The devil is in the details

BOO! Give up? Actually, this odd-looking thing is the author's custom-built wooden seat, fitted in the companionway.The circles are for his, er, seat and are custom fitted. The holes let out water, if any comes aboard.

Whatzit? Passersby often wonder what this is. Actually, it's a deck prism inset in a cast bronze mount. It gathers light and disperses it below -- a favorite of the author's, particularly on dark days.

A pint-sized expresso maker sits atop a butane stove, with copper tube leading to metal coffee cup. Cup contains mixed instant milk. When cruising onboard Persistence, the author enjoys latte every morning.

Look deep in the water: it's a sort of fin protruding aft. The author likes the fin and the bulb at the rudder tip to control heavy weather wave action. He uses the tip at a foothold to get back in the boat when he sometimes falls in.

Home-built wooden bows fit atop the sea hood. When in upright position (shown here) they hold up a companionway dodger, just big enough for the author to sit on his wooden seat. When not in use, the Sunbrella and plastic hood comes off, and, the wooden bows fold forward.

Inside the tiny cloth and plastic dodger (just big enough for the author's head and shoulders), the boat can be operated out of the weather. GPS is on right, compass dead ahead, and clock to port. A folded chart hangs from clip for easy reference, and,


The author began building Persistence in 1979. Here he works on the sitka spruce stringers.

Most of the boatbuilding was done outdoors, beside the author's home in Shoreviw, MN. The stem and keelson are white oak, and, the stringers are Sitka Spruce.

Length overall is 20 feet. Boat was built atop a strongback.

The first of three layers of 1/8-inch thick wood veneer strips is stapled and epoxy glued to stringers. The hull is finished off with extra coats of epoxy and is of monocoque construction.

With hull complete, work starts on interior. Author is seated in forward V-Berth area. In front of him is the centerboard case.

The hull and cabin are nearly completed. Boat is on its building stand.

Early interior construction. CB trunk in foreground, and, the portside "nav" station, under the heavy lexan portlights, which are through bolted. Forward is the large V bunk. Note how the CB trunk is encircled with frames and carlins from the bilge to the mast step, making the little boat very strong.


Fall layup or storage? Use the downloadable and free fall layup checklist in this updated version of the Boat Log & Record This all - in - one boat record and logbook with engine maintenance record helps a boater to maintain in one place a season -to - season working record of a boat and its needs. It's the largest and most complete boat log and record for amateur boaters ever published. Includes special Emergency section dealing with transmitting a Mayday Message and how to deal with Man overboard. Plus other ways to boat safely and have more fun on the water. Free checklist here for fall layups or storage.
Fiction: A boater gets caught up in a daring around-the-world sailboat race ---and finds murder! "Full of remarkable characters and daring feats."--Cruising World.
Here are masterful tales of seafaring on the world's largest freshwater lake, including the last hours of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Join Marlin Bree in his solo voyages -- including a storm that gives Superior the reputation as being one of the world's most dangerous bodies of water.
A catamaran sails at midnight and is hit by a surprise storm along the Shipwreck coast. At the helm, the author fights for control and he and the crew search for the entryway off the lake. Exciting adventure. In a special chapter, as he sails near the sunken vessel, he takes a new look at the last hours of the Edmund Fitzgerald. If you like rugged adventures and are intrigued by Lake Superior's legends, history and folklore, here's a special book that will fascinate and sometimes surprise you.
Boating, great maritime adventures, storms at sea, maritime tales and survivals
Why did the Edmund Fitzgerald sink? Find yourself in the big freighter's wheelhouse as the Superior storm is at its worst. Or, find yourself aboard a leaky old wooden boat heading out into Lake Superior as an ice storm descends in a race to find a missing friend. Or, dive into murky waters to discover a mysterious old schooner sitting on the bottom still intact. A storm hits! Now come aboard a 10-foot home-built plywood sailboat trying to make it across the stormy South Pacific. Join the author aboard his sailboat trying to survive the storm of the century, with 134 mph. downbursts. Here are seven true tales of maritime adventure and survival from the waters of the world to stir the blood and fire the imagination--all told with a mariner's insight! And more. With illustrations, charts. Now the winner of seven writing awards!
Nonfiction: Excerpts & pix!
Roaring out of nowhere, a huge storm tore onto Lake Superior and catches a lone sailor and his small wooden boat in a wall of wind. Join Marlin Bree in the cockpit of his small sailboat as he fights to save his boat. The author goes on to complete a special voyage along the picturesque north shore of Lake Superior. A classic boating tale. "Equals any oceanic adventure." -- San Diego Log
Fiction: Lots of cartoons & laughs!
Okay, gang: let's face it: our boating world is funny sometimes. It's filled with good hearted people and a lot of other folks ranging from full-of-it skippers and too-party-hardy crew members. Here's a handy book you can keep on the old chart table to let you have a laugh at everything from the marine head to nautical terminology. Not for everyone, but you know who you are. Ho. Ho.
On June 1, 1979, Gerry pointed the bow of his tiny boat east and set sail out of Chesapeake Bay to cross the treacherous North Atlantic. He had hoped he had designed and built the smallest practical-sized sailboat capable of surviving on the open seas -- 10 feet long. Fifty four days later, after battling raging storms, physical pain, loneliness and islolation, sleeplessness and the never-ending racking of the ocean, Gerry pulled into the English port of Falmouth--the smallest craft to make that astonishing ocean crossing.

