08 February 2016

First Things First

So, I finished Robert Manry's Tinkerbelle last night, and now I'm thinking that entering the Blue Moon in the Jester Challenge would be quite reasonable. At least in comparison to Manry's trip!

Like the contemporary small boat voyager, Robert Taylor--who has sailed his little Mingming and Mingming II in the Jester Challenge, as well as on many high latitude voyages up into the Arctic--Manry was no risk taker, no adrenaline junky.

Roger Taylor's Mingming
Quite the opposite, in fact. By thinking deeply about the problems and addressing each in turn, he systematically minimized the risks of his voyage.

That got me thinking: what changes could I make to the Blue Moon to minimize the risks of sailing (twice!) across a mighty ocean?

Here's what I've come up with, so far:

1. Minimize the risk of sinking

This is the big one, right? Once you minimize the risk of sinking, it becomes a lot easier to think of such a voyage.

Of course, it's not possible to completely eliminate the risk, but with watertight crash bulkheads, pumps, and enough kit to repair most holes, it should be possible to rescue the boat from all but catastrophic damage. Probably.

2. Minimize the risk of working on deck

There's not much use having an unsinkable boat if you don't stay on it. It's interesting that Manry and Taylor take completely different approaches.

Since Tinkerbelle couldn't steer herself, Manry didn't have to worry about his boat sailing away from him. He simply tied the end of a sheet around his waist when he was on deck. When he fell or was pitched overboard (which happened frequently!), Tinkerbelle rounded up, and he simply climbed back on board. Easy peasy.

Taylor minimizes the risk by hardly ever leaving the cabin. He's rigged Mingming so he can steer, adjust sails, and keep watch from the comfort of his warm, dry shelter.

3. Minimize the risk of heavy weather

Weather routing can help avoid heavy weather, but a boat that crosses the Atlantic twice will have to deal with at least some bad weather. Both Manry and Taylor make use of sea anchors, but very different sorts!

Manry made do with a canvas bucket tied to a long rope, deployed over the bow. By unshipping the rudder and deploying a small riding sail, Tinkerbelle would point straight into the wind when lying to her 'sea anchor'. Most boats won't.

Taylor takes a more modern approach by carrying a Jordan series drogue, and deploying it over the stern. He has ridden out truly terrible Arctic storms with this rig. See 8, below.

4. Minimize the risk of fire

The risk of fire on the Blue Moon is already pretty low: I use an unpressurized alcohol stove, which is about the safest stove available, have no inboard engine, and use LED electric lights which don't even get hot. The main risk comes from the battery or a short-circuit.

5. Minimize the risk of anything breaking

Again, the Blue Moon starts off better than most boats her size.  Her rig is simple and easy to repair. She has virtually no built-in 'systems' that can fail. And her captain is pretty handy. Minimizing this risk should just be a matter of bringing spares, basic materials, and tools.

6. Minimize the length of the voyage

Another way to minimize risk is to minimize the number of days at sea. The fewer days your are 'out there', the lower the risk. Route planning and keeping the boat moving are key.

7. Minimize the risk of anchoring

I include this risk in my list because I plan to do some sailing around the UK and France while I'm over there, and it would be ironic to lose the boat before the Jester Challenge begins because of an anchor dragging. I hate irony.

8. Minimize the risk of crew breakdown

It's highly unlikely that we'll hit a submerged container, fall overboard, or catch fire. It's a sure thing the crew will get tired, make mistakes, or breakdown. The keys to minimizing this risk are the same as onshore: enough sleep, enough nutrition, enough exercise, enough mental stimulation.

9. Minimize the risk of rig failure

On a gaffer, the biggest risk is chafe, having the right amount of sail up, and using preventers. I have lots of ideas about how to optimize the use of the rig, while minimizing the risk. Will probably need both bigger and smaller sails that I currently have, and make it easier to make sail adjustments.

10. Minimize the risk of the worst-case scenario

It's tempting to imagine that by foresight, planning, and hard work you could eliminate all the risk of a transatlantic voyage, but that would be tweaking King Neptune's nose. Therefore, one must humbly accept the fact that the worst could happen, and be prepared to abandon ship.

I like Lin and Larry Pardy's approach of taking an active role in self-rescuing themselves with an unsinkable and sailable dinghy, rather than passively surrendering with the liferaft/EPIRB approach. The fact that they got this solution working on a boat not much bigger than the Blue Moon makes me hopeful I can make it work, too. We'll have to see about this one.

* * *

So, that's my first cut at a to-do list. What do you think? There's not much original about it, but it's the first time I've thought about these things, so it's new for me.

I'll need to give each a lot more thought, but before I do, is there anything I've missed? Write your ideas and comments in the comments section below, please.

* * *

Another milestone passed: I've finished proof reading An Unlikely Voyage and sent it off to the publisher. With any luck, it should be available in a few weeks. I am really excited.

That's the good news. The bad news is, it's snowing. Again. I need to go shovel the drive way. Grrr.

