Sunday, January 22, 2012

Chinking and battening

This morning we ground down the edges of the new floor, cleaned things up a bit, and Jim began chinking the seams. For most of it he used seven-strand caulking wick, which is basically a bunch of string. 

For the wider seams he used caulking cotton, which is more fun to watch. We even made a little movie of it.

Meanwhile I sawed and routed about 120 feet of white oak battens. Once Jim finished chinking we oiled the bottom and all the seams, then caulked them with Sikaflex and laid a stripe of masking tape over each bead of caulk so the battens would not adhere to the boat. (I like to be able to take the boats apart with too much trauma.) Here is Julius about half-way through that process. The two new floorboards stand out pretty good. But by pushing all the original floorboards farther toward the outside edges of the boat we were able to remove nearly all the fatigued wood.

And finally with all the battens in place and oiled. That bright new wood won't be bright very long.

Homage to Betty Boop

Peter Hayes, whose dad Ron was the original owner of Betty Boop, was so delighted to hear we had rehabilitated his father's old boat that he sent me an art piece he made in the Boop's honor. I am overwhelmed--what a cool sculpture.

The wave evokes one that Peter was well acquainted with in Sockdolager Rapid in Grand Canyon. And the boat is movable and can be suspended in all sorts of positions.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Losing our bearings

First an update on our christening launch of the Betty Boop on Thursday. Roy called at about eight that morning to let me know Lake Mary might still be a skating rink. I was doubtful with the warm weather we've had for the last month. But sure enough, everything within a quarter-mile of the ramp is solid ice. So we are postponing the launch.

At ten this morning we started work on Julius, initially sanding the decks to se how well the curling edges of the strip-planking would smooth over. That went pretty well.

Then we started on the floor planks. I had originally thought we would just butt-joint them with a bevel in the outer half of the joints for chinking and caulk, like I have done on a banks dory and on the Edith. But a couple nights ago we watched a video of some old Nova Scotians whacking together a dory. They went with tongue and groove for the floor. Hmmm. So we came up with a hybrid ship-lap / bevel-chink system that might be pretty slick.

But as soon as we began rabbeting the planks, things got a little rockier. First the bearing flew off the router bit. After a bit of groveling in the sawdust Jim found enough pieces to make it go again. Here you can see we are down to about half of the original number of ball bearings in the bit. 

About ten seconds later we were down to zero. So we built a rip fence on the router itself. 

That worked until the bit decided to come out of the router mid cut, causing some impressive gouging.  We fixed that, but soon after, the entire router bit snapped in two. We were beginning to lose our senses of humor about the router. In the end, however, we proved more cussed than the tools. Here is Jim beveling the outer edge for the chinking.

Screwing the rabbeted, beveled boards onto the boat went, for the most part, a bit smoother, but then the clock got away from us. Even the Irish coffees were starting to fail us after twelve hours. But we got the ding-dang floor back on and by golly, it looks pretty solid. 

Next we chink it, caulk it, and make some new oak batten/skid-strips to screw on over the seams. I think old Julius will come out of the operation better than new. Not too sure about us, though.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Pit stop

Jim came by at five pee-em last night to lend a hand re-bottoming my old McKenzie boat Juan. We are launching/rechristening the Betty Boop today and wanted to have a photo/recovery boat, so why not rebuild one the night before? Typical logic on my part. Made perfect sense to me. After a bit of dorking around, moving the Julius out of the way, winching the Juan down out of the loft and rolling him, we lit in to the task.

Chines off, bottom off, new bottom laid on for marking. I have enough books in the warehouse to weight down a new bottom on the Queen Elizabeth, if we should need to.

Drawing in all the ribs, limber-holes and chines for cutting and pre-drilling the floor.

Cut out the floor, pre-drill it, flip it, counter-sink it, caulk the chine and screw it down. Moving too determinedly to take pictures. Toasting each milestone with Jameson 12-year. Delicious, if you've never had it. Grind down the edges, coat the bottom with oil, re-affix the chines, roll him back up and oil the floor. Ten pee-em. Another toast.

We came up with the idea of having a little camp set up below some disastrous rapid for quick boat repair. We'd need a lot more wrecked boaters than we usually see to keep us in business, but how much fun would that be? My idea of heaven. Below Blossom Bar? Crystal? The Big Drops?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

More bottoms

Seems it's the year for new bottoms. The old Julius shredded his bottom over his many floats, swelling, shrinking, swelling, shrinking, swelling, cracking, tearing loose screws, swelling, shrinking, cracking some more. But he's going to be fine.

