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-part 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.

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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!”

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!