Next Up:

02 February 2016

Winter Dreams

No, I still haven't found time to work on my Handy Billy. It would only take an hour or two to finish the other block, but around Christmas I decided it was time to finish proof reading my book if it killed me, so I've put everything else on hold (other than work and the usual household stuff, of course), and devoted all my spare time to that one project.

I never would have guessed it would be such a job to write a book, but I'm glad to say that hard work has paid off and I'm nearly done. In fact, I have the 'proof' in hand.

"An Unlikely Voyage: 2000 miles alone in a small wooden boat"
Final (I hope) proof copy.
This is a proof copy which I am going through one more time to find the last batch of small errors (it's remarkably difficult to find every error in 100,000 words), then it should at last be done.

Which of course begs the question: what next?

I've been pondering this question for awhile now, and was getting a little discouraged because I couldn't seem to find a new project that got my juices flowing. Then I picked up an old book.

Always a dangerous thing, picking up a book.

The book was called "Tinkerbelle", by Robert Manry. Back in 1965, Robert decided to fulfill his dream of crossing the Atlantic, in the only boat he owned, the 13-foot centerboard sailboat called Tinkerbelle.

Tinkerbelle on the Atlantic - summer 1965
Tinkerbelle had many advantages over most blue water boats. For example, it was easy to touch up her bottom paint. In the drive way.

Maintaining your blue water cruiser.
When beset by high seas, she lay easily to a sea anchor -- a canvas bucket tied to the end of long line.

And when her frisky behavior and a breaking wave tossed Bob out of the cockpit into the water, her low freeboard made it easy for him to climb back in. It "could have been a lot worse," he wrote after the first time this happened. "Tinkerbelle was still right side up and clear of water, and neither she nor I had suffered so much as a scratch."

So, has this little yarn got me thinking of taking Cabin Boy across the Atlantic?

No, but if tiny Tinkerbelle could make it, why not the much more substantial Blue Moon?

Blue Moon - summer 2015
Makes you think, right?

She would need some modifications to make her handier, and a bit more comfortable for the voyage. For example, I've been doing some calculations, and believe I could make her unsinkable without losing too much cabin space, by adding a couple of waterproof bulkheads and filling the space with foam (no need for foam, as someone pointed out in the comments!) Some lifelines and bulwarks might be nice... maybe roller reefing for the jib... a third row of reef points in the main... a good sea berth...

But being the goal-oriented New Yorker that I am, I am even thinking one step further: entering the Blue Moon in the 2018 Jester Challenge -- the famous single-hander's 'race', for boats under 30 feet long, from Plymouth, England, to Newport, Rhode Island.

The Jester Challenge is run every summer, rotating between Plymouth to the Azores (2016), to Ireland (2017), and to Newport (2018).

Since the race is run in May, I'd have to get the Blue Moon across the Pond the year before, to have her at the starting line on time. That means crossing over the Summer of 2017, maybe doing a bit of cruising in France or on the Norfolk Broads, and hauling her out in Plymouth for the winter.

Doable? Helena says, if we don't ditch everything and sail off to the South Pacific, then why not?

Why not, indeed?

What do you think? A good, next adventure?

Next Up: First Things First

06 January 2016

Vixen's Voyage

While I work on the other block I need for my Handy Billy, I thought I'd share this video I discovered the other day. It's about Tiffany Loney and Bruce Halabisky's voyage around the world on the John Atkin-designed Vixen.

I met them briefly a couple of years ago when they were at the Wooden Boat Show at Mystic. They are an amazing family, with an amazing story to tell.

Vixen's Voyage from Nicole Halabisky on Vimeo.

You can read more about Vixen on their blog: Vixen's Voyage.

Next Up: Winter Dreams

26 December 2015

Too Hard?

One of the most exciting, and worrying, aspects of this project was working with Lignum Vitae, which has some very special qualities. It's the hardest traded wood (cricket balls and British police truncheons were made from it), and it's also so packed with natural oils that sheaves made from it are self-oiling. That's why sheaves were always made from Lignum until modern synthetics (read 'plastics') took their place.

All you have to do is touch the wood to understand why: it feels waxy to the touch. Unlike any wood I've ever seen.

However, I'd read gloom-and-doomster accounts saying it was so hard that it would blunt sawblades in an instant, and turn aside chisels with scorn. Would I be able to cut and shape it with ordinary tools?

Block and enough Lignum Vitae for 7 or 8 sheaves
In a word, yes. As usual, the gloom-and-doomsters either exaggerated or (more likely) were just repeating legend they'd heard second or third hand. It cut easily with a sharp saw.

Ready for shaping

Then it was time to shape it from a square block into a round sheave.

Again, I used the method found in the Duckworks tutorial to turn the sheaves in my drill press. It took some patience to work it down, but the results were nothing short of spectacular.

Lignum Sheave

I tried the sheave in the block, and removed any points of friction inside the mortice, while keeping the fit as tight as possible. It's much easier to pare off a bit of wood inside the mortice than to adjust the thickness of the sheave, so I made all adjustments to the mortice itself.

