Chebacco News 23

Chebacco News

Number 23, October 1998


Peter Gray’s GRAY FEATHER with a bone in her teeth

Peter Gray, of Queensland Australia, sent me this wonderful photo of his sheet-ply Chebacco-20 GRAY FEATHER. Peter writes:

I have been sailing GRAY FEATHER a lot and the more I sail her the more I realise what a great design she is – so user friendly.

I entered a wooden boat regatta at Tincan Bay. There were about 25 boats in it. GRAY FEATHER won the prize for ‘Prettiest Boat of the Fleet’ (1 bottle of rum!).

Regarding your previous letter about topping lifts, this diagram shows how I did mine. The topping lift in this case also forms a lazy jack, making sail handling very easy. Floorboards – I completely sealed my cockpit, making it into a cockpit well. I use a small bilge pump to take the water out to the outboard well. This keeps the hull completely dry,

I have put a small headsail on the boat and have found that this helps her to windward very nicely – Not because of more leading edge, but because the headsail creates draft between it and the mainsail.

I am experimenting at the moment with a small bowsprit and putting a lightweight genoa on this, mainly for reaching and running. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Gil and Joan Fitzhugh visit Scotland

Gil Fitzhugh writes:

In eary July, Joan and I savored the opportunity to sail on Bill Samson’s Chebacco in Scotland. Unless Phil Bolger is a big name in Alaska, this is about as far north as his sphere of influence has yet reached. Scotland’s at the latitude of Hudson Bay; if you’re in a little unballasted sailboat in Hudson Bay, you’re not at the top of the food chain. Be reassured, however, that polar bears are not a threat in Scottish waters.

Bill Lives in Dundee, a small city pleasantly situated on the north shore of the Firth of Tay. Translated into North American, that means the estuary of the Tay River. It’s helpful to learn a few words of Scots: ‘firth’ means estuary, ‘strath’ means valley, ‘dun’ means fortress, ‘Islay single malt’ means ambrosia, ‘Damn! I missed the mooring’ means come about and start the engine before we go aground. See how easy it is?

Summer in New Jersey often means hot, sticky, sultry, stagnant air with 2 miles visibility in sunshine. Summer in Scotland seems to be cool, mostly overcast, breezy, with 20 miles visibility sometimes lowering to 4 miles in light rain. Always be prepared for rain. If you’re lucky, you won’t get it. We were lucky both days we sailed. And the sailing is grand. Both days we needed to take in a reef – a tremendous improvement over listening to limp sails slatting in almost no wind. Forget shorts and a T-shirt – you sail in jeans and a sweatshirt. And sunblock, because there’s a lot of UV coming through that cool overcast.

Our longer sail came on a Saturday. Had we been underway by 9:30, we could have beat upriver on a flowing tide to a beach about 7 miles away, had lunch, and then run home on the ebb tide. To these two American slug-a-beds, 9:30 still felt like 4:30 am, not an hour at which we’re prepared to sail (although, in July, 4:30 am local time in Scotland is full daylight). So we got a late start, and had a fun time beating up-river through the first of the two great bridges over the Tay (the road bridge). By the time we got to the second (railroad) bridge, there was no help to be had from the tide. We were still beating and the bridge was playing hob with the wind. So we turned around.

Going upwind, the Chebacco tacked through a precise 90 degrees on Bill’s compass, and made very little leeway with the board down. (Our only prior Chebacco sail had been in Sister Krista’s TOULOUMA TOO, whose board was stuck in the up position – she made considerable leeway.) Bill can tie off reefs in the middle of his boom, so reefing was a relaxed operation. On a dead downwind run, the Chebacco was very easy to steer. It could be a popular boat for hijacking by polar bears in Hudson Bay, since the cockpit will comfortably hold Papa Bear, Mama Bear and a whole passel of cubs.

There were dolphins in the Firth of Tay. This surprised Bill, who hadn’t seen them before. Since we were there, they’ve apparently taken up permanent residence. But remember, guys, we saw ’em first.

