Friday, October 29, 2010

The stuff of nightmares

Today's Fullbore Friday is dedicated to Halloween, and all the little things that scare us.

Before I get to the videos, I had my own little nightmare already, just this morning. Imagine if you will another place. Norfolk, Virginia. An unsuspecting Dockyard. An unsuspecting Commissioner. Going out to start his vehicle, everything goes normally. That is, until backing out into the middle of the street. Dun dun DUUUUUN! The engine sickly conks out. In full uniform, ready for another exciting day at US Fleet Forces Command, our commissioner is suddenly filled with fear and anxiety.

After several minutes heaving and hawing to get my car out of the middle of the street, I went inside to call AAA. Then.... NOOOOOO! Even you, American Automobile Association - even you have farmed out consumer services to... PAKISTAN! Argh.

Yeah, read your mail from the manufacturer. If you had, you'd know your fuel guage had been recalled and you wouldn't be waiting all morning for a tow to a Nissan dealership for your fuel pump to be replaced.


Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, primarily because it is the only holiday that draws on all of our irrational fears and sugar-coats them in a generic 'dress up your kids and hand out candy' sort-of atmosphere. Just remember, that under that frivilous exterior, there lurks a canker-worm which is slowly but surely eating its way into your very heart.

Side note: that might be my first ever non-movie entertainment quote.

But seriously. When was the last time you sat down and pondered the things that REALLY scare you. I do, almost every day. In the Navy we call it ORM, but I call it "visualizing the worst case scenario, and my court-martial." That's because I'm continually plagued by this nagging notion of things in my professional life gone horribly wrong. Extend that to things like ghost ships - those found adrift at sea without a soul onboard - and even routine ship breakers, where ships themselves go to die. And worse yet, what happens when things at the shipbreakers go awry. Yes, I know its lame but these things scare and creep me out on a deep, internal level.

Now, my colleague on the other hand, he scares to much more conventional things. Some of my other colleagues and I have enjoyed scaring the crap out of him with early stop-motion animation. We just enjoy the crazy responses we get from him. Happy Halloween Facebook bomb, Wayne!

And then there's the category of the just plain wierd. I won't go so far as to subscribe to this, but the recently uncovered footage from the premiere of Charle Chaplin's "The Circus" in 1928 and what appears to be a woman talking on a cell phone - that's right, a cell phone in 1928! At least that's what it looks like. Of course, it was probably something perfectly mundane but this has even me puzzled. There are just some who wierd themselves out with crazy theories.

So go forth and enjoy yon scarring and frighting, and have a Happy Halloween!


This weekend we will continue the process of taking lines off Monomoys No. 2 and 3 in preparation for stem and sternpost removal and replacement. In another strange Halloween scare of sorts, we recently found out that all of them are misshapen in one way or another, and oh yeah, those curved scarphs that connect the stem and sternposts to the keel - yeah - they're curved. In the words of one trusted authority who's been helping me out "good luck with those".


Thursday, October 28, 2010

GO for restoration. I repeat, we are a GO for restoration.

Hot off the wires:

"NHS10300 has been recorded as passed on October 27, 2010.

"RESOLVED, that the Commissioner of Construction, Equipment and Repairs has requested and is granted permission to proceed with the restoration of Monomoy Pulling Boats No. 2 and 3 to a condition where they can be reliably and safely operated. Preserve as much of the present structure as practicable, and save and catalogue all significant structural or decorative parts removed. Use whatever funds the Board of Directors may put at his discretion to this end, in a manner that he may deem most efficient."

We are GO for stem and sternpost removal, as soon as the lines are taken off! More to follow on plans for the weekend when and if they develop.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Flash your neighbors!

Over the last two years, one of my 'cocktail napkin' projects has been to design a signalling system that would permit our boats to communicate with each other and to the shore. During Conquer the Chesapeake, we communicated with our chase boat (which has since been deemed a thing for sissies) via flashing light, with some success. But the project had been somewhat back-burnered, citing that we only had one operational boat. Of course, with some elbow grease this winter, that will change next spring. And so the signalling system is back on the table.

My ideas on what makes a sucessful system is as follows:

1. The system should permit signalling in visual range via means available to Sailors of various time periods, such that we can re-create historical conditions. This means abandoning use of electronic systems for routine operations.

2. It must be easy to use. We don't need an overly complicated matrix of mediums that take advanced training to understand. Stick to the Bowditch principle: even the cook should be able to use it.

3. It should mesh - at least partially - with currently practiced signalling methods and allow us to communicate with other non-NHS vessels.

That said, the system I'm working up will attempt to reach all three goals.

My first ideas revolved around the use of signal flags. But my reading on the subject yielded an interesting find - the international signal flags we use today didn't come into use until the later part of the 19th century. Until then, signal flags were in a constant state of development - with someone or other always coming up with "new and improved" signal codes and flag patterns. And although many flag patterns carried over across international lines, there were often significant differences in meaning.

There was another hurdle - logistics. The modern code of signals calls for 26 flags representing letters and 12 pennants for numbers and symbols. Yikes! That's a lot for a small boat to carry. While most ships have a flag bag stuffed full of these things, we'd probably have to make do with what we could fit in a canvas bag under a thwart. Not to mention that all those flags are bloody expensive - and the small ones for boats are too small to see at any real distance. So that just wouldn't do.

Instead, I'm playing around with about 6 flags, each of them based on a historical example - right now on Popham's 1790 code (Brit, though similar flags were used by the US) - and flown singly or in pairs hoisted in sequence one after another to denote a message. By this method, I've been able to produce about 300 different signals ranging in complexity from "turn, starboard" to "I see two sail bearing North-Northeast proceeding to the South and intend to intercept". Of course, all of this would be in-house communication between NHS boats, as they'd be the only people who recognized the flags and had the code books to decipher messages.

Now I completely realize the shortfalls of the signal flag system, and even considered replacing some of Popham's flags with modern ICS flags that are used in single-flag messages (such as Alpha - divers over the side, or Bravo - dangerous cargo). But overall, I don't think most vessels would be prepared to answer flag signals anyway - so that's probably not the best means of exterior communication and the in-house flags will probably serve their purpose just fine. We would also have to work with each boat's rig to determine best placement for flag halyards etc. I know that at least in Monomoy No. 1, the flag halyard on the yard is a pain in the a$$.

