Friday, December 19, 2014

More Ketchup

There are a few missing links in the blog. Here are a few snaps from the last half year. The two Rapid Roberts we built in March went home and got their innards build and paint put on. Here is Connie's Running Bare

 And Alan's Panga

We harnessed a team of horses for an upriver expedition. People always ask me why we put transoms on dories. Here is one reason.

And on the other end of the boating spectrum we spent a lot of time on our paddle boards.

I got the new ash gunwales on this wee aluminum dory.

And went down Grand Canyon in paddle boats, motor rigs, and dories. Here are a couple of my offices.

We didn't let a lot of the folks ride in our boats this year.

Some of our folks didn't even have boats.

Food was down to the usual moldy bacon and rancid flour.

It is sure a pretty place down there.


Here are some shots of me hard at work, by my photographer friend Catherine Zuzii Ryan. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Back to boatwork

Well, I've been back from New Zealand long enough to catch my breath, so it's back to the shop. First up was my dory Cataract, who had taken a couple hits in Bedrock Rapid on my last trip when I got tangled up in a couple spinning rafts and slammed into the lower right wall. Ow. Pilot error on my part. Although the wood was a bit shattered at the impact points it was not bad enough I felt it needed full replacement. So I went with the trusty old spooge-patch--inject resin into all the fragments and compress it back into shape. In essence you end up with an area that is still made of wood and glue, but is a bit closer to particle board than plywood. 

But it works just fine.

Then Greg Reiff showed up with Sandra, his 1940s original Nevills Cataract boat. Andy Hutchinson restored her from a desperate state back in 2000, and she's had many a Grand Canyon run since. But something was amiss and she had a bad case of creeping rot. My diagnosis was that it was stemming from the four sealed floatation chambers--an artifact from the old days when the fear of actually sinking was a bit more prevalent. These four triangular chambers were full of spray-foam and plastic jugs. The foam was allegedly closed cell, and the chambers were allegedly airtight. What could possibly go wrong? Well, the same thing that always goes wrong. Curious water molecules find their way in and can't find their way out. So they set up a rot farm. I proposed opening the four compartments to the hatch spaces and removing the foam so they could dry out on a regular basis. More storage room, less rot-farming. And in we went.

It took a splitting maul to bust out the seat hatch, which was aggressively filleted in with epoxy. Kinda fun in a sick sort of way.

We broke out another non-traditional boat tool--a shovel to start hacking into the soaking wet foam.

We quickly struck gold. Well, rot, actually. Lots of rot.

Greg spent the better part of two days clawing away at the foam, which proved to be surprisingly fond of being inside of the awesomely awkward compartments.

One major piece of the side and two of the bulkheads also had to be removed due to rot.

But at the end of two days we had her ready for rebuild. We figure a month or two of drying out is in order before we start the reconstruction. So up she goes into the loft, passing her sister/mother/granddaughter boat Moe on the way.

Meanwhile my buddy BJ has been building all the ribs for another classic Briggs-style dory for Grand Canyon. I was so happy with the scarfing jig I made in New Zealand that I made another just like it. Screw a circular saw to a 2x4 and plywood box, set the angle-cut, and have at it.

And the wedge-clamp glue-up system is my new favorite as well.

BJ ground off the scarf joints yesterday and last night we cut out the side panels. Today was build day. 

Another thing we figured out in New Zealand is that the normal system of starting at the bowpost and installing rib-by-rib to the other end is not necessarily the best way to go. The first three ribs, especially in a Briggs, put up a hell of a fight. Things explode; tears are shed. So when we built Eva, we started normally by fastening both sides to the bowpost, then went all the way to the middle of the boat and put in the middle rib. Then we worked backward, rib by rib, to the front of the boat. This allowed the side panels to come to grips with the crazy twist in a far gentler and more agreeable manner. Once the bow was done, the stern came together very willingly. 

We went with the new system again today and I am sold on it. Bowpost first, then ribs 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. Deanna and the ghost of Martin Litton are admiring the build.

Here are BJ and Roy working back toward the bow post with no exploded ribs and no crying.

It's kind of fun, actually.

All smiles at the end of the day. The Thunder River (or Thunder Liver) (or Thunda Liva) is born. Our first boat ride:

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Zsa Zsa and Eva--a double dory flash build in Kiwiland

Okay, a bit of a jump here, from Nova Scotia in July to New Zealand in late October. A few things happened in-between, and maybe we'll get to that later. But late in the summer my boatbuilding buddy Andy Hutchinson got a contract to build two Briggs-style open dories in New Zealand for float trips on the Whanganui River. Andy asked me to come along and help pull it off. We scheduled about three weeks to do it. A bit of an aggressive schedule, but hell--deadlines make the world go round.

Unfortunately Andy got severely delayed by visa issues and I had to go it alone for the first week or so. So the pressure was on. I set up our shop in a sheep shed high on a windy hilltop in the remote community of Pukeokahu, where our employer, Brian Megaw, had secured us space for the month.

