Monday, March 28, 2011

Edith gets some adoration

I took my baby girl up to the Guides Training Seminar this weekend—the annual rendezvous of Grand Canyon boatmen. I gave a short talk on the centennial of the Kolb Expedition and the rebirth of Edith. Meanwhile Edith disguised herself as a bookshelf, but fooled no one. Now I have to hose all the drool marks off her. She got a lot of wow and a whole lot of love.

Pack up tomorrow, drive to the Green River Wednesday, launch Thursday. Weather and water are looking good and we are psyched. Woohoo.

I expect there will be no blogposts until I return, so 'til then, happy trails.

Leathering 102

Okay, now it's time to put the stops on. Take some of your one-inch belting (or cut some from your stock). They need to be long enough to go twice around the wrap plus about an inch. Next, taper the last inch of the fuzzy side of each end of the strip down to about nothing, so that as you wrap it around the oar, the second layer doesn't hit a bump where the first layer started, and the overlap ends where the beginning taper ends. Hope that makes sense.

Now tool the leather if you like. Then use masking tape to cover the outer end of the wrap so you don't get epoxy all over your pretty tooled leather. Here are a couple that are ready to go.

Cut some strips of plastic or visqueen or some sort of stretchable plastic just wide enough to cover your stops and about long enough to go one and a half times around the stop. Put a piece of tape on the end to hold it secure once it is on.

Mask your oars above the stop, and your wraps below the stop, leaving about a quarter inch extra exposed so you can wipe the epoxy into a rounded bevel and not leave any tape under the epoxy.

Now mix up a bit of epoxy with thickener—I use Resin Research 2040 with silica and a touch of wood dough for color—about the consistency of mayonnaise. The leather will soak up some of the liquid and make a thicker paste as you apply it. Epoxy the entire inside of the stop and the outside of the wrap.

Now comes the awkward part. Wrap the stop onto the oar, pulling it as tight as you can. Grab one of your visqueen strips and wrap that around the stop, pulling it tight. Once it is pretty tight, grab your roll of masking tape and take a few more tight turns around the stop to make sure it does not come loose.

Now make sure the stop is just where you want it and the second wrap is nicely in line with the first. Using a gloved fingertip, wipe it clean on both edges, leaving a bit of a curve at the junction.

Whew. Intense, eh? Good job. I bet it will take a once through to make sense of this gibberish, but it all makes sense as you do it.

Once the epoxy kicks, take off all the visqueen and masking and trim any sharp edges off with a utility knife. Doesn't that look sweet?

Now heat up a can of paraffin with a torch until it is smoking hot. This one is plenty hot:

Sacrifice a cheap chip brush and paint the first few inches of the wrap (the area where your oarlock will spend nearly all of its time) with a few coats of paraffin until it quits soaking in. As the can of paraffin cools a bit, you can put on one last coat that doesn't really soak in at all but leaves a waxy layer on the wrap.

There's a bit of discretionary latitude on how to treat the rest of the leather and the oar. The treatment I use for oars is a three-part mix of linseed oil, turpentine, and spar varnish. Slobber it on, let it soak in, wipe it off, rub it dry. I use this same system with the remainder of the wrap and the outside tooled surface of the stop. The great thing about this is that you never have to sand down your oars and, if you do it every month or two during the working season, it looks great. Take the same opportunity to re-paraffin the working end of the wraps. Here are some shots of oiling the waxed wraps:

They look a little raw here, but they soon get a magnificent patina. Here's a Kate Thompson shot of the Julius about 2000 miles into the summer of 2002. Note the bronze glow on the wraps:

Note: be sure to use a good waterproof canning paraffin. A friend used paste wax, which is water-soluble, and ended up with soft, sticky wraps every time they got wet. Yuck.

An update: Although I still treat the leathers with molten paraffin initially, for routine maintenance I use the age-old traditional beef tallow, now available in a handy stick form from Swanson Boat Company. They also have leathering kits and set-ups for initial treatment with beeswax and tallow instead of paraffin. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Oar Leathering 101

A lot of folks have asked me about the leather oar wraps I have been running for about a decade. I love them—they outlast P-Tex plastic and, if you wax them before each trip, they are the smoothest wraps going. Them northern guys like rope wraps, but, well, I hate rope wraps. Too sticky-jerky-clunky. I like them really smooth and greasy, effortless to feather even under stress. After a bit of use they take on the metallic bronze sheen of the locks.

The old traditonal method was to tack on the leather with copper tacks, which was pretty easy and self-explanitory. That worked fine on lakes and oceans, where you take consistent, measured strokes. But in whitewater, where you get sudden, violent stresses, oars tend to snap right where you put the darned tacks. Bruce Bergstrom at Smoker Oar explained to me how the tack lets in just the teeniest bit of moisture but it's enough to significantly weaken the oar. And he refused to sell me oars unless I promised not to drive tacks into them. I promised, but then had to come up with a better way. I did, and ten years later all my original wraps are still good as new, and not one broken oar.