Perfectly fitting sheave
Then it was time to finish the block.

I have given up on trying to use oil as a finish on anything used outside the cabin. Even the best Scandinavian oil is only good for a week or two. Fine if you have a hired hand to oil all your blocks ever week. Not so good for normal boat owners. The only realistic finish is paint or varnish.

Since I truly believe there isn't enough varnish in the world, I obviously decided to use varnish.

Varnishing is dead easy, the only problem being speed: you have to count on a day for every coat of varnish. This is a bit inconvenient if you are making them one at a time, but once you have your prototype done, you could easily do a dozen at a time.

Anyway, you certainly don't want to take two days per coat, so you must find a way to varnish both sides of the block at once. The easiest way to do this is to hang them.

'Speed' varnishing.
Once the varnish is dry, it's an easy, fun job to strop them.

Here's the finished Mark IV block, next to the Mark II block. Quite an evolution.

The finished block (top) next to the Mark II block (embarrassing!)
The properly stropped tail block:

All done.

Since starting this set of posts, I've gotten a dozen requests for a longer, more detailed tutorial. A real 'how-to', if you will.

I've always considered this a 'how-not-to' blog, thinking I had more to show by showing my mistakes, rather than posing as an 'expert', but if there is enough interest, and if I reach the point that I feel like I've mastered the making of these blocks, it might be fun to share in detail.

If you'd be interested in a detailed tutorial, please drop me an email or leave your vote in the comments section.

Next Up: Vixen's Voyage

18 December 2015

Slow Learning

Here is something that took me an absurdly long time to learn: files and rasps are like sandpaper. They have a limited life and when they get dull, they need to be thrown away. 

When I started working on Cabin Boy, more than 6 years ago, I had a small collection of rusty and battered hand-me-down tools. The exception were a set of files and rasps that Helena had gotten somewhere. They were in a nice old wooden box and looked to be in pretty good shape.

I used them all through Cabin Boy's build and ever since. All the way up to about 4 months ago, when it finally dawned on me that maybe the reason they didn't work very well was that they were dull. To test this dim theory, I plunked down a few dollars for a new rasp. The very first stroke I took with it took off more wood than fifty stroke of the old one.

Boy, did I feel dumb. But in my defense, no one ever told me such simple tools could get dull, and in the months since, every time I tell someone this fact, they give me a dumfounded look and say something like, "Huh! I didn't know that."

But now you do. If you have any files or rasps in your workshop, throw them away. They're probably about as useless as an old worn out piece of sandpaper.

Equipped with two sharp rasps, I was ready to shape a block of wood into, well, a block!

Block with axle hole drilled
But while it was still nice and flat, I drilled the hole for the bronze axle. Since I drew up the plans, I made it simple for myself and kept the numbers even. In this case, 2" from the short end.

The straighter you drill the hole, the better the sheave will run, so if you don't have a drill press, try to borrow a few minutes on a friend's. Otherwise, be as careful as you can.

The location of the axle
Here are the two rasps I used: a coarse half-round and round.

Only tools required

Another tool that's handy is a Jorgensen clamp, like the one below. This lets you elevate the piece above the bench, and position the piece at whatever angle is handy.

I traced the plan  (above) onto both sides of the block and then roughly cut off the bulk of the waste with a small saw. Then I just went at it with the rasp, quickly taking the block down to the lines I'd drawn. With a sharp rasp, this only took a few minutes, even being careful.

Getting a grip
Note I only worked in one dimension. This keeps the shaping simple and it's easy to get the right shape in that one dimension.

A bit of sanding removed the tooth marks and it was already looking pretty good.

Shaped in one dimension

Then it was time to cut a groove all the way around for the rope strop. With the goal of keeping the axle hole in the middle of the groove, it was pretty easy to cut the groove by eye. You want it deep enough to retain the strop. I just kept trying the rope in the groove until it looked about right.

Cutting the groove

Then it was easy to work on the other dimension. I did this part of the shaping completely by eye, basically just knocking off the corners with the rasp, and trying to stay out of the groove. You also need to work a curve into the side so the line doesn't rub on the body of the block as it runs through.

It was pretty easy, but engrossing, so I forgot to take any photos.

Repeat for other dimension

As I look at these photos now, I find myself thinking, "No one will believe this was easy!", but it was, mainly because I wasn't too concerned about making the shape as perfectly symmetrical as a machine would make it. It just doesn't need to be that perfect, so relax a bit and enjoy it.

Finally, you've probably been wondering why the block is longer on one end than the other. This is something I thought of a couple years ago when stropping my Mark III block: if you make both ends blunt, you can't get the strop tight enough to close up the gap between the strop and the block. This means one end of the block is not supported by the strop.

Solution? Make the block taper off so the strop can follow the taper.

Longer end gives more support to the strop
Pretty clever, right? Though in the intervening years I figured out I'm not the first to think of this. Hand-made blocks often include this taper, although machine made ones never do, probably because it would be too expensive. When doing it by hand, it's just as easy to include the taper.

