Thursday, March 16, 2017

Frozen Snot

The great yacht designer and author L. Francis Herresmhoff is often said to have referred to fiberglass disparagingly as "frozen snot."  

And perhaps he did, although in print he passes the buck a bit. Writing of the new resins he states:
"They are now being used in large quantities in the automotive industry for such things as radios and juke boxes. Some people seem to like this stuff when it is made to imitate onyx and some weird colored marble. Some of the designers who work in it and, of course hate it, call it frozen snot."

He goes on to eerily predict the future of plastic boats and defame all those who would use the stuff:
"There is no doubt that some day large concerns will make motor boats by the ten thousand, all alike, of plastics. These will suit the swill man's son, the ash man's son, and the son of the local politician, for they will all be painted bright red and trimmed with nickel plating. But why someone wants to put these chaps on the water I don't know, for there is nothing on the water they want to see, hear, or smell. Their only desire is to take some bad girls up around the bend of the river and this they might just as well do overland in the swill wagon their father navigated before them."

'Nuff said. I must confess, I don't really like working with frozen snot. Give me wood any day. But there are certain things the stuff will do that wood is not quite so good at, so I do go through a fair amount the nasty, itchy, sticky, phlegmy stuff. Right now I am working on an entirely synthetic cooler--foam and snot--to see if we can compete with, or better yet improve upon, the commercially available iceboxes for river use. The goals: maximum size for the current rafts, light weight for the aging boatman's back who has to move it around, maximum ice life, and durability. Our last generation of frozen snot iceboxes have endured a couple decades of hard abuse

We are calling it the Fretwater ChillyBin 276, as it should hold 276 quarts--ten percent more capacity than any other raft-sized cooler. (Chilly bin is Kiwi for icebox.) One problem with most coolers is that after one wee crack, the urethane foam begins soaking up water, concurrently getting ungodly heavy as it rapidly loses insulation value. So we are using impermeable styrofoam. We have laminated high-density plastic skids into the bottom to withstand years of being dragged in and out of trucks, across parking lots, and about the warehouse.

With the inside and outside laminated with 24oz biaxial glass with a 6oz glass overcoat, doubled up on law corners, it should be pretty tough. Here Janek is laying up the rim of the basic box.

We then covered the wet glass with waxed paper to smooth it out, set a rim of flat particle board on it to give us a good, flat surface for the lid to meet.

Then we put a few hundred pounds on the particle board to make sure the epoxy understood what we meant. It did.

Next we laid up the bottom side of the lid, covered it in thin plastic to make it smooth, and set it in place on the main cooler and weighted it down to take a perfect imprint. It's gonna fit perfectly.

Hinges and hinge fastenings have all eventually failed on earlier coolers. We have implanted anchor points into the foam for a heavy duty stainless hinge which should outlive us. We are also putting two easy-to-use, ergonomic handles on each end. Other coolers of nearly this capacity weigh in from 70 to 160 pounds. the Fretwater ChillyBin 276 will come in at around 60 pounds.


Between snot laminations we moved to the other side of the shop. We brought the warm and dry Mille Crag Bend down from the ceiling and began injecting one nasty crack with epoxy.


And then mashed thicker epoxy in as well, covered both faces with waxed paper, and crushed it between two sheets of plywood. Janek is cranking down a dozen carriage bolts to make sure our repair comes out perfectly flat and strong once the snot freezes. It did.

And now on to the main repairs--we need to replace a piece of sidewall and a piece of bottom on each side of the boat. 

So we cover both side of the scarf joints with runny snot, then thickened mucus, and squash them into place between through-bolted plywood splints. Bingo--good as new. Maybe better.

Then we replace the fiberglass layers and cover them with waxed paper as well. Nothing left to do but a bit of sanding, fairing, and painting.


Enough with the frozen snot already. We made a field trip last night to visit our darling Swampscott dory Stella, who is awaiting a good plan for her sails. With Rocket's help, we think we have a plan.

