Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Proud Day...

Yet another diversion from ongoing Dark Secret stuff.

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the launching of a new 13' wooden skiff. It was built by the Engineering Club at St. John's Prep, in DAnvers, MA. The project was led by Marcus Soule, Physics teacher. What a great day. It was a raw and blustery March day, but spirits were high.

I am a passionate proponent of the value of a hands-on project like this in the educational experience. Aside from the math, science, history, and other curriculum related subject matter, there are also societal skills that can't be taught in any way other than by being part of a group involved in a challenge - teamwork, accountability, work ethic, and perseverance are just a few of the things that seem to have fallen through the cracks in the current educational system. Every step of the way, a boat builder uses the known to determine the unknown. It's like a giant geometry proof. Kudos to the entire team for doing such a nice job and meeting their deadline.

The boat is "Sissy Do," by Glen L. Here is a link to the designer's study plan:

Marcus contacted me and Tom Perkins at Wise Marine prior to the start of the build, and he picked our brains a few times during the process. As a result of this contact, we are happy to be involved in another St. John's Prep course offering - Summer Boat Building. The three of us (Marcus, Tom, and I) will be instructing amateurs in the building of a small fleet of "Cartoppers" designed by the late, great Philip C. Bolger. Choosing the appropriate boat for the course was something of a process. I'll cover that process, and the design in detail at my other blog:

Here is a link to the summer course(near the bottom of the list):

Herre is a link for info on Cartopper:

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Pipe Dreams...Yachting Fantasies


I keep slogging away at the ever-growing list of things that come in front of spending quality time with/on the people/things that matter to me. It occurred to me the other day that I am spending far too much time working and not enough time enjoying what I am doing (or being compensated). Everybody in the New England yacht service industry says, "You made a lifestyle decision when you chose this as your career path." I LOVE what I do, but not eating is not a quality lifestyle decision.

I have been wracking my brain to come up with alternate ideas. I have had a few in my day. Some of them are actually workable, unlike my "cement-tires-and-rubber-roads" scheme.

I submit one that is marginally applicable to the subject at hand here: I once had an idea for a "Shit-box du Jour" desk calendar. Like most of my ideas, it got absolutely no traction. It was going to be a page-a-day calendar with a photo of a not particularly collectible car accompanied by factoids associated with that particular vehicle. Debatably a cool concept, but how many car geeks are there out there who would actually use a desk calendar, and how many of them care about the fact that Milton Berle drove one of the most beautiful and ostentatious shit-boxes in history, a 1962 Chrysler Imperial convertible, in "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World?"
My niche marketing ideas extend far beyond plywood faerings. By slightly tweaking the Shit-box du Jour model, I have come up with something I'm going to give an honest shot.

How does this tie in to what I bitched about in the first paragraph? I don't exactly know. That's up to "my public."

Drum roll, please...

"14 Million Boats To Build Before I Die (and the unquestionable reasons behind building each and every one)" I know - it doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, but it's exactly what it says - A blog posting of a yacht design from a bygone era and a flimsy justification for it to be built today along with my pithy, if ill-informed, commentary. God knows I have spent more than enough hours with my nose buried in the musty pages of old boat books, and there are SO MANY of them that I want to build.

The plan is to set up a stand-alone blog page for this endeavor, but here is a preview of the first posting:

"Haven," by William Atkin. Here is the link to the Atkin & Co site for the study plan with the designer's commentary:

My In-Laws have recently retired. My father-in-law has been talking, in a very what-if kind of way, about building a boat to travel the canal system in New York state, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. He has done a nice job building the fleet of boats that we currently enjoy, but this would be his biggest build. Further clarification of the "mission" is needed but I think Haven could be the perfect boat (with some alteration). She was designed during World War II for aircraft rescue service. Her dimensions are: LOA 29' 9", beam 8', draft 1' 10". Mr. Atkin intended her to have 175 hp (they measured it differently then) and an estimated speed of 35 mph. In the commentary that accompanies his design, he states that the planking is to be two layers of 1/4" plywood. It looks do-able...

