Sunday, February 14, 2021

The Refit

Solitude III is now over 8 years old.  Through the years, wear and tear have accumulated: bumps and bruises from encounters with docks, fading paint from being stored outside, even a few imperfections that lingered from the original build.   Looking at the general condition of the boat, it was clear that is was time to do some heavy maintenance.  And what better year to tackle such a project?

The jumping off point for the refit was when I decided it was time to repaint.  The sun has beat down on Solitude's hull for years.  The shiny red still looks good from a distance, but the fading and thinning of the paint was clear up close.  How hard could it be to repaint?  Rough up the hull with sandpaper, mask stuff off, and slop on a couple of coats of fresh paint.  If you have ever undertaken any project before, you know where "How hard could it be?" leads.

Looking over the boat, the list got longer.  

- There were some scuffs and scrapes that would need to be filled and faired with epoxy.  
- If I was going to epoxy things, I might as well fix those one or two fillets that have bothered my eye forever.   
- Some odd discoloration in the fiberglass covering the transom developed in the first few years.  The damage didn't extend into the wood, but the fiberglass would have to be removed and replaced to fix it.
- On the topic of R&R-ing fiberglass, last year, I left the boat without it's cover for a week or so.  You won't believe it, but a jay, seeing its reflection in the glossy varnish on the companionway hatch, decided to go ballistic, pecking hundred of holes into the 'glass.
- The boom gallows had met with some damage some time ago, and while fixed and functional, a brand new one was needed.  
- And much, much more...

Since getting loaded on the trail, the boat cannot fit back in the garage.  Since I would be doing painting, I knew I had to get the boat inside and protected from dust, birds and other "outside" stuff.  I look for a while at renting a storage unit, but for the cost of that I decided a better option was to buy a 10ftx20ft tent and do the refit under the bigtop.  

Boom Gallows
Before really committing to project fully, I decided to start with an off-the-boat project, replacing the boom gallows.  The original was two pieces of 1" mahogany, glued together.  For the replacement, I found a nice piece of 2" sapele.  I dug out the original plans, and laid out the shape on the new board.  I cut it out, drilled the holes for the stanchions and routed out the hole for the stern light.  Sanding, epoxying, more sanding and multiple coats of varnish ensued.

Damage to the old gallows
New sapele gallows.

As a side note, with the offcuts from the both the new and old gallows (don't ask why I kept the old offcut for 8 years), I built a little planter.  

Planter made from old and new gallows offcuts

The aft face of the tabernacle had split at some point, so I built an all new one.  One side of the old tabernacle became the tiller for my Eastport Pram.

Transom Fiberglass

Transom damage.  The discoloration is very deep.
A year or two after finishing the boat, areas of deep milky white hazy developed in the fiberglass on the transom.  Trying to figure out what was going on, I had an email exchange with John Harris, who was puzzled at the damage.  I thought it was likely UV damage from a tie that the varnish got a little thin, but he did not think UV damage would run so deep, and theorized that something must have gone wrong with the original cure.  I suppose this is possible, but I am unsure why it took multiple years to develop.

In any event, the cure was to remove and replace the fiberglass.  This was the point of no return, as the first step was to sand a perimeter all the way through the fiberglass in the area that would be hidden by paint.  I could have gone all the way to the edge of the transom, but decided to leave a 1" perimeter of the old 'glass to overlap the new 'glass onto.  sanding the perimeter convinced me that I did not want to sand every square inch of fiberglass off the transom, so I switched to a heat gun and a large putty knife.  I used the heat gun to warm and de-bond the epoxy (careful not to roast the wood underneath) and the putty knife to then pull the fiberglass away from the hull.  It was better than sanding, but still not a fun process.  I l
Removing the transom fiberglass
et everything cool and then sanded the residual epoxy off, exposing bare teak for the first time in years. 

A sheet of fiberglass and several coats of epoxy later, and the hull was again complete.  Sanding the newly fiberglassed transom was far more nerve-wracking than I remember it being the first time.  The last thing I wanted to do was sand into the fiberglass so that the white weave would show through the varnish in the end.  Speaking of varnish, that would have to wait.

