Saturday, December 31, 2016

Another fine year

It is late afternoon on the last day of a big year at Fretwater Boatworks. We completed a couple Briggs boats, two sweet lapstrake boats, lots of repairs and upgrades, and still took the entire summer off for seven Grand Canyon trips, a couple runs down the Rogue, and a few weeks teaching and learning in Maine. We are well on the way toward another Briggs hull as the big pine cone prepares to drop downtown.

Earlier today fretwaterlines received its 200,000th view. So exciting. With all the hubbub in the news about those evil Russian hackers, I am fascinated to see they are real. Check out who visits my site: The number 2 and number 3 most hits come from Russia and the Ukraine. Last month a full eighth of the hits were from Russia. Dirty hacking commies. But at least Janek and I know who to blame now when things go poorly in the shop.

BJ brought the Thunder River by to attend to a few insults below the waterline. Five trips and the bottom still looks great.  But he is electing to commence his slide down the slippery slope of fiberglassing. It's a mixed blessing--less damage from routine wear and tear, and no chine seepage--but increased risk of rot issues and other pernicious developments. 

The recent snows collapsed BJ's tarp while he was frolicking up north, so Thunder River, now ground to raw wood, is going off to the drying shed for a few weeks before we throw on the glass.

Meanwhile we are pressing ahead with a new Briggs hull. Janek is tapping in the wedges to squeeze a scarf joint for the floor.

And we are doing enough of a design refinement on this boat that we have decided to build it on a strongback in order to make sure the lines are just right. First step is painting over eight years worth of gradoo on the floor so we can see all our lines.

Next we draw the center line and all the station lines so we can plumb any part of each set of ribs.

And up we go, with vertical risers at each station. We can pull precise heights off the lofting and end up with an upside-down boat, free-floating in space, virtually perfect off our drawings.

And if it is not perfect, I'm pretty sure the rat-bastard Russian hackers are to blame.

Happy New Year to you all.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Here we go again

Sitting in my coffee chair, watching the shop warm up on a cool wintry morning. Plotting possible courses for the day to unfold. But that's never how they unfold. Chaos is my leader.

 Let's see. With Omo essentially rebuilt it's time to put the bottom back in shape.

And repaint her hull. Paint dries a lot quicker up by the ceiling where the warm air hangs out.

What boat wreck?

A couple shots from our sailing adventure last week.

On to the next project. For the last thirty-five years since Jerry Briggs built his last Grand Canyon dory, many of us have been trying to nail down the exact lines. We have missed badly a few times, gotten really close on other attempts. But never totally nailed it. And as it turns out, it is un-nailable. There is more subtle variation in the fleet of thirty-six than we thought. Early ones have taller bow posts. The intricacies of assembling, even on Jerry's old jig, gave latitude for individuality in the shape. So which one is the real Briggs boat? All of them are.

This week we re-lofted the lines we took of Andy Hutchinson's Cottonwood, Briggs hull #33, built toward the end of the era back in 1981. We were as faithful and precise as we could be except one wee tweak. I added a 3/8" curve to the normally flat center of bottom.  Greg Loehr, my surfboard guru, insist that the water will be far happier about this. I think he's right. Perfectly flat surfaces upset the flow. And besides, it just looks right on the lofting. Hell, I don't know. But That's how this one is being built.

Another difference--this time, instead of relying on a handed down side-panel pattern (which differs markedly from a side-panel pattern Roger Fletcher gave me of Briggs's old template) we are going to build the boat on a strong back and see what the side panel shape really wants to be. And record that for the next boat.

So will this be the ultimate? Nope. Another attempt, and undoubtedly another sweet Briggs boat. But in the end, simply another unique member of the family.

With the lofting done, it's time to start the boat. We begin by milling up some precious Port Orford cedar. Janek is taking that mainline nose hit as the sweet scent explodes out of the shavings. Memories of old dory hatches, days of my misspent youth, southern Oregon, Buzz Holmstrom, building boats. Electrifying.

Then we chop the cedar into bits, building all the frames. We went ahead and lofted out the actual angles that the rib edges should be cut to in order to meet the side panel properly. From stem to stern we found many of them change markedly from top to bottom, creating a rolling bevel. We sorted this out last year for the bow post and transom with great results, but this time we are cutting rolling bevels on the ribs as well. Probably wont make a difference, but hell, why not? Never been done.

With classes looming next month, it is time to begin stocking up on supplies. I dropped a couple thousand bucks in Phoenix getting foundry supplies. Look at all that gold bullion!

And a couple thousand more in plywood, shipped in from the coast. It doesn't look that exciting, but that stack will build several beautiful boats.

Time for another cup of coffee and a little more staring out the window. What will today bring?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Shifting seasons

A cold wind is blowing in. The fire in the shop stove is blazing. The winter season is on. Stella, after a long summer almost finished on the shop floor while I was off being a boatman, has finally come to the end of our part of her journey. She needs sails and a rigger now. Dr. John has taken her home. Bye bye, beautiful! It was such a treat birthing you.

Back on the shop floor, Omo gets her ribs mended.

Janek screws on a new side panel. Spooge oozes.

The magic worked. Gunwales back on.

The corner fillets are cooking.

I guess we will need to touch up the paint.

Sunday, December 11, 2016


We laid up and carved the mast for Stella this week. A mighty thing it is. Here we are drawing the curves on a lovely piece of Sitka spruce my friend Rob shipped down from Alaska..

