Nov 282012
 

The term “bosun”, a sailorly contraction of the Old English “boatswain”, implies widely different roles from one vessel to another. On some ships the bosun is an officer; on others a rig specialist. Even the translation is debated: some sources say a “swain” was an attendant, while others give a more romantic definition of “lover”. (I like to say I’m the ship’s husband…) Regardless, on Clearwater, the bosun cares for the traditional aspects of the rig, which includes regular inspections for safety concerns.

I thought some people out there might be interested in what my monthly rig checks involve. When I was mate on the Bill of Rights and had never before done a rig check, it felt like a vast and unconquerable task. There is so much to a boat! Brion Toss gives an elegantly succinct description in “The Rigger’s Apprentice” of what a rig-check on a boat involves, boiled down to four main points:

1. If it fastens two things together, it will try its damndest to wiggle itself loose.

2. If it touches something else, it will chafe the hell out of either itself or the thing it touches.

3. If it’s metal, it will either crumble in the face of whatever other metal is around it, or else it will mercilessly corrode everything it touches.

4. If it’s loose, it will inevitably catch, snag and tear.

With this as a guide, I examine the rig from stem to stern, topmast to hull. Before leaving Clearwater for the season, I was able to snap some shots of some of the things I look for in rig checks. Aside from these things, I am always and especially looking for loose nuts, rusty or non-existent mousings (wire lashings to secure pins in shackles), pins backing out of shackles, loose lashings in the bow net or shrouds, and squeaky blocks. All of these could result in injury if not attended to before they become a problem.

A type of line degradation called "long jawing", in which, due to deformation, only one or two strands of the line take the full load.

A type of line degradation called “long jawing”, in which, due to deformation, only one or two strands of the line take the full load.

A "whipping" sews up the end of a line to neatly keep it from unraveling. When you make a sailor's whipping, which involves a palm and needle, you never imagine it could someday become worn to uselessness.

A “whipping” sews up the end of a line to neatly keep it from unraveling. When you make a sailor’s whipping, which involves a palm and needle, you never imagine it could someday become worn to uselessness!

Early signs of wear in a long splice.

Early signs of wear in a long splice.

Small holes in the head of the mainsail can easily turn into big holes if not attended to.

Small holes in the head of the mainsail can easily turn into big holes if not attended to.

 

Nov 192012
 

Recently in preparation for the winter, and as part of a regular maintenance schedule, we pulled Clearwater’s centerboard. For those of you who aren’t tall-ship experienced, I’ll try my best to explain what a centerboard is, how it works, and how we pulled it. I’ll let the photos explain the rest.

The centerboard is a 15 or so foot long retractable keel whose forward end pivots on a point inside the hull about a third of the way from the bow. The pivot point is inside the centerboard “trunk”, which is basically a big, framed out hollow in the middle of the boat, a bit like a wheel well. It is raised and lowered by a winch on a cable attached to the after end, at about the middle of the boat.

To pull the centerboard, lines are attached to the tops of the forward and after ends, and then run through blocks on deck. The board is hoisted a little to take the weight off the pin, and then on either side of the centerboard trunk, large metal caps are unscrewed to reveal the pivot point, out of which a large pin must be driven. As you may have guessed, removing these caps allows large amounts of water to pour into the boat, so time is of the essence. Plexiglass and a flashlight are used on either side to line up the openings in the trunk with the one in the centerboard. When you are thoroughly soaked and grateful that you vacuumed out the bilges so the bilge pumps wouldn’t get clogged, you drive out the pin and pop those caps back on. Then you take a breath.

The rest is gravy…lower the board, then run a “lazy line” under the hull to catch the lines the centerboard is hanging on, pull them to the other side, and haul up the board!

Lines are attached to both ends of the centerboard.

Lines are attached to both ends of the centerboard, forward…

The anchor bend.

…and aft. We chose to use the anchor bend.

Hoisting the centerboard to prepare for pulling the pin.

Hoisting the centerboard to prepare for pulling the pin.

Positioning the pipe wrench.

Positioning the pipe wrench.

