Friday, February 26, 2010

Masts - the most popular spars in the Dockyard

Since the spar team has set out to laminate a lightweight mast for the Monomoy, we've had a lot of activity and discussion regarding these most essential of spars. And hey, what's not to love about masts? They are the basic facilitators of the back, arm and upper body fatigue preventing devices known as "sailing rigs" - something all oarsmen should be grateful for. From the technologically evolved to the most simplistic, there are a myriad variety with different uses, applications and methods of construction.

The most basic mast in the inventory is a "stand by" mast for the Monomoy which is made from a solid piece of Northern White Cedar. 15' 6" long and weighing in at 69 lbs, it is a force to be reckoned with. Honestly, I hope it becomes something else because the behemoth seems way too massive. But the numbers check out, so for now it is in reserve. Production was exceedingly simple - the spar crew went out behind the lofting bay, into the woods, selected the live tree of the correct size, then proceeded to chop it down. Still green, the tree was then stripped of branches and bark, and otherwise cleaned up. And while there hasn't been much in the way of shaping done, I'd wager it wouldn't take long to fit to the step.

The most advanced mast in the inventory is the primary mast for the same boat. Also 15' 6" long, it weighs in at just 22 lbs. The number crunching reveals only a negligible decrease in strength over a solid spar. Of course, between procuring choice lumber - all select pine - cutting, milling and planing the staves, scarphing, and laminating the mast, there are probably more than 50 man hours invested so far. So not as quick, but worth it if you have the time.

On a side note, the mast for the 24-foot Launch will be much larger and stouter than the Monomoy's - so that's something to look forward to (yikes!).

Of interest to the carpenter's crew - the fitting of the halyard sheave in the top of the mast is coming along - expect that to start soon. Parts are already spinning and chopping in the back - yes I can hear you back there and I know what you're up to. That's what I do.


Side note - whoever is leaving coffee cups on my bench should know that I keep spilling boat soup in them. So no, that's not the coffee made badly, that's pine tar. Just sayin.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Just in Time for Lunch- Low-Cost Provisioning Options

One of the recent items of debate being discussed by the Board of Directors are ways to reduce the cost of provisions. Providing participants with meals at events is a tricky thing - people have food allergies, and there isn't always time to cook a great meal when you're running between activities. That's why I find more of our members at the funnel cake stands than I care to admit publicly. But food gets expensive, and considering how much gets thrown away, I think its safe to say the operation is not as efficient as it could be. And we all know efficiency saves time, money, effort, frustration, grumbling... well, you get the picture.

As a dutiful Dockyard Superintendent I feel I should propose some sort of solution to the problem. And I have just the proposal for every one's needs. The Armour Corporation has been making top quality canned and preserved foods since 18-eh hem yeah. Their Pork Brains in Milk Gravy would be a delicious solution. Just open the can, pour contents into heating container, hold over heat source and five to ten minutes later - voila! The 5.5 oz cans are easily meted out at one serving per person per can, which means several days rations can be carried in a single haversack. The empty cans can be used to make miniature tin candle lanterns, paint pots or boat soup buckets. The residual aroma will add an extra bit of charm to whatever is done with them. This delicious food is available from any number of low grade supermarkets for less than $0.20 a can.

So go out and buy some - give it a try. I really do think it will be a great addition to our future programming.

Note, the dockyard will not be providing sickness bags. All issue gear must be returned in a condition that is free of stains or odors. All hands aboard watercraft experiencing symptoms of sickness are directed to the lee rail and should not loiter in bilges. Notify your petty officer if you experience discomfort, swelling, cramps, bleeding or gas with oily discharge. The Naval Heritage Society is not responsible for spoiled under garments.

Enjoy your lunch!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Racing Stripes

I've just recieved approval for my paint plan for the Monomoy. We're going to be dolling her right up for the 2010 season. All interior wood work is being sanded down and re-varnished, new paint inside all around AND the addition of da dada DA- racing stripes! The plain white hull is getting a fresh jolt with the addition of a navy blue gunwale stripe and golden yellow pinstriping. Back in my days on the Training Ship Empire State, we had a white hull with a blue "racing stripe" on the bow. Of course, later on they painted the whole hull blue. But I've always loved that racing stripe and wanted to paint one on this boat. The colors pay homage to the Navy, and to the Military Sealift Command, whose famous blue and gold stack stripes are their primary distinguishing insignia.