If you get to Dundee, ask Bill to take you sailing. You won’t have to ask him twice – his family aren’t sailors, and Bill likes company. You’ll have a blast!

Fraser Howell experiments with Jibs:

Fraser writes:


Fraser <>

Hello Bill,

Itchy & Scratchy has been having a busy summer. Everything is holding up well. I’ve been trying out different jibs in an attempt to reduce the weather helm when beating. I have a short bowsprit, so I have the ability to fly something bigger than the optional 30 sf jib shown on the plans.

Yesterday we rigged up a Laser M sail, which has a shorter luff than a regular Laser, and is 65 sf. The winds were < 10 km, so not a real good test. The boat balanced well on an almost neutral helm, and was faster. The laser sail sets nicely and gives good overlap. I can’t say for sure that she points higher. The best sheeting point is about 1 ft forward of the cabin bulkhead, 4″ in from the gunwhale. This is quite a bit busier rig , a handfull for the solo sailer, and draws some attention.

We will continue evaluations, but so far I am convinced that the Chebacco is a more capable sailer with a bigger jib. I’ll update you later.

I hope that this doesn’t spawn any gaff-rigged lasers.

Fraser Howell

I was concerned at Fraser’s report of weather helm, which has never been a problem with SYLVESTER, so I sent this reply:

Dear Fraser,

Readers of Chebacco News will be interested to read about your weather helm and your experiments to cure it.

Funnily enough, I’ve never had serious weather helm – nothing that’d make my tiller-arm ache anyway. I’ve helmed a Wayfarer in a good blow and that’s much worse. The worst I’ve ever encountered was an 90-year-old 50 foot yawl, where I had to take the main sheet end around the tiller to give enough purchase to hold it. It was a plank-on-edge boat which belonged to ‘Titus’ Oates of the Scott expedition and that type is seldom guilty of severe weather helm. It had been re-rigged from gaff to bermudian at one stage, so maybe that was the reason, though I can’t think why.

I find with the Chebacco that if the heel is kept to 12 degrees or less (reefing if necessary) then weather helm is slight. My mainsail has its maximum depth well for’ard – at about 30% of the way back from the luff. I’m sure that must be significant. Modern sails usually carry their max depth at about 40% back.

The trim is also significant. Weather helm is reduced by keeping the weight well back. Mine trims down by the bows a wee bit (I think my mast’s a bit heavy) but I keep the anchor amidships – nothing heavy up in the bows and the crew (if any) sits well aft.

I’m not sure about mast rake. Mine is almost exactly vertical.

The other thing is how tight you sheet the mizzen. My mizzen is cut dead flat and I harden up the snotter to keep it as flat as possible. I find that fine control of weather helm (on some points of sail) is possible by adjusting the mizzen sheets. Close hauled in a force 2-3 it’s possible to lash the helm and let her take care of herself for quite long periods. For example, I’ve done that and gone below to tidy up and she’s maintained her course for 20 minutes or more.


Fraser elaborated:


Thanks for the detailed reply. I’ve been keeping the weight as far forward as possible. My mast weighs exactly 40 lb. and the outboard plus gas is close to 100 lb. I can’t tell without making it come true, but I keep thinking that I’m submerging the bottom of the stern, and slowing things down.

I now never hestitate to reef. I reef before whitecaps. The weather helm is terrible when you are overpowered. I’ve been caught in the “death roll” running before a freshening breeze, quite out of control until I got her around into the wind. Normally the weather helm isn’t too bad, and its easily handled by the tiller comb. Just about the time when I am thinking of putting in a reef, I have often had 8-10 deg of weather helm, and that causes cavitation off the rudder. I am hoping to be able to carry more sail longer with the bigger jib.

I also find the mizzen to be critical to the helm. I haven’t experimented much with the main shape by tinkering with the peak halyard and the outhaul. I also adjust the centerboard, from all the way down beating to almost all the way up running.