The front door was pretty classy:

 It came with our mantra stuck to the wall:

Brian didn't really have the necessary tools for such an enterprise so we spent a small fortune gearing up. The clamps, unfortunately, were on the low end. Pro-Grade. If you ever get a chance to buy any Pro-Grade clamps, run the other way. Of the three dozen pictured below, only about ten survived the project. 

But the saving grace was the bonus pack of top-notch Makita lithium cordless tools. Oh my good golly heck are they fine tools. Highly recommended. The circular saw, the planer, the drills--all bad ass tools and hell for accurate. Here they are sitting atop the full-size drawings we lofted back in the states.

The first week or so was a test in moral strength--alone on the hilltop in the howling wind and rain. Fortunately I excavated a wood stove in the corner of the shop and had her blazing full time. And I did have a few buddies in the far end of the shop who called my name incessantly: "Bra-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-addd!"

Here is the view out the lofting bench window: the world's largest golf course. Never been anywhere even close to this green. 

Brian was able to get some top-notch boatbuilding wood--Port Orford cedar for framing, Meranti marine plywood for the skin, and White Oak for the gunwales and chines. Here are the first five of twenty rib sets leaning up against the stack of plywood:

I came up with another in a long line of invented scarfing jigs to bevel the plywood so we could glue up twenty-foot sheets. This one involved making a wooden box and screwing the circular saw to it. It is the best jig I've ever used. Note the scarf cut in the bottom of the picture.

The clamping jigs were simply pairs of 2x4s above and below the scarfed plywood sheets, the flat surfaces of the 2x4s covered with black plastic. On the set top I drove wedges between the two 2x4s to distribute pressure, since I only connected the top boards to each other at the very ends. Another grand success.

By the time Andy and Kate arrived, I had all the ribs, bowposts, and transoms cut, and the side-panels and floors scarfed and glued. Gunwales and chines were milled and scarf-cut, ready to bend and glue. On their first morning we drew out the side-panels from patterns we made in the states--here we are truing the lines with wooden battens.

And that afternoon we pulled together the first hull.

Here is a link to a time-lapse Kate Thompson made:

Meanwhile we fired up our improvised steam bender. The jets on the burners were oversized (for burning sheep farts I guess?) so I pounded in a stick of wood in the gigantic orifice and drilled a tiny orifice more suited to propane. Damn if it didn't work. Well, kinda sooty, but it worked. We also found it heated our jackets nicely while improving the bender's efficiency. You can see a set of chines fresh out of the steamer in the previous picture, clamped to the new hull for shaping.

Things never slowed down much.  Here is Andy cutting the sheer line on one of the hulls.

We fit in the inner chines next and traced the pattern for the bottoms:

Then we screwed them on and put on the outer chines.

Fortunately we passed our inspection:

Next we rolled them up and screwed on the Tasmanian Blackwood gunwale blocks and chiseled out the ribs to accept the gunwales.

Each evening we we glued up chines and gunwales for the next day. And on they went. (Go, Pro-Grades, go! Snap. Damn it!) Fortunately I had had time to email Andy to grab a few of my Highland clamps before he left the states, so we limped on through.

The saving grace of this manic schedule was that we were not decking them as we do in Grand Canyon, but rather installing fairly simple benches.

We saturated the bottoms with epoxy to toughen them a bit for gravelly landings and such. The sides we varnished. Interiors we oiled with Linseed-turpentine-varnish with a touch of pine tar (which is called Stockholm Tar down under.)

After a second coat of varnish we added a 30% proportional stripe for accent. We used Resene enamel--a New Zealand brand that is astonishingly nice to use--high pigment levels, no sags, even the red covered in one coat. Tired of calling them boat number one and boat number two, we nick-named them after the Gabor sisters, Zsa Zsa and Eva. Their proper names are to be bestowed on them by the Maoris over by the Whanganui eventually. Eva has a rust stripe; Zsa Zsa's is blood red.

We planned to do a float trip on the Whanganui on our last two days before departing. We finished them late the afternoon before load-up day with hours (HOURS!) to spare. We christened them with a bottle of champagne and the local hot babes showed up to party with us.

On our final day of work we crafted a stack-loader for the trailer, loaded them up and drove them down into the Rangatikei River, where Brian runs River Valley Lodge. There we launched Zsa Zsa for a test float. She floated.

The next morning it was off to the Whanganui for an overnight. We had to stop along the way and photograph the newborn babes in front of Ruapehu. And photograph each other photographing each other photographing the boats.

And down the Whanganui we went. Relieved and exhausted in two damned pretty boats. On a damned pretty river. If you are ever looking for a lovely three-to-five-day float, contact Brian at Whanganui River Dories. It's luvly.

Here are Brian and Nicola Megaw in Zsa Zsa, proud new dory owners. Friend Tommy is waving from the stern.

After a long drive back to River Valley, we got up early, cleaned out the sheep shed, and drove 'til ten p.m. to catch a flight home. Some day I hope to see New Zealand.

P.S. if you are a FaceBooker, Brian has done some great posts and videos--Friend him up at Whanganui River Dories.