Saturday, July 30, 2016

Uncle Doug

This morning Uncle Doug is helping me fiberglass the boat. Or rather, Uncle Doug is fiberglassing the boat, and I'm helping. Or watching. My most valuable contribution is keeping the work on track and moving forward. Doug has a lot of stories to tell.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Hole Through My Hull

Back in the days of Columbus, boats would mostly sail in the same direction that the wind was blowing. So if the wind was blowing to the west, Columbus's Santa Maria could also sail west. But today boats can sail AGAINST the wind. Isn't that amazing?? The wind could be blowing out of the south, but a good sailboat can sail as close to the wind as southwest. And then by changing course to southeast from time to time, a boat can sail to make progress generally to the south-- against the wind. How is this possible, you ask...

Modern sailboats have either keels or centerboards that protrude considerably down into the water. These wide wing-shaped boards keep the boat from sliding across the top of the water as the wind would want to push them. When used with a rudder, the two boards together act as levers against the pressure of the wind.

In large boats the keel is rigid and part of the structure of the boat. In smaller boats the centerboard pivots so that it can flip up in shallow water. But in order to accomplish this, a hole must be cut in the bottom of the boat.

This is a nervous moment-- cutting a hole in the bottom of an otherwise sound boat. But we are adventurous sailors, and we do not shrink in the face of tasks which may cause moderate anxiety in persons of lesser fortitude. No. We soldier on and bear up to the moment. And then when all is done we ask, "What the hell have I done???"

And then we carry on and construct the centerboard, and centerboard case. With thickened epoxy and C-clamps borrowed from neighbors we install the centerboard, adding more thickened epoxy as we go, and when all is done we look at it with skepticism, wondering if there might be some small area that is not completely sealed; some small area that will spring a leak that is at first hardly noticeable; but that small leak will enlarge itself imperceptibly over time until that time when we are twenty miles out into the middle of the Great Salt Lake, far beyond the range of emergency radio communication. We watch the boat slowly filling with water. We dab at it, first with a sponge, then with a five gallon bucket, but the ingress of water has become a flood, faster than a five gallon bucket can tackle the task. And now we begin to imagine search planes circling overhead, but not spotting this little speck of a boat.

And so we add more thickened epoxy to every seam of the centerboard case until our self-doubts ease away. Wasn't that fun?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Sawdust Commences

Jean Louise, AKA Scout
In April 2016 I took advantage of a week-long Spring Break and began cutting wood in earnest towards building the Gypsy. But in February 2016 I got a puppy. It all seemed harmless enough. And winter felt so slow and lifeless. A puppy was just the thing, I was sure of it.

By April, when I was ready to start cutting wood for the boat, the puppy was demanding about two hours of time EVERY DAY. When school is in session this makes it very difficult to get any work done on the boat. But for a week during Spring Break I could multi-task enough to get something done.

The first step was to scarph two pieces of plywood into one long 16-foot panel. People on the internet post photographs of their scarph joints as if they were pornography, and with this testosterone-fueled concept in mind I commenced to scarph away. I beveled seven inches from each end of two plywood panels. Then matching the bevels I glued them together with two-part marine epoxy. In the end I managed to get the requisite 16-foot panel which would form the floor of the boat, but the process felt strangely anti-climactic.

By May I had managed to assemble the five panels which make up the hull, but the transom (back end piece) was proving elusive. I had made a couple of alterations to the drawn plans: two inches wider on the bottom panel, two inches higher on the side panel, eight inches longer overall. These changes transmuted the necessary shape and position for the transom end panel. and I procrastinated solving that problem.

In the photo to the right you see the hull has been tacked together with zip-ties, and a few spots of epoxy on the seams. About this time I decided it was time to flip the hull over so I could deal with the transom. With my wife on the stem and me positioned aft, we started to lift the hull when suddenly pop! pop! pop! the zip ties and glue spots began to break under the weight of the hull. I can laugh about it as I look back now, but it wasn't funny then.

