Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Another illustrated project….

November 29, 2017

I was fortunate to fall into another book project this summer. A friend whose job concerns assessing risk and who is also a mountaineer, became interested in the death of mountaineer Kate Matrosova in 2015. She was fit, had mountaineering experience, and was appropriately equipped, yet died of exposure in an attempted February traverse of the Presidential range in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

My friend, Ty, wanted to use what we know about Kate’s last climb in a presentation as an analogy to look at how all of us asses risk and make decisions. The presentation was so successful that he asked me if he could hire me to illustrate parts of Kate’s narrative to make the visual parts of the presentation more accessible. The illustrations were challenging. Finding the balance between wanting accurately show what we know about her journey, while maintaining a level of respect for her and her family meant that each illustration caused me to ask myself; okay, how am I going to do this one?

The success of the presentation led to the writing of a book; Where You’ll Find Me, Risk, Decisions, and the uybpw4tkd2dw25s36ugcp0t9klm9hz24Last Climb of Kate Matrosova.

The book required more illustrations as well as maps, which were again a different kind of challenge since the goal for the maps was not just to show on a map where things were but to also give a sense of the kind of terrain to the reader who might not be familiar with the White Mountains, or mountaineering. I enjoyed the project and have been delighted at how well the book has been received.


In illustration from the book.

If you know someone who hikes or enjoys mountaineering, this might well be a book that they would be interested in.

Summer 2017

November 14, 2017

Yes another boating season has come and gone. The spring prep season went by too fast with a lot of painting and varnishing on the Friendship sloop and an new rudder for the sailing-launch, Fee-Fi. We also managed to do some long overdue work on the dinghy, Fo-Fum, including replacing the oak bench that was fast rotting out with a new bench of Spanish cedar (interestingly Spanish cedar is not actually cedar, nor does it come from Spain).

The spring launch went about as smoothly as it ever does with perfect weather and we had two whole weekends to bend on the sails and remember which end of the boat is the front bit before setting sail for our two weeks cruise to MDI (Mount Desert Island). We were supposed to be cruising with a small fleet of Friendships, but since everyone on the other boats is now retired, they no longer look at calendars, and so missed us by a week. We did our best to catch up, putting in 35-mile days despite very unstable winds and weather. We were just entering the Fox Island Thoroughfare when we identified a good friend taking our picture from an immaculate classic powerboat. We waved and continued on, perhaps a mistake (the continuing on part, not the waving) since we got overpowered by strong winds just off Isle Au Haut and had to run for cover in Merchants Row. Once we were safely anchored, the weather lightened up and turned into a perfect Maine evening.


The photo taken of us by a good friend as we entered the Fox Island passage


Perfect Maine evening

The next day we got underway and saw our friends in the distance heading for Blue Hill. We were about two hours behind them but we needed to get to Southwest Harbor before the forecast poor weather set in. All went well until we made the turn into Western Way and entered into the “washing machine” that can happen when tide and wind are in opposition, the weather is disintegrating, and very large powerboats decide it would be fun to see how closely they can pass the big Friendship sloop. To make matters worse, with a building following sea, Fee-Fi decided this might be a good time to come aboard for a visit. I spent the next forty minutes trying to discourage her attempts to visit us while the woman who will willingly get up in the middle of the night and stand anchor watch clung to the wheel, white knuckled, dodging wave, rock, and incoming and outgoing traffic.

We picked up a mooring at the harbor entranced and were endlessly rolled by harbor traffic. I called friend who has a brokerage in Southwest and asked for advice about a better mooring. Several phone calls later she had arraigned for boats to be moved so she could put us on her guest mooring, a typically gracious act by a truly gracious lady.


Our host’s boat in Southwest Harbor, OLD BALDY

We spent the next day ashore catching up with family and friends and then sailed up Somes Sound for Somesville, where we had a spectacular sail and of course the wind suddenly built with us over-canvassed and having to jibe, not the best jibe, but no one was hurt, and we made it into Somesville without further incident. About two hours later the Friendships that we had been trying to catch up to sailed in and moored nearby. That night we were host boat to cocktails and long tales.