Fiberglass off, down to the teak.


As anyone who has ever built a boat knows, there are always some imperfections that will bug the builder until the end of time (and probably nobody else will ever see).  One of these for me has been the fillets in the cockpit between the transom shirt and the seatbacks.  They never really got shaped and sanded right, and it has always bugged me.

I decided to finally fix this by applying a fresh fillet over the top.  Since this fillet didn't have to be structural, I used easy-sanding microballoons as a thickener.  This process went well enough that I decided to go hog-wild and "fix" several more not-quite perfect (though not bothersome) fillets, some deeper gouges, and places like the cockpit storage cubbies, the surrounds of which just didn't get sanded right to begin with. 

Prepping the Hull

Plenty of wear and tear over the years
Scuffs and dock rash in the paint. 
You can also see just how faded it was getting 

Needless to say, all of the hardware had to be stripped from the hull before painting, along with the spars and rigging.  At one point I imagined that I would just tape off some of it but removal went smoothly enough that everything ended up coming off.  I carefully pulled each piece, labelling it (just in case) and
taping it's fasteners to it.  Then came the fun part.  Nearly everything was bedded using silicone sealant.  This obviously had to go before painting, but removing it is not fun.  It doesn't sand, and solvents don't do much.  It took a lot of picking with a fingernail to clean off of the silicone off of everything.

Removing the bootstripe

And the registration numbers. 
Even these were getting beat up.
The old boot stripe (a vinyl tape) had to be removed, along with the registration stickers.  To prep for painting, every square inch of the hull had to be sanded -- topsides with 120 grit, bottom with 80 grit.  This processes was took the boat from an otherwise passable appearance to looking like a construction zone.  With the boat on the trailer, sanding the bottom paint proved to be a major challenge.  I became clear that in the end the boat would have to be jacked up out of the keel trough and that the trailer bunks would have to be removed one at a time to allow for sanding and painting each side of the bottom.  That would have to wait, however, as another challenge presented itself.

I then started sanding the boat.  She has every bit as much surface area as when I originally built her, and at times it seemed maybe a little more!   As I sanded, the boat took on first a dull, and then a mottled appearance as I sanded through the top coat and in some cases all the way to fiberglass.  Some of the places that were in better shape just needed to be scuffed up.  Others need serious elbow grease.   Of course this is where perfectionism must reign, as every defect left behind will be visible (to the builder's eye, at least) forever.
Sanded down.  This looks terrible, but is
the foundation of a good paint job.

There were several deeper scrapes in the hull side that needed to be filled with epoxy.  There were also some spots on the edges of the port rail where (either in the past or now) I sanded clean through the fiberglass, so that had to get patched.  There was also a section of the cabin top where the paint had developed dozens of tiny bubbles.  I thought maybe there had been some surface contamination, but in  sanding the paint off, I decided the more likely culprit was that I hadn't originally sanded the surface quite smooth, leaving little divots of unsanded epoxy that the paint did not properly adhere to.

For a while I had fooled myself into believing that I would be able to tape off the original waterline to avoid having to level the boat and remark it with a laser level.  In the process of sanding, however, the original paint line was either erased or obscured too much to be useful.  Also, had always thought I had slightly missed-marked the original waterline just a bit.  It, and the boot stripe have always sloped ever so slightly downward.  That, combined with the 1" boot stripe ducking completing under the chine aft, has always made the boat look like it is squatting tail down in the water.  Correcting this sudden became in-scope for the refit.

