Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sticking it to the man

Preparations for Great Bridge this year are complete and this week we shift into execution mode, under the leadership of the Operational Commanders. This year we're being led once again by our esteemed Marine officer, Joe Sturiale, who for this event is summarily promoted to Captain to meet appropriate rank for registration numbers. He'll be joined by Lieutenant Glenn Atherton, who will command all forces afloat. Administratively speaking, a Navy lieutenant is equivalent to a Marine captain, but Mr. Sturiale is technically senior as his commission pre-dates that of Mr. Atherton. NHS ranks follow the seniority rules of their real life counterparts, afterall - which is the easiest and most natrual way to proceed considering that, in the case of Mr. Atherton at least, he holds the same rank in the real Navy.

I, on the other hand, might be a Navy lieutenant in real life, but for this event and many in the future, I'm living the dream as a petty officer. And I mean that in all seriousness - for me, there is nothing so stressful as being Dockyard Guru and rolling straight into operational command. Not fun. I much prefer to enjoy myself kicking back a bit and enjoying the freedom of subordination - where I can spend my spare time making trouble for the establishment. And at Great Bridge I fully anticipate concocting plenty of historically appropriate 'liberty incidents'.

I put liberty incidents in quotes because unlike the modern Navy, the Royal Navy in the 18th century specifically avoided what we think of as liberty at all costs. Rather they preferred to bottle up their crews aboard their ships in an effort to prevent desertion. These were top notch people, we're talking about. And the Americans were no different. For many many eons of naval history, letting your crew enjoy time off the ship near civilization of any kind was asking for mass casualties. Crews would desert, get into trouble, cause civil disturbances - much like today. The only difference as I see it is that we preempt the desertion factor and choose to man our ships well below their proper compliment - then call it 'optimal manning'. But I digest.

Why desert? I mean, think of it in a logical mindset - crews were fed reasonably well, paid regularly, clothed, got reasonable medical care (all of this by period standards). Why would they run? Well, a lot of that has to do with the means by which they got to that place. Many sailors came by way of the ever-dreaded press gang, though others did actually volunteer and others were forced to it by legal threats or angry husbands and fathers. The point is, very few people actually wanted to be there at the get-go.

Then take the standard psychology of the sailor - you're on a ship, in the middle of the deserted ocean for months on end, living within the confines of your wooden world while moving from here to there. Then you drop anchor in some harbor in a completely foreign land that looks incredible - after all, you've seen nothing but the ship for months - and you can't go ashore. The frustration is compounded by the fact that everywhere you go, bum boats ply their trade right alongside - everything from fresh fruit and trinkets to prostitutes. At the end of the day they return to the same mysterious and alluring shore that's beckoning you to visit. Ship food, accomodations and organization take their toll, even in modern times. It is not so unusual to think that the less reputable elements in a ships company - ahem, ALL of them - would try to escape at some point and seek their fortunes ashore.

What happened when sailors did make it ashore? Well I'd give you three guesses but you'd only need one. Generally speaking - the first instinct was probably to elude capture, followed a split second later by booze and women, in no particular order.

And what prevented them? Marines. There were other factors of course, but in the end I think the primary threat were marines. Those sub-human non-sailors who don't belong on ships, don't eat with us, don't bunk with us, won't give us the time of day. Damn we hate marines. They're just so... soldier-like.

Hint hint, lobsterbacks. Consider yourselves warned.


Current registration numbers are through the roof, though we should always expect some attrition. Right now everyone is topped out - marines are stopped to the cork at 11 privates and 1 sergeant; sailors are flooding out of the bottle at 3 petty officers, 16 able and ordinary seamen and 2 boys. Not all of these will be camping, and we're still tracking those figures down but all in all, we should have a very respectable showing, and consequently a great time. The irrascible Mr. Woodard is attending as Purser, so mess cranks: watch the scales carefully.

More to follow as we get closer and closer to showtime.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Dockyard mystery, or, Gloating over small success

Tonight I've been going over the stem we removed from the No. 2 Monomoy. What seemed like a reasonably open and shut case of some parts needing replacement is rapidly turning into a whodunit murder mystery of boat restoration. This is going to get technical, so if you're only here for my wit and interminable charm, now is the time to chime out.

The stem is in two pieces that were scarfed together with one of those pesky curved scarfs I'm dreading reproducing and nobody seems to know how to cut. But that was the least of my concerns as I started my work for tonight - tracing the outline of the removed pieces to make patterns to make the replacements. The scarf didn't fit very well and there was some nasty checking of the timber in the vicinity of the joint. But this I just wrote off in my mind as the product of the fasteners working loose. Obvious!

This is where, as you have probably anticipated, the plot thickens. I hadn't given it much thought but the gap in the scarf was in the middle of the joint, not the ends as you might expect if you were to force the pieces back and forth. Photo 1:

See what I mean? Look at the stopwater hole (the big one right through the center of the scarf) - its not even aligned properly. What could cause this? I thought it highly unlikely that the wood should back off from the center of the scarf and leave the ends relatively tight. And it turns out, I don't believe that it did.

If you look at the lower part of the scarf in the photo above, you'll notice a considerable amount of checking, where the wood grain has opened and expanded. And even in the small section of curve you can see, the outer curve (bottom) is not even close to fair. Clues. There is clearly distortion here, but what was the shape originally? I need to know this if I'm going to have any serious accuracy in the replacement parts. I need to play with this shape.

First, I started by finding an index - some point on both pieces that I know was lined up originally. The stopwater is the perfect index point. When the pieces were joined and bolted together, that hole was drilled where the joint passes through the back rabbet line (deepest part of the rabbet). I started by lining that up. But when I did, the rabbet was thrown dramatically off. Photo 2:

Yes, the stopwater hole is aligned. Unfortunately that's about the only thing. Well no - the bearding line (where the inside of the planking meets the stem, above in illustration 2). The rabbet is completely off - like nearly 3/8" off. I should also note that I had to cut off a chunk of the piece on the left - go back and see photo 1, you can see my saw cut (I put the piece back for the photo). On photo 2, the gap is clear - that big black wedge shaped void. And as my mind wandered, suddenly I saw it. The rabbet is not off. Somebody MADE it that way. Look again. Photo 3, a little closer view. A red arrow points to the smoking gun.

SOMEONE and I'm not pointing fingers (at the idiots and assholes who may have repaired - or thought they were repairing this boat before me) but the rabbet was cut back to match the misaligned pieces! The photo doesn't do it justice - its more than apparent in the flesh. Wood flesh. Real life. Whatever. Bastards.

Okay. I'm onto something here. Clearly I've found the original orientation, and I'm getting farther afield from my index point - remember that's the stopwater hole - but the inner and outer curvature still eluded me. Look again at the parts aligned on the stopwater, from a distance. Photo 4:

Okay. Stepping back and looking at it, I realized that the answer was remarkably simple. Go back to Photo 1, and look at that checking in the wood of the lower part of the scarf. I'll wait.

The checking forced the wood to expand, forcing the lower right portion of the scarf to push to the right and throw the scarf out of alignment. The maintainers unknowingly just kept shovelling putty into the gap. When somebody got around to repairing the resulting sprung garboards (which explains the condition of those parts quite well) they had to chisel back the rabbet to make it fit. If I were to just carry the curve from the right piece onto the part of the left piece that isn't checked. And surprise surprise - its a fair curve. Look at Photo 4 again. It seems so obvious to me now. Elementary, my dear readers. Yeah right! Took me about three hours of heaving and hawing, adjusting, readjusting and playing with the batten.

Now I can proceed tomorrow with finishing up the pattern. Why didn't I do it tonight? I dunno - because I've been too busy BLOGGING about it. Oh well. Small victories.


So much to do

Yesterday proved to be the most productive day of the long holiday weekend. Although I didn't touch No. 3 except to finish cleaning it out, I made significant progress on No. 2. She's shifted onto a "tipping beam" transverse stabilizer, her rub rails and gunwales are all off, and her sternpost is 90% unfastened, the only thing holding it in place being those pesky keel bolts. I probably pulled hundreds of screws, and in the process of digging out bungs, actually turning the screwdriver (of which I bent two) and otherwise scraping, pulling, cutting and banging my hands are quite knocked up. All the small cuts and scrapes have combined to produce slightly swollen and very sore appendages. But as my old man used to say at times like these - "what are you doing in the bathroom day and night? Why don't you get out of there and give someone else a chance?!"

