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15' x 6' daysailer Titmouse designed by Sam Rabl

Let me tell you about my homebuilt Titmouse. This design is the biggest 15' option for a novice to homebuild and the prettiest (see above). I built it in the living room/dining room area (after tearing out a wall) when the wife and I lived in a tiny little rent house, the last house on a dead end street in the Clarksville section of Austin Texas.

Houston, surely you remember this scene - the boat in the house on 9th street - as you lived a block away then and were among those who helped me get it out of the house through the opening which I made by temporarily removing the 2 windows just visible in the background (plus 2 2x4 studs, 8 sash weights and some trim). After nailing back the windows that afternoon, I never did get around to reinstalling the rusty iron sash weights which lay piled on the stoop in silent reproach until we moved away.



in frame circa 1980 (c) Hans-Peter Otto

Commenced in 1976, it hit the water in 1982 and I sailed it for some years on Lake Travis (22 miles from town) from a marina in Volente. I sailed it single-handed (although it could have been sailed much harder and faster with a crew of 2) and my most pleasurable outing was watching the July 4 race on Lake Travis one time. Wind was gusting around 20 mph and I sailed reefed with working jib as the fleet did 2 turns around Starnes (Rattlesnake) Island. I will never forget the crewman who looked down at me as his boat raced past and said "Good lard, a Titmouse and sailing reefed!" The social politics of this event (the annual July 4th weekend Texas Governor's Cup) are amusing. Far and away the sexiest sport event in the Austin area, it is downplayed by the press which focus on ethnic picnickers in the park as America celebrates her top secular holiday. At best you might see an otherwise unidentified distance shot of the fleet on local TV news at the end of the broadcast. Seeing the boats heel as they rounded a turnpoint from closeup and from a vantage point close to waterlevel was eyeball candy of the highest degree.

Later on I lucked into a cheap co-op woodworking space and took the boat there with the idea that I should sand down (inside the boat) the ridges where the shaper-coved strip planking overrode one another as they formed the curve of the bilge. It was really quite ugly and something to nitpick over while sailing about alone and eating peanut butter, tomato and pickle sandwiches on upscale designer bread. This turned out to be a relatively easy job so I started considering the hull's real (outside) shape. As I had been a novice boat builder, the hull had hollows and dips, even with considerable sanding of it after turning it upside down in the driveway, and was not fair in the technical sense. So I committed myself to a truly fair hull. Now that was a job of work and retrospectively a great waste of time. Still, fairing the hull which stayed rightside up and was winched up and down from the ceiling to different working heights and thus viewing it from various prospectives was aesthetically so compelling that I was unable to stop till it was done. Like sailing it for the first time (or getting it out the window or framing in the cockpit or installing the deck), the spray painting of it too was a great culmination.*

*We often read that paint is not filler but I was surprised to discover that the spray painting actually disposed of virtually all the tiny unfairnesses still left when I called a halt to the fairing process. Now, when I check out a boat, homebuilt or storebought, the fingers of my left hand stray over the its surface (I am right handed) and I can gauge the extent of the longboarding that was done to the plug by feeling the unfairnesses which are otherwise visually imperceptable.

Alas, I did not photograph it after spray painting whilst it was still hanging from the ceiling. Too bad! Remember, though, that the hull's painfully acquired fairness is perceptible only by touch!


Boat in the water at Walsh Landing at Lake Austin. Wife Madelon securing the boat. Smudge in photo shows smoke from somewhere in West Lake Hills.



This shows an early stage of the fairing process. The centerboard you see is quite primitive: brass capped 3/4" plywood board with lead inserts for negative buoyancy. It and especially the rudder as designed, also 3/4" plywood, are inadequate. Phil Bolger designed an end plate for the rudder of my unnamed Titmouse which improved steering considerably. He billed me $25.

Afterwards, I didn't campaign the boat because in terms of the effort required, single-handing is not that much fun. So I sold it, raking varnished Honduras mahogany transom and all, to a guy from Fredericksburg (about 100 miles W of here) in 1994.

Imagine my surprise when I was told a year later that the boat was still in Austin in someone's backyard and had never hit the water. Before selling, I had thought to install a salvaged Geo Metro 1 liter Suzuki-made engine as an inboard, but with the configuration as designed (see Sam Rabl's Building a Boat in Your Own Backyard at your local public library and still in print), there is no room. Only six months after this stunning news, it struck me that there would be plenty of room in a 9 foot cockpit if I ripped out the 4 foot long centerboard case. Then the boat could be a motorboat (as its lines permit*) and, perhaps, somewhere down the pike a new keel could be retrofitted below the hull so as to regain the sailing option.

*Regarding its suitability for a stable planing mode, see the drawing of the sections above. The deadrise is ~12 degrees.