As drawn, the open arrangement won't work for an extended trip, even for the most intimate of couples. A simple, rectilinear deck house could transform this easily driven hull into the perfect craft for the task at hand. Something like you'd find on a pre-Depression cruiser like Mer Na.

Clearly one couldn't travel the canal system at 35 mph. Even if you could you wouldn't get to see much along the way, and the fuel costs would put a trip that is already a fantasy squarely in the realm of ridiculous. By installing a 60-80 hp diesel you'll get "lobster boat" speed and she'll sip fuel, not guzzle it. You'd have to build her on a strict diet to keep weight down, particularly in the house. I think I'd build that from something other than teak. As pretty as it is, it's heavy and pricey. Plus, varnish sticks better to mahogany anyway. Plywood could work here, too, but I don't know whether I could go that far. The look is the look. I think bevelled-edge glass is mandatory.

The rudder shown will need re-thinking. As drawn, it looks perfect for a planing hull. At displacement/semi-displacement speeds, she'll need more area. Many of Mssrs. Atkin's power boat designs show an outboard, transom-hung, rudder. I don't think that would be out of place here. There are other advantages that come with this arrangement: simpler (cheaper) fittings, one less hull penetration, easy service without hauling, etc. Scaling off the drawing, it looks like he shows a 14 or 15" prop. I don't know whether we'll get enough out of a wheel of that size. There's another change.

I like the plumb transom, but maybe I'd curve it. I think we crossed a line some time ago - we aren't really talking about the same boat anymore. Let's just call it what it is - a "new" design based heavily on the the work of a master from another day. All of these changes add up. If they work well together, then we have to share the credit. If they don't, then we take all of the blame.

Even if you worked a miracle with the interior arrangement, I doubt you'd be able to cram in anything more than a head compartment, two comfortable seats (long and wide enough to nap), and some stowage. With only 4' 5" of headroom, a galley down there is out of the question. Is there enough room in that wheelhouse for a galley? Perhaps. The engine box would make things difficult.

In short, if Haven is the answer to the un-asked question, then the voyage will have to be structured around the above-noted limitations. Day-trips from B&B to B&B will be the key to success, comfort, and marital bliss. An occasional overnight aboard can add some adventure.

Will any of this happen? Highly unlikely. Will I be excited to help it become a reality? You bet!!! Will it take care of the paragraph 1 issue? No. I wouldn't charge them a dime.

So ends the first of what I hope to be many postings like this. They will get a home of their own. Stay tuned.

BTW - If you see the "Shit-box du Jour Calendar," it was my idea. Fat lot of good it did me...

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Some back story, and rudder hardware ver. 2.0

No photos this post.

It's looking like castings are going to be prohibitively expensive. This is good and bad news. I am going to use fittings from Ducktrap Woodworks for the upper pintle and gudgeon. The lower fittings will be fabricated from sheet bronze. Everything will interact, fit, and work the same way as described previously, and the lower fittings will pretty much look the same. They just won't be cast.

Now I'd like to cover the back story on the origin of Dark Secret's name.

Being primarily based in Gloucester, I am constantly bumping into history. It's a great city, full of (mostly) hard-working and resourceful people. One of our local heroes is Howard Blackburn. Some of you may have heard of him, but I suspect that his story is only locally well known. I'll hit the pertinent points here. All of the following comes from "Lone Voyager" by Joseph E. Garland. It's a great biography of an incredible man.

Howard Blackburn came to Gloucester from Nova Scotia. He was born in 1859 and was the fourth of eight children. He quit school at the age of ten and was "bound out" to a Mr. Reed to learn cabinet making. His desire for a life at sea led him to run away eighteen months later. He was returned to Mr. Reed's shop, only to leave again. He spent the following winter in the woods as a lumberjack with ax and saw. At twelve years old, he was doing work that most of us modern grown men would find beyond our limits. At the age of thirteen, he shipped out as a green hand on a square-rigger bound for Funchal, in the Madeiras. He landed in Gloucester in 1879, twenty years old.

