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A boat by the side of the road invites inquiry.  Driving by without hearing their stories seems an act of neglect. I don’t mean the sort of boat that’s sitting behind a car on a trailer with a flat tire. I mean the sort that squats in someone’s yard looking like it has grown roots, a boat that should be carving a carefree wake in the washboard surface of a wave tossed sea. It sits there among the trees whose solidity it mimics without so much as creating a furrow in the leaf littered lawn.  You see them everywhere but most are not worth a second glance.

Every so often one of these dry land dreams catches my eye with a stronger light. They radiate the kind of vibration I used to get when I was an antiques dealer in search of valuable merchandise. For me character born of craftsmanship and tradition have a palpable effect on the senses I have never been able to explain. It heralds a recognition of importance, that an item is well made and possesses a quality of design that is enduring and intrinsically valuable. The finest kind of of these nautical discoveries is the sight of a schooner. The problem with Schooners is they are usually so big, so inaccessible, so unattainable. Schooner rigs work best on a big stretch of heavy displacement cargo hauling, people moving vessel. It’s a rare thing to come upon an example of the type on a scale that a working man can relate to.

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When I first came to the Pacific Northwest I did a lot of rambling around the Olympic peninsula. Naturally my eyes were always peeled for interesting looking boats. Carlsborg, Washington is a sprinkling of houses and businesses along a road by the same name. While driving that road one day I spotted a blue hull under a tarp setting back from the road. A subtle jangling of the old familiar vibe rattled in my head. A set of davits protruded from the stern and a bowsprit pointed the way forward. She was clearly a traditional type of sailing vessel so I played the usual game in my head of guessing the rig type, make and model, and designer. My mental database kept coming up with a connection between this boat and the location.  I remembered a boatbuilder from Carlsborg because I had ordered study plans from him for a design advertised in the long gone Small Boat Journal magazine back in the early eighties. This boat didn’t quite match the memory of the 22 foot cutter called the Dungeness Crabber by her designer but something spoke to me and remained in memory. I passed by this mystery boat many times over the past 11 years. She never appeared to go anywhere. The boat was waiting for something to happen.

Note the nautical charm of carved trail boards and the vertical staving of the cabin.

Note the nautical charm of carved trail boards and the vertical staving of the cabin.

On one of my weekly drives through the Port Angeles Boat Haven I stopped to check out the bulletin board. A full color advertisement showed a picture of a familiar looking blue hull. There she was like an old friend discovered on Facebook. Better yet, the ad answered questions that had buzzed around in my brain for years. The heading said, ” Sailboat For Sale, 23′ John Atkins Gaff Rigged Schooner ‘Florence Oakland’” A number of pieces fell into place immediately. I have admired this design for years. One of the few small schooner designs with a proven reputation. She measures 22′ 5″ long on deck and carries 297 square feet of sail in a well balanced set of main, fore and jib. She was built with an extended cabin and self-bailing cockpit making her one of the saltiest looking pocket yachts I have ever come across. This boat sits with no name on her transom. In fact she was never launched and was in need of some finishing touches. I had to know more about this little schooner because this boat comes complete with a very interesting history.

John Magner was a boatbuilder with an eye for tradition. He built boats that were uncomplicated, salty and sound including  William Short’s Great Pelicans, several of John Atkins designs including two schooners and various dinghies and daysailers. On a snowy day in February I drove to Carlsborg to meet with John’s sons and take a closer look at the boat. The builder began construction in the 1970′s. He worked on her intermittently between other building projects. Mr. Magner passed away in 1989 after battling cancer. This left the boat unfinished and she remained in that state ever since. The hull built from wedge seamed Alaska Yellow Cedar  below the waterline and red Cedar above and the cabin and cockpit are basically complete. The interior needs some finish work and an old Volvo Penta is installed on solid engine beds but needs work and various things hooked up. There are tanks which were never fully installed. The masts and spars are finished and look to be in good condition. There are some bits and pieces of rigging scattered around but for the most part she needs some more standing rigging and a complete compliment of running rigging. There are no sails. Sanding and repainting are necessary. There is some rot around the corner post on the starboard forward cabin top. I was shown a blistered section of the plywood coaming on the starboard side. The boat has been tarped over all these years but did suffer these few effects from exposure.

Bridge deck at forward end of cockpit has the hole for the mainmast and a nice rack of belaying pins.

Bridge deck at forward end of cockpit has the hole for the mainmast and a nice rack of belaying pins.

John Atkin designed Florence Oakland for Jacob Hess of Canton Ohio. It was named after his mother-in-law. She was originally designed for plywood construction to make the boat trailerable. Several have been adapted for batten seam construction so it is not surprising that Mr. Magner opted for wedged seams. The sail plan spreads out a lot of sail area in a low aspect ratio that promises a good degree of stability. She would handle easily getting off a mooring with just the big mainsail raised. Atkin’s original concept was for a daysailer with a lot cockpit space and a small cuddy cabin forward. This boat has an extended cabin going back to the main mast. While not creating spacious accommodations it provides a cozy situation for weekends and longer vacation voyaging. A simple galley arrangement will allow for basic boat camping meals and a whistling teapot dispensing hot drinks and charming ambiance.

