Friday, July 13, 2018

Morning on the river.

Morning.  14 July. 2018.

He snores, my little dog, as he lies sleeping on his rug. Dawn is still an hour away so he’s entitled to sleep, but I’m sitting up in my bunk looking out over the water, watching the ripples distorting the reflection of the lights on the hills above.
I don’t mind his gentle, rhythmic  rumble, I imagine he’s really saying to me, “I’m here boss, you’re not alone, if there is a threat I’ll be there with teeth bared barking in my best don’t mess with us, voice.  Don’t feel lonely boss, I’m here”.

And I don’t. My litle ship, my floating home is rising with the tide, its like being lifted by the slow heartbeat of the world. It’s a big tide this morning, one that covers all of the mudbanks, bringing clear ocean water in even this far up the estuary, changing the colour from brown to grey green.

Its too early yet to think of what the day might hold, the planning of the day, the jobs that need doing, what is urgent and what might wait. It’s a time to relax, to watch the hypnotic march of the tiny waves, listen to the birds awakening and proclaiming, “I’m here, this is my place, I’m here, listen to my song”.

There is some pale light above the horizon now, being winter its late, but winter sometimes brings a clarity of light that we don’t see in the warm haze of summer and while the sun is close to its morning appearance the stars still shine, bright and sharp. Its going to be a good day today, I feel very privileged to live here on the river, afloat, so close to nature and the natural things around me.

The water is not my friend, nor is it my enemy, it is impersonal in its actions, but I am content when with it, close to it, borne up by it.

Living here has me close to the moods of the sea. It can be peaceful, gentle, filled with promise of reward. It can be angry, threatening, capricious, or playful. But its rarely the same for long, the constant change is enough to hold my attention always. There is peace here, watching the water is enough to so occupy me that the world of mankind does not trouble me. I understand those for whom long voyages out on the ocean call so strongly, but here in the shelter of the river I can have both. Waking here is a wonderful thing, so near, and yet so far.

Its light now, my little dog still snores, but he’s muttering under his breath, grumbling as he wakes.  In a moment we’ll go outside, and we’ll both look out over the water before we walk off together to see what the day has in store for us, there are rats that need catching, both for him and me.

 "Dawn on the River."   Photo by Paul Gilbert, Aquapix. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Starting to put in the fiddly bits that can make all the difference.

Inside my little shelter, cuddy, dodger or whatever it might be called there is enough width to sit across the boat, feet on one side, back against the other, tucked in under the “veranda” out of the weather.  There is space to do that while cooking or getting clothing out from the big dry lockers forward,  maybe even to get changed while its raining outside.
I’ll have VHF/SSB radio, lights, and GPS on the bulkhead and the cooker, with pots and pans, condiments and such will be mounted on the back of one of the big hatches 
To access the latter, the hatch swings open, and is latched there, to put away again, just close the hatch and dog it shut. The cuddy is a multi use space, and its important that its comfortable to use.

But sitting in there, dreaming of being out at sea, a problem came to mind. It was damn uncomfortable!  The inside edge where the side deck meets the “cabin” side is in just the wrong place, it cricks the neck, leaves the back unsupported and, as I said, is very uncomfortable.
There is too the issue of the little bits and pieces that need to be ready to hand when out there sailing, the main stowage in Long Steps with its air tanks sealed off by screw top hatches are not suited to this use, it takes too long to access them, so, on with the thinking cap.

The answer, a pair of lockers that fit in under the side decks,  the faces sloped a little to make a nice back rest, the floor of the locker seated on top of the second stringer down from the gunwale, and the space divided in two halfway along. 
Finishing the lockers at that height means that there is still space to brace me against the sides with back against one and feet against the side of the boat under the lockers on the other.

There are cutouts in the face of the lockers for access, those will have stretchy nets over them so things stay put but easy for a hand to pull the shock cord down and reach in.
What goes in there? The hand bearing compass, some granola bars, the small thermos flask with the hot chocolate in it, my spare hat, ( I seem to have left hats in the sea in many places) gloves, sun cream and such. 

I’ve dummied those lockers up in 6mm plywood, tacked them together with epoxy and after that set up, have taken them back out to coat with sealant and paint the insides, They need a little sanding then they can be fitted back in with glue and screws to hold them in place and the standard of comfort will be vastly improved, all the way from say, half a star to three quarters of a star.  The local cheap motel might be 2 stars but the view from Long Steps little camping shelter will more than make up for the difference in amenties.
 Ready to be finished off, coated inside and out, then permanently glued into place.

Its just sitting there to test fit for size, but you get the picture.  Yes there are drain holes in the little locker floors, but I sincerely hope that I never get any water in there.

