Sunday, June 4, 2017

Fixing the Centerboard

After quite a long writing break, I thought it would be good to catch up on the blog a little.  The biggest bit of news is that I finally resolved Solitude III's stuck centerboard.  

A centerboard that goes down is a sight for sore eyes!
It was an issue that plagued me for well over a year and a half.  It started after a weekend cruise, when I noticed that the centerboard seemed to drop a little less freely than before.  Things slowly worsened, and soon I was needing to open the inspection ports and push the board down using the hand of a pair of channel locks.  It kept taking more and more force until, on day, it would not go down.

My first suspicion was that there was some flotsam jamming the board, but on inspection, I could find none. One day I dropped the boat into the water, pulled out all the ballast, secured a line to the masthead and hauled her over onto her side. I then waded into the water and set to work. Between prying with a screwdriver and applying excessive force, I managed to get the board ALL the way down. The was a little bit of seaweed and the like on the board and in the trunk, but nothing major. I cleaned it as best I could. I then tried running the board back in. Still very, very jammed. 

After eliminating lodged debris as a cause for my centerboard woes, I determined that there had to be  some water intrusion that was causing swelling.   The question was whether it was on the centerboard side or the trunk side.  It was getting toward the end season, so I parked the boat jacked it up slightly off the trailer and let it spend the next five months out of the water, airing out. 

After quite some time, I launched the boat and tried it again.  Still stuck.  From there, between the discouragement of having a stuck centerboard and having a total lack of time to actually make progress, things bogged down.

Finally, I got serious.  I built a new centerboard, and re-careened the boat.  Out came the old board, in went the new.  Except it didn't.  Stuck.  This time I came armed with diagnostic tools, namely a few sticks of varying thickness from less that 3/4 inch (the thickness of the centerboard) up to 1 inch (the original width of the trunk).  I probed carefully and determined that the wood at the bottom of the centerboard trunk had swollen.

The root cause of the problem was that, in my rush to finish the boat, I sanded through the epoxy/fiberglass in the neighborhood of the centerboard slot and didn't reseal it. The breach in the epoxy was just at the bottom of the keel, so water was getting lapped up via the "endgrain" edge of the plywood. The one "for sure" spot that I found was about `at the midpoint of the centerboard slot lengthwise, and actually on the outboard edge of the keel. I have been known to be a flagrant violator of maxims such as "always keep your sander flat against the surface" and "don't use a power sander on edges," and in this case, I was roundly punished for my transgressions.

After consultation with John Harris, I decided to strip the paint in the area, apply liberal doses of epoxy to seal it, repaint, and replace the centerboard with a 1/2" one covered with two layers of 'glass.  In addition to patching and resealing the one clearly obvious spot, I also overreacted and hit everything within 2" of the centerboard slot (around the keel, and yes, up into the slot) with several coats of epoxy.

You don't want to do this to your boat if you can avoid it.
For the resealing of the slot, I was able to jack the boat up off the trailer far enough to gain access. I used the careen-at-the-dock procedure to get access to the board for installation and removal.

After I got her back together, re-rigged, and in the water last night, I raised and lowered the board.  Smooth as could be.  I took her out for a brief test cruise, but the wind forgot to show up. It wasn't until a week later that I had another chance to go sailing.  The trip took me across from Coupeville to Port Townsend to sail by the Wooden Boat Festival (which I had not registered for, since I did not know I'd have an operational boat in time), but that's a story for another time.

Under Sail Again!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

PocketShip #1 at the 2016 Wooden Boat Festival

It's been a while since I last posted, and there are quite a few things to catch up on, the major one being that Solitude III's centerboard woes have been rectified and sailing is once again a wonderful possibility.  When I get a chance, I will try to post some updates about what's gone on there. 

In the meantime, I got Solitude over to the Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend for the first time in a few years.  PocketShip #1 was also there, and we managed a brief sail together, with the Geoff Kerr at the helm of ol' #1.  Sailing in company with PocketShip gave me the opportunity to really see her up close and in action.  Seeing her from that perspective renewed my appreciation for her graceful lines.   And sailing side-by-side within easy speaking distance, feeling the wind motivate Solitude forward, and seeing PocketShip gleefully surge forward under the same gust, reminded me of just how sweetly these boats sail. 
Here are a few photos of PocketShip from Solitude:

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Love Me Tender, Volume VIII

Many a boat builder has, at some point, become so frustrated with a boat that they just wanted to take a saw to it, slice it into a million little pieces and be done with it.  Some have even act on the impulse. But most pull themselves together in time to save that object on which they have invested so much time and effort.  On an unrelated topic, I just sawed my boat in half.