I cannot be expected to compensate for your lack of movie viewing nor google skills.

I've been getting many emails asking questions about the Monomoys. I fully realize that without being at the Dockyard on a regular basis, trying to follow all that's going on can be difficult and confusing. There is a simple solution to that (hint, hint). Nevertheless, I appologize for not being able to get back to everyone sooner, and for those whom I haven't contacted, I hope I answer some of your questions in the blog.

To answer a few of those in-depth, and hit some of the general questions on tangent, here's a summary of wooden boat structre, and maintaining the shape of the boat while replacing parts - which I refer to during the construction process as 'stabilizing' the hull. Stability afloat is a totally different beast altogether, which I'll discuss later on.

First, you cannot evaluate a wooden boat's strength and integrity by conventional static 'beam' theory, as you would a building or a girder. Rather, treat it like a basket. The individual parts are rather slight, the strength being derived from the sum of the parts in concert rather than taken one at a time. Imagine a boat shaped basket. It flexes and shifts, with some parts under compression and some in tension, depending on the force acting on the strucutre. Many are under both forces simultaneously, acting in different directions. As you remove straws from the basket, the structure gets more wobbly, and might lose some of its shape. And therein lays the problem of stabilizing the structure while removing critical pieces.

The majority of the hull's strength comes from the hull planking. Modern steel ships are longitudinally framed, meaning that the largest and most numerous structural members run the length of the ship. That idea is no different in wooden boats, including the Monomoys. In the case of small wooden boats such as ours, the planks are 'tailored' to very specific shapes that when bound together form the shape of the hull. They press - or are meant to press - against each other such that they resist the various forces that twist and bend the hull. In the case of our Monomoys, we are dealing with carvel planking, where each plank butts up to its neighbors. This is different from lapstrake or clinker planking, in which the lower edge of each plank rests on the upper part of the plank below it, similar to clapboard siding.

Binding the planks together are another very important but much smaller set of structural members called frames. Most people might call these 'ribs' because of what they resemble. But contrary to what many might think, their primary purpose is not to provide the transverse curve of the hull, but rather to follow the curve created by the planking and pull the planks together side-to-side. Executed properly, the edges of the planks then press against each other, creating a friction-fit of sorts that is further bolstered by tightening during caulking. Removing frames means that the planks begin to lose their connection to their neighbors and risk losing the shape that the carefully tailored planks hold when bound close together.

The keel in our boats functions as a sort of 'king plank', being only two to three times thicker than the planks themselves. The top of the keel rests flush with the inside of the planking, and the planks butt up to it on each side. The frames bolt directly onto the top of the keel, which eliminates the complex 'floors' used in other types of boats. But this poses a unique problem - remove the keel and the force of both sides pushing down has nowhere to go except into the frames. I don't trust the old frames to hold that load, and so removal of the keel and any of the surrounding strakes of planking means replacing the frames first.

The stem and sternpost connect to the keel, but they function primarily to attach the ends of the planking. Remember the basket? Well, cut a slot in each end of the basket and what happens? The sides will pull apart. We have the same issue with these boats, but this is mitigated by the fact that we left the thwarts in place to keep them together. Those will probably be augmented or replaced with beams run from sheer to sheer (top plank to top plank) as we progress. But for now, the hull has proven stable with both stem and sternpost detached.


Lesson over, here's how we're progressing on the boats:

No. 2 - remove stem and sternpost, make new parts and install. Reattach old planking. Reef the seams - removing all old caulking. Working every other frame, replace all frames, tightening the seams by means of straps tightened around the outside of the hull as the planks are re-fastened. Replace old keelsens with new. Go back and replace any damaged planks, including both garboards. Replace ALL butt blocks. Recaulk all seams. Replace necessary interior joinery.

No. 3 - begin with reefing the seams and re-framing, proceeding every other frame and tightening up the seams. Remove stem and sternpost, cleanup scarfs and re-install. Replace keelsens with new. Recaulk all seams. Replace necessary interior joinery.


I know all of this doesn't answer every question, but I hope it sheds some light on some of the major points.

More to follow, including some commentary on the completed preparations for this weekend's event.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

A productive weekend

Halfway through the four-day production 'fest here at the Dockyard, I'm making some considerable progress on the goals I outlined on Friday. And in the process of reassembling the tent frames and vacuuming the leaves out of both boats, I've had lots of time to evaluate how to proceed on the smallest possible budget and in the most expeditious means while still producing a quality product capable of withstanding the rigors of NHS operational applications.

But before that, I have to mention a fun visit from John "Dutch" Collamore and fiancee Laura O'Malley, both key members of the Colonial Seaport Foundation. It was their first ever visit to the Dockyard, and I gave them the nickel tour of all three Monomoy Pulling Boats, our shops and other assets. Both seemed very much impressed with the boats, and we had a lively conversation about future collaboration between NHS and CSF. I consider both John and Laura kindred spirits with very similar thoughts on the subject of themes and goals for our respective organizations. Look for more on this partnership in the future, along with some commentary about my first visit to the CSF Boatyard - which I hope will be soon.


The question of what to do about and with Monomoys No. 2 and 3 has been rolling around my head all weekend. Both will require stem, sternpost and keel replacement, as well as complete re-framing. Only No. 2 will need replacement of some planks - but by no means all. The real question here is about the order in which I should proceed.

My first thought was to replace the stems, sternposts and keels before proceeding to re-framing and ending with plank replacement. The shortfall here as I see it is that removing the keel of each boat puts the compressive stresses of the sides (the weight of the sides pushing down toward the keel) to be balanced by the other side, to which each is connected by the floors, which in this case is but a short length of bent frame extending about three or four strakes up from the keel. Some of these show advanced signs of deterioration, and I'm just not sure that relying on them in the stabilization of the entire structure is a wise decision. One might give, then another then another and before I know it, the whole boat falls apart in two halves like a potato chopped lengthwise. In other words, a nightmare.

I'm now thinking about proceeding in a slightly different manner. If I can replace the frames first, including the floors, it would give me much better piece of mind when pulling out the keels. The problem here is that replacing frames means removal of the sheer and middle clamps as well as keelsens, centerboard trunk, thwarts, partners, and even with all of that, I couldn't replace the cant frames. Hmmm. And since I've already got the stem off of No. 2, I should incorporate that, as I don't want to replace it only to have to remove it again. Decisions decisions.

After a long time thinking about this yesterday and today, I think the best way to go is approach this is to treat each boat differently. On No. 2, proceed with stem and sternpost replacement, removing the originals, duplicating them and attaching the new parts. Replacement of No. 2's keel might not be a necessity anyway, as it shows little to no sign of degradation, only a lot of holes where crap fasteners were driven through the garboards into the keel at the seam. The garboards are already in the process of being pulled off. Once stem and sternposts are replaced, proceed straight into re-framing followed by replacement of the garboards, recaulking and interior joinery.

No. 3 is a slightly different animal, though I think we'll be able to salvage her stem and sternposts with a little effort. They will need to be removed for that work, but I'll do that after re-framing, at least all but the cant frames. Once reinstalled, I can finish those. With frames replaced and garboards temporarily removed, I can set straight into removing the keel, making the new one and replacing that. If all goes well we should see the interior joinery etc proceed on almost concurrent schedules.

Right now, I'll hold to the goal of finishing the stem and sternpost on No. 2 by mid-January, and re-framing No. 3 around the start of the New Year. No. 2 will follow close behind. We'll see how well I can stick to that...

So, more work ahead today and tomorrow. I'm hoping to begin removing bits and pieces of No. 3's innards in prep for re-framing, and beginning to dig out No. 2's sternpost.

More on Monday.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thinking out loud

As a sudden change of plans, I'm not travelling for the holiday. And so I'll be in the Dockyard for the 4-day weekend and I want to make the best of it. How might I do this, you ask, when Great Bridge plans are nearly complete and everything is in readiness? I get back to work on Monomoys No. 2 and 3, that's how! So now, just thinking out loud (or on the blog, as the case might be), I'm devising a plan of attack to hit one or both HARD while I have all this free time.