Other progress, I’ve fitted the seat top nosing piece to the starboard seat, hidden the screws with “proper” wooden plugs, and have fitted the doubler under the after edge.  That latter is an area where I expect to be standing up at the helm quite a lot, and the doublers mean that I can put a much thicker rounding on that edge so making contact with my shins a bit less painful.

As well, now that the seating, including the moveable rowing seat, is in place I can begin to contemplate what the rowing position might be.  An idea that is cooking away in that maze of wandering paths that is my mind, is that if I make up some tall rowlocks I would be able to stand up and row facing forward, pushing on the oars to move the boat rather than sitting facing aft and pulling. That would be a good way to rest the muscles, taking it in turn with the more conventional rowing position, as well as being good for manoeuvring the boat into a small space such as a dock or marina berth.
Two piece oars! I will be needing long ones, so its off to Duckworks Boatbuilders supply for the carbon fibre oar sleeves, I’ve used the smaller ones on lighter oars, very successful, but this will need the big ones as the oars will be around 2.8m long ( just over 9 ft).

While the brain was working, and yes there are times when it doesn’t, I began construction of the anchor stowage bin under the tiller.  With the anchor there I can veer it or retrieve it from the cockpit which will mean that I don’t have to go out there on that tiny foredeck when it’s a bit rough on the water.
Having sides, in just the right place means that I can very easily put seats out from the bin to the sides, just in front of the tiller bulkhead, still leaving space in which to stand, those seats will enable me to sit, back against the curved coaming and one arm resting lazily on the tiller, my weight in the right place when the boat is reaching or running. Comfort again. Pleasure in the sailing of a small boat is largely about being comfortable.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Working on the tiller

Its autumn here, but still unusually warm for this time of year.  Like summer would normally be, not that I'm complaining, its very nice weather and just about perfect for getting out in the smaller boats,

Back in the workshop I’m taking a break from the “big” parts of boatbuilding, spending a little time making up the smaller bits and pieces that will be needed when the boat itself has been completed.  The rudder and tiller assemblies are the current project, the tiller and its pivot being more complex than in a boat where the helmsperson can sit close enough to just hold a tiller that’s directly mounted on the rudder stock, means that there is a bit of fiddly work to do here.

So I went to a local aluminium window fabrication company, had a dig through their scrap bin and found a piece of box section, 65 x 65 inside, with 3mm walls. That’s easy to cut, just use the sawbench with its usual tungsten carbide blade but take it quietly and it cuts fine. I sliced it back to a channel shape, 50mm deep, and shaped the pivot head to take it. I cut  the curve on the end with the bandsaw, the blade on that is not a carbide one, but the hardened teeth handle the aly just fine.  A hint, if you do this sort of work, make sure you clean all of the aly chips off the saw before you go back to cutting wood, having metal chips in the surface of your fine woodwork doesn’t help things much.
I drilled the shaped channel for a hinge pin so the tiller can be lifted up slightly past 90 deg, and put all that in place temporarily so I could make up a “dummy” to guide the making of the tiller.

Found a piece of hardboard in my scrap pile, and yes that scrap pile is very useful at times, and clamped it into the aly hinge piece, sat in the boat with a sharpie pen, held my hand about where I’d want it, and drew the tiller shape.

 One of the issues here is that the tiller needs to be long enough for me to sit on the side seats just aft of midships, thats where my weight needs to be going upwind.  In a fine ended, relatively narrow boat like this proper crew weight distribution is helpful to the boats performance.  I'll be in the back corner by that bulkhead that you can see there when on long downwind runs.

The tiller template cut out, I've set the height of the "grip" end of the tiller so that my forearm is level, parallel with my thigh when I'm seated. Thats a comfort thing.  It is though long enough so that if I'm standing at the tiller I'll need to hinge it up as I walk across when tacking or gybing.

I refined that a little, cut the shape out on the bandsaw, clamped it back in place and sat in the boat with my hand on it to check how it felt.
It felt fine, so fine sitting at the helm  I had trouble stopping my dreams carrying me away, could have sat there daydreaming for far too long.

Next, time to make up the real thing.  When cutting thin veneers the saw loses about half of the wood in sawdust, that’s a bit sad but there is no other way, so half an hour later that three metre piece of 130 x 25 was split, and the 70mm wide piece converted into 3mm veneers, the Leuco blade leaving a finish very much ok for glueing.

Next job, a jig.  I grabbed an offcut piece of  melamine laminated particle board, the stuff that they make cheap furniture of, drew around the outline of my tiller template, masked that with packing tape and screwed my laminating clamp blocks along the line on one face of the shape.

