Sunday, March 22, 2015

Thunder Liver

In my last post I was reveling about my knee surgery recovery. Woohoo! Two days later I had a hernia. Who is writing this script? Surgery four days later and back to recovery mode. 

But the doc said I could putter in the shop as long as I don't lift anything, so it's been back to puttering and helping BJ get the Thunder River done. Decks on and primed.

Hull primed.

And painted. Wowzer.

Bowpost on and trimmed.

Oh yeah.

Pinstripes or no? Yo.

Hatch hinges temporarily fixed with 5-minute epoxy--long enough to get all the screws in the right place.

But how to precisely mark latch placement from the inside? Find a friend who fits in a side hatch. (I am already getting orders for this revolutionary hatch accessory.)

Hatched and latched.

No walnut stock big enough for the oar blocks? Make lemonade. Laminate some white oak in-between thinner sections of walnut.

Enough of this nonsense. Off to Lake Mary for a sunset champagne inaugural launch. Roy and Amy brought out Brown Betty to help celebrate--another Fretwater boatshop baby from last summer. (Roy built Brown Betty, for the most part, while I was on the river last summer, so other than a few appearances in last April's blog posts, she escaped documentation here. She is the second clone of the Betty Boop, which we rebuilt from a rot-pot back in 2011-12.)

She floats. She rows.

She motors.

She knows how to party.

She even finds her way home by the fingernail moon.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

March Forth

I got my marching orders from Dr. Tarlow on, appropriately, March 4th.  He feels the residual pain will soon subside as I continue exercise, therapy, and muscle-building. (Arnie is still kind of cranky; Lenny is pretty pain-free and strong.) And he was quite happy with the range of motion, strength, and the x-rays. And of course it still hurts: I just had knee surgery a few weeks ago. Stop whining. March forth.

The financial adventure continues to improve. Of the $160,000 that the initial Blue Cross statements seemed to indicate I will owe, it now looks a lot more like about $3000. I can live with that. But it is the most bizarre, arcane system I have ever been a part of. They are now sending me checks which I have to deposit and write checks to various entities--the Surgical Center, the Physician's Assistant, etc. I'd explain further but it's really kind of boring.

And if anyone wants to geek out on my before and after x-rays, here they are. The back view really shows why the pain was so annoying. Those interior contacts were really starting to do that pesky bone-on-bone thing. And the first two pairs of images really show the bow-legged to straight-legged transition.

Back view:

Front view:

Left leg:

Right leg:

Top view

Sunday, March 1, 2015

On my feet again

Damn, I can't say I have really enjoyed dual knee surgery all that much. An adventure for sure, but it has cut severely into my shop time, which is not acceptable. An hour or two a day has been about tops for the last six weeks.

But things have been happening down in the shop, and I stagger down now and then to kibitz and get in the way. Lora has been finishing up a new five-string neck for her beautiful old Vega Whyte Laydie banjo. It's the opposite of boatbuilding in terms of scale, and a bit hard for me to adapt to. But check it out:

We inlayed a bunch of turquoise heishi beads into the ebony fretboard, and are now finishing up the head and nut. Thursday was a big day, as Lora hoped to be playing the banjo Friday evening in Phoenix. Time to, as my mom used to say, "get a wiggle on." After much deliberation about precise placement we went ahead and drilled in all the tuning peg holes and screwed them in.

Here is Lora filing the string notches into the nut.

We put in the silver stud that holds the fifth string in place, affixed the tightening hardware inside the pot and oiled up the neck. And by god, it was suddenly time to string it.

It sounds pretty amazing, and she made it to the music gathering on time. She said it wow-ed the other banjo players. And the banjo makers!

Meanwhile, BJ has been busy on the Thunder River, when he isn't skiing or surfing or flying his paraglider. The duties of a retired ski patrol director are vast. Here I am helping a couple weeks ago.

The decks are all in place now and we have glassed the seams where the deck meets the hull, as Jerry Briggs did to the originals.  That's about it for fiberglass on this boat--at least until a few years go by and a necessity develops. Or not. The old Briggs boats made it close to twenty years without fiberglass, and that was with fir plywood that checks horribly. Meranti mahogany plywood should do far better.

On Saturday I figured I could hobble down and get BJ started on prep for installing the gunwales in a day or two. But things got out of hand. By mid-afternoon we were gunwale-ating. By quitting time we had the right ones done.

But who quits at quitting time? Too much mo. Here I am drilling the bolt holes while Deanna eyeballs the angle of the hole (a critical job). BJ is slamming in the sex nuts.

And...  done.

Gotta say, I was excited to see it happen, but far more excited to have just spent my first full day in the shop since before surgery. I'm back! The knees have finally forgiven me enough to let me work a full day. I mean play a full day. Okay, play a full half-day and half-night.

