New steering for the launch

August 5, 2014

We have been pretty happy with our Iain Oughtred designed launch, but now that we have sailed her for a couple of seasons we are trying to refine the few things we don’t like, or did not get right on the first go-round. One of those things was the tiller.

Initially I opted for a very traditional tiller. I liked the simplicity of the design and the classic look. However, what we found is that the traditional tiller had some traditional limitations due to how we use the boat. One has to do with sailing; if you are sailing the boat you need to push the tiller very far to port or starboard when tacking. This requires that the helmsman move his or her body all over the place just to tack the boat. This becomes even more problematic if you are single-handing because the excessive movement aft lifts the bow out of the water making the boat less able to windward.

The other issue has to do with taking passengers. The boat will comfortably hold five adults, except that anyone sitting aft has to deal with the sweep of the tiller and the dance of the helmsman.

None of this is totally unexpected, but it has become more annoying than we were prepared for.

What we ended up doing was to go back to the design source. 

Iain Oughtred has another design, the Caledonia Yawl, similar in size to the Penny Fee, with a push-pull tiller arrangement that frankly did not look that great to me on paper. However, I ran into a video of the tiller set up on Off Center Harbor and was totally swayed. I conceded (at least to my self) that it would not look as elegant and simple as the original tiller we had, but to my surprise, I found that the new design, while less classic, has a simple functionality that is also quite elegant.

Another advantage to the new system is that we made the tiller longer than the original so that if you are taking the boat out for a sail by yourself you can sit more forward, almost in the center of the boat which makes the boat balance beter.

It takes some getting used to and the instinct from long time sailors is still to move the tiller from side to side instead of fore and aft, but after taking it for a spin under sail and oar, I find that it is a really neat solution to our previous problems.

We had to come up with a way to lash the tiller when we leave the boat at the float, and that has not been a perfect solution, but we are working on it and that is a small wrinkle to work on.

Now I need to get back to work on the new sail. I am convinced that moving the center of effort aft, even a foot will create less drag in the rudder tacking and may gain us a few more degrees closer to the wind. We shall see.

Where have I been?

July 24, 2014

My loyal readers (both of you) may have been wondering what happened to this blog, since I have not posted much in the last year. The truth is I have been writing a lot, but just not on this site.

A lot of my time during the last two years (perhaps too much of my time) has been devoted to bringing out a new book.

Lasting Friendships, a Century of Friendship Sloops has been in the pipeline since November of 2012. It has been produced and Published by the Friendship Sloop Society, and I have been spearheading the project.

Part of the reason that I agreed to head the group that was putting this book together (aside from a love of Friendship sloops and their history) was an opportunity to work with Ralph W. Stanley.

Ralph has been recognized as a master boatbuilder and is an NEA National Heritage Fellow, but he is also an excellent writer and historian. Without his help the book project would have been much less interesting the finished book much less impressive.

The book also allowed me to meet and briefly work with Maynard Bray, who wrote the introduction for the book. Maynard has a long history with WoodenBoat Magazine and with Mystic Seaport. He is also one of the key figures between Off Center Harbor, a video website and collection of blog posts from some of the more influential sailors, writers, and boatbuilders from this part of the world.

When I took on this project, I did not realize how confused some of our own records at the Friendship Sloop Society were, nor did I fully appreciate how entwined the history of these sloops is with the local history of small towns up and down the Maine coast. We had terrific and generous help from Ben Fuller and Kevin Johnson at the Penobscot Marine Museum. Frankly, without their help I am not sure we would have ever untangled the origins of certain photographs. But we also had help from librarians, town historians, and many members of the Friendship Sloop Society. Without their help this book would not have been possible.

I am very relieved to have this project off my desk and am looking forward to getting some of my life back, and I might even have some time to devote to this blog too.

The book is available in soft cover from Amazon, and in hardcover exclusively from the Friendship Sloop Society.

 

 

HMS Unicorn

January 22, 2014

While I have been doing a lot of writing in the last eight months or so, it has been for a book and not this blog. It is time, however, to add to the wooden toy category.

I visited with a six-year-old nephew just after Thanksgiving and he was completely obsessed with building a version of HMS Unicorn from one of the TINTIN books.

Since I was only visiting for a few days, there was not time to even start on this project, but it certainly made it easy to figure out what to make him for his Christmas gift.

This will be mostly a photo post, but here are a few particulars and some of the decisions that I needed to make.

First, it appears that the Unicorn in the books is a frigate, a 38, if I remember correctly, and that would be both too much work and too big a toy. So, I went with a 14 gun brig—essentially a sloop of war. This allowed me to keep the scale appropriate for small hands to play with and also make this a project that was manageable over a three-week period.

