"Clam Girl"

~~~ Waterline for adults in thin water

Originally published in Small Craft Advisor, Mar/Apr 2014, issue no. 86

A short, chunky skiff graceful for her power, pulchritude in every curve. That's the goal, anyway. She's single chine for Cedar Key, but not-exactly-flat bottomed.

Adults can learn to sail almost as quickly as children, if --- and this is a giant IF --- they're learning in boats which fit them as well as kids fit in eight foot Optimist Dinghy prams. Adults, too, need the same comfort with the effects of their mass on a boat's trim and balance. And, like a rig for kids, an adult's learning rig should be simple, while still powerful and efficient.

After the Cedar Key 2013 boat meet I wrote the boat should have leeboards and a free standing rig. It should be as responsive as an Opti and as easy to build. It must have room for a passenger and be stable enough to stand and reef, and light enough for one to pull ashore.

Clam Girl, then, is for adults, for slipping over our oyster bars, or bumping and crunching on them.

Clam Girl skiff Her first spark came last February after I'd fitted leeboards and a kickup rudder to ten foot Valencia, the gift pram, hot molded a half century ago in Norway. But in May, when I poked my fingers through rot in her, I grabbed the excuse to keep drawing the ten foot four inch skiff I'd been sketching since April, then named "Shell Mound Skiff." Ever helpful Geoff Chick already had verified displacement on his computer.

In June, under the steel roof of the house I'm trying to make legally livable, I sweated while shuffling stacks of boxes and restowing furniture, making space for my twenty foot lofting battens.

Instead of my late wife K's and my bedroom and bath, and storage, the upper floor now is an unobstructed attic, an "unconditioned" space with a double thick plywood floor two dozen feet off the ground. Eleven foot walls support open roof trusses. The window holes can be closed by 'Bahamas style' hurricane shutters --- no screens or wire mesh yet. Flying squirrels have frolicked at night and a pair of Carolina wrens flew in one day. Bugs of all kinds, sticky-toed tree frogs, and a neighbor's furtive cat visit, too. For big visitors, the 'guest tent' is set up there.

In late August, satisfied with my drawings but conflicted by promises to myself to work only toward the Certificate of Occupancy - and encouraged unwittingly by the friendly building inspector --- I was on hands and knees with the long three-quarter by nine-sixteenths inch fir batten, a fly swatter close for despicable "yellow" flies. I drew line after line, different colors, dashed ones, lines almost on top of each other, enough to draw a second grouping of body plans, eventually marking one set with masking tape, so I could distinguish them.

Clam Girl skiff In late September, on the deck off the upper floor looking east over a wet sawgrass prairie, I built the model, "Clam Girl," twenty and three quarter inches long, two inches to the foot.

Besides cheap, small, light, cartoppable and easy to build, a short waterline boat has another advantage --- you can expand your sailing area.

Why diminish one's home water if it's small and exquisite? Longer and faster boats can shrink a place. It's a mind trick, but its effect is real enough. If pleasant time on the water is wanted, and the journey is important, why not give yourself a little more time, time to revel in sailing swiftly for your waterline length?

Clam Girl skiff Clam Girl can be utilitarian, too --- an affordable and low impact working skiff. Her cousin is the Gulf coast's traditional fourteen foot "net skiff." These have been powered, if not by oars, by a small engine at either end, and I've borrowed that, although thinking electric motor.

Clamming, crabbing, oystering, and fishing are half of our economy. But the struggling fellow working the inshore fishery, often with two or three jobs, can lose to the highly capitalized. Maybe low power Clam Girl can help since she has enough displacement to be worthwhile, particularly with high oyster prices.

Clam Girl skiff Tom Greenway, in October, moved from Chicago to Panama City, Florida. In November he dropped by and saw the model Clam Girl and her scale spars, and glimpsed the neighbor's cat upstairs. In December Tom saw the model's thwart and seat arrangement, and only heard what he hoped was the cat. But he's hooked on Clam Girl.

Ah, ha! A justification for a solid building form sooner... and grist of interest for the building inspector.

Clam Girl, the model, is okay, but her shape can use a little more refinement, a gentle touch. Her curved bottom aft, reminiscent of a Lightning or Penguin, asks for tender, subtle tweaks.


July 2016 update: During the two years of staring often at the Clam Girl model --- on the half sheet of plywood work table for eating and office, too, in the shade of the twelve foot high concrete platform the house sits on --- changes came to mind. An eighth inch here to a full inch there. Early this year a Penguin dinghy moved here, and she stimulated further revisions.

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