Friday, April 30, 2010

What? Doing what I planned on? Can't be!

At long last... it's FULLBORE FRIDAY! Yes, thats right, I remembered my regularly scheduled but seldom published Friday blog entry where I highlight something awesomely nautical and motivational. This week, I'm keeping with the spirit of yesterday's entry and highlighting some of the awesomeness that is the Brig Niagara. But first, a word about a word that I intend to change the meaning -or at least use of, slightly.

When I set out to paint my living room, I decided to be slightly different and cool, so I chose a color of turquois called nautical. It was very quickly agreed by all concerned that this was a very good choice in not only color, but that the color is aptly named, most of my interests being nautical. That word came up more and more as an adjective - make that a little more nautical, more nautical here. At one point someone said it like a surfer says radical - that's nautical, dude! So yes, from this point onward, when something would be said to be awesome, cool, radical etc.... it is nautical.

Yeah, okay I know.


Without further adieu - Fullbore Friday, your Moment of Zen... can I steal more terms for this?

The Brig Niagara was discussed yesterday, and I hope at least some of you now have an itch to go up and see her. But one thing I didn't go into too much detail about is her use of her carronades. Originally the ship carried 18 or 20 32-pdr carronades (I'll wait while you decipher that). Today, she has six, but usually carries four. Those, however, she makes spendid use of. Aside from the regular "for the kids" shoots, they also fire LIVE occassionally - that is, with not only powder but with a ball as well! In fact, one of my favorite things about the homeport museum (as I stated yesterday) is that they reconstructed the side of a period ship using period tools and techniques, then took it out to a range and shot the living crap out of it with the ship's guns.
And my personal favorite was a page out of the chapter from last year's trip to Put-in-Bay, Ohio. Some of the crew found a candy shop and purchased an enormous jawbreaker - I mean that thing was massive. It also happened to fit the bore of the carronade perfectly. So one day - and I can imagine how this must have gone - there's these crewmembers in front of the captain, holding out the jawbreaker - "please?" Of course, the skipper being an awesome guy and never short on imagination or nautical know-how, agreed. And from the firery jaws of the smasher that day flew a giant ball of sugar. Just like a regular ball, it skipped at least twice, but held together.
I can only take off my hat and bow respectfully, even at the memory of those fun days.
Hoping to do that again this year,


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Brig Niagara underway!

Since my first stint on board the Brig Niaraga last fall, I've been following her with great enthusiasm. Despite the best efforts of her remarkable crew and office staff, she is little known in the navy. And little known is an understatement. The fact that Oliver Hazzard Perry's flagship at the Battle of Lake Erie is afloat and sailing today is amazing in and of itself (more on that in a minute) but the fact that nobody in the navy really knows about it or cares to do anything once they find out is even more astonishing.

For those of you who are not familiar, the original Niagara was built in 1813 at Presque Isle - today Erie, Pennsylvania. After the famous battle where Perry reported "We have met the enemy and they are ours" she was laid up and sunk (yes, sunk!) to preserve her timbers in the cold muddy waters of a place called Misery Bay in case she should be needed again. Raised in 1913 to celebrate the centennial of the War of 1812, she was kept in Erie as a display piece and poorly cared for. Several restorations ensued, but the final restoration in 1988 was the only real long-term preservation effort. There, she was completely rebuilt by a crew led by Melbourne Smith in historically correct methods. Now - on that score - the ORIGINAL ship was hauled out, dissassembled, and the ship rebuilt. To me, that means that she is the original ship, restored. Others, including the National Parks Service claim that because the only original timbers remaining after the restoration were used in non-structural areas, she is a replica. Sorry, but I have to raise the BS flag on that one. She is as much the original as is USS CONSTITUTION, the Navy's very own "grandfather's hatchet". We replaced the head three times and the handle twice but it's still grandfather's hatchet. But I digress.

Today, Niagara sails out of the port where she was built almost 200 years ago. People can pay to sail in day classes or for extended periods aboard her and get the most hands-on experience of life in the Age of Sail that exists. Learn to handle lines, climb the rig - for crying out loud you even cook on a wood-burning stove and sleep in hammocks! It is utterly and completly AWESOME and I urge every single person who has an interest or has ever had an interest in fighting sail to GET YOUR KIESTER OFF YOUR CHAIR AND DOWN TO HER BERTH, ASAP! You will not regret a journey of any length nor anything you have to put off to see her - guaranteed.