Much gluing, using the same homemade epoxy spreader that I use instead of a paintbrush, I applied a very thin glue mix to each face of the laminates as I laid them up.  As there were 12 layers in this, thin ones because of the relatively sharp bend, I started off with only six.  Clamped them at one  end, and worked along with the clamps, pulling them in in sequence a little at a time until they were hard against the clamping blocks.

 Half the veneers glued up, 5 more to go.

Fast forward a day, and I took the part tiller off the jig, tidied it up with a plane, put it back on and glued the rest of the layers on using the same clamping process.

The last 5 on, doing 12 in one shot is fussy work, every piece is trying to escape, all slippery with epoxy and under tension, so I've done it in two stages, the first layup having enough pieces to stop any springback when the clamps come off, then next day, after a bit of a cleanup to take any lumps of glue off, the rest get coated and clamped on.

Next day, and if you’re doing this sort of laminating do give the glue plenty of time to cure as the layers will be doing their best to pop back straight again, it came off the jig, and it was time to attack it with the bandsaw, then the spokeshave and carve it to its finished shape.
With the “blank” off the jig, the first thing was to outline the shape with a pencil, then run it through the bandsaw to rough out the shape.  This wood is Mangeou, a soft but very tough New Zealand native wood, it saws and machines well but is a stinker to use a plane or spokeshave on as the shavings tend to jam the mouth of the plane.  So it was out with the angle grinder with the 40 grit sanding disk on and some delicate work, light with the pressure and steady strokes to get it shaped. I’ve gone for a horizontal oval shaped hand piece this time rather than a round one, it fits my hand well and provides a place for the tiller extension swivel to be mounted.

Rough shaped, in place, that looks ok to me.  I've still to make up the yoke that will connect the tiller to the yoke on the rudder head, thats a job for another day.

After the angle grinder it was time for the fine and finishing work, so the Shinto Rasp (  came into action, a great tool this one, one of those I don’t know how I managed without before Duckworks supplied mine.
From there its sandpaper, working down through the grits until its time for the  varnish.

 The tiller in close to its finished state and position, the pivot pin is a piece of 20mm stainless steel tube cut from a bent lifeline stanchion salvaged from a dumpster at the marina, thats a good place for useful stuff that I can recycle. 

Hinged up, the mizzen mast is back a bit from here so the tiller is not going to get mixed up with it, but its well out of the way of any activity while anchored.
The "new"plywood in the image is the beginnings of the anchor well, and no, I'm not planning to be up on the foredeck in any rough weather so its going back here, counterweighted by a big truck starter  battery up in the forward end of the boat that will run the radio, gps, nav lights and such. 

The rudder head and blade are coming up next, the rudder head is a bit unusual in that it is similar to the one on the Saturday Night Special in that it runs down past the boat bottom to the depth of the skeg and has an end plate so there is some steering even when the rudder blade is fully raised. On the SNS, the boat is able to be driven through very shallow water at high speed with the blade lifted, and for a boat that will be rowed or sailed into estuaries and over the mudflats this will be invaluable.

Once that’s done, it will be time to mount the tiller and rudder head then make up the yokes.  I’ve a chunk of 6mm aly plate ready to cut up for that. My Swedish steel bandsaw blade with its hardened teeth will save me hours with a hacksaw. Watch this space.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Progress on Long Steps, work on the ship and grumbles about the weather of late.

 In the last few days I’ve had time to do a bit of work up there in the shed , Long Steps is all planked up now, if you were to toss her in the tide she’d not only float ( being made of wood) she’d float upright and dry inside, and even look like a boat. Woohoo! That’s a milestone indeed!

All planked up, she's looking like a real boat now. Lots still to do but its nice to be working on a "boat" rather than an odd looking 3 D jigsaw.

An aside here, we’re a metric country, kilometres is how we measure distance but the word “milestone” has stayed in our lexicon, that’s interesting.

So I have “ a boat”.  Still lots to do, but we’re into the more fiddly parts now. I’ve made the rowing seat, fitted the seat rails and the side seat nose pieces with the soft edge radius that is so helpful to the comfort of the crew.  I’ve made a lot of little bits and pieces, fillers and doublers, filled a heap of screw holes with epoxy, coated a lot of the interior and am well along with roughing out  out all the pieces for foredeck, side and after decks.

 Rowing seat rail and the edge nosing for the side tank seats, note the gentle radius which reduces the discomfort that happens when ones thighs are creased over a sharp cornered edge.
 I made up the rowing seat yesterday, it can be slid along those rails to position it conveniently for sail or rowing, or sleeping but cant lift out, it has to come out at the after end should it need to be removed. Its 18mm plywood, plenty strong enough to jump on if I'm getting in off a high dock.
The "off"centreboard case cap, it hooks under the fixed part of the cap at the after end and will have a tower bolt at the forward end to retain it, this gives access to the lifting line and pulley.