 Here's how it works, using Edith's new oars as guinea pigs.

1) Go to the leather store and gitcherself some thick saddle leather. Three-sixteenths to quarter-inch thick is excellent if you can find it. Get some one-inch belting of the same leather for the stops. Buy a good curved sewing needle and some sinew for sewing (or waxed linen) (sinew is more fun to say). Also get a good leather punch. The guy at my leather store, when I told him how many holes I was going to punch, refused to sell me the cheap punch. He made me get the $30 one. That was ten years ago. It rocks.

2) Measure out your wraps (including stops, which will glue on top of your wraps) on your oars, and mark the oars top and bottom. Measure circumference of oars. Cut a leather a bit larger than the diameter to be safe, then trim down to where you have about a quarter-inch gap. (This gap came out a little too big, but it still worked.) Cut the edge closest to the oar blade at a bevel, so it will slide into the oarlock smoothly.

3) If you want to tool the leather, do it now. Wet the leather lightly first.

3) Punch holes every quarter inch up both edges, about a quarter-inch in from the edges.

4) Put two coats of contact cement on the leather and allow to dry.

5) Put a coat on the oar too.

6) Once the glue is dry, soak the leather for a few minutes, until it is soft and wobbly.

7) Now take about five feet of sinew in your curved needle, tie it on to the blade-end of your wrap, get the oar wet, then start stitching with a baseball stitch. (Come up from the bottom of one side, then the other). Be sure you are even with the marks on your oars, because you can't re-do this. IT's gonna STICK.  Pull tight often. Keep the oar and leather wet, so the glue doesn't stick too tightly just yet. It'll stick like all bejeezus once it dries. You should have no trouble stretching the leather around the oar.

8) Tie it off good beneath where your oar stop will go (more on the stop tomorrow). Pound the stitching flat while it is still nice and wet.

Now stand that oar up by the wood stove and do the next three oars. Or have a beer. Or both. Congratulations, You're about half done. Tune in tomorrow for Leathering 102: Oar Stops and Waxing. 

Notice I ran out of tan sinew and used black sinew on the second two. This is also a good angle to see the bevel on the bottom of the wraps.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Moving in

Edith is very happy tonight. She got a full body oiling and massage today, got turned back right-side up, and received her side boxes.

I am swerving a bit from tradition, I confess. The side boxes have plywood in them and have more epoxy joinery than screws. And I am holding them in place with nylon straps and cam buckles. Sacrilege. At least they are brown nylon straps. Worse yet, I'm going to use a Pelican case and a Watershed bag. But they are both brown too.

And here's a romantic shot of a boy and his boat that Jess Pope took a couple nights ago:

Sunday, March 20, 2011

No, really. Back to work.

Damn. Colds can kick a feller's ass. Tonight was the first night since we floated Edith that I've been well enough to realize it's almost midnight in the boatshop. Good to be back on my feet.

Most of the week was I was either laid low, doing computer stuff, or tinkering a bit in the shop. Tonight I built Edith's high-speed keel. Galloway and Stone, in 1909, had removable keels (or skags, or skegs) on their boats to make flatwater rowing easier and faster. The Kolbs followed their recommendation. Here's a shot of them removing the keel as they enter the rapid stretch of the upper Green:

(If you cross your eyes just right you can see this in stereo)

And since Edith's first big trip starts with 120 miles of flatwater, I figured I'd better see what the skags were all about. Making the skeg was easy. Making the embedded hardware to bolt them into took a little longer. I'll finish this silliness tomorrow.

And the sideboxes are about done as well. They took almost all my clamps at once to pull together:

The wind is howling tonight. Might be our last blast of winter. Back to springtime on Wednesday.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Back to work

Edith and I took a time-out from each other for about three days. She rested in the boathouse while I rested in my house, doing dorky computer stuff and getting my life in order for the next seven months of boating. But this afternoon I went down, rolled her on her side and replaced all the drywall screws I had used on the bottom in lieu of the bronze screws (which arrived yesterday).

Now I am getting ready to outfit the cockpit. My steel library boxes will fit snugly under the seat, adding ballast, displacing water, and supporting the bendy seat board. Three duffle bags fit perfectly behind the seat. And I am beginning to create two large water-resistant side boxes.

I still need to leather the oars and make a way to affix the spares to the boat, but that's really about it.
Here is the view from outside the shop tonight during the bottom-screwing process:

Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A couple more shots

Friends sent in a few more shots of the Edith from yesterday. Thanks Nancy, Bruce, Ena and Steve...
Today was all about wrestling with computers and a cold, and napping. Not nearly as fun as yesterday.
Edith is resting in the shop. She gained fifteen pounds by soaking for a few hours.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

She floats. She rows. She rocks and rolls. She's a boat.

