kind of French Venice with canals and houses with boats moored at the end of the gardens. Amazingly it gets over 1,000,000 visitors every year. What better back drop to film a small sailing boat?

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The boys from airmotion fly the drone from a boat at sea. That takes balls! Note the extremely high tec floatation devices attached to the drone. (water bottles filled with helium for extra lift. Not really, I just made that up!)

The drone has 8 arms and at the end of each is a brushless motor driving wooden blades, with a mix of left and right handed rotation. The whole thing weighs about 5 kilos and can lift almost its own weight in equipment. The very expensive Lithium Polymer batteries need special care as they are liable to exploding or bursting into flames if not respected. They are even charged in a special fireproof box. Everything about the drone is high-tec.

It can fly as high as 3 kilometres! but at this distance you can no longer see it so must rely on its built in GPS to bring it home. It can move forwards at speeds of up to 60 kph. It can stay aloft for as much as 10 minutes on one battery but normally less to ensure a decent safety margin, after all, you don’t want this highly expensive and fairly delicate tool to fall out of the sky. The whole bundle, which includes, cases, chargers, spares, batteries, video screens, computers, cables and connectors represents a hefty investment.

What makes the drone so interesting is where it can go and how easily it can be transported to any location. The obvious uses are for all sorts of aerial photography and also for film making but with different cameras attached could even be used to film buildings with infra red to see what areas need better insulation. It’s uses are only limited by the imagination. The drone isn’t silent, those 8 blades thrashing the air make some noise and moves a surprising amount of air and in fact twice we heard someone say that it was noisy but I’d rather listen to the drone for 5 minutes than a helicopter for 1 minute. It’s really not that loud but can’t be missed, at least at low heights.

A helicopter is all very well but they are hideously expensive, to buy, own and maintain, never mind the huge amounts of fuel they use. If you wanted your posh villa filmed a helicopter could do it, probably with only one pass only and it will be very expensive. The drone has the added advantage that the customer can see the view from the drone and get involved with the end result.

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The drone on display at Port Grimaud. It has red and blue led lights so you can see it easily when flying it at night. Seems strange to see wood on such a technical bit of kit but they cut flesh much less than the plastic ones I’m told.

Airmotion’s drone is a serious and professional bit of kit with a wingspan of over a metre. This gives solidity and stability. Even with the drone flying about all over the place the image remains stable and smooth. There are not many of these drones about and there may not be. The reason is more to do with the skill needed to fly one of these things than the financing required although that is a major consideration.

It costs 1000€ a day to hire the drone which seems expensive until you consider the alternatives and if the alternatives can’t work where you are for any number of reasons, then a drone might be the only realistic way to get the job done. When you consider that you are paying for one pilot and one artistic director/photographer and the use of a very expensive bit of kit it starts to look like very good value indeed.

We had a lot of fun and attracted hundreds of people which leads me on to the main disadvantage of this as a photographic tool which is that people will point, stare and take pictures of it. It never occurs to them that here is a big bit of kit flying at speed with no less than 8 fast rotating blades (they are not called blades for nothing!) and seem to have no fear.

On one trip we did at sea one old man on the foredeck of a French cruising boat dropped his pants and stood there proudly presenting his manhood for us to film. Maybe the novelty will wear off but I doubt it. There is no doubt that airmotion will have a lot of success in the south of France if this week is anything to go by. If you need their services, just get in touch. I am sure they can help you.