Even the museum that was built around and for her in Erie is amazing. Inside, one of the best displays is a reconstructed side of the ship, which they took out to a firing range and actually shot at with the ship's guns. Battle damage and all, the recreated side is on display with a full summary and explanation of each shot hole and shattered timber - along with a video of the destruction. It is incredible, and something you won't find anywhere else. Because that's how they roll.

Today, Niagara is underway on her annual shakedown, ready for another season. To her crew: rock on, guys, I hope to return and join you soon! To NHS members and the navy at large: read, learn, support - get hot!

And in the words of Perry's Battle Flag - "DON'T GIVE UP THE SHIP!"

- Will

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Playing nice together - OR - dude I'm not going near that guy.

Aside from our scheduled trainning session this past Saturday I also volunteered to join another crew on Sunday for the 400th reenactment of settlers landing at Hampton, VA. John Collamore of the Colonial Seaport Foundation coxswained the shallop Explorer for the event.
Altogether the event was rather small - being principally made up of only a handfull of reenactors ashore. However, we in the shallop had fun. Separate from the rest of the speeches and festivities, we waited patiently with our cargo of three settlers waiting to land. We got underway from the marina at Fort Monroe and stood out the short distance to the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, where we anchored on the North side for about an hour. Then we picked up and shifted to the other side of the bridge and anchored again. All the while, we had a relaxing afternoon in the shallop, talking and joking around. Conversation ranged from sea storiesfrom the various sea service vets present to a discussion of vampire hunters in 17th century Europe. Being around these folks - mostly from Blackbeard's Crew and the Crew of the Archangel - is always interesting and highly enjoyable.
So finally our moment in the sun came. Dutch (the afore mentioned John Collamore) got a cell phone call coordinating our landing, and in we went. We landed on the beach at Strawberry Banks without a problem, and just as everyone looked up to see the crowd, we realized that the biggest Indian (can I say that? or is it Native American. No offense intended) anyone had ever seen is standing on the beach with a spiked club. Of course he was there to 'greet' us as part of the scripted friendly landing but whoa geez was that guy huge. And I'm 6'5"! There was a collective moment where everyone kind of looked at everyone else and said, "you go first". I mean seriously, talk about one of those "flash" moments - imagine what that would have been like to land at for real. We knew he wasn't going to use the club, but crap - I mean this is the kind of person that can only be characterized as a serial crusher, a huge frickin guy [hear Boondock Saints]. The worst part is that I'm sure he's completely awesome - for those of us in the boat crew, we may never know.
We got underway as soon as we'd dropped off our three "settlers" and stood off shore about a hundred yards - aiming to run West the quarter mile to the Hampton River and the marina that would haul us out. Afterward, we all dropped by Marker 20 in downtown Hampton for a few drinks and an early dinner.
All in all, I spent a highly enjoyable afternoon with some great people.
Lessons learned:
1. Don't let the huge guy with the spiked club smell your fear.
2. Going to a random event once in a while can be a lot of fun - even if it's not your group you go with!
Thanks again, guys - it was fun. Big guy - if you read this, get in touch! And not with the club please - send an email!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Training day yeilds best sail yet!

We're currently wrapping up the day here in Norfolk, having the Monomoy Pulling Boat out again, this time for our first training session to cross Chesapeake Bay in May for our event "Conquer the Chesapeake".

We put in just after 0900 at Naval Station Norfolk, and had our crew on hand and mustered by 0945 for the safety brief. Overcast skies and a little light rain accompanied the breif, and we started donning rain gear. Luckily, as we started boarding the boat, the rain stopped and we didn't see any again the rest of the time we were out. At 1005 we got underway under oars and stood out of the marina basin and out into Willoughby Bay. There we stepped the mast and hoisted our sail, and making use of our new leeboard, crossed the two miles to Fort Monroe in about a half hour. We landed on the beach there, and hauled the boat about half way onto the sand to demonstrate proper beaching techniques. We then got back underway, rowing out to the Thimble Shoals Channel 22 Buoy to anchor and have lunch. We weighed anchor and proceeded back to Willoughby Bay, where we wrapped up our training tacking and wearing, practicing passing a tow line to the chase boat and being towed, and then rowed back into the basin at Naval Station Norfolk.

It was without a doubt our best sail yet. Everything ran smoothly - almost. It was a great time, nobody got hurt and there was no appreciable damage - but we were not without our additions to the blooper reel.