For exterior communications in the visual arena I think flashing light is probably our best bet. Not to say that I expect many mariners to be proficient in this - experience has shown that this is a dying art. But its still a requirement for Merchant Marine officers, is certainly easier to answer than flag signalling and the alternative - semaphore - well, I might as well just put the message in a bottle and lob it to them. At the very least flashing light might put a burr in someone to figure out what we're flashing to them and inspire them to try and answer back. If we try semaphore, they'll probably just wave at us. Plus, it'll give NHS members the opportnity to build a potentially useful professional skill. Equipment? Well we still have the battery-powered trigger operated lamps from Conquer the Chesapeake and they were maybe $35, tops.

Semaphore might find a place in the internal commnications section - but strictly as a novelty useful for demonstrations and whatnot. It's far too difficult to try and stand in a boat and hold your arms out for any length of time - and then you have the other crew trying to figure out if you mean 'break' or you just fell over and had to steady yourself.

All in all, I think signals will be a fun way to expand our underway programming and add a cool degree of depth to ongoing operations.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Trying to talk to the girls - or - disappointment

Throughout the process of stabilizing Monomoys No. 2 and 3, we are attempting to dredge up details about their construction and service history. There are precious few details and a lot of circumstantial evidence. The boats themselves like to tell us about their service life - where they've been damaged, repaired, painted, repainted, painted again - but they offer few substantial clues about their origin.

One of these are a series of numbers stamped onto the top of their keels, almost hidden by the keelsons, wear and age. These are as follows:

(No. 2) N36123
(No. 3) N36114

As usual, I am always very pleased when the ladies give me their numbers.

But there is a problem. Like that woman in the bar who gave me an 8-digit phone number, it turns out there are too many digits to identify the boats. Records from Norfolk Naval Shipyard show boats beginning with N- and having three or four digits. The National Archives in College Park has lists from Charlestown MA showing boats beginning with B- and also having three or four digits and from the Washington Navy Yard beginning W- and three or four digits. Noticing a trend?

It seems the Navy numbered its boats by the Navy Yard. This isn't so far fetched, as even today boats don't belong to the ships they serve - they are issued them by a shore-based authority. Hmmmm. If that were the case, then our boats belonged to the Norfolk Navy Yard. But there are no FIVE digit boats listed from 1888 to 1962, based on the records I've found - which, I'll admit may have some gaps. Besides, the boats were donated by the State University of New York Maritime College. How did they get there? The school had no information to offer on this. Also, it seems a little odd that two Navy boats would end up in the hands of a Merchant Marine training school.

Dig farther.

The boats have doubled frames, known in boatbuilding as sister frames. These are a common repair technique when frames are damaged or broken. But these boats BOTH have sister frames throughout their mid-sections, rather than sporadically as one might expect in a repair. According to several sources, boats built for arctic service were either built or altered with the midships frames all sistered. Again, no answers only more questions.

I went back to the numbers. If I remove the first digit and check the books, I come up with two 32-foot racing cutters built in 1939. Nope. If I remove the last digit however, I come upon the records of four "Monomoy Whale Boats" contracted for in 1904 with a notation "arctic svc" and "Peary Exp" penciled in the margin. NO WAY! Think about it - the last digits are 3 and 4 - could this have been simply tacked on as the boats were matched up - four to a set. Again, circumstantial, but hey - its a possibility. I immediately set about reading everything I could on Peary and Arctic adventures.

As it turns out, Robert Peary made several expeditions to the Arctic in attempts to be the first to reach the North Pole. In the process, he and his crew produced several illegitimate Inuit children and lost all but two toes. His 1909 expedition was recognized by Congress as the first to reach the pole, even though he refused to release his journals and logs - AND to do so would have required an all-too convenient departure from his previous days' distances.
The first piece of the whole mess that seemed to connect everything was that Peary's navigator - the man who he would rely on to determine their exact position at the pole - was one Ross G. Marvin - a graduate of the New York Nautical School in 1902 and the namesake of the present school's sciences building. DING! Marvin was killed by Inuits in a squabble over who got shotgun in the dogsled. Could Peary have given the boats to the school in his honor? That would explan everything!

But wait, this is all circumstantial. What I needed to find first were photographs of what could be our Monomoys onboard Peary's ship, S.S. Roosevelt. Peary's books provided everything I needed. In his books Nearest the Pole (account of the 1905-06 expedition) and The North Pole (account of the 1909 expedition that actually reached the pole) could be found numerous photos of his "whale boats". Deep breath.

No, they are not ours. Peary's boats were undoubtedly a narrower, sleeker style of whaleboat. In the 1909 expedition, he stopped at New Bedford to buy whaleboats. Those of the earlier 1905 expedition were Monomoy shaped but definitely smaller. No dice, sorry kids.

But we have the ledgers - the numbers, the notations. But they are clearly NOT Peary's boats. Could we have it all wrong? Absolutely. Right now there is nothing conclusive to tell us the boats are even that old. They were used by the school, run hard, broken, repaired - so many parts and pieces replaced. How did they survive so long?

There are so many questions to be answered.

All of this information was provided to the NHS Board of Directors, and with thorough review and discussion, it was decided to press on with the stabilization efforts. That entails getting the boats into a state where they will degrade least, thus preserving as much as possible.

Later this week, I'll be waiting on a vote to proceed with removing the existant stem post, which based on the feelings right now I am told will pass unanimously. After all, with only scanty information and conjecture, we can only do so much.

At the very least, the research was one hell of a ride!


Getting waaaay ahead of myself

There has been considerable discussion lately about sailing rigs, and though sailmaking season doesn't begin until February, we're already examining possibilities for Monomoys No 2 and 3. There were nine standard sailing rigs adapted for this type of boat by the US Navy and US Coast Guard. Of these, four are two-masted and five are one-masted. Here they are:

Single Masted Varieties

Dipping Lug Rig - the most common rig to be contracted for before 1899, when contracts oddly ceased to specify. This is the most powerful and weatherly sail arrangement and the most capable in foul weather, as we experienced during Conquer the Chesapeake in Monomoy No. 1. That boat's poor windward performance can be attributed to the mediocre product of my first sailmaking experience.
Sliding Gunter - described by Knight as "not as powerful or weatherly as the dipping lug" the photos of this type of rig seem to be of boats with a mast stepped through the #1 thwart. Based on a sail plan sketched into the margin of a plan dated 1921.