I quote from Garland:" Those years had made him a man in every dimension. A monkey aloft, a bear at the end of a line, an ox at the oar, and a fox at the wheel, he had a genius for the sea that was sharpened to a keen edge by experience. This tough, handsome goliath, hard-drinking, fun-loving and handy with the girls was ready for the truest test of the sailor - bank-fishing on a Gloucester schooner." In January, 1883 he signed aboard the Gracie L. Fears for a halibut trip to Burgeo Bank."

About three days out of Liverpool, Nova Scotia, the Fears arrived on the Bank as snow was starting to fall. It was just before dawn and it was bitter cold. Six dories were lowered into calm seas and a light southeast breeze. Each dory held a crew of two and the gear required for fishing. Each crew would row some distance from the "mother" and go about the business of dory fishing. They set their gear and rowed back to the Fears for "mug-up." After a couple of hours the captain became concerned about impending weather and ordered the crews back over the side to haul their gear and get back. The southeast breeze freshened, died, and then came up as a squall from the northwest. Most of the dories had made it back but Howard and his dory mate, Tom Welch, were now to leeward of the Fears, separated by a fierce wind and blinding snow.

They pulled and pulled and pulled but could not make it back to the schooner. By nightfall the snow had stopped but the wind still howled. They could see the torch hung in the rigging of their destination, and it was just as far to windward as it was before. All through that night they alternated between riding at anchor and rowing toward safety while the waves and spray filled the dory and froze. When dawn came, the light was nowhere to be seen. Blackburn and Welch were alone, 60 miles or more south of Newfoundland.

For two days they battled the wind, the seas, and the freezing spray. During a stint of bailing the dory, Howard's mittens went over the side. When Howard noticed his fingers starting to lose sensation he wrapped them around the handle of his oars and left them there long enough to freeze into position. He removed the oars from his frozen hands and went back to bailing.

Tom Welch was having no easy go, either. At one point, when it was his turn to bail, he told Howard that he couldn't see. "What's the use, anyway?" he said. Just before dark on the second day, Howard called again to Tom that he needed help bailing the dory. There was no response.

Again, I quote Garland: " There was a lull in the heaving sea. [Howard] picked up the body, staggered aft, and dropped it in the stern. He clawed off one of Tom's mittens and tried to put it on. His hand was too swollen and distorted. The freezing spray wrapped the body in a winding sheet of ice. Its weight raised the bow and steadied the boat. It was ballast.

"For the rest of the night he bailed and pounded ice. When he could, he slumped in the bow, his claws between his legs and his face down out of the wind and spray. Suddenly a wave would flood the boat and he would drag himself back to bailing."

By dawn of the third day, the wind was down and the seas had calmed. Howard wrapped his frozen fingers around the oars and began pulling for Newfoundland. He rowed all day, his frozen hands coming apart before his eyes, Tom Welch keeping silent company in the stern.

Two more days and nights of misery brought him to safety. He had lost all of his fingers, most of both thumbs, and his feet to frostbite. After a lengthy convalescence, he returned to Gloucester which he called home for the rest of his life. After some time ashore, he went back to sea, but kept returning to Gloucester.

In 1899, he settled on the idea of sailing across the Atlantic alone. At that point, only five men in history had succeeded in that endeavor. One of those men was captain of a Gloucester fishing schooner.

I quote Garland a final time: "His name was Captain Alfred Johnson, but the world knew him as "Centennial" after the twenty-foot dory he sailed on a dare from Gloucester, MA to Liverpool England to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of American independence in 1876. It took him 66 days, and he nearly lost his life in the attempt. When he got back to Gloucester he returned to fishing like a sensible man, and to anyone who asked about the voyage thereafter he growled that he'd been a damned young fool.

"Nevertheless, it was a contagious kind of foolishness. Johnson had hardly returned from England when two young brothers from nearby Beverly, Asa and William Andrews, went down to Gloucester and bought a nineteen-foot dory which they named Nautilus and sailed to Cornwall in the summer of 1878 in 49 days.

"It took ten more years for William Andrews to make up his mind to try it alone. The man was a born promoter, though at first not much of a sailor, and he built a fourteen-footer named Dark Secret for a theatrical show in New York and got the New York World to sponsor him. Dark Secret was a leaky boat and after two months at sea he gave it up in the mid-Atlantic. He was plucked from his tub by a passing bark."