Back to Southwest in the rain to pick up another crewmember who had flown in from South America via Boston and then the next day was the Southwest Harbor Friendship Sloop Rendezvous, a scratch race (I use the term “race” loosely) made up of however many Friendship sloops show up. This year there were sixteen sloops and very light air with some overcast for the start and gradual clearing as the “race” progressed. It was such light air that the course was simply a reach out to a single buoy and back—I think we can do this!


Us getting ready to set the topsails before the “race”. Photo By Paula Dowsland

We made little attempt at getting a good starting position, crossed the line in the middle of the fleet and ended the race in the middle of the fleet and that is the way I like it, too far in front and you have to know where you are going and care about that, too far in the rear and you miss the start of the after-party.


Another great photo by Paula Dowsland. That’s us in the middle, all the kites set.

The day was now clearing and for some reason we all still had a little wind, while the big local fleet of more regular racers were becalmed in the distance. So we all kept sailing in company and had a delightful afternoon. The after-party hosted by a generous local sloop owner was a delight with many old friends and several new ones as well.

There is much more that I could write about Southwest, but it all come down to the triad of summer in Maine, fog, lobster, and good company.

We stopped off in Rockland for a night on our way back west, and once again met up with many Friendship sloop owners, before heading out into some disintegrating weather to make our way back to our home mooring. When we got there we were feeling pretty beat up and spent most of August and early September sailing off the mooring and only doing one overnight away. This was partly weather driven since we too often saw winds build rapidly out of nothing and did not want to be caught on an anchor in a less than perfect spot, and partly because our mooring is in a quiet location that is well protected. We sleep better at night knowing that we are on the home mooring and what to expect for protection from the weather. Despite not cruising, we sailed every weekend save one, and on four occasions saw whales along with the usual harbor porpoise. So all in all, some beautiful sailing this summer and much of it in our own back yard so-to-speak.


The fleet is now put away and ready for winter and work continues on out cottage renovation, a new book is out, (more on that in a future post) and it is time to hunker down for the fall—firewood, winter reading, and planning future sailing adventures.

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.

New Boat Part 17

April 6, 2012

Centerboard trunk and more on the interior details.

In our last exciting episode we were struggling with seat supports and gearing up for multiple coats of paint on the interior surfaces of the centerboard trunk. Since then we gave the interior of the centerboard trunk two coats of epoxy-paint-primer, three coats of topcoat, and three coats of antifouling paint. While we were painting we primed the sheer strake and the outwale of the boat and got the exterior of the boat ready for its final coats of paint.

Two halves of the centerboard trunk in foreground and the Penny Fee in the background


While paint drying we started to fit the blocking for the oarlocks. We had bought the actual oarlocks a year ago on sale, and now it was time fit them into the gunwales. Once they have been fitted we will leave them in place right up until the interior painting of the boat. They will be removed for this step and then will be bedded in marine bedding compound and permanently installed.

Blocking for oarlocks

Oarlock in place

With interior of the trunk painted we glued the two halves together and got the trunk ready for installation. The centerboard trunk, as is always the case in small boats of this nature, has taken a lot of time and work to complete, but this is also the part of the boat that is most likely to cause problems if it is not completed carefully.

Centerboard trunk glued together

Because of the placement of one of the floor timbers cut into the aft end of the centerboard trunk, and because the base of the trunk is the same width as the keelson, the alignment of the trunk during installation is easy. What is not easy is dealing with the squeeze-out of epoxy inside the trunk as it is secured. You see, you need to be able to get under the boat and reach up inside the centerboard slot to clean this out, and you can’t do that while the boat is sitting on the boat table. However,  when I decided to go with the table method of building the boat,  was aware that this issue would arise and my plan has to do with the fact that the tabletop is made using two pieces of plywood. The plan was to unscrew the two pieces from the frame and separate them leaving a space big enough to get under the boat and reach up and clean off the squeeze-out in the centerboard slot. This method worked pretty well and the process of shifting the boat made me again appreciate the lightness of the vessel.

Opening in the boat table

With centerboard trunk in place, we continued to work on the interior of the boat. The forward bulkhead with the framed opening for the hatch that will eventually go there was glued into place. We also measured out and cut the two seats that run crosswise in the boat. These were fairly easy projects.

