RebelCat 3 - Driftwood
Becomes a Sailboat
From Illinois, where I recycled parts of RebelCat 2, I went
to New Zealand for four months, and on the south island I
decided to turn the abundant driftwood into another catamaran.
However, I soon realized that the wood was still full of water,
so I would need more than two pontoons.
Another humble beginning. A beach on the south island of New
Zealand was littered with driftwood, so I picked out some
'pontoons' that looked good.
The logs were so small in diameter and heavy with water that
I added a third, technically making it a trimaran, but as
you'll soon see, three was not to be.
The pole standing where the mast will go was a little bent,
so I opted for bamboo. That would prove to be a poor decision,
favoring beauty over strength.
The curse of the perfectionist. Why put a swing-up
rudder on a driftwood sailboat? Well, because the boat has to
be dragged across the sand to the water. If the rudder is on,
it will snap off. There were so few amenities here that the
idea of making a rudder that could be added after the boat is
in the water was not feasible. So this crude sailboat has a
swing-up rudder. I was pleased that the rudder was not what
I dragged the boat to the water for a flotation test - it
failed! So I dragged it back to add yet more wood. The wood, it
turned out, was full of water and afforded little flotation. So
the catamaran-turned-trimaran now becomes a raft. Actually,
catamaran means 'bound logs', so this version may come closer
to the real thing than two or three hulls. With all those logs
pointing forward, I decided a keel was not needed. A keel or
daggerboard, as it would soon become clear, was not what this
Locating a large scrap of discarded plastic sheet, I got on
with the task of sailmaking. Not just a mainsail, it had to
have a jib. I figured one sail might not move all of that heavy
Ready for action. I rigged the stays to hold the mast up and
the sheets (ropes) to control the sails. Now all we need is
some wind and a volunteer to join me in this insanity.
Wind on this beach was hardly ever a problem, except when it
blew you away. Sailing this floating campfire would need lots
Yes, it really does look like a sailboat. The fatal flaw has
still not been revealed to me.
The rudder can be raised and lowered with two control ropes.
Such sophistication on a crude raft may appear odd, but this
part of the boat actually performed well.
And there is the flaw - a thin mast. By the time this pic
was taken, the mast tip had already snapped under strain from
two large sails in a good breeze.
I can't blame the wind, any more than a good sailor can
thank the wind one minute and curse it the next. My choice of
bamboo was at fault.
The bent and not-so-perfect branch I found first probably
would have held up, although it was shorter. But both sails
would have worked better, even with less area. What amazed me
was that the this raft sailed anyway.
Flotation, even with a dozen small logs, was barely adequate
to keep both of us out of the water. But we had a great time,
even when we realized that we had little control over the boat
and the current was pulling us out into the strong flow coming
from a nearby river mouth.
I had neglected to make oars, so we paddled frantically with
our hands and somehow managed to avoid getting sucked into the
muddy current heading out to sea.
We dragged the boat, now quite watterlogged, back to
We were cheered by onlookers. They thought we did great. The
boat was recycled back to the beach from where it came. A great
time was had by all.
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