Monday, June 6, 2011

Death to the hands!

This weekend we spent a good deal of time getting Monomoy No. 3 ready for re-framing - the process by which we're going to be replacing all of her 107 year old steam bent frames, or 'ribs'. Preparation calls for stripping the boat down to the bare essentials - out with the thwarts, the decking, deckbeams, centerboard trunk and keelsons - until all that is left is the shell of the boat, keel, planking and frames. It is a scary process that entails carefully (or sometimes not) removing old fasteners and gingerly lifting out structural members (or beating them into splinters with a mallet and big nasty chisel). And as we progressed, the shell of the boat gets more and more fragile and flexible. I am very happy to report that as of writing, the boat is happily resting in her tailor-made cradles, almost completely empty. There is a certain zen to sitting amidships and seeing nothing but open space out to the frames in every direction.
On both Saturday and Sunday, the Dockyard resonated with the steady thunk, thunk, thunk of sledges driving out keelbolts, punctuated by the occasional "AHH CRIPES! MOTHER F(*&^*&" as the occasional swing missed or glanced off the bolt and onto fingers. My left thumb still hasn't completely recovered. And now, myself and the other victim walk around with hands looking like we just came out of Fight Club. This morning I even noticed a person staring nervously at my hands. The only thing I could think to say was "you should've seen the other guy".

One of the striking (no pun intended) features we encountered in the work was the inside of the centerboard trunk. Now remember, every part of the boat was covered with layer upon layer of paint, every crevass filled with dust, dirt and paint chips, and near everything showing the effects of 107 years of hard service - and many, many repair jobs. But when we had finally dispatched enough drifts, rivets and bolts to begin removing the sides of the centerboard trunk, we were astonished to find that the inside of the trunk looked nearly brand new. Aside from some light scoring where the centerboard had left marks from raising and lowering, the wood was unpainted and in pristine condition - no checking, no cracking, every joint tight and all of the bedding (consisting of cotton tape that had been soaked in paint) was straight, clean and came off in one piece. In contrast to everything else we've been fighting with, it was amazing to see pieces of the boat's original fabric - we think - come apart so cleanly and easily. The one place nobody could mess it up - it stayed beautiful.

The keelsons on the other hand were a bear. The massively corroded iron bolts - of hand Fight Club fame - had taken their toll on the wood from the inside out. When a bolt like that corrodes inside a piece of wood, the scale of the corrosion pushes outward against the wood, sometimes with amazing force. The wood surrounding the fitting, along with the stress of being pushed outward, turns black as the decomposing metal begins to spread with moisture into the fibers, weakening the strucutre. So although the keelsons were mostly sound, and aside from the fact that they had to be removed to get at the floors and frame ends beneath them, they are now reduced to a few template sections and a big pile of large wood chips waiting beside the Pagan Altar (our fire pit). They'll be easy enough to duplicate, minus the heartburn of the $200-300 the replacement timber might run us.

All of this effort is still part of the demolition phase - everything we're doing is removing, tearing out and clearing away old material. Some of this will be returned to the boat, but most of it will become patterns and be replaced entirely with new material. The process of replacing the frames represents the first large-scale repair work, and will be followed by a long string of construction projects that will make the boat more and more stable with each new piece added.

More to follow on this interesting project.


We're preparing the next major phase of the HORNET Project, where we'll start brining the big news to the forefront. Right now, aside from publishing the fact that we're going to rebuild the ship, we haven't really discussed the numerous partnerships we're building to make it all possible. And while I can't really go into what those are ahead of time, just know that June 22nd is our deadline, and I'll leave it at that.


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