First things first. I need to get the tents back up over the boats. Leaves are starting to collect inside and while the cleanout is relaxing, I need to shelter them somewhat. Problem here is that not only did the 30' ridge poles become unfastened and in one case crack when the whole assembly was inadvertently pulled over by a volunteer heaving on the wrong part, but the cheap tarps that make up the tents are starting to give at the grommets. Solution? I can work with what I have for the time being, but eventually I'll want to stitch up canvas covers. After all, we're not looking for shrink wrap here - its okay for the boats to get wet, just not to accumulate standing water. And that means I need to order several rolls of canvas and break out the palm, needles and twine again. Oh boy was that relaxing - and a great movie watching activity (I don't seem to ever be able to sit still or I feel like I'm wasting time).

So, first item - repair the ridge poles and get the tents back up.

Second item of business - I'm going crazy, and taking NHS with me. I have re-directed my plans yet again and decided that God dammit I will make these boats float as they are or die trying. A few weeks ago, I had all but resigned (and happily so) myself to the idea that we would rebuild the boats piece by damned piece, replacing as we go. Now, as I look at YouTube videos of yokels caulking up old worn hulls I am inspired not to perfection but to a hell-or-high-water sense of getting these things finished and out of the Dockyard. The planking is mostly sound, and with the exception of a few strakes on No. 2, in good shape. True, No. 3 has a cracked keel, but I'm going to tackle that replacement in place. SO. Item number two on the list is to proceed with advanced stabilization in preparation for keel removal. Advanced stabilization and keel replacement consists of:
  1. framing up longitudinal supports under the 'flat' of her bilge, to transfer the weight of the boat off of the keel. These will be made up like the wall of a house, only in that the "header" will be curved around the hull. I expect quite a bit of shimming and wedging and lots of Dockyard S&M.
  2. Once the longitudinal supports are in place, the 'droop' of the sides should be pushed back into place. Of course, I will force the issue if needed. Fit beams transversely across her gunwales to prevent movement, then remove the thwarts and centerboard top.
  3. Proceed to remove keel bolts. This is going to be a bitch. Pardon my Anglo Saxon. But I like my dog so I'll take out all of my worldly frustration on those rust scaled ferrous pieces of vulcan excrement and drive them bloodily before me.
  4. IF all goes well with the bolts, the keelsens can then be removed. I fully expect to be disappointed with the condition of these as they come out - we found plenty of soft spots in the keelsens on No. 2. But once removed I should be able to use them to make templates - and if not, they'll be sacrificed on the pagan altar (fire pit).
  5. Removal of the keel means pulling the centerboard trunk with it. Hooray for two birds with one stone. Or two problems instead of one.
  6. Keel removed, a new one can be fabricated using the old one as a pattern. Once that's done, reinstall and get the mess fitted in the way of the centerboard trunk.

So plenty of work there. And while I don't expect to be able to get all of that done, I do hope to be able to get the first part accomplished - building the longitudinal exterior framing.

On No. 2 we have other issues. First, the stem still needs to be removed, and we haven't even touched the sternpost yet. Both show signs of rot, a great deal of cracking and other forms of horrible structural deterioration. Much of that work is done, but we are now learning that the gunwale, gunwale clamp, rub rails and sheer strakes need to come off. AND the garboard strakes - those wonderfully twisted planks that are fastened to high heaven - they still need more work to remove them as well. Oh what joy I have ahead of me! If time permits, I'll start tackling that as well. Once removed, we can make patterns from the original parts and attempt to fit them back into place.

Lots for me to do by myself this holiday weekend. But that's always when I seem to be most productive - when I work alone. If my energy permits, I will try to keep posting as the weekend progresses. I anticipate a rush of energy, time and some epic ninja boatbuilding and repair skill comminatcha!

To all - enjoy your Thanksgivings and rest up - we have a busy week ahead when Monday rolls around, and I suspect that nobody will be safe from the onslaught.


Monday, November 22, 2010

The best laid plans

Happy Monday all and welcome back to another exciting, albeit short, week of preparations for the upcoming 2010 Reenactment of the Battle of Great Bridge. Today, I'd like to formally announce a new project that I'm taking on specifically for this event: we're going into the movie business. Or at least the YouTube realm of home movies.

The project is to create a series of three short works depicting our activities at this year's event, each set to modern music. The idea will be to 'masterfully' assemble hours and hours of footage taken at the event into three shorts, each about three or four minutes long, and set it to music. We'll then post the videos on YouTube, just for S & Gs.

The first - provided he wants to cooperate - will be a short work based primarily around the person portraying Lord Dunmore (the last colonial governor) set to "Over My Head (Cable Car)" by The Fray. The idea is to create a somewhat dramatic view of Dunmore trying to restore some semblance of order in Virginia as the revolution exploded around him in 1775.

The next short will be a high action piece set to the soundtrack of Pirates of the Carribbean or somesuch, making our Marines and boat crew look like complete badasses. This will take a lot of stock footage and some great editing, I'm sure. But the group I was with in college, the NY Maritime Cadet Artillery/20th NY Volunteer Artillery (Civil War) did this with a photo montage very well a few years ago.

The last will be a comical piece set to some sort of rock or dance song that highlights how much fun we have at events. This we will probably have more than enough footage to compile - as most of our time is spent goofing around anyway. Again, this has been done very sucessfully in the past - and in the Navy!

Thoughts anyone? Let's start putting together the team - amateur and aspiring directors, designers, editors, camera folks. ASSEMBLE THE ARMY!

Just start Googling these quotes if you don't get them - really. It shouldn't be that difficult. It really is funny, I promise.


Friday, November 19, 2010

FULLBORE FRIDAY - Loyal subjects (I trust they weren't too expensive)

Two weeks from today - after that blighted family affair we call Thanksgiving, when the hearth has cleared away and you're thoroughly sick of all relations - the Naval Heritage Society will assemble in Chesapeake VA for the 2010 reenactment of the 1775 Battle of Great Bridge. The most foreign aspect of our participation - if you've not done it before - is that we're dressing up as the British. Yes, the bad guys in red coats (well, about half of us will be in red anyway). And as inherritors of the "evil empire" as we Americans are so often viewed abroad, it would do well for us to examine the roots 'from wence we came'.

Of course the early American naval and marine forces took their first military examples from the British land and sea services. Of course, they added their own distinctly American touches, many of which were brought on by the necessity of building a fighting force from scratch and directly under the noses of a vastly superior and infinitely better organized enemy. Needless to say, their organization, tactics and methods are well worth studying to get a better understanding of what our early naval and marine forces faced, what they adapted from them and what they changed.

That said, for the next two weeks until the conclusion of Great Bridge, I am reverting BACK from wence NHS came, to the enthusiastic LOBSTERBACK - loyal to the rightful soverign of this land, King George the Third. So break out your corniest British accent, we have a rebellion to crush and populace to oppress!


As the first installment of propaganda - I mean encouragement - for you, I'm going to use my semi-regular and moderately obligatory Friday movie-link post to get you all enthused about being royal subjects again.

The navy to which you now belong is one of the largest sea-going fighting forces in the world, equipped with dozens and dozens of great hulking wooden star-destroyers known as Ships of the Line. These powerhouses, although quite nearly useless for any effective inshore work in the colonies, were still quite intimidating. The navy, and the army for that matter are highly efficient fighting forces, quickly adaptable to many forms of irregular combat. They are both highly competitive but work together closely when called upon to do their nation's bidding.

And as if your military might were not enough to get excited about, there is always your elevated status as a crown subject and citizen of the empire. It is definately something to be proud of, that sets you above the rest of the world - including your own colonies - that is worthy of note.

The downside, sadly, is that you'll never seem to get the girl. But come on, really? That's not too bad. As a Brit, even if you're not wearing a smashing red coat, you can still cut one damnably fine image.

Take a few moments to drink it all in. After all, it's already done, and you don't really have a choice in the matter.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Diversity was an old, old wooden ship

Survey says - nope, you probably didn't get the movie reference. Deduct two points.

