Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Last night I had an interesting series of phone conversations. My alma mater, the State University of New York Maritime College at Fort Schuyler (aka 'Schuyler', 'the Dome', 'Maritime') is donating two wooden 26-foot Monomoy Pulling Boats to NHS. This is huge news, not only because it represents our first significant boat donation, but our first opportunity to go beyond single-boat operations.

Over the next two weeks, both boats will be transported from the college's waterfront campus in New York City to our Dockyard in Norfolk, where they will be restored to standard Navy configurations and repainted. It is not clear if they will require any structural repairs, but the boats look great in pictures - certainly much better off than our current Monomoy was before we undertook her restoration.

No information is currently available on the history of these boats or their service, but it is clear that they are Navy type Monomoys.

If these boats prove sucessful, it presents new logistical challenges and operational opportunities. For instance, we would be fully capable of staging our own races and sailing/rowing in boat squadron formations.

More to follow as things progress.


Monday, September 27, 2010

A harrowing tale

Friday night was an interesting experience on the water, that bears re-telling.

I decided to de-stress and take the dinghy out for a leisurely sail. Winds predicted 5-10 kts SSW and seas 1-2 feet. The tide was flooding, going into slack when I set sail out of the MWR Marina at Naval Station Norfolk, and there were four other dinghies in my immediate vicinity, as well as a chase boat providing instruction for some beginners on one of the other boats. It was 5:40 when I got underway, so I still had a few hours of daylight left before I'd have to get back in.

Trying to meet a friend who did not have DoD Decals, I set off across Willoughby Bay to Rebel Marine where I planned to pick them up and return. Racing across the bay, I planed out quickly on a broad reach, wind quartering, with the boat so light. Opening my auto-bailers, the 'sucking sound of success' started immediately and drained the small puddle in the cockpit so fast that I had to look twice. I was really hauling, and it was fun. Helicopters from squadrons based on the nearby waterfront swirled around me, creating small wind eddies that I could almost dance with. When I arrived at Rebel Marine, I was so exhilarated that I'd just crossed Willoughby Bay - a distance of about 3 miles - in just under 12 minutes that I failed to immediately realize that it meant averaging about 15 knots. Ummmmm.

With the wind quartering it can be difficult to really appreciate its velocity, especially when you're concerned with getting somewhere by the quickest possible means. When running with the wind, your apparent wind speed is reduced and things can seem much more calm than they really are. It goes without saying then that on bearing up on my approach to the docks at Rebel that I was somewhat caught aback - literally.

Sailboats don't stop quickly, and sometimes the best way to do this is come up on the wind and luff, letting the wind push you backwards. With a SSW wind, this was the best way to approach a dock from the South, such as I had to do at Rebel.

I sailed with astounding speed past the breakwaters at Rebel and was reminded of the crew's faces in the Monomoy when we had to ram the trailer to get her on there last year in the flood waters at Great Bridge. I quickly bore up and in doing so, I caught an acid blast of salt spray that blew my hat and sunglasses clean off. These were no 5-10 knot winds, but I'd known that leaving the dock. What I didn't know was that they had built to over 25 knots, and were only getting worse.

I managed to get alongside the dock and make up, then ran to tell my friend - for whom this was supposed to be their first time sailing - that we'd have to do this another day. It was just after 6 pm.

I got back to the boat and attempted to get underway to weather, and soon realized I might as well have tried to carry the boat back to Norfolk overland. Five - count 'em five - consecutive attempts to get off the dock ended as I was blown back hard against pilings and into hard rubber fenders designed for much larger boats. When I did get underway, I couldn't sail close enough to clear the breakwaters, which run out at strange angles to the shore, and were I able to point just a little higher, I might have been able to clear. But instead I had to tack back and forth, losing precious footing to weather each time. The wind had whipped the bay into a turmoil and each time I tacked 'round, I shipped 20-30 gallons of seawater into the cockpit - and with no time to bail, and no speed on to operate the auto bailers.

As one person I know would have described it, "my head exploded" all over that boat. I cursed the wind, the waves, my 30-year old worn out boat, meteorologists in Norfolk and the whole profession, people who install breakwaters, the people who put that dock to high for dinghies, the damned rocky shallows, the.... wait. Wait. Suddenly and without even noticing, I cleared the breakwaters. I gave a quick and very relieved smile up toward the heavens - and then I got knocked over.

A sudden gust of wind tore the main sheet out of my hands and sent the boat onto her beam ends. I found myself standing on the side of the centerboard trunk clamoring up onto the weather side of the boat, my mast in the water. My initial alarm was oddly broken as I looked at the exposed centerboard and thought "oh, that's not nearly as bad as I thought it was" - and promptly returned to noticing that I was drifting fast to leeward and into the concrete breakwater, mast first.