Leveling the boat was nowhere near a trivial task.  The boat sitting on a slab of pavement that slopes both down and to the side.  The four corners of the trailer would have to be put on jack stands to give it a solid foundation, and then the jack stands would have to be carefully adjusted and shimmed until the boat was level -- I set a tolerance of 0.2 degree, which required some very fine adjustments indeed.  This was trouble, but the real challenge was figuring out which point on the boat to make level.  I think I originally used the bottom of the keel, but that does not work with the boat on the trailer!  The tops of the floors are parallel to the waterline, but not practically accessible when you are trying to nudge the trailer up an down fractions of an inch.  From the plans it looked like both the cockpit sole and the seats were parallel to the waterline.  Naturally, in reality, these did not prove parallel with each other, and in the end I decided to split the difference between the two, with both within my 0.2 deg tolerance.  This resulted in the aft end of the waterline moving up just over a half inch from its original position, which seemed to be about right.

Repairing the nose block
I used the laser level to remark the waterline.  I also decide to abandon the vinyl tape boot stripe and switch to a painted stripe, 2 inches vertical.  This makes the strip itself vary in width with the changing angle of the hull, and extra wide as the bottom of it wraps around the chine, but sets the upper and lower edges at constant waterlines, which is much better visually.

With the boat jacked up, I also noticed the the leading edge of the keel had been beat up.  I refaired this with silica-thickened epoxy and a layer of fiberglass.

Bottom Paint

Setting up the painting tent.
After what seemed lite decades of sanding, I finally started applying new paint, starting with the bottom.  To keep the boat out of the weather and dust while I was painting, I bought a cheap 10-ft x 20-ft tent online.  I threw up the tent up over my boat and got started.  There's nothing more rewarding than applying paint.  

Painting the bottom while on the trailer translated into painting one side at a time; to access the whole bottom I had to remove a trailer bunk and leave the boat leaning against the bunk on the opposite side.  

Under the bigtop
Things started off well, only to fall apart with I was 75% done.  I had prepped the bottom for repainting had two fresh coats on one side and one coat on the other . Painting goes pretty fast and I was excited to get the bottom done so I could move on to the sides, so I took advantage of the work-from-home world and ran out to paint during lunch. I must have been in a rush, or thinking about work, or something, because I opened the can of Pre-Kote and happily slopped it on top of my coat of Trilux33. I was about most of the way done when I figured out what I was doing. A few panicked emails to Interlux ensued, and I was finally convinced that the only option was to sand it all off and start again. Let me tell you, on its own, Pre-Kote dries and sands wonderfully.  On top of bottom paint, it was a nightmare.  I let it dry for a few days and it still clogged up the sand paper instantly.   I fought with it for some time, and burnt through a massive pile of sandpaper, but 
Masking off
finally got back on track and finished painting the bottom.

While painting the bottom, I also has the new bootstrip masked off and got it primed.  The topcoats would come after the whole side was primed and sanded smooth.

Bottom paint and bootstripe primer

Hull Paint

I decided that I would re-prime everything rather than just put fresh topcoat on it.  One reason for this is that when I originally painted the boat, I realized that I didn't have enough gray primer for two coats on the hull, so my first coat was white primer, followed by gray.  Sanding down the gray before painting, the high spots would sand all the way through to the white, leaving streaks of white primer.  The Brightside topcoat is very thin, and even from day 1, there was a hint of the mottled undercoat visible through the paint.  This only became more pronounced as the paint aged and faded.  Two fresh coats of gray primer in the refit went a long way to fix this, as did the five, count 'em five, coats of Fire Red Brightside topcoat.   

Fresh coats of Fire Red.  The wider, painted bootstripe can also be seen

Painting the topsides

For the topsides, I made several tweaks to the original paint scheme.  The brown/tan/burnt orange color had always been quite a bit darker than my original vision, so I selected a lighter shade, Bristol Beige, for the cockpit and anchor well areas.  I also wasn't really ever happy with how far (or not-far, rather) I wrapped the white into the cockpit, so I decided to extend that a bit. 

The revised paint scheme, now with Bristol Beige.
This is close to m original vision.
As before, I knocked down the sheen of both the white and the tan with flattening agent.  I had long since lost my original ratios of paint to flattening agent, but came pretty close, mixing it 1/2 part flattening agent to 3 parts white, and 1:1 for the tan. 