The interior of the boat is being painted per 1907 US Navy regulations, famous for use by the Great White Fleet. The interior bulwarks will be "spar" - a khaki color - while the deck will be "blue-gray". The propulsion oars will likewise be painted spar, while the steering oar will remain varnished. The gunwales and steering yoke will be finished with boat soup - a pine tar mixture - that blackens and preserves the wood. Odd side note - recently visited the "Real Pirates" exhibit at Nauticus and several of the artifacts recovered from the sunken pirate ship Whydah still reek of pine tar! Now THAT is preservation!

The working schedule for all of this - for those who missed it - will be as follows:

March 27-28 - Interior stripping and varnishing - MAX. PARTICIPATION REQUIRED
April 10-11 - Painting of the "Racing Stripe"

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pre-planned responses solve all of life's problems

Some interesting news from outside the dockyard. This week the Board of Directors is discussing the pre-planned responses for the Conquer the Chesapeake event in May. The event will be the Monomoy's big public debut and will certainly put her crew through their paces. The pre-planned responses, or PPRs, are designed to provide the Monomoy's crew, the chase boat and the US Coast Guard escort on the same page in the event of a problem - a good thing to have. They delineate responsibilities, actions to be taken, and outline a clear course of action that's already thought out to respond in a timely manner. Thank you Captain Obvious. Okay. But I have to say, some of the rejected PPRs are kind of funny. They have very descrpitive titles such as "Attack by Marine Wildlife Pending or In Progress" and "Loss of National Ensign, in Whole or In Part". I know we're being safe - but really? How many shark attacks have their been upon people in open boats - that didn't occur in a movie? Although I can definately see the need to turn around and scrap the event if we lose our Ensign. His Mom would be really upset. But I jest.

No, seriously - it is great to see so much planning and preparation going into this. I already have a laundry list of things to buy, build or repair for the trip, things such as the collapsible bailing buckets and spare anchor and rode. Fish for the mast, line for woldings, selvagee strops and spare blocks. All of it will give me just the slightest bit of comfort when I'm standing on the beach with the boat and her crew, preparing to get underway toward land we can't see yet. I think it will all make us feel a little better. And we're going to need those small elements of comfort - this is going to be one heck of a trip.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Takin' care of business

This weekend was highly productive - the spar team managed to get the mast for the Monomoy laminated and turn all those toothpicks in the shop into a sloppy mess of epoxy and clamps. That'll be fun to see when it emerges after shaping. One thing is certain, that the clamped up spar weighs far less than the standby solid mast of the same size.

The carpenter's crew also managed to get the mast step and collar largely complete, solving a few major structural issues we had in getting the new mast into the boat. The step and collar were omitted in the 1988 rebuild of the boat, and improvements made during that time removed a few key components in the original construction that supported those elements. The replacements take into account the original design but also some design changes to adapt to the rebuilt structure.

The sail is nearly ready for roping and grommets, and is now about 75% complete. It should be ready for hoisting about the same time that the mast, yard and rigging are complete in the middle of March.

Future opportunities at the Dockyard:

Complete interior refinishing is scheduled for March 20-21.
Exterior painting, including the addition of a new blue and gold "racing stripe" is scheduled for April 10-11.


A new plan of attack has been formulated for our CONQUER THE CHESAPEAKE event in May. Due to the high level of interest, we will be assembling two crews - one to take the boat on each leg of the round trip. The BLUE crew will take the boat North, from Cape Henry to Kiptopeke, while the GOLD crew will return from Kiptopeke to Cape Henry. The crew that is not in the boat will be present at departure and arrival, and handle logistics in between. Both crews are invited to take part in the overnight camp at Kiptopeke.