More can be learned about this interesting design at the Atkin & Sons website. I recommend an article “Florence Oakland, A Backyard Schooner” by Mike O’Brien originally published in Boat Design Quarterly also found at the Atkin & Sons website. John Magner’s sons would like to see their father’s work go to an owner who will appreciate the work that has already gone into this charming little schooner.  They are asking $5,000. This is a fraction of the current cost in materials and time. She would make a fine project for any builder with a heart for tradition and an urge to feel the pull of a schooner’s tiller in their hand. You can contact Kevin Magner at 360-683-5653 or email at reveriegardens@olypen.com

 

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It’s been a banner year for global warming. Here on the Olympic Peninsula we haven’t gotten much play from the polar vortex. More cold than usual came our way for awhile with temperatures down in the teens. As usual the sun has not spent much time visiting our dreary land and receiver of rain drops. Some times I rather miss the snow which has blanketed most of the country. People seem to talk about the weather more than ever. To  look at my Facebook news feed you’d think some bright cable execs had whipped up something like CCC, The Climate Change Channel. My personal favorite program has been “Battering Cornwall” in which a coastline exposed to the unbroken flow of the Gulf Stream is pummeled by record breaking waves. On February 14, 2014 the Surfhog sea buoy off Penzance recorded a record 90 foot wave which beat out the previous winner at 75 feet about a week prior. Much of the action as the ocean comes ashore is captured on video. The scenes of waves breaking against ancient seawalls is very dramatic in an “not where I want to be standing” sort of way.

Western Morning news, 216/2014, Picture by Phil Monkton

Western Morning news, 216/2014, Picture by Phil Monkton

Sailors have lived with the power of the sea for as long it seemed like messing about in boats was a good idea. The sceptered isles have figured prominently in the lore of the sea and are no stranger to maritime drama. The current meteorological onslaught has taken many of us by surprise. The area has been the scene of memorable weather including the 1979 Fastnet Race in which a powerful storm took the lives of eighteen people.  Further back in history the stormy North Atlantic wrote the final act of the Spanish Armada in 1805. Having failed to invade England with about a third of the fleet being turned to floating smudge pots by British fireships or hammered into kindling by Sir Francis Drake. They sought to escape by heading north up the channel to take advantage of the let’s go round it strategy often employed by those who engage militarily with island nations. Fortune and the weather were not with them as they came round the other side of Scotland. As a result the stormy North Atlantic scattered up to 24 wrecked galleons along the rocky coast of Ireland. There is great power in water. We mortals exalt in making it do our will when first we learn to doggy paddle, breast stroke, and do cannonballs off a diving board. Philosophers east and west have considered the nature of the wet medium for centuries. “Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.”  -Lao Tzu-

The harbour at the world famous Lamorna Cove near Penzance in West Cornwall which was built in 1850 and has now been destroyed by the sea: Picture by Colin Higgs

The harbour at the world famous Lamorna Cove near Penzance in West Cornwall which was built in 1850 and has now been destroyed by the sea: Picture by Colin Higgs

This winter is the stormiest winter in England since they started recording weather events back in 1776. We have watched as one hammer blow after another has been delivered to the western side of the British Isles. It has washed away coastal rail lines and flooded quaint old villages that perch among the seacliffs like the rookeries of pelagic birds.  The ocean puts on these displays as if to remind us who is in charge. It makes us feel small. Which has always been it’s job. It humbles us and calls to us. It reminds us that we are soft but can also be strong.

 

Yes, I am crazy about podcasts, especially if they center around sailing and boats. This is a narrow field so I take what I can get. You can find a number of them on iTunes that have faded long ago and it’s a happy day when a new one emerges.  I am well pleased with my latest find. Heritage Boatworks by Jed Lavoie is dedicated to gathering stories of New England boatbuilders. Having spent time sailing Down East my interest is piqued by the mention of familiar names and places that needle my nascent memory. This podcast makes me feel the way bright colored autumn leaves affect me in my current evergreen dominant situation. The seven episodes produced thus far have been right on Jed’s stated mission and the future looks good as well.

As a rule first episodes of podcasts are distinctly at the low end of the hosts learning curve. Jed managed a rather good start with an introduction to himself and what he was up to with his personal incursion into new media. He comes off as a regular guy with a passion for boats that he fits into the life of a family man as best he can. Not a professional boatbuilder himself, he is an avid amateur and displays a knowledge of the craft gleaned from a life long enthusiasm for nautical history and sailing. In other words he is a real Seaward Adventures sort of guy.

Heritage Boatworks has featured some very interesting guests. Graham McKay at Lowell’s Boat Shop in Amesbury, MA, Heidi Reid at Stur-Dee Boat Company in Tiverton, RI, Roger Crawford at Crawford Boat Building in Humarock, MA, and Geoff Marshall at Marshall Marine in South Dartmouth, MA. It was a treat to get a verbal tour of Lowell’s Boat Shop with it’s history of building dories that sailed on the legendary Grand Banks schooners. Lowell’s is a living museum dedicated to simple wooden craft that have given utility and pleasure to many people on the water since 1793.