Okay, next time, the fun part!

Yes, I'm being ironic.

Next Up: Too Hard

15 December 2015

A Better Mortise

As I said last time, for my Mark IV block I wanted to cut the mortise for the sheave in a solid block of wood, rather than constructing an assembly of cheeks and spacers to create the mortise. I have two reasons for that:

First, one of the glue joints in the construction failed in my Mark I block. I believe I used epoxy, so I can't imagine how this happened, but it did.

Second, it's very slow, painstaking work to make and assemble a made-up block. The cheeks need to be flat, the spacers just the right thickness, with a curve cut in the rope-end at least. Then it needs to be glued, clamped, and screwed for good measure. With plugs, of course. A lot of hassle and it takes forever.

However, at the time, it seemed the skill and tools needed to cut a mortise in a solid block of wood were out of my league.  I'd tried the recommended method of drilling a bunch of holes and then chopping out the waste, but the results were always disappointing.  Dismally disappointing, if you will allow me an alliteration. Either the mortise was too big, or gouged with drill marks, or just horribly misshapen.

It occurred to me that the drilling technique was just a short cut devised by people who think woodworking requires power tools, and that maybe there was a better way.

Turns out, I was right.

After building my workbench, Helena decided I was a real woodworker, and started demanding some furniture. Furniture building requires knowledge of some basic joints, one of them being a mortise and tenon joint.

By the time I finished building a practice project that was nothing BUT mortise and tenon joints, I thought I had enough practice to build a block.

Flower box constructed with lots of mortise and tenon joints
(Actually, this is the model for my box... I don't seem to have a photo of mine)
If you are interested in learning this very valuable skill, I can't do better than to direct you to the guy I learned from, Paul Sellers. This very video, in fact:

Since very few things on a wooden boat are made with straight lines, the mortise cut for a block typically has at least one curved end, for where the line is reeved through.  I cut my mortise with two curved ends. The reason for this was simple: I wasn't thinking. After completing this block, I couldn't think of a good reason to have two curved ends, so the next time I'll make the other end square.


The first choice in laying out a mortise is: how thick. The thickness of a properly cut mortise is determined by the chisel. I used a 5/8" mortise so the block could easily handle 1/2" line.

After laying out the mortise--on both side--with a mortise gauge, I cut the curved end of the mortise with a Forstner bit, drilling half-way from one side, then half-way from the other, to avoid burst-out.

Drilling the curved end
Then it was time to start chopping. I am still a mortise newbie, so I didn't chop as aggressively as Paul. "Make mistakes slowly" is my mantra in the shop. However, even working carefully with an ordinary chisel, rather than a heavy duty mortise chisel, I was half-way through in just a few minutes.

Chopping the mortise
I could have held the block directly in my vise, but I thought I could get a more solid chop if the block was on my bench, clamped to a board held securely in the vise. This is a good trick, I think.

Clamp block against board held securely in vise
I stopped halfway through for a sanity check. Here you can see the block and pattern match. I will explain why one end is longer than the other, eventually!

Sanity check!
Once I was halfway through, I flipped the block over and chopped through from the other side. Amazingly enough, the two holes met in the middle.

The walls of the mortise were quite clean enough for a furniture joint, but of course nautical things are always more complicated, so I smoothed the inside first with a rasp, then with sandpaper, to make sure there isn't too much friction between the cheeks and sheave.

After a little clean up with a rasp

Total time? Perhaps 10 minutes. It took far longer to describe than to do. With a bit of practice and an assembly line set up, I could probably get it down to 5 minutes, easily.

But the real benefit is strength and precision. The size of a chisel cut mortise is defined by the width and straightness of the chisel, so it's guaranteed to be the right size and shape.

All you need are a couple of inexpensive hand tools and a little practice.

Think cutting the mortise looked easy? Wait 'til I show you how to shape it!

Next Up: Slow Learning

11 December 2015

Handy Billy

Occasionally even an unlikely boatbuilder should get to do some sailing, so that's what I did this summer, mostly. No great adventures to report, but I finally got to use some of the gear I've been building for the Blue Moon.  There was my new bowsprit and jib-handling gear to experiment with, and I finally took the time to really practice handling her under sail.

Like the afternoon my friend Tony and I sailed her upwind into a tiny little gunk hole, making short tacks through the narrow channel, just like a real Coot, finally dropping anchor in a quiet little pool with the satisfaction that comes from leaving the engine off.

Or the time we sailed her into Huntington Harbor, through the narrow entrance, up the long channel, through the crowded mooring field, and right up to the mooring. Sweet.

It's little moments like that that make all the work worthwhile.

I wasn't completely idle in the shop. After building my jack plane, I finally understood enough about how wooden planes work to tune up my old smoothing and jointer planes. The secret was getting their soles dead flat, cleaning up the wedges (to keep shavings from jamming under them), and getting a sharp edge on the blade. They worked so well, I even took some fine steel wool and linseed oil and polished the accumulated grime off them. Now they work and look great, if I do say so myself.