Andrews, now a Captain (though he nevere had a crew of more than one), tried again three years later (1891) in the fifteen foot Mermaid. After 61 days at sea, he was rescued 600 miles short of Portugal. In 1892, he succeeded aboard Sapolio. She was a fourteen-and-a-half-foot canvas-covered folding boat that made the trip from Atlantic City NJ to the south coast of Portugal in 84 days. It was an advertising stunt for a soap manufacturer.

The other two successful trans-Atlantic sigle-handers at the time were Rudolf Frietsch who sailed his forty-foot schooner from New York to Ireland in 1894, and the one and only Joshua Slocum who, in 1895, left Gloucester aboard Spray and headed east. His crossing was the first leg in a 38-month, 46,000 mile journey around the world alone.

Mr. Blackburn wasn't just a great sailor. He was a fixture in the community of Gloucester, a friend of the poor, and a hero to many people for many reasons. I highly recommend Mr. Garland's book.

So, in short, my Dark Secret is named after a shoddy vessel from a failed endeavor that was undertaken for petty reasons. It is my belief (one of them, anyway) that exceptional people can be inspired to do great things by seeing average people succeed at trivial things, and vice versa. Just as Howard Blackburn's passion was fed by the (eventual) success of Captain Andrews, it is this decidedly average man's hope that my eventual success will help to inspire someone great to do something truly monumental.

Keep on pulling...

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

After much dragging of feet and extensive over-thinking...

My postings appear to be coming less and less frequently. This frequency appears to be inversely proportional to my desire to be finished with the pretty short list of open items remaining on Dark Secret. One of the big ones is covered here: Rudder Hardware.

Much head scratching, napkin sketching, and general brain-storming has brought me to the point where I am. Casting patterns have been made for all four pieces of rudder hardware. I think they'll work nicely. I have a list of functionality issues that have to be addressed in order to consider this a success.

1. - Rudder must ship and unship safely, securely, and reliably without tools.

2. - Rudder must operate fairly precisely, but with enough "slop" to allow for the fact that upper and lower fittings are not in line with each other.

3. - Fittings must look proper for this application- yachty enough to be worth the time and effort but rustic enough to appear proper on what was, traditionally, basically a farmer's boat.

4. - Not ridiculously expensive.

I'm pretty sure I have addressed the first three. We'll soon see about the fourth.

As you can see in the photos, there are four fittings - two gudgeons (mounted to the stern of the boat), and two pintles (mounted to the rudder blade). The lower gudgeon (V-shaped with tapered edges) is to be riveted to the lower stem at a point roughly 2" below the waterline. The upper gudgeon is to be screw-fastened to the stem just above the point where it goes from tapered to square. Both gudgeons will be bored for a length of 5/16" bronze rod. The rod will follow the curve of the aft stem from the lower gudgeon (brazed into this fitting?), and pass through the upper gudgeon. Rod will terminate at a point (to be determined) some distance above the upper gudgeon.

The lower pintle pattern shows how I plan to ship and unship the rudder. The "split fingers" allow the 5/16" rod to fit between them. Rotating the fitting 90 degrees grasps the rod securely. The upper pintle is bored for the 5/16" rod. Shipping the rudder will work as follows: with the rudder lying on its side, engage the rod between the fingers in the lower pintle. Rotate the rudder to vertical and drop the upper pintle onto the rod that projects beyond the upper gudgeon. The lower pintle remains free to slide up and down on the rod, but as long as the upper pintle is engaged it can't release the rod from between the fingers.

It's not an original idea. I copied it from other boats (Nutshell Pram, Dyer Dhow, and other small craft) but have not seen it done on a boat of this size. I may have to come up with something to keep the rudder from floating up and disengaging the upper pintle. There might be enough mass in the portion of the rudder that is above the waterline to overcome the flotation of the immersed area. I don't know, yet.

