Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Building a Skerry

What I did on my summer vacation

  • Day: Who knows, I lost count
  • Total Build Time: Don't know, don't care. See above

One of the things that has stalled any interest in moving ahead with this boat build guessed it, sanding. You hate, I hate it, we ALL hate it. Using a palm sander to fair the hull was proving to be an exercise in futility, and I knew I needed a random orbital sander to do the job. A good friend offered a loan on a well used Porter Cable unit, and I jumped at the opportunity to save a bunch of money not buying a new sander (although the Festool Rotex is a REALLY nice sander!) I plugged it in, started sanding, and in less than thirty seconds pieces of the sander were flying in every direction! The sanding pad was dry rotted and was disintegrating, throwing pieces of itself everywhere in it's final death throes. Well, now I had a problem. How to sand all that hull without taking forever? Fortunately, I'm a smart guy and knew what the ONLY possible solution was...go out immediately and buy that brand new Festool Rotex!!! What an amazing sander, and it should be for the price! But I'm a firm believer in buying the best and buying once, and Festool is by far the best. It took relatively no time at all to sand the entire hull smooth in preparation for the finish coats of epoxy, which I have yet to apply. 

As a result of continued shoulder issues, the one month sabbatical that I had planned to take in September to do a bike trip had to be postponed until next year, so I decided to take two weeks off anyway and see if the shoulder would recover after being away from work. While slowly getting better it was still not healed, so I decided to just make the best of it. 

September is always my favorite month of the year because of the annual Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival, which I never miss. This year was particularly beneficial for me because Chesapeake Light Craft had brought their demo Skerry (the same one that inspired me to build mine), and that afforded me the opportunity to have a closer look at it to compare and contrast with my build. Not only was it educational, it also gave me great perspective because they obviously didn't sweat the details anymore than anyone else, and that helped me accept the flaws and problems with mine. No boat is perfect, and as the following pictures show, every build is a balance of good, and "good enough."

The stern fillets on the CLC demo Skerry. Gaps, glops, and god-awful epoxy mess.

Same with the bow. Yeesh.
I'm clearly spending way too much time on trying to make my boat look pretty!

I wanted to have a close look at their bow and stern profiles since this was what I had to do next. Even their bow is a bit asymmetrical. The varnish looks nice though!

Same with their stern. These both show something important that will come up later.

Now, back to MY boat build!  

I had to do some cleanup on my rails in preparation for rounding them over. I found that my Lie Nielsen large rabbit plane fit the rails PERFECTLY. This made short work of cleaning up the undersides of the rails, and keeping them square.

Once I had the rails cleaned up I started to work on roughing out the radius for the bow...

...and stern.

This brought out a big challenge. CLC tells you to round over the bow and stern of the upper panels...BEFORE putting on the rails. WTF? Why would you do that? Now you have a round profile that you have to bring two square rails in to meet! Grrrr. As you can see if you look closely, the rails have a gap at the rounded part of the bow and stern. And, looking back at their finished boat you can see that they just continued sanding back until the rails met the panels. If the panels were left sharp until this point you would have a finer entry and exit point at the rails. Dammit! Well, get out the block plane, surefire rasp, and sanding block and get to work!

Stern roughed out...

...and the bow.

The next step was to round over the rails. I wouldn't know what the final bow and stern profile was going to be until I figured out the rounded over shape, so I grabbed my router and a 3/8" roundover bit and...the bit didn't fit through the router base plate. Crap. I was going to have to free-hand the round-overs with the router, top and bottom! Yikes! 
It made sense to be concerned about this step because I screwed up, BIG TIME. The rails taper at each end and this made the router dig in really bad on the bottom of the rail. So bad in fact that I thought I was going to have to cut a bunch of material away and put in a patch. Funny enough though, as I started to remove material to taper and hand round-over the rails...I ended up having to take so much off to bring the rails back past the gaps that I had enough rail to work with when all was said and done! HUGE sigh of relief!!!

Beginning the shaping after the round-over disaster. Yep, I sanded through the veneer of the breast hook. It looks way worse here than in real life, and I really don't give a damn at this point! 

Less of an issue in the stern, this looks really nice

Beautiful round-over with a nice scarf!

 I also needed to put a fillet along the skeg. This was one of the only things I have done on this boat that went smoothly!

I put the boat on my little ultralight Yakima trailer to move it around for sanding, epoxy, etc.

The final pic for this post. After sanding the exterior it's truly looking at its ugliest! Pretty soon it will start to look much nicer as the epoxy, paint, and varnish go on. At least I hope it does.

I was also very excited that during the final "sail-by" at the Wooden Boat Festival one of the guys from CLC had their Skerry out on the water and I was able to see first hand how it sails. I have to say, I was very impressed! The boat was really stiff and heeled very little. It's also fast! I watched it run away from CLC's PocketShip, a much bigger boat that carried a lot more sail area. The Skerry is also a very pretty boat under sail, which is important! Seeing it helped get me inspired again to get back to work on mine, and seeing the quality of their build helped me get mine back in perspective. Below you will see a quick video of the CLC boat coming into the beach at the end of the sail-by. Until next time, enjoy!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Embracing the "New Normal"

Pain can be transformative. And transformation can be a good thing. So therefore, pain is a good thing...right? RIGHT?!?!?!

At the end of April I had a re-occurance of a rotator cuff issue that has plagued both shoulders over the years. Usually it hurts for a week or two, and then gradually gets better, sometimes requiring some physical therapy to help it along. This time was much worse though, and even with PT it was healing so gradually that I had become really frustrated and impatient, and was very worried that I might finally need surgery. Riding a bike became excruciating, and was obviously agravating my shoulder and only making it worse, so I stopped riding to give it a rest. The timing couldn't have been worse because I had just built a brand new, totally custom, titanium fatbike and now I could barely test ride it, let alone get out for an adventure on it. I was sinking into a deeper and deeper depression, gaining back the weight I had worked hard to lose, losing the fitness I  had worked hard to gain, and becoming even harder to be around! Something had to change.

Then I had an idea. I simply needed to rethink my approach to cycling. Biking was foundational to my lifestyle and fitness routine, I just had to find another way to keep riding while my shoulder was healing. And what kind of bike would allow me to ride, but keep any weight off of my shoulder? What would be my "new normal?"

 Wait for it... 

A recumbent would be my only option if I wanted to keep riding! 

 I started doing endless research online trying to find what I thought would be the best bike for my needs. I wanted something comfortable, efficient, fast, manueverable, with resale value so I could recoup my investment once I was healed up, if I decided to sell it. I had narrowed my choices down to a few well known brands and models, but there were very few recumbent dealers around. I knew that I absolutely had to test ride before buying, it was just too strange of a beast to buy without riding it first. I finