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.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Back in the Water

The past few months have been rather soggy around here, but in the last week or so we've started to get a dose of seasonable weather. Thus, it was only a matter of time before Solitude III again took to local waters for an after-work sunset cruise. 

I had planned on working on unjamming my centerboard over the winter, but have not yet actually done so.  I was hoping that maybe something had mysteriously changed, or that with a little persistence I could get the board down, but alas, it wasn't to be.  That slab of plywood, that creator of lateral resistance, that enabler of upwind sailing, exerted all of its stubborn will to remain in the full upright and locked position.

I wasn't going to let this ruin my day, though, no sir!  I have no need to be purely a purist.  A sailor's biases against the dread gasoline beast hindered me not from harnessing its propulsive might to get me away from shore.  Happily did the little noisemaker purr as I left the dock, steadily did it chug as I turned my bow down-river, bucking the 3 knot current created by a monster incoming tide, dutifully did it push, as I entered the golden waters of the Sound and headed into the sun. 

I had no particular destination, but rather a plan to get as far from the shore as possible before my turnaround time.  The seas were calm, the air was warm, and the sky bright and graced with wispy clouds.  Onward I went, no, onward we went, Solitude and I.  But we were not alone for long.  Just as it was time to turn around, I heard a sound, distinct and instantly recognizable...the breathe of a whale.   I spun my head around and caught sight of the great mist of water that had been sent skyward by the whale's exhalation drifting slowly back to the surface.  Then another, and another.  I found myself in the midst of a pod of gray whales, apparently tempted away from feeding around Hat Island by tastier morsels in the vicinity of the mouth of the Snohomish.  For a while, I just took it in, as the whales surfaced and dove around me, each time spouting a column of water skyward as they came to the surface, and occasionally displaying their magnificent flukes as they headed for the depths.

Too soon, I had to leave and return to terra firma.  It was a good start to the season.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

PocketShip Community

One amazing thing about the PocketShip design is the number of builders who have chosen to write about their building experiences.  Indeed, looking through my list, I count at least 19 PocketShip blogs and online photo galleries, not counting the handful of threads on where people regularly posted their progress.  I haven't heard a recent estimate from John Harris about the number of PocketShips in existence or under construction.  A couple of years ago, the number was around 50.  Let's say that's doubled to 100.  That means almost 20% of all PocketShip builders blog about their experience! 
PocketShips Naoned, Tattoo, and PocketShip #1
(photo courtesy of Pascal, via

In addition to sharing the story of their experiences building this boat, these blogs serve as a valuable resource for other builders.  Stuck?  Check out the blogs and see how others dealt with your problem.  Need inspiration?  Check out the blogs for photos of completed boats (or check out the new PocketShip photo gallery on  Need an easier way to do some particularly onerous task?  Check out the blogs, maybe somebody figured something out.  Looking to poach some cool ideas to customize your boat?  Check out the blogs and steal liberally!

Maybe I'm a boat nerd, maybe I'm a PocketShip aficionado, but I try to keep up with all the PocketShip blogs.  I think its fun!  It is interesting to see how others approach building their boat, what challenges them, how they face their challenges, and what they think about their building experiences.  It also makes you feel a sense of community, in that we are united by the common experience for building this boat.  That's pretty cool.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Love Me Tender, Volume V

I've heard various versions of the history of stitch and glue boat construction.  Numerous people have cited numerous other people as "inventing" stitch and glue.  Numerous others have even made varying claims to have even developed it themselves.  I imagine there are several explanations for this ambiguity.  Indeed, it is entirely conceivable that multiple people developed the same idea at roughly the same time.   After all, Leibniz and Newton both developed calculus independently at roughly the same time in history, so why couldn't multiple boat builders independently develop stitch and glue?  More likely, though, one can imagine a continuum of development, where  various builders introduced innovations that now form basic elements of what is today recognized as stitch and glue.  So, the builder who came up with the idea of pre-cut plywood panels probably lays claim to inventing stitch and glue, as does the person who first introduces wire stitches, as does the fella who slopped on the first epoxy fillets, et cetera.

Regardless of its origin, stitch and glue is almost certainly the most popular construction method in amateur boat building.  Although there are several factors that contribute to this, such as not needing any super specialized woodworking skills or tools, I think the biggest factor is the near-instant gratification that comes with stitching the hull together.  Generally, stitch and glue boats are built from CNC-cut kits, and stitching the hull together is one of the very first steps in the construction process.  Within a few hours of starting construction, the builder starts aligning plywood panels, stitching them together with wire sutures.  One to two hours later, the builder steps back, sees the fully developed form of a boat hull and cannot help but exclaim, "it's starting to look like a boat!"
After several months of procrastination and working on other projects, I finally went out to the boat shop and allowed myself to indulge in that most sublime joy of stitch and glue building.