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.

Feb 072012
 

Boats are so much work. Wooden boats edge into their own universe of time, money and energy sinks. Someone should write a self-help book for wooden boat lovers.

We sand, paint, varnish, replace. We caulk, curse, reef, re-caulk, re-curse, curse, curse. We crawl into small spaces, flash-lights gripped in our teeth, searching for the source of that drip, that smell, that creak. We confidently reassure that all wooden boats leak as nervous friends eye rising bilge levels.

Wooden boat sailors! We argue, we disagree. To salt the bilges or not to salt the bilges? To fill the checks or no? Poly-urethane, Cetol, or Deks Olje? What’s the proper type of filler to use for that epoxy job? Spikes or bolts? Sikaflex or 4200? Sikaflex or tar? Sikaflex or Dolphinite? We peer over rails, we offer unsolicited, unwanted advice. Too many sentences begin with the phrase “On MY boat…”

But we love it. We love it all. We are cursed with an affection for the highest maintenance lady of them all, and we are addicted to her insatiability.

In 24 hours, our crew begins a two-week maintenance period during which we’ll be tackling several major projects including (but not limited to): scarfing a new piece of wood into a rotten bit of our jib-boom; re-caulking a leaky spot on our deck-house roof; sending down, sanding, re-finishing and re-installing our lower topsail yard; re-serving and tarring its foot-ropes; and probably painting our topsides.

God willing, we’ll have it all done by the 25th when our two months of back-to-back voyages begin. We love it. We love it. We love it.

A load-bearing eye-bolt lives in some now-punky wood, covered by a preventer at the moment

A load-bearing eye-bolt lives in some punky wood, covered by a preventer at the moment

The one place our deck-house leaks is above our chart-room, where all of the expensive equipment is!

The one place our deck-house leaks is above our chart-room, where all of the expensive equipment is!

The lowest yard, the course, is in cue for repairs after the lower topsail yard has been serviced. Note the early signs of wear on the foot-rope.

The lowest yard, the course, is in cue for repairs after the lower topsail yard has been serviced. Note the early signs of wear on the foot-rope.