Here is a shot of Julius when he was a youngster back in 2002, when I rowed him to Hoover Dam:

After Jim and I pulled the bottom off on Sunday, we filled all the screw holes, repaired most of the cracks, and trimmed off all the irreparable sections. Today I cleaned up all the patching, resurfaced the ribs and chines, and scarfed together two new planks. We decided to go ahead and rip the original floor boards in two, so now I'll be replacing the original five floorboards with ten narrower ones. More screws, more chinking and caulking, more battens, but I think it's going to work out fine.

Here are the ripped down floorboards. I left the outmost two boards wide and will trim them off after we plank the boat.

Two new narrow boards are being laid up in the back of this next picture. They will go near the center of the boat, thus forcing the older boards further out where I can trim off more of the troubled edges and ends.

In the foreground I am scarfing together a new floor for my wee McKenzie boat, JuanJuan achieved a smidgen of notoriety in 2007 when we built him in a week for two hundred dollars worth of lumberyard wood (and a little more than that in beer and whiskey). But alas, although the rib work, gunwales and sides all held up just fine, the 3/8" CDX floor turned porous last year. When we built it I noticed (and filled) a lot of voids in the center plies. But I couldn't fill the zillions of hidden ones. When the outer plies started to crack with age, water began flowing through the entire floor. A bit disconcerting, that. And impossible to patch. So I am adding to the cost of the boat by $75 for a new Meranti mahogany marine plywood floor.

Here is Juan a year ago on the lower Colorado with his chuck-box seats out on the beach, one of his floorboard tables set up, and the seat backrests guyed onto the table as wind blocks in the downstream howler. This was day four of the trip and Juan's floor had swollen up and stopped leaking. But the first day was a little frightening. And embarrassing, as our shuttle driver watched us bailing frantically, sinking quickly. "We'll be fine. Really." Over the course of four years Juan had become okay for an expedition, but kinda worthless for day-boating. He'll be all better shortly.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

And the beat goes on

Off go the dories with their new bomber bottoms. We'll see if minor insults such as they received in the past few years cause any new visible results. Based on our product testing, wethinks not.

Next up--or next down actually--is the Julius, the lapstrake replica of Buzz Holmstrom's 1937 wonder boat in which he became the first to solo the Green and Colorado Rivers. By subtracting a foot in length from the classic Galloway design and adding that much in width, Holmstrom created the best boat of its time. But Buzz's original boat disappeared in the fog of time, last seen in the 1950s in his home town of Coquille, Oregon. Newspaper ads with photos of its last known appearance brought us no results in tracking it down. 

So Roger Fletcher of Rivers Touch and I recreated it from the many photographs in existence. With a lot of help from a lot of friends, we built Julius in 2001. I put about three thousand miles on him in the next three years, running the Green, Colorado, Rogue, Salmon, Yellowstone and Grand Ronde--all the rivers Holmstrom rowed in his brief, brilliant whitewater career. Julius handles as nicely as Edith did crankily--due to Holmstrom's uncanny homespun designing and boatbuilding skills. 

But dry desert air, alternated with prolonged immersion in rivers, repeatedly shrank and swole the bottom, loosening the screws and cracking the planks to the point where no amount of soaking would tighten her back up. And a confession: there were, before I built adequate shelter, a few seasons of irresponsible storage that put undue strain on the decking. So for the last few years, Julius has waited patiently in the loft for a reboot.

2012 is the 75th anniversary of Buzz's big run, and I plan on taking her down Grand Canyon on a celebratory AzRA trip in April. So down Julius came around noon today and Jim and I lit into the bottom. Off with the battens.

Some of the screws didn't really appreciate the shrink/swell ride. In the background is one of the bigger cracks that formed over the last decade.

And off with the tortured planking.

Stunned we were--stunned--by the sheer tenacity of the SikaFlex caulking we had applieded between the bottom planks back in aught-one. Man, that stuff is killer strong. But we, too, are persistent.

Things look very good inside other than one cracked floor rib. We fix. And one split inner chine log. We fix.

The floor planking, for the most part, is in good shape. Here we are repairing a long split, figuring an epoxied split is no weaker than a new board, and new fifteen-foot Port Orford cedar planks are hard to come by in Flagstaff.