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Das Boot: The Beautiful Boat

Some details of the author's historic sloop that he built himself.

(Note: Click on photos to enlarge them).

Special notation: How Persistence survived "the storm of the century" on Lake Superior, see

Secrets of Persistence's Storm Survival (below)

Though only 20 feet in length, Persistence is well outfitted. The author lived onboard for up to three months of cruising. (Click on image to enlarge)

From this inside steering position, I can set Persistence up to self steer. Note GPS, chart, captain's seat and remote control for an autohelm, located aft on the tiller. The Artful Dodger covers all as needed, although the side panels can be demounted for ventilation on hot days and a back panel with clear plexiglass insert can be rolled down to completely enclose the solo sailor in heavy weather.

Persistence glistens under a repristinated finish. The boat was sanded down and then recoated with a two-part clear polyurathane finish. This view from aft shows the instrumentation, the tiller and the 5 horsepower outboard engine.

Details of the author's 20-foot sloop, Persistence. The sloop is set up for singlehanded sailing with all sail controls leading aft to the cockpit.


Anatomy of a pocket cruiser plus Special Features that allowed the small sloop to survive mighty Superior's fierce storms and waves.

Length: 20 feet

Beam:7 feet, 4 inches

Draft: Centerboard up, 12 inches, CB down 4 feet 6 inches. Steel centerboard weight: 106 pounds.

Weight: Ultralightweight at about 1100 pounds.

Sail area: Main 80 square feet; Jib 88 square feet

Sail handling controls: In 2007, Persistence received a new tanbark loose-footed jib. It is now controlled by single-line reefing. Jib is set on Cruising Design roller bearing furler. All sail controls lead aft to cockpit. Main has lazy jacks.

Construction details: Keel and stem, white oak; Ribs, mahogany composite, Hull, three layers of 1/​8-inch Western Red Cedar veneers, expoxy glued and coated, finished with 4 oz. fiberglass cloth. Bottom: covered with 6 ox fiberglass cloth, coated with five layers of epoxy and epoxy/​carbon (graphite). Finishing: topsides are bright finished with a two-part high gloss polurethane finsh with UV protection. Bottom has teflon anti fouling VC-17.

Electrical: Two photovoltec panels atop cabin recharge two 12-volt deep cycle marine batteries under forward bunk along keelson

Engine: 5 hp. Nissan two-cycle outboard mounted on swing bracket. Remote 3 1/​2 gallon tank fits under traveler in cockpit. At cruising speed, engine consumes about 1/​3 gallon per hour.

Radios: VHF radio with mast head antenna, AM/​FM radio with internal antenna, and, ham-band radio.

Berths Large double berth located in forecastle; two quarterberths are aft extending under sides of cockpit seat.

Miscellaneous Equipment: Magellan GPS, knot meter, depthsounder, three compasses, Portable head under forward V-berth. Foam Flotation fore and aft. Mast is set on tabernacle and is foamed and sealed. Boat is lightning grounded from mast to keel, and also, all major metal parts. Autohelm with remote control. Three anchors: main Danforth with Chain in first 10 feet, smaller Danforth "lunch hook," and 10-pound "mud" anchor of mushroom deisgn.

