Meet Empiricus

After a week of living aboard Empiricus, let me tell you about her. She is the boat that will house and transport us from Cambridge Bay to points East – North Baffin, Greenland and then Iceland, ice and weather permitting.

Empiricus sitting on her drum cradle waiting to go in the water.

Empiricus sitting on her drum cradle waiting to go in the water.

She is a 50 foot gaff-rigged yawl, a one-off design, custom built in 1986 for ocean crossing. Her skeleton is a 1943 Navy Liberty Launch. You may nod sagely, as I did, upon hearing this information, because perhaps you will know what both a gaff-rigged yawl and a Liberty Launch are. I didn’t have a clue. Let me fill you in. A yawl is a sailboat that sports a small mast hanging off the stern – the mizzen mast. The gaff-rigged part refers to the spar on the top of the main sail. (The Bluenose was gaff-rigged – dig out a dime and check it out.) The Liberty Launch was a wooden power boat used by the US Navy to bring sailors ashore during World War 2. They were sturdy and well-built, able to handle heavy loads and big seas.
The builder of Empiricus used the Launch as his building platform, designing a sailing hull around it, adding a big bulb keel and beefing up the rudder. He meant to remove the Launch when he finished the fibreglass, but found it too much trouble to bother. The hull is now a very solid fibreglass one with a wood core. She is strong, flexible and warm.
When I first arrived on her last week, we had over 600 pounds of cargo. Food, parts, clothing, books and various sundries all arrived with us in Cambridge Bay. I wasn’t sure we would ever get it all put away, but Empiricus, like all good ships, has myriad nooks and crannies for storage. Under the bunk where I sleep, 250 pounds of dry goods are stored. The pantry is full of provisions of all sorts: potatoes and onions and carrots, cookies, chocolate, coffee (a mission critical item for me), dried fruits, flour, rice, soup mixes, oatmeal, chocolate, etc. The built-in cooler is full of cheeses and a few odd items – yogurt starter, pickled herring, and some sort of weird sauce Jesse likes that I have never heard of. The other cupboards and drawers in the galley are full of more of the same. We will not go hungry on this trip.
Before I go any further I should explain about boat language. If you are on a boat, the right side of the boat when looking forward is the starboard side, and the left side is the port side. The area where the wheel is and the sailing of the boat happens is called the cockpit. The inside living quarters are called, communally, the cabin. The stairs to and from the cabin is called the “companionway.” Also, the kitchen is called the “galley,” the bathroom is the “head,” and bedrooms, if there are any, are called “staterooms.” I’m not sure why the old navy terms for a boat’s interior still endure, but they are the ones used on ships the world over.

Galley - not very shipshape right now.

Galley – crammed full as we slowly stow provisions.

The only stateroom on Empiricus is also partly the hallway to the forward storage berth. Not especially private, but privacy is nearly the last consideration in boat design. Multipurpose rooms are de rigeur. With just Jesse and I aboard, it’s not really a problem, but last year Empiricus had 5 crew aboard. I imagine quarters were tight. The stateroom, which would be a tiny, tiny bedroom by North American housing standards, could and did house three people comfortably – though not all slept there at the same time. For my part, I don’t feel cramped at all in the small space, probably because of the large portholes that let in plenty of light.
The interior is finished in hardwood and my, she is a beauty. The cabin feels roomy and warm, despite the slimness of the hull design (her beam – the width of the boat – is only 9 feet, small for a boat of her length.) The first thing that struck me about Empiricus was her sturdiness. You can put a hand anywhere in the cabin – on the shelves, the galley racks, the navigation table – anywhere, and she will hold your weight. No flimsy particle board construction here. The living quarters are comfortable. Two settees, one on either side of the boat’s main interior, are backed by books and lovely wood cupboards. The engine and room for tools are to the aft of the main cabin, and forward of it is the stateroom and the vee berth.
We do have plenty on the go these days, and the cabin often looks like the floor of a garage as the assortment of tools and parts used for in a constantly shifting set of projects. We are both kept busy sorting, repairing and cleaning, all while still living on the boat. A couple of frustrating days were spent stepping over each other and putting away items, only to haul them out immediately after they were stowed to use them for another project…grrr. But the hard work paid off as the cabin slowly cleared out.

Jesse getting some grub between projects.

Jesse getting some grub between projects.

Right now, I am sitting on the starboard settee, in front of the woodstove in which a toasty fire crackles. The stereo is on, John Prine playing. The feeling akin to a Christmas card come to life. My computer is plugged in and charging and a hot coffee is by my arm. Life is simple. Now if we could just get in the water!


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