Roger Crawford spoke of his years building and selling traditional Melonseed skiffs. His enthusiasm for the design made me want to go sailing now. Like NOW! The man is a real promoter of traditional methods of building that bring substance to soft technology. His website has a great series on his favorite shop tools that is well worth reading no matter what your level of experience is.

Jed is the proud owner of a Marshall Sanderling Catboat. It is a type of boat that he dreamed of for many years. The Marshalls have always been on my list of desirable watercraft. I used to visit their booth at the Annapolis Boat Show every year and am thoroughly familiar with the Sanderling. Jed’s interview with Geoff Marshall was kind of call back to my own daydreams. I am sure that I talked with Geoff a few times in the past. Had I not purchased my Seaward23 I am sure that a Marshall catboat would have been my sailboat of choice.

 

Jed Lavoie’s 18 foot Marshall Sanderling catboat.

By far my favorite episode was the one with Heidi Reid. More than an interview it was a conversation between friends. Jed’s second boat was a 14 foot Stur-Dee Cat. He bought it used and did some fix up work on the boat that included replacing the cockpit coamings. He went right to the builder for advice on the operation and as the story is told one gets the sense that the company welcomed it’s customers into their family. Stur-Dee boats are a legacy shepherded by Heidi whose father Ernie Gavin is gone but not forgotten. the company has survived a devastating fire in 1988 and the passing of it’s founder. the spirit of Ernie Gavin is hard-wired into the hearts of his daughter and granddaughter who make no compromises on quality and continue to uphold a brand that has always enjoyed a sterling reputation. The interview had genuine human emotion that was very moving.

14 foot Stur-Dee cat Marconi rig catboat

14 foot Stur-Dee cat Marconi rig catboat

Jed is off to a very good start with his enterprise. There is much to look forward to. He is located in the rich heartland of New England boatbuilding which should be a grand source of more great interviews.  I like having a ready source of fodder for my own daydreams. It is a pleasure to welcome this kindred spirit who has a passion for sailing and an authentic voice.

 

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Television does not have a lot to offer a sailor. There are fleeting glimpses of sailboats and occasionally attractive Hollywood types posing in the cockpit of a fantastic plastic lavishly trimmed out in teak. The dialog is busily engaged in advancing whatever plot is struggling to engage your credulity.  Some movies are notable exceptions but mostly it’s a desert out there. Fortunately the internet is a big place and there are people engaged in catering to every interest. There are boat loads of blogs and websites. YouTube has a raft of videos  showing just about everything under sail since film was invented.

Many sailing videos are interesting but amateurish. You see a lot of cockpit only points of view. The people on board may look like they’re having fun but they aren’t saying much. The sound of rushing water overwhelming the camera’s low end omnidirectional mike can put you to sleep or give you a headache. If any of this has been your experience than I have an alternative for you.

Two years ago I encountered Off Center Harbor at the annual Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend. They had a dead simple setup. It was basically a TV under a tent. The video that was playing immediately caught my eye. It showed a man rowing a traditional wooden boat with practiced ease. He spoke clearly and intelligently. The depth of his experience was evident in his speech.

The booth was being manned by Eric Blake one of the founders of OFC. Besides being a boatbuilder at the Brooklin Boatyard in Brooklin, Maine and an instructor for the Woodenboat magazine Wooden boat school. Eric is part of the Off Center Harbor team. He explained the concept of this video website dedicated to traditional boats and the people who build, maintain and love them. I was captivated by the idea and knew it was a winner if done right. It has been.

The range of subjects include building, rowing, sailing, cruising, maintaining traditional boats and more. Locations vary from the coast of Maine to Washington’s Puget Sound.  The craft featured are various forms of wooden construction but not exclusively. There is a very good three part series on modifying a small sailboat for cruising that features a Pacific Seacraft Dana 24. It is a a capable small cruiser built in fiberglass but with enough wood trim to satisfy anyone short of the folks who grumble angrily about “frozen snot.” I don’t know that you could say there is something for everyone. In fact there is not enough for me but that’s only because I’m insatiable. The site also features blog posts and links to many valuable web resources of a nautical nature.

Many of Off Center Harbor’s videos feature demonstrations of the craft of boatbuilding. The presenters are accomplished and communicate their subjects well. One of my favorites is Harry Bryan. His  Boatbuilders’ Hand Tools, The Basic Tool Kit is great advice for the beginning boatbuilder from a man who knows his tools intimately. In Clamps for the Boat Builder Harry covers a subject dear to my heart. In case you’ve been skimming this blog lightly I will reiterate my fondest philosophy of tool collecting: there is no such thing as too many clamps. Take it from Harry. He’s a pro. Just so you don’t think OFC is a bunch of handcraft snobs you can catch Eric Blake in a three part series: Boatbuilders’ Best Power Tools. He shows some electric workhorses doing yeoman duty in the Brooklin Boatyard.

There are two lengthy how-to-build-it series including Ian Oughtred’s Caledonia Yawl and the FOX double paddle canoe, designed and built by Bill Thomas. These start with a discussion of the design and a little bit of the history of it’s type. It’s interesting and educational to see the boats go together with clear explanations of the steps taken. Most of the videos run less than 10 minutes. however, they are feature rich and visually satisfying. I hope to be reviewing some specific videos of interest to me in the enar future. There are about 150 to choose from so I won’t run out soon.