Lots of other things to try yet, but so far I am suprised that PB was not more encouraging of a larger jib.

As far as going out to sea, I have to get into open water to go anywhere but Halifax. The most interesting sailing areas are one or two days sail in either direction along the coast. I haven’t yet gone out of sight of land though.

The further one goes out the more big marine life there is. We’ve seen several kinds of whales and porpoises, sun fish, leatherbacks, and swordfish or tuna(not sure which).



So there we have it. Phil Bolger was the first to notice that a Chebacco could be prone to more weather helm than he would prefer, and suggested to makers that it would do no harm to move the mast forward 3 or 4 inches. If you sail a Chebacco, what’s your experience?

Ed’s hull

You’ll remember Ed’s amusing account of buying a Chebacco hull from Burton Blaise in Canada, then importing it to the USA [Chebacco News #21]. Here’s a photo of Ed strapping the hull onto his borrowed trailer at the start of the journey:


Ed makes all secure. Note the boy and the dog – both mentioned in the story!

Ed writes:

I’ve attached a couple pics of the Chebacco hull when we were loading it at Burton Blais’. I’ll hope to get some in process shots soon. Thanks for your earlier reply. I’ve decided to go with the Brad Story cockpit sole. I was thinking of doing a teak grating anyway so the pine boards will probably be a cheaper alternative. Now I’ve started on the cabin. The 1×2 lower supports for the sides are in, and I’m going to start fitting the sides tonight. The drawing is a bit sketchy here though, are the tops of the sides cut straight? or is there a concave cut in them? The drawing shows a concave, but I was assuming the natural bend might do that anyway. What did you discover on yours?

I sent Ed this reply:

RE the cabin sides – They are indeed concave along the top (and convex along the bottom, too, where they follow the sheerline).

My procedure was to cut them oversize, then fit the bottoms first, to the framing you’re putting in. Once you’ve got this line, then you can measure the height of the sides at intervals, from the plan, above this bottom line (allowing for the thickness of the deck) and then cut them to their final shape. I’d cut out the windows at this stage, too – Much easier than when the sides have been fitted.

Ed emailed later:

Just an update and some observations. First, the cabin top is on as well as the decks and in fact we’re just about to be ready to apply some exterior glass and epoxy.

As well, the centerboard is glassed and covered with a second layer of thick epoxy and will be test hung this week. Pictures of both are in the camera at this time so God knows when they’ll get processed.

Some observations,

You mentioned I think about getting a slight dip in the cabin top when you put on the ply. If this is in the fore / aft plane, I got the same even with extensive supports. I think IMHO that it is due to the flex of the ply over the designed cabin top “sheer” for lack of a better term. It appears to me to be unaviodable, but I wonder if making the rise of the cabin top a bit higher would make it better. Anyway it doesn’t look to be

an insurmountable problem.

I’ve cut in the storage under the seats and am preparing to install the shelves/ lockers whatever they are. (holes from the cabin back under the port and starboard benches.)

I’m planning on epoxying the bilge area up about 12 – 14″ from the bench front up the side rather than epoxying all of the interior wood surfaces. I have heard that if water intrusion does occur in plywood epoxy’d both sides that there is no way for it to dry. (similar to the osmosis problem in GRP. But, if the interior is left un epoxied the wood can dry from that side. Anyway that’s my theory.

Not much other news from the frozen north. I figure I’ve got about 5 weeks till the first snow flurries so I’ve got to get her watertight before then.

I replied that most makers epoxy both sides of the ply and that a good layer of epoxy is needed in the bilges, where water is likely to collect, even if you have a cover over the boat.

Jamie Orr makes progress:

From: “Orr, Jamie” <>


The pictures of the big turning over are going in today’s mail.