My trio of bench planes
Of course, if you have some good planes, you need to do something with them. One aspect of my jib-handling gear that I was not happy with was the single purchase on the jib halyard. Even putting my whole weight on the halyard (a not inconsiderable force), I didn't feel like I was getting the luff tight enough.

One day, when I was looking balefully at the jib sagging off to windward, I decided I needed one more piece of gear, and I even knew what I needed: a handy billy.

Handy Billy with one end hitched on to the jib halyard

And the other attached to an eye-pad on deck
A handy billy is essentially a small tackle that's flexible enough to have many uses on a boat. What I had in mind is traditionally called a luff tackle, which does exactly what it sounds like: hauls the luff of a sail tight. One end of the tackle is fastened to an eye-pad on deck and the other is hitched onto the halyard. With a 3:1 or 4:1 power ratio, I should be able to finally get the jib luff tight.

To build some blocks, I needed some wood. I happened to have some teak that I salvaged from a rather nice teak table. The teak itself was still in great shape, but the fastenings used in the table's construction were, well, I think crap is the technical term. So the table fell apart.

Teak in my scrap pile. 
One of the legs was just the right size to make a few block bodies. A few swipes of a plane squared it up and revealed the lovely teak right under the greyed patina.

Then I needed some sort of wood to make the sheaves from. The ideal wood for this is the rare and expensive Lignum Vitae. I bought a 2"x2"x8" blank of the good stuff on the Internet.

Lignum Vitae (top), Teak (middle)
I just needed a plan.

Long time readers may remember my previous forays into block making. The Mark I and Mark II blocks are better left forgotten, but my Mark III block wasn't all that bad. In fact, it is still hard at work as the outhaul tackle for my mainsail.

The Mark III block, still hard at work.
All my blocks thus far have been built up with two cheek pieces, and spacers, only because I had no idea how to cut a mortice in a solid block of wood. But I've learned one or two tricks since then, and I was determined the Mark IV block would be a solid, rope-stropped block.

Since the dimensions would largely be set by the pieces of wood I had available, the plan was pretty straightforward to draw.

Mark IV block plan

So, with wood and plan in hand, it was time to start making sawdust.

Next Up: A Better Mortise

10 December 2015

Lennon at Sea

This probably won't come as a surprise to anyone, but I'm an old hippie at heart. More specifically, a Beatles fan, and even more specifically a John Lennon fan. December 8th is not my favorite date on the calendar, but this year on that date there was a pleasant surprise for Lennon fans, app geeks, and sailors!

This rather well-done iPhone/iPad app tells the story of John's sail from Newport Rhode Island to Bermuda in the summer of 1980, on the 43-foot Megan Jaye, as well as the inspiration which he drew from the 6-day voyage which he forged into the music for Double Fantasy (the original version of which starts with the chiming of a ships clock.)

John had recently bought a 14-foot sailing dingy from Coney's Marine right here in Huntington NY (he had a house here at the time) and was teaching himself how to sail, but like many of us, he had a lifelong dream to sail across the Atlantic. 

John shipped on board the Megan Jaye as a self-describe apprentice "cabin boy" (is that Fate, or what?), but a few days out from Newport the boat ran into rough weather. One by one the other crew members--all experienced sailors--were laid low by seasickness. Finally, only the captain (the mysterious Captain Hank) and the Beatle were unaffected.

After a day at the wheel, the captain couldn't carry on any longer and asked John if he'd take a turn a the wheel.

“At first you panic and then you’re ready to throw up your guts,” Lennon said in an interview after his trip. “But once you got out there and start doing all the stuff, you forget your fears and you got high on your performance.

“So there I was at the wheel with the wind and sea lashing out at me. At first I was terrified, but Captain Hank was at my side so I felt relatively safe because I knew he wouldn’t let me do anything stupid. After a while Captain Hank wasn’t feeling too well so he went to the cabin below.

“Once I accepted the reality of the situation, something greater than me took over and all of a sudden I lost my fear. I actually began to enjoy the experience and I started to shout out old sea shanties in the face of the storm, screaming at the thundering sky.” 

The app does a nice job of capturing the experience at sea, I think. It's not for everyone, but if you are a Lennon fan and a sailor, you just might like it.

Next Up:  Handy Billy

09 December 2015

Scraping is Boring

Scraping paint might not be the most boring thing ever, but it's in the running. I had great intentions of blogging about my big refit, but while I was in the middle of it, I just couldn't muster up the moral fortitude. But now that the Blue Moon's winter cover is on, and I can't do any more scraping, sanding, or painting on her, I'm suddenly in the mood to write again.

Why so boring? Probably because something in my nervous system compels me to do thing the hard way. My father was famous for this characteristic, and I've often expressed relief that I didn't inherit this trait, but I'm starting to wonder.

It all started with a Louis Sauzedde video showing how easy it is to strip paint off your boat with a heat gun. 