Will I be able to ship/unship the whole shebang from inside the boat? I doubt it, particularly since there will generally be an inflated bouyancy tank in each end of the boat whenever she is used for sailing (for any distance, anyway). The good news is that if I have to unship before beaching I can do so in ankle-deep water. If I have to switch from sailing to rowing while underway the tiller will be lashed in place on center or handed to a crew member.

All in all, I think I'm good to go.

In other areas of the project momentum waxes and wanes. I was fortunate to get a few days of rowing in last summer. Build-up of finishes continues. Gooseneck is installed on the boom. Shrouds are spliced but forestay needs another go 'round at the think tank.

We got a new sill under the barn last summer. Part of that project involved re-building the door opening. The doors are back in the opening but are currently screwed in place in front of Dark Secret. Hinges are being welded and will be installed shortly. At that point I can get her out of the barn and into someplace warm enough to tackle the last couple of coats of varnish. If all goes according to plan (good luck with that), I'll be sailing this spring.

More to come...

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Still kickin'

Hi all, Lest ye think I have abandoned the project, here is a quick update on Dark Secret.

I had her in the shop for a couple of weeks in Essex, MA where I have been working. I managed to get a few things off the list. Interior has been painted to final coat. Frames still need a coat or two before the interior is a wrap. Rails are ready for "final coat" (it's never the last one) and topsides have received some attention to get at least one more coat. She looks great, finish-wise. I have lowered the sole panels (aftermost panel needs a tweak at its forward end) as discussed in a previous posting, and have made the blocks to raise the oarlocks. Carpentry-wise there is still a bit to do.

As you can see in the photo, I have pretty much worked out the rig and rigging details. I need to mount gooseneck hardware to mast and boom, finish shaping the yard, and build up finishes on the three sticks. The yard will get wrapped in leather where it crosses the mast, and I'll wrap the inside of the partner with leather (or suede) where the mast goes through.

Sole panels need some kind of a simple hold-down system that doesn't require tools to undo. I have ideas on this, but have yet to execute...

There are some rigging details yet to be addressed: All of the splices at the masthead are done. I need to determine a final length for the shrouds and forestay and splice the lower ends. I have sourced the pelican hook that I will use on the forestay. Note that the rig photo shows the halyard going through a small block hung from a lizard (correct term?) at the mast head. I think I am going to switch to a sheave morticed into the spar. It will help to keep the yard inboard, where it belongs. I'll probably still need some kind of bridle to keep it snug, but I'll launch without and see what I get.

I have procured all of the other needed hardware for the boat, except rudder hardware. I am still scratching my head on this. I have yet to find a set-up that will work for this application. I have a design together for a custom hardware package that is pretty slick, but I don't know if I want to go to the trouble of fabricating the parts. It's a comparatively simple arrangement (once it's installed), but there are seven pieces of metal to fart around with, plus whatever I do for the end of the cross-arm at the rudder head. I have said it before, and I'll say it again - "Anything worth doing is worth overdoing." I'll do up a sketch of the hardware package and post it next go-round. I promise that it won't be a year between postings.

I hope you enjoy the photos. The black and white photo is from an article in Maritime Life and Traditions, #19 on Norwegian faerings. The first half was in #19, the second half in #21. It's a great article and has been a source for answers to many of the questions I have had during this process. At any rate, notice the seksaering in the foreground. There are 13 people in it!!! I have a scan of the article. It's a good read. I'll send it to whomever asks.

In the short term I will be removing the shrink-wrap as soon as I am confident it is done snowing. I'll varnish the rails, paint the topsides, install the interior parts and oarlocks, and I'll put her in the water somewhere and enjoy her before the waterfront gets too busy around here. She'll need to come back out to attach the rudder hardware, but by then I will have worn out my welcome wherever she will have been sitting.

Happy Spring!!!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Living the dream...