When WD40, a four foot lever, and three grown sailors don't do trick, try heat.

When WD40, a four foot lever, and three grown sailors don’t do trick, try heat.

Next time, never seize.

Next time, never seize.

The cap is off! Using plexi-glass and a flashlight to align the hole in the centerboard with the hole in the trunk.

The cap is off! Using plexi-glass and a flashlight to align the hole in the centerboard with the hole in the trunk.

Flashlight.

Flashlight.

Driving out the pin.

Driving out the pin.

Waiting for the centerboard.

Waiting for the centerboard.

First sighting...

First sighting…

The centerboard is up!

The centerboard is up!

Clearwater with centerboard alongside.

Aug 192012
 

When I was on Windeward Bound, I had an idea to post about all of the little innovations and solutions I saw on Winde for problems or annoyances I’d experienced on other boats. Things got busy and I never got around to it, but I’ve had the same thought about Clearwater after seeing so many clever improvements to old designs. Here are some shots of the best new twists on old ideas. I think the gem of the bunch is the leak-free butterfly hatch.

Dorade boxes: A dorade box is a very cool invention itself. It allows ventilation below decks without letting rain and spray in. These are the first I've seen with clear "roofs", allowing light below decks in addition to fresh air.

Dorade boxes: A dorade box is a very cool invention itself. Below the "trumpet" is a hole in the box, offset from the visible one in the deck, allowing ventilation below decks without letting rain & spray in. These are the first I've seen with clear "roofs", allowing light below decks in addition to fresh air.

Butterfly hatches: These beautiful contraptions are found on so many traditional boats. They also let light and air below decks, but I've never met one that doesn't leak. This is the most elegant and effective solution to butterfly hatch leaks I've ever seen. This looks to be a piece of 2" bronze pipe cut in half and set into the frame just below the hatch hinges.

Butterfly hatches: These beautiful contraptions are found on so many traditional boats. They also let air and light in below decks, but I've never met one that doesn't leak. The butterfly hatch on Clearwater doesn't leak! This is the most elegant and effective solution to butterfly hatch leaks I've ever seen. This looks to be a piece of 2" bronze pipe cut in half and set into the frame just below the hatch hinges.

Scrolling map: Switching between large-scale and small-scale charts is always a nuisance, but traveling up and down a river makes for a lot of chart changes.

Scrolling chart: Switching between large-scale and small-scale charts is always a nuisance, but travel along a river requires a particularly frequent change of charts.

Clearwater crew of years past constructed this scrolling chart by cutting and taping the necessary charts together to get them all the way from Albany to New York City without a chart swap.

Clearwater crew of years past solved the problem by cutting and taping the necessary charts together and binding the final product into this scrolling frame to allow them to get all the way from Albany to New York City without a chart swap.

 

Impermanent Chafe Gear: Chafing on lines, especially dock lines, is always a concern. On every boat I've been on, the issue was addressed with old fire hose cut into pieces and sometimes sewn around loosely, sometimes taped securely to the most chafed areas of line. Inevitably, chafe gear gets stuck in fair-leads or doesn't end up in the place it was meant to be.

Impermanent Chafe Gear: Chafing on lines, especially dock lines, is always a concern. On every boat I've been on, the issue was addressed with old fire hose cut into pieces and sometimes sewn, sometimes taped to the most chafed areas of line. Inevitably, chafe gear gets stuck in fair-leads or doesn't end up in the place it was meant to be.

On Clearwater, there is an additional challenge of a new dock with different chafe points every night. I think their solution is every bit as valuable on boats with a home port. They have a big bag of chafe gear that gets attached to chafe points after every sail. This ensures strong, happy dock lines with minimal wear every time.

On Clearwater, there is an additional challenge of a new dock with different chafe points every night. I think their solution is every bit as valuable on boats with a home port. They have a big bag of chafe gear that gets attached to chafe points after every sail. This ensures perfect placement of chafe gear every time, for happy, wear free dock lines.