As I have said before on this site, I like to sketch out ideas in scale and work from there.

Another consideration is that no matter how careful he is, at some point either my nephew or one of his friends, or siblings is going to drop, knock over, or step on this toy, so it had to be built solidly enough to survive.

Starboard side showing the main chains. The wood for the main chains are mortised in to the side of the hull with the grain running across the center line so they won’t break off.

The wood is poplar, a choice that I have had good luck with over the years, inexpensive, readily available, easy to work, and stable.

The guns for the Unicorn have barrels turned on the lathe of and simple carriages made from a piece of “U” channel stock that I made up. To save time the carriages have no wheels, so I suppose they could be technically carronades.

Guns fresh from the lathe, gun ports, and capstan, which turns.

Carronades

I was concerned with the possibility of the masts getting broken off, so the masts are made of thick hardwood dowels and much thought went into how to stay the masts to support them.

In the end I chose to go with the most obvious solution, which is basically how they would be stayed on a real vessel. The dead-eyes took the most time to make, but I could not think of a better way to tighten the stays, and once into production mode, took less time than you might think. The lanyards and dead-eyes made it easy to tighten the stays and make the rig very sturdy.

The wheel took a ridiculously large amount of time to make, but is a key feature so I felt it was worth the three hours invested into it.

Helmsman and wheel with the rigging started.

On the other hand, the figurehead took little time and is also a great detail.

Unicorn has anchors that may be fished and catted over the rail or deployed.

Anchors fished and catted

The rigging took about seven hours spread over a week of evenings and two long sessions in the shop over a weekend.

Sails were made from an old pillowcase that had just the right amount of wear and yellowing to look like canvas. The edges of the sails were sewn so that they would not fray and to make  them less likely to tear, the vertical seams were drawn with a pencil and straight-edge. The actual cutting and stitching of the sails only took a few hours, but bending them on was a more involved task and took more time.

I chose to leave off most of the sheets so that it would be easier for small hands to reach in and play with objects on the deck. Only the masts are rigidly attached to the hull, all other spars are lashed to eyebolts so that they can move. This has two advantages, one being that sails can be trimmed to approximate tacking, running, and heaving-to, the other is that if dropped, or knocked down, the spars and sails twist and move rather than break and tear.

Unicorn caries a compliment of two officers and four crew members, all bears. These pictures were taken before the crew had been varnished.

Lieutenant and captain

Hand going aloft

All deck crew have holes drilled in the bottom of their feet so that they can be set on pegs that stick up in strategic places on decks and in the tops. This way crew can be moved around and set on pegs, but don’t fall over when Unicorn moves.

So there you have it, the good sloop Unicorn.

Boat Shed Details

January 3, 2014

A reader requested more specific details for the boat shed that we built in 2000. I have three thumbnails below of the original building plans with materials lists and details on them. If you click on each one you should be brought to a larger image. You can either print those, or blow them up on the screen to read the details.
Happy New Year!

Sailing

August 21, 2013

Although it has been a very full summer, we have been getting the occasional quiet moment. Last weekend we got in some wonderful sailing on our Friendship sloop.

A quick look at some light air sailing…the varnish looks very good in these shots.

We were sailing along when a small motor boat came along and started to take some pictures of us. The woman who will willingly get up in the middle of the night and stand anchor watch, flagged them down and got a lift so she could take some pictures of our boat, something we almost never get to do because we are sailing the boat.

I will repeat, very light air sailing, but still a lovely sight with all her kites set.

Summer 2013

August 5, 2013

Where has the time gone?

In the last post, way back in April I was explaining how we had refinished the gaff for our Friendship sloop.

Finished Gaff

Well we got that done, and then went on to do the annual scraping, sanding, and painting and varnishing.

Spring Painting

While this was going on I tracked down and bought a used trailer for the Penny Fee and refurbished that. We had been using the spar trailer to move the Penny Fee, but it is rally too small and was stressing both the trailer and the boat.

Next I installed a pump in the Penny Fee so that when we return to the boat after a week of rain we don’t have to bail.

Finally we got to launch the fleet in mid-June.

We got in two short weekend cruises before things got into full swing. The weather on one of those weekends was simply fog. Although we did get out we ended up sailing the Penny Fee more than the sloop. The other weekend, the one following the 4th of July was ridiculously hot, but it was not without its moments. We did some sailing and some swimming off the boat and while cooling off we watched large power boat run right up on a well charted ledge in broad daylight right in front of the US Coast Guard station. We could not believe our eyes, but at least we were not bored.

Oops

In mid-July we headed out to spend some serious time on the water. First we drove to Southwest Harbor, Maine to crew in the Friendship sloop rendezvous there.