Centerboard trunk in place

Rowing benches and fwd bulkhead

More difficult was the layout for the aft benches. The primary difficulty lay in trying to lay out the pieces of the aft benches so that we could get all of the pieces out of the Spanish Cedar bought for the purpose and not have a lot of waste or have to try and find more.

Starting on the aft benches

While the benches were being fitted I was also making adjustments to where the mast step and mast partners were located.

The Penny Fee plans come with an extraordinary number of options for the rig; lug sloop, lug yawl, gaff rig, gaff yawl—just not the rig we are looking for. All of these rigs have advantages. They are all beautiful, to my eye anyway, and I am sure they all sail well. They are, however, all more complicated than what we are looking for in a sailing launch for our Friendship Sloop.  What we want is something that we can set and strike with as little fuss as possible, has minimal spars, and those spars need to fit comfortably into the boat. After much thought (nearly two years) we have opted to go with our original instincts and chose the sprit rig.

The reasons for this are multiple and are rooted in simplicity. First, we have a loose-footed main. No boom means that the sail can be brailed up against the mast and the boat can be rowed without the need to strike the mast and sail. Second we get away with a mast and sprit that are the same length and shorter than the mast for the lug rig. Third, the sail area and shape of the sprit-sail is almost identical to the lug sloop rig which should result in very little change in performance. The center of effort of the sail is a little bit lower which should make the boat a little stiffer. The center of effort is also a few inches farther forward than on the lug sloop, we will correct for this by slightly adjusting the position of the mast step and partners. If you look at the drawings below; the first one is the lug sloop as drawn as part of the boat plans we bought. The second drawing shows the modification to the sprit rig. You can see yourself the differences and similarities.

Sail plan for the Penny Fee as a lug sloop

Our plan for the sprit rig for the Penny Fee

In essence we have changed little about sail area and placement, but have reduced the number of spars by one and the length of the remaining spars by at least a foot. Lastly, we have chosen a rig that has only three pieces of rigging, a sheet, a halyard, and a line called a snotter. Awesome.

If you would like to read all the posts related to this project together, go to the category at the right called “Penny Fee” and click on it. It will pull all the posts on the penny fee onto one page for you.

New Boat Part 12

May 4, 2011

The last bit of brass half-oval has been bedded and attached to our Penny Fee, the new sailing tender for our Friendship Sloop. Bottom paint has been applied, topsides painted, the boot-top painted, and the outside of the transom has had base coats of varnish.

You can see the brass half oval on the bow in this shot.

Transom has had base coats of varnish, but still needs top coats.

I wanted to point out that many builders would complete the construction of the entire boat before starting the painting. Due to the size of this boat and due to the building schedule, we wanted to minimize the number of times that we had to roll the boat over, therefore we did a thorough painting of the bottom and topsides before rolling the hull. You will notice, however, that we have not painted, or even primed the sheer-strake because that will be easier to work on with the boat right side up, and I want to be able to sight the sheer of the boat in the upright position before we attach the gunwales.

The boot-top.

Unfinished sheer.

All of this has taken a lot of time and energy. At the same time we have begun on the yearly chores that are part of the maintenance schedule for our Friendship sloop. At this time of the year, these chores consist mostly of washing off winter dirt, and prepping surfaces for paint or varnish. There is also the yearly round of checking fire extinguishers, and all the rest of the safety equipment for the boat and the careful inspection of the mechanical systems. This always happens before painting and varnishing because these system checks do not require decent weather.

Anyway, back to the new boat; before we actually roll the hull, a task that will take many hands, we will carefully mark the position of all of the molds on the inside of the hull. In fact, this will be done while the molds are still firmly attached to the builder’s table. The molds are attached to the inside keelson of the boat, but not to the sides. By marking the position of each mold on the inside of the boat at the sheer, we can realign any molds that come adrift in the process of rolling the hull.  There are several reasons for this, one is that we want double check the shape of the hull once it is upright for symmetry and to make sure there is no twist in the hull, and the molds will help with that. Another reason is that as we locate the position of benches, floor timbers, and bulkheads, it will be valuable to have the positions of the molds marked as reference points.