It's well past dinner time but I gotta saw that bow post off.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Fretwater Boatbuilding School

In April Fretwater Boatworks will be hosting two seminar / mini courses. I'm starting what I hope will become an erratic and unending series of low-cost short courses and seminars to help infect more victims with the incurable estoteric disease of wooden boats. Most boat schools cost well over $100 a day and are still a bargain. For these first two courses I'll be asking a per-day donation of around half that--maybe a little less if its just me instructing, more if we are bringing in talent to teach. Do what you can, and hopefully it will work out that we can continue to do these. These will be more informal courses than you might find at a "real" school, but also more flexible and personalized.

April 10-13
Oar tuning: making your oars not hate you

The classic, balanced, workingman's oar is a thing of the past. Modern wooden oars are almost without exception heavy, stiff, poorly balanced things that, when used commercially, lead to wrist, elbow, and shoulder fatigue and misery. The market seems to demand heavy bludgeons that are hard to break--but they end up breaking you. Oar authorities Pete Culler in 1978, and Andrew Steever in 1993, both bemoaned the fate of the oar market even then, saying it had been decades since a good rowing oar had been manufactured. It has not improved. A light, balanced oar with true dynamic flex just does not exist. As the years go by I have been tinkering with ways to make oars more user friendly, visiting oarmakers around the country and the world, and taking an oarmaking course from Clint Chase at WoodenBoat School. I've come up with several techniques and procedures to help you and your joints prolong your bad habit of rowing. Shaft and blade thinning, re-tapering, blade scalloping, mild handle counter weighting, ultra-light oar tip protection, minor shortening, and slick leather wraps. Coworkers on the river are gobsmacked with some of the oars I've been running the last couple years. So am I. We'll be working all these angles throughout the four-day course. Bad-ass surfboard shaper Greg Loehr will be on hand to help share the professional shaping aspects of blade work.

Before signing up you should let me know what sort of oars you are starting with and where you want to go with them. Not all oars are conductive to modification. My shop is big, but oars are long, so let me know now if you want a spot.
Here's a radio story Scott Thybony did on the Fretwater oar quest.

April 18-21
Boatbuilding Fundamentals with Wade Smith

For more than ten years Wade Smith was the Director of the John Gardner Small Boat Shop at Mystic Seaport, curating and documenting the coolest collection of small wooden boats anywhere, and teaching a wide variety of wooden boatbuilding courses. He now works as a professional wooden boatbuilder in Connecticut and teaches boatbuilding at WoodenBoat School in Maine each summer. Wade will be accompanying me on AzRA's Grand Canyon Dories and Stories trip, and has enthusiastically agreed to teach a short course on the fundamentals of boatbuilding before our river trip. We foresee this as a somewhat informal introduction to this age-old craft, with flexibility to move toward whatever the class needs. Since the Great American Desert is a poor place for traditional lapstrake plank-built boats, and since we have limited time, we plan to focus more on the plywood-on-frame style typical of Oregon Drift boats and dories of the mid-1900s.

From hallucinating a boat concept, to drawing it up and translating lines to wood to a boat, we'll be pretty busy. Boatbuilding is a continuous dance of problem solving. Expect to learn tricks and techniques that will be useful in far more applications than the precise thing we may be doing at the moment. If you've ever dreamed of building your own boat, this is an excellent place to start turning into your own private nightmare reality. We hope for a course size of ten to twenty, so let me know now if you want to hold a spot. I expect I will learn as much or more than anyone else.

June 13-27
The real deal, back in Maine

For those who realize four days is simply not sufficient to learn enough about boatbuilding, come on back to WoodenBoat School in Maine for Wade's two-week course in Fundamentals of Boatbuilding. This year he will have the world-famous proprietor of Fretwater Boatworks as his lovely assistant. That's me. We'll be going deep into all aspects of the craft. Your mind will be irrevocably twisted. Tell them that alumnus Brad Dimock is sending you and you'll get a 10% discount on tuition. You can also save a bit by camping, but be sure to sign up for the food—it's outrageous. Warning: WoodenBoat School is addictive. It is just about the funnest place I've ever been. Just thinking of it makes me twitch and giggle.

Just Kidding

I knew from the start that the surgery itself would be a big adventure, and that my rehabilitation would be an even bigger one. And it has been—the day-by-day painful progress, the occasional backslide and its consequent despair, the dance with the narcotic oxycodone. A big adventure to be sure.

Yet I knew there was going to be a third adventure as well--the financial dance between the doctors, providers, and clinic, and BlueCross BlueSheild of Arizona, and little old me. The adventure began on Saturday when I got a note from BlueCross. Mind you, I HAD called them before scheduling surgery to find out if my doctor was covered (he was) and if the procedure wa covered (it was). Even so, I expected some amount of charges that were somehow going to be not covered. I had looked up the true cost to see just how poorly things might go if something wasn't covered: MAKO Robotic Unicompartmental Knee Replacement @ SurgCenter GreaterPHX-implant included: $21,225." I figured $40,000 max, but more likely well under $10,000 with my insurance. So to be honest, I didn't really expect this. The gist of the letter was, "Just kidding, Brad. That wasn't really covered at all. Fooled you, huh?" And the surgical center forgot to check the doctor's website about the pricing.