By the time I started painting the topsides, it had been nearly two months since I first started peeling the fiberglass off the transom, and fall was beginning to set in.  As the daylight hours waned, it became a race against the clock -- would it all get finished before the temperatures dropped.  Evening after evening, I would rush out to wet sand and apply another coat of paint.  Nights that required  more work, such as re-masking often resulted in the last of the paint being applied by lantern light.

I was able to start varnishing while painting the interior beige.  Ideally, I would have liked to revarnish the companionway, spars, and grab handles, but by this point the available after-work daylight was too short, and the weather window was closing too fast.  So, I settled for applying some touch-up coats to the rub rails and multiple coats to the transom; springtime will bring another chance to touch up the varnish in general


After completing the painting and varnishing, it was time to bring the boat back into sailing form. 

After spending hours scraping old silicone sealant with my fingernails when I was removing the hardware, I decided "never again."  In re-rigging the boat, I bedded things with butyl tape wherever possible.  I only ended up using a little silicone sealant where things were held with screws instead of bolts.  This seemed to add quite a bit of time to the whole process; reinstalling all of the hardware took several evenings and a full Saturday, far longer than I recall it taking originally.
Upgraded: new LED nav lights

One errata in the manual that has caught many a PocketShip owner is the dimensions for the hole for the thimble for the centerboard pendant.  The manual gives a dimension that is too small for the specified thimble, and having been lulled into a false sense of security by the excellence of the rest of the manual, many a builder has drilled the hole without confirming that it is the right size.  For the past eight years, my thimble has hung precariously, half wedged into the hole.  With all the work that I had done on this project, I finally decided that the time was right to fix it!

Despite carefully labelling and storing everything when it was removed, it always seems like things go back together slightly differently than they came apart.  The stays had to be re-adjusted, every halyard was completely and incomprehensibly knotted, some fasteners were the wrong size...  It all came together in the end, though.

The final details were installing the registry numbers and a new vinyl name on the transom.  I have not yet had the chance for a post-layup shakedown cruise, but am looking forward to seeing my refreshed boat out on the water again!     

Monday, February 1, 2021

New Pocketship Project

Not a huge project, but this was a little fun side project.  I just got a new phone and bought a clear case for it.  I bought a hobbiest-grade laser-wielding robot last year to occupy some time during lockdown.  To jazz up the boring phone a bit, I took a piece of veneer and lasered an image of my PocketShip into it.  I then set the laser to kill to cut out the shape the veneer to the shape of the case.  

I'm pretty happy with how it turned out!

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Love Me Tender, Volume X

Ready to load on to top of car.  Note the red PocketShip in the background.
Carting down to the water.  Having a kayak cart makes moving the boat around a breeze.  

Initial sea trials consisted of rowing...

And sailing tests.

Time on the water was limited, so the maiden voyage was just a tour of the boat basin 

The simple rig and lug sail were intuitive to use.  

The hull is actually vert shapely, something you lose sight of when building in the garage

The Eastport Pram has excellent stability, making shifting your weight when tacking uneventful.  It has been a while since I've sailed a dinghy, though, and it took a while to get the "behind the back" handoff between tiller and mainsheet back to a graceful motion. 

A real pleasure to sail!

Ready to go home.  The sail gets rolled up around the spars.

Car-toppable fun.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Love Me Tender, Volume IX

Never pause building a boat when the next step is sanding.  Back in 2015, when I last posted (and worked on) my CLC Eastport Nesting Pram, I took a quick break to work on a few car projects, with every intention of getting back to the back as quickly as possible.  Well, the car project went pretty fast, but then it was summer and who wants to sand a boat during the summer.  And then it was fall, and things got busy, and then it was 2016, 2017, 2018...  Somewhere in there I got distracted and built a kayak too.

I finally got back to the pram in the spring 2019.  I has intended to only finish the boat in a rowing configuration, and skip the sail, but, on a lark, I picked up an Eastport Pram sail.  That got me to the point that I began to move other projects out of the shop to make room to resume work on the pram.