Louis made it look so easy that I decided to 'do it right' when it came to scraping my old paint off.

So I went out and bought the most powerful  heat gun I could find, and gave it a whirl.

Stripping paint off cabin top with heat gun

The heat gun does work, but it didn't take long to figure out that my gun wasn't quite the same caliber as Louis's. In fact, a little research uncovered the fact that Louis's heat gun runs in the $600 range. Ideal for a pro, but not for me.

The main difference in the two guns? Speed. Or lack of it. It took a couple hours to take off the worst on this one small part of the boat. You can see I stopped aiming for bare paint after finishing around the starboard portlight.

Anyway, I kept at it and got a good primer coat on for the winter, but its obvious that I've got a very big job ahead of me.  In the spring.

With primer... nice and smooth, anyway!

One thing I did want to do was to get a good winter cover on before the snow started flying, to minimize the wear and tear on the deck over the winter.

I already had a couple of good heavy canvas tarps, but with the mast out of the boat, and no boom to sling the tarp over, what would I do for a ridge pole?

I've tried the PVC route in the past, but the canvas covers are just too heavy for such flimsy stuff. After a bit of thinking I decided to use simple 2x4s, supported by a pair of home made crutches.

I've never seen anything like this before, but they were easy to make.

One crutch supporting a 2x4 over the cockpit, and another over the deckhouse.

And another crutch on the forward end of the deckhouse.

The crutches keep the 2x4 ridge poles in order, and also are high enough to keep the tarp off the top of the deckhouse.

With the fore and aft covers on

All closed up, except for a vent hole in the bow

I'm not sure the ridge pole is high enough to shed snow on it's own. I may have to help with a broom. I also suspect the canvas will stretch a bit -- particularly with some snow on it -- but I can easily take up the slack from the ground. It's certainly better than nothing and if the low crutches don't work, I can always make different ones next year.

In the world of plastic boats, I had to answer the question: why heavy brown canvas? Why not the ubiquitous and cheaper blue poly?

I originally got the canvas tarps because I wanted something that would breath, but now I just like them. I've used them two seasons now and they are showing no sign of wear at all.   The middle one is new, and it is a bit lighter color, but the others look and feel brand new. And they are so heavy they don't flog all winter.

Oh, and I just think they look better. Is looking better a good reason? I think so.

Anyway, she's all tucked away for the winter. I'll be back to scraping first thing in the spring, but for now, I need to find some winter projects for the shop. And I think I have just the thing...

Next Up:   Lennon at Sea

01 October 2015

The Big Refit

Okay! The 2015 sailing season is officially over for the Blue Moon, if not for me ('other peoples boats'). For the record, we did more sailing this summer than ever before. I didn't quite reach my goal of sailing every week, but almost (there was a long stretch in August that was hot, hot, hot with practically no wind.) My new bowsprit and jib handling gear were a big success. I didn't go on any long cruises because of work commitments, but all in all, a great sailing season.

Normally, I don't lay up the Blue Moon until November, but it has been 5 years since Bob, Helena, and I painted her stem to stern in Steinhatchee, Florida, so the time has come for The Big Refit.

I've tried to keep up with the painting required by every wooden boat while she's been afloat, but realistically, there is only so much you can do on a mooring or even at a dock. So I've decided to pull her out of the water early so I have all autumn and all spring to paint, paint, paint. By the time I splash her next year, she should look great.

No, she will look great.

Here she is on the hard, hauled out just yesterday. I've stripped everything possible off the deck because I'll be tackling the deck this fall, and the hull (the easy part) in the spring.

Ready for work
Her bottom was getting pretty gunky by the end of the season, so I was a little worried I'd see some worm holes after the guys power washed the bottom, but actually she looked great. The bottom paint was getting a little thin, but there was still plenty left to fight off any hungry marine boring worms. No sign of nasty critters at all, so that was a big relief.

Most importantly, I've had the mast taken out for the first time ever. I've climbed up the mast several times to replace halyards and rig extra blocks, but I've never seen the top of the mast. I couldn't help wondering if all the paint was worn off from the sun, and rain was just pouring down into the grain, rotting it away from the top down.

So it was a huge relief to be able to take a look at that mast top for the very first time.

First view of the top of the mast

As I hoped, the top of the mast is heavily fiberglassed. Even the paint is mostly intact. So, no water intrusion, no rot. But definitely time for some TLC for the standing rigging, and several coats of paint for the mast itself.

As a side bonus, I got to see a view of the bottom of the mast for the first time. The Blue Moon's mast is stepped on the keel, so a very traditional approach to the mast construction. The mast is strongly fiberglassed and the bottom of the mast looks, literally, as good as new.

The Blue Moon's mast

So, at least one part of the boat that doesn't need work! Good to know!

One thing that struck me as funny is looking at how the paint on the mast has faded above the deck. What's funny about that? When it came time to paint the boom, gaff, etc., a couple years ago, I went to great lengths to match the color of the mast. The faded part of the mast, that is.

