Sailing Fee-Fi: Part 2

September 11, 2018

We are members of the Traditional Small Craft Association, a really interesting group for anyone interested in small boats. Our focus for the last couple of decades has really been with larger boats, but this year we decided to try something different and signed up for the Small Reach Regatta. For those not familiar with the SRR, it is not a regatta but more of a Maine take on the small boat “raids” that are so popular in Europe. Many small boats get together and decide on a destination for the day determined by weather and the size of the fleet, then sail, row, or paddle to that destination for lunch on a beach and return to the starting point after lunch and social time on the beach. The social time is continued at the campground used as a base for the fleet at the end of the day.

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Pond Island lunch stop.

We thought it would be fun to bring Fee-Fi to the event and sail her with the fleet, and despite one rain day and two that included some fog, it was a lot of fun. The array of different small craft was amazing, a totally different experience to watching a fleet of sailboats that are all of the same class, this was more like stepping back in time when sail or oar were the only means of propulsion for small boats.

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Fee-Fi in the 2018 SRR.

The event was great fun and challenging since, though Fee-Fi has always provided basic launch service under oar or sail for us and our Friendship sloop, we had not used her before as our main mode of transport over distance. It was a different experience and a really enjoyable one.

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Some of the fleet heading to Naskeag Point.

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Naskeag Point at the edge of the fog.

For us, anyway, mingling with other small boat sailors was almost as much fun as the actual sailing.

The three day event was sponsored by the Down East Chapter of the TSCA who did a terrific job as hosts despite the unfavorable weather.

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Sailing Fee-Fi: Part 1

September 6, 2018

I have not followed up in a while with developments with our sailing tender Fee-Fi the Penny Fee design that we built to move us to and from the Friendship sloop, but she has gotten a lot of use in the last six seasons.

As I have written before on this site, both the rig and the interior layout are departures from the excellent set of plans provided, by Iain Oughtred, but we needed a simple, self contained boat to serve as launch and tender with as few spars and odds and ends to clutter the boat as we could manage. So we made changes that allow us to keep safety gear on the boat at all times and still allow us the maximum amount of room for cargo and passengers. I think she might go to weather slightly better with the yawl rig suggested in the plans, however, we needed closed storage aft where the mizzen would have been and that would have meant more spars and more pieces.

The big advantage to the sprit rig is that the sail can be furled by one long pull on the brailing line. The brailing line collapses and bundles the sprit and sail up against the mast. This allows us to sail right up to the mother ship and furl the sail in one smooth movement with minimal fuss. It also means that should the wind die completely, the sail can be brailed up and we can row without having to strike the sail. Should the wind reappear, we have only to let go the brailing line and we can sail again.

 

Here is a quick video that might give a better idea of what kind of performance we get from her under sail.

 

New Work on the Friendship Sloop

August 8, 2018

This spring presented some real creative challenges for us, mostly related to our Friendship sloop.

Last fall as we got ready to decommission the boat for the season we found ourselves trying to make a rather tough decision; do we pull the engine and have it reconditioned, or do we replace the it?

On the one hand, our 28-year-old engine always starts. In all the years that we have been living with this boat, it has never failed us. On the other hand, it was developing some problems and the time to intervene was now.

I found that I was going back and forth on what to do. I don’t like working on the diesel, it is about the only thing about working on the boat that I don’t take much satisfaction in, my strengths do not include being a diesel mechanic, so rebuilding, or reconditioning this engine would mean pulling the engine to have a professional do the work. So why is that such a stumbling block? In the first place expense. The cost to have the engine professionally reconditioned is almost half the cost of a new engine. In the second place, where would that get us? We would, in a best-case scenario have an engine that is in better shape, but is still 28-years-old and which has always been underpowered for a boat that displaces almost eleven tons. That second part is key, if you are just going to use the engine to get off the mooring or through a crowded harbor, or when the wind dies, then this is no big deal, but we love to cruise, and have been in many situations where unexpected weather conditions meant that we needed a reliable engine powerful enough to help us get out of harms way. Several close calls in the last few seasons made us realize that our old engine was operating at the very extreme edge of its capabilities. Between us, the woman who will willingly get up in the middle of the night and stand an anchor watch, and I, have more than eighty years sailing experience. You don’t acquire that kind of experience without becoming acutely sensitive to where the edge is, and when you are too close to it, and we were too close to it.

So that would seem to point us in the direction of replacing the engine, except that as I said above, I don’t like working on diesels, and at least I know our old motor, I know what is likely to go wrong and how to fix it. I have spare parts on board and the appropriate tools on board, and there is a lot of comfort in that. A new engine would mean getting to know a new power plant and perhaps having to reconfigure systems around the new engine, what would that involve?

