Posts Tagged ‘wooden boats’

Late Summer sail

February 15, 2019

It is a snowy February afternoon and I thought I would post this video of one of our last sails of 2018 taken by the woman who will willingly get up in the middle of the night and stand an anchor watch.

When she is trimmed properly, the boat pretty much sails herself, as is perhaps obvious since I am clearly more interested in the gaffer I have spotted in the distance than where we are going.

You can see the moment when we are hit by the wake of a powerboat by the shaking of the video. The filming was done with a basic iPad, and I have since bought the woman who will willingly get up in the middle of the night and stand an anchor watch a waterproof GoPro.

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.


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.


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.


Some of the fleet heading to Naskeag Point.


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.

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.


The old engine panel


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



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.


Engine beds modified to fit the new engine.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


Moonrise in a hurricane hole.

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


Friendship sloops in Rockland 2016

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


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.


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.

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.

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.


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.

New Boat Part 19

April 24, 2012

More painting and the foredeck

With the benches in and the hanging knees in, the main job was painting.  Working in two shifts, we managed to get three topcoats of paint on the entire interior over a week. Each day I would go to the shop early and either do some painting, or more often some prep-work. Then, in the evening after work, we would paint for an hour or so.

Two other projects were going on at the same time; I have been trying to get the centerboard finished up, and getting the foredeck finished.  The foredeck was a design change of my own and was based, originally on three factors. The first factor is that I don’t like and never have liked open bows. The “V” shaped bow area of a small boat is a place where ankles get twisted and people lose their balance; a foredeck largely eliminates this factor. The second factor is quite simply that we want to have storage space and the space below the foredeck will meet this need. The third factor was that when we started this boat, our ship’s wolf, Saxon, was having more difficulty getting from the dinghy to the deck of the Friendship. The foredeck was intended to give her more height and a better, more stable place to stand and jump for the boat. Since she passed away, this factor no longer applies, but it was an important element, when we were making our original design choices.

The foredeck will be installed as one panel, and creating that one panel by laminating pieces together and then shaping it so that it fits snugly where it will be installed has taken a lot of time and head scratching. With any luck I will make the last adjustments and prime it over the next few days.

Dry-fitting the foredeck

The centerboard has been difficult only because of the many coats of epoxy, 4oz fiberglass cloth on the leading edge, and subsequent paint. It is just one of the projects that to date has had eight gluing sessions, three paint sessions, and will have six more paint sessions before it is complete, and the end result will just be a single piece that has a hole in it on which to pivot. It gets more complicated because after four fittings to make sure that the centerboard fit correctly when I went to check it a fifth time, it did not fit. The combination of layers of paint, epoxy and fiberglass has added enough thickness to cause the centerboard to jam. So, I have had to start sanding and removing layers and veneers on the centerboard, and then we will have to start the painting again.

Despite this annoying delay, the painting continues and the foredeck will get glued in this week with the caps for the centerboard well. At this point in the project, it is hard not to work on it. A few minutes spent looking at and enjoying what we have created makes me want to pick up a tool or brush and do just a little bit more, and then a little bit more, and perhaps just this little bit more….

I think this shot and the next show off the shape of the boat well

Just a little more work…

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 15

March 15, 2012

Interior prep, centerboard, and bulkhead templates:

It has been months since we have been able to work on our Penny Fee project, but with the arrival of March it looks like we might actually get something done on this lovely little boat.

If you cast your mind back to a much earlier post on this project (New Boat #8 ) you will recall that when we clamped the strakes together we used long battens screwed through the strakes to hold the planks together until the epoxy dried. We plugged those holes from the outside before we painted and flipped the boat. Now it was time to clean out the boat and plug the interior ends of those holes. This is one of those jobs that often gets glossed over because it is not all that romantic or glamorous to climb all over the bilge of a boat wielding putty knife and pot of epoxy spooge, but in fact it is vitally important; an unplugged hole in the bottom of the boat is a very bad thing.

Filling interior ends of screw holes

With the interior ends of the holes plugged, we needed to sand the interior.

While this was going on we were making the templates for the bulkheads. The plans do not call for bulkheads, but because of how we intend to use this boat as our launch, we want lockers fore and aft which will allow us to keep gear for the boat locked on board. In addition we want areas where we can put inflatable floatation. Knowing this we have figured out the location for our bulkheads and are making templates in cardboard. One of the nice things about lapstrake construction is that making templates is relatively easy because the section of the boat is made up of a series of short straight lines. We used a shop compass to get the templates close, and then hot-glued short pieces of cardboard onto the master template to make any corrections.

Cardboard template for aft bulkhead

Corrections made with scraps of cardboard and hot glue

We have also been working on the centerboard, which is made up of three layers of marine plywood leftover from the planking that have been glued together. The idea is to create a wing-like cross section to reduce drag through the water. The leading edge is simply rounded, but the trailing edge poses more of a challenge because it has a significant taper running from the bottom trailing edge up to about half its length, at this point I wanted to keep the aft edge of the board rectangular in profile so that the board will not twist or rattle in the centerboard trunk. This meant that as I shaped the trailing edge there would be a sort of scooped place halfway down the length of the board that would ease into a hydrodynamic trailing edge. In essence the problem was to scoop out some of the laminated plywood without raising the grain too much.

After some experimentation, the best tool for the job appeared to be a round-bottom plane that I originally bought for shaping the propellers of a full sized airplane that I built in High School (a story for another time).

Round-bottom plane

After roughing out the shape the rest of the shaping was simply done with a sander.

Roughing out the centerboard

The board will be coated in epoxy and the leading edge will be glassed with 4oz fiberglass to protect it from groundings.

The centerboard after shaping

Coating the centerboard with epoxy

Meanwhile the interior of the boat with all holes plugged, was sanded and cleaned. This allowed us to apply a sealer coat of epoxy to the interior below the waterline. The idea is to protect the interior if it has to sit with rainwater in it for any extended period of time.

Cleaning out the interior of the boat after sanding

Coating the interior with epoxy

With any luck we will be shaping floor timbers, finishing up the centerboard, and building the centerboard well soon.

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 14

January 19, 2012

The inwales:

With all that has been going on this fall and winter, it has been very difficult to find any time to work on the Penny Fee. However, we still managed to get one or two things done. We have been working on finishing the gunwales. In order to do this we needed to make up both the breasthook and the transom knees that connect the inwales to the structure at the stem and to the transom. All three pieces are made from 6/4 white oak. The breasthook is made of two matched pieces that are splined together. We glued these in and backed up the glue with bronze fastenings.


Transom knees with inwales in place

The outwales, which we installed last summer and were described in an earlier post, were glued to the outside top edge of the sheer strake. The inwales are glued to the inside edge of the sheer strake. The three parts together, outwale, sheer strake, and inwale, collectively make up the gunwale.

We wanted inwales that have spacer blocks, and the best way that I know of to get a symmetrical set was to glue the two strips that form the inner face of the gunwales  and spacers into one unit: sort of like a very narrow ladder.

The narrow ladder

Then, when the glue dried, rip the single unit into the two respective, matched inwales.

Dry fit of inwales

This done we dry-fitted the whole together. There was a long interval between the dry fitting and finally getting to do the gluing, but eventually we got it done. As with every other step in glued-epoxy-construction, we spent almost as much time taping off areas and scraping and cleaning the glue that was squeezed out by the clamps as we did making the parts to be glued.

Gluing in the inwales

With gunwales installed the boat is much stiffer and I feel better about getting into the boat to finish the glue clean up.

Finished gunwales

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.