As the smallest auto engine in the American market, the Geo Metro 1 liter aluminum three-banger is an obvious candidate for conversion. (This engine is used in homebuilt experimental category airplanes). Although its 2-barrel Hitachi carburetor is now CPU controlled with a throttle-body mixture control setup, earlier on it was fitted with a purely mechanical carburetor. This engine and its stock clutch, manual transmission and one of the 2 CV drive shafts in line with the propeller shaft is the plan. Interestingly, the February 1997 issue of WoodenBoat had an article by Ray Sargent on using a Subaru EA-82 1.8 liter (with a Hurth marine transmission weighing 28 lbs) to power his 15' runabout. I haven't weighed the Metro's manual transmission but I have hefted it and it was lighter than anticipated. In a letter to me, Sargent criticizes the use of an automotive transmission because it takes dangerously longer to go into reverse than the "built-in thrust bearings of a marine transmission." That could only be verified in trials; worst case, installing a shaft brake would be a fix.

Before putting this document on line in December 1995, I tracked down the owner way out on Burleson Road where he was milling a huge number of American walnut logs down here from a Tennessee woodlot and he agreed to sell the boat back.

I should also explain that the impulse to compose and put this Web page on line was elicited by a computer program which I was playing with then: the demo version of MultiSurf from John Letcher & Co. at Aerohydro. It is insanely great, and you can save files.


Whoa! Boat design lovers, you have got to check this out!

The boat is gone from Austin.Dave Larrimore its present owner is building a log cabin somewhere in south Texas. I hope he gets it in the ocean or in a lake and sails it. He comes through Austin frequently though or so I have been told and I have asked the guy he stays with to ask him to call me if he still wants to sell it. At age 64 (in 1999) in a subtropical climate albeit in robust good health, I can't help wondering whether I shouldn't blow it off and leave the project stranded in cyberspace where I can look at it. And yet from time to time I walk over to Red River Motors to stare in wild surmise at the engine in one or another of the wrecked Geo Metros which fill their yard: why not use the A/C compressor to run a tiny reefer for a six-pack? Is it now unrealistic to imagine that I will some day repaint the boat high gloss Highway Dept. yellow?* This after converting and installing the Chevy Sprint mill, modifying the skeg and sizing the prop and new rudder. Don't forget the instrumentation dials! Vroom, vroom...boat dreams!

*Although I initiallly fell in love with many of the color chips on the Interlux brochure, I settled for white on the grounds of practicality under the Texas sun and the desire not to seem to be putting on airs by painting a 15' boat burgundy, champagne or silver. A combination of ISO-9000 security yellow for the hull and the red varnished Honduras mahogany transom, the former for the sake of increased visibility on the water, the latter already in place, is a pleasant prospect.

Five summers ago (1998) I stayed in Palacios on Matagorda Bay on the Texas coast for 2 days. Sulphurated water right out of the shower and croaker fish jumping out of the water in the bay! Wading about and standing in the shallow bay I occasionally scooped up the black silt which smelled somewhere between funky and healthily organic but the different direction of the next croaker to jump from the direction I was looking in was of course unpredictable and never sufficiently close. The wild kingdom! The air temperature was about 10 degrees cooler than Austin and you could see the bay from the old-timey, high ceiling non-airconditioned 2nd floor multi-windowed garage apartment where I stayed with Paul* and Roberta who own the Black Cat Lounge on Austin's East Sixth Street. Wouldn't the project described here have been a hoot for futzing around the bay! Palacios currently has the largest shrimping fleet on the Texas coast; its tiny population is 30% Anglo, 40% Chicano, 25% Vietnamese, 5% black and it is graced with a beautiful waterfront park and covered rec area at the end of a long pier. I heard gossip to the effect that local fishermen had overcome their resentment of the Vietnamese (20 years is a long time) and now say they wish that they themselves worked that hard but my informant may have been pouring chicken soup on their true feelings. Fleet consists of small bay and big go out in the Gulf trawlers. This is not Cape Cod but then again what is?

Since this outing I have crossed the Atlantic 6 times and dipped my fingers once in the Mediterranean near Montpellier France in a setting almost exactly as tacky as Myrtle Beach.

*Alas, Paul Sessum, 57, was killed August 17, 1998, when he wrecked his van on Route 71 en route between Austin and Palacios. We will not soon see his like.

Whatever Dave Larrimore is doing with the boat at the moment, if anything, I imagine it is still in real good condition, probably in better condition than when I left it out at Nigel's house in Leander where it was frequently full of water for 18 months and suffered a delamination propagating back from the bottom of the stem (thankfully on one side only) of a few square feet. In light of the differential expansion and contraction of thickened epoxy and the underlying planking as the weather cycles, the excessively thick fairing required to fill in the hollow of the original construction in that area may have been the cause as there was no delamination elsewhere. In an eleemosynary spirit, Houston let me put it in his yard a few months later where the outdoor repair turned out to be fairly easy. I removed the delaminated epoxy, laminated in strips of wood thin enough to conform to the curved surface of the underlying wood until it was sufficiently bulked out and refaired it.

Construction details: frame, recycled long-leaf pine; planking, luan; deck, #12 canvas over 3/8" marine plywood; transom, Honduras mahoghany; spars, spruce; 3.8 oz. sails by Thurston, 740 lbs

I coded this page in 1995. I imagine if I were doing it over, I'd put in a Wiki for your comments. The rhetoric of a true shaggy dog story now seems to me sort of lame, but I have left the text and its page's primitive design the same out of respect for one's past.

Mike Eisenstadt tief in der Hertz von Texas (Austin) Email