As we gear up for the annual reenactment of Great Bridge in Chesapeake VA, we're discussing how to mesh what NHS has become with the programming of previous years. Last year at this time, NHS was known as "The Lobsterback Society" - a group dedicated to teaching Americans about their revolutionary origins by portraying the antagonists in the Revolutionary War - the British. And we did that rather well, if I say so myself. When the crowd, irritated by having to swear a loyalty oath to King George or some other abuse, decided to heckle and rebuff the troops, they each discovered a little more about what it took to be a patriot in those uncertain times. After all, those gleaming bayonets and bright red coats have a certain way of intimidating the opposition. Takes some gall, even when you know we can't hurt you or break your stuff, to stand up to that. Point was well recieved.

Now, we're incorporating an entirely different mission into the programming. We still have the original goal of using the 'bad guys' to show you how difficult it can be to stand up for what's right. And we're finding that moral fortitude can be a difficult pill for some to swallow. That's because this year, for the first time in our programming, we are marching into the fray, as it were, with participants who don't fit the historic mold of who we're pretending to be. Let me explain.

Over the past year, we've worked with several youth groups to take NHS programming - the "crucible" concept of training, teamwork and leadership - to a broader audience. In the process we've worked with men and women, young and old, of numerous ethnicities and religions. It was never a big deal, an oarsman is an oarsman and your position in the boat is wholly dependent on your skills, not your demographic. But as we all know, this was not the case in the 18th century. While some may argue that the British Marines (they weren't 'Royal' until 1802) were comprised of men of many different ages, and the occasional disguised female, there are no historical examples (that I've seen) of African, Asian, Hispanic, or Middle Eastern mainstream British Marines in that time period. There were examples of some diversity in the Continental Marines, where several African Americans are known to have been enlisted and served with some distinction on various ships. But not amongst the British.

I should note that almost every Navy in the world at the time recruited from just about anyone they could find to do the job, and so diversity was very common amongst sailors. So thankfully our boat crew - diversity and all - is rather authentic. But amongst our "British Marines" this year we are very likely to have some Hispanic, African American and/or Asian participants, and I know this is going to cause a little heartburn among the die-hard authenticity nuts. To anyone who has a problem with this - our Bylaws are quite clear:

No person because of race, color, creed, sex, age, disability or national origin shall be unlawfully denied membership, unlawfully excluded from participation, or otherwise subjected to unlawful discrimination.

Participants may be excluded from participation in an activity based on unsuitability for the physical requirements of participation and resultant increased risk to their personal health or safety, or the health and safety of other Participants. However, no Member or Participant shall be excluded from attendance at an official function on the basis of physical unsuitability for activities that constitute only a portion of that function.
These provisions, or some adaptation thereof, are required of every 501(c)3 organization by Federal Law. And because this seems as appropriate a venue and time as any, let me expand on this:

It is my sincere hope and goal that the Naval Heritage Society should never cater to any specific enthic group, gender or religion in any way, shape or form. I won't support any effort to recruit people from any specific demographic, or ensure their retainment. I will however strive to ensure fair treatment of all members and participants, provide a prejudice- and harassment-free environment for conduct of operations and activities, and work to bind all persons that choose to participate in the spirit of our common humanity and the realization of the benefits that can be derived from the power of the concerted community above the capabilities of the individual.

I am more than willing to let go of a little historcial authenticity here to ensure everyone learns something. There are plenty of other historical anachronisms to tackle before anyone can begin telling people to "go home - your skin is the wrong shade".

Dismount, SOAPBOX!


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Who we are and what we do

I've been getting a lot of requests lately asking to clarify who we at NHS are and what we do. There is some confusion - are we reenactors? are we not reenactors? are we just goofs in t-shirts playing with old boats. I'll try to sum all of that up and expand upon what's available on our web site.

First, the what and why.

The Naval Heritage Society is all about using historical tools, equipment and skills to explore the origins of the Navy and Marine Corps Core Values of honor, courage and commitment. Sounds like fluff, but let me elaborate.

Put ten people into a boat. Train them how to propel and navigate it - at least the basics. Send them out and put them in a situation that requires use of those skills under trying conditions, artificial or real. Let everyone learn, first hand, WHY it is that things were done that way, WHY honor, courage and commitment are so important. Learn to rely on your fellow crew members, and show them they can rely on you. Leaders realize the very real responsibilities of their posts, making complicated decisions and mitigating risks on the fly. Such situations, properly executed, allow participants to also learn the value of learning peripheral skills such as being able to make proper knots, as well as preparation and planning. Basically, put a crew in a situation that is somehow real or artificially hazardous, and the learning curve goes WAY up.

The marine side of things is no different. One would think that getting dressed up, grabbing your gear, learning to use your weapon and take what you need with you is complex enough. Add to that embarking a boat, filled with sailors who hate your guts for dirtying up their boat and being ready to basically pile out and assemble, ready to 'fight' when disembarked. Again, the learning curve goes up. This isn't your average romp in a field.

In these situations people learn more not only because they want to - but because they perceive that they have to - they've been challenged and continue to be challenged. The relentless drive goes on, carefully managed and monitored by skilled leadership - who, by the way, are totally and completely accountable for their participants' performance and well being. Training then occurs from the bottom up AND the top down.

HONOR - in building the skills and abilities, we are proud of what we can accomplish.
COURAGE - it takes guts to face the difficult situations, and meet the challenge.
COMMITMENT - don't back down, don't give up, your fellow participants are relying on you.

These are real world situations that call upon participants to find these values in themselves. This translates directly into improving who we are, as inheritors of the American Naval Heritage.

A quick note on uniforms, costumes and clothing. The period clothing aspect of things can be fun, but it isn't always necessary to accomplish what we're doing. For that reason, most events where our sailors are employed do not use historical costumes - they just aren't necessary. We do wear them when situations call for them, depending on the venue.

Next, the how.

NHS owns several dozen complete sets of historical uniforms, equipment and historical weaponry, all of which is issued to participants on an as-needed basis - completely free of charge. At the end of an event, the participants give back the issued gear. Lose something or damage it unnecessarily and of your own accord and you'll be paying NHS for the replacement cost - and of course we know what reasonable wear and tear is, so don't fret over losing a button, a strap or getting something dirty.

Our Commissioner of Provisions and Clothing maintains all of the uniforms and arranges our meals in the field. Sometimes there is a small cost (always less than $25) to cover the expense of ammunition and food, but this is increasingly rare these days. Most events are totally free.

On the other side, my side of the monster, the Commissioner of Construction, Equipment and Repairs (yours truly) is responsible to maintain all of the equipment we use. This includes (at least in theory) all non-personal equipment such as boats, tents, cooking gear etc, as well as weapons. Right now I will gladly tell you that I don't maintain the firelocks, just guns - of which we only have one 3 pounder. I also lead all of our construction and major repair efforts, which takes up a significant portion of my time.

Both I and my counterpart are responsible to ensure all of the gear is ready for use when needed. There are several sub-set positions, but I won't go into those now for sake of clarity.

So that's it. For those who didn't understand I hope its a little clearer now. Anyone who still has questions should feel free to contact me directly.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Rolling into high gear

Its been a while since our last actual event - but we've been hard at work in the interim. Now, attention turns back to recruiting for the reenactment of the Battle of Great Bridge 2010, our fifth visit to this event. Last year was fun, we brought the boat down the Dismal Swamp Canal to the event site and landed the marines at the park for the battles. This year, we're planning on bringing the boat back, armed with her shiny new 3-pdr, and adding the setup of a camp at the event site.

One of the limiting factors we've always faced is getting people out to reenactments. Yes, they are a little lame - the "battle" itself is always a little anti-climactic. But around the periphery we have plenty of opportunity for improvisation and some fun. Last year, the marines went into emergency mode to care for their 'wounded' lieutenant, assembling a stretcher of coats and muskets to carry him off the field. Others, equipped with pre-bloodied bandages, made up an interesting procession after the battle, dragging the wounded along. I anticipate plenty of such 'quick response' improvisations this year, though I won't say what those are yet. Let's just say that the marines will have their work cut out for them preventing sailor desertion. Tidbits like these can bring more people out, though we always find ourselves a little short handed.

That said, we are making a full-court press to recruit sailors, marines and support personnel. Remember, all of your uniforms and equipment are provided free of charge. Provisions and ammunition are still up in the air, though I hope our benevolent Board of Directors will deem fit to comp that for everyone too, in hopes of attracting more people.