Single Spritsail - another with a mast stepped through the #1 thwart. The basic drawing showing this rig suggests rigging in boats without centerboards, and is from a plan dated 1897.
Spritsail and jib (photo) - combines a rather large main spritsail and a jib. This rig is specified in many seamanship texts for the Navy's "Whaleboats" after about 1880, however with dipping lugs being ordered until 1899, it is unclear how prevalent or not this type was. An easy to handle rig, it provided significant driving power and a great range of adjustment for varying weather conditions.
Standing Lug and Jib - shown in a series of photos taken of boats belonging to the USS Enterprise in the late 1880s, this may be an example of a ship altering the sailing rig of its boats - there is no documentary evidence to support the alterations.
Double-Masted Varieties
In each of these, the aft mast is situated through the #4 thwart.

Double sliding gunter and jib, from photos of boats built at Charleston (SC) in 1933 and in Charlestown (MA) in 1914.

Double spritsail, from an undated photo of a Monomoy-type boat underway in the early 20th century.

Dipping lug, standing lug, from a drawing in the 1914 US Navy Deck and Boat Book.

Marconi ketch, from Chapman's Small Boat Piloting and Seamanship (1959).


Based on the extant fittings, it is impossible to determine the original rig of NHS Monomoys No. 2 and 3, except to say that it was set on a single mast. There is evidence in both boats of single shrouds and a forestay, but the former had been removed and the fitting holes plugged up. No information is found in the contract for their construction. It is possible that their rigs were changed in their service life, but what is clear is that both were altered together.

We also have to determine if we are going to rig both boats identically or if we're going to mix it up and give ourselves more variety.

One option, and the one I am leaning on right now is to build identical rigs for both now, and modify them later as desired. But we have plenty of time to explore this in the months ahead.


Ongoing preparations for stem removal continue at the Dockyard. We're also making preps to stabilize No. 3 - that is, put keel blocks under her and remove her cradles. Right now, much of that hinges on available material, as we're running out of timber for blocking and shoring.

More about weekend work - or lack thereof - tomorrow.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Checking e-mail

Happy Monday everyone! I'm sure most of you are rubbing your eyes and auto-piloting yourselves from your warm beds through your morninig routine and arriving at the office, where, because you're not busy enough you're reading my blog. Slackers. That's okay, this blog gets completed in the time I spend waiting - in the Navy there is plenty of it. What can I say except they should take away my laptop. Complaints? Sounds like someone's got a case of the Mondays.

So while I wait for the morning meeting, I've been answering e-mails from devoted (more or less) readers. I have to say I find it a little strange that some of you haven't figured out that the NHS Dockyard is the yard behind my house - I thought I explained that enough. And how can you be angry about that? Shouldn't you be impressed? Unless you're one of my neighbors - and I know you aren't because mine are awesome - I can't think of much grounds for complaint. After all, does anyone have shop space they are interesting in providing? (crickets) Thought so.

Also, if you're looking for real pictures, check out the NHS Gallery on Facebook.

I'm just continually flabbergasted that the majority of emails I recieve from this blog are from 'casual' readers - whose three whole glances at the blog over as many months has produced a strange fictional world in their mind that I just don't live up to in real life. Odd, because so many people who actually take the time to VISIT say the operation is larger than they expected.

By the way, there is a Dockyard Map posted on FB as well, complete down to the Pagan Altar.


All this week work continues in the evenings - the yard will be open 4-7 pm Tuesday, 7-9 pm Wednesday and 4-7 pm Thursday. Weekend hours (9 am - 7 pm) begin Friday.

We'll be finishing the stem patterns and preparing the fasteners on No. 2 for removal, so come on out.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Take it off!

Pictured - a 28-foot Whaleboat in a Charleston SC boatyard around the turn of the 20th century. The boat clearly illustrates a two-masted sliding gunter rig very popular in Monomoy Pulling Boats.
The weekend work has just wrapped up and we got quite a bit of work done. Working with Navy Petty Officer and aspiring coxswain Caleb Bryan, we managed to strip the fiberglass sheathing from the No. 2 Monomoy as part of her stabilization process, and take off the curve of her stem in preparation for the removal of that part in a week or so.

During the removal process, we were able to identify several damaged planks as well as some repairs that had been done to the boat before. But like other portions of stabilization to this point, these all yield more questions and few answers. I passed around some books I have collected about the construction and repair of traditionally built wooden boats, and hopefully when we meet during the week we will have a few points to discuss. After all, nobody involved at this point has ever attempted the slightest repair of a boat like this, let alone the in-depth restoration we are attempting, and on TWO boats at that. Needless to say, we have a lot to learn. But I am confident that we have the right talent to make this happen.

We've been discussing the future of these boats and there are many decisions to be made, including what sailing rig will be fitted to each, and what paint colors and wood finishes to use. But most of all, we're discussing operations, and what kind of things we'd like to do. Everyone is in agreement that long distance trips in the boats are what we want to do - pushing our abilities and endurance to the max on long-distance open water and coastal trips. I won't go into details - yet - but there is one trip already being discussed that will blow Conquer the Chesapeake out of the water.


More to follow tomorrow, after I've rested up from the weekend.


Friday, October 22, 2010


This week, your motivational, inspirational, educational videos are all musically themed.

There has been much discussion about the adaptation of traditional sea shanties to our programming. And not just singing, using it to coordinate work and pull every last ounce of spring and effort out of your sore and weary backs. Because after a while, no amount of yelling and cursing helps, and we can't use the cat o'nine, kindler, gentler Navy and all that.

Sea shanties have that unique effect. When exhausted, a lively and out of tune shanty can do wonders to revive a crew. I use the effect while driving long-distance. In fact, on one 14-hour drive recently another motorist on the NY State Thruway thought it absolutely hysterical that I was belting out "Bound for the Rio Grande" at the top of my lungs. That's right home spice keep rolling.

Our Historical Director, Vic Keranen, known to you all as the salty old fella who out-pulled the rest of the crew at Conquer the Chesapeake, has been researching rowing shanties - yes they existed, but no they weren't well documented. So he's been digging up some great finds, and the web master is building him a page on the website where the best ones can be put up for your listening pleasure.