While the choice seemed obvious, the unknown factors were making me very uncomfortable.

Last fall I started to research the answers to as many of those questions as I could. I talked with representatives of just about every manufacturer of marine diesels; I got specs on multiple engines, talked to mechanics, and spent a lot of time in the engine room of the boat measuring. Mostly I asked a lot of questions and listened to the answers.

By midwinter only three things were really clear, one was that we could indeed purchase a new diesel that was physically about the same size as the old, but that had greater horsepower. Second was that if we were going to get the most out of a new motor then a new propeller, matched to the size of the engine, the size and shape of the boat and which would, in turn determine which reduction ratio for the transmission would be needed as well. And third, that I really could not determine how many other things, like the exhaust system, or engine beds, would have to be upgraded until we made the commitment to one particular make of engine.

We began to narrow the field.

As we asked more and more specific questions the answers we got kept bringing us back to Beta Marine. While the package that they suggested was not the least expensive that we looked at, it was the most complete and would require the least number of modifications to the boat as a whole. We would need to replace the waterlock muffler, build and mount a new containment box for the engine start up panel and gauges, and it was clear we would have to move the electrical panel. None of these were, by themselves, that big a job, however, if we were going to go ahead with this then it made no sense to keep the old engine control levers which were completely worn out. With a new engine and new controls it did not make a lot of sense to keep the old control cables, so they would be replaced too. And since we were pulling the old prop and the old coupling, then removing the propeller shaft to change the cutlass bearing also made sense.

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The old engine panel

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Opening up the cockpit to install the new engine panel box and remove a few soft planks at the same time.

 

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New engine box for the new panel.

As is often the case with a project like this, several jobs that I thought were going to be major hassles proved fairly easy; the engine beds for example. I worried about this a lot, but in the end it turned out that modifications were simple and quickly accomplished. The alignment was another thing I was worried about that went easily and with far less complication than I have run into in the past. On the other hand a lot of seemingly little jobs that looked easy turned into major epics. I ended up having to machine connectors for the new control levers and in the process of moving the electrical panel; it became clear that a number of connectors and wires needed replacing. All of this stuff takes time, especially when you realize to move forward you have to stop what you are working on, figure out where you are going to get a part, or parts, then wait for it to arrive. Once back to work, that is when I would discover that there were other parts I should have ordered too.

I won’t go into those epics save to say that it is the details that will kill you.

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Engine beds modified to fit the new engine.

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New Beta Marine 38 in place.

We have been using the engine now for almost two months and so far, touch wood, it has worked flawlessly. It is slightly larger physically than the old Westerbeke, which required a new engine cover, which also required some creative re-working of our companionway steps. However, I was able to make the box that covers the engine out of lighter materials and that makes it less of a chore to get to the engine.

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New engine box (minus trim). Note the electrical panel has been moved up and into a box for easy access.

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You can see here the modification we needed to make to the companionway ladder to fit the new engine box. The new engine is slightly longer than the old, and I wanted plenty of ventilation around the motor. You can also get a little closer view of the box for the electrical panel and the piano hinge along the bottom edge.

Also, when we moved the electrical panel we created a box for the panel with a hinged front. In the past if there was a bad connection in the panel, or a wire needed replacing, I had to crawl into the engine room and work directly over the engine where there was little space and it was hard to get at the back side of the panel. The new arrangement allows me to loosen two screws and the front of the panel folds down into the main cabin where there is light and easy access.

The whole project consumed more than five weeks of spare time, but we feel more comfortable on the water when conditions deteriorate (and they have already several time this season). Working with Stan at Beta Marine U.S. was easy and they were very helpful when we had questions. Later in the summer we will work on finding a new home for the old Westerbeke, but for now we are enjoying the improvements to our systems and to the engine operation.

 

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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

Marine Paint Part 3

March 7, 2017

The lead is gone….

It is March, and that means that the process of preparing for the next boating season has already begun. It is in February and March that I start ordering materials and looking at the work that needs to be done before the boat(s) go back into the water. I have written about this before, but I wanted to write an update on this subject of yearly maintenance because I got a nice comment from one of the Kirby’s regarding their paint.

I wrote in Marine paint part 1 about why I like Kirby paint, (you can read more here) but I commented that it contains lead. It turns out that Kirby paint has not contained lead for over twenty years. They still put warnings on the cans because sanding old paint that might have lead in it can still present a health hazard.