I threw one leg out and onto the centerboard, and shifted my weight onto it. The mast slowly rose from the water, then popped up as I clamored to get my windward leg back into the boat as my shorts dragged full of water. The cockpit was now like a bathtub, full to waist height, but I was still afloat. Hold on, little boat.

I skated of to the East, just missing the breakwaters and several boats at anchor, trying to bail all the way. As I approached the Willoughby Bay Bridge I had emptied enough water to tack and start the trip back West, then South. I made the turn, and took a great boom shot to the temple. I was getting tired - that's a rookie mistake.

Running West I soon realized that my jam cleats weren't holding, and I had to hand both the jib and the main sheets, trying to keep a good balance to the helm. By about 7 pm I made enough Westing to turn and run SxE into the NOB Marina inlet. I was almost to the degaussing range, just South of the HRBT South Tunnel Island. Almost home, I started to cheer up. But in the turn I noticed a hollow "BOOSH" sound forward, and suddenly my jib was luffing. What the hell is up with this wind? I mean for crying out loud my main is drawing just fine and this.... whoa. Leaning forward to survey my jib, I saw only flapping tatters. It had shredded in the luff while tacking.

I think by this time I was whimpering like a little girl in frustration.

Now thoroughly pissed off, I knew I'd never get upwind with my main only - I'd have to trim and shorten sail if I expected to make it back the 4 miles to weather. And to make matters worse, the ebb tide had started. Needless to say I had problems.

First, I needed to prevent anything in the way of leeward movement while I cleaned up my rigging. Last week I broke my spinnaker pole, but I've been too lazy to take the two halves out of the boat. I removed the flotation foam (forgive me CBF!) and lashed them into an X with the spinnaker sheet. Then, I paid out the line, allowing the tubes to fill with water and drift slowly to the bottom, about 20 feet below me. Then, bending another length of spinnaker sheet onto the first, I paid out enough to slowly fetch up on the mud bottom. I had an anchor, at least for a little while.

Next, I had to get my jib down. In this boat the jib's luff wire is also the forestay, so the rig had to come down. I lowered the 24-foot mast, and started to cut away the scraps of the jib from the luff wire. The bow bucked high into the air with the weight of the mast - and me - aft, and I could feel my jury rigged anchor starting to drag with each jerk. I re-stepped the mast and got the main in hand. I took my trusty sail needle out of my hat, that I'd stowed in the cubby forward - and with some strips of the jib as sail twine managed to take a crude reef in the main by lashing a point on the leach to the boom, forming a new clew, then wrapping the excess sail tightly, and shifting the tack upward about 4 feet in the same way as the clew. My anchor finally gave out as I finished my work, and I stood to the SE slowly.

It was 8:30 pm when I finally made it in. My dark, tattered mass glided slowly up to the dock in the sheltered marina cove. Somebody on the shore shouted that they were about to send out a search party. Very relieved, I stumbled onto the dock, and took a breath.

I had no lights on the boat and except for my cell phone, no communication. I could have ditched the boat and swam to shore were I in a real pickle, but was surrounded by land I didn't see the need. I always wear a PFD, so exposure would have been my only concern about being in the water. Still, as it was there were WAY TOO MANY RISKS HERE - my own personal ORM failed me.

In hindsight, I shouldn't have gotten underway. There were many dangers there I didnt have to take, and a lot of damage done to the boat that could have been prevented. Do I wish that I hadn't gone? No way - I'm glad for it. I had an experience and I made it back, and I learned something for next time. And even though I now have to replace at least one sail on a boat whose design class stopped being produced almost 30 years ago - its another challenge that I've never encountered and I'm sure I'll do well for the experience of tackling that too.

If anyone is out in Hampton Roads and finds a length of blue double braid made off to a broken spinnaker pole, let me know.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Internet Wastelands

If you've had a look at http://www.navalheritage.org/ lately you'll notice its been a little - um - unfinished. That in and of itself is not a bad thing, provided our web designer is actually working. I had wondered about that for some time now, but after some recent conversations last weekend and elsewhere, I decided to check up on things. As it turns out, my planned sensationalized Internet war with NHS's own web designer would only end in my demise. I stopped by yesterday to see what he'd been up to and was very pleasantly surprised with just how much he's got in the works. Pity, I had been looking so forward to flinging dung across the Internet... I roast him here, he roasts me on the website. It goes back and forth - fun times.

In fact, instead of the sensationalized Internet war I'm going to start a countdown until the new and improved website goes online - its currently scheduled to be uploaded on October 11 - so, 17 days to go. I think everyone will be very impressed with the product. That said - designer: I know yesterday you told me it was a tentative deadline BUT I am throwing down the gauntlet - let's see it!


My position title has officially changed - I am now the Commissioner of Construction, Equipment and Repairs - and no longer Dockyard Superintendent. Don't whine at me while I update things around the blog and in my paperwork.

