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!”

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.