For the sailors, we offer the No. 1 Monomoy Pulling Boat, fully equipped with your own powder-burning device that can (and will!) set off car alarms at a half mile with its concussion. We're also hoping to try for a new speed record in the flat calm waters of the canal - we have to beat 9 knots off Naval Station Norfolk, reached late last year by volunteers from USS Theodore Roosevelt. We'll also have the sailing rig onboard, for those quick jaunts down the canal, should the winds prove favorable. At the end of the day, you'll have the option to go home or camp with the marines on site.

For the marines, we offer the newly improved Sea Service Firelock Musket - lately delivered from our Danville Arsenal with notably improved locks. There should be a lot more "bang" and less "click" this year. If our sailors turn out, you won't have to row (because you're horrible at it anyway) and you can concentrate on keeping that firelock spitting downrange. At the end of the day, marines will likely raid the restaurant across Battlefield Blvd before retiring to their camp and sub-zero sleeping bags. I'll be there with some home brew to share, regaling the group with tales of Great Bridges past.

Support services are being taken to another level this year, with dedicated videographers and photographers coming to capture the action in detail. Our hope is to deliver plenty of video to web outlets and our website. We'll also have the usual on-scene logistics assistants, led by the indomitable Mr. Woodard.

So it should be a fun time! Tell your friends, and let's go! Remember to register by emailling info@navalheritage.org and make sure you tell them if you intend on going as sailor, marine or SS.


Monday, November 15, 2010

What did you do?

This weekend was a total rout, with very little having been accomplished. I did manage to get some of the improvements to the 3-pdr skids, which our event in Hyco were little more than through-bolted 2x4s. I was actually a little amazed that the improvements took a grand total of about 2 hours on Sunday, BS-ing with volunteers included. Now instead of 2x4s the assembly is made up of white oak, using about half the fasteners.

I also managed to get the sharpening arrangements all set up and all the chisels, plane and spokeshave blades nicely honed and sharpened. Simple as that sounds, getting the grinder, stones and oil in the same place at the same time had become something of a white elephant in the shop in recent weeks. And as much as daylight savings has been taking an inordinate amount of time to settle in with me, I hope to make it part of my regular "chillaxin" routine to enjoy my evening programming on the couch, sharpening stone, oil and blade in working dilligently on my coffee table.

But despite my best hopes, no, we didn't make it to our white oak supplier and no we STILL do not have materials. I have partial access to my budget - namely the cash the Finance Director withdrew for me - but my debit card is still 'in the mail'. Hopefully this week we can get back on the ball and get pumping with these critical parts. We have until December 15 - my goal deadline - to finish two complete sets of keels, stems and sternposts. We'll see. Many more delays like this one and we'll be repeating the same setbacks we saw on the Launch.


On a positive note, I did visit the Outer Banks for the first time this weekend. A friend of mine who stopped down is looking at beach houses, and so when most of the volunteers for Saturday either didnt show or called to cancel, I hung up the "gone fishin" sign and decided to take a one-day road trip with him.

Now, for those who weren't familiar with the sea state this weekend, abnormally high tidal surges and twenty foot rollers were thrashing the Outer Banks. Even in Norfolk we saw the tidal surge, but the waves crashing ashore were definately something to see. The road out to Hatteras Island was broken at intervals by the huge rollers pouring seawater directly onto the road, and tons of sand with it. At one point in Rodanthe, my SUV became stuck in the sand on the road - to the point where traction or lack thereof was a non-issue - the frame of the car was fast on the drifts, growing ever larger as seawater washed around it with every new huge wave. Luckily the locals came out with shovels to help dig out, and before long we had a chain made fast to a large truck that dragged me clear of the deepening drift.

We made it down to our destination in the town of Avon, had lunch and checked out the beach houses, then made a quick jaunt down to the cape to see the lighthouse - which until then I had only ever seen from ships at sea. The drive through the National Seashore is fantastic and I look forward to getting down there again as soon as possible.

I should note that there was much discussion looking out at the mountainous surf about taking our Monomoys out in such conditions. Life-threatening though the prospect is, we had completely envisioned a crew bedecked with crash helmets and mouth guards pulling like furies out into the crashing waves. Ultimately, those of us having the conversation safe in the vehicle, decided that wrecking a boat and injuring the crew (who would have to be crazy anyway) would only be worthwhile if we managed to get it all on film.

I hope you picked up on the irony and insanity of that conversation.


This week I hope to break this now week and a half long stretch of stagnation at the Dockyard. Tonight I'll be making the trip out to pick out the oak and get it back to the stickers (come hell or high water!) and begin setting up the lamination jig. Tuesday evening I hope to get folks back out to start the laminations with cutting and gluing the scarfs.

THURSDAY we have a unique opportunity. The local Boy Scout troop here has sponsored a preservation initiative to save a cannon unearthed at Fort Boykin. They've built a carriage for it, and will be displaying it here in Norfolk Thursday night before it makes the trip back to the Fort. We've been invited to bring our 3-pdr out to display it next to the Fort Boykin gun and talk about the functionality of the guns in historical application. Should be a fun time, hopefully with some good media coverage as well. I'll need some volunteers to help get the gun out there, so if you're free Thursday night, let me know.

Its going to be another busy week!


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans, and why we have so much to learn from them

Today in honor of Veterans' Day, a few comments.

First, I have to say that I don't consider myself a veteran, even though I'm an active duty Naval Officer. I should also clarify that I don't write this blog in that capacity - this is my hobby, and no matter how passionate I am about it, it should be well noted that I don't write in that official capacity. But to my mind, veterans are those who have served, who've contributed to create the military we have today, and laid the groundwork and received the laurels that we in the modern military strive to build on. In short, the people who have helped create the Naval heritage (and other services as well) that we have inherited. These words are about you.

NHS has benefited from the contributions of several vets, directly and indirectly, since its founding not long ago. I've found that any time we have them around, things are just somehow more fun, more enlightening. The most notable experience was probably having an old Navy vet in our crew in "Conquer the Chesapeake" - where we crossed the Bay from Cape Henry to Cape Charles. At 78 years old, that tough old salt (and no, I don't think he minds the label) was an inspiration to the younger members of the crew, one of whom was his son. When we were in the heart of the squall that pelted us with rain and fierce winds, one person asked him through the darkness "hey, how are you holding up" to which he fiercely responded "I'm fine but YOU look a little green". Everyone laughed a bit, and at that moment I knew exactly what it was about vets that we need to take onboard - perseverance.

Look back at past generations - the Sailors who've manned the ships at the tip of the spear. In fair winds and foul, they charged onward. They put their best into their work because they considered their work an extension of who they are. It is so rare that I see that today. But whether or not we want to admit it, the work we do is probably the one way that most of us have to influence those who will come after us. Whether it is scrubbing the bilge or training a gun, doing that often simple and mundane task well and to the best of your ability can mean that people you don't know will remember you after you're gone or not. And perhaps not by name, but by reputation, and sometimes that can be just as meaningful. For instance, I don't know anyone who served onboard the battleship Wisconsin but I can tell you their dedication shows through in the material condition of the ship, years after decommissioning. Some of the modern ships I've served on don't look so good after just 12 hours of inattention as the deepest, darkest crevices of that ship do now.

So NHS - and this includes myself - if you want to throw your hat in the ring with those people, step up to the plate, and no matter what you do, do it well. And don't rest until you've DONE it well. Not just good, but great. The pride that comes with wearing the nation's cloth and carrying its standards is NOT something you pick up by showing up, and I can guarantee you it isn't easy or quick. Go talk to a vet, and they'll tell you all about it. And maybe with a little sweat, we can finally begin to take it all onboard.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Delayed again

I just got off the phone with the NHS Finance Director and apparently my new budget, which has been approved for going on three weeks now, won't be accessible until Saturday. This means that new stock won't be in until then. Joy - another delay.

Luckily this will be the last major delay in transferring funds to the Dockyard budget. Previously, I had to request specific amounts based on purchase orders - which took a lot of time and several trips to the vendors - and also occasionally caused us to miss out on great deals. Then, a week or two later, I'd get a check made out to the vendor that I'd take them and pick up my product. Now, a separate operating account has been established for the Dockyard, and I'll have a debit card that I can use to make purchases pertaining to those projects that have been approved by the Board of Directors. Much better.