If you would like to read all the posts related to this project together, go to the category at the right called “Penny Fee” and click on it. It will pull all the posts on the penny fee onto one page for you.

Marine Paint Part 1

May 20, 2010

Part of the process of owning a wooden boat is yearly maintenance. I have written about this before on this site, but I have not gotten specific about two fairly big aspects of wooden boat keeping; paint and varnish.

Protecting wood from the weather is a major part of keeping a wooden boat healthy. However, if you have to paint an entire boat every year the amount of work can be overwhelming, even on a small boat. Two ways to make annual painting more manageable are to use high quality paint that will last several seasons, and to get the boat on a rotating painting schedule.

There are a number of good paints on the market, and a number of paints that do not hold up well. The paint you choose will depend on several factors including what you have had good experiences with in the past and what has failed you. What you choose will also reflect what chemicals you are prepared to handle safely. There is a misconception that any idiot with a paintbrush can put on paint, and that this is an area of boat care that does not take any special skill or knowledge. The reality is that painting is not a simple job, and even choosing the right coating for a given part of your boat can be complicated. For example, some paints adhere better than others to certain species of wood. Preparing the surface for paint can be very complicated as well and involves, among other things, thoughtful preparation and a long term plan for limiting your exposure to unhealthy materials and appropriate disposal of paint chips and sawdust.

When we took on the stewardship of our friendship sloop ten years ago, part of our plan was to develop a long-term strategy for the care of the different parts of the boat. The painted parts of the boat are on a three-year rotation. Every part of the boat is carefully assessed and repainted, or at least touched up, every three years. We use several products but the fact that these products perform well for us is no guarantee that they will work as well on someone else’s boat.

Kirby Paint

For paint I have always liked Kirby’s paint made by the George Kirby Jr. Paint Company in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Kirby’s makes a very traditional paint in traditional colors (some of these colors I have not seen anywhere else except museums). I have found that the paint wears very well, and typically, on our boat at least, an area can go three seasons before it needs attention. A couple of caveats; if you have never been taught how to apply paint properly, this may not be the best choice for you; Kirby’s makes a very old fashioned paint, it is very viscous, can need cutting with Penetrol, and takes skill and practice to apply a coat so that you get the finish you want. Having said this I will say that I like the finish I get with Kirby’s and I like the fact that the paint feels like, and smells like the marine paint that I knew as a child. I prefer to apply Kirby’s with a large, round, sash brush. I find it loads and distributes the paint better and brushes out better, than it does with oval or rectangular brushes.  I should also warn readers that Kirby’s paint has lead in it, and if that freaks you out: don’t use it. But the reality is this: every paint has some bad stuff in it, finding out what the risks are and what precautions you need to take is part of responsible maintenance. When I am doing my prepwork, I wear a mask, coveralls and gloves. I use an expensive, but highly efficient dust collection system with sanders, and the paint chips and sanding dust is collected and bagged to go to the hazmat collection day each Fall. For me the extra care I take to limit my exposure to what lead is in the paint and to dispose of the chips is worth it for the longevity of the finish. To be honest I take greater precautions and am more concerned about long-term exposure to many other types of paint that don’t have lead in them, but which can render one unconscious or even do permanent damage from the fumes. Given the toxicity of some of the two part paints that are on the market, I am more comfortable with Kirby’s paint, lead and all.

This is what the paint looked like last fall after four months in the North Atlantic.

There is a trade off with everything. With a wooden boat, your initial expense in the purchase price may be much lower than with a fiberglass boat, but you are committing yourself to either a larger annual maintenance budget, or to a lifestyle where you collect information about types of paint, the proper disposal of paint waste, and a lifestyle that revolves around good painting weather.

Marine Diesel

May 10, 2010

The engine is back in our friendship sloop, and more importantly the engine mounts have been replaced and the engine space reorganized.  If you look at the before and after pictures below, you can see the difference fairly clearly.

Engine and engine space before the overhaul.

After overhaul (ignore the extension cord in the foreground).

Note for example that in the before picture you cannot even see the stuffing box. Imagine trying to put a wrench on it. The other thing that is clear (aside from the TLC that the motor needed in the first place) is that the old engine mounts were in pretty bad shape.