Training sessions have also been moved. We will now have two separate dates, that can each accommodate 10 prospective crew members. All prospective crew members must attend one of the training events, and the final crew rosters will be published soon after.

Training dates are as follows:
24 April 2010 - 0600-1500, Naval Station Norfolk, Norfolk VA
1 May 2010 - 0600-1500, Harbor Park, Norfolk VA

More information will be put out once applicants are registered for training.
So - lots going on. Keep checking in for further updates as we progress - and don't forget to register for CONQUER THE CHESAPEAKE before we fill up!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Cutting edge technology symposium

I know I've already made the obligatory Friday post, including the introduction of FULLBORE FRIDAY, but this was too groundbreaking not to post.

Now that we're taking advantage of the wonders of modern technology such as hollow laminated masts I think its about time we reevaluated the NHS Dockyard Motor Pool. On base today at the NAVFAC Motor Pool I discovered what could become the most useful vehicle in our arsenal. And you would never guess to look at it.

With a 13,000 lb drawbar pull this impressive vehicle is capable of towing both the 26 foot Monomoy and 24 foot Launch simultaneously. Inside there is seating capacity for both crews (20 people), and a well stocked mini-bar for pre-launching liquid refreshment. Even without 4WD capacity, it can scale obstacles as high as 27 inches and wade through water as deep as 5 feet.

As of yet I am still unsure of the price tag for one of these little gems, but I've been told they are completely unobtainable. I think with enough time spent surfing the internet we could easily locate a disused vehicle on eBay Motors somewhere in Ghana or Cameroon. In fact, I'm almost sure I saw the same thing in the latter two years ago.

So members, take a round turn and let's make this the next addition to our glorious Dockyard!


No birds were injured in the making of this mast

IT'S FRIDAY!!! And I'm getting pretty excited for the weekend - lots of work going on. For starters, we have the Monomoy mast being laminated. It's being made in a "bird's mouth" technique that produces a hollow mast weighing a fraction of what a solid spar does with only marginal strength loss. The mast is 16 feet long and is 5" in diameter at its widest point, tapering to 3.5" at the masthead and heel. The pieces are already made, for the most part, and the spar team will be making final touch ups and laminating tomorrow. In the paint shop for some varnish next week and hopefully we will have the finished reproduction mast ready to go.

Also this weekend we have the naval carriage for the 3-pdr being fleshed out a bit more. Depending on shipping and logistics, we may have the gun itself in time for GCH. Sorry, guys, she's not going even if we have her - doesn't fit in with the program.

The foot and leach of the sail are now complete, sans roping and grommets. Corner patches are installed at the tack and clew. Tonight I plan to cut the tabling for the tack and head, and get them started as well. The Manila line that was on the stretch in the rigging cage came out yesterday, and will serve quite nicely to rope the sail's edges. All in all I think a mid-march finish date is more than practicable.

So, in closing, I intend to start a tradition here on the NHS Dockyard Blog - in tribute to one of my favorite Navy bloggers, I'm going to call it FULLBORE FRIDAY - something like Jon Stewart's 'Moment of Zen' but a little faster paced. This week's subject is brought to you by those crazy Aussies at Ocean Thunder pro surf boat racing. Because nothing says cool like rowing through pounding surf and having your boat flipped and oars broken - while wearing speedoes. Rock on, Australia.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Unmanned by my craft...

When I finished up last night, I was pretty excited about my progress. The tabling for the foot of the sail is in place, and the clew and tack patches are sewn down. I can almost see the entire foot of the sail nearing some state of completion. And then in my excitement, I forgot the first rule of sailmaking - you do not talk about sailmaking.

The girlfriend came home from working late, with a gorgeous black and white photograph of traditional gaff-rigged yachts racing, acres of canvas soaring in sweeping, beautiful curves. It was one of those that appear most frequently in dreams. I spouted off about how gorgeous the sails were - I mean look at how well executed they are. These were some of the best sails in the world in an age when traditional materials were still used. It was positively inspiring until...

"I want to hang it up so I can think about what YOUR sail will look like."

"Ummm... well, my sail is a bit different. It's a working sail, so its not as pretty and gracefull and not nearly as huge."