The second event that really got me going was competing in the 2019 Edensaw Boat Building Challenge at the Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend.  Over the course of two and a half days, my team built a CLC Jimmy Skiff II, complete with sailing rig.  Getting through that and getting sailing gave me the oomph I needed to resume the Eastport Project in earnest.

When last I reported, the boat was freshly sawn in half.  At this point, the boat requires a whole lot of sanding, and a few coats of epoxy, followed by more sanding.  I started by cleaning up the edges of the hull where the cut was made, sanding the edges of the planks flush with the bulkheads, and filling in any voids in the plank-to-bulkhead joints with thickened epoxy.  I also hit any previously unsealed wood with coats of unthickened epoxy.

From tabernacle to tiller
Next up, I started finish sanding, but found it slow going.  To keep the momentum up, I switched over to working the sailing rig.  I took a trip over to Edensaw in Port Townsend (partly just an excuse to go to Port Townsend) and picked up several lengths of Sitka spruce for the spars.  Back home, milled them to size, rounded over the edges, and sanded them down.  On PocketShip, the spars received several coats of epoxy before varnish, but since the pram is going to get lighter use, the spars will be stored indoors, and I did not want to sand all that epoxy, I went straight to several coats of varnish.

Although I had not intended to build the sailing version, I have laid out all the plywood parts back when I started the boat, so I actually had the rough cut parts for the rudder and daggerboard, so assembling and shaping these was straightforward.  I had recently replaced the tabernacle on Solitude III with a brand new one (the old one had some unfortunate damage).  I repurpose the 1" thick solid Sapele from one of the sides of the old tabernacle to make the tiller so the pram, so part of Solitude III is now in the pram!

Switching back to the hull, I started sanding.  I have to say, it took entirely too long.  I recognized this, knowing that it was a sign of out of control perfectionism, but could not figure out what it was I was perfectionizing about.  So, I kept sanding, sanding, sanding.  

At the Edensaw Boat Building Challenge, one of the other teams (representing the Wooden Boat School), introduced me to their "boat sauce," a mix of 4 parts teak oil and 1 part varnish.  This finish can be rubbed on, does not required sanding between coats, gives a nice satin finish, and can be refreshed just by rubbing on another coat.  I decided to experiment with the on the interior of the Pram.  It worked very well when I applied it to the raw wood on the tiller, but just did not seem to cut it when applied to the epoxy-covered surface of the inside of the pram.  So, I switched over to varnish, ending after multiple coats of gloss and a top coat of satin.

The boat gets finished with the two halves separated

Ah, varnish!

For the exterior of the hull, I decided to go with white -- a hackneyed choice, but it just looks too right on this boat to do anything else.  Painting the outside of the hull was more of a pain than I expected.  First, the highbuild primer took way longer to sand smooth than I remember on PocketShip and kept clogging the sand paper.  I do not know whether this was because the can of primer I was using was really old (dating back to PocketShip), or because the temps in the garage were too cold, or what.  Also, just the act of rolling the paint on was harder than I expected.  In many places there just wasn't enough room for the roller, particularly between the skeg, rub strips, and bottom-most lap.  It is a little strange, but it seems to take less time to paint the large surface of PocketShip's hull than the little hull on the Eastport Pram.

With the paint on, the most enjoyable part of any boat build came, rigging.  Here, all the sanding is behind you, you are in the home stretch, drilling holes, driving screws, lacing sails and reeving rigging.    The best method for lacing lug sails appears to be a controversial topic, though I cannot figure out why.  Mostly on the basis of looks, I went with the half hitch method described here:

With all this complete, the only thing that remains is getting the boat out on the water.

Solitude III in Small Boats Magazine!

I was recently invited to contribute a review of PocketShip for the March edition of Small Boats Magazine.  Read the full article here:

Thursday, September 21, 2017

New Adventures - 2016

What a relief to finally be able to use Solitude III again for the purpose she was built.  As early as March I was out sailing locally, lingering on the water until late to make it a sunset cruise.  After a winter on the trailer, under a new cover, the new centerboard was still working perfectly.