But as much as I like the idea of singing, I have to say, the songs I like are few and far between. Like everything else in NHS, oughtn't it be fun? sarcastic? worth the effort? I certainly think so. And while there are many shanties that have dirty connotations, like "A' Rovin" - which, by the way, has some VERY dirty renditions floating around - most seem dull as dishwater. By the way, if I catch any of you dancing like that blokes in the last video, I'll crack you with the steering oar. I am, however, always willing to pay top price for Indian heads (feathers, not dots).

The last thing I want you all to associate with NHS sea shanties are people like these guys, whose primary role is to entertain the kiddies. Instead, I want you to think of the most kick ass songs that have some rythm and are catchy as all get out. From my end, I prefer the work of my favorite Yankee-Irish pub band, Ceann, who are known for such songs as 'Youre Pretty on the Inside' and the 'Worst Pirate'. But whatever is catchiest, and everyone knows or can learn, will do.

You can even take a popular tune and make up your own lyrics. Just do your best to keep it family-friendly, please.


This weekend at the Dockyard - we're tackling the fiberglass removal on the No. 2 Monomoy. Come on out and lend a hand, but remember, disposable coveralls (including old Navy coveralls that you're okay with throwing away) and respirators and goggles are a must. See you out there!


Thursday, October 21, 2010

An update -a virtual post-it note

As Monomoy No. 3 waits patiently on her old and crappy cradles, No. 2 is getting all the attention this week. Fiberglass stripping should be largely completed by the end of the weekend, and we can press straight into removing the stem and sternpost. The work we've done thus far to dig her out of what basically amounts to a badly applied resin bowl has shown us more about the character of work to come this winter.

Overall, the planking on No. 2 seems to be nicely intact, and we've seen very little damage thus far. The forward end of the garboard and second strakes on the port side have sprung away from the stem about 1/2", indicating some failure of the fasteners terminating in the stem. That may or may not be corrected with the replacement stem. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

For now, volunteers be advised - I know that on Wednesday most people were in shortsleeve shirts with only nitrile gloves, but from this point onward until the glass is removed, nobody will be allowed to go NEAR No. 2 unless they are wearing disposable coveralls, chemical gloves, face protection, a hat and a respirator. No, I'm not flexible here, don't push it.


I had a conversation with someone this morning trying to figure out the proper spelling of fo'c'sle. Trying to 'properly' spell out Sailors' speech is always a bad idea - I'm reasonably sure the OED hasn't caught on to those nuances in language yet, nor are they likely ever to do so.


Today I'm going shopping for tools so I won't be at the Dockyard. Anticipate work progressing steadily from Friday afternoon all the way through Sunday evening.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Like dirty shorts on pay day

Yesterday afternoon we carried out the plan as put out in yesterday's blog - who knew - and today No. 2 has been stabilized on her blocks, one fore and one aft, and she's kept from heeling off the blocks by diagonals spiked to the ground and chocked in place under the gunwales.

We did have one or two issues with the jacking process. All in all I think the lesson learned is that if the boat can move in a given direction, it will move that way, especially if you don't want to. Besides, we should all know by now that Mr. Murphy is my closest assistant and always lurking.

The stabilization took about an hour, and very soon after we began discussing the plan of attack. The fiberglass needs to be pulled back about four feet from both the stem and sternpost and the fasteners located and prepped for removal. No sooner had we discussed this and I walked away to grab the camera, I noticed the crew beginning to go to work on the fiberglass. "Good luck" I yelled out the window "you'll probably need to wait for the heat guns."

It was then that I saw a huge sheet of the glass pulled slowly away from the hull. The crusty retired chief walked in - "we're not having a problem with that glass." Hmmm.

"Oh" I said "it's coming off?"

"Like dirty shorts on pay day, sir." Okaaaay. I love those old chief-isms, even if I don't get them right away.

We'll still be using the heat guns, but I was amazed to see that the glass was so easy to remove. Needless to say we are ahead of schedule, albeit slightly and very likely temporarily. Tonight I'll try to locate at least one heat gun and give it a go, see if it helps.

By the way, the planking underneath - beautiful. The smell of good cedar (although I still think they are some variety of fir) wafted around all evening. Fasteners are all easy to find and easy to loosen, showing little sign of corrosion or deterioration in the bungs, metal, or holes. (!!!!)


Stabilization of Monomoy No. 3 will be delayed until the fiberglass is removed from No. 2. After that we will probably delay further, allowing time for the stem and sterpost reconstruction on No. 2 - after which both boats can proceed into re-framing and re-fastening together.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A little Dockyard S & M

Yesterday the prep work for ditching the cradles on No. 2 was completed. We have 12" sided white oak blocks for the keel to rest on, and the jacks, shores and shims are all in place. Later today we'll go ahead placing the blocks and jacking her up, remove the cradle at one end, then lowering her down onto the blocks. The process will then be repeated on the other end, until the boat rests on her keel, on the blocks, where she should be.

I suspect there will be a lot of mallets and mauls flying today, and a little full-contact boat work. The process of placing the blocks is fairly straightforward but the subsequent wedging and shimming to achieve level will undoubtedly be an exercise in constructive abuse. The last time we did this with the Launch strongbacks (already under load) for the severe weather plan the whole schmear went downhill real fast - for some reason the volunteers love driving wedges while yelling "take it, yeah, who's your daddy?" Establish your safe words early kids - and don't stress the old girls (Monomoys) out too much, they'll to whoop your asses.

My biggest worry in the process is that the keel has enough support to remain straight. Two blocks should about do it for now, but later on we'll come back and block, shim and wedge several more along the keel to facilitate removal of the keelsons - major stiffening components - in the process of removing and replacing frames.

No. 3 will follow No. 2 later in the week, possibly tomorrow depending on the carpenters cranking out more blocks, shims and wedges.

Once the blocks are in place and all is shored up sufficiently, we can start our first major removal work - the stem and stern posts. I'll discuss that when we get to that point. We'll still have some stripping of fiberglass to do (not all, but some) before we get there.