I cannot say that the engine re-installation went flawlessly. The replacement of the engine mounts required that the holes in the engine beds be filled in and that we start with a fresh slate. With mounts attached to the engine, but not to the engine bed, I did an alignment with the prop shaft. When I go it as close as I could, I spray-painted the feet of the engine mounts so that there would be an outline of the mounts on the engine bed. I let this dry overnight, and then to be extra sure I traced the holes on the newly sanded and painted engine bed. With the engine once more lifted out-of-the-way I drilled new holes in the engine bed, lowered the engine back into place and started the process of bolting down the new engine mounts and once again aligning the engine. The alignment will have to be checked when the boat is back in the water, but right now the alignment is better than it has been in ten years.

After all the work on the engine and the engine space, I was extremely let down when I could not restart the motor. It turned over perfectly and in fact ran perfectly until you let out the preheat button, which instantly shut off the motor. I put on my thinking cap and went through the systems mentally; I knew I had good compression, and the system was shutting down as though one of the built-in shutdown switches indicated either a bad water pump, bad oil pressure, or problem with the solenoid. But I was also confident that these were all good. It was a puzzlement. I decided the best plan was to go eat lunch and review the whole engine installation process before I went any further.

After lunch, while reading over engine manuals and searching engine forums on-line, I had a mild epiphany; I had removed the engine fire suppression tank to have it checked along with the fire extinguishers and I had not re-installed it yet. I went back down to the  boat shed, plugged the tank back in, and the engine fired on the first try. It ran smoother than it has in ten years. You would think I would have figured it out sooner, those wires had been hanging down and hitting me in the face continually over the last two weeks while I was working in the engine space…of well live and learn. On to things a little less  technical—paint and varnish.

The New Boat Part 4

April 19, 2010

In the last post I mentioned cutting out the planks for the new boat. The simplest way to do this looks like it would be to cut the tabs with a handsaw and then plane the remaining tab smooth. Because the tabs are less than full thickness, and because I already own a good router, we opted to use the router with a 3/8” flush trimming bit. The cutting out of the planks went very fast.

Router with flush trimming bit

We have started the process of scarfing the ends of planks that will be joined. For that task hand-planes seem to work very well.  We use several sizes and angles of plane to first rough out the scarf and then finish it off. The only things they have in common is that we keep them all very sharp.

Cutting the scarf on the plank ends.

Once the scarfs are cut the pieces are lined up and glued together. It is better to take off too much wood on the scarf than to take off too little. Too much wood removed will easily fill with a mix of epoxy and filleting compound. Too little wood removed and you either distort the shape of the plank by elongating it, or you end up with a ridge at the joint.

The scarf joint

One of the big advantages to a kit is that the pieces of the planks are not only cut and measured to shape, which save enormous amounts of time, but the pieces of each plank are designed so that the joints can be aligned for gluing using a process that involves a string and some finish nails. I won’t describe the process here, save to say that it is relatively easy to do, and again saves time.

Even though the kit has saved us a lot of time, and we are moving along on the process of scarfing and gluing planks. We lost the week that I had set aside to work on this project because the kit was late. Now mid April, and even though it is snowing outside at the moment, we have been shifting gears away from the new boat to the friendship sloop.

The biggest job this year relates to the engine. It was time for the four-year overhaul. I have things set up so that it is relatively easy to pull the 300 pound engine and bring it into the shop where it is mounded on a dolly so that it is easy to move around and work on. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that the engine mounts have become so worn that the need to be replaced. The second is that the systems that surround the engine and are part of the layout of the drive shaft/engine room arrangement have always been a concern of mine. Issues like major hoses and wires that drape over the spinning propeller shaft keep me up at night. For example, the placement of the raw water strainer and hoses, the muffler, and some of the control cables for the motor make it virtually impossible to put a wrench on the stuffing box.

The engine out of the boat for overhaul.

Work in the engine compartment.

We have been spending time addressing these issues because the needs of the friendship take precedence over working on the new boat. It might seem as though the amount of effort to move a water strainer an inch and a half would not be worth the time and energy, but these little adjustment make the difference between an engine room where it is easy to gain access to the different parts and systems, and one where every job is a nightmare. It also gives me a chance to get at, check, and perform maintenance on the parts of the boat that are not normally accessible when the engine is sitting on it’s mounts.