Since I plan to work on the Big Refit as often as I can this fall, and want to record lessons learned (there will undoubtably be many) as I go along, I will break somewhat from habit and post short posts, more frequently.

Maybe I won't get quite so far behind as usual! Well, we sailors must live in hope.

Next Up:   Scraping is Boring

02 September 2015

Sharpening the Saw

If you lived through the 90s, you probably read Stephen Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People". It was one of the biggest book of the era and Bill Clinton even invited Covey to Camp David to talk about how the President could use the ideas to improve the function of the government.

Well, that didn't work out too well, but I still remember the book positively and hope that I have absorbed at least a few of its lessons, at least a little bit.

The final habit, if you recall, is of continuous improvement.  He called the habit Sharpening the Saw. The idea was to create a positive spiral of growth, change, and improvement by constantly building upon what you'd already learned. By renewing yourself constantly through education, you would propel your self ever upwards along the path of personal freedom, security, wisdom and power.

Lofty goals. So it struck me as odd the other night, as I was sitting at my work bench, that Covey called the habit 'Sharpening the Saw'. One of the first things you learn as a newbie woodworker is that no one with any sense sharpens their own saws. Planes, chisels, even drill bits, sure! But saws? No. That's too hard for mere mortals.

This prejudice was introduced to my mind when I read the bible of old tools: Michael Dunbar's "Restoring, Tuning, & Using Classic Woodworking Tools". In the section on restoring saws, Dunbar says, "As a woodworker, I have a bench grinder and other sharpening equipment, and I sharpen my own edge tools. I will occasionally touch up my saws with a file, especially in the case of a minor accident. However, it requires a lot of time to completely joint, file, and then set each tooth. This is one job I leave to the professionals."

This bias against sharpening saws was confirmed by Christopher Schwartz's excellent book, "The Joiner and the Cabinet Maker". In the section (I can't find it at the moment, so pardon me if I don't get this exactly right) where the book describes how things were done in a professional cabinet maker's shop, back in the day when such places were common, he says that even in a shop filled with master craftsmen with apprentices to do the dirty work, no one sharpened their own saws. A professional sharpener would come along every couple weeks and sharpen all the saws in the shop.

Frankly, not being able to sharpen my own hand saws wasn't a big problem for me until fairly recently, when I decided I'd had enough of the billowing clouds of fine saw dust created by power tools. During the course of this summer, I've pared my power tools down to the minimum -- bandsaw, planer, and drill press -- and gradually taught myself how tune up my hand tools. I went around the shop tuning and sharpening everything in sight, until finally my eyes finally fell on my saws. In particular, two ancient Disston rip saws that were so dull you couldn't cut your way out of a cardboard box with either one.

The first, and by far the oldest, was an old Disston I'd inherited from my grandfather. I'd actually been dumb enough to think it was sharp, back when I used it on my very first woodworking project -- fixing a bedroom door. But it was dull. Really dull. And bent. Oh, and the handle was broken.

The second was a much younger Disston that had been given to me by my Uncle Marty. This had a straight blade and a handle that was intact, even if it didn't have the charm and workmanship of the much earlier saw. But it was also quite dull.

"Simple," I thought. "I'll just send it out to be sharpened."


Now, maybe there are still professional saw sharpeners in the hills of North Carolina, or Maine, or Oregon, but not on Long Island. Not anyone I'd trust the job to, anyway. I quickly figured out I'd have to mail my saws to someone I found on the Internet, and hope they came back properly sharpened. This would be time consuming and costly. Needless to say, I never got around to it. The saws hung on my shop wall as idle decorations.

That wouldn't do in the long run, of course. Almost without thinking about it, I gradually accumulated a saw file and even an old Disston saw set that I spotted at a garage sale hosted by a lady who had no idea what it was. I enlightened her, and she was happy to let it go for a dollar.

But I had no idea how to use these tools and didn't have the nerve to experiment.

Finally, I stumbled across a video by Paul Sellers, a 'lifestyle woodworker'. The video was a revelation.

"That looks easy!", was my first thought after watching the video, which you should watch before reading further. And last night, I finally worked up my nerve to sharpen my saw.

The first thing I did was to make a simple saw clamp. This is nothing more than a strip of scrap wood with a cut down the middle and a hole bored at the end of the cut to keep the wood from splitting.

Saw held in saw clamp
You just slide this over the blade and clamp the whole works into your bench vise. Unlike Paul, I like to sit down while I work, so this style clamp fit my budge and legs.

5 1/2 Teeth per Inch Rip Cut
With the teeth held up to the light, it was easy to see why the saw wouldn't cut: the teeth were pitted and even looked dull. After battling a moment of fear and hesitation, I plunged forward with the next -- and most drastic -- step in the process: filing (or 'jointing') the teeth to an even height.

'Jointing' the teeth to an even height
To work smoothly, all the teeth of a saw need to be the same height. It's easy to understand how a particularly tall tooth could cause the saw to catch or jam on every stroke. Having tested the dull saw on a piece of pine before starting, I knew this saw caught badly about 2/3rd of the way down the blade.