My colleague in Danville at the Marine Barracks is now known as the Commissioner of Provisions and Clothing, vice Commissioner of Supply. Take notes, I'll ask questions later.


I am taking the weekend off to do some general cleaning around the Dockyard - we certainly need it. I also plan on taking odd opportunities to get out sailing at NOB - let me know if you want to join in.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Costumes and ORM

I had a number of interesting conversations lately with historians, reenactors and like minded people (note, I use all these terms loosely to convey the basic idea) many of which have gravitated toward historical clothing, and the NHS vision of how and when to use it. A great many people in the reenacting hobby have wondered why we now abandon our costumes at more than half of our events, and others, why we specifically mandate historical anachronisms where in many cases it would be easier just to follow historical precedent. The answer is not so simple - or at least not for those folks in the hobby.

Before I continue I want to put my standard disclaimer out there - for my reenactor and living historian readers and people of that general ilk - there are many ways to interpret this hobby, and each has its merits. I am in no way insisting that ours is the best, it is just what works for us. I am glad to see such diverse interests converge on a subject that, thanks to the faults of our modern educational system, is the better for having any attention brought to it. Keep on truckin' guys.

The NHS philosophy regarding costumes is a simple matter of ORM, or Operational Risk Management.

Throughout history, the jobs that sailors and marines did was arduous, difficult and hazardous. Those jobs today are fraught with danger, even in regular operation. Something as simple as slipping and falling in a boat, or on a dock, can cause a participant to go home with broken bones or worse. Leather soled shoes slip easily in boats and on wet surfaces, bare feet pick up splinters from pressure treated wooden docks (a particularly nasty hazard, considering the wounds become inflamed and infected almost immediately), wool clothing absorbs water and can drown a participant who falls overboard. I could go on all day - I've dedicated literally DAYS to thinking about this.

That's not to say we have no controls to implement. There are two general schools of thought here - one, to slow the pace of operations, or two, to neutralize hazards.

Most missions of historical sailors and marines CAN be executed wearing period clothing, and there are many other groups out there who demonstrate that this can be done. The reenacted crew of HM Sloop Otter comes to mind - we see them at Great Bridge every year. They all have great kits, and a boat, and incorporate both. The Ship's Company is another great example - and there are many others. They all do this exceptionally well.

From observation, many of these groups implement controls on the hazards by keeping the pace slow. If - when boarding their boat for instance - they move more slowly, it gives each person more time to monitor their own safety and allows leaders to supervise more closely. There is a great deal of oversight involved, and I believe I would be safe in saying that they have few personnel casualties because of the level of caution.

On the other hand, this does restrict the operational tempo. Additionally, many hazards might be beyond the capabilities of the group to adapt and overcome, due to the natural speed and progression of events. Open water operations in small boats comes to mind - where wave, weather and currents can require a quick response and where a crew is not focused on the minute hazards, but the timely execution of an action. In such instances, certain concessions need to be made to maintain an op. tempo that permits completion of these tasks - namely giving the crew certain comforts that permit them liberty to move quickly and not worry about the small hazards, and focus on the big ones. We would not have been within acceptable risk limits crossing Chesapeake Bay in period costume, for instance.

How was this done, historically, you might ask? How did they keep a high op. tempo while using this stuff? The answer is by constant repetition and familiarization with a way of life that is - materially speaking - almost completely foreign today. We COULD solve this by immersing ourselves in the period details on a daily basis, but that obviates the function of all this as a hobby, and not a lifestyle. And since our real lives are more lucrative and fulfilling, I'm sure few of us are prepared to diverge to that route any time soon.

Shoes are a great example of this. Period shoes are not only slippery but don't fare well when immersed in water. Historical sailors and marines who knew no different learned to balance and tread carefully with great proficiency - they had to, they wore them every day. We don't have that luxury - I think few people do. That being the case, the standard for NHS sailors and marines are the standard Navy-issue steel-toed rubber-soled boots. The advent of the NWU and new standardized boots means that almost everyone has an old pair of boots kicking around that can be used and abused in the name of NHS efficiency. And despite their weight, they have proven easier to swim in than most historical footwear.
We also have a new trend emerging that also has full NHS administrative support, and that is the use of Five Finger Shoes. These shoes conform to the foot of the wearer, toes and all, to permit a greater range of motion, feel and control, and force the wearer to use muscle groups in the feet that are underutilized with the wear of conventional shoes. It is the closest and safest alternative to barefoot we permit, and makes for interesting conversation.

