Nothing to Do? The Adventures of Captain Pebble

Nothing to Do? The Adventures of Captain Pebble
My cattail and twig sailboat, with a file folder sail and Captain Pebble on board.

For schoolchildren, summer break came two months early this year, thanks to COVID-19. And by now even the allure of the screen has worn off and boredom is setting in for E-kids. So here begins a series of suggestions for children’s outdoor activities.

How about taking the kids to a pond somewhere and engaging them in sailboat races, with sailboats they have built themselves from last year’s cattail stalks and a few flexible green willow twigs, and maybe a leaf for a sail? And some thin string or heavy thread to hold it all together.

A sturdy leaf can be rigged for a sail with a few additional twigs penetrating it for support. And for more impatient kids and adults, a sail can be made from a file folder, as shown, which is stiffer than a leaf and holds its shape more readily.

If you experience a gusty breeze, a thin keelboard can be made from a wood chip, and pushed down between the cattail stalks located toward the rear of the boat, as shown, and it will help keep the sail aligned downwind and make it less tippy. My keel is raised in the photo.

Nothing to Do? The Adventures of Captain Pebble
Me in 1943, not a kid to be trusted with a stone.

My Captain Pebble is a smooth stone marked with a marking pen. Yours might have a heritage of modeling clay, or mud and twigs, or plaster of Paris, or…

One take-home message from this little project is that it helps kids learn that all designs are compromises. A big sail goes faster, but tips over more readily. And a big square raft is more stable, but slower than a smaller narrow one.

My Captain Pebble has had a few scary adventures. Shortly after one departure, certain boys decided to try tipping him over by throwing stones. I stalled them for a minute until he was further offshore and then turned the little miscreants loose (having been one myself). There were some near misses, making big waves, but no direct hits and he escaped beyond their range.

Nothing to Do? The Adventures of Captain Pebble
A handful of kid-friendly cattail saws made from hacksaw blades for Prairie Green School. I covered the handles with orange duct tape in order to find them again in the grass.

Very safe children’s tools for cutting cattails can be made by breaking a fine-toothed hacksaw blade in half. Do this in a vice by bending the blade over a bit and tapping it further right atop the vice with a hammer. Protect your eyes, just in case the brittle metal shatters, either with face shield or goggles, or wrap the bend area in a rag. Cover the broken ends with electrical tape or duct tape.

You could follow up with Kon-Tiki, Thor Heyerdahl’s classic book about his adventure crossing the ocean on a rather primitive raft, the way people may have done it thousands of years ago.

The ponds at Terry Trueblood Park and Kent Park are convenient, with multiple places to launch. Cattails and willows are available in many road ditches, and around wetland areas. Good luck with your adventures and enjoy the summer!

2 thoughts on “Nothing to Do? The Adventures of Captain Pebble”

  1. Hello Judy, What fun! I think that children around the world have made boats out of everything handy that floats. Cheers, Lon

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