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.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Living Dreams

Just over three years ago, I set out to build a small sailboat, and also endeavoured to record the ensuing events, thoughts, emotions, and experiences in this blog.  This marks the 100th post in this blog.  As such, it seems an appropriate time to take a retrospective at all of the events chronicled so far...


Let's talk for a moment about dreams, for why do people build and own small pleasure craft if not to satisfy some sort of dream?  For some it is the dream of building something, something beautiful, something useful, something physical and real.  They are in it to participate in the joy of creation.  Others dream of the places they'll go, the days spent thrashing upwind, spray flying, and the cool nights in a quiet anchorage.   They dream of sailing back in time, enjoying discovering new lands and seeing new things, voyaging where others seldom go.  They look forward to a future of anachronistic adventure.

For me, it was both.  The call of creation surely beckoned.  My being yearned for the primordial joy of losing one's self in the most basic of human arts, using one's hands to turn raw materials into something useful.  This alone would be motivation enough for a project like this.

Yet, there was more.  Reinforcing that motivation, and sometimes even overwhelming it, was the desire to live out the dreams of simple times on the water.  Close your eyes!  Just think! Imagine sailing into port on a summer evening, sun dipping down toward the horizon, a warm, gentle breeze caressing the skin and filling the sails.  Imagine a blustery autumn day, the oranges of land, the sky still blue despite clouds rolling in ahead of the coming storm, the steely grey of the water, punctuated by whitecaps, the thrill as your doughty vessel plunges forward, undaunted. Imagine swaying peacefully at anchor, experiencing quiet and peace, perfect and still, reclining in the cockpit, gazing up from at a million stars that you never existed.   The soul is stirred!

If you have to ask why to build a small wooden boat, you will probably never understand.


Reflections on Creation


So, animated by dreams, I set out to build a small sailboat.  The boat of choice was a design called PocketShip, penned by John C. Harris.  He designed PocketShip not for a customer, but to be his personal boat, a boat to meet his needs and wants.  It turned out that this manifestation of its designer's dream spoke to the dreams of others as well.  The reaction of others to this design was so great, that John Harris made it commercially available through his company, Chesapeake Light Craft.

A CNC-cut kit is available for this boat from Chesapeake Light Craft, but I eschewed in favor of building from plans.  As another PocketShip builder wrote, "I couldn't really tell people I built my own sailboat if someone else cut out all the parts."  If that sounds a little prideful, it is.  Building from a kit requires 95% of the time and 99% of the skill that building from plans does.  But, for me, there was an emotional need to start from scratch.

I first took pencil to plywood in early November, 2010, laying out the shapes that would define this thing that I was creating.  Two weeks later, those shapes began to emerge from the sheets of plywood.  The result was a collection of strange geometric figures that would have been at home hanging from the walls of a gallery in the Museum of Modern Art.

Soon, epoxy started to flow, welding these elements more and more complex compounds.  Sheets of plywood became a centerboard trunk, basically a glorified box.  More wood was added and that glorified box became a keel, still more two dimensional than anything.  Still more wood and that two dimensional keel became a three dimensional shape, a shape clearly recognizable as the hull of a boat.

Wood was added, epoxy and fiberglass applied, and everything was sanded smooth.  More wood, more epoxy, more sanding.  Over and over, wood, epoxy, sanding.  And each time, things became more real, more finished.

That is not to say that it was one, easy, uninterrupted process.  Errors were made and solutions had to be found.  Motivation had to be maintained when the appearance of progress was scarce and the resulting gratification lacking.  And then there was the time everything ground to a halt because of fear.  Fear that the boat that was taking shape would not live up to the dream.

For me, it was the big epoxy fillets that hold the boat together.  These are not just an important part of the structure of the boat, but they are also exceedingly visible in the cabin of the boat.  And I had a vision of them being perfect.  Perfect.  I wanted people to gaze upon them in awe.  I wanted superlatives heaped upon my handwork.  And yet, when I looked at the work that I had done, I didn't see the perfection I was looking for.  So, I tried to correct it.  After several perfunctory efforts at sanding them into perfection, I became disheartened.  And afraid.  Afraid that I could never bring my work up to snuff.  Afraid that the dream could not be translated into reality.  In my despair, I found myself working on the boat less and less, until, finally, all work stopped.  For months.

The dark lines are the fillets that "weren't good enough"
Salvation finally came in the form of the 2011 Wooden Boat Festival in
Port Townsend.  There my eyes were opened.  I saw fillets.  Real life fillets.  Fillets by professional builders.  Fillets on display boats.  And they weren't any better than mine.  Reality smashed my illusions of perfection, and allowed me accept my work for what it was.  Good enough.