Up in the house we had another in a series of fabulous house concerts. The first act was Blue Moon: Julie Sullivan and Reno and Shelia McCormick playing the sweetest bluegrass music and singing incredible harmonies.

After an intermission Julie returned with Cabel Breckenridge in a duet they call Secret Handshake. A marvelous and eclectic mix of genres with wonderful guitar work and beautiful vocals.

And out in the forest the first two of the more than one thousand bulbs we planted last fall have bloomed. The entire hillside is erupting in green swords of narcissus. I can hardly wait.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

If it isn't one thing...

It's been a busy week at Fretwater Boatworks. We finished leathering the last of the oars from the oarmarking course. Once we paraffined the working part of the leathers, we oiled the remaining wraps. 

Here are four re-shaped oars and four new ones from the course, drinking in their oil.

A brief interlude: Rocket meets Greg Loehr: two wildmen in their mid-sixties who spent their lives on the water around the world, dealt with many of the same people, boats, places and events, but never crossed paths until now.

And by pure coincidence, Rocket had come by to ask me about building a foam/epoxy camper. What was I doing at the moment? Building a foam/epoxy cooler--a prototype for AzRA, the river company I work for. And who was advising me? Greg Loehr, who knows more and foam/epoxy construction than just about anybody. What a fun evening ensued. None of us could get a word in edgewise. And there were only the three of us.

And now for something completely different. BJ and Alan both decided to go ahead with fiberglassing the bottoms of their boats and glue on rubber chines. Here's how we cut the bevel on the rubber chines: it has to be PULLED through the tables, not pushed.  Made a little tunnel with a fingerboard and a stick. We fastened a wire to the leading end of the rubber for Janek to pulpit the rubber into the blade while I kept tension on the uncut end. WE had the exhaust fan running full blast and a shop vac fastened adjacent to the blade. It was still a stinky mess but it worked fast and splendidly.

Yesterday morning we glued the rubber chines on BJ's Thunder River. In the afternoon, we laid up Alan's Panga with a layer of 24oz biaxial glass with a cover layer of 6oz glass, one laid atop the other dry and trimmed to fit. Then we saturated the whole mess with Resin Research 2040 resin. The conventional wisdom on glassing boat bottoms is to finish off with a flow-coat of epoxy and graphite powder. I makes the bottom a nice black, and is said to make it a bit slipperier. I'm not sure it does make it slipperier, but it's a nice thought.

That said, I am on a new tear--I like to be able to see what's going on over time. I like to be able to see wood (or foam) deteriorate. I like to be able to see rot appear and advance (Well, I don't like rot, but if it's there I like to see it.) I like to be able to tell if the glass is fractured. So we have quit using the graphite in favor of keeping the window to the bottom transparent. So I am now recommending a clear flow coat. No one sees it if the boat is right-side up (except the fishes,, who probably find the clear bottom far more interesting.)

At 8 a.m. this morning (a barbaric hour) we finished off Panga, glueing on the rubber bumpers with contact cement and hammering them to set the glue.

An hour later Panga was out and Mary Williams's old Briggs boat, Mille Crag Bend, rolled in. Mille had some run-ins a while back with the hard parts of Hance Rapid and Dubendorff Rapid and had been languishing forlornly for some time. Finally Mary bid on, and won, eight hours of labor I donated to the annual Whale Foundation WingDing auction. What was I thinking?

Turns out back in the late '80s and early '90s we got really into fiberglassing the old boats. Few hulls escaped. Mille got an extra heavy dose. I was there, I helped. But when a loaded dory meets a rock, even with massive fiberglass protection, the rock still wins. We ground glass for hours. And hours.

And hours.

One we exposed the extent of the damage, we made the call on what to save and what to excise. (I guess if it was all clear glass with no paint we could have made the call without so much grinding--but Mille would be a very ugly boat.) This part was too damaged to repair. A minute with the DeWalt cordless circular saw and problem solved. Or redefined anyhow.