If you have exhausted Netflix and the like for suitable sailing fare try Off Center Harbor. It is a by subscription website that is well worth the $29.00 yearly price. That’s cheaper than most magazine subscriptions and none of them offers this array of material in high quality video. A magazine only gives you one years slice of a whole body of work. With OFC you get to see everything they’ve produced thus far as well as the item’s turned out during the term of your subscription. Sign on today. It’s going to be a long cold winter and you need something to feed the soul as the body stays cozy and warm.

 

Christmas eve finds me in a thoughtful mood. The tug of the seasons tide has ebbed. One can rest on the oars and drift for awhile. Sometimes I feel that all I do is drift. There are so many things in life that require real effort. A blog about something as nonessential as recreational boating seems a complete waste of the small amount of time left for it. Still it is important, even essential to some deeper part of me. The tritest of phrases is about “those that can do, those that can’t…” I could spend a lot of time feeling guilty about procrastination. Unhealthy and nonproductive emotions are easy to come by.

The year has been a challenging one. Challenging being a euphemism for it sucked on several fronts. Why I feel as good and positive in this moment is an unfathomable mystery. I have food, clothing and shelter, the love of a good woman, at least one of my two cars runs and the tools in my shop include a Stanley number 4 plane with a sharp blade. The cresting wave of the new year approaches and it looks like it’s time to surf.

When I catch that wave I intend to ride it as far as I can.  Watch these pages as 2014 runs it’s course. There’s a following breeze abuilding and we sail with the morning tide.

 

The beauty that is in the eye of the beholder demands clarity. It is never more pleased than when it penetrates the blue sky or sees fish winding among eel grass below the surface of clear water. When we who have pretensions toward craftsmanship apply the finishing touch to a project we want to let the materials show their natural beauty.  A clear coating on wood displays the grain’s pattern and enhances the reflectivity and color variety of the bundled fibers. The degree to which we are successful in this requires as much care and attention to detail as skillfully wielding tools to assemble a complex structure.

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In the world of wooden boats a premium is placed on the so-called bright finish. In some cultures boats are painted bright, even garish colors.  You see this in the Mediterranean and the equatorial areas of the world. Varnish suffers from the sun the farther south one is located. The Chesapeake summer light is as harsh an environment as I need to be subjected to. By the time you reach Florida I don’t even want to discuss it.  Fortunately The Pacific Northwest is somewhat tolerable and the lack of sunshine that dims many a Seattelites soul can finally be turned to advantage. Once upon a time various oils were applied and laboriously rubbed until they gleamed – sort of. This lasted until oxidation created an ever  darkening patina.  More stable varnishes have been around for hundreds of years. The spar varnish we use now is more durable than the oils and shellacs of an earlier era. Formulations for clear protective coatings have become government regulated chemical stews. They are easier to maintain and they even smell slightly better.

Many builders of the Chester Yawl kits have opted for a bright hull. It looks very good in a “ooh shiny!” sort of way. I confess to being an old fashioned, mostly paint and just a little visible wood kind of guy. In a previous post Dave’s yawl showed the epoxy-coated hull in bright mode. The finished article will be different. A coat of white paint now reduces the visible wood areas considerably. Dave does not wish to be wedded to frequent maintenance of the shiny stuff. I don’t blame him. There is enough bright finish area to keeps the boat pretty and practical. He is somewhat new to the craft of varnishing so we have worked together to make his boat’s beauty at least skin deep.

It is not my intention to write a tutorial on varnishing. Over the years I have heard or read much information on the art with just a smidgen of science. The whole body of knowledge would contain enough contradiction to confuse a philosophy professor. My one bit of solid advice is to get a book that makes logical sense to you and adopt it’s methods as your own. Wherever your gut-feeling leads you in another direction follow that instinct. If you come up with a mess don’t worry. Varnish is infinitely sandable and all you really have in this world is time. Unless you are doing this for money in which case you have more trouble than I can help you with.

I have done my share of varnishing over the years and find it to be more satisfying than painting. It likes to be an unhurried process. I feel no pressure to get things covered up.  The basics of wielding the brush is to flow the varnish from the wet edge of the previously applied varnish. Use a brush made for varnishing. Hard nylon bristles create brush marks like furrows in a field. Good lighting will help you keep track of where you’ve been and where you need to go next.

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I could state a lot of ideals here like: dust free environment, stable temperatures, surfaces properly prepared with a specific grit of sandpaper, or no sandpaper only scrapers and planes with razor sharp blades set to take micro-thin shavings. My cramped garage and an unusually cold autumn have made observing the niceties a struggle. the temps are a particularly difficult issue. Dave purchased a kerosene heater who’s design is adapted from some sort of military jet engine. It gives heat, and quickly, but makes conversation difficult.

The first coat is on and from a distance it looks very nice. Up close it bears it’s share of imperfections. The first coat is what I call a “spit coat.” It is not meant to be perfect and will be sanded smooth providing a base for further coats which will provide a more eye-catching sheen at a closer distance. The Tao of varnishing is a practice of patience. The destination is up ahead and we will not see it until we get there.