To joint the teeth, you file them down with a flat file, as shown above. In essence, the first step is to make the saw less sharp!

I tried to file the teeth with an old half-round file in my tool box, but only for two strokes. By now, I've learned that files are nearly as disposable as sand paper, and this file was dull, dull, dull. I dashed down to Home Depot to complete my toolset with a new flat file -- a flat bastard (seriously, thats it's real name.)

All the tools required - saw clamp, medium flat file, 3-sided saw file, and saw set.
This new file made quick work of filing the teeth down to the same size. It only took a few firm strokes, and they were all the same hight. Don't waste your time with worn out files. Bin them!

Then it was time to sharpen the teeth with a sharp 3-sided saw file. Paul has a specific technique for filing the teeth and I won't try to improve on his method. If you want to learn how to do this, just watch his video. My only comment is that his estimate of time is about right: it took me about 4 minutes to sharpen all the teeth. It is not rocket science.

Putting a sharp edge on one tooth
After examining each tooth, I decided I'd been a little too gentle with the file, and sharpened each tooth for a second time, a little less fearful, a little firmer, and a little more focused on the final shape and look of each individual tooth. It still took about 4 minutes to sharpen each one.

At that point, I decided to do a test cut with my newly sharpened saw. Clamping a piece of pine in the vise, I gave the saw a try. It was already much sharper than before, but it was still catching about 2/3rds of the way down the blade. Also, the saw kerf seemed too thin. The saw was binding in the cut a bit. It was time to try my saw set.

A saw set is a tool used to push saw teeth over at a slight angle. First you push every other tooth over to the right, then turn the saw around, and push the remaining teeth over to the left. Again, it was a fairly simple process, at least on a saw with enormous teeth.

Setting the teeth
Again I tested the saw and again it caught in that one spot. I tested the saw with several strokes, and each time it hesitated or caught at the same spot. I studied the one tooth that seemed to catch each time and, sure enough, it looked different from the others. It didn't have quite the same vertical rake.

I quickly filed that one tooth into shape, then continued to test and tune the saw until it sawed smoothly. The final step was to use Paul's trick to slightly close up the set of the teeth, so the kerf was wide enough to prevent binding, but no wider than necessary. See video for this step, which involves whacking the teeth gently with a ball peen hammer.

Then I used some 000 steel wool and linseed oil to remove the old grime and rust from the handle and saw blade. The result? A beautiful old saw that cuts as well as it looks.

Disston D12
As far as I can tell, this is a Disston D12, from the late 40s or early 50s. The etching on the blade isn't readable enough to be sure. Here is the information page on the D12, if you are curious about such things: http://www.disstonianinstitute.com/12page.html#d12

Bottom line: I'm now convinced old masters didn't sharpen their own saws not because they lacked the skill, but because it was cheaper to have a lower-skilled sharpener do the job for them. It just wasn't worth their time to do it themselves. I've never read this theory anywhere else, so take it with a grain of salt, but it makes sense to me.

Anyway, if I can figure out how to straighten its blade, I intend to file all the teeth off my really old Disston, and turn it into a 10 or 12 point saw. That should take some real nerve!

Next Up:  The Big Refit

04 July 2015

Cruise to the Baltic

No, Helena and I are not off again (alas!), but Eric Forsyth is. He and his crew will be sailing Fiona 'down east' to Maine, then across to Nova Scotia, and finally up to Newfoundland. From there, they'll be jumping off across the North Atlantic aiming for a landfall in Scotland.

To get there, they'll have to wind their way through the ice field off Newfoundland which, as of today, is still pretty busy! The chart below (updated daily by the North American Ice Service -- who knew there was such an organization?) shows the number of bergs the Ice Service is currently tracking in each area. Since Fiona will be heading almost due east from Newfoundland, they'll be running through the trailing edge of the field.

I've been watching this chart for a few weeks and the ice field is steadily retreating from the warm weather, but it's anyone's guess if it will be gone before Fiona begins her crossing. Just one of the many interesting aspects of the cruise!

Icebergs currently tracked by the Ice Service

You can follow the ice field yourself at this link: Ice Service. Just click on "Today's NAIS Iceberg Chart".

Another interesting thing to watch is the weather in the North Atlantic. By clicking on that link, you can see the kind of weather they'll be facing on Fiona. From what I can tell from watching this chart for a few weeks, they won't be bored!

You can follow Eric himself on his Facebook page and on his website. He generally makes a short post every day, weather and satellite phones cooperating.

Helena and I will certainly be following along. Good luck Eric and crew!

Here is a 1-hour film about last year's cruise to the Antarctic, on which Helena and I crewed on the Brazil and Caribbean legs. We even make a couple brief appearances in the film! Check it out. You can watch it full-size on you computer by clicking the 'full size' button.

Fiona Battles to Reach Antarctica from Lew Schatzer on Vimeo.

Next Up: Sharpening the Saw