Now, I'm sure most people know we could argue about this for weeks and have no resolution. I do enjoy debating the subject with others, so please feel free to contact me any time - there is always room to adopt, adapt and improve. And remember, I'm not saying that anyone is wrong - we are all different, and have different priorities.
I for one find that fantastic and exciting.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Arming the Monomoy, was 'Super Secret Project'

Yesterday I wrote a bit about our 3 pdr gun and the great surprise we prepared in bringing it out to the End of Summer Bash. But the ten days leading up to the event were a flurry of activity as we worked to complete the naval carriage for the gun and the skids to mount it in the bow of the boat.

The whole business started at a weekly meeting on Wednesday September 8. Examining the incomplete parts of the 3 pdr's naval carriage, the idea came up "what if we put all efforts into getting that gun out to the lake - as a surprise." The oak we'd recieved for the project was improperly seasoned and had begun to check and crack considerably. Even two pieces that were selected for quality and had been fashioned into the cheek pieces of the carriage were severely checked. We would basically have to start from scratch, with no budget and no new materials.

Looking around the Dockyard, we tried to find something with which we could build the carriage. Much of the oak stock was earmarked for the Launch. The plans call for white oak, being better suited than red oak to moisture and conditions at sea in general. Of course, that's when the idea hit to laminate the cheek pieces. Before very long we'd located clear spruce stock, very light but with good tensile strength, and began laminating it together into horizontal lifts with Smith's All Wood Glue. If you've ever worked with that stuff, you know it's tough as nails, bonding even the hardest and oiliest woods, even when burned - the glue will actually bond the wood until it becomes ash. It was formulated by the Navy in the 1950s for use in laminating the cold molded hulls of minesweepers, and we've been using it on the oak keel of the Launch. Thankfully we had extra to spare. The sides were laminated and tested to five times the weight of the gun, using our trusty bottle jack and compression scale - thats 1,500 lbs of pressure on EACH CHEEK. Might not be period correct but dammit it works well. The cheeks were cut, planed, primed and painted a bright cherry red - so that now the laminations are completely invisible.

The axles were cut and turned from several blocks of the original carriage oak that were able to be salvaged. It was our first time turning wood in the shop, but the results were quite satisfactory. The wheels for the carriage were also turned, after being made up of 1" oak planking, laminated and planed to thickness.

The irons holding the carriage together are all stainless steel, chemically blackened and fitted through holes drilled through the laminated cheeks into the oak axles. They are driven in with mallets, then held in place with washers and nuts threaded onto the ends. The nuts are all square, per original drawings, but are also stainless steel chemically blackened.

The cap squares worked well, but need to be improved on. They are not the correct type for our carriage, but they did the job well enough and we ran out of time. Correct cap squares should - and I stress should - be completed and retrofitted within the next month or two.

The boat skids are composed of 3/4" oak planking, jointed and laminated to form L-rails on which the gun's wheels ride. A crude riser was made forward and bolts were passed between the planks of the bow platform - so no new holes were needed. They compress clamps above and below that prevent movement, and provide a good base for the skid risers. For purposes of speed, the risers were made up of short sections of 2x4 stock, needing only to resist the compressive forces presented by the weight of the gun and carriage. For time reference, you should realize that we are up to last Thursday night when these were assembled.

The gun was hoisted into the boat at the dockyard, and situated in a purpose built shipping cradle situated athwartships just aft of the 3-thwart. The carriage was designed to nestle neatly between the 2 and 3 thwarts oriented fore-and-aft. Both were disguised with canvas tarps and covered with equipment bags for further camouflage. The skids were dissassembled after weight testing and stowed under the bow platform with the implements to serve the gun. Six charges were made up from cannon grade powder, each one weighed to 1/3 lb (5.33 oz) and friction primers filled the gap where we hadn't had time to prepare quill primers nor the linstock - and our slow match is somewhere in the US mail system even now.

We wrapped up all preparations by noon on Friday, just in time to depart for the 5 hour drive to the event. The rest, I recorded yesterday.

The whole system performed flawlessly all weekend and all the hard work certainly paid off. Now, we can go back and refine a few items, particularly the skid risers and clamps, in time for operations in October. Special thanks to all involved who helped make this crazy project work, and without a single material or personnel casualty. BZ!


Tomorrow I will discuss the ongoing construction of the Launch and plans for the framing party to come in October.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Surprise ................BANG!

I've just returned to the dockyard and got the Monomoy Pulling Boat nestled back in her parking spot next to the Framing Bay. This weekend we had a great time out at Hyco Lake in North Carolina - the first waterborne event we've held in our Western theater of operations, in our marines' back yard. The intent was to use the Monomoy Pulling Boat and our friendly neighborhood chase boat, Ye Saucy Trollop, to provide seamanship training for the local Boy Scout Troop 300. Saturday morning, we embarked eight scouts onboard the Monomoy, and sent three to the Trollop. A good time was had while basic training was taking place, and all were settling into the training routine by lunchtime. At lunch, the Trollop returned to the main docks while the Monomoy was beached in a small cove near the base camp. After we finished lunch, we had a first aid lesson, then returned to the boats. And that's when we sprung the surprise.