At anchor in Langley

Everett, WA, a lovely place to go sailing
Another highlight was a day trip across Possession Sound for lunch at Langley on Whidbey Island.  Langley is a beautiful little town, with a nice marina and plentiful shops and restaurants.  Little did I know, however, that crabbing season was on, and the harbormaster would refuse to grant me even an hour of transient moorage.  Instead, he suggested that I anchor out. 

I bought an anchor when I was first fitting out Solitude, but had never had cause to use it – time to see if everything I had read about using the anchor would work in practice.  I eased Solitude in to the anchorage and dropped the hook.  I backed it in and satisfied myself that it was holding.  It seemed so…I guess I got it right the first time.

She looks good on the hook

Now for the next bit of unused kit.  Some time ago, I had picked up a little two-man rubber raft on sale.  It sat since then, wedged in a little space in the cabin underneath the foo
twell.  I crawled unded, retrieved the unopened box, and hauled it on deck.  Within a few minutes, a little dingy was floating aside the mothership.  I cautiously lowered myself over Solitude’s side, and rowed ashore.

After lunch, I returned to the boat, stowed the raft, pulled up the anchor and took off.  I set full sail immediately on leaving Langley and took off into the gentle wind.  On the way, the wind started picking up and I the sailing was actually quite spirited off the north end of Hat Island…what a wonderful little trip!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Cruise to Port Townsend - Sept. 12, 2015

I finally had a working boat again.  It was time for an adventure! 

The Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend was going on this weekend, and I hatched a plan.  I could tow the boat up to the little boat ramp at Keystone harbor, 4 miles due east of Port Townsend and sail across.  I couldn’t dock at Port Hudson, where the festival is, but reckoned I could get transient moorage at Port Townsend’s other marina, Boat Haven.  Failing in that, I could always anchor just off downtown.  Fellow PocketShipper Jer McManus had brought his boat from Montana, and I was hoping that I could drop by and see his boat, and perhaps lure him out for a fleet sail. 

It took longer than I expected to get packed up and going, and then longer than I expected to get to Keystone, arriving in the late afternoon.  I promptly got the boat in the water, and set sail for port Townsend. 

Beautiful Port Townsend
The waters here are interesting.  Being at the intersection of Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the bulk of the water going into or out of Puget Sound has to make a sharp turn here, creating unusual currents.  On the chart, there is something marked “swirls.”  What exactly are “swirls?”  I found out quickly.  Just outside the harbor there where large circles of smooth-looking water.  Entering one, I quickly had to fight hard to maintain heading.  I got the heck out of that as quickly as possible, and avoided future swirls. 

The wind died off as I approached the edge of the Puget Sound shipping lanes, so I fired up the noisemaker and jetted across.  The wind picked up again as I entered Port Townsend Bay, and I approached the waters off Point Hudson under full sail.  It felt great to be moved by the wind again!

It was too late to execute my original plan of stopping by, and so I settled for a sail-by.  Chesapeake Light Craft’s booth was set up right on the tip of Point Hudson, and so I reached up and down the shore in front of them a few times.  I thought about shouting out “Send out Jer!!!”

The hour was getting late, so I decided to head back.  About a mile from Port Townsend, I hear a “pppppffffffft,” and caught sight of a minke whale that had just surfaced next to me.  I grabbed my camera and waited for it to come up again. He must have been going somewhere fast, because I didn’t see him again.   The wind again died as I approached the shipping channel, so I dropped sail and steamed the rest of the way back. 

I arrived in time for the schooner races
Another interesting feature just off Keystone that noted on the charts are rips.  Well, sure enough there was one right in my way as I approached shore.  It looked compact and I decided to plunge through it rather than go around.  The cop quickly became steep, and I had to slow down substantially to keep things under control.  The boat did fine, but I was nervous as all get out getting through that.  Just as the sun was setting, I exited the rip and moments later entered Keystone Harbour, completing an excellent “return to the sea” mini-cruise.

A good cruise