The delay shouldn't cause too much hardship, except that I'm just about ready to get started and I hate wasting time.


By the way, backyard boat builders of Norfolk - I have good news! Don't let the lumberyards - even Yukon - tell you that you won't find hardwood in quantity in any significant length! Today, after calling everyone in the phone book searching to no avail, I discovered, and completely by acciedent, the Wurth Wood Group on Chesapeake Blvd and let me tell you - they've got it a-plenty and at great prices.

Just goes to show that you CAN find what you want, if you look dilligently enough!


What I like about you

I suppose I've been in the mood for ranting lately, though I'm not sure why. I hate being the constant critic but it's hard not to say something about those glaring, nagging issues. So in all fairness - and for a spirit of proper balance - I should bring up a few GOOD things, and highlight somebody we appreciate. After all, it's the small partnerships and cooperatives that really make this hobby worthwhile.
On that note, I spoke to John "Dutch" Collamore a few days ago. He's been one of the champions of the Luna project over at the Colonial Seaport Foundation. If you haven't heard of these people, I highly recommend checking out their site and blog. They are great folks, very welcoming and friendly, and we always have some sort of fun back-and-forth idea sharing and joint activities. According to John, the Foundation is having a fundraiser at the Half Moon Cruise Teminal (next to Nauticus) on Wednesday December 8 from 5:30 to 7:30 pm. I know I'll be there! Good luck all!

I also want to point out that the Luna project, unlike Schooner Virginia, is being wholly supported by volunteers. Like NHS, they have NO PROFESSIONAL STAFF - so every dollar of your donations goes directly to support programming - not paying the administrators. Operations like this are self-sustaining because they are driven by the passion and outright selflessness of their participants and donors.

You guys motivate me - keep it up!

In other news, last night I spent a few hours getting the lines for the Monomoy keels laid out. The thought process here is to procuce two of each part, stems, stem knees, sternpost, sternpost knees and keels, all at once. After all, with as hard as we like to drive our boats, having solid backbones will be a serious concern, and we want to be sure that everything is as solid as possible. The keels are 20' 8" long each, and will be laminated into their curved 'banana' shapes using 3/4" lifts of clear white oak. This was found to be much cheaper than jumping through our asses (pardon my Anglo Saxon) to secure clear solid timbers. They should also be more stable.

The stems, sternposts and associated knees will be likewise laminated in the manner of sawn frames, using 1/4" plywood templates as cutting guides. Once cut to within about 1/4" of the template and smoothed, paper templates will be glued to both sides and the finish cuts made to those lines. The paper that remains (which won't be much) can be scraped off later once the parts are complete.

The lamination of all 10 pieces (5 per boat) will begin this weekend, and will likely occur simultaneously. I hope to have all of them ready for cutting by next weekend, as the next step toward our December 15 finish goal.

Anyone in the area who feels up for some work this afternoon, I'll likely be out picking up stock at Yukon Lumber and bringing it back to the stickers. Assume a departure of about 1600. More updates via Twitter later on.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ship of fools

Okay. I just HAD to vent about this - after all, it's virtually in my back yard (not the way NHS is - ha!) and a major point of local attention in the last several months.

To paraphrase for those who haven't heard, Schooner Virginia - a ship built less than a decade ago to be a sail training platform, goodwill ambassador of the Commonwealth, and preserver of our seafaring heritage - is on the rocks. After running hard aground in the red ink of her own ledgers, the program was shut down and the ship tied up at a Norfolk dock, where she has been waiting for salvation. That was last year. Now fast forward to 2010, when the ship's SEVEN FIGURE DEBT (!) is crippling most efforts to stabilize her situation by other 501(c)3 organizations, such as Nauticus.

Let me say for starters that I am NOT the Will King who is Executive Director of that program. Same name, I know, very confusing.
In short, the problem stems from two critical issues: intended mission and basic business plans. And in this case, they are relatively well entwined.
All of the stated purposes of the program are great and very meaningful. They are also sugared fluff. Why should I say that? Because although the people that conceived and fostered this project probably had great visions of their noble schooner plowing the waves, they did not consider the limitations of such a hull form in terms of accommodations and deck space, which equals REVENUE. It's one thing to say you want sail training and all that, and make that your "mission", but if you insist on a design that cripples that mission, you're doomed from the start.

As has been pointed out in several articles and in discussion, the program also lacked a compelling story - some kind of historical background for people to get behind, that would anchor the vessel to its community. The original ship, built in the early years of the 20th century, was obsolete even when built. According to the ship's own history page (now removed), the original's mission of "sail training for pilots" was even called into question by lawmakers at the time when the pilots began taking the ship out for drunken benders in Chesapeake Bay. Yeah, great precedent. And I'm not even touching the fact that her design was modelled after America's Cup yachts- yes, yachts. Sleek, fast, with little space for accommodations and even less appeal to the common masses. It's easy to draw the connection to it as an elitist symbol - in fact, that is the distinct impression she gives me.

Couple all of this with the fact that the half-baked project was totally enabled by one-time grants and other funds that WERE NOT EARNED by the program, nor could be earned by the program. The majority of the funds for construction and to support her first several years of operation came from the same place - the government. So it's understandable that taxpayers should be irked by the utter failure of a scheme that they helped get off the ground. Where, after all, was the business plan? Surely those people couldn't have expected the 'free money' to last forever? But yes, yes they did.

All I can think of is this - aren't these people 'adults'? Aren't these the 'responsible type' of 'successful people' I am supposed to look up to and learn from? What the hell happened? Why do decision makers buy off on these things? And not to say the program shouldn't have received a helping hand in start-up, but shouldn't they have had a viable (and in fact bullet-proof) plan to stand on their own?

I WILL NOT pine for the loss of the Schooner Virginia. Instead I think it ought to be an example to everyone else thinking about such projects - myself included. In fact - I will go so far as to DAMN THEIR IDIOCY because from now on, it will be just that much more difficult for another such idea to get off the ground, no matter how well conceived, thought out and planned.


The last point I make in reference to rebuilding. This region DESERVES a tall ship of its own. A center of community pride and enthusiasm cruising our local waters. But it is not that schooner.

Of course, in my biased opinion, it ought to be a warship of some historical note - something that was built in Virginia for the public service, and used exclusively in that regard throughout its life. Give me a square-rigger with stout, hearty lines and capacity for 150 students by day and 50 overnight. Something manned by a crew of 20 talented, dedicated educators, with an administration that looks after them as their first priority. Let her be the embodiment of efficiency and good order, the very best of working people coming together.

Sadly, I grow less and less confident that it can or will ever happen.


In a hurry, so I'll take my time

I don't particularly like the person I always associated with that phrase - he always had more hot air than elbow grease - but the idea is a sound one. When you're pressed for time, don't rush - slow down. You'll avoid the idiotic mistakes and also having to repeat or re-do things later down the road. Good advice, and free to you, brave reader, today only on your local Dockyard Blog.

Last night and again tonight my attention is turning to the fine-tuning of the full-sized drawings. A large part of this involves laying out the planking-backbone interface known as the rabbet. The rabbet is a very precisely cut groove in the keel, stem and sternposts that allows the planking to lead fairly up to and against it. It is a rather sensitive thing, and is only partically depicted on the lofted lines as printed. That means my evening last night was spent with a little scrap of wood cut carefully down to the width of the planking, holding it against the plans at the angle of planking intersection and tracing the outline. This produces two lines (the rabbet is already drawn, as the lines are set to the outside of the planking) - the bearding line and the middling line. Both of these have to be drawn on the plans before proceeding. When finished, I'll draw in the scarfs and fasteners, and take the whole mess to the copiers, where they will make several copies that I can cut into templates that I'll glue directly onto the timbers.

I hope to get all of this squared away in time for the weekend, when we can turn our attention to laminating the timber keels, stems and sternposts. The completed pieces will then be treated as solid timbers, being assembled as closely as practicable to the orignal methods. Still not sure about those curved scarfs - they give me the willies just looking at them.