The Monomoy crew scurried to assemble a set of skids forward in the boat, lifting the timbers from their hiding places under canvasses on deck, bolting them to the bow platform onto risers carefully hidden by coils of line. Then another flurry of canvas yielded a hidden contraption, painted bright red, which was fitted to the skids and rigged to slide back and forth. And finally a huge 300 lb piece of pig iron and steel was lifted, passed carefully forward, and mounted on top of the whole contraption. The crew made their way out of the cove to await the arrival of the Trollop, all hands giggling quietly with anticipation.

Meanwhile, the crew of the Trollop were slow in getting underway. A failed mechanical bilge pump meant that the steady accumulation of water from swimmers coming aboard required manual pumping. It took about twenty minutes to complete the operation to the satisfaction of a very hot and irritated craft master. But finally they were underway, and headed slowly into the open lake.

The Monomoy coxswain sighted the Trollop as they rounded the point into the lake. He had taken every measure to position his boat carefully, clearing his bow to port and starboard, while being sure to place himself where he would see the Trollop first. The master of the Trollop noticed nothing unusual about the Monomoy except that the crew were rowing unusually slow. He would later say that he could hear the coxswain shout something, and saw a flurry of canvas covers pulling back from behind two men on the bow, but that he thought that what it revealed was a toy. Of course it was only after what happened next that he realized that it was anything but.

With a shout "FIRE" an errution of flame, smoke and sound burst from the bow of the Monomoy. Car alarms sounded over the adjacent hill, and the park ranger and local police chief gazed smiling down from a clearing on top of it. Cheers resounded from the Monomoy's crew, and several nearby boaters joined in. The Trollop stopped dead in the water as though she were aground. And although the master of the Trollop would not admit it, I think I won my bet that he would crap himself.

The 'super secret project' we've embarked on over the last 10 days was, in fact, to complete the naval carriage for the 3-pdr gun that we have been putting off since June, and mount it sucessfully in the bow of the Monomoy Pulling Boat. The carriage, skids and rigging were so perfectly calculated that when the gun was fired, it glided slowly backward to the 'run in' position and gently stopped at the end of the recoil strap. No new fittings, fasteners or holes were needed in the boat. And the crew was able to mount, and later dismount the carriage and gun safely while underway.

We fired a total of six rounds, each one drawing dozens of specators to the shoreline as the scouts and crew/instructors cheered our success. The Trollop's master's signature "god dammit" was sufficient to indicate he was similarly impressed.

A good time was had by all, and the surprise of the gun just crowned a great day of swim calls, rowing drills, tubing and barbecue. The scouts all earned their Rowing and Power Boating Merit Badges, and one Sailor came closer to his final qualification as Coxswain of the Monomoy Pulling Boat.

More on where we go from here, tomorrow.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Save waste fats for explosives!

Okay, I'm starting to get tired. But I can't waver now, with two precious working days to go until showtime! Last night I managed to get a good start on the one thing and nail it down, and got the design for that other part locked in. I really wish I could tell you all more about it, but that'll have to wait for next week, when we'll post videos. For now, I'm storing up my bacon grease.


For those going out to Hyco this weekend, the address/information is as follows:

Person Caswell Lake Authority‎- 205 Pointer Dr, Leasburg, NC‎ - (336) 599-4343.
Contact me if you need phone contact info for NHS leaders.

Hope to see everyone out there!


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The simplistic and idiotic

We're in day 6 of the Super Secret Project push here at the Dockyard - and things are progressing nicely. Still not sure we'll make the deadline, but are pushing hard to get there. For those who know what's going on - color looks awesome. Work is progressing on the other part so we can put 'it' in the 'thing'. It's like that time, the thing with the guy in the place.

Don't know why I keep trying movie lines. Our research department statistics show that nobody gets those references.


Today we discuss the upcoming events this weekend. Due to the hectic pace of activity on the Super Secret Project and event preparations, I may not be writing between now and next week.

First, preparations. The Monomoy has been moved up to primary staging for a quick cleaning. We also have some basic maintenance and repairs to attend to:
  • #2 thwart stretcher cracked and a portion broke off, that needs to be repaired.
  • Replace the sailing bilge board with the solid rowing bilge board (we're not using the sailing rig).
  • The boat plug needs to be cleaned and lubricated.
  • Trailer axles need to be greased - again - they look dry to me.
  • Inventory the Monomoy's Boat Box, report all discrepancies.

Camping this weekend is at the preference of the participants, however we are bringing the marines' squad tent, blankets and spare sleeping bags for anyone that wants to use them. Food will be provided by Mr. Woodard in Danville so if you care for anything other than fried chicken, please let him know immediately.