Before I fit those I have to sit down and design the circuitry for the electrical system.  That has to power an SSB/VHF radio, navigation and anchor lights, cabin light, GPS / Chart plotter and spotlight.  It also has to provide USB points for charging the cellphone and laptop.
Yes there will be a battery, a 140 Amp Hour deep cycle marine battery that weighs around 30 kg, that’s 66 lbs, a useful addition to the ballast!  It a biggie because there is the potential for quite a high electrical load on it, and the solar panels may not be enough to keep up with the use if I’m trapped by less than clement weather.
The water ballast tank by the way holds 225 lbs of water.  I'm expecting that plus the battery to keep her on her feet when its blowing a bit.

The battery box by the way is a project that I’ve been avoiding, yes I’ll have to do it soon, certainly before the lid goes on the cuddy, building and securing it through the hatch wouldn't be fun.

The wiring too, needs to go in before I put the side decks on,  much of it will run along inside the gunwale out of any potential harms way, but that’s difficult to access with the side decks and cockpit coaming on, so, like the battery box, its time to get that done.

The tiller pivot layout has been giving my thinker a bit of exercise, and I attacked that today. There are two issues, one being that its to be remote from the rudder and connected by pushrods, that takes it around the mizzen and forward to where the crew weight needs to be, leaving the lazarette ( the area under the after deck) as  bouyancy and storage, about 0.6 of a cubic metre, in imperial measurements that’s 1,2220 lbs of bouyancy. This boat by the way has over 2 tons of built in bouyancy distributed between 11 compartments, even with several holed she’d float high enough to support her crew and still be stable enough to make progress.

The drill all set up with the jig to keep the angle right, I used a set square for the other axis. Visible too are the blocks which give faces at right angles to the pivot pin between which the tiller head will swing. Yes the drill is a Ryobi, no I don't like it much but I own two of their batteries plus charger and the bare drill was really cheap. 

Here's the tiller head resting in place, there will be an aluminum plate bellcrank screwed to the top of that block, and the pushrods go back through the holes in that bulkhead, along a "tunnel" to another bellcrank on the top of the rudder head.

But back to the rudder and tiller, with the tiller connected to the rudder head by solid pushrods its important to have the tiller pivot axis and the rudder head pivot axis the same so the distance between the bellcranks on each, remains the same as the assembly turns. So there was a bit of fiddling, some wedge shaped pieces, a jig to set the angle of the drill and some wild guesswork with the “eyecrometer” to get that done.
There is a hole right through there which will take the pivot pin, a chunk of 19mm ( actually ¾ od) stainless tube out of my collection of “hey that might be useful someday) items.
So its near done, I’ve some 6mm aly plate from which to make the bellcranks, a piece of scrap aly channel to make the hinge for the tiller so it can be lifted up out of the way when needed, and plenty to do tomorrow.

Meanwhile, New Zealand is feeling the effects of global warming, we’d normally get the tail end of one tropical cyclone every 5 years or so, this summer we’ve had three. It was the same last summer. Sea temperatures are so much higher than normal that we’ve changes in our local fish species evident, different types of seaweed beginning to flourish where its not been seen before, and RAIN.
We’ve had the hottest summer on record, and the wettest, which has been a pain in the very low back!

Ah well, I did get out sailing some, plus Denny and I took the ship away for a short cruise, and yes it darn near blew our socks of so the passages were made very late at night to try and catch the calm of the night time.  Fun though, we enjoyed it.

In between all that I’ve repainted Sei, she’s now a rich navy blue with red trim, have sanded off and painted quite a bit of my ship, and at 40 ft x 12 ft and two decks high there is a lot of her, and redone a lot of the electrical system.
All the “house battery” powered circuits went dead, and when I looked in behind the wheel to try and find the problem, the rats nest of wiring in there was beyond my ability to figure out, even after two full days with the multi metre it was still a shake of the head.  So, off to the wholesalers and back with a big roll of wiring and two new bus bars and some switches, and I’ve rewired all of those circuits all the way from the battery to the action.
Along the way replacing several panels of plywood where I had to smash the originals to get into the spaces where the wiring was. Ah well, the new panels are removeable.

Autumn now, its blowing like stink out there, forecast for rain but its not cold. I’m hoping to take the rowing boat up the river at daybreak tomorrow, Indy the little terrier and I will sit up there under the trees’ listen to the birdsong as they wake up, and watch the sun come up.

That makes it all worth while.