Spending a winter in Upper Michigan (the UP) is an interesting experience. Having grown up in the Netherlands, I’ve been through some cold winters, but nothing like this. Two feet of ice on the channels around the school and temperatures down to -23F (-30 C). I did spend a winter month in Finland once and that was very similar. No wonder a lot of Fins and Norwegians moved here in the past. People enjoy the winters here though; often dry sunny weather, hunting, ice fishing, cross country skiing, snow mobiles and snow shoeing, besides of course throwing another log in the wood stove.
At school we were working hard on the various boats. In total we started 6 boats and finished 4 of them. I’ll show the different projects one by one.
The whaleboat proved to be somewhat of a challenge, specially the frames. Typically frames are bend ‘on the flat’, meaning with the wide side touching the hull. These frames however, were bend ‘on edge’. They were ¾” wide and 1 ¾” deep and required a specially build trap mold to bend them. This way they initially had all the same curve and after taking them off the mold, had to be modified to fit the various areas of the hull. They also had to be notched around the battens and laps of the hull. Finally, using real green straight-grained oak and not leaving them on the mold too long we managed to fit all frames. The boat seemed to be designed to be very strong for it’s weight. Many parts were to follow, centerboard trunk, ceiling (boards on inside of frames), thwarts, knees, heavy gunnels etc. The oars and spars were build elsewhere. After launching it proved to row very nicely and be absolutely gorgeous. We could barely imagine how hard it would be to row this boat, heavily loaded with gear on an open ocean chasing a whale, let alone harpooning it and then be yanked though the water at high speed! Often they would sail up to the whale to be quieter, and then quickly strike the sail and mast, which weren’t small or light. I guess the boats were made of wood and the men of iron. In June, after graduation, the boat would be driven to Mystic Seaport for the boat show and be left there to go with the Charles W. Morgan, the last whaling ship in the US that’s been restored over the last couple of years and to be relaunced in July.
The Rescue Minor, built by the second year students, made steady progress and was finished on schedule. All the plywood was twice coated in epoxy, then primed in a two-part primer and painted with a one-part marine enamel. The floor boards and gunnel were Iroko, left bare it will turn grey like teak does. The owner already had purchased an electric motor which was about 6 hp equivalent. We installed 4 heavy gel-mat batteries with a total weight of 660 lbs to give the boat a reasonable range and speed (about 6 knots). Everything was nicely concealed under the console, which hinged up for access. The motor was housed under a removable box. Personally I think it’s hard to beat a combustion engine when it comes to cost, weight, range and speed. Can’t wait to see a small energy cell of a few pounds that’s affordable and will go all day with lots of power…. keep dreaming.
The little lapstrake Chica of about 7’ by 4’ came out nice. We decided to go ahead and build a strip-planked version of it as well. This was an introduction for the first year students to contemporary construction. We considered it a tender to a cruising yacht and gave it buoyancy tanks with access hatches. A fore and aft seat would allow shifting the rower’s weight to allow for a passenger and load. The sheer was made of red cedar and would be left bright, while the rest of the hull was made of clear white cedar to be painted. The whole hull was glassed in and out and got 4 frames for stiffness, because there was not going to be a thwart. The inwales got spacer blocks for strength and a few light cedar floorboards to finish it off.
The Chippewa went through periods of various appreciation. The lofting and planking were challenging, while all this time we suspected the free board to be too low. We resisted changing it though and once on the water it proved to be just gorgeous and row very well indeed. I could row it at a consistent 4 knots, it left little wake and just slit through the water. This boat is a local design and many were build right there in Cedarville. A local model builder, Paul Wilson, had built several versions of it and showed us his collection one day.
After winter break we had started building Katie, a 20’ gaffer, designed by Harry Brian. This boat gave the students practice with a backbone with deadwood, ballast, floors and carvel planking. Next year decks and a cabin will be added. After setting up the backbone with the molds we worked on floors for a while. Ribbands formed the steam bent frames, which went real smooth thanks to nice bending oak, cut locally. For planking we used Cypress, which was fairly clear and nice to work with. The hull seems very promising, with it’s proud bow, flat run, and stiff sections. I’m confident that it will be a nice cabin cruiser, with a real shippy feel. I can well imagine crawling in the cozy cabin after a hard sail, lighting the woodstove, cooking up a simple meal and hunker down for the night.
We also finished a small launch which was started last year. We installed decks, seats and an old time gas engine. After paint a local sign painter put on gold lettering.
A great advantage of the teaching schedule is having breaks. With Spring break coming up I got the urge to be around warm weather for a bit. I booked a flight to Puerto Vallarta in Mexico to visit my friends Rob Sanderson and Kai, who spend the winter on a nice cruising sailboat ‘Velella Velella’. They work in Alaska in the summer to fill the cruising kitty and then hang out in Mexico where water and air is warm. Kai was doing a intensive yoga class and Rob was hanging out on the boat, watching whales and surf with his friends. I tried to surf one day, got on a wave a few times before I was exhausted and ended up with sore muscles for a few days. It made me appreciate surfers a lot more; you have to be in pretty good shape to keep at it. Reading and hanging out on the boat and in town suited me just fine. We sailed a few times on the Banderas Bay between Punta Mita and Bucerias, we saw humpbacks whales, dolphins and lots of seabirds. We took a nice day-hike on the south shore and I spend two days in the city by myself. One night on the boat, I woke up hearing cows in the distance. I went outside and didn’t hear it anymore. Back down below I heard it again and realized they weren’t cows but whales! I put my ear right on the hull and could hear it in great detail. There was a lot of back and forth between whales with repeating sounds. Fascinating to lay there listening to these great creatures communicating with each other.
Back in Michigan the ice had just broken around Mackinaw Bridge and it wouldn’t be till mid April for the ice to melt in front of the cottage. On May 12th we had our last snow storm. Being still cold outside, I found some time to take on a bit of a dove-tail challenge and put together a crazy complicated box, with curved sides that tapered in thickness. I don’t think I would do that again.
As soon as ice and snow were gone, the birds seemed to make haste getting on with building nests and raising their offspring. Swans, Sandhill Cranes, Terns, Swallows, Geese, Ducks, Herons, Bitterns and lots of songbirds all were busy doing their thing. Otters, Beavers and Muskrats finally didn’t have to deal with ice anymore. Deer could swim across the water again without getting stuck in floating ice. Ospreys carried tons of fish to their nests and Bald Eagles would chase them, trying to make them drop their catch. Summer folks would come back up from down-state to occupy their waterfront cottages and scoot around in their Chris-Crafts. It felt a bit like they were cheating not being there for the cold winters.
Mid May Andy and visited ‘Windswept’; Bonnie and Tim’s summer camp on one of the islands. Bonnie’s family ties to this area go way back and she was one of the initiators of the boat building school. Andy kayaked and I rowed the Chippewa. We had wonderful time hanging in front of the fireplace enjoying good food and great company.
Early June the students graduated and left for home or to their new jobs. For me, I loaded up Fetch, hooked her behind my van and hit the road. Instead of going east however, I would first spend some time out west in Port Townsend, but more about that later.