Second, execution. The Monomoy will be departing Norfolk no later than 1500 on Friday afternoon, expected driving time is 4.5 hours. We will be rolling slowly (55 mph and under) and stopping regularly to monitor trailer and towing vehicle - the hills on US 58 are no joke and will give us a run for our money. I still need a volunteer to move the Super Secret Project materials. On arrival Friday evening, we will park the trailer and make camp at the site reserved for us. No boats will be in the water Friday.

Saturday morning, we will muster around 0800, inspect the boats and make ready for launching at 0900. Uniform for active duty Navy personnel is gold over blue PT gear. The Boy Scouts will assist in launching all boats. Starting immediately thereafter we will being introductory instruction in the Monomoy. Intermediate level instruction will take place starting at 1100. Around 1400, after lunch and a rest break, we will pass a tow and make for the secluded end of the lake, where the "Super Secret Project" will be unveiled. Expect to wrap up operations around 1800 with recovery of all boats. Dinner will be provided by the Boy Scouts.

Logistics concerns for Saturday are a supply of potable water for the boats, and breakfast and lunch for NHS participants, both of which are being handled by Mr. Woodard.

Sunday, the Norfolk group will start back in caravan around 0900. Again, expect slow going (under 55 mph) the whole way, with frequent stops.


Positions for this weekend - PO Bryan has Coxswain U/I under myself or Mr. Atherton (if attending). Mr. Sturiale and Mr. Filler will have charge of the marines in their appointed positions (LT/SGT). Mr. Atherton has seniority, followed by Mr. Sturiale, Mr. King, Mr. Filler and PO Bryan, in that order.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Tools are meant to be broken... again and again

Yesterday found me drilling 1/2" holes through 14 inches of oak. Of course this is definitely not your average drilling application, granted. But I've never seen such copious amounts of smoke emerge so quickly from a power tool without actual visible flames. Quite impressive, really.

First, let me say that if you're in the market to drill such holes, the first thing you need is a really loooong drill bitt. Harbor Freight has set of three of them really cheap, in 1/2", 5/8" and 3/4". Yes that's three-quarters of an inch in diameter and about 20 inches long. Yikes! And all that for about $20 bucks.

Next, DO NOT attempt to use your regular Ryobi corded hand drill. It'll bite through two or three holes, bogging down the whole way - but that third one will do you in and quite quickly too! Easy ways to tell your tools are bogging down and should be given a break, yet are frequently ignored: excessive slowing for prolonged periods of time, frequent stalls (where saw blades are in use), hacked up product lacking accuracy of any kind and excessive burn marks on your work. When the bitt comes out steaming like a done lobster, it is time to either slow down considerably or find a different tool.

So, having completely destroyed my first drill (and only corded drill in the shop, I might add) I set out to find a replacement. Harbor Freight is a fun place, as I've outlined in previous posts, and their tools are dirt cheap - and usually you get what you pay for. But I needed something considerable to knock out those holes, and besides, I decided to put their warranty to the test.

I purchased their heavy duty geared drill for less than $40 bucks, and when I got to the register, the cashier looked astounded that I accepted the "extended warranty". After making specifically sure it would apply if I broke the tool today, I left satisfied. Three more holes and that drill burned up too. I resolved to start wearing welding gloves while drilling. Back to the store I went, plopped the still smoking drill on the service counter, and went to claim another victim off the shelf. Same extended warranty applies.

Repeat that process in more or less the same way, and by the third time I went back for a replacement I was not only done - and given a new drill PLUS a $50 gift card to Harbor Freight for my trouble - but well satisfied that I had given the "extended warranty" a run for its money.

Never offer to replace anything without questions, retailers - at least not to someone like me.

Instead of the customary burned tool, broken part, builder's plate or license plate on the wall of shame, I drew three tombstones for the dead drills - so we don't lose them in our year-end damage assessment.

The Super Secret Project is coming along. Wednesday we will meet back at the wood shop to make a few last minute pieces. Thursday we will meet to assemble the whole mess, break it down and pack it for shipment. Monday you will have pictures, and some back story of the process.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Why reenactors both me so much, and 9/11 commemorators for that matter


I am William King and this is my personal expression.

I recently visited an antique militaria show in Richmond, and while I was there balking at the ludicrous prices of most items I ran into some WWII navy reenactors. They actually had a good thing going, they were a "recruiting party" and were typing up enlistment forms, taking pictures and pretending to do various admin jobs. The whole group consisted of people dressed as a CPO, a Lieutenant and there were a handful of kids in enlisted uniforms doing various "duties". It was a cool getup and many people had fun. But I couldn't escape the nausea looking at the Chief's poor insignia placement or the Lieutenant's wrinkled uniform and tan timberlands. Is this what it is like to be reenacted? I've often thought of what historical folks would think if they could see us today - would they think we're being silly? I have to think so, based on my own small experiences, such as this one. The problem, or at least the contradiction, is that I'm a reenactor myself.