TOOLS WE NEED. Anyone who has tools they are willing to loan, please bring them by. We'll ensure each is appropriately marked and cared for while its here. Consumable items - well, we will give back what we dont use up. We need:
- heat guns
- respirators and cartridges
- pry bars
- metal wedges
- mauls
- goggles
- foamies
- twinkies or hohos


Monday, October 18, 2010

Looking for trouble

This weekend our framing party was cancelled as the focus shifts from the Launch to the two restoration project Monomoys. Not that I particularly enjoy that - in fact, its got me a little flustered. The best shop space we have - the project that fits it perfectly and has been under construction for TWO FLIPPING YEARS - is on hold yet again.

Nevertheless, I set to work to complete the surveys of the two donated Monomoys.

First, I started with a vacuum and a scrap of fir that had a rounded point. Digging up the debris in the bilge, I cleaned every chunk of crap out of both boats - ending up with about 30 lbs of it when all was said and done. That, by the way, does not include the rusted iron pipe fittings, old hawser, empty cigarette packs, used emergency water ration bags and instruction cards and oyster shells that I pulled out by hand. All in all, there might have been 100 lbs of JUNK in there, none of it helping to preserve the boats, from what I could tell.

I then went over the entire structure of both boats with a scraper, a screwdriver, a sail knife and a flashlight. Tapping on every surface I could find with the screwdriver, I searched for the rot I knew was there. When I hit it, I probed with the screwdriver and knife, carefull not to destroy too much. But after all, if its going to fall apart I need to know ASAP. The scraper came in handy scraping coat after coat of flaking paint. Blue, white, gray, orange - what DIDN'T the cadets paint these boats? And as a heads up, lads, wooden boats need scraping too - rather than the "once for dust, twice for rust" mantra. Argh.

When all was said and done, I found relatively sound structures. The same old odd things need to go - the rotten stem and sternposts on No. 2 and all of the keel through-bolts on both boats - which, by the way - iron? Really? Who thought THAT was a good idea? I owe you a scotch and razor blade mixer, hold the scotch.

Both boats need extensive re-framing too. So the guy who's never sucessfully steam bent a thing in his life needs to get hot - literally - all over that subject. Not all need to go but I'll be damned if it ain't close. I'm thinking a process of removal of every-other frame at a time should keep the boat relatively stable during the process, but we'll see. I'm also praying to sweet baby god of fasteners that THOSE have held up - I'd really like to use those holes again (how many times have I thought THAT before? no kids, you shouldn't get that.).

The planking as a whole, at least on No. 3, looks really good. There are a few places where its pulling away from the frames but that should - note should - be easily fixed once the frames are taken care of. The only thing that worries me is the planking on No. 2, at the hood ends where the planks attach to the stem and sternposts, which I know are rotten. Hopefully that cancer hasn't spread too far, and I can re-use those holes too. Won't know too much about it until the fiberglass is off of her. I've got my respirator, poop suit and full face mask - let's dance biatch.

On a definately positive note, I found the boat plug for No. 3 buried in the debris! I know, its a small victory, but its all I've got so far so be quiet.

I've been asked about those letters, the BT and NNNN. For you non-Navy message traffic reading types, BT means 'break transmission', equivalent to STOP in telegrams. NNNN in flashing light or in message traffic means 'end of message'. There is no Nicholas Newton Newbury the Ninth in NHS that I know of.


The plan of the week is as follows - pencils ready? - today when I get back I'll be working on the stabilization of the boats. I've decided to do away with the complicated setup idea I had before and stick to what I know - copious use of blocks and shims. Hey, whatever works. And those crap cradles need to meet my fire pit this week. That should continue through the week, and hopefully by next weekend I'll be ready to start stripping fiberglass. Once that's off, I can figure out what to do next.

If anybody's free this week, feel free to stop by and help the wierdo fixing your boats in his back yard. Not that I mind the solace - it lets you keep thinking highly of me. Besides, it means I don't have to walk all the way back into the house every time I have to go.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Fullbore Friday

What is it about the combination of oar and sail that is just so sexy? The teamwork, leadership, and the drive to push harder, faster, farther with the power of the wind and the sweat of the crew - all of it combines to create a highly unique experience that is not for the faint of heart.

It's been several weeks since Monomoy No. 1 hit the water - she's been cleaned up and is waiting for a stint in static display land where we're hoping to recruit some fresh bodies to top up the operational crew to maximum strength. And so, in the interim and with the Winter construction season rapidly approaching, new projects coming on line and fresh initiative put into old ones, I want to throw a little inspiration back into the mix.

Around the world there are several other organizations who've found religion in boats and programs like ours. On the US West Coast, you can find plenty of organizations who utilize boats that should look quite familiar. Granted, they are primarily rowing, but it sure looks like fun to me!

I have to say, though that if you're looking for the epitome of bad assed-ness, you need to check out modern surf-boat rowing. Of course, the Aussies totally step up the whole mess by attempting it in bikinis and speedoes - but as I've always contended, to each thier own.

When you start talking about sailing AND rowing, you start finding organizations that go farther, stay out longer, and really start to combine familiar NHS elements to create some pure awesomeness of their own.

And of course, the pièce de résistance of sailing and rowing - the Atlantic Challenge. These 38-foot gigs are incredible, and really push the concepts that NHS strives to master and in the coolest of ways. The regular international races cover miles of open sea under oar and sail, racing in a one-design concept entirely based on mastery of age-old seamanship skill. And boy does that look like FUN!

Of course, NHS is a slightly different spin on all this, but all in all we have so much to learn from, to dream about and push toward - the possibilities in these and in our own unique sphere are infinitely exciting!


Thursday, October 14, 2010

NHS Recognizes Breast Cancer Awareness Month

The National Breast Cancer Foundation estimates that each year, over 200,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and over 40,000 die. One woman in eight either has or will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. Approximately 1,700 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 450 will die each year.

If detected early, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer exceeds 96%. Mammograms are among the best early detection methods, yet 13 million U.S. women 40 years of age or older have never had a mammogram.

I for one would like to promote healthy breasts! And so for the rest of the month, my blog is now pink! NOT because the smart ass web master decided to take revenge for my constant criticism, but because of a great cause worth standing up for!

I want to take this opportunity to encourage my readers to add their support to this cause. There are many fantastic organizations out there that do great things in the fight - and a quick search will yield many of these. From walks and concerts to fundraising drives and collections, there's bound to be a way that you can enjoy contributing.


(maniacal laugh) Match point, "webmaster".