Dreams are just that, fantastical imaginings of a nonexistent reality.  There are no flaws in dreams, a fact which must be recognized when translating dreams to reality, for reality has imperfections.  Those imperfections must be embraced, for the disillusionment resulting from maintaining an impossible standard of perfection will surely kill any dream, any joy, any love.  Flaws will exist, disillusion will be experienced, and it is ok.  You have to make the decision to look past the flaws, to choose to love both the good and the bad.  And you move on.

And move on I did.  The cabin got fiberglass, a sole, and a coat of paint.  The decks went on.  The topsides were stitched and glued.  Piece by piece, the final form of the boat emerged.  Soon, the boat itself emerged from the garage, briefly, only to be flipped over and immediately put back in.  More fiberglass, more epoxy, more sanding, a blues song or two, some paint, and again the boat went into the sunlight, and again it was flipped over and returned to the nest for more of the same.  The next time she emerged, it was for real.  After a brief flurry of rigging action, the boat was ready to fulfil her raison d'etre.  To be a vessel of the sea.

A Dream Being Fulfilled

The act of launching Solitude III on September 4th, 2012. had all the trappings of a dream fulfilled.  Construction of this vessel was complete and I was sailing on her.  Yet, really, launching the boat was just a milestone.  The adventures just started; the dreams are still being fulfilled.

Solitude III has been in the water over a year now, and oh, the places we've gone.  Those dreams of sailing adventures the help fuel the building process are coming true.  There have been early morning sails, after-work excursions, all-day adventures, and sunset cruises.  There have been solo adventures and trips with friends and family. 

So far, sailing has been confined to waters near home, though that has not limited the the adventure.  From the vantage point of a small boat, you see the water from different, more intimate perspective, and allows one to see familiar sights with new eyes and with new wonder.

And that's not the end of the story.  The voyages and the adventures have just begun.  The dreaming continues.

Timeline of Major Events (So Far...)

20 September - Ordered the PocketShip plans
12 November - Construction begins.  Bought plywood and started laying out the parts
25 November - Cut out first parts.  Very first part was the doubler for the cockpit storage locker.

19 April - Keel laid.
13 May - Hull stitched
26 June - Hull glued
July-September - Afraid of sanding
October - Interior fiberglassed

January - Decks installed, topsides stitched.
May - Topsides complete and fiberglassed. Rubrails installed
June - Mast constructed
July - Boat flipped.  Hull 'glassed.  #1 hit song, "Boatsanding Blues" released to international critical acclaim.
August - Hull painted bright red.  Boat flipped upright again.
30 August - 2nd-tolast coat of topcoat on upper hull.  Trailer purchased.
31 August - Painting complete.  Transom and rubrail varnishing complete.  Boat licensed
1 September - Keel box built for trailer.  Installed grab rails, drop board retainers and bow eye.
2 September - Installed lots of hardware
3 September - Boat onto trailer.  Spars installed.  Standing and running rigging setup
4 September - Boat completed!  Maiden Voyage!!!!!!!!!!
5 September - Day of rest.
6-9 September - Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend
December - Voyage to Langley

February - A German builds Solitude III in two days!
March - Sailing with Gray Whales
May - Overnight cruise to Edmonds
September - First salmon caught
October - Jammed centerboard demands attention!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Centerboard of Doom

The past few times I've have taken Solitude III out, I noticed that it was becoming increasingly difficult to get the centerboard to go up or down.  I had to resort to opening up the inspection hatches and using a combination of fingers, screwdrivers, and the handles of a pair of pliers to apply what could gently be described as a flabbergasting amount of excessive force to get the board down.  Finally, the last time I had the boat out, no amount of persuasion was successful in getting the board down.

Diagnoses of the problem has proven problematic at best.  I've tried using a mirror to look down into the trunk to see what's going on, but I can't see the problem...or much of anything. I've also tried looking up from underneath, but most of the centerboard slot is covered up by the keel trough on the trailer.

Right now, the sandy shores of Jetty Island are the leading contender of a beaching site.
My current plan is to careen the boat, pull her down onto her side, and see if I can get a good look at what's going on.  Doing this will require the right combination of free time, weather, tides, and daylight.  This time of year, getting the right combination of those things isn't easy.  So, for now, I wait.

Unless someone has a forklift, Travelift, or other contraption I could borrow...

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Love Me Tender, Volume IV.5

It has been several months since I last made any progress on the Eastport Pram project.  Life, traveling, and other projects have taken priority.  It happens.  The great news is that the boat sits ready to be stitched and glued, the most fun and rewarding part of any stitch and glue boat building project.  This means that there is something to look forward to (unlike, say, a whole lot of sanding), and that it should be easy to get started again once time allows.

This is not to say that all boat building activities have ceased at the Lee Boatworks.  In the past few months I managed to complete a CLC Cradle Boat for my newborn nephew.  As an aside, the Cradle Boat was CLC's fifth-best selling kit in 2013.  I guess I played a small part in that.  :-)   Coincidentally, the Eastport Pram, and the Eastport Nesting Pram also made the list.