The solution to the popping zip-ties was to lay fiberglass tape along the hull seams, and epoxy it in place. This accomplished, I was able to flip the hull right side up, and begin laying in thick fillets of epoxy on the insides of those seams. And afterwards, the transom problem was resolved. With these pieces in place, the hull was structurally complete and would float without leaking. Not that it has seen any sort of body of water yet. It should float in theory at this point. In theory.

Before the Beginning

I knew I wanted to build a boat; an Ideal Boat that would sail AND row, and not cost too much. But I needed a place to build it. I had heard of people building boats in their basement (but how do you get it out???). I read of one fellow who built a boat in his living room AND HIS MARRIAGE SURVIVED!!! Some people build boats under the blue sky. Others build under a temporary carport structure from WalMart.

I moved into a dilapidated old house about twelve years ago. I was recently divorced, and short on cash to fix the place up. For years it was all I could do to keep the wolf from the door. Here's a picture of the door of the dilapidated garage: Doors off the hinges, broken glass, daylight streaming through the roof, holes big enough for stray cats to crawl through. No electricity, no lock on the door.

But last summer I changed all that! New roof (and new plywood sheeting under the shingles!), paint on the bare wood, glass in the windows, locks on the door, and a new electric panel wired up from the house. Why, for only a thousand dollars I was ready to build a cheap boat.

I started transferring tools that had been stored in my basement out to the shop. I built a new work bench, and bought storage totes for tools, and as fall turned to winter I installed a cozy little wood-burning stove.

But just when I started building all this momentum, the Job kicked in and robbed me of free time. I teach public school, and those kids take every last drop of energy. When I come home after a day at school, I'm just beat. And then there's dinner to make and chores to do and papers to grade, and I didn't get much done all winter long, even though there's a cozy little wood-stove in the shop.

At least the shop was in shape. When spring came I would be ready to start making sawdust.

Dreaming of Gypsy

In our last installment (a year ago? has it been that long?) I ran through an abbreviated list of things I didn't like about the Lido 14 that was my first sailboat. After that I discovered a few more. But all in all it served its purpose.

A single-handed selfie. Who's got the tiller???
The Lido 14 is designed for a crew of two or three. It turned out that many times only a crew of one was available: me. So in August last year I started taking her out single-handed. For a fellow who didn't grow up with a main sheet in his hand, there seemed to be a confounding number of things to do all at once: lower the centerboard, lower the rudder, release the dock lines, back the sail, etc. We had a low water year last year, so often the marina water was so low that I couldn't get the centerboard down until I was out on the lake. So I got a canoe paddle, and worked it out that way. but with a six-foot beam, the boat was too wide to paddle effectively, AND steer the rudder at the same time.

Even so, I managed to get out alone a few times last summer and fall, and once or twice this spring. A couple of times I even went out with winds blowing 20 mph, and whitecaps on the water. The Lido was up to the task, and I came home each time without having capsized the boat. After twenty outings and no disasters I started to feel like I might call myself sailor.

But after each successful outing I also grew more and more dissatisfied with the Lido. There had to be a boat design that better served my purposes. For more than a year I had been looking at various boat plans to find the Ideal Boat. I wanted something that would not be too terribly difficult to build out of plywood with limited tools. A boat that could row, with oars in oarlocks, would simplify the process of leaving the marina. I wanted a sail rig that offered simplicity, and easy reefing when the wind piped up. And of course I wanted it to be cheap.

After more than a year of dreaming and worrying about the Ideal Boat (an oxymoron to be sure) I settled on the Gypsy, a design from the prolific naval architect Phillip Bolger. It seemed to tick all the boxes, and the plans were dirt cheap. Don't get me started on plans. Some boat designers charge $200-$300 for plans to build a boat that will fit in the average garage. But the Gypsy plans were only $40! Too good to be true? Only time would tell...