 

I have had three garages in my adult life. One of them sheltered an automobile for one night. That seems more than generous to me. I look upon cars as practical transportation fit to live in the outdoors much like a redneck’s hound dog. The space that is normally reserved and labeled on architectural drawings as the domain of automobiles is, in my rigidly held opinion, too useful a space to waste on a machine so lacking in relevance to my passions. I will grant a small exception in the case of the right classic motorcycle as long as it is clear that it holds secondary importance in the true purpose of this holy chamber.

The true and rightful purpose of this venue falls into two primary categories: Shop space or boat storage. This leaves variability in utility as in the designation of “shop” as a place for working in wood, metal, clay, watercolors or even well-stacked Legos.  the storage aspect is properly open to anything in the whole wide world as long as it can be reasonably described as a boat: paddled, rowed, sailed, motored or equiped with military surplus rocket engines. Just as in sail area to displacement ratios – happiness is measured by the square foot.

My current garage is a two car (the word “car” is used here strictly for context) affair with an attached shop area. That is where I have my workbench The top is part of a former bowling alley. On the opposite wall is the standard large expanse of pegboard from which a variety of hand tools dangle off metal hooks. Lots of shelves and hidey places make it easy to horde supplies. The space is well lit during the day by a surplus of windows. I love the space but by the time you allow for a table saw in the middle of the floor it becomes apparent that it is not suited to large projects.

The main portion of the garage where normal people keep, well you know what, just cries out for a small boat or two to be abuilding. Where my theory of garage purposing breaks down comes in relationship to the property owned by but not often used by the members of ones household. Things that have been outgrown seem to take root in my garage and apparently the road to hell is paved with the specific good intentions that should lead to Goodwill. I won’t go into futher detail but let me just reiterate the adage that nature abhors a vacuum, also open floor space. For more on this look up George Carlin and “stuff” on YouTube. All will be made clear.

To relate this to the Chester Yawl let me apprise you of Dave’s situation without violating too much of his privacy. Ever since being laid off he has been faced with a job search in an economy that is at best an employer’s market. As so many people have done he has recently downsized various aspects of his life. This has meant moving to a more affordable housing situation. Consequently, the shop that housed this project so far is no longer available. I know that Dave regrets this and I sympathize with him. We moved the yawl into my garage where it can continue to be massaged with sandpaper and eventually be clothed in sparkling varnish.

Dave had asked for my help with the varnishing and that will now be easier  to coordinate. The day we moved the boat into the garage we spent a long time sanding the rails and a portion of the inside of planking. Additional sessions of sanding by Dave have the yawl almost ready for the shiny stuff. We will be cleaning up the dust and going over the relevant places with tack cloths.  Applying varnish will hopefully be the subject of my next chapter in this long saga.

Working around the boat is a little cramped. But there is enough room to swing a brush. In spite of the compromises made to miscellaneous storage it feels good to have a boat in the garage. I take it as a positive sign that one day I will win the storage war. I have established a beachhead and am determined to move forward: one square foot at a time.

 
The Chester Yawl waiting for water.

The Chester Yawl waiting for water.

A new boat comes to life by degrees. As individual parts come together the construction takes on a form that makes it’s function apparent. It becomes a vessel gradually. A boatbuilding project can take a long time and bring doubts about the wisdom of having started the enterprise.  The moment you can look at the vessel and think to yourself, “damn this thing is going to float” the first spark of life is infused into the somnolent hull. The builder gains the first elements of accomplishment that will add up to full-blown pride by the time the project is complete. Still, the boat is a silently sleeping concept.  It remains a construction of earthly materials in suspended animation until the moment it is touched by water and settles on her lines like a dancer at the barre ready to execute a graceful arabesque.

The whole reason for being of Dave’s building the Chester Yawl was rooted in an idea surrounding making a business of putting kit boats together for people with the desire but not the skill to execute such a project. He is more of a kayaker and power boat enthusiast and he almost chose a kayak design. In the end he chose to go with a design that had a classic look. The boat would be a salesman’s sample, so to speak. The unpredictable nature of life in these financially interesting times can make it hard to focus on this kind of effort. It makes one want to strike while certain proverbial irons are still hot. The unsettled nature of things made Dave anxious to see his creation floating and find out how it handled underway.

Dave’s plans were originally conceived while he was still working at Westport Shipyards. We discussed his ideas often. He bravely invited my advice and snarky criticism. Keep in mind that my wife calls me Mr. Negative. As a sort of unidicted co-conspirator and occasional builder’s helper he also wanted me to be a part of the preliminary launching and sea trial. We settled on a mutually convenient Sunday afternoon to splash the not quite finished craft. The hull was thoroughly coated with epoxy and all the parts were in place. Everything left to do was cosmetic so a bit of a wetting wouldn’t do any harm. As it turned out the weather was not cooperative and we weren’t able to borrow a set of oars that we were counting on.

The urge to launch was just too strong and we determined to make the best of it. We loaded the yawl onto it’s trailer and set off for Freshwater Bay with a stop at my house to get a pair of canoe paddles. I have two paddles. One is a classic beaver tail made from one piece of red cedar. The other is a spruce model with a more squared off blade and good balance. The loom blends into the blade with a central ridge and an absence of excess material as seen in a good set of oars. It generates a lot of power and makes a good rudder. All the best canoe paddles I’ve ever owned were carved by myself or purchased at flea markets for very little money. We figured they would do in this particular pinch.