Hmm. Patient owes $79,286.88 You know, that really kinda changes everything. I mean... I went into this in good faith. I had a newly upgraded insurance policy with a reputable company, had made a pre-check call to okay it, and had far more in the bank than my deductible, just in case. But not $79,286.88 more than my deductible.

And oh yeah: this is just for the first knee. With in-network and out-of-network deductibles I could be looking at maybe $175,000. Gosh darn it.

The bottom line on my IRS 1040 form has averaged $20,000 for the last five years. I run a pretty thin margin. That's why I have insurance. That's why I checked things out. Maybe if I paid them $100 a month until I am 250 years old? Turns out that even though the doctor and the procedure were fine, the surgical center was not "in network." That's handy. Didn't check that one. When I handed the nice receptionist at the surgical center my BlueCross card before surgery, did she say, "We don't work with BlueCross?" No. She smiled, xeroxed it, and handed it back. And turned away so I wouldn't see her blow coffee out her nose.

So I wandered into my insurance agent Carla's office, handed her the statement. She looked it over, let out a few expletives, and asked a few questions. She noted that several of the charges were double-billed, so only $60,000 was valid. Not that much help, really. We quickly agreed that it was flat out negligence for the surgical center not to inform me they weren't covered. And really dumb. I mean... how the hell do you stay in business? Nobody can pay that kind of dough if they are not insured.

Carla crossed her arms, put on a really scary, mean face, and punched up the surgical center on the speaker phone and leaned back.
"Are you covered by Blue Cross?"
"When a patient hands you a BlueCross card you you ever inform them?"
"Let me transfer you."

Things went better quickly. It turns out that there is some sort of deal between the noncovered surgical center and the covered doctor which does not show up on the BlueCross statement. According to the gal on the phone, I would be liable for just 20% of the "allowed amount" that BlueCross said they would cover ($1100), making my personal liability $220. Just kidding about the $79,286.88. Carla gave me a wonderful What The Fuck look, got the lady to repeat it, and hung up.

I gotta say, maybe that's not a big deal for some folks, but I sure like $220 a lot better than $79,286.88. Or $440 for the pair.


I have a sneaking hunch there may be a few more "Just kiddings" heading my way. Carla assured me we'll go to war if there are. But jeezuzfugginkryst. They didn't offer to cover the staining of my shorts when the first statement came through.

The adventure continues...

Friday, January 30, 2015

Lenny and Arnie: Knee surgery part 2

One of the things I kept wondering, as I laid on the gurney before each surgery is, "Why am I doing this? I can still walk..." But the deal is, it was starting to hurt real good most all the time and I was fast becoming bowlegged, as the interior parts of my knee rotted away with osteoarthritis. And the worse it gets, the less you walk or exercise, and the further you have to go with recovery, etc. etc. So at some point you gotta make a move. 

And of course, at this point, now that the surgery is all done, there's not that much point in revisiting the rationale. It's a done deal. Recovery is the thing now.

We upwrapped knee one, the left one, which I have named Lenny (le [ft]-knee) about two days out of surgery. Looks like a pretty clean job.

I wish I had had the wits to do a better documentation before the first surgery. But I didn't. Anyhow, here is a shot of Lenny (post surgery, and Arnie (R-knee) pre-surgery. You can see why I am doing both. If left with one crooked, shorter leg, my back would soon be toast.

There's not a lot to talk about during re-hab. Boring exercises that hurt like hell. But hey, look at that flex.

Two weeks later to the day I was back on the gurney for round two. And an hour or two later, back in the waah-bulance headed home.

 So now I get to do electrified leg lifts, with a zippy, zappy muscle re-education gizmo. Turns out my quadriceps forgot a lot of what they used to think was normal. A little shock therapy does wonders in reminding them how it all works.

  And the slow painful one: extended pole dancing for range of motion:

But nearly every day when I measure the flex with my goniometer (go-knee-ometer) I get rewarded with concrete signs of progress. Lenny broke 140 degrees yesterday. Amazing. Annie is already in the mid-120s. 

And some rubber band stretches.

A bit of biking. Ow.

And the post-stretch icing. My favorite part.

Two days out from the second surgery the comparison is re-assuring. Lenny is looking pretty clean, healed, and unsworn. Annie is a bit pissy but has a good path laid out ahead of him. 

And I ain't bowlegged no mo.

So now it is another month of the dance between exercise and recovery, stretching my limits and mitigating the swelling, pain and oxycodone, pushing it and backing off. Got say, it really does hurt a lot. But progress is so alarmingly visible each day that I remain pretty damned enthusiastic about the whole process. Unless you catch me at a bad moment.