Start of the Southwest Harbor race

Great time, lots of fun people and beautiful boats.

Friendship Sloops in Southwest Harbor

Southwest Harbor Race

More from Southwest Harbor

 

Eden at Southwest Harbor

Next, on to Boothbay to pick up our boat and head to Rockland for the annual Friendship sloop gathering there. We had some fantastic sailing getting there, but once there it was just too hot.

Us running downwind to Rockland. At this point the camera broke and we were only able to take pictures without a viewfinder or screen.

Then off to spend a night in Rockport, Maine, followed by a lovely sail down East Penobscot Bay surrounded by ten schooners and a ketch, followed by several days on the Eggemoggin Reach before heading west again.

Hegira in Pulpit Harbor

All in all a fun cruise but exhausting, and now we are back to our jobs and trying to catch up.

The Main Gaff

April 26, 2013

The spar that is.

After twelve seasons of using, living with, and working on our Friendship sloop, we started off this year with only one spar that we had never refurbished, and that is the gaff for the main sail. I had slapped a little varnish on it once, but basically it has been without maintenance since we became the caretakers for this vessel in 2000. It was time to pay attention to this important spar.  On surveying the spar, we found that although the condition of the wood was generally good, the finish had disintegrated, and the service on the slings and horse were overdue for attention.

Gaff before work started

If you look at these pictures you will see that the wood is just starting to degrade where the finish is gone and that the service is worn and in need of repair and that the blacking is essentially gone.

Wear on the gaff

Service in need of attention

 

We have been working for the last month to make-and-mend the needs of the gaff.

We removed the slings and the hardware from the gall and then stripped the finish to bare wood.

Gaff stripped of varnish

Next we faired the spar and gave it an even closer examination. All of the questionable areas disappeared with the removal of what finish was left and with the fairing process.

Thus we started the two pronged process of re-finishing the gaff itself and repairing and refurbishing the service on slings and horse.

Starting to re-varnish the gaff

Refinished service

The same section of the gaff shown above after we started the refinishing process

 

One of the things that I noticed when I first surveyed the spar was that the service on the slings was wearing into the finish and resulting in damage to the surface wood where the weight of the spar was carried by the slings. We decided that the best way to protect both service and gaff was to leather the service where it makes contact with the spar.

Leathering is sometimes dismissed as overly “yachty”, but where bights of standing rigging make contact with any spar, I have found that leathering extends the life of the finish on the spar and on the service significantly. It is also an easy, clean and meditative chore that I don’t mind at all.

Leathering

Finished sling

 

We are working on the last coats of varnish now (ten in all) and then we will reassemble the hardware and walk the gaff back out to the boatshed from the shop. By then it should be warm enough to start on the rest of the painting and varnishing for this season.

Wooden Toy Car

April 8, 2013

I have been tied up with a bunch of other projects for the last six months or so and this blog has suffered as a result, but it is time to make up for that. First a toy post:

I have a nephew who just turned six. For some reason he likes old cars. I mean really old cars, as in from the 1920s. So for his birthday he got the touring car below.

The doors and trunk open, and close and the car came with a bear driver and a bear passenger. If you are new to this site you might want to read  “the whole bear thing” for an explanation.

The hood ornament is a bear, and as with the saber jet in the last post, a little acrylic for a windshield adds something to a toy which is otherwise made entirely of wood.

Wooden Toy Saber Jet

February 14, 2013

Well the winter holidays have come and gone again and as usual I have been making toys. I have not written about toy making (or anything else) in a while and I wanted to put up a post or two on this subject.

For me, the hardest part of making toys, and in some ways the best part, is figuring out what to make in the first place. In this case I have a five-year-old nephew who has always got pictures of planes around and before the holidays, he was showing me one of a Saber jet from the 1950s. So that is what I set out to make him.

It is a pretty simple toy. Other than the wheels there are no moving parts, but it does have an interesting shape, and capturing and interesting shape is always a fun challenge in a toy. I want to create toys that a child is drawn to and toys that a child wants to touch and hold. So for me, there is always an element of toy making that is sculptural. I am drawn to shapes that echo those found in nature, and shapes that explain visually the purpose of the object. Put in simpler terms, I like a ship to look like a ship, a toy plane to look like it could really fly, and even a toy fire truck to look like it could rush off at any minute to put out a fire.

Toys that get broken through handling don’t bother me, toys that sit on a shelf and are never used do.

Saber jet

Another challenge is to figure out how much detail to include.  I like to leave some details to the imagination and I like to have some details that balance the shape and texture of the wood.