The overcast day was producing pockets of rain in the drizzly tradition of the Pacific Northwest. I had looked at the radar weather report on the computer. I could see that we would almost certainly get a little wet but could also luck out and stay dry or become completely soaked. Heading west on State route 112 we generally increase your chances of precipitation and so it did that day. Arriving at the launch area on Freshwater Bay we found it unoccupied. The supply of maritime masochists in Port Angeles was temporarily in short supply. We donned a patchwork of rain gear and backed the trailer into the water.

Launching a boat calls for a certain amount of ceremony. Neither Dave or myself have either viking or Greek blood in our veins and so had not bothered to procure anything suitable for sacrifice to the pagan gods. In any case the killing of rams is not allowed on state lands. The fallen rain was sufficient to christen this small boat that, in any case, had no name. Actually, I think we just forgot the idea in the hubbub of gathering the required life preservers, figuring out the best way to strap the boat down on the trailer and generally enjoying the Huckleberry Finn like zeitgeist of the moment. Naturally, the rain had returned for the occasion and the clouds were heavy and low. I would call the conditions marginal and would have cancelled if there had been any wind added to the mix. Fortunately, in spite of rain and gloom and the distant rumble of thunder the bay was pretty much a mill pond. We did resolve to stay within easy paddling distance of the shore where it was lined by a gravel beach and not the jumbled piles of rock that lay in wait farther along the coast.

Our purpose was not to travel any far distance. It was to give the boat it’s first wetting and survey it’s stability and maneuverability. This may not have been the ideal place but it seemed suitable to me and Dave knew it well from kayaking in the area.  Freshwater Bay is an open bight along the top of the Olympic Peninsula with a small islet that rises near a point on the western end of the bay. It is a rocky remnant of a high bluff with a gravel beach along it’s base.

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I chose the stern seat and Dave sat forward on the seat that was there due to the modification of the original CLC design. Although our launch was without fanfare there was a sense of celebration to be sitting in the boat for the first time with nothing beneath us except water. the yawl was in good trim and and felt quite stable.  Some deliberate rocking demonstrated the boats basic tendency to remain upright. Paddling away from the beach she showed enough slipperiness to produce a pleasing rate of speed. The water was smooth for the first hundred yards off the beach. It was ideal for finding out how well the boat tracked and how easily she turned. The Chesapeake Yawl is a recreational rower that works as a good compromise between narrower wherry and exercise rowing shells. She feels a lot like some of the Swampscott dories I’ve rowed. Although we were using paddles in an asymmetric fashion the yawl handled well. I was able to turn the boat and steer from the stern in an effective manner. It seemed clear that with a pair of good seven and a half foot oars the boat would acquit itself well. Dave was obviously pleased with the way she glided through the smooth water and urged us away from the shore.

The rougher water of the Straits could be seen ahead and as we drew even with the islet the wave action of the Straits of Juan de Fuca began to be felt. The rise and fall of the swells which are but an echo of the movement of a large body of water were a further test of this craft. She moved easily over the swell. There was arythmic pattern that built the swell higher every six or seven waves.  There was definitely a point past which it would not be prudent to go. Especially as one could see the strong set of the tidal current referenced against features along the shoreline. At a point that was still reasonably safe we turned and ran parralell to the shore edging the imaginary boundary of the bays protection.

Dave is a kayaker and has a taste for broken water. It’s been my impression that Dave’s enthusiasm for this little open boat had waned a bit over time. He didn’t seem quite in sync with the spirit of the craft. Even small boats can seem like a commitment and you need to feel connected. If you don’t really know what the boat is about it can go from graceful swan to albatross in the turning of a tide. Dave and I usually keep up a steady stream of chatter as we work. It was no different on the water. It had been running along the lines of technical issues about trailering and the usual sharing of nautical experiences. As we paddled along the steady drizzle counted for nothing as we concentrated on evaluating and appreciating this fine thing that had been built. Dave sat at his station with paddle in hand occasionally turning enough to speak more directly. His steady grin spoke volumes and showed that a sea change had come along.

The chill in the air and the distant rumble of thunder dictated  a turn to shore.  We timed it with the smaller waves to spend the least amount of time broadside to the waves. The yawl came about in fine fashion and impressed me with her handiness. You can get into trouble with any boat but give me one that doesn’t bury her bow and has lots of reserve bouyancy and I always feel good about my chances of coming back dry and happy.

When we got back to the ramp Dave went to get the car and trailer. I held the boat off the beach standing in water half way up my calves. The boat kept trying to ride the waves toward the shore and I would give her a shove so that she glided out to the end of her painter. She made a pleasing sight riding high and light on the water. It reminded me of the small, delicately beautiful, Fairy Terns I enjoyed so much on the Chesapeake Bay. They were small and graceful. As my boat swung to the anchor I would stand in the cockpit as they glided within reach of the bread I held in my outstretched hand. They hung on the wind as if suspended by hidden engines, high tech marvels clothed in sleek feathers.