It's been a bit more than a year since I last posted, and what a year it has been. The house we bought in Maine has turned out to be every bit of the work we thought it would be and then some. The rental cottage out back is pretty much ready to show to prospective tenants( I need to hang towel bars, varnish the stair treads, and other punch list items, but the interior is, for all intents and purposes, done). The main house remains a wreck. I spent the winter "camping" in two rooms. I left the thermostat set at 52 degrees to keep the pipes from freezing and spent much quality time in front of the wood stove in the kitchen. Thank God we had a mild winter this year... Dark Secret languishes in the barn. She has not received much attention in the past year. I am incredibly lucky and grateful to have a barn where she can spend the winter, but oooohhhhh the plans I had for what I was going to accomplish this past winter. The bottom line is that there are not enough hours in the day. I took a job at Wayfarer Marine in Camden and moved up here full time in October. My incredibly patient and loving wife still lives in the Gloucester house and still does the ungodly commute to Boston every day. We are trying to keep our "eyes on the prize," but neither of us is ecstatic about being married and 200 miles apart. Then again, I think there are days when she wouldn't have it any other way. Despite the lack of progress on Dark Secret, I have not been idle during the last year or so. The house has a new 200 amp service, the barn has received some much needed shoring up (permanent solutions forthcoming), and the previously mentioned rental cottage is nearly done. I have (mostly) painted one side (the most challenging side) of the exterior of the main house. It has been such an eyesore for so long that I thought I would start at the street side for the benefit of the neighbors. So much has contributed to declining property values over the last few years that I figured a bit of neighborhood improvement couldn't hurt the abutters' portfolios. I really hope that I can post some Dark Secret-related progress in the not-too-diastant future, but I still have a HUGE list ahead of me to accomplish before the snow flies next winter. Think happy thoughts for us. It's going to be a tough pull but we know it will be worth it in the long run.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Getting back in the swing of it

It's been pretty busy. Aside from the usual goings on at the boatyard with the covers coming off of customers' boats and the long-awaited closing on the Thomaston house (The portrait to the right is Captain Harvey Mills, who had the house built ca. 1860. Watch for a separate blog site for the house restoration project coming soon), I have also pulled Dark Secret out of hibernation. She weathered the winter with no issues so I am moving forward with the remainder of the list.

Today I cut the mast thwart, morticed the step, and test fitted the mast. The rake is specified at 5" in 10', or 1:24. The height of the mast thwart at the centerline is 17 7/8" from the top of the step, so 1/24th of that is just a tick under 3/4". Once I cut the thwart for the mast (I scaled the location of the cut from the plans), I measured the distance from there to the station and added 3/4" to establish the cut for the mortice. There are a million ways to lay this out, but I find simpler is better.

I think she looks great with the mast just sitting there. I left the mast square from the step to just above the partner. It goes to round where the gooseneck mounts. I have not decided whether to wrap the leather around the mast or the partner. I'm looking for advice on that one.

Speaking of goosenecks, I have spec'ed the remainder of the hardware for the boat. The gooseneck will be coming from Ballantine's Boat Shop in Cataumet, MA. They make a beautiful fitting for use on the 12 1/2 that they build. The rudder hardware will be coming from Duck Trap Woodworking, Duck Trap, ME (more on these fittings in a later posting), and the blocks will be from Rieneck's, Hull, MA. The hardware from this outfit is absolutely jewel-like. Unbelievable fit, finish, and overall quality. The down side is that none of these fittings will come on the cheap. Such is life. A former co-worker once told me, "Anything worth doing is worth over-doing."

Interior finishes are the next items to tackle, as well as finishing the remainder of the spars and rigging. I am going to lower the height of the floorboards. If you look at the drawing of section 7 that I posted earlier, you will see that the sole is shown above the throat of the frame by about 1 1/4". I used this height as a starting point to lay out the panels, but as I mentioned previously, the rowing ergonomics don't really work that well for me. Lowering the sole will drop my knees out of the way for a much more efficient and comfortable stroke. When that is done, I will take her out again and determine whether I need to also raise the oarlocks off the rail.

Dark Secret will remain on Cape Ann until she is done. This gives me something to work on after hours during the week. Friday night to Sunday afternoon will be spent at the Thomaston property getting it ready for occupancy. Once I get the barn floor shored up properly, she'll go up there so I can sneak out for a quickie when time and weather permit.

Stay tuned. I'll be back at this much more regularly now that spring has sprung.