The good news is that this was not fit a fit of boat building rage, but rather part of the plan.  You see, the Eastport Pram that I am building is the nesting version.  The forward section is designed to be removed and nest in the aft section for storage and transport.  I current cannot imagine any need I have for this feature currently, but just thought it too fascinating not to build.

From the crispness of this picture, you can see how steady my hands were.
One would expect that sawing a nearly-complete boat in half would be a highly nerve-racking experience, but I did not find it too bad.  The only part that caused me any digestive uncertainty was in marking the cut line.  I took the cheater route there and bought a long, long, long 1/8" drill bit, which I then plunged through the spacer in the take-apart bulkhead and repeatedly drilled through the hull with.  While this resulted in a perfect series of dots that I could connect with the saw, the act of drilling holes in the hull was, for me, a test of sweaty-palmed fortitude.

After that, the actual event was a non-event.  I took up my handsaw, and voompa, voompa, voompa, done.  I loosened the 6 bolts on the takeapart bulkhead and the bow gently slipped off.  Unable to resist, I swung the bow section around and nested it in the aft hull.  Perfect fit, and a relative tidy package.

It nests!
It was a good thing too, because the smaller package enable me to easily get the boat out of the way while the car comes into the garage for a series of maintenance and repairs.  Gosh, a car in the garage, what a novel idea! Do not worry, though, fair reader.  Once the oil is changed, the radiator flushed, and heater is working again, boat building will resume.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Love Me Tender, Volume VII

Sealed, sanded, and skeg secured.
They call it stitch and glue, based on the notion that those two words encapsulate the major components of the construction method.   I would propose,  however,  that this is a little misleading,  and that it actually should be called stitch and glue, and glue, and glue.  And sand, and sand, and sand, and sand, and sand...

It helps build a heated "tent" in
order to get epoxy to dry in a cold garage 
At last report, I had just wrapped up the glue part of stitch and glue.  With the hull solid, covered with fiberglass, and sealed in epoxy, it was essentially structurally complete.  Not pretty or usable,  but structurally complete.  In keeping with the "sand as much as possible, as early as possible" philosophy that I have been employing on this boat, I decided to take some time out to sand the hull before moving on.  As a note, I don't know that pre-sanding is saving my any construction time relative, but I do believe I'll get a modestly higher quality product in the end.  Plus, shorter sanding sessions are slightly more tolerable than a massive end-of-project sandathon.  

Glue, glue, and more glue.

I recently was on Chesapeake Light Craft'Craft ' website, where I ended up watching a whole series of YouTube videos on building your own stitch and glue kayak.  I don't know that I learnt anything new, but I was nevertheless enhanced through the whole thing.   The best part had John Harris looking straight into the camera, saying the words, "remember," cue  deep, deep reverb, "sanding is FUN, is fun, is funis fun, is fun..."  That was pretty much all that went through my head whilst sanding the hull.  

Adding thwarts, rubrails and other
 sundry bits help flesh out the hull
Next up, it was time to glue a bunch of stuff onto the boat, it from the aforementioned "structurally complete" state to the afore-alluded-to "more usable" state. Among things that were glued on were the skeg, rub rails, quarter knees, dagger board trunk, thwart supports, and probably a few other other bits and pieces that I have since forgotten about.  Each of these is individually a physically small part, but each serves an important function.  Less intuitively, and more transformationally, each part really helps to fill things out visually. What once was  the hollow shell of a hull, takes on new robustness and soon assumes the form of a sturdy little boat.

Now, what happens next will violently challenge that notion of sturdiness....

But that's the subject of another post.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Centerboardless Sailing

A Taste of Heaven
Recently, many questions have been coming in from various quarters about the status of Solitude's centerboard.  So, after a lengthy period of silence about the issue, it is time for an update.  In short, the status can be summed up in two words: still stuck.

It it not totally for a lack of trying, though resolving the issue hasn't received a lot of effort due to competing priorities.  I had a go at trying to dry out the centerboard and trunk over the summer, in hopes that the suspected swelling would go down.  But, it was to no avail.  On the bright side, it did lead to my one voyage under sail this year.  When I dunked the boat to judge the efficacy of my drying efforts, I also was able to take her out for a short cruise downriver.  After turning around, I found that the wind was favorable for running back up river.  Unfurled became the jib, and carried on the wings of the wind was I.  It was short, but blissful.

So, now, I am resolved to build a new centerboard, and see what happens.  I have the new board cut out and read for lead, shaping and fiberglass.  Stay tuned.
A new centerboard.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Love Me Tender, Volume VI

Ah, the highs and lows of stitch and glue boatbuilding.  You are lured in by the siren song of building a beautiful wooden boat quickly and easily.  You taste the ecstasy of having a boat appear before your eyes in a matter of hours.  And then, when the stitching is done, reality sets in.  The bulk of the project looms before you, and it consists of messing with epoxy mudpies and sanding.  Lots of sanding. 