Getting the boat back on the trailer was an easy matter. We knew we had gotten off the water at the right time as lightning accentuated a peal of thunder. We quickly finished our preparations and drove away. Conversation flowed around the ease  of motion and maneuverability we had experienced. A note of uncertainty that I had always thought I heard in Dave’s speculations about the boat was totally absent. It seemed like he had finally fallen a little bit in love with this slender craft.  No longer just a building project that consumed time and resources the Chester Yawl had proved itself to be worth the effort of building.

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I call it my annual pilgrimage to the land of my people. I love to walk the docks and talk to other people who are in some degree obsessed by boats,especially the wooden kind. You can’t do better than the Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend, Washington for sheer adoration of boats made from trees. This is the Pacific Northwest where trees are like gods. Think druids and Neptune try to recreate Woodstock. Boating serves as spiritual activity for my mostly atheistic non-soul. In a world that would certainly appear insane at first glance to alien visitors we all need a reasonable amount of blatant escapism. I go to the festival to be restored and find my boat smile.

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Of the many boat shows I have attended in over forty years of attending many such events on both coasts this is the best one. Perhaps it’s because this festival is more than a marketplace. Many of the boats on display do indeed have a price tag but most are here to be part of a gathering. The ooh and ahh scale is off the chart. The many demonstrations and lectures are problematic because they occur at various locations and some overlapping times.  I haven’t figured out either cloning or time-travel.

I began my Saturday visit with a quick stroll of the first available floating dock. On one side was a line of large vessels including all the big schooners, an ocean-going tug and a Canadian life-saving boat. The other was lined with small sailboats. These were all beautiful, well made and appealing in their functionality. Wherever form follows function I am apt to tag along.

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I stopped to talk with Doug Korlann owner of a 16 foot Great Pelican named Toucan. This beamy little pocket cruiser has a special place in my heart as do all the boats in the San Francisco Pelican lineage. My own 12 foot Pelican was a terrifically seaworthy daysailer that gave her crew a feeling of security and provided loads of fun. Toucan is a marvel in terms of her quality construction and excellent fit and finish. Doug is the second owner and is maintaining this fine craft well and has made some nice upgrades including a boom gallows which will allow him to keep the entire rig in place along the mast when it is lowered. This will cut his setup time at the launch ramp significantly. This is crucial as Pelicans attract attention from curious boaters and all the conversation tends to slow the process down. Toucan is also the only pelican I have ever seen with a canvas dodger.

Toucan's comfortable cabin has an artistic touch that I liked very much.

Toucan’s comfortable cabin has an artistic touch that I liked very much.

Chesapeake Light Craft had a display area on land on the other side of the Point Hudson marina. I ambled that way taking a bit of time to check out some vendors. John Harris was holding forth at the CLC tent fielding a steady stream of questions from both interested buyers and current owners. There was a fairly complete representation of their product line. I was interested to get a look at their Chester Yawl as a comparison with the one I have helped to build. She looks good from any angle and I am sure we did well. Our modification of the forward deck and the slotted rails make our effort stand out visually. I liked the crisp look of the white hull and varnished rails.

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I took the time to look over the other boats in their line and would sure love to take a crack at one of their kayak kits. They come to the show well equipped with tools, building supplies and plans. This is very interesting as their main competitor Pygmy Kayak has it’s store in a building on the northside of the marina. They are both great companies with interesting products and fantastic customer service. Competition being the engine of capitalism, the arrangement is to the benefit of the consumer.

Close by the CLC area is a line-up of vendors booths with products of interest to people building boats. I had an opportunity to chat with the representatives from MAS epoxy. They were very informative and ready to answer questions about epoxy and it’s application. I learned more about the product line which includes more options than I was aware of. I like the sound of their FLAG resin which is formulated for filleting and fairing without slumping. I’ve filed away their information as being especially useful in my own shop.

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The Edensaw lumber tent featured the first, hopefully annual, boatbuilding contest. There were two challengers engaged in the three day challenge to build a boat from pile of lumber to launch. None of the parts could be cut ahead of time. One entrant was a simple plywood craft. there effort was eclipsed by the winners Wooden Boat Foundation Boat Shop Manager Scott Jones and Boat Shop Assistant Matthew Straughn-Morse. They built a 6 foot 11 inch pram. It was lapstrake planked in cedar over steam bent oak frames. I watch them setting copper rivets. They did a great job and took home a check for one thousand dollars.

 

A highpoint of the day was to be invited aboard Pax, Kaci Chroncite’s lovely 28 foot spidsgatter. This is a vessel type that I never encountered before I came to the west coast. This classic beauty is a fine example of traditional boatbuilding. Her lines are a paean to buoyancy as displayed most strongly in her ample and shapely stern. The very word”spidsgatter” means double ender. The concept is common in older expressions of boat and ship design as it preceded the invention of the transom. One almost wonders why shipbuilders ever bothered. Transom! we don’t need no stinking transom.

Built in Kalundborg, Denmark in 1936 Pax has navigated successfully through a life which included fire that destroyed her main cabin. The woman shipwright that restored her displayed a level of craftsmanship that matched her builder’s. I am looking forward to Kaci’s forthcoming book Finding Pax. you can bet that I will be reviewing it for Seaward Adventures’ readers at the earliest possible opportunity.