When we have the engine back in place and running, there will be time enough to work on the new boat.

The New Boat

March 10, 2010

After years of talking about it, scheming about it, and thinking about it, we have made a decision; the new tender for our friendship sloop will be a design by Iain Oughtred called the Penny Fee.

One reason why it took so long to come to a decision was that when you start listing what you want out of your next boat (and there is always a next boat) it is almost always the case that items on the list are mutually exclusive. Finding the solution always involves compromise.

In our case we wanted a boat that has a classic look, but does not add significantly to my already extensive yearly boat maintenance. We were drawn to boats of the Whitehall family, and we wanted something with similar looks. The more we looked the more glued clinker plywood looked like a lower maintenance solution than traditional construction.

Next on the list we needed something with more crew and cargo capacity than our current dinghy, which can carry three adults max. Most of the actual Whitehall designs had the same capacity as our glass dinghy. Further, we also wanted a boat that we could comfortably sail as well as row, and yet the Whitehall designs that we looked at that could be modified to sail all fell into the category of a really nice rowboat that you could sail if you did not mind it being crank. Now the last thing we need is a tender-tender (if you follow where I’ve drifted).

The more we discussed our needs the more we realized that what we needed was not a boat to replace our glass dinghy, but a boat that we could sail around on when the friendship was anchored for the day, and a boat that more of us could pile into to go ashore. Further, two of our regular crew are now teenagers who row at their respective schools, so a boat with two rowing positions and two sets of oars became more important. In short we found that we were talking about a larger boat than we had originally thought.

Eventually we realized that we needed a true sailboat that also rows well and is not too heavy. The more I read the more often designer Iain Oughtred’s name came up. I got, and read his excellent book Clinker Plywood Boatbuilding Manual and was impressed by the clarity and detail. I also really like the aesthetic lines of his boats, but at the time I had not met anyone who had built one. I should also say that at the time I was not aware of any of his designs that met all of the criteria that I have listed above.

When the new biography of Iain came out, I ordered a copy. It was an interesting read of a life that has been lived, to a large degree, outside the confines that most people in industrialized countries buy into. More to the point, here was a sailor designer with passion and focus who could comfortably marry traditional lines and proven performance to modern building methods and materials.  Towards the very end of the book the author mentions a design that Iain was working on at the time called the Penny Fee. The description, although brief, was the exact boat we had been looking for.

Before going any further I should say that I am not a novice boat builder and I should also point out that the one thing I never have enough of is time. One of my concerns with taking on a project like the new tender has been the amount of time required to build a boat. The two parts that had me the most concerned were finding a source of plywood and the actual process of spiling planks, that is the process of figuring out the odd, sometimes bizarre shape of a plank in two dimensions so that when it is twisted and bent into three dimensions it looks straight smooth and sweet. I have done enough spiling to know how time consuming it is, and although enjoyable, it one of those skills that I have already proven I can do and do not need to prove again. It was therefore with some interest that I read that kits were available in several types for many of Iain’s designs.

I started doing some research on line, and it turns out that Jordan Boats, located in Scotland and purveyor of Oughtred designs, has a partial kit. In it are the planks, cut by precision router and the forms for building the boat along with detailed materials lists and hardware lists; this sounded perfect. More research, some emails across the pond, and I found myself talking with Alec Jordan of Jordan boats. Budget is an issue, and shipping from Scotland would not be realistic, however, Jordan boats works with several kit production companies, and one is nearby in Maine.

Without too much further discussion we ordered a kit. It is on the way and I will be chronicling our progress on this site. I have already begun the next and perhaps most ugly step in this whole process: clearing out enough space in the shop to build the thing.

More Toy Boats

January 5, 2010

In keeping with the last post, and now that Christmas is over, here are a couple more toy boats. The destroyer is based on the old four-stack model that preceded World War II and is roughly in the same scale as the PT boat from the last post. As with the PT Boat it has a crew of bears.

This arc was made for a younger nephew. It is made of oak with a poplar house and decks.