One recent delivery of note is a shipment of cannon powder for the 3-pdr gun. Some time ago, my counterpart at the Danville Arsenal began shopping for it, with some limited success. You can imagine my surprise when walking into the shop late Sunday night I came across 52 lbs of the stuff in a box marked DANGER EXPLOSIVE on the planking workbench. Ummmm, yeah. I'm pretty sure that's enough to light up the entire Dockyard should anything happen to it, so needless to say we've already requisitioned the proper magazine and containers to store it all. For now it can live in a 20mm ammunition can in the Lofting Bay. At some point before December, we'll have to begin making it up into blank rounds for the gun.


Stand by for a great hideous rant, in a few hours.


Monday, November 8, 2010

BY THE WAY - Oh web "master"

I just took a jog over and had a look at our website. "Counter is updated daily" seems to be negated by the fact that our 'fundraising goal' deadline is November 1. Updated daily, that is, until November 1, after which you'll forget about it. Way to go! AND... the PayPal link has stopped working. Seems these days that your work is more than a little mildly discouraging.
Before we get into another war turning pages pink, is there some motivation I can provide beyond the constant harping? I'd love to give positive encouragement! But no, you're sooo touchy. I mean seriously, do your frickin job or quit - 'all there is to it. And before you think about turning my blog pink again, remember the lesson that you should have learned on that occassion - if you force me to engage you, the sequence of combat will only end in your demise... or at least severe embarassment.

Forty three, check. (imaginary pencil on hand) still not getting the quotes. Hmmm.

The thing that irritates me the most about NHS - and the thing that motivates me beyond words - are the contributions of others (or lack thereof). Many of us have signed on for responsibilities above and beyond the typical show-up-and-row mentality. It also provides an outlet to relieve stress and occasionally a viable reason to have a beer before lunch. But I digest.

It is SO motivating to see the products of other people's labor, and how it compliments my own in the push toward the NHS master goal of global domination. But when people take on responsibilities especially voluntarily, and don't meet them, I get irritated. Irked, if you will. REALLY MAAAAAAAAAAD.

You Dockyard volunteers, the Saturday morning beer this weekend shall be my tribute to you! May I never forget your contributions! To our webmaster, consider yourself ON NOTICE.

I don't know why I'm so fixated on beer this afternoon. I almost NEVER drink heavily (not like apparently I was supposed to in college), I just enjoy one now and again. But one other idea I had last night revolved around one of the other hobbies I've been thinking of taking up lately (yes, there are others) - beer making. I'm thinking we need to pick up a home beer-making kit, and brew some Dockyard Ale or Dockyard Bitter or Dockyard Porter. Dockyard IPA, maybe a nice Dockyard Stout. You get the idea. Not thinking of becoming a micro-brew but it WOULD be kind of nice to brew our own concoction and provided it's palatable, wheel it out on special occasions.

And in case anyone else is wondering, I already have plenty of spirits hidden buried in the Dockyard to celebrate whiskey planks, launchings etc. No, I won't tell you where or what they are, you'll just have to stick around long enough to find out. They are, by the way, worth the wait. Unlike what I'm sure will come of the above rant.

With great anticipation

Much has been going on in our shops over the past week - for starters the 25-foot Launch has been moved out of the Framing Bay to make room for the No. 2 Monomoy. The shop was nearly entirely stripped, and everything reorganized to streamline material handling and management in quantity. A new 16-foot workbench along the East wall is ideally suited to working with planking stock, and all of our large power tools are now stowed beneath it. The entire West wall was framed up with stickers (shelves) for new timber stock of all varieties up to 25 feet long, with our heaviest materials (concrete, scrap metals) and rag, wood scrap and junk line bins beneath. Right now, it is a sight to behold, empty for the first time in over a year, and ready to rock yet another project. Thanks to everyone who lent your efforts to shop preparation - all of which will pay dividends as work continues. Not to mention, the improvements make us look more and more substantial - "inspiring confidence" as one volunteer so eloquently put it.


Work begins on keels, stems and sternposts for both of the restoration Monomoys this week. The full sized plans - that's right, no lofting here - have been printed and are sitting on my desk at this moment. Several copies of critical sheets allow us to cut out the lines to transpose them onto the plywood to be subsequently cut into patterns. The patterns will be made starting today, and by Wednesday we will likely be in a very good position to begin laminating the white oak planks into timbers that will be shaped to form the backbone and ends of the boats.

Also of note, we'll be laminating the timbers for both boats simultaneously. In fact, the entire process of making new parts for the boats will continue side-by-side, although only the parts made for No. 2 will be assembled as they are produced. More on the plan for this process after the timbers are complete.

That completed, it is my hope that shaping can be completed by December, ahead of our deadline on the 15th. That would make for a great holiday season of making and setting up the molds and placing ribbands.


I'll make up for the lack of humor tomorrow. I'm crotchety today after fighting with the plotter and huge sheets of paper strewn with running ink. Bah humbug.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

One place, one dream

The Framing Bay has nearly been completely re-organized, and for the first time in months, we're looking across a relatively large open indoor space. The Launch molds have been disassembled, yet again, and stacked until the project is picked back up next year. Monomoy No. 2 will be next into the shop, where she will be moved, piece by piece and rebuilt in the upright position. The process will mirror as closely as possible that of her original construction, from what we know of it or can interpolate from the evidence.

Now, before anyone goes having any conniptions (Joey Guns) bear in mind that our interior space is precious. The recent bout of wet weather has reminded us why working inside is so important. Plus tool storage, access to power etc are all made immeasurably simpler inside. I know that disassembling the Launch YET AGAIN is the last thing anyone wanted, and I might remind everyone that I had the most time invested in that project. It pains me, but it is a necessary evil.

It does, however, have its benefits. Monomoys No. 2 and 3 are teaching us quite a bit about how inexpensively and easily boats can be built. We realize that having drank the Cool Aid with cold molding we were turning our back on what is, in fact, the least time consuming, least expensive, longest lasting construction method of all - the one used for hundreds of years before us. And very much like reenacting, once you're out of that bubble you can examine it in a greater context and really appreciate its merits and see its downsides. That said, I think these two restorations are going to set us up to efficiently produce beautiful traditionally built boats at a fraction of the previously estimated production cost and timeline. But we'll leave that discussion for another day.

The empty Framing Bay, newly reorganized with new lumber and tool storage, should be your inspiration.


There will be no working session again tonight. I hope to return to the shop with full vigor this weekend, toting a complete set of corrected lines for the restoration Monomoys.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Fancy duds

One of the ongoing discussions around the Dockyard has been NHS apparel. We have shirts from Conquer the Chesapeake, but those are event specific. Ideally, we should have some sort of organizational clothing that is standardized for regular wear. But what that should be, and what it should look like, are up in the air.

The basic principles of the clothing ought to be simple. Something that is functional and to a degree traditional, and wouldn't be found too out of place worn out and about in town. Something you can row in, go out in, meet normal people in - and not necessarily in that order or one at a time. After all, it would be well for us to try to dress like the normals, no matter how far afield we really are. I don't like sharing my abnormality with normal people, which is why only abnormal people know about this blog.

Take a minute to regroup if you just realized you're wierd. I'll wait.

Moving on.

Expense is also an issue. All of these options ought to be fairly reasonable, and I don't think NHS should attempt to make a profit on them. After all, the small numbers moved and slim margins we could reasonably tack on wouldn't justify the added strain of our participants' pockets. Let them sink their money into something more effective than our general corporate account. With some proper hunting, we can probably find some great deals. We also don't need amazing quality. Nobody will be counting the stitches here. Durable is good, but we shouldn't expect these to last more than a few seasons.

So, onto the clothing itself.

First, we ought to have a basic T-shirt. Something with a breast logo of the NHS monogram or something similar. But what to put on the rest of the shirt? Some kind of logo for the back, or a motto. These would be our standard default shirts, for wear in the shop or on the water. Ideally, sailors and marines should have different colored shirts, with the same or similar markings, to tell them apart at a distance. I always hate calling over to someone asking them to do something and getting a quizzical look and the response, "I'm a Marine, sir. I don't understand." Take another moment if you just realized that you, as a Marine, do that way too often to be considered a non-vegetable. I'll be here.