At 28′ 6″ long this is not a large vessel. Below decks she seems like a much larger boat. The accommodations are basic and seamanlike. Varnished surfaces radiate the sort of visual warmth that soaks immediately into the soul of a sailor. Never underestimate the value of nautical ambiance.

The array of talks and demonstrations at the Wooden Boat Festival is always an embarrassment of riches. I never get to everything I would like to. I made a special effort to get to the talk given by Dan Mattson of the podcast Hooked on Wooden Boats. I have been a from the first episode. His latest effort is an electronic book on choosing a design for your first boatbuilding project. That is just what his talk was about. He covered the various boatbuilding methods as thoroughly as he could in the time allowed. The audience had a lot of good questions which he fielded very well. I have corresponded with Dan by email and voicemail. I was pleased to be able to speak with him briefly after the talk.

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Dan had his own lapstrake canoe on display as well as an 11 foot Scamp that he is in the process of building. Both boats are testimony that he knows what he is talking about. On his podcast Dan is very honest about the challenges involved in building a boat. Good instruction doesn’t sugar coat the information. Epoxy has it’s problems and the amount of sanding requires patience. Dan’s honesty and clarity is  beneficial to the home builder and can be as valuable as choosing the right tools.

 

The day went by all to quickly. I can’t get enough of being around boats. Even after I rode the shuttle bus back to my car and had a quick bite at McDonald’s The Port Townsend Shipyard beckoned. I did a drive through and drooled over a number of very cool boats including Selkie, a 25 foot carvel planked Friendship Sloop that is temptingly for sale. Port Townsend! You’re killing me here!

1977 Howard I. Chapelle designed 25 ft. friendship Sloop.

1977 Howard I. Chappelle designed friendship Sloop.

 

Typically it takes a week or so to get one of these Chester Yawl chapters posted. This one’s taken longer than I wanted to show up. My life does not allow time or energy for steady writing but that gives an opportunity to marinate each experience in grey matter. Stirring the rich stew that results requires a search for spice that is challenging to say the least. I could try to say the least about sanding epoxy but you might become as bored as I was with a sanding block in one hand staring down fifteen feet of planking that looked like fossilized cheesecloth.

The latest foray to the boat shed began with a sort of coin-toss choice. Things needing to be done were: sealing the gunwale rails or sanding the skeg and bottom planks followed by some epoxy sealing of the topsides planks. We went for the bottom job for no particular reason other than the job just had to get done. Dave and Bob had laid the fiberglass cloth on the bottom-most planks some time before. This left a bottom that was not entirely flat. There were places with overlaps at the beginning of a new length of cloth. there was a transition where the bottom cloth met the fabric going up the sides of the skeg. These seams needed to be faired in preparation for painting.  In typical fashion what was first applied must be altered or hidden for a final effect. After all boatbuilding has a good bit of illusion involved.

The job would be easier if this were a flat bottomed skiff. The job was complicated by the plank laps. They create restricted areas requiring smaller sanding blocks and short strokes. All our sanding was being done by hand. Using an orbital sander, carefully so as not to expose the weave of the cloth, would be faster but the plank widths prevented that.  Epoxy is hard stubborn stuff. The most effective tool in dealing with it is simple determination. The ability to grit your teeth and put your mind in low gear for a steady pull is a valuable talent. It helps to have a partner who is sociable and even loquacious.

Between Dave and I we are capable of a steady stream of useless but entertaining conversation. We meandered between reminiscence of past days working together at Westport Shipyards, women, the relative virtues of power vs. sail and sail vs. power, women, oars, Caleb who is now in Kentucky, and how long the current stock of resin would last. Religion, politics and the longevity of string theory as a viable cosmological theory were absent and not missed.

Having spent 30 years living with a fourth grade school teacher I am very familiar with the concept that, “busy hands are happy hands.” The time passed in spite of ourselves and we moved on to sealing the remainder of the planking which is not covered in fiberglass cloth. This is the part where the whole epoxy saturation technique comes by it’s popularity. The method takes mere marine grade plywood and turns it into a tough abrasion resistant material that is as waterproof as you can expect wood fiber to get. We mixed up a preliminary batch of MAS epoxy without adding any thickeners. Rolling it on went well. It’s surprising how far a small amount will go.  Okoume plywood is thirsty stuff. Some people like to varnish a hull after this stage. The epoxy is not resistant to ultraviolet rays. Paint does the same job cheaper and with fewer coats. Besides, I have never been partial to the look of  bright finished okoume. it just seems to remind my old-school sensibilities that we don’t see much genuine Honduras mahogany these days.

Since this post was written Dave has been busy getting enough done on the boat to do an early launch of the Chester Yawl. That will hopefully be done this weekend. Dave is getting ready to move to California to pursue studies for the ministry at a Bible college. Seems everybody is leaving here lately. First Caleb, now Dave. I’ve enjoyed their companionship and good humor. It has elevated this project to something greater than simply following instructions in a neatly assembled kit. When people come together to build objects they also build community. The bonds we forge display the true value of our skills.

 
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