The point is, that as often as we'd like to think we're honoring our historical predecessors, we aren't. We are doing historical activities to educate ourselves, each other, and the public who see us, and learn more about history by diving into the context of another time in contrast of the modern world. It is silly, but I like it, and I admit it is all about me, my friends and anyone else who'll join in. Sorry, dead historical figures. But at least those people are dead, and probably could care less about my funny clothing and strange fascinations.

I had a great day today, very productive and full of good things. That is, of course, until I started reading tonight about all the 9/11 commemorations, where everyone and their brother decided to jump up on a podium and hawk the anniversary and their own agendas with it. You bastards. My stomach turns all over again, like looking at the goofs in navy khaki all over again. Go grease your skids with someone else's grief people!

I, in the words of Xeni Jardin, am "Honoring 9/11 by refraining from... ...using the event as a mule to carry the cause/burden of my choosing".


A high-caliber Fullbore Friday

The 25-foot Launch is slowly coming into shape - though we have taken a break from construction efforts there while we build a steam box and wait for repair parts for two critical tools. So in the interim, we're working on our Super Secret Project for a while, with hopes to see it completed by the End of Summer Bash.


The subject of this week's Fullbore Friday is naval artillery - that all glorious facet of naval operations that fascinates, inspires and slaughters. Our own 3 pdr light naval gun might still be sitting in her crate, waiting for a carriage, but we're hoping that inspiration comes soon - after all, all of the timber required, irons, fittings, sheepskin for sponges and a whole myriad of other pieces and parts are laying around in the shop... but I digest.

Cannons, properly called guns in the naval service, have been a mainstay of armament for hundreds of years. From the early days of muzzleloading black powder propelled iron balls - and just about anything else you could fit down the muzzle - to the great sixteen-inch guns of the Iowa class battleships and rocket propelled, pinpoint accurate, laser guided, widow making 5-inch rounds fired by today's cruisers and destroyers, it has evolved a great deal, becoming ever more powerful, deadly and intimidating.

For our part, the artillery we utilize has to fit the context of operations and contribute to our mission - that's why we selected the light 3-pdr. The concept of the "light" gun (yeah, try lifting the little lady!) in service aboard US Navy boats can be traced back to the Revolutionary War, where Continental and State Navies often armed ships' boats with a myriad of available ordnance. Often times, small boats so armed were all that local patriots could come up with to strike out at British targets of opportunity. The British themselves responded to the threat by arming their own boats in similar manners, and there is documentary evidence to suggest that most ships armed their launches to the limits of its capacity, then sent them into littoral waters hunting for patriot targets.

This practice continued as the Navy grew and developed. The evolutionary process probably reached the climax of its development with the invention of the "boat howitzer" by naval engineer and certified genius John Dahlgren. The 12 pdr gun could be readily transported ashore, where manned by the boat's crew it could maneuver faster than other comparable artillery and deal devastatingly effective destruction with astounding rapidity (there are reports that rates of fire as high as seven rounds a minute could be sustained - yikes!).

The gun was usually situated in the bow or stern of the boat, where its field of fire was most advantageous. But just as in ships, the resulting weight so far from the longitudinal center of flotation coupled with the reduced flotation of the fore and aft extremities could cause problems in hogging the boat. General research has uncovered an alarming number of structural failures where artillery placement was the primary culprit.

With respect to the damage such guns could do to an enemy, however, I can only speculate, and imagine. There is one fantastic live-fire test worth mentioning, from our friends at the US Brig Niagara. A side of a ship was painstakingly recreated, using correct wood, construction techniques and proportions, and it was shot to hell by 32 pdr carronades, the sort used at the Battle of Lake Erie. The video is self-explanatory.


With respect to operation, we cannot stress enough the level of hazards involved with not only firing the gun, but the movement as well. As I alluded to before, there are some tricky facets in moving her from boat to shore and back. Moving it rapidly will be an exercise in careful analyzing and repeated drill and practice. ORM will keep me awake many a night, thinking of this.

But I suppose I shouldn't worry so much - its not as if we Navy personnel aren't used to risks like these.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Super Secret Project!

Last night began a construction marathon the likes of which haven't been seen since the Monomoy mast debacle earlier this year. Every time we come down to the wire, every time we seem out of money, and short on ideas, we always seem to pull one out of our backsides.

The latest project is one which I have determined shall remain secret until completion at it is unveiled at our End of Summer Bash on Hyco Lake on the 18th. That gives us just over a week to complete a project that we've procrastinated on since March. There -that's your only clue.

For now, I need minions. I'm jumping into a full court press this coming Saturday - let me know if you want to help and join in on the secret. We will most likely be working at the woodshop on Naval Station Norfolk in the late morning/early afternoon and lunch at the base Five Guys is on me.