On the strictly Navy side, one thought was to use rugby shirts for boat crews. Something in Navy blue or blue and gold stripes would have the NHS monogram and possibly a number, corresponding to a specific crew or to the individual participant. These would dress up the crews a bit, and be a little warmer than the standard t-shirt. It would also allow the boat crewmembers to show off, the shirt being something only a dedicated member of a specific crew could purchase. Of course, if you pop the collar and/or wear aviators with it, you lose your elevated status and degrade officially to douche, so wear will require careful attention to detail.

Pullovers or outer wear are another important article. When cold weather sets in, we should still be able to maintain some sort of uniformity. Right now, we sort of take on the appearance of the Donner Party. That would also explain the occasional missing crewmember. But I digress. There are lots of cold/foul weather options out there, and we should explore in detail as much as we can.

The whole mess can be capped off, quite literally, with some NHS ball caps. Something simple, maybe differing for Sailor/Marine as before, but different colors than the standard shirts. Khaki for sailors, OD green for marines would be a good choice.

So, for the next several weeks feel free to chime in with your opinions - we have a while to develop these and I'm all ears, or eyes, as email goes.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

See what's going on here? Well here's an update!

Yesterday we got some great work done around the Dockyard. We cleared the Launch out of the Framing Bay and got her into the Hold. Now we're reorganizing the shop and laying out to begin lofting the corrected lines for Monomoys No. 2 and 3. The Lofting Bay is likewise setup for the corrected lines being lofted full scale - an ongoing evolution that will take several more days of work to complete. The lofting plan will begin with the layout of the lofting boards, sheets of plywood inscribed with parallel lines several inches apart. The offsets from our computer program, when completed, will be transferred to these sheets and faired, then traced in mylar film - a clear sheet that doesn't stretch or skew in normal conditions. The mylar sheets will then be carefully cut out and used to make up templates for molds, keel, forefoot, stem, heel and sternposts. These will be produced in the Carpenter's Shop and shifted to the Framing Bay, with the exception of the keel, which will be laminated in place.

Also, we plan on building parts for both boats simultaneously. Because the boats were built together, their corrected lines are identical. So we'll be shaping two keels, two stems etc and all at the same time. By the way, it was decided that since we have to replace the keel on No. 3, to do it on No. 2 as well. After all, if there is one thing that we're learning about these boats, it's that they were used HARD and repairs were not always up to snuff. Some of the damage isn't readily apparent until you start really REALLY digging and we don't want any surprises late in the game. So we'll probably end up replacing much of the original fabric in the interest of ensuring safe, reliable operation later.


I'm still fussing with the CAD program to get the corrected lines for the Monomoys. I'll post samples of the 3D renderings etc when complete, but for now, stop poking around my drafting table - they aren't there.


On a completely different note, amidst all the hubbub we are also making preparations for the annual Battle of Great Bridge. The event is a fun and light-hearted rendition of the 1775 battle that pitted colonial forces against the British for the first major engagement in Virginia. The history is very interesting, complete with your typical insane acts of bravery, questionable tactics and predictable outcome. But the event takes place on a small - very small - patch of the original field (as it can be argued) and is attended by about 50 reenactors but thousands of spectators. The scenario is set up with bales of straw and fence sections to represent the various topographical and military features.

I remember when I used to get so excited about these events. And I am excited about this year, though honestly mostly about getting our crew together for underway operations in December. Burning powder just doesn't have the same fascination anymore.

On that note, I should mention some particulars. First, everyone should know that we're the Brits at this one - we play the bad guys! There will undoubtedly be some fun plants in the crowd and plenty of heckling to do - which is usually the purview of the marines. We Sailors will spend our time ashore doing what we do best - chasing down attractive women and hunting down alcoholic beverages. And woe betide the officers that forget our sailorly tendencies, who subsequently end up losing a few along the way!

The event runs from December 3 to December 5, although the first day is mostly setup and prep. This year we will be camping so bring the sub-zero sleeping bags. It should be fairly comfortable so long as we prepare, prepare, prepare. The British camp will be right along the water this year so we're not so isolated from everyone else, and the marines will spend most of their time ashore mixing and mingling. They will setup camp on Friday afternoon and get settled in while we Sailors tend the boat and get her to the site.

Monomoy No. 1 and the 3-pdr are coming with us, so we Sailors should have some fun navigating the small stretch of canal. We need to try and NOT drop the lockmaster's bribe doughnuts in the canal this time around. The marines will be out in full lobsterback gear as well, ready to march off and do that voodoo that they do so well.

The main event proceedings continue over Saturday and Sunday. Although most of us (myself included) will be camping on the field, some may leave and come back. Mustering times are 0800 on Saturday and 0900 on Sunday. And rembmer, the more the merrier, so stay and partake!

Command ashore is in the hands of Joe Sturiale, who will be dressed up as a Lieutenant in the British Marines, while command afloat will rest with LT Glenn Atherton, who will be dressed up as a Royal Navy Lieutenant for the event. Petty Officer Caleb Bryan will play the part of Able Seaman and Coxswain of Monomoy No. 1, and James Filler will do his thing as Sergeant of Marines. Yours trully will be dressed up as well, pulling an oar in the boat as a Boatswain's Mate and chief trouble maker.

And by the way - make sure you tell someone you're planning on attending, if you are. I don't think we're accommodating walk-ups this year.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Reverse Engineering

This weekend offered little in the way of time to get out to the boats. Nevertheless, Friday afternoon and Saturday morning we put some sweat into the stem on No. 2, but kept running the gamut of finding which fasteners were holding it after we removed all we found. It was an interesting game of hide-and-seek, but it brought to light some very interesting information about how the boats were actually built. And so because its Monday, day of big dreams and little productivity, with even lower enthusiasm, let's review what we at the Dockyard have learned about the process.

First, we know - or we think we know - what the boats cost. According to the contract taken out at the Norfolk Navy Yard on March 3, 1904 a total sum of $14.72 was to be paid for each Monomoy-type Whale Boat completed and altered for Arctic service. Yes, fourteen dollars and seventy-two cents. I'm still working on nailing down the relative value of the dollar at the time, but I'm willing to bet that even with adjusted dollars we couldn't build them that cheap. They were cranking these things out. And not just Monomoys, boats in general. So whatever means they had of putting these together, I'm guessing that there was no time for any unnecessary work. Less art and more haste, sort of thing.

The clues we've been gathering from the boat give us a good idea of the order in which they were assembled. This is particularly true of the stems, where we're finding that this is not necessarily an obvious thing. But based on the general lack of data, I've widened my investigation to examine other reference material pertaining to Navy boat construction over the years. Here's how I think they did it, so far:
  1. Shape the keel, lay out on blocks.
  2. Shape stem and sternpost, bolt into place on keel. Brace entire structure as necessary to keep upright.
  3. Assemble molds, each molded to the inside of the planking. These are fitted directly to the keel.
  4. Run ribbands from the rabbet on the stem to the rabbet on the sternpost. Do not notch into the molds. Use mechanical fasteners to connect to molds.
  5. Steam-bend frames into position, laying them inside the ribbands. Clamp to ribbands and screw into top of keel.
  6. Begin planking at the sheer. Work one plank per side at a time, and duplicate on opposite. Lay the whole assembly on side as needed (see photo of motor whaleboats, 1953).
  7. Once several strakes are run down from the sheer, begin work on the garboards and work up.
  8. When planked, attach temporary beams gunwale to gunwale, remove molds.
  9. Insert keelsens, CB trunk, clamps and thwarts.
  10. Insert deckbeams, decking, bow and stern platforms.

Note the complete lack of such things as a strongback, heavy framing etc. Either they were just $hit hot or we've been approaching wooden boatbuilding with a vast degree of overkill. I mean, the molds and strongback for the 25' Launch weigh as much as the finished boat itself. In contrast, those light frames look quite dainty. Not to mention the rolling about of the structure during construction - seems to make building them upright (more or less) a lot less stressful, AND it removes the operation of having to flip them over. Hmmmm.


TONIGHT we will assemble the Dockyard crew to help the operational side in recruiting. Monomoy No. 1 is ready for duty, and we're going to go park her in front of the NEX, lay out the oars, step the mast and hoist sail (wind permitting) and some flags, and get attention! All hands meet at the Dockyard at 1600 and we'll begin making preps to go.