Creating a sixteen-sided thing.

And a round thing.

And an erection party.

Oh wait--two erections. In the same day. Did I mention I accidentally bought a sailboat on Craigslist? The cutest little Hobie Holder 14. It was too good a deal to pass up. Just the thing I needed.

We had another community work day on our friend Dave's studio. It has been a wonderful thing for everyone, and Dave is delighted. We are getting close!



A selfie.

Omo had a little accident on her maiden voyage. Janek is grinding off the patches.

Hmmmm. Maybe it wasn't so little.

Okay, it was a pretty good wreck.

But like a scary head wound, it doesn't look so bad once it is cleaned up. Two cracked ribs, easily repaired, and a new bit of side-panel.

This is why I don't get more done. Sunrise from my pillow.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Fretwater Boat School

Well, the survey results are in, and I have put together a schedule for January and February.

The courses will all be here in Flagstaff at my big ol' shop. I work on a donation system: about $60 a day seems to make it worth our time and cover costs of running the shop. I do not have lodging available, so you'll need to move in with a friend or find accommodation somewhere.

Due to insufficient demand, we won't be doing Stand-up Paddleboards this year.

In order that everyone gets sufficient hands-on time, courses are limited to ten participants each.

If you are ready to sign up for one (or more), send a $100 deposit (refundable up to two weeks before the course) to me, Brad Dimock, 1000 W Grand Canyon Ave, Flagstaff, AZ 86001. First ten deposits received for each course win!

Building the Briggs Grand Canyon Dory 

January 14–21

An eight day course, from lofting to beginning to deck her out. This is the classic Grand Canyon boat, but equally lovely for many rivers of the West: Green, San Juan, Yampa, Upper Colorado, Salmon, Snake, Rogue, and so forth. It's a big boat--nearly 17', and accommodates a boatman, four passengers, and a lot of gear below decks. We certainly won't get her done, but you'll have learned all you need to know to build and complete one at home.

If plans go well, we will already have one hull complete eat the beginning of the course. Some folks can divert to working on decking and other finishing skills, while others work on building a second hull. On the last day we will raffle both of them off to anyone who wants one for the cost of materials (and labor on the pre-built hull).

Bronze Casting

January 27–30

Four-day course. We will be making patterns, pounding sand molds, pouring bronze, trimming and polishing. We mostly make oarlocks, deck hardware, bow-eyes and stern-eyes, but the possibilities are endless. It is loud, smelly, smoky, filthy, scary, wildly fiery work. Oh yeah—all those fun things at once. You will also learn how to make your own low-cost foundry at home. Additional cost will be around $8 per pound for any castings you take home. I am planning to have two foundries running for this. You will need safety glasses, non-plastic clothing, and leather footwear. No exceptions.


February 9–13 

February 23–27

So many people want to do this that I will be running two courses. Five days each. To my knowledge the perfect workingman's oar is no longer being built, nor has it been for many decades. We will be making some oars from scratch and reshaping others to make kinder, gentler oars for the working boatman. We'll work on shaft shaping, blade carving, leather wraps, mild counterweighting, and oar tips. If you already have oars but they seem heavy and clunky, we may be able to fix that. Or you can start from scratch.
    I am currently trying to secure a mountain of decent ash lumber from the East Coast—whether or not that happens may determine how many oars we can make. Ingredients are tough to find. I also have some Port Orford Cedar on hand. Cost for wood for a new 10' oar would be around $60+

Friday, November 25, 2016


I saved a picture during the night of the last election, which I hold as a small amulet of hope as the national political climate spirals wildly out of control. This is Coral Evans, our new progressive mayor, seeing her election results come in. And we have a progressive city council too. We done good.  Maybe I'll just stay here in town for a few years. I think we may have to build a yuge wall around northern Arizona 

My old kitchen stove crapped out and I got lucky enough to stumble across a used industrial Viking range on Craigslist. Here's an artsy shot of my first meal. This thing rocks.

The guy selling th stove also had a giant air compressor for sale. Now it's mine as well. My pneumatic tools are very excited about it.

BJ stopped by to show us what happens when you get thrown on your oarlock in Lava Falls and you don't have those bulgy-topped oarlocks that Fretwater Boatworks is casting. Yikers. As unlucky as that was, he was pretty lucky. A quick flight out, staples and stitches, and he was off touring Sicily with his mom a week later.

But I digress. Back to the boatshop. It's finally time to make spars--the mast and boom for Stella. The Sitka Spruce that my friend Rob shipped down from Alaska is finally ready to turn to shavings. I got out my slick spar gauge that my friend Wick made, which allows us to draw perfect lines to transform a square boom into an octogon.

Here's Janek using the drawknife to cut down near the lines the spar gauge drew.

And then planing to the line (if you have flash you can watch a movie) :

Once we got a perfect octagon, we dirtied up the boom so we could see where we were planing next, and turned the octagon into a sixteen-ogon.

From there we went to a thirty-two-ogon, then sanded it round. Next we sanded it downing diminishing grits 40-60-80-100-120-180-and fin 220. Lastly a coat of LTV. Clamped up on the floor beside the boom is the 14' mast, which will go through the same process shortly. Then all we have to do is find a rigger to figger the rig.

And off to Oak Creek for Thanksgiving with friends. Thanks.