Smiling, she said "that's okay, honey, its not the size that counts, and I'm sure yours will be beautiful, and perfect." and then walked away to hang up the picture. I wrote it off as ignorance for about ten seconds until the words sank in.

Boats, ocean, size. I had just been placated like a child, and suddenly unmanned at the same time!

So that's it. I discuss sailmaking no more. It's a giant mound of canvas with funny lines of stitching running all over it. It's a tent for all you might know. And that picture will hang there, taunting me. And to think I used to really enjoy photos like that.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

By our powers combined...

If you know what that was from, you're probbably in your late 20s suddenly feeling kind of old. At any rate, I'm calling in the big guns on several projects that are clogging up my lofting bay. This Saturday and Sunday we'll have

1. the Mast & Spar Team setting up the lamination for the replacement Monomoy mast. I'm sick of kicking around your toothpicks, go make something large and impossibly lightweight out of them.

2. the Gunner's Mate and his crew finishing the axles for the 3 pdr carriage. Those chunks of oak are about to become keel blocks or heating elements for boat soup. Chop chop, fellas.

3. both teams are to supply at least two bodies each to grunt labor in the Monomoy prepping for new paint.

Lots of work to do before our April 2nd launch date. So come on out this weekend, and let's get 'er done!


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Them aren't OARS they're me wife and me daughters!

In preparation for the coming season, the Monomoy's oars, 10 in all, are neatly laid out in the framing bay beside the 24-foot Launch. Yesterday, I stripped their leathers and gave each a cursory sanding. A few have a rather interesting problem, easily solved.

The ash oars each weigh between 14 and 17 pounds, and are 12-feet long. The looms, where they pass through the oarlocks, are all different sizes. A few of them don't fit too well through the jaws of the oarlock. This is a job for - da, dada DA - trusty block plane. I plan on shaving the big ones down a bit tonight before I start prepping them for paint. The thing I find interesting about all this is the variation from piece to piece. It's a direct result of being hand made AND mass-produced. And while it may be impossible to determine who made them and when (they could be as old as the boat, dating to 1951) it is interesting to think of a time when these were in such demand that they were churned out. It wasn't that long ago.

So a shave for some of them, then some primer, and we get to start the paint relay. Thin coats for durability, many many times over for a thick barrier to protect the aging ash from the effects of sea and weather. Then re-leathering - an interesting process. Those who have crewed the Monomoy will remember the subtle tendency of the old leathers to creep milimeter by millimeter up the loom. We'll fix that. And with the shave some will get, I expect no more cursing after "TOSS!"


On a final note this morning, word is passing down that we can expect an updated schedule soon - including weekly training sessions and new events in April. I'll post more about that as soon as it's official.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Many things in sailmaking should not be discussed in front of children

So the day before yesterday I stopped in to see another local sailmaker. I wanted to inquire about borrowing a few things, and in exchange I brought a bucket of pine tar. TANGENT - I've decided to make pine tar car air fresheners in the form of a mini-monkey's fist. The bucket made my car smell that terriffic! But I digest...

The conversation with the local sailmaker started out inocent enough - "can I borrow a rubber?" He thought nothing of it, I thought nothing of it. The parents of the children running around stood agape just out of my view. "I'm done seaming her up and I need to give her a real good going over."

"Sure, Will. I have several that I've used before" he said "they're better fitted to my hand but once you start the back and forth you'll be fine with it." There was a slight wretch from the parents as he dug through a dirty cabinet looking for it.

Well, I walked out with the rubber I needed, which is a hardwood block ergonomically shaped and smoothed for rubbing down seams and folds in canvas - I've been using a large polished rock with limited success. And it only cost me about a pint of pine tar... and part of my good name. Because what I didn't see was the parents angrily leading their children out of the shop (what were they doing there anyway?) before they could find out what we were talking about.

The joys of finishing the seaming - about half the work in making - the Monomoy's dipping lug sail, were completely overshadowed by the 'oh s*&t' factor. I'm a bad person, what can I say?