After stitching together the Eastport Nesting Pram, the next step was, naturally to glue it together.  Gluing comes in two phases. First, small thickened epoxy "tack welds" are applied along the seams.  The purpose of these is to hold the boat together so that you can remove the stitches.  After the stitches are out, the seams are completely filled with thickened epoxy and big, structural, epoxy fillets are applied at transoms, bulkheads, and wherever else they may be called for.

The Eastport Pram is what Chesapeake Light Craft calls a "lapstitch" boat...not to be confused with a glued lapstrake boat, mind you.  That's something else entirely.  In CLC's parlance, a lapstitch boat is a boat built with stitch and glue construction that has the looks of a lapstrake boat.  Part of what makes this whole system work is that when the boat is stitched together, there are fairly large v-shaped gaps behind the laps.  In the gluing phase, these gaps behind the laps all get filled with thickened epoxy, creating the appearance of tightly fit laps and structurally joining the planks, giving the boat its strength.

Under the shroud are newly glued seams.  With cooler weather,
it helps to "tent" the project and heat the tent to
all the epoxy to set.

Interior fiberglass

After all of that thickened epoxy, comes fiberglass inside and out on the bottom of the boat, and more epoxy to fill the weave and seal the unglazed parts of the hull.

I remember on my first kayaks that the epoxy work, and especially the fiberglassing were big deals, major milestones.  After building Solitude III, the magnitude of these tasks is somewhat diminished.  Creating epoxy fillets has become old hat, and wetting out fiberglass has become an exhibition of well-practiced skill.  Indeed, I now feel the same sense of artisanship in wetting out fiberglass that I have previously felt welding a block plane.  It comes with a satisfaction that partly compensates for the fact that you still are just working with gooey, sticky mudpies, and that all you have to loak forward to is endless sanding.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Unchain My Heart (Or At Least My Centerboard)

To quote Dr. Henry Jones, Sr., "this is intolerable."  With the days getting longer and the weather turning finer, being precluded from sailing by Solitude III's jammed centerboard is becoming increasingly annoying.  Thus, fixing this problem has scaled my priority list with astounding alacrity.

I made my first attempt to fix the centerboard just over a week ago.  My goal was to check for any debris that might be jamming the board.  My original plan had been to careen the boat, and thinking it through all winter, I couldn't come up with a better idea.  But then, just a few days before I was ready to make my attempt, I realized that maybe I could get sufficient access just by heeling the boat over dockside.

Solitude III with all or her ballast and gear removed.
So, I dropped the boat into the water, pulled out the internal ballast, anchor, and other gear, secured a line to the masthead and hauled her over onto her side. I figured that with the 200 lbs of internal ballast removed,  I would be able to get to boat on to her side without any additional tackle.  Well, I was wrong, and that 100lbs of ballast cast into her keel kept her on her feet.  Fortunately, while I was struggling, a nice couple came by and lent a hand.  Soon, we had a 2:1 tackle rigged and between the three of us, got the boat heeled over to where her portlights just kissed the water.  The bottom of the centerboard trunk was still about 2" under water, but it was close enough.

In the end, she was actually heeled over a little more. 
With the boat on here side, I waded into the water and set to work. Between prying with a screwdriver and applying excessive force, I managed to get the board all the way down. The was a little bit of seaweed and the like on the board and in the trunk, but nothing major. I cleaned it as best I could. I then tried running the board back in. Still stuck. In fact, it was a pretty big struggle to get the board all the way back in the trunk.  Well, that was enough for one day.

The sticky centerboard is visible just beneath the water's surface
In my mind, I've eliminated lodged debris as a cause for my centerboard woes. So, it's likely that there was some water intrusion into either the centerboard or the centerboard trunk that caused the wood to swell.  I didn't really investigate it closely enough at the time, so I don't know whether it's on the board side of the hull side, though on reflection, I'm leaning toward the latter. If it was the board, I would have expected that spending a 5 months out of the water would have dried it out a little. On the other hand, the bottom of the centerboard trunk sits in direct contact with the keel trough on the trailer. Despite the cover on the boat, I can easily see the carpeting on the keel trough being continually damp throughout a rainy Pacific Northwest winter, and (assuming the not-unlikely scenario that the epoxy got sanded through somewhere around the centerboard trunk opening) water wicking up and into the sides of the centerboard trunk.

As far as next steps go, I'm planning on trying to get some ventilation going in the centerboard trunk and see if that helps.  I will then dunk the boat again and (unless the problem has magically gone away), do some more careful measuring and diagnosis.   More to come.