And here I will make a plea to all who would do river repairs on a crashed wooden boat. I'm as big a fan as any of using the Poxy Quick/window screen waxed paper repair system--quick and effective. But for the love of god, people, PLEASE do it on the EXTERIOR ONLY! If your exterior patch does not stop the leak, then make a the exterior patch little bigger or thicker. But DON'T put that gunk inside the hatches. For one thing, all it does is make the leak go into the wood of the hull instead of into the hatch. But the other thing is, someone will have to go into that hatch with a grinder for hours to undo that goo. And I--being in the boat repair business at times--am often the poor son-of-a-bitch that has to go in and do it. DON'T PUT MAJOR PATCHWORK IN YOUR HATCHES! Duct tape to cover the splinters will be way plenty.

Sorry. End of rant. 

Today Mary, who had put a major mass of Poxy Quick in her hatch, volunteered to to grind it all out. (I mentioned to her that I charge an additional $100 an hour to grind gunk out of hatches.) It took her about an hour. An hour of awkward, toxic, noisy, blinding, hateful hell. She won't put Poxy Quick in her hatch again. Fortunately, we can suspend boats on their side in my shop, so she did not have to stand on her head to do this. And it was one of the big hatches. It is exponentially more hateful in the smaller hatches.

You could actually see her hair turn gray, then white. Bad business.

By six hours into the project we had hit the point of maximum grind, ground scarf-joints into the new holes, vacuumed up, and cut scarfs on all the patch wood. For our day's work we had two lovely new holes in the boat, and four patch boards ready to glue in. The worst is over. A bit of glueing and clamping left to do, a bit of fiberglassing.

At that point we hoisted Mille to the ceiling to air-dry for a week before we begin reassembly. 

There is but one thing I like about grinding fiberglass. Being done.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Oars, oars, and more oars

My teaching season has ended and I am delighted with how well it went. Boats, bronze, and oars. And a bunch of new folks now hopelessly infected with arcane and useless skills.

Here's a shot of one of the oars I made in the first oar course, resting in a new design oarlock we are developing for a friend.

In our final oar course we reshaped over a dozen oars, made nearly a dozen new ones from scratch, and put laser-tips, leathers, and counterweight slugs in a majority of them. 

Here is an ancient Smoker being unearthed from decades of paint jobs.

Tim cutting out blanks for a set of oars for the McKenzie he is building.

West battening in the neck curves for a pair of Sitka spruce oars.

Tim clamping on Tzalam (pronounced za-LAAM) laminates to his ash oars.

Marieke cutting the blanks into shape on Big Jim, our mighty carbide-bladed band saw.

Greg Loehr, master shaper and epoxy guru arrives to coach, participate, and distract with tales of yore. Coop, RJ, and Andy are easily distracted.

Marieke cutting the next dimension of her oars, laminated in African Paduak (pronounced puh-DOOK). Man that stuff is stinky.

Grinders galore in the outside arena.

Greg re-shaping a blade.

West shaping the transition from shaft to blade with a spokeshave.

From square to octagonal, then on to sixteen-atonal and thirty-two-agonal. We use chalk to see where we've just carved.

Marieke planing her Paduak. Crazy colored stuff.

Old six-eyes stitching on his leathers.

Coop leathering his reshaped Smokers.

Tim cutting his grips.

Coop tooling his oar stops.

Bryan and Bill pouring more lead slugs for counterbalance.

Jon doing the scariest move of all--drilling the grips for the lead slugs.

Bill and Tim carving the transition from grip to shaft.

Marieke oiling the ash/paduak oars. They are insanely cool looking.

I hoped to have a day of rest yesterday, but instead got to remove about fourteen inches of heavy snow from the premises before collapsing into my chair for the remainder of the day. And today Janek and I rebuilt the shop and began finishing off loose ends--a few more oars to shape and detail.