Friday, February 12, 2010

There's nothing like boat soup to start your Friday off right

Even as the Monomoy sits freezing and thawing on her trailer out in the weather, she speaks. Out on the water, you can tell the boat always wants to go fast, turns quicker if you ask her nicely and is one tough chick when it comes to those high breaking swells. But even sitting still on her trailer in Norfolk, her personality still shines through.

Now it might be an odd notion for a landsman to consider a boat as a living thing, but regardless of the method by which it is constructed, it is. The various little nuances in performance, durability and longevity that differ in boats of the same class are great reminders of this. She seems to respond to you, ever so subtly, and remind you that any seagoing venture is a partnership between sailors and their boat. Take care of her, and she'll take care of you. One hand for the ship and one for yourself. And so on and so forth. This is a recognized phenomenon among mariners, often discounted by the land-locked.

The Monomoy likes to remind me that she wants to go fast. The water dripping off her cover landed squarely on her trailer chocks, causing them to rot and crack when the water in them froze. This might seem ordinary for a winter of freezes and thaws, but there was no rhyme or reason to the flow of water to the chocks - on both sides; they arent under the lowest part of the sheer. The boat wants the chocks off.

This morning I treated her to a fresh bucket of boat soup - that odorous concoction of pine tar, linseed oil, turpentine, beeswax, japan dryer and tung oil. It's an age old mixture for which there are literally hundreds of recipies (all using more or less the same ingredients) that is proven to prevent rot, mildew, mold and keep water out of just about any solid substance. We apply it regularly to the Monomoy's teak gunwales, which are more than 60 years old. The soup soaks in and darkens the wood, leaving it smelling perfectly 'salty'. Less than 10 minutes after the first coat, which is applied with a rag or a sponge, water beads are seen forming on what was (seemingly) perfectly dry wood - all of it moisture that had worked its way inside. When wiped down after three or four coats have exhausted the pot, the gunwales have a distincitve sheen unmatched by any modern finish. Repeat at regular intervals, and the Monomoy is one happy boat, and pretty too.

When the weather warms sufficiently we have new paint for her interior ready and waiting in stores. The coat of 'spar' we applied last November will be overpainted with at least two more, and the tank tops will be pressure washed and painted 'blue-gray'. All in all she'll look much better than her last dressing in International Orange. Her new mast - being manufactured in the bird's mouth technique - is waiting to be assembled, and her rigging is on the stretch in the rigging cage. All we need is warm weather.

So for now I'll keep lathering her up with boat soup every other week, airing her out on dry days and knocking the icicles off when it turns wet and cold. And of course, I still have four to six weeks of finger fight club left tabling and roping the sail.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

A few things that aren't as easy as they seem - no pun intended

Some time ago it was decided that sewing the single dipping lug sail for the Monomoy did not justify the expense of a canvas sewing machine. So for the last two weeks or so, I've been cutting out and seaming the panels by hand. I don't want to go into a whole dissertation about sailmaking, but I should mention a few good resources. Emiliano Marino's The Sailmaker's Apprentice has been very helpful in designing the sail and providing basic information about seaming and construction. Next your local sailmaker - in my case crazy Irishman Jerry Mullins. I invariably find nothing so useful as consulting a professional, for two important reasons 1) they provide a lot of common sense guidance on your specific project, and 2) there is now someone to laugh at you if you give up. Both are important when setting out to sew your first sail, and Jerry is an exceedingly splendid source of both requirements.

I did have a slight leg up in starting my first sail. Marino urges first time canvas workers to make a ditty bag by hand. Cool! Been there, done that! Back in school I made three or four, each of which served various uses from collapsible bucket that can be hidden under a coat (for use in pranks) to a stirrup (don't ask) to one that caught a friend's sea sickness in the South Atlantic. That bag I gave away as a gift soon after. But I do have some canvas working experience. And raiding my stores, sure enough, there were about half a dozen needles, my old roping palm and an ungodly huge ball of beeswax (where the hell was that when I was making boat soup last time?!). Work started in my living room in earnest, partially because the lofting bay is taken up by the molds of the 24-foot Launch and partly because this is my 'I'm feeling lazy' project. After all, most of my time doing it is spent sitting on my ass, listening to Mahler. It should be remarked, by the way, that Mahler or Brahms both provide great seaming music. Sibelius should not be attempted - you might find yourself skewering your hand on the needle intentionally if it's allowed to go on for too long. Just sayin'.