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Restoration Planning

The plan of action for Monomoys No. 2 and 3 is still being developed, but right now I'm identifying all the hurdles and determining where to start. Here's what I have thus far, and some general guidelines on how we're to proceed:

General Considerations
Both boats need to be stabilized in place. This means allowing the keel to rest on a flat plain to prevent possible distortion due to loading during restoration, and minimizing the force at concentrated points along the planking. For these reasons, improvements need to be made on the existing cradles.
Basic stabilization is as follows:
Keel Blocking. A series of six hardwood blocks will be assembled under the keels at intervals not exceeding four feet. Attention should be paid to not obstruct the centerboard opening. Judicious use of shims, tamped ground and wedges will ensure all blocks load as evenly as practicable.

Upright Support. Two diagonal risers are to be fitted on each side of the hull under the turn of the bilge, perpendicular to the keel, and secured from lateral movement on the ground. A plank will span the upper ends of these, and allowed to bend outward along the curve of the hull fore and aft. Careful treatment to span a large area for maximum distribution of forces shall dictate the execution of this process.

Caulking. The existing caulking of both boats needs to be entirely removed and the seams closely examined. New caulking throughout shall consist of an agreeable blend of traditional techniques and modern materials per sound and proven practice. In other words, its a complicated evolution. I won't say we'll keep 100% historically accurate, but I will find a blend that duplicates historical practices as much as possible but gives some advantage in terms of performance, durability and longevity.

Painting and Finishing. Both boats shall be painted and finished in a similar a manner as practicable, the goal being that they should be as close in appearance as possible. Colors, stains and finishes shall be determined at a later date. You can bet they'll look similar to Monomoy No 1.

Oars need to be produced for both boats. Two extant patterns are available and these will be cranked out assembly line style when the time comes. Each boat requires 8 12-foot oars and one 14 foot steering oar. Oarlocks and sockets need to be located and procured.

Centerboards and rudders also need to be produced for both boats. We have drawings for these. Locating and procuring the rudder hardware may prove difficult, but at least the original attachment rails are in great shape.

The restored sailing rigs are in question. Both boats had a sprit-rigged mainsail and a jib. However, there are 9 different rigs known to have been used on Monomoys that we've identified so far based on the official Navy sailplans. There are two schools of thought - 1) make each boat different, or 2) restore both to the original sprit rigs. The thought behind the different rigs is to permit the use of a greater range of sailing rig types, thus a broader range of educational opportunities. Restoring both to the same rig makes for equal footing in racing under sail. The jury is still out, but we have plenty of time. Sailmaking season doesn't start until February.

On the individual boats:
Monomoy Pulling Boat No. 2
Removal of Fiberglass Sheathing. The fiberglass sheathing on the outside of the hull needs to be removed before any other work is undertaken. We will attempt this with a heat gun, pulling the glass away in sheets. Protective suits, respirators and gloves will be worn by the crew doing this. Work on No. 3 must cease while this process is carried out, and may not resume until completion. This will avoid potential hazards to those personnel while limiting cross-contamination with glass dust and fibers from No. 2.

Once the glass is removed, work can begin on stem and sternposts. These exhibit severe shrinkage, cracking and failure of fasteners. Much of the original material will need to be replaced, using the original parts as templates where possible. Attention must be paid that materials and techniques are duplicated as closely as practicable. The bronze drifts may be salvageable.

Monomoy Pulling Boat No. 3
Stem and Sternpost Repair. Though not as severe as No. 2, the stem and sternpost are exhibiting some of the same symptoms of deterioration. These need to be addressed. Extent of necessary repairs will not be known until the material is removed and inspected. Work should immediately follow the same repairs conducted on No. 2.

Replacement of Broken Frames. Several of the steam-bent double frames are cracked or broken and need to be replaced. All other frames should receive close scrutiny, and possibly be removed for inspection.


There are undoubtedly more issues that will arise as we progress. For now, we are GO to begin stabilization and to prep for glass removal on No. 2. Expect complete plans on both of these evolutions, along with required tool and material lists by the end of the week. These efforts will be followed in short order by the stem and sternpost repairs, and then frames and floors.

We have an exciting winter ahead.


HAPPY 235 NAVY! and a few other comments

On 13 October 1775 the Continental Congress passed a bill authorizing the procurement, fitting out, manning, and dispatch of two armed vessels to cruise in search of munitions ships supplying the British Army in America. The legislation also established a Naval Committee to supervise the work. This was the first step toward creation of a national naval force, that through various reiterations has become the US Navy of today.


On a totally unrelated topic and as a complete and total rant, I want to point out the recent political candidates - and there are several - being heckled for reenacting.

I am not going to stand up for these folks, but neither will I add to the barrage. It bears pointing out that the general public is coming out to say they find most historical reenactments silly and inane. That's nothing new. The idea takes a lot of getting used to and most younger people I know who do reenact won't talk to their other friends about it. It's a source of embarrassment, ridicule and criticism. Is this fair? Why or why not? Politically charged race and religious issues aside, there are other factors here, less easy to examine. Why are reenactors so easy to criticize?
The concept, when viewed from the outside, is highly suspect. Line up "opposing forces" across a field, then shoot blanks at each other and pretend to fall down to simulate death. A historical event that caused so much pain and suffering is romanticized in melodrama for the "education of the public". Then the participants get up, brush off and head back to their camps to lounge around and talk about how cool it was, while the public generally tries to figure out exactly what it was that they just saw.

The same concept, as viewed from the reenactors' perspective, is quite different. In the interest of preserving history, educating the public and building their own understanding of historical people and events, they invest piles of time and money to produce an impression that allows them to transform in one way or another into a living representation of their subject. The fights demonstrate period tactics and maneuvers and allow the public insight - in living color - into the events that transpired and helped shape the nation, other nations and the world. Generally speaking, unpleasantness is kept to a minimum, in the interest of keeping things appropriate for families. And the events add a further layer of interest in that each one is a meeting, where like-minded folks can gather together to discuss their hard work in the recent interim and enjoy each other's company.

So... two sides of the same coin. But unfortunately, there's a rub. The repulsive view of the coin is on the face - the obverse is a bit concealed in the modern social atmosphere. This causes many people to not want to get involved, limit their involvement or keep their involvement quiet. And the coin is relatively flat - it is difficult to see and understand both sides simultaneously. That is to say, the farther afield you go to see your side, the less and less you see the other.