As we approached the beach at Fort Monroe, I ordered the bow hook, Ted, to let go the anchor, but I underestimated the distance to the beach and the cable ran clear out of the boat about 20 feet before we touched beach. Oh well. Luckily I had bent on the stern mooring line (which floats) and we had the chase boat to go over and recover it. Later, after we got underway again, we dropped anchor again near the 22 Buoy, but thanks to a strong tidal current and opposite winds - and our fantastic choice of a synthetic rode which is slippery to grip and doesn't float - we were pushed right off of our cable again. This time, however, the manilla stern line was not attached, and the cable went straight to the bottom with the anchor. Oops. Gonna need to requisition a new one of those. Our leeboard worked very well, but its rigging was also made with synthetic line which proved difficult to handle.

So not everything works perfectly. But what is working perfectly is our people. Everyone seems to be finding their niche and working very very well together. Rowing is getting better, and we're seeing better speeds with less fatigue. And they are just fun to be around. Its not only about having a great boat and being great sailors - its about the trip, and enjoying the ride.

Thanks, guys. One more training session next week, then a two week break, then the big one.

More soon. And remember, final crew list will be published May 2.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What the $^&#@ is a leeboard?

There's no simple answer to that question. A frustration saving device, an oops we forgot something measure, a whoa it works widget. Get ready for your weekly dose of salt.

During the gruelling test sail, which proved to not be so gruelling, we found that it was difficult to sail closer than six or seven points off the wind without crabbing (sliding sideways). This effect, known as making leeway, can prevent us sailing upwind with any efficiency. The solution? Check the instruction manual. In our case, the US Navy published a guidebook called the "Deck and Boat Book." While many references are given to sailing boats without centerboards, there weren't many solutions except "pull the weather oars" (those closest to the wind). We did that during the test sail, and it worked, except there must be some way to do this without rowing.

As it turns out, there was.

The standard acquisition Monomoy Pulling Boats built between 1871 and 1904 were built without centerboards. This was specifically written into the contract because "through-hull openings [such as those for centerboards] have proven sources of structural failure, particularly on those boats which are frequently landed upon shore." The Norfolk Naval Shipyard Boat Shop records have frequent entries of centerboard boats being repaired having "ctrbd trunk sprung" - at least four such entries annotated as "failed hoisting loaded". Hmmm. That seems to make sense. The keel would be slotted for the centerboard - as illustrated in the extant drawings of centerboard versions. That means it would have been something of a weak spot, and even properly reinforced, the longitudinal flexing of the boat when hoisted could have caused the centerboard trunk planking to spring or seams to open. Very interesting.

So we know why the navy chose to opt out of centerboards. I'm still on topic, bear with me.

As we have seen, boats without centerboards are crap tacking into the wind. Any sailor can tell you more or less the same thing. So what did the navy do about it? Compensate.

The original 1871 contract specified no centerboards, but the 1873 revision added the following:

"Boat equipment... to include ten oars, one steering oar, one leeboard [emphasis added], sailing rig complete with spars, cordage, sails and associated appliances."

There it is! Leeway - centerboard. No centerboard - leeboard. After two years churning out boats, they figured out that something was needed to prevent excessive leeway. Leeboards hang off the lee gunwale and acts as a fin, retarding the crabbing motion of the boat when tacking. No through-hull openings, no structural alterations. Sailors probably figured out that improvised leeboards worked well, and officers passed the feedback to the shipyards. Granted, there is no evidence of that, but knowing how the navy worked and how close the ship to shipyard relationship was at that time, one can interpolate. After all, in those days captains spoke directly to the shipyard leaders, rather than to middle men as they do today.

So folks coming out this weekend to train for Conquer the Chesapeake 2010 have something new to play with. The Dockyard crew has been building a leeboard for our Monomoy based on drawings from the Norfolk Naval Shipyard Archives. Look for it in photos, or see it yourself on the waterfront at Naval Station Norfolk this Saturday.
That's all for now, back to the grind and time crunch.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Chicks dig guys with skills...

... you know - nunchuck skills, bowhunting skills, computer hacking skills. Chicks dig dudes with skills.
So let's get some shall we? There are a multitude of skills to learn, so we shall focus on what I think are the raw basics.

First, rowing.

* Don't use a locking death grip on the oar handle. Curl your fingers around your oar gently, and use the pads of your hands to pull an easy, even stroke.

