Monthly: January 2013

24 Jan

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Ready About on the River Blackwater: Exploring the creeks, ditches and shoals in a small boat


We’ve added a new book to the SCA store:

Sub-titled “Exploring the creeks, ditches and shoals in a small boat,” this “pocket book for the pocket cruiser” details Tony Smith’s adventures exploring the shallows of the U.K’s Essex and Blackwater estuary region. Tony speaks specifically to the pocket cruiser and does not pretend to teach you how to cross the Channel or navigate a modern 40-footer in blue water—but he does know something about pushing, shoving, pulling, poling, and rowing his little boat up every inch of ever creek of the River Blackwater.

This 147-page book includes many wonderful color photos as well as a nice little interview with the author’s mentor, the recently deceased legendary small-boat cruiser, Charles Stock. All in all a nice little book that puts one in the mood for creek crawling and poking about.

Because we try to find these less-well-known titles, and we have to import them directly form the U.K. in small batches, what would normally be an $18.95 retail price is instead $29.95. —Eds

Filed Under: Blog

09 Jan


Fetch; Boat Building School, part 2


November was coming along and sailing opportunities were dwindling. Winters in upper Michigan tend to be pretty harsh, so everybody moves their boats in storage. Having two feet of snow on a saggy tarp isn’t the way to go. I was fortunate to find covered storage in a building with a concrete floor; nice and dry and no critters. I took all the gas and water out and rolled her in.


Fetch in storage


The school was closed during the thanksgiving week,so I took a flight to Port Townsend to spend some time with my family and friends. We stayed in the house Sofia and Gary are building where the woodstove kept us nice and toasty. It was good to see everybody again and we were able to continue a 5 year tradition of thanksgiving diner with friends.


thanksgiving diner with family and friends


Sofia’s and Gary’s place


I stopped by Maritime Center, my old stomping ground, and said hi to the folks I used to work with. Two Scamps that were started during Scamp Camp in August were getting the final bits and pieces put on. The peapod that has been in there for years got a few new planks and the Spitsgatter of the local sailmaker, Sean Rankins, was inside for repair. Another neat boat inside nearing completion was the Eun na Mara, a trailer sailer designed by Iain Oughtred.


projects in the North West Maritime Center


Eun na Mara


At Haven Boatworks I found most of the usual suspects and had a chat with some of them and it was as if I never left. I used to work there of and on for several years and liked it a lot. They were busy with all sorts of repair. The local schooner Adventuress was undergoing major reframing and planking on the port side. Almost every year another portion of frames and planks get rebuild till it’s all done.




stern repair


some of the Haven Boatworks crew


After a few ‘mandatory stops’; certain cafés, Rose Theater, Thai restaurant, time was up and back I went to snowy Michigan. Not a familiar sight to see my camper covered in white powder.



wintery view from cottage


Inside the school however, the floor is heated and life is good. I’ll show you a few pictures of the powerboat I mentioned in the previous post, the Rescue Minor.


lofting table


Hans, Ed and Andy laminating the transom with vacuum bag



installing frames against the molds


laminating the chine


lining off planks lines


glueing Sapele overlay on transom

fiberglassing the bottom


good view of the tunnel


We needed green (still wet) oak for frame stock and rails for our projects and James (our shop assistant) offered to cut some trees down in his woods. He lives in Grand Rapids and owns a wooded lot just north of there. There is a cabin, a wood shed and a big barn that he and his family built and a nice little brook in back. Quite a few folks in Michigan own a piece of land in the woods or by a lake that they use in the summer.

After hauling it all to the school on a big trailer the oak got sawn up by a sawyer who has a portable woodmizer.


James’ cabin in the woods




nice brook in the  back


oak logs ready for the sawyer


making sawdust


whaleboat frames bent on special jig


After Christmas break we’ll start to build a fifth boat called ‘Katie’, a traditional looking 20’ gaff sloop designed by Harry Bryan. This will give the students experience with a more substantial backbone, ballast, decks and cabin.


Gaff sloop Katie that we are going to build



The first semester was ended with a nice Christmas dinner offered by the school for students and local guests.


christmas dinner at the school




The first few days of Christmas break I joined Andy and his family in South Haven. It was nice to spend those days with nice folks and we had a chance to go ice skating on an ice rink. I just had to see the dutch windmill in Holland Michigan, since I spend 6 years of my life restoring those in the Netherlands. It was an authentic windmill imported from Holland. This part of Michigan was founded by dutch immigrants and one finds a lot of street and town names with dutch names.


christmas at Andy’s family


Andy’s house that he built


authentic dutch windmill in Holland michigan


like the good old days..


wild turkeys


The drive back up north offered some nice winter scenes.


looks like Elm trees



winter colors


back in the U.P.