Design additions Folding lcoth dodger fits over companionway, so author can sit sheltered inside and operate boat. Portable seat fits under companionway. Transom was lengthened with "scoop". Six-inch deep stub keel added through which 3/​8-inch thick steel centerboard slides up and down. CB is epoxy/​graphite coated and swings on a 6/​8-inch thick Silicon Bronze bolt running through case logs in CB trunk.


"If she ever goes over, she's not coming back up. You'll have to be careful out there," was the advice I got from the boat's designer. But yet Persistence capsized many times, including mast tip in the water, and yet the small craft righted itself and survived to sail on with the author at the helm. Persistence is not a keel boat -- one of those sailboats whose stability relies on a heavy lead keel far below the waterline that amounts to nearly 40% of the craft's weight. So how did the little sloop withstand the heavy pounding of the Green Storm and other bouts with Superior? The answer, the author believes, lies in his careful building which selected the heaviest woods, such as layered inch-thick white oak for the keelson, and, the lightest woods, such as Sitka Spruce for the topsides deck beams. Overall, the craft is ultralightweight with its Western Red Cedar hull planking and cabin tops. Thus, I had some weight down below, though it was not a keel. I also mounted two heavy-duty marine batteries directly atop the keelson, which added another 100 pounds or so. As an added precaution, I managed to change the righting arm by constructing the cabin to be within inches of the outer deck, so that when the boat went over, it would not "flop" into the water, such as it would do if the cabin were further back from the beams. I added an inch-thick Sitka Spruce rubrails to each side, tapered at the front and the back to give the sheer a little more grace. These wooden rubrails acted as a sort of "life preserver" around the hull and not only protect the hull from damage from docks and other boats but add floatation in a big way when the boat gets knocked down. Also, after having an experience with a sailboat which capsized and lay on its side as water gurgled into its mast and finally turtled, with mast full of water and pointing straight down, I decided to foam parts of Persistence's mast. I took off the crane, topped the uppermost section of the mast with spray in foam, replaced the crane, and then methodically went down the mast and drilled a tiny hole wherever the mast had a piercing for a part, such as the spreaders, and sprayed in more foam, using the small plastic tube that comes with the spray in foam. The result was that the oversized aluminum mast now had a significant amount of floatation in it, which came into play several times during the dangerous "Green Storm" encounter when the boat did flip over in high winds and the masthead did enter the water (and water sloshed up through the centerboard case, to my horror). What else helped us survive the storm of the century? Before I entered the open waters of the world's largest freshwater lake -- more of an ocean, really -- I always check the craft carefully for closed hatches and vents. I also move all gear out of the bow and the stern as much as possible, and secure with bungee chords these duffle bags, sleeping bags, toiletry cases, cartons of goods, tools and supplies, alongside the centerboard case, which is in the center of the cabin. This keeps the weight out of the ends, especially the bow, which can dig into waves in heavy going, by making the ends lighter. When the first blasts of the Green Storm arrived, I knew I had a well prepared boat and immediately resorted to heavy weather sailing tactics by taking the initial wind blasts on the stern, rather than abeam. Trouble was, I then headed out into Superior far from shore and would have to ride out the storm until the first raw (and very heavy) blasts subsided and I could turn the boat (hopefully) back into the wind and back on course to Thompson Cove, a small island where a tiny harbor of refuge lay. Part of our dangerous survival lay in the fact that I had taken sails down and secured them on the boom and on the jibfurler and was now running under 5 hp. two stroke elderly outboard engine. The engine took a terrible beating because part of the time its prop was out of the water, with no cooling water being pumped into the engine head, because the boat lay on its side, capsized. Later on, when I returned to my home in Shoreview, MN, I took the engine in for servicing and checkup and told my mechanic that I was interested in getting a new four-cycle engine. "If you had a four cycle out there," he announced, "you probably wouldn't have made it back." I still have my two cycle outboard, for that was yet another important link in my survival during the Green Storm.

Leaning out, the author finds his mast crutch a handy convenience in the cockpit. Bree has lived aboard Persistence for as long as three months while cruising Lake Superior.

In gin-clear waters, Persistence floats easily in CPR Harbor, on a small island in the northern arc of Lake Superior. The visit to the harbor is described in the author's book, Wake of the Green Storm.

The deck is teak, and, the cabin top is Honduras Mahogany. Note sea hood over cockpit hatch.

At Sunset, Persistence is snuggled down deep inside a harbor in the beautiful Slate Islands. In a few minutes, the author will see one of the islands caribou on the shore.