May 012012
 

 

In 2010 and 2011, I had the pleasure of overseeing a deck restoration project on the Bill of Rights. The deck was original, making it forty years old. About twenty years into its life, it had started showing signs of deterioration, so the operators at the time decided to cover it with a material called Arabol to prevent leaks.

Twenty years later, the Arabol was far beyond the end of its life, and the deck beneath it was rotten and leaky. The rot was almost entirely caused by and surrounding the rusty steel bolts used to fasten the planks to the deck beams, so scarfing clean pieces in wasn’t a viable solution. We had to replace entire sections of the deck.

Complicating factors: I had limited carpentry skills and no prior experience with such a project, and it was my job to see that the deck got fixed; if you imagine the smallest budget you can, ours was far smaller; the deck had to be usable at the end of each week so that we could do weekend public sails.

So how did we manage? We had a whole team of old salty-dog volunteer boat-builders, carpenters and machinists who generously shared incredible amounts of time and knowledge with us. Add an enthusiastic and committed team of staff and volunteers, and a bunch of donated equipment and supplies, and we were half-way there.

At the end of it all not only did we have a leak-free deck, but I’d gained a level of knowledge and experience in the repair and maintenance of wooden decks beyond anything I’d dreamed.

Here is some photo-documentation of the project, with a few notes about process, materials, and lessons learned.

Removing the old worn-out airball deck covering.

 

 

 

1. Removing the old, worn-out Arabol, anxious to see how much of the deck was salvageable. A note about Arabol or similar coverings: this can only be used as a stop-gap measure to stop leaks until a proper deck repair or full replacement can be made. The Arabol WILL leak, allowing water in, but not out, and causing the deck to rot further.

 

 

 

 

 

After 40 years, all of the steel spikes had rusted, causing the wood around them to rot.

 

2. The steel spikes originally used to fasten the decks beams had rusted over the years, causing the wood around it to rot. Because they were rusty (and 6″ long), these spikes were painfully difficult to remove without shearing them off, and left gaping holes in the deck beams when you did.

 

 

 

 

Some of the planks were a little difficult to remove.

 

3. Removing planks was a multi-step process. First we drilled several holes large enough to fit the blade of a jig-saw, and cut the planks into sections, being very careful not to come anywhere near wiring below. Then small sections either fell away, or were removed by pounding them out with a sledge-hammer, as seen here. The hardest bits were around the spikes, where we basically had to see-saw the pieces out.

 

 

 

Hole in the deck!

 

4. Here is a portion of the deck with all planks removed, and one new plank already installed from the test-run repair we’d done in the fall.  We chose to use the pre-existing holes from the steel spikes for our new fasteners where possible to avoid turning the deck beams into Swiss cheese. This was a great idea in theory, but ended up creating a lot of challenges later on in the process.

 

 

 

Each plank went through the jointer, the table saw or band saw, and the chop saw to bring it close to its final dimensions.

 

5. Each plank went through the jointer, band saw or table saw, thickness planer, and finally the chop to bring it to rough dimensions before it was brought down to the boat. Before its final fitting, we put a bevel around the top of each plank, which would later form the seams between the planks.

 

 

 

 

Final dimensioning was done by hand for a perfect fit.

 

 

 

6. Final dimensioning was done with a hand plane to ensure as tight a fit as was possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1/2" x 4" zinc-plated hex-head lag screws were used to fasten the new planks, re-using the holes from the original spikes.

7. We used 1/2″ by 4″ zinc-plated hex-head lags to fasten the new deck planks. 1/2″ was overkill, but necessary to grab into the existing spike holes. Pre-drilling the planks in the exact right spot to match the pre-existing holes was nearly impossible, and led to many lags that became cock-eyed as they were driven in. In turn, this meant that our bung-holes had to be reamed out so the socket could fit at an angle. In the future, I would epoxy dowels of the same timber (in this case, white oak) into the existing holes, put the new fasteners elsewhere, and just accept that the beams will be less than whole.

 

 

 

With bungs cut and glued, the only step left before caulking, tarring and oiling is to trim the bungs.

