Friday, June 28, 2013

Small stuff and otherwise

Whaleboat number 2 headed up to Mystic yesterday to highlight the ISM contribution to the Morgan whaleboat project.  Six completed whaleboats will be present at the WoodenBoat Magazine show at Mystic Seaport this weekend.  Whaleboat number 1 is still in the water outside the windows of WoW waiting for her turn for oohs and aahs next month.  Meanwhile, the shop is busy with lots of little stuff -- small boat maintenance projects, a few last minute repairs to Suzy; and one big project -- making two more sets of spars for the whaleboats.

One of the ISM whitehalls, originally built by the kids at Rocking the Boat some years ago, and used extensively by them, needed some work on her skeg.  She had suffered mightily in her youth being dragged (literally) through the streets of New York City to reach the water.  Lee worked on reefing the old caulk in preparation for recaulking, and replacing the worn aft end of the skeg.

Whitehall "Culture" gets a skeg repair and new caulk.
Lee joints an oak board for the Whitehall skeg repair.

Another small boat built in the shop last year, a Bevins  skiff, is being repainted in bright Manayunk Academy school colors by summer staff, Julio and Dan.  She will definitely be the most vivid boat in the basin this summer.

A very vivid hull color.
Newt spent much of the day working on the installation of gaff jaws on the whaleboat gaffs.  These are steam bent, shaped and riveted to the spar in the traditional manner.

One gaff jaw side, shaped, drilled and ready to install.
A perfect fit.
Jeff and Charles worked on a whaleboat mast, first tapering a 25 foot long 6 inch square douglas fir timber to the plan dimensions, later to be lined out for planing to 8, then sixteen sides, and finally to be rounded and sanded smooth.

Chalk line snapped to give proper taper.
Jeff finishes one side with the world's scariest circular saw and all his fingers.
The mast-to-be and its off-cut.
Charles straightens an edge with the 22 inch jack plane.
 The next step in the mast build will be lining the timber out to eight equal sides, and then planing to those lines.

Friday, June 14, 2013


With the whaleboats floating majestically alongside the dock outside our windows, the shop floor is, with the exception of the Bevins skiff (in for painting), completely boat free.  This is hopefully a very temporary state, and definitely a highly unusual one, but it has the advantage of allowing us to spread out and actually have enough room to work comfortably.

Our boat-free zone. A rare occasion.
Most of the WoW crew was engaged in tasks related to whaleboat propulsion -- making things that enable the boats to move -- under sail or by rowing. There is a bit of urgency in the process since the whaleboats are scheduled to be on display at Mystic Seaport on June 28 to 30, as part of the annual  Woodenboat Magazine show. Six of the ten commissioned boats will be in Mystic for the show, and ours will be among them.  Two sets of mast hoops were needed for the boats, and they were put together in assembly line fashion that would have done Mr. Beetle proud.  

First, oak strips are steamed for bending into hoops.
Bruce and Newt force an oak strip around the bending jig.
A bending jig in the vise with several completed hoops nearby.
Bruce drills a bent hoop to accept rivets.
Riveting the hoop on the horn of the anvil.
Bruce checks a riveted hoop prior to easing the edges.
The hoops were rounded over on all four edges, on the router table, and then finished up with a rasp and sandpaper.
Lee does final sanding on a completed hoop.
We completed all of the necessary hoops in a couple of hours and were able to move on to the other propulsion related tasks.

The hoops, coated with Waterlux, hanging out to dry.
The two beautiful sets of oars required a couple of more coats of protection, and that occupied much of the afternoon for Lee and Charles.  The finish was a special concoction including 60% linseed oil, 30% turpentine, and 10% japan drier.  It gives a slight sheen to the spruce oars, and affords considerable protection against the elements.

Lee works on the first couple of oars.  Twelve were done in all.
The newly coated oars drying on saw horses.
Bruce continued working on the standing rigging, including the rope shrouds. He used entirely traditional tools, materials, and techniques, and the product looks like it was projected from the 1830's in a time machine.

Grommets spliced into the ends of shrouds.
Serving protects the shrouds where they sit atop the mast.
A newly arrived canvas sail awaits completion of the rigging.
Meanwhile, Dan worked on the lone boat in the shop, the Bevins skiff, applying a final coat of topside paint to the hull and interior.  She will be back in the water with the rest of the fleet very soon.