Back at the school I had a week of uninterrupted time to dedicate to drawing up plans for Fetch. A guy in Australia (Bruce) wanted to build one and asked me to make a set of plans. As I was drawing we started to make some changes. Bruce wanted a cutter rig with a furler on a short bowsprit in order to easily take away fore sail area without having to go on deck. We raised the sheer to make up for the fact that Fetch immersed deeper with the additional structural weight and ballast. His brother David Gregor, who for a while had been playing with ideas to modify the Fulmar and the Wayfahrer, suggested to widen Fetch’ design in the stern. He suggested to ‘insert’ a long wedge as it were, 10” wide at the transom and coming to a point at the stem. At first I thought this was over the top, but after looking at it some more and making a few sketches, I started liking the idea. It would give Fetch more beam for stability, more cabin space, more room for the outboard so the rudder linkage wasn’t needed anymore. By moving the cabin and cockpit aft a bit everything just got roomier. Same sail area and hull length as Fetch and same seat arrangement. This is what it looks like so far.


uninterrupted time at the drawing board


sail plan of expanded Fetch


expanded Fetch with more room in cabin and cockpit


more beam and height


same folding seat



my new motto


08 Jan


Fetch; Great Lakes Boat Building School


A week after sailing in the North Channel (see last blog entry), I started my position at the Great Lakes Boat Building School as a second year instructor. There were 17 first year students and 3 second year students. Pat Mahon is the head instructor and focused on the first year group. Since I only had 3 students, I took part in the first year projects as well. I am still living in one of the Water Lawn Cottages in Cedarville with Bud, my housemate. The views from the cottage keep me entertained everyday.

early morning in front of cottage


just one of these days

Another thing that is intriguing out there is watching the water level go up and down. There is some fluctuation due to wind, but the overall trend is going down. The Great Lakes suffer from loosing water. There is lots of speculation as to what causes this. Climate change, dry summers, lack of ice in the winter which makes for more evaporation, increased drainage in Detroit river and Chicago canal etc. A lot of boathouses are completely dry, waterfront docks don’t reach water any more. I just heard the Lakes have a record low. On top of that, the plant growth around Cedarville is unheard of, possibly due to low levels, clarity of the water, nutrients, who knows. Don’t forget, these Great Lakes hold about 1/3 of the world’s fresh water, that’s serious. At the boat school the first year class started with basic woodworking technics and making dove tail joints. They all build a small step stool and a toolbox.

starting up at boat school


Kerry and Troy


Chad’s dove tail toolbox going together


toolbox ‘factory’

After that they each lofted a small dinghy. Lofting means drawing the lines of a boat full scale, so you can make patterns of certain parts of it. The process can be mind-aching at times.

James (shop assistant on right) helps Kris with lofting

The second year students started lofting a whaleboat. It’s a replica of an original 29’ whaleboat like the ones carried on whale ships. The last remaining American whale ship, the Charles W. Morgan is nearing completion and will be launched this summer in Mystic Seaport. We’ll contribute one of about 8 whaleboats. The original boats had steam bend stems (double ended) of 3” deep, so we tried that as well and it worked. A complicated bending jig with a compression strap is what it took.

Bending the stem with Hans on the lever and Ed and Mark assisting


successful bend using compression strap.

We then made the molds, the keel and cut the rabbets (grooves to accept planking). After careful lining it all up on the shop floor we started planking.

Ed trimming a mold and Andy plumbing one behind him


progress at beginning of Christmas break

The first year students started two small boats; the Chica and a Chippewa. The Chica is a dinghy less than 8’ long, designed by Carl Chamberlin in Port Townsend. Although designed to be cold molded, we built her traditionally with white cedar lapstrake planks, oak frames and keel and mahogany transom. Planks were clench nailed to each other and riveted to the frames. Early December the hull was lifted of the molds and by Christmas break the boat was done.

bending on a steamed oak keel


simulating plank lines


hurray! the hull comes off the molds


bending frames


nailing preset copper nails through hot frames (Chris holding frame and Andy with hammer)




adding structure like rails, thwarts and knees


there she is!

The other boat is a Chippewa, which was a locally built whitehall type rowing boat. 14’ long, very low freeboard, plumb stem and wineglass transom. Most of the students built oars as well.

Chippewa getting planked up

After setting up the whaleboat, the second year class started their contemporary project. The school got a commission to build a Rescue Minor, designed by Atkin for use in the war. This small powerboat (20’) was designed to plane in 6”of water and pick up wounded soldiers from the beach. The prop is in a kind of tunnel in the stern. We changed the topsides some. More flare forward, tumble home aft, glue-lap plywood planking above the chine and a gracious curved transom. She will be driven by an electric motor. Next blog will have more pictures of this boat.

Rescue Minor getting ready for planking

Early October Bud and I went to the Van Dam boat yard in Boyne City to test drive a powerboat the school had built a few years back. The yard had done some of the mechanics and finish work and she looked great! This yard builds custom fancy one of a kind exotic powerboats! Very complicated cold molded shapes, glossy hardware and powerful engines. A few of the boat school grads have gone here to hone their skills.

powerboat the school built a few years back


first test drive


Van Dam’s shop


exotic speed boats indeed


wanna order a boat?

The ride back gave us wonderful fall colors. A lot of hardwood trees that seem to light up in the afternoon sun.

fall colors

  In evenings and weekends I’ve been working on a design called Loon, that I started years ago and needed some more tweaking. In the April/May issue of Small Craft Advisor you can read a plan review of it. This time around I decided to widen the hull some more and make it so you can comfortably sit up in the cabin. The off-center board is my favorite. Loon is a 23’, canoe yawl, trailer sailer.

23′ Loon


sitting headroom


outboard can be stored in the well without taking if off the bracket

It was time to make a model to verify the lines and proportions and to see if I could pull in a commission. I built a cedar dove tailed box to store it in as well as a display base. I like it and hopefully you too. Any takers?

glueing the rails on the model


ready for paint


there she is!


on her storage/display box


Another post will soon follow, stay tuned.