Dinghy Cruising  
By Rick Russell - Portland, Oregon - USA

I chose to build a John Welsford Houdini. It has one sail (quick to setup), high freeboard (therefore dry), and most importantly, it would fit in the garage. With work starting late in the summer I would be sailing by next season. Each step, except two, was easy and yielded a sense of accomplishment. Getting the bottom panels attached at the bow was difficult, and installing the rub rails took four tries.

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The Hull of Gertrude is coming together

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I was right on schedule halfway through and the basic hull was together. The second half of the schedule was spent installing the little bits to complete the insides. But each piece took the same amount of time to install regardless of size. And there were a lot of little pieces. I persisted; it was mid summer and soon I would be sailing. The third half of my building was the finishing work, painting, and rigging. At the end of the summer I said good enough and "sea trials" began.

Sea Trials

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Having never sailed before, each trip out was an adventure, and resulted in a list of small changes, to get things right. Winter put an end to the sailing season. The cruising camping trip would have to wait until next summer but I would be ready! The customization continued. I built and provisioned a galley box, bought tarps and sewed a boom tent, made a set of oars (but they were too much trouble with the electric trolling motor always there, so the oars are unfinished.), inverted and reinforced the mast because rough handling dented it right at the deck level.....

But a years worth of household maintenance items and "honey do's" could no longer be ignored. So come summer, I would hit the list hard for a month or two and the rest of summer would be dingy cruising. I dig, landscape, haul, mow, plant, and fix. I get things caught up and winter comes again, putting an end to the dingy cruising before it starts. After cleaning up the garage to have a work area again, customization continues: I add a cover to the centerboard case, install pigeon holes along the sides for storage, discover the fittings in the deck need to be set in sealant to stop leaks, figure out a low tech composting toilet.... etc.

Finally summer comes again, I get packed and I am actually starting on a cruise on the estuary of the mighty Columbia River! Too bad the wind is only an occasional breeze (but the sun is in full force!). My wife comes along to keep an eye on me. As we slowly drift and motor along the list of needed improvements grows: we need shade, we need pole to check depths because sandbars are in the most unlikely places, we need more sealant around the ring at the bow. We anchor near the bank for the night. At low tide we wake up and the boat is at a very odd angle with the bow high in the mud and the stern low in the water. We really need a LONG pole to figure out depths! Although we do more drifting than sailing, the trip was a success.

The next cruise is real sailing. Wind at 5 to 10 knots, and the temperature is perfect - we are free to go anywhere.

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The perfect day for beginning a cruise. I can sail to anywhere in the world.

Well... free to go anywhere the water is deep enough! The two and three feet deep water looks the same as the 30 feet deep water. On a different course, we tour the edge of a National Wildlife Refuge. No wildlife in sight but the island is scenic. On the other side of the channel, we sail past a fiercely scowling heron guarding HIS pylon. Safely past the pylon is a little nitch for the night's anchorage. Dinner is enjoyed with a wonderful view and the boom tent goes up. At nightfall the full moon reflects off the water.

Plenty of room in the boom tent for the night.

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Rocking in the waves is almost pleasant, except for the incessant creak, creak, creak, creak: aarrghhh! So that must be the big deal about finding a calm anchorage. Again low tide finds us half grounded. I really need to get a good way to measure depths! At least the creaking stopped for a while.

In the morning, cool marine fog has moved in but it is cozy in the tent. After a relaxing breakfast, the fog burns off and the tide is in. A spoon accidentally goes overboard; the spot was just mud a while ago, but now sadly out of reach.

As the days goes on, the wind picks up, the waves build, the sailing is exciting and fun. A seat cushion blows overboard. Surprise Man Overboard Drill! Oops! turning the wrong way, the wind is too strong to jibe. We come about and recover the cushion. That feels good.

It comes time to head back and run with the wind. We spot an enticing sandy beach in the lee of an island. The perfect place to stretch the legs and reef the sail.

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The perfect beach for a rest. This is the whole point of the last 3 years!

The beach is secluded and totally sheltered from the wind. Ahh! This is why I built Gertrude!

The sail back is a blast! Wow, we are surfing down the waves and making a wake. A great end for a dingy cruising weekend.