* The blade of the oar should be the only part of the oar immersed. If your loom (straight, round part) is in the water, you're "burying your blade" and getting more resistance than you should. Your goal is to 'paddle' a little bit of water, not move the ocean with your stroke.

* During your stroke, lean back and put pressure on your feet. I equate this to a sort of "half-stand" without moving your butt from the thwart.

Second, line handling.

* Learn two knots: the rolling hitch and the sheet bend. The former is used to make the halyard fast to the yard (the wooden pole at the head of the sail) and the latter is used to make the sheet fast to the clew of the sail.

* Lines are almost always coiled on deck (not in your hand, like a cowboy) and go CLOCKWISE.

* "Ease" a line means to pay it out slowly. "Heave better" means take up a little more.

If you can master these basic skills, you'll be much more efficient. Remember, contrary to the skills of soldiers, the sailor is expected to be a skilled, thinking being - most of what you have to do, you do on your own initiative. The do not have such structured commands where we can specify "right hand grasp the small of the stock" etc.

I know it can seem overwhelming at first, but after a few times in the boat, it will become second nature, and we can move on to more complicated evolutions.

More on that when we're ready.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

NEWS FLASH - gruelling test sail not so gruelling

Okay, okay I know. I haven't been writing much. In fact, since the Gruelling Test Sail ended I've not had more than a few minutes together to get a post done. My appologies to those still working at the dockyard - and whose efforts will go largely unpublicized over the next several weeks due to my busy schedule.


Now what you've been waiting for - about the Gruelling Test Sail. Well, it wasn't so gruelling after all - winds out of the SW at 5-10 kts were just enough to get us moving without really straining anything. Everything functioned exactly as planned, and the crew learned to use the new gear very quickly.

We launched in the Lafayette River near Granby Street at 0955 and made fast to the dock to collect our crew. We got underway at 1020 and stood out into the river under oars. Once into open water, we hoisted sail and chased the wind for a while. At one point we made about 10 knots, though that's a guess as we hadn't retrieved the GPS from the chase boat yet. Later, we observed 7 knots - as measured by our GPS - but we all agreed that in the earlier breeze we definately made a much faster run.

Around 1200 we were through chasing wind and decided to stand out of the Lafayette River and into the Elizabeth - then head up stream for downtown Norfolk. About two hours later, we landed at Waterside and headed for the only natrual choice for a sailors' lunch - Hooters. Now that I look back on it stuffing myself with appetizer, burger and fries was probably not the best idea - when the wind dies, breaking it in the boat is pretty brutal despite being outside. The jury's still out on potential solutions. Beano - maybe. But I digest.

About an hour and a half after landing, we embarked the boat and headed out to Norfolk harbor under oars, then got back under sail. We made the mouth of the Lafayette River at a breakneck two knots, and as the wind died completely we were towed back to the launch site. We recovered the boat at 1750 and everyone headed for home well tired, sunburned and thoroughly excited about the prospect of going out again another day. All in all our three hour outing had stretched to almost eight hours - all because every time we asked if we should keep to the plan and go back, everyone wanted to stay out. Great time.


We sail quite fast but we still have a bit of a leeway problem when close hauled. Nothing too serious but enough to warrant consideration. That being the case I'll be sketching a little in the margins of my paperwork and knocking something up before our April 24 training session to cross Chesapeake Bay. There are a few other notes, but most are cosmetic consderations and stowage concerns. All will be addressed in due time - again, not a good week.


The next outing for the boat is Saturday April 24 at Naval Station Norfolk. We'll launch at 1000 and conduct our first training session in preparation for crossing Chesapeake Bay this May. Make sure you let us know you're coming so we reserve you a place in the boat - we can only take 11 at a time.


Dockyard hours are restricted to Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays for the next two weeks. Sorry, busy (see aforementioned) and have lack of qualified supervision.



Wednesday, April 7, 2010

So how do we pay for all this?

Working late yesterday someone asked me "how much does all this gear cost? It looks expensive." Yes, it is. Safety gear is one of those things that you learn not to skimp on. And as we break everything out for inspection and overhaul, more than a few people are wishing they were wielding power tools instead. But the point of fact is that you don't plan for the trip, you plan for the mishap. That is what we call in the Navy 'Operational Risk Management' - by careful evaluation of the risks and the probablility they will ocurr, we can make appropriate preparations to mitigate them. So for those who balk at the endless stream of lanyards to be replaced, just remember - someday you may find youself in the middle of a great body of water all by yourself, floating there with the aid of your trusty PFD. Do you think you'd care about whether your lanyard is still attached then? Exactly.

