Saturday, December 05, 2015

Boats and Floaty Things: Homemade Drift Sock

This is a commercial drift sock with a durable
straps sewn over the cone for added strength.
I'm basically a canoer with occasional lapses into fishing. I've never been a big fisherman. I'm kind of ADHD and don't have a lot of patience. Frankly my sympathies have always lain with the fish. But, anytime your doing stuff in a boat, you may find yourself needing to sit somewhere on the water without drifting into the weeds.  I've used this little trick to park offshore and do nature photography. If you're into murdering like, Bambi and Thumper you could probably make your canoe or boat or raft sit still for you using a home-made drift sock.

This thing we're going to make is a takeoff of an old sailor's trick called a sea anchor. Basically, a sea anchor is a line or chain, attached to a boat at one end and to a big something or other full of water at the other end. You can also use something like this to help keep your nose into the wind or your boat on course in a heavy breeze. A drift anchor is a smaller version of the sea anchor and comes in very handy in high winds or choppy seas. A very small one can be used to help you stay on course at the cost of a little drag. If you've ever tried to paddle in a stiff breeze, keeping the boat on course can be a real challenge. Even a small motorized skiff can struggle to stay on course for home if a wind comes up.

We sailors are nothing, if not innovators. There are several ways to go at making a drift sock. The quickest is to tie a line to a five gallon bucket and throw it overboard, tying the other end to the loop on the stern of your canoe or to a yoke at the end of a rowboat or skiff.  You can use a smaller bucket if you're trying to keep the boat turned into the wind. A larger bucket will help you not to drift. I've even seen a workable drift sock made from an open umbrella tied by the handle to a drag line behind the boat. 

Here are several other ways to create a quick emergency drift sock. You can fill a garbage bag with water and drag it along behind the boat. One interesting solution I've seen involves tying 4 to 6 ropes to the hem of a dress like a parachute. A bit of wire can be used to keep the dress open. Don't sew up the top of the dress (use a dress not a skirt).  The skirt part will balloon out as you start moving and catch a lot of water. As the water hits the waste of the dress, it slows because the hole is smaller.  The narrowing at the top will slow the forward motion by funneling the water together while still allowing it to pass through so that the dress doesn't act like a parachute and kill your motion altogether.

You can buy a commercial drift sock for $20 to $100 depending on the size of your boat and the amount of freeboard it exposes to the wind. If you have a low profile canoe, you can get away with a smaller drift sock. An Indian-style canoe with high gunwales is a lot more lively in a stiff breeze. A drift sock is simple a cone shaped something or other that is held open at one end and narrow or closed at the opposite.  Commercial ones are made of durable rip-stop nylon or canvas. You can make one yourself by taking a piece of nylon, canvas or polyester and stitching it into a cone shape. At the wide end, hem a wire loop into the edge of the cone. Add 4 grommets evenly spaced around the large end just below the hem. Most craft stores have two or three foot wire hoops that work nicely in this application.

To attach it to the boat, create a simple harness. Tie four ropes or some parachute cord to the 4 grommets at the large end and tie them to a steel loop or carabiner about 4 to 6 feet from the cone.  Then clip the carabiner to a line that you attach to the stern of the boat and drag behind it. If you're lucky, the stern of your boat has a cleat or loop you can attach the drift sock to and you won't have to jerry-rig it. It's not hard to do in any case.

To set up your sock to prevent your boat from drifting, throw the drift sock downwind of the boat and let it fill up. It won't stop you from drifting entirely, but it drag will definitely slow you down in a stiff breeze.

© 2015 by Tom King