It is great to know that there is one less toxic hazard to face when preparing for another season.

One of the things that I like about wooden boats is that when they are looked after and well maintained, they can last and incredibly long time. We have several friends who own Friendship sloops that are over one hundred years old, those boats are still sailing and are still in good shape.

The key phrase there is “looked after and well maintained”, maintenance that is messy, 8px910qlhbe7m81y94ijvlkj93ohojkeinvolves dangerous chemicals, or results in cleanup of toxic ingredients are typically the first things to get dropped from a maintenance schedule because they are too much of a pain. And few things are more discouraging than doing all the hard work of sanding, fairing, cleaning and tacking and then applying paint, only to have that paint not hold up to the environment, fade, or peel.

A wooden boat is a living thing, and like all living things they require regular care and when a problem develops that might affect the health of the boat, it needs to be dealt with or the boat will start down the road to the burn pile. But it is getting harder to find good quality wood and good reliable products to care for a wooden boat. Good paint that gives consistent results and that does not change its formula or color chart can be even harder to find, but good quality paint is also critical, it provides an absolutely vital barrier to the elements and contributes to the longevity of a wooden boat.

As I have said before on this blog, I like Kirby’s paint, we have used it on our boat now for sixteen seasons and are pleased with the results, and now that we know that it does not contain lead, we like it even more.

 

Toy Castle

January 11, 2017

This wooden castle is another in a long line of wooden toys built for nephews and nieces. This one is for a nine-year-old for Christmas. The big challenges for this one were that first, it needed to have a fairly small footprint and second, I wanted to be sure that small hands could access every part of it.

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The solutions were to go more vertical to keep the footprint size small, and to have walls in several places that swing out on hinges to allow access to the inner-sanctum and the keep in particular.

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castle closed from the side

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castle open from the side

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castle closed from the back

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castle open from the back

…did I mention the dungeon? A good place to keep the domesticated dragons, or prisoners.

Summer 2016

November 16, 2016

Well Labor Day has come and gone and so has Halloween, we pulled the fleet out of the water and started winter layup in September,  a little early this year so we could continue renovations on the cottage that the two tortoiseshell cats own.

First a word about sailing this summer; wind.

The summer of 2015 was a light air summer, as a result we got very good at setting and striking topsails. By contrast, this year we only set topsails twice all summer. We joined four other Friendships, a Marconi sloop and a lobster yacht for a two week cruise in July and never needed diesel, and never even topped up the main tank from our reserve tanks. It was a fantastic cruise with good company, good cheer, and great sailing.

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Sailing in the company of Friendships.

Not only was there wind but also we were incredibly lucky in that we had predominantly fair winds. We had one rough day of high winds and big seas getting into Southwest Harbor on MDI. And there were two days on our cruise when the winds blew 25-30 kts, and not from a favorable direction, but we spent those two days tucked up snugly in a hurricane hole, hiking, reading, and relaxing, and those days proved to be among the most relaxing of the trip.

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Moonrise in a hurricane hole.

We spent the last few days of our cruise in Rockland at the annual Friendship Sloop Homecoming and gathering.

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Friendship sloops in Rockland 2016

We had a great time gathering with other Friendship sloop owners and fans in Rockland.

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At the dock in Rockland, I don’t know why John is staying on the dock…

While we were in Rockland we also had a chance to take some of our extended family sailing. There were so many of them they had to come sailing in shifts.

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Sailing with family…do I look worried?

After returning from our cruise we had another six weeks of weekend cruises, some of them extended weekend cruises, and great sailing.

The winds were so consistent and fair, that we did not get out to sail our tender, Fee-Fi nearly as often as last year since we never wanted to miss a chance to take out the Friendship.But even there, when the time came to pull Fee-Fi out of the water, we managed to sail to the take-out ramp in two long tacks, which was a delight since it is usually an hour of hard rowing.

Our lives have been so very full this last year or so that at times we wonder if it makes sense for us to dedicate so much of our time and energy to our wooden classic, but we saw so many beautiful boats, and old and new friends on the water and our summer was so rich an fulfilling that we mostly feel fortunate and grateful for what we have and what we are able to share.

A long overdue update:

September 6, 2016

The last post was about children’s gifts for Christmas 2014, since then a lot has been going on.

2015

First the fleet; we built a new sail for the launch and finished a new solid mast for the Penny Fee the winter of 2015. Both worked out well until we cracked the new mast at the partners (on one of the last weekends of the season). It would appear that a flaw in the wood and the smallness of the opening in the deck combined in the worst possible way. So this spring we built a new mast (our third) and redesigned both the foredeck and mast step. So far the results have been good.