We’ve had a great August, the weather’s been perfect for boatbuilding. I wanted to spend the full month at it, but the rest of the family had some ideas for the holiday as well. As a result I only spent about two weeks building, more or less full time. However, for change, I’m fairly happy with the results. I fitted both the cockpit and the cabin dry, and now I’ve pulled them out for final sanding, sealing and inside

painting. Finished up the sanding last night and I’ll be putting in the seat fronts and starting to seal tonight. The motor well and after quarters are in place as well, and all decks are ready.

After reading about how difficult it was to bend your cabin roof, I laminated mine out of two layers of ¼ inch. I spread a sheet of plastic over the cabin area, and laminated the roof in place. The first layer was split down the center, and the second was done by centering the plywood on the roof, with two little pieces added at the sides. I used the same technique as I did laminating the bilge panels – holes on 8

inch centres in the top layer, with screw driven through these to squeeze out air and excess epoxy. I also tacked the edges to the cabin sides through full length ½ inch ply pads, first folding the plastic up over the work. I finished by putting small clamps on the overhanging edges. This was probably totally unnecessary by after all the rest, but the neither the clamps nor I had anything better to do. It worked fine, and now the roof is sitting all ready to drop into place.

I’ve decided against the mast slot for now, although I might put in the framing under the roof for later, if wanted. I am going to put in the hatches in the after quarters, and will borrow ideas from the sea kayakers to secure them. I expect I’ll use nylon webbing across the hatch covers with a rubber seal under – there are some effective looking cams available to snug up the straps if needed. I’ve also bought two of

the Beckson circular access hatches for the rear half of the seats, so I can use that area for storage as well.

How did you install your portlights? I’m thinking of routing out the ply by the thickness of the lexan, and using silicon sealer with an oval “ring” covering the edge. The available bronze ovals were the wrong size, so I think I’ll try cutting my own out of 1/8 sheet brass, (but that’s for another month.)

I’m also working out where to put mooring cleats, fairleads and so on, as the deck will need reinforcement underneath, and it’ll be easier to fit before the deck’s glued down -any suggestions on placing these fittings, now that you’ve had a couple of seasons sailing?

Looking forward to the next newsletter – hope you’re having a good summer and getting in lots of sailing.

P.S. A point for the newsletter about taping the seams. I started out using fibreglass tape, with finished edges. This is very convenient for handling and doesn’t fray, but doesn’t always lie down easily because of those edges. I didn’t buy enough at once for the whole job, and when I ran out I started cutting tape sized pieces out of scrap 6 oz cloth. I found these were much easier to put in place, and needed less sanding to

smooth the edges later. I never did go back for the rest of the tape, and I’ve managed to use up a lot of scrap.

A couple of points of interest. I did SYLVESTER’s portlights simply by cutting oval holes in the sides of the cabin and screwing1/8″ acrylic sheet on the inside, with some clear silicone sealant between. Jamie’s method sounds much nicer! As for cleats and fairleads – Jamie’s right in that they MUST be through-bolted. Woodscrews eventually give out (as Gil and Joan will testify – the air was blue when a mizzen fairlead on SYLVESTER let go in July!). My suggestions are:

  • cleats on the cabin top for hallyards and topping lift
  • turning blocks near the mast foot to take the halyards and topping lift back to their cleats
  • fairleads at the quarters for the mizzen sheets
  • cam cleats for the mizzen sheets, after they’ve passed through the fairleads
  • cleats on the side-decks near the rear of the boat for tying up alongside, and for hooking on a tender’s painter
  • If you have the Jonesport cleat at the stem, as shown in the plans, then that’s your for’ard mooring cleat – otherwise a hefty cleat is needed in the foredeck.
  • Apart from these, I have a block and camcleat on the aft end of the CB case for the mainsheet, and a couple of cleats on the coaming for lashing the tiller amidships when I’m on the mooring.

And finally

That’s all for this issue. Please keep your news, photos, stories, questions etc coming in.

Bill Samson,

88 Grove Road,

Broughty Ferry,

Dundee DD5 1LB,


email –

Gil Fitzhugh,

44 Primrose Trail,

Mt Kemble Lake,




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