The base point of the question, our funding, can be answered fairly easily. The Monomoy Pulling Boat is owned by the Military Sealift Command, and as such, there is an expectation that they will ensure she has all the required safety gear. They've come through in fine form - providing all the gear in those huge OD green bags. From anchors and rodes to PFDs, flares and emergency radios, we've got it all thanks to our friends, the professionals at MSC. Funding for upkeep of our other gear and for produciton of replacements where required is being drawn from a fund established by the NHS Board of Directors, which is allocated from the Annual Operating Budget. In case you are wondering, it's tiny compared to what we turn out - if my memory serves, this year it was under $1,000.


Tonight we have the scheduled SART test (Search and Rescue Transponder) which should be fun. Disregard USCG helos hovering over the Dockyard...


Four more days until the first launching of the season...


Monday, April 5, 2010

A busy week has begun

My plans for a series on Great Lakes naval actions in the War of 1812 will have to wait - this week is turning into one of the busiest we've had at the Dockyard. But I will revisit the subject when time allows. Regular readers (assuming there are any) should expect spotty coverage this week - I'll have more time after sea trials this weekend.

This past weekend we had a great deal of activity despite the holiday. The boat gear was broken out and aired in preparation for the Monomoy Pulling Boat's first launch of the season - coming up next Sunday, and all of the safety gear is being overhauled. Every life jacket (PFD) was washed, aired, chemlight changed and connected to the vest via lanyard with a whistle - the old chemlights having expired in February. Good thing the new ones made it in and were put in the right place!

The signal kit is being overhauled, with a scheduled search and rescue transponder (SART) test this Wednesday, after we replace the battery (no easy thing). The flares are likewise all being changed out, and the lights are all being tested. New emergency ration packs are being made up of new material, including new water packets. Note to volunteers: emergency rations are not for general consumption - they are not snack food. I stopped counting the number of pilfered packs at 40. From now on, it's serious.

The leach of the sail is being re-roped after a few last minute alterations to the sail were made - that should be done by Thursday. Reef nettles were added this weekend and a few badly made cringles replaced.

And of course, last but not least, we'll be painting the legendary racing stripe this Saturday.

So, time being short, come on down and help with the last minute preparations as we ready for our first launching of the season. See you in the Dockyard!


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Progress Report, aka I'm just not funny on April Fools Day

Since my historical rantings aren't slated to start until Monday, I should take a few minutes and outline the progress made so far, where we stand, and what is to come.

But first, a word to our volunteers: keep calm and carry on. Many are starting to get excited, anxious and moving too quickly. This goes especially for the folks working on rigging yesterday - I know its exciting but you need to calm down. I've never seen anyone go ass over teakettle out of the boat head first, before yesterday. We are on schedule, we are under budget (barely) and the point is don't get excited and screw up at the last minute. Enough said.


The Monomoy Pulling Boat is in the final stages of overhaul. Structural repairs patching hull gouges, mounting new lifting rings, chain plates and irons, reinforcement of the keel cross sections amidships and neutralizing the gunwale rot that had started. The inside of the hull recieved a chemical strip and power washing, and now boasts a new coat of epoxy-based paint. Each thwart, riser, bilge board and the bow and stern platforms were stripped and polyurethaned. The mast step and partners were made up based on the pieces of the original, measurement of fasteners and consultation of the original drawings. Based on original spars, a new set was made and tested, the single dipping lug sail was reproduced entirely by hand, and new rigging is going on now. The oars are in the final stages of finishing, being entirely stripped, then coated with epoxy and then polyuerthane.

So in my spare time this weekend, I intend to work toward completing the preservation of the oars and proceed to start leathering, and polyurethane the mast and yard.


First launch of the season and "gruelling test sail" sea trials are coming up April 11. The select crew for that has been notified, but all interested should feel free to stop by the Greenway Park Boat Ramps in Norfolk around 10 am and see the relaunching. Best views to watch the test sail can probably be had from the Lafayette River vistas off Hampton Blvd.


In case I don't get around to writing tomorrow, I'd like to wish everyone a Happy Easter, or at least a good weekend!