Our Friendship sloop also got some attention in the spring of 2015. In addition to the usual painting and maintenance, we had discovered rot in the covering boards over the transom. This is an area known to have problems in any boat with an elliptical transom so we were not overly surprised. The actual rot was not very extensive and limited to the covering boards themselves where the end grain was most exposed to the elements. The new white oak for the replacement covering boards was not too costly, but the work dictated the removal of the toe-rails aft and the bulwarks which was both time consuming and a little painful since both jobs involved removing sound wood that looked great and would only have to be put back together later. This is the kind of job that I am not fond of since when you are done, if you have done a proper job, no one will know that you have done anything at all…well our surveyor knows since he got a look at the finished job, and I guess that’s a good thing.

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New covering boards

Anyway the fleet went into the water in mid June.

While we were working on the fleet we were also setting in motion a building campaign that has been in the planning stages for five years.

The cottage where the woman who will willingly get up in the middle of the night and take the anchor watch and I live and that is owned by the two tortoiseshell cats has been in sore need of attention for some time. Difficult to heat, limited in space, poorly insulated, and with dodgy plumbing, it is nonetheless a beautiful old classic cottage dating from the late 18th century. In fact it is one of the oldest houses in the area. We have been working on a design that would allow us to add some space, replace plumbing, and some wiring, as well as better insulate and add both a soapstone heater, and new wood stove.

We started this project in the spring of 2015 knowing that the summer would be too busy to commit much time to the project (we were right about that) but, being in the mountains of New Hampshire, there is never a good way to know what will happen when you start digging for a new foundation, even a small one. If we hit solid granite we knew we would need time to reconsider the design, thus we broke ground a full three months before we actually intended to start construction.

Fortunately, we did not hit ledge and things went so smoothly (despite busted water main) that we were able to get the foundation and the new septic line in and finished before the summer really got going.

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Foundation in and covered for summer

With the new foundation in the ground and covered with a tarp, the boats splashed and we made ready for a cruise to Mount Desert Island and back with friends.
Two weeks in July that were a total time out. We cruised with three other Friendships and a retired commodore who had owned two Friendships himself but has now progressed to a handsome lobster yacht, much easier to manage for an older solo mariner.

Pretty much everywhere we went we met with warm welcomes and safe moorings or dockage.

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In September the building project got underway in earnest and has dominated our lives since then. The actual addition went up quite quickly, but since we were doing almost all the work ourselves, it was also exhausting. We were under cover and closed in from the weather by the beginning of November, and then shifted to working on interior spaces.

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We spent most of the winter learning to use the new soapstone Tulikivi heater. Thankfully we had some expert help with that.

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2016

As we entered 2016 we were still working on interior construction of the addition, as well as replacing some worn out furniture. A new dining table of white oak, some built in benches, and at least the start of more cabinets to augment the minimal kitchen storage that we have.

The boat projects this spring included the replacing of a bulkhead that had been getting soft in the cockpit, and the mounting of a bronze windlass that should make retrieving the anchor easier. There was also the yearly painting, varnishing, and bottom paint.

We put the fleet in the water about a week earlier than usual, and between keeping the fleet up to scratch and working on the cottage it has left time for little else….

Boats for HMS Unicorn

January 9, 2015

A year ago when I built the toy ship HMS Unicorn for one of my nephews, I did not know how well it would survive either the interest or the rough handling of a seven-year-old. As it turns out, the Unicorn is still much adored and other than the loss of the horn of the figurehead and the unraveling of one of the anchor rodes, it has survived and is in excellent shape. When I saw the nephew in question early in December he brought out the Unicorn and began to ask all kinds of questions about how 18th Century ships functioned. As we talked it became very clear that HMS Unicorn was in desperate need of ships boats.

“Cutting out expeditions” need ships boats, that house is full of wooden toy ships just begging to be cut out. The sailors need to be able to get to and from the shore, the crew of bears aboard Unicorn has not had shore leave in a year…anyway, it was time to remedy the situation.

As with almost all the toys I make I started with rough sketches drawn to actual size and then shaped the hulls for the ships cutter and jolly boat based on those sketches.

The boats themselves were not that challenging to make, but the crews took a little time. Templates helped speed up the repetitive process of carving the crews for both boats.

The idea was to have each rower positioned such that an oar could either be shipped with the loom in the rowing position,

or the oar could be removed and set in the “oars up” position for coming along side.

The cutter has an officer and coxswain and the jolly boat has a midshipmen in charge. “Away all boats!”