Edith got wet today, and she seemed to love it. I launched with the hatches open to see where any leakage came from. There is a bit, mostly seeping through knots, so nothing to really get all worried about. She rows like a dream, at least on flat water. Really fast. We did a flip drill (we meaning Edith and me) and she is a bit reluctant to go over, but eager to come up. I didn't even have to begin to climb up onto her--just pull on a rope with my foot against her. Good to know! The hatches stayed nearly dry during the roll. Amazing.

I did a few oarstop tests, moving them up and down the oar, looking for an acceptable compromise between good, comfortable leverage and crossed grips. I think I'm settling on about four inches of cross-over, which will take a bit of getting used to. Luckily her first trip starts with 120 miles of flatwater.

About a dozen friends, observers and participants showed up for the picnic. Champagne, snacks, beer, hugs, and a whole lot of laughter. We should have more boat launching parties. Lots more.

Of course my camera battery went dead on arrival, but there were others. I'll post a few when they come my way. But I did get to try out my new waterproof movie camera, and Peter snapped a few stills with it as well. This would be Edith and me:

And this would be Dan and me, watching Edith:

And this would be a goofy action shot:

Long and short: very fun, cool, fast, kinda tippy boat. And way pretty. I need to spooge a few leaky knots, leather my oars, and build a couple sideboxes. And take a nap. First the nap.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Messing around

Oh what fun. To just mess around, with the vast majority of the boat complete. Here is this evening's big move--replicating the coolest of the Kolb modifications, the oar rests. Most of the photos of the original, and the original itself, show a much cruder arrangement that evolved after they busted things up a bit. I went with the best looking iteration:

Jessica hadn't seen Edith in weeks and came by with a bottle of red wine and her camera, so we shot artsy pictures for a few hours. Here's Edith showing off her stuff. Can you spot the piece of red oak Ed snuck into the white oak pile?

These hatches are almost as pretty as they are going to be a pain in the ass to pack on a fourteen day Grand Canyon trip. Standing on my head, hoping I don't fall in...

But at least I'll be in an interesting place if I fall in:

Okay. Say good night, Brad.

Good night, Brad.


This morning I did a bit of touch-up caulking and made the decision to burn the name into the boat. Using  a blow-up print-out of the original name, I traced it onto the boat with carbon paper. (Remember carbon paper? You're old!) Then using a combination of a dollar-store soldering iron and a propane-torch copper soldering tip, I branded her, in the original Kolb unkerned font. I took special delight in the period after the name. EDITH. Period.

Here is the original being traced onto the hull. It was remarkable to notice as I did this that the texture, color, and grain of the original boat in the photos, where the gray paint had peeled away, almost perfectly matched the replica:

And here is the burnt boat (it only caught fire a couple times):

In writing historical work there is an annoying tradition that whenever you copy an original misspelling, you put the word [sic] in brackets, to indicate that you, of course, know better than to make such a mistake, but you have to in order to be faithful to the somewhat more ignorant original author. I feel like a lot of this boat needs a [sic]. So much of the construction is inappropriate for what we now know today to be the parameters of a whitewater boat. But back then they were building for one trip, not a career of river boating and decades of cherishing the same old boat. They were just damned happy if it lasted to the end of the first voyage. So all these goofy things, like ribs that do not connect to the chine, copper exterior chine strips that protect little but will trap silt and rot, hatches that really won't keep the water out, a cockpit that will practically sink the boat when swamped--that's all part of the game, part of the grand experiment to see what those guys were really up to.

I weighed her this afternoon. The Kolbs claimed they were about five hundred pounds apiece. My Edith is 406. But the Kolbs, to be fair, had three galvanized boxes built into the boat--two that were airtight buoyancy chambers in the very ends, and one hatch liner. All in all, it's pretty close. I'll make up for that extra 94 pounds with important things. Use you imagination.

Now what?

Other than fiddling around with some details and building a couple side boxes. I think Edith is, ummm, pretty much done. What am I supposed to do now?

I finished screwing on the bottom battens this morning. Let's just hope, when I hit rocks, that I am able to line up on the hard oak battens rather than the soft cedar floor.

With the new iron handles all nice and rusty, I oiled them up and installed them. Of course, when I crawled inside the turpentiney stern hatch to put nuts on the stern handle and tighten them, one nut refused. Bad threads. A half hour of swearing and grinding in the hatch and  hey, no problem. The bow ring went on perfectly, and I eye-spliced the bowline to it.

The Kolb's had a cool spare oarlock system, which I was able to replicate in brass from a place on eBay.

The exterior had some bad drizzles of my favorite Linseed oil-Turpentine-Varnish (LTV), so I scrubbed the entire outside with steel wool and a new coat of LTV, let her sit awhile, then rubbed her dry. While she was soaking I planed down a pair of Port Orford Cedar oars, trying to get the outboard weight down enough that I can row them in the very narrow boat. And LTVed them three coats.

And now I guess it's time to fiddle around.