Monday, June 4, 2012

Two Years Before the Mast

Growing up, I had a copy of Dana's Two Years Before the Mast sitting on my bookshelf.  I never was really interested in it.  To my under-informed mind, the term "before the mast," conjured images of boring history of some dark, dusty semi-medieval era, strangely resembling Disney's The Sword in the Stone, before they invented sailing.  Didn't sound like a good read.  I am a somewhat vociferous reader, though, and eventually I felt compelled to pick up the book and read it.  I forget when...maybe in high school.  It definitely wasn't what I'd imagined.  It opened my eyes to the world of tall ships and sailing  (and I learned what "before the mast" really means).  I can't say that I've yet recovered from the impact that book had on me, which is a good thing in my opinion.

As I mentioned previously, it was while I was on a wind tunnel test in Switzerland in May 2010 that I became infatuated with PocketShip.  When I got home from that trip, I ordered that manual, just to stoke the imagination and assess how big of a project it would be.  The manual arrived a few days later, and I spent the last few nights of May reading it cover to cover.  On thing I remember is reading the chapter on building the spars.  I don't know why, but just seemed like a lot of fun.  It's been something I've looked forward to since the beginning.

Now, two years, almost to the day, after first reading the manual, I found myself slicing up some beautiful pieces of spruce...I was building my mast.  This was completely unplanned, but I guess it really did turn out to be two years before the mast!

Way back, I had weighed to cost and benefits of fir versus spruce, and decided the lower cost of fir outweighed the benefit of spruce.  As I've invested more time and money into this project, though, I reevaluated my decision.  I decided I really wanted the lighter weight aloft, and the cost differential wasn't that much.   Long ago, I had purchase fir for my bowsprit and boom (and even cut out the bowsprit), and fir they shall remain.  The booms of a gaffer should be heavy anyway for best sailing qualities.  And as for the bowsprit, well...whatever.  The mast and gaff, however, will be sitka spruce. This should make a sizable reduction in weight aloft. 

My "radar reflector."  I have no way of knowing if this will work.
The mast is hollow, of a square cross section, fashioned from four 3/4" staves.  The mast tapers from a 3"x3" box in the lower three-ish feet to a about a 2"x2" at the tippy-top.  Each end has a filler block, making the mast solid at the ends to support the loads of the mast pivot, gooseneck, the various hardware at the masthead.  Taking advantage of the hollow section, I cut a number of strips of aluminum foil, 2"-3" long, to stuff into the top of the mast to serve as a radar reflector.  Those 2"-3" should be right around the wavelength of a ship's radar, and hopefully will light it up like a Christmas tree.  With the Naval station so near by, it seems sensible.  Not that the Nimitz would be able to maneuver out of my little boat's way, but it's the thought that counts.
Todd at Martin Lumber was able to procure some nice, clear, vertical-grain 16'+ sitka spruce planks for me.  As before, my plan was to carry each plank home.  Fortunately, when I explained my plan (prefacing it with "you're gonna look at me like I'm crazy when I tell you how I'm getting these home") to Willie, one of the guys in the yard there, he offered to drop them off for me free of charge.  Another example of how Martin Lumber takes care of their customers.  Thanks, Willie!

The planks were 5/4 (dimensional) rough cut, so I had to spend about an hour running them through the surface planer to get the 3/4" (actual) required thickness.  I wish I had a picture...I nearly filled up a 32 gallon garbage can with spruce shavings!
Staves getting the epoxy-sealing treatment
I carefully laid out the tapers and cut them out with my trusty circular saw.  Then, the part I was dreading...cutting 3/8" deep rabbets in the sides for the fore and aft faces to slot into.  I could just picture wrestling with a 16' plank, trying to keep it up against the fence on the table saw.  I contemplated doing some fancy router work instead, but I finally took a deep breath and fired up the table saw.  It was actually a surprisingly smooth operation.  The rabbets were cut in no time!

From there, the operation was pretty straightforward: cut the blocks for each end of the mast; seal up the insides with a couple coats of epoxy; lather up the mating surfaces with thickened epoxy; clamp the thing together (stuffing my foil strips inside); and wait for the glue to dry.  Actually, there was on more step before I put the final stave in place. 

Blurry camera mode has been are the staves ready for the glue-up
I did the big glue-up fairly early in the day, and I used fast hardener, so by the evening, I was able to take the clamps off, sand down the squeezeout and use the router to put a nice 1/2" roundover on the corners.  It looks great.

Still blurry.  I did the glue-up outside so that I'd still have room to work inside the shop.  Note the proximity to the blooming rhody.  Only one bee managed to get distracted from the pink flowers and entomb its rear legs in the squeeze-out.

Blurry mode disabled.  Still a bad picture, though.  Here the mast has been cleaned up and the roundovers applied.

Speaking of bees, I saw one fly into a hole in the garage.  I wondered where the hole lead.  It lead into the garage...and the growing wasps' nest!  I dealt with this quickly.

Test fit of the lazarette hatches
Yes...I'm still sanding and getting getting distracted by a bunch of tasks that I want to get done before flipping the boat.  I managed to get the fiddly trim strips onto the transom skirt.  I made the cutouts for my lazarette hatches.  I cut the hole in the transom for the tiller and the hole in the bow for the bowsprit.  I filled the screw holes in the rubrails and got the dropboard retainer/companionway coaming thingies installed.  Okay, so I haven't actually spent more than a half-hour sanding since last update, but it I will, I promise.

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