My daughter asked recently if I recalled the little ‘Note-In-A-Bottle’ ship I made for her when she was about seven. Like I could ever forget how thrilled she was when we actually heard back from it!
It was a little ‘ship’ about a foot long rigged with a weighted keel underneath to keep it upright and a mast with a small sail to move it along with the wind. We mounted a plastic medicine bottle on top with her handwritten note inside. It was placed in the ocean off southern Maine with an offshore breeze, and we got a card back about six months later from the little boy who found it on the beach over 100 miles away in Massachusetts.
Now my daughter has children of her own and I thought it might be nice to do that again for all the grandchildren. As I listed them all down to make sure I didn’t miss anyone I thought of several other children of neighbors and friends who might enjoy such things and listed them down too. Long story short, my list is at twenty-four today and still growing. My simple germ of an idea has now officially become a full-blown project – and I’ve asked my wife to help make all the sails. But, she’s a good and cheerful soul and is doing so with gusto.
(The boat will have a medicine bottle affixed on deck with a stainless hose clamp when finished. I can’t pin this sewing on my wife – this is my own sad attempt! Thank goodness she has now taken over this part . . .)
(This is just one of several hull shapes being tried, and gives an idea how they are made)
As the idea kept mushrooming, the design kept evolving – mostly the sailing rig part. One challenge was the making of all those weighted keels. The first few were made with heavy gauge sheet metal to which I brazed a slug of 1/2” steel rod. Then I thought, well, real ballast keels are usually cast aren’t they? So, I worked out a way of casting them with concrete (Quikcrete Patching Mix) with hardware wire reinforcement and a steel slug for the main weight. Castings require molds, but once the mold is made you can repeat the casting over and over again, and all copies will be the same.
(One-half of split mold with resulting casting)
(Split mold showing casting, and internal metal reinforcing and weight. Paint is what I used to finish the mold to help mold releasing. The mounting tab is affixed to the casting during the casting process with two 2” drywall screws which engage the wire reinforcing inside the casting. The finished keel is then screwed or bolted thru the tab to the boat hull.)
I now have 18 boats more or less completed and will post those to Lumberjocks as a project in due course. No boats have been delivered yet as I want to make sure all the kids get their boats around the same time. I will send a little write-up with them about how my daughter sent her own boat off into the wild blue sea so many years ago and heard back from it later on. I figure the kids can always use the boats in the bathtub too, which is probably what the younger ones will do anyway.
The wooden boats are a little over 12” long and weigh all up including ballast keel, a little less than a pound each – they are hollow inside, and I’m trying several different hull shapes. They are designed to sail about 30 – 45 degrees off the wind (slanted off to one side or the other from dead downwind) so they might be launched in a greater variety of wind directions.
And my payoff is in the doing as usual . . .
PS: I have now uploaded a short video showing one of these boats sailing. This was to test out my theories on how the boats should be rigged and trimmed. There are always small tweaks needed for things like this. You can note that the boat sails at an angle away from the wind when the breeze is light, and as the wind increases over 5 MPH or so the boat turns towards the wind more and more. It is designed to remain on one ‘tack’ and if somehow it gets turned around, it will always turn back to the original tack. The ballast keel keeps it upright even it it gets upset – it will always come back right-side-up:
-- Candy is dandy and rum sure is fun, but wood working is the best high for me!