Back when Julius was new I used a hot copper tip on a propane torch to burn the name into the sheer strake. Turns out I only burned the oil/varnish on the surface, which all wore off. I'll torch him better this time around.

I am thinking a lot of the stress of the swelling boards was accentuated by the fact that the planks were quite wide and not quarter sawn. Flat-sawn planks such as these swell a lot more. (And cost a lot less--unwise savings, that.) So we are going to rip the planks in half lengthwise and hope that several narrow boards will self-destruct less catastrophically than a few very wide ones did. We'll add a couple pieces of new wood where a couple old planks rent themselves asunder. In '01 we simply butt-jointed the planks. This time we will cut the proper bevels in the joints and chink them with cotton before caulking. That worked wonderfully on the Edith. And we'll hope for the best. Hey, I got a lot of miles out of the original floor, so this may last the rest of Julius's career.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Firm sexy black bottoms

After a couple days prepping and taking care of other details, life, etc. (here's Dan grinding and puffing the Euphrates)...

...we hit the shop hard at about nine o'clock this morning. Greg Loehr of Resin Research not only sold us the resin, but drove up from Tucson to deliver it and lead the charge laminating the new bottoms. That's a full service epoxy man.

Dennis is back on his feet, more or less, after his losing argument with a water taxi propellor in Belize last December. He adopted the role of mix monkey, supplying the team with resin. Jim ran interference taking care of whatever the rest of us were missing, and Dan and I were lowly squeegee-ers.

Dennis and Jim admiring Lodore in her silky whites before the juices get flowing.

The juices get flowing.

Greg spreading goo.

 Pushing out the bubbles through 25oz biaxial glass, Xynole, and 6oz cover glass, all-to-oncet.

Why is everyone laughing?

You can't keep a good man down. Trimming the green glass before it's too hard to handle.

Four and a half hours later, including a pizza break, the bottoms are flow-coated with graphite and resin, and are firming up in the wood-fired shop. Lodore and Euphrates are far better equipped for their next conversation with a midstream immovable object. Dang, if Greg hadn't short-circuited so many of our favorite hard ways to do things, we could still be up to our elbows in goo. I guess making 35,000 surfboards helps you to refine the technique.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Changing of the guard

This was a weekend of major transition at the boatshop. RJ Johnson brought in his 1974 Briggs boat Surprise Canyon for a few repairs and modifications. In an earlier life Surprise Canyon was Nonnezoshe, and ran many a trip with the Betty Boop (then known as the Great Thumb) and Gary Ladd's Tatahotso. This was the first time Surprise and Betty had seen each other in more than twenty-five years and I imagine they had quite a bit to catch up on during their two nights together in the shop. (We let them have some privacy.)

RJ wanted a removable transom, which was normally stock on Briggs boats, in order that he could drop on a motor for those pesky reservoir crossings. What is more fun than cutting giant holes in boats? Yahoo.

The hinge on one of RJ's hatch lids had ripped the end-grain plywood to smithereens, so we re-saturated it with epoxy and made it back into a solid substance.

Lest the same thing happen again, we switched the placement of the hinge to beneath the hatch lid. Here I am routing a channel for the new hinge placement.

And RJ is screwing the reconstituted hatch lid back onto the boat.

Meanwhile the build-up of the removable transom is hardening, along with a repair on some delaminating side-wall plywood.

Jim is creating a brace to go in the bow hatch, where the two stock horizontal ribs meet the bow post. This was a weak spot in all the Briggs boats and they usually blew out on the first solid wave hit. I know I blew two pair of them out of two different boats in two consecutive trips back in the early eighties, both of them in Waltenburg Rapid at extreme low water. Boom! BOOM!

That should do 'er.

Jim also put a wonderful finishing touch on the Betty Boop—an Andy-Hutchinson-style decoupage of the classic Lord Culvert ad featuring Betty herself on a 1971 trip.

This morning the boats bid each other goodbye, Surprise Canyon heading back to Boulder City,


and Betty Boop heading upstairs to offgas paint fumes for a while. Those two boats will see each other again soon, I bet.

It was also the weekend of my final switch to modern epoxy. Out with the last of the WEST System,


and in with a slick new dispenser for Resin Research.

And lest things get boring around the shop, before noon we brought in two more boats in need of a beefed-up bottom: the Lodore and the Euphrates, both born in this shop two years ago, but with not quite a tough enough bottom lay-up. That's about to change.