First ideas for a unit insignia

With toy airplanes I have a lot of fun with insignia. Coming up with nose-art or unit insignia is always a challenge and a fun one. If you have

read my post “the whole bear thing” then you know that most of my toys are flown, driven, or sailed by bears. So with insignia I try to mix in something bear-like, or that a bear would like, and I also usually play with numbers that reflect either the child’s age, or in some cases a birth date.

The finished insignia

In this case the unit is the 5th Ursus, with the constellation ursus major on the tail, and group number VF 56. The child in question is five, thus

the unit number, but he is almost six (which he will tell you given any opportunity) so the unit group designation VF-56.

Mixed mediums. This is basically a wooden toy, and I like my toys to be obviously hand made, however, there are always exceptions that prove the rule. This is one of those exceptions a clear canopy over the cockpit is a key design element of the saber and how it looks. Without one, the plane looks wrong.

I have said many times on this site that it is not a how-to blog. But I thought I would break with that

Vacuum jig

tradition to explain how I mold the plexi for toys. In this case we have a fairly simple “bubble” type of canopy. To get the shape right I use a vacuum jig that I made several years ago. The jig is fairly simple, a small table with a hole in the middle of it is set up and an edge made of self-stick foam insulation is put around the outside edge. In the middle of the table a piece of plastic plumbing pipe with a right angle bend in it is set up like a drain in a sink. Now fold up a piece of old wire window screen and place it over the hole. Add a shopvac, a metal spoon, and you are ready to make a canopy.

Vacuum jig with the plumbing pipe in place

The method is fairly simple, make a wooden mold of what you want the canopy to look like. Make the mold smaller than you want the finished canopy to be in every dimension except height, in this one dimension you want the mold to be taller than the finished cockpit canopy so you can make adjustments.

To make the actual canopy, plug the shopvac into your vacuum table and turn it on so that the

Mold on the vacuum jig and shopvac running

vacuum is pulling air down through the window screen. When you have that set up and running take a piece of plexiglass or acrylic sheeting and using a heat gun or a propane torch slowly heat up the center of the plastic in a well ventilated area. If you have any questions about what kind of gasses might be released by heating the plastic, WEAR A RESPIRATOR.

Vacuum at work

The trick with this method is to heat the plastic slowly, if you heat it too fast, you will get air bubbles in the plastic and it will ruin the canopy, so go slowly, but get the plastic hot, hot enough so that it starts to sag in the middle. When you have got the plastic hot enough that it is sagging in the middle, carefully place the hot plastic over the mold and push down so that you get a seal between the edge of the plastic and the foam rim of the vacuum table. The vacuum will pull the plastic down over the mold. If it does not do a perfect job grab the spoon and use the rounded side of the

The canopy ready to cut out

spoon to push down and help shape the plastic where it is needed. Allow the plastic to cool and cut out the canopy. It is pretty simple, but I would advise getting enough plastic to make several tries in case your first effort does not work out.

I attached this canopy with thickened epoxy because I wanted a smooth transition between the plastic and the wood.

That’s it—end of lesson. Have fun, I certainly did.

The Fleet Is In

September 28, 2012

After what seems like the busiest summer yet, our fleet is home again and we are starting the chores to get all of our boats ready for winter. This includes fresh bottom paint, winterizing the diesel on the Friendship Sloop, cleaning and stowing sails, cushions, pillows, and mattresses, packing up the galley, and most importantly making lists of repairs that need to be done over the winter.

Typically, once the boats are bedded down for winter, they are allowed to rest for at least a couple of months while we focus on the autumn chores  at the cottage,  and then the winter holidays. Come January and February, though, I know I will start thinking about winter boat projects that need to be done before spring-cleaning and painting begins in earnest. Having made a list in the fall saves time and helps push the process along.

When we built the shed it seemed huge—much larger than it needed to be—and I remember wondering if we had not gotten a bit carried away. Now, twelve years later, part of the autumnal ritual of putting the boats to bed is the process of figuring out how to get everything into the building and still leave enough room to move around.

I know I will enjoy puttering on projects in the boat shed over the next six months, almost as much as I enjoy being on the water. And there is something very satisfying about putting all the bits and pieces away, making sure everything is tagged or labeled, sometimes adding a shelf or box somewhere in the shed so that another piece of gear can have a better place to winter over. Like stacking firewood, the process of putting things away, brings a sense of order to what is usually a frantic end-of-season rush, and a knowledge that I will benefit later from the work I do now.

For the moment though I am taking a deep breath and savoring the fact that the boats ate all back safe and sound in the boat shed.

The leaves have begun to change colors, the equinox has come and gone, the boats are in the shed: autumn is here.


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