So now, after two weeks of stretching folded strips of canvas across my living room floor and sewing until my hands look like they belong on Ed Norton in Fight Club, the sail's panels are all one solid mass of folded canvas. In the next week I'm going to hijack a gymnasium somewhere so I can lay it all out and mark the perimeter, then start in on tabling and patching. All in all it will be some time before I attempt to show this work to anybody, lest they should figure out that I'm not having fights I can't talk about in my basement after midnight.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The waves crashing over the hood, we press'd on through the gale. In my imagination, anyway

Still preparing for the crossing of the Chesapeake...

So the road trip to Kiptopeke went very well. There was a very fresh gale blowing on the bay that really whipped up a good chop. It is quite amazing how visible the shoals are in weather like that - because of the shallow depth the chop picks up into a regular broil over them. We observed 6 to 10 foot seas much of the way, and to some degree wished we were out there. And then we got out of the car at an overlook. The temperature in the 30s, the winds were positively stinging. Brought back some memories of being off Norway.

We arrived in Kiptopeke without much trouble, and found a gorgeous park where a great deal is going on. There's construction going on throughout, and many of the buildings look like they received a face lift recently. Getting down to the water, we found the facilities much better than we expected. The boat ramps are gorgeous and the beaches North and South of them arc in gorgeous curves of broad sandy grades, perfect for landing. Stands of pines just beyond the beach could provide adequate shelter for our tents if the weather picks up. And - as the crew will no doubt appreciate - there are heads, showers and a snack stand near our landing. The concrete ships are much closer to the shore than they seem in the pictures, and are much more interesting. But then again that might have been the huge waves breaking over and between them too. They do their job well - making quite a lee.

The two rangers we met with, the park manager and assistant manager, were very friendly and excited about the venture. We'll be working closely as things progress, and I'm sure I'll be writing more about them soon.

After our meeting we returned to the south side and scoped out our departure site at Lynnhaven Inlet, and there we may have some changes. There isn't enough parking and the weekend of our transit there is a major fishing tournament that will undoubtedly make the launch area congested. So standby for word on that. Right now we're considering First Landing State Park as a suitable alternative.

In other news, we received some feedback from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. We'll be meeting soon to discuss our partnership for the event, but they are very excited. Their annual "Clean the Bay Day" has been a great event for Navy personnel and Ches Bay area residents for years - I've been going for the last three. And the opportunity to help them out with our programming is a great prospect. Again, more on that as things develop.

So, a very good day - some great planning and lots of new connections. And now that my report is done, I've got to get back to seaming the Monomoy's sail - working on the last full panel seam now.


Conquer the Chesapeake - on the Bridge Tunnel first...

The snow is blowing hard outside, though with any luck it won't stick. Hopefully it won't impede our efforts today, yet another where we're preparing for our event Conquer the Chesapeake.

The plan, as it stands currently, is to row/sail the Monomoy from Lynnhaven Bay to Cape Charles and onward to land at Kiptopeke State Park, on the bay side of the Eastern Shore. Its our first major trip in the boat, and we're all a little anxious to see the preps progress favorably.

Today Ted Lambert and I will be setting out to the Eastern Shore to scout Kiptopeke State Park and meet with Dan Jordan, a park official. The trip across the Ches Bay Bridge Tunnel is a fun one, and pretty much parrallels our charted course across the bay. We may be huge nerds, but although we've both transited the waters innumerable times aboard ships, Ted and I will be taking charts along and making observations as we cross the bridge. That is, if visibility permits. Doesnt look pretty outside right now.

Later this week I have a meeting with the staff of Nauticus to lock up our relationship for summer programming. Still working on a powerpoint presentation for that. Maybe just a hand out. Go go navy administrative skills!

Hopefully tonight's update will bring some good news. More to follow.