 

8. Lags have been driven in, and bungs have been cut and glued in. Trimming  the bungs (a more delicate task than you might think) is the last step before oiling the new planks, and caulking and tarring the seams.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, the planks have been oiled and the seams have been caulked with cotton and oakum and then filled with tar!

9. Finally, seams have been caulked with cotton and oakum, and filled with tar. We went a less than traditional route and used plain old roofers tar that works just fine. We were lucky enough to get a design for a really handy paying pitcher from a friend which we had custom-made by a local machine shop. The tool is basically a large cone with a hole in the end, a handle, and a piece of steel rod down the center that can be used to plug the hole when you come to the end of a seam. It seriously increases efficiency, and makes a normally messy process quite a bit neater.

 

 

Feb 182012
 

It’s amazing how time flies. We have worked our way through our 10 day maintenance period, and finally have a couple of days off. Yay! As promised, here is a little explanation about what we’ve been doing to our yard and foot-ropes over the last several days.

The yard extends from both sides of the mast, with a foot-rope hanging from each "arm"The yard extends from both sides of the mast; a foot-rope hangs from each “arm”

First off, a yard is a horizontal piece of wood that holds up a square-sail, and a foot-rope is a piece of steel cable that is attached at both ends of the yard, and hangs down from it. While sailors work aloft, we “stand” and balance on the foot-ropes.

As you might guess, that steel cable could become vulnerable to oxidation, being out in the elements all of the time. In order to prevent them from rusting, sailors have been worming, parceling and serving those cables (which also happen to be used for shrouds, stays and other standing rigging) for generations.

Down-rigged foot-ropes with intact servingsDown-rigged foot-ropes with intact servings

For this project, we did not worm, which is the process of laying tarred nylon line into the grooves between strands for the length of the cable in order to keep out moisture. We did, however, parcel and serve. Parceling is simply tightly wrapping the cable in greased cloth, again, to keep out moisture. The next (and funnest!) step is servicing. The end result of servicing is a steel cable with twine so tightly wrapped around it that it creates a barrier to the elements.

Our process, from beginning to end, went like this (some repeat photos in here):

1. Unwind old serving and parceling1. Unwind the old, brittle serving, and remove the dried out denzo tape (parceling) to expose the cable
Greasy denzo tape (used for parceling) and tarred nylon line is removed to expose the cable, which is inspected for rust and cleaned with a wire brush2. Inspect the cable for rust and clean it with a wire brush
3. Wrap the cable with greasy denzo tape. Be sure to wrap with the lay of the cable, and overlap each round by a third.3. Wrap the cable with greasy denzo tape. Be sure to wrap with the lay of the cable, and overlap each round by a third.
A "serving mallet" is used to aid the process of winding the twine as tightly as possible. The mallet is bound to the cable by the serving twine, and regulates tension as it rotates around the cable, paying out twine as it goes..4. Serve. A “serving mallet” is used to aid the process of winding the twine as tightly as possible. The mallet is bound to the cable by the serving twine, and regulates tension as it rotates around the cable, paying out twine as it goes.
"Worm and parcel with the lay; turn and serve the other way"“Worm and parcel with the lay; turn and serve the other way”
The mallet can be rotated by hand, or if you're good, you can get it to turn itself by swinging the cable like a jump-rope!The mallet can be rotated by hand, or if you’re good, you can get it to turn itself by swinging the cable like a jump-rope!
Fully served and ready to tarFully served and ready to tar
5. Paint the serving with a mixture of roofing tar, black paint and varnish5. Paint the serving with a mixture of roofing tar, black paint and varnish
6. Allow one day for the tar to dry and apply a second coat. Enjoy your newly parceled, served and tarred foot-ropes!6. Allow one day for the tar to dry and apply a second coat. Enjoy your newly parceled, served and tarred foot-ropes!

Check out these posts for more photos and explanations:
http://www.shesails.net/2012/02/parcel-and-serve-in-photos/
http://www.shesails.net/2012/02/detail-of-a-yard-in-photos/
http://www.shesails.net/2012/02/down-rigging-a-yard/