Confusion reigns, and minions are on backorder

I've just been notified that my job title is probably changing to "Commissioner of Construction, Equipment and Repairs" - I would have liked a few shop slaves or minions, at least one of whom was an attractive woman who could cook, but I suppose I'll settle for the change in title. Crap! That means I have to go change it on all those forms. Oh well.

The Board of Directors is currently busy hacking away at a BIG revision to our organizational bylaws. But before anyone panics, I understand that they are cutting away the bulky admin we never use or have worked around, and clarifying several sticky points we've met in the last year or so. For those who haven't known much about the organization and where we came from, let me summarize:

Several months ago, back in December of 2009 actually, NHS was created from the Lobsterback Society LTD, a group that got its start in reenacting with the main banner of providing all the costumes and equipment for their participants, free of charge. Cool concept, runs much more smoothly than you'd think, but has one core problem - it gets old after a few years. And we young guns don't like being bored, we'd rather find something else to do. So the group adapted and since they were portraying British Rev War Marines anyway, boats and sailors were an obvious choice for expansion. The Monomoy Pulling Boat fell into our laps soon after, and the concept of becoming NHS soon followed.

Now, today, months later and neck deep in projects, goals and new events and activities, the old bylaws written for the Lobsterback Society, which were adapted and slightly modified to make NHS, are no longer adequate. In fact, they don't much fit us at all. The Supply Regulations alone mean I spend hours each week counting everything and forwarding up reports and inventories. Argh. I need shop slaves, or minions, or SOMEONE to do the actual labor while I fill out paperwork (I am sounding like an officer again, I know). But rather than addressing my request, they went back and addressed the problem, and lo and behold, name change and no minions.
The changes as I've seen them drafted encompass cutting out the Supply Regulations entirely, and significantly reducing the amount of regulation. Should be interesting.... more to follow.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Tools are meant to be broken

First, a word about our recent hurricane preparedness craze - our preparations served as a well needed drill and excercise, Hurricane Earl providing little more than a light drizzle and mildly elevated winds. We are back to business around the dockyard, and all conditions are normal.


Back to business, and much sawdust was made in the Framing Bay as the construction efforts on the 25-foot Launch resumed. The shaping of the keel is going very well, though I am not quite sure yet how I will go about cutting the concavity in the bow and stern sections, and the midships rabbets where the flat at baseline elevation is actually at -7 millimeters. But that is for another day. Today I killed the second power hand planer in as many months, completely frying the drive belt. Luckily that is a relatively easy repair, I just have to wait for a new belt. But I was thinking about all the tools I either break or damage on a regular basis, and what I've learned from that. And before someone jumps to give advise on proper use, I can assure you that the failure is only marginally related to user error at best. These failures have to do with prolonged periods of working hardwoods, or doing other jobs that push their capabilities harder than what most people probably do, or can.

It is basically as follows: there are three main grades of power tool quality, and each has a reasonably predictable durability and therefore service life. And each has its place.

The first grade of power tools are those that seem ridiculously expensive, built like tanks and never fail. Examples are industrial or professional grade high production volume top brand name power tools. Of these I have none. But someday when my obsession with building boats for NHS is starving my kids (which I don't have yet), I might have one or two. Given the current level of operations, I can neither afford them or justify the expense to the NHS Finance Director.
The second grade of power tools are commonly available in quantity from the local Lowes or Home Depot. They aren't always the cheapest but they get the job done, and last for a good while before crapping out. Their accuracy is good, just fine for what I'm using them for, and they make up the backbone of my tool inventory. Most are produced by companies with names you'd recognize, though many of the same companies also produce the aforementioned crazy expensive hyper desirable production machines. But the prices will tip you off which ones I'm talking about. Today's casualty was a Ryobi electric hand planer, a prime example of a common tool in the shop.

The third grade of power tools are the most fantastic and most frustrating at the same time - the cheap knock offs that are okay for occasional use. I buy mine at Harbor Freight - and they are so inconcievably cheap that sometimes its hard NOT to buy them! And sometimes you make out - I've got a circular saw from whatever that generic company name of theirs is, and it has lasted the past year, despite fairly regular use. And then there was the generic electric hand planer that lasted a whole hour before catching fire. That was classy. I have so many 'sea stories' from that project.... but I digest.

Point is, for power tools my recommendation is definately the second option. I understand and really appreciate the first category, and the third category CAN be okay, but the second, mid priced power tools are the way to go.

Funny thing, almost all of my screwdrivers, sockets and wrenches are from the third category - after all I don't break them nearly as often as I lose them, making the cheapest option the most cost effective in that regard. It's also funny that I'm writing something fairly obvious with the assumption that someone is reading this... yeah that's a laugh.

Oh well.

Back to work!