The student-built Bevins skiff gets a new coat of paint.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


After an epic deluge on Friday, launch day dawned dry and only partly cloudy. It was a perfect day to celebrate the completion of the two Beetle replica whaleboats, by launching them in the Penn's Landing basin, and rowing them around a bit.  Because there are two boats, it was only natural that a race would ensue once they were in the water.  A good crowd gathered for the event, and it was enjoyed by all present.

It wouldn't be an event without a speech from CEO John Brady. 
The boat launch was begun with the ceremonial smashing of champagne bottles over the stems (all four) of the two boats.  It was a bit painful for us boatbuilders and volunteers to watch, especially when one young christener needed at least five shots to break her bottle.  At least white oak is a very hard wood, and so damage was negligible.  

The ceremonial breaking of the bottle of champagne.

There must be something wrong with that bottle!
In the crowd, Lee assures himself that the boats will be fine.
Finally, the bottles were all broken, and the actual launch could proceed.  
Launchings of boatshop vessels are generally a bit of a challenge due to the lack of railway, travel lift, ramp, or even a permanent crane.  Nevertheless, Jeff rose to the occasion, as he always does, maneuvering a borrowed forklift to within inches of the concrete bulkhead to lower the boats into the water.

Jeff heads down the ramp in the borrowed forklift while Bruce entertains the crowd.
All hooked up and headed for the water.
In the water, and floating.  One in, one to go.
The launching of the second boat was smooth as the first.  

Jeff and helpers swing the boat out over the water.
Down she goes.
Looking beautiful in the water.
Each launch was followed by a ceremonial blast on the  conch shell trumpet by Bruce followed by a hearty "hip hip hooray" from the gathered crowd.

Bruce demonstrates his musicianship.
Once the boats were in the water, crews were assembled to row them around the basin.

A whaleboat crew awaits the start of the race.
Meanwhile, many of the guests took an opportunity to check out the boatshop which, for the day, had been transformed into a veritable banquet hall.

Something different to do with a workbench.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Getting the lead out

With only a few days left until the June 8th splash date for the two Beetle replica whaleboats, the last few critical tasks are being completed.  Among those tasks is the incorporation of a lead block into the centerboard of each boat.  The lead is needed to allow the board to be lowered by gravity when its line is let out.  One of the properties that makes wood the best material with which to make boats works against us when it comes to lowering the centerboard -- namely, wood floats -- even white oak.  As the old seaman's saying goes, "A floating centerboard doesn't help at all."  

Newt, with able assistance from Joe worked on solving the floating centerboard problem.

Joe removes a lead insert from the mold.  Working outdoors with lead preserves brain cells.
Newt trims the lead insert to fit the hole in the centerboard
Sanding the board in preparation for attaching the lead weight
With the loggerhead for whaleboat #2 finished, it was ready for installation. Steve was assigned the task of cutting the slot in the loggerhead shaft into which a below-deck key would be inserted.  The purpose of the key is to prevent the loggerhead from being dislodged, perhaps by a whale who goes airborne?  In any event, with an electric drill and much hand filing Steve was able to get the loggerhead safely and securely installed in the stern of the boat.
Steve files the key slot into shape
The loggerhead securely set in whaleboat #2
One set of spars is completely finished, and with the arrival of the sails, it is time to rig the boat.  Bruce took on the role of the marlinspike seaman, preparing shrouds for the mast.
A man and his fid, splicing away
Worm and parcel with the lay. Turn and serve the other way.
Once the centerboards are pinned in place, the pins, which run crosswise through the centerboard case will be captured and the case kept watertight with bronze plates.  Carl worked on fashioning the plates for whaleboat #2. When they were completed, we all thought he did too good a job. They looked very yachty, but is that really a bad thing?

Carl cutting out his very yachty bronze centerboard pin keeper plates.

Whaleboats were not the only area of activity in the shop.  The Bevins skiff was in the shop for some maintenance, and Nick worked on replacing a bent skeg and preping the boat for its springtime paint job.
Nick sands the skiff.  Painting will be the next step.