We have a great saying in the Navy, that perception is reality. This is clearly the culprit here.

I would like to think that I live on the edge of the coin, but I think I'm straying back more and more toward that ugly face view of it lately. For instance, I just can't see the merits of battle reenactments anymore - for many reasons. Of course, I will continue to support the direction dictated by the NHS Board of Directors - so if they say go shoot and fall down, that I will do. But the overall direction of NHS in general is shifting farther and farther away from the back of the coin, partially in search of recruits, partially for fundraising, partially because it was getting boring - and moving toward something easier for most people to understand, get on board with, and support. We saw this in the past year where for every event in costumes we had three without. 2011 will be even farther afield from reenacting - mark my words.


I just noticed last night that the webmaster thinks he can turn my blog background pink as some sort of compensation for the errors in the NHS website. Shouldn't you be fixing the uneven text size and really bulky HTML code instead of messing around with my background? Just saying.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A quick lesson on "not being that guy"

From a recent Navy Situation Report (SITREP):


Way to go, shipmate. I'm still trying to figure out how to escape the Dreaded Burrito Gang.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Back from vacation, and down to business

Good evening, all. I've just returned from my much needed weekend away, and I'm ready to get back to work.

First, I'd like to make a few quick remarks about the 'new' Monomoys and the fundraiser NHS is holding for them. Both boats were donated to us, and needed to be moved from New York City to our shops in Norfolk. Their safe delivery hinged on a very tenuous timeline, based around when they could be hoisted ashore (yes, they were on a ship) and directly onto our truck. The expense of the truck, the forklift rental and insurance for the whole mess was the primary reason for the fundraiser. So I'm sure there are some who are wondering - well its done already, why do they still need funds? The answer is that the Board of Directors made a last minute split decision to pay for the time-sensitive move from previously allocated funds - namely my planking stock budget for the Launch and insurance premiums that had been saved for next season. So we robbed Peter to pay Paul, at least temporarily. The boats had to be moved and fast if we were to ensure they would remain in their present condition.

So the fundraising continues, essentially to pay back the 'loan' of operational funding for next season. Every bit shy of the goal that we fall will come out of some other project's budget, and might even restrict operations in the short term next Spring. So keep up the efforts!!


Tomorrow night I will be starting the stem to sternpost evaluation of Monomoy No 2. As soon as that is complete I will move to No. 3, and with some luck I hope to complete a thorough survey and work list by the end of next week. This will be used to dictate the rest of the winter construction season as regards these boats, and will likely determine how much of a chunk will be taken out of construction of the Launch. Talk like that (about the Launch) is going to have me sitting on an inflatable doughnut all winter, I can tell already.


At some point this week, we need the carpenters to start planning and making a materials list for the restoration cradles on Monomoys No 2 and 3. Any evening this week will suffice, but I'll need your list by Friday.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Done, and I'm taking a vacation!

Its been a very long day here at the Dockyard. There are still a few housekeeping items to be dealt with, but overall we are all wrapped up here. Outside there are now two huge tarps covering Monomoy Pulling Boats No 2 and 3, at rest on crude cradles safe and sound in Virginia at last. It was just over 24 hours ago that they were craned off of a ship and onto a truck to begin their journey south, and just over 9 hours ago that they arrived here. Days of calls, planning, flying checks, emergent material purchases, more calls. Verify, reverify, roll with a new plan and start again. I'm very nearly exhausted by these last several days' exertions.

If I had my reservations before about what we had to offer our Membership at the Dockyard - if I ever considered calling it a "dockyard" silly - today, looking out over five boats in various stages of construction, restoration or readiness, I realize that it is no folly and no trivial thing.

But thought about the possibilities and what could follow WILL exhaust me. So now, I'm going to pass out, and start my mini-vacation weekend tomorrow. I'll return Monday.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Execution is fun with MONSTER FORKLIFT!

Okay, we are set. The Dockyard is standing by to recieve Monomoy Pulling Boats No 2 and 3 by truck from New York. Our heavy lift equipment has been ordered, the rigging is ready, dunnage is in place.

Thanks to a shortage of standard forklifts at our local rental shops, we've been forced by necessity into an option that I have enjoyed the prospect of from the get go - Monster Forklift. This behemoth permits us to lift the boats and turn them either perpendicular to the direction of travel or parallel to it, thus eliminating the need for the smaller trailers that we had planned - a welcome omission. Now, we will remove the boats from the flatbed rigged perpendicular to the travel and stage them near the road before picking them back up again, parallel to the travel and running them all the way back to their final assigned places in the Dockyard.

I have to say that while I am nervous about the overall execution and will be watching it closely, I am fully excited that I get to play with this beast of a machine - by far the coolest land-based toy NHS has let me play with to this point. Her 6,500 lb capacity - with boom fully extended I might add - is going to be more than enough to tackle our 2,400 lb boats. That said, I've spent much of my time surveying the dockyard trying to figure out what else I could possibly do with this thing! Hmmmmm.


The boats are, at this moment, being secured on the flatbed for their trip south. They will start out tonight and arrive in the area first thing in the morning, when I'll coordinate the initial offload at the Dockyard. They'll be offloaded with the monster, and set out near the road to await the rest of the Dockyard crew to assist with the move to their places.

Tomorrow's muster is at 1600, and THANK YOU to all the supporters who've rogered up and will be chipping in to get the job done.

An exciting day in store tomorrow... stand by for pictures.


General quarters! General quarters!

BONG BONG BONG BONG General quarters! General quarters! All hands man your battle stations. Move up and forward to starboard, down and aft to port. Set material condition ZEBRA throughout the ship, make ZEBRA reports to DC Central. Reason for general quarters is: hair on fire boat movement. BONG BONG BONG BONG.

Several new developments yesterday have thrown the tiny Dockyard establishment into a frenzy. Of course, it is all related to the shipping and movement of our two donated Monomoy Pulling Boats (M2 and M3) from NYC to Norfolk. Last night, our ideal timeline was appreciably shifted to the left, that is, moved up more than a week. That means the Monomoys are being loaded in New York TODAY and will be en route to Norfolk tonight.

There are several factors and moving parts and pieces to this. The boats are, at this very minute, still onboard the Traning Ship EMPIRE STATE. They have to be craned ashore, with the ship's company and Cadet labor force to draw from. The truck driving them down is an 18-wheeler big rig with a flatbed trailer. The boats will be craned directly onto the truck and lashed down on cradles on the flatbed, which then have to be lifted off on arrival in Norfolk. That means a crane or a forklift, and on 24 hours notice. And because the big rig won't fit at the Dockyard, we need to transfer the boats one at a time to ANOTHER trailer to move them into position - at another location. I'm still coordinating with two churches in our immediate vicinity to use thier parking lots to accomplish the transfer. Then, we have to lift them AGAIN, remove the trailer, and set them down on the ground on their cradles - another job for the forklift or crane.

Still following?
And to make matters worse, the unloading will undoubtedly occur at one of two wierd times, dependent entirely on WHEN the 18-wheeler arrives on scene in Norfolk. First scenario is that it arrives TONIGHT and the unloading and movement will occur in the dark. Second is that it arrives TOMORROW MORNING, when most of our volunteers will be at work at their normal jobs. Quite the pickle.

That all being the case, I am calling in ANY AND ALL AVAILABLE VOLUNTEERS to assist with the move. If you are available please call me soonest at XXX-XXXX, leave a message if you have to, and let me know your availability.

In the meantime, I'm going to keep sorting out the logistical miracle.


Monday, October 4, 2010

The master plan is underway!

Okay, so a very busy weekend was had at the Dockyard. The 25-foot Launch keel shaping is nearly complete and the frame blocks are almost all in place on the molds. Several visitors kept me busy on Saturday, coming out to look at the place and see all that's taking shape. That would be awesome if I weren't neck deep in flying woodchips - for cripes sake people call ahead! We also managed to complete the plan for shifting Monomoys 2 and 3 into position behind the Framing Bay along the fence line, where the ground levels off.


The website has been updated. Note the lack of enthusiasm. It has SOME of the planned bells and whistles but it's not as great as it will be (I am told). First, I can understand that the timeline for launch was pushed up a week. But come on, the text isnt even the same size from page to page. Attention to detail! Oh well, it is better than it was. I have to pick on the web guy, its in my job description under paragraph eh hem yeah.


A fundraising drive is underway to raise money for the transport and housing of Monomoys 2 and 3. If you're a fan of NHS and like seeing what we do, help us get these two beautiful boats to Norfolk so we can start their restoration! Go to and click on the DONATE NOW button to donate via credit or debit card via PayPal. Do it just so the web guy has to go back and update that lame thermometer graphic "every day". Make the blaggard work! I'm personally going to keep pitching in $5 and $10 just to make him have to keep going back.

I'm horrible, I know.
But in all seriousness, our goal is to raise $3,000 - and we already have a matching funds donor, so every dollar we recieve is DOUBLED. Help us get there by November 1 and keep the program on track to re-launch these beautiful boats next spring!

Friday, October 1, 2010

The importance of making friends with the natives, or yankee boaters in the southland

"Yeah. We'll go... talk to Bob."

If you don't get that one, just go find a hole and stay here.

For the last week I've been searching dilligently for trailers for the new Monomoy donations. I've been running the gammot sending email after email to the Board of Directors trying to get budgets lined up and pushing on Trustees for more funding. This wasn't exactly in our fiscal plan this year - not that it has ever stopped us before. But the challenge goes far beyond the scale of anything we've yet attempted. I mean one boat can be a challenge but two at the same time makes things really interesting.

The first place I try to search are the obvious resources - ebay, swap sheets, classified ads, local boatyards. Even called a few trailer places - no luck, not in our budget.

So when I ran into a guy I work with occasionally - one of the rare indigenous locals of the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area - he told me to give him a day, then call him back. Of course, I was skeptical. But when he called me back an hour later to tell me to call a place I had already called, I was less than enthused, until I followed his instructions.

"Bob's Trailers" was one of the first shops I called. Of course the woman I spoke to was very polite, but didn't offer much I could work with. On calling back I found myself talking to Bob himself.

"We got lotsa trailers, they'll 'bout all do ya." Well, Bob, what are we looking at for price here?
"You need two, and ain't gotta budget, I know see I got this buddy who called me." Yes, Bob, I know.

"Tella what, y'all come on by and we'll sort y'all out." Wow, thanks Bob.

"Yeah t'aint nothin but y'all gotta get me this here paperwork straightened out for my tax stuff."

So yeah, I'll talk to Bob. And hopefully by the end of the day today I'll have a few more answers and solutions to the neverending problems.


The schnozberries taste like schnozberries!

Yes, I am going a little crazy. But hey, do you know that the goofy looking putz who said that in Super Troopers married my dream girl? What the hell man... can't get any respect!

Okay, appologies for the comms blackout at such an exciting time - I've been very busy trying to coordinate everything going on at the Dockyard. What is that? you might ask. For those who've been under a rock, or flood waters, all week, here is the list:

1) the 25-foot Launch construction is back in the spotlight. We're setting up to "speed-bend" her frames at a single large gathering where we'll steam the laminations together then bend them all around the molds, one entire frame at a time. The steam box is under construction and is about 80% done. Dates for the "speed bend" framing party are still tentative, email me with preferences.

2) we've been offered two wooden Monomoy Pulling Boats - for free. These are all wood, centerboard equipped boats in great shape. They will need minor structural repairs, refinishing inside and out, some caulking, all new oars, new masts and spars, sails, rigging, trailers - the whole kitten kaboodle. BUT they are prime specimens for restoration and addition to the NHS inventory. at the Dockyard we've been clearing and levelling space where the tents to house them will be set up, and planning other space for materials etc as well as updating the Severe Weather Plan to include them.

3) a big fundraising push is about to be made to raise some $1,500 in costs associated with getting the new boats down from NYC and provide for their accommodation here at the Dockyard. That means a lot of research on my part, and others, to figure out the most cost-effective means of doing all that. I understand the new website update has been pushed and can be expected on Monday - along with a letter to our membership and fans about the fundraising efforts. For reference, no we are not soliciting our members for money - we are asking them to go out and approach local businesses. The info packet coming out Monday discusses that in detail.

SOOO that being said, I need to get back to work! So much time and so little to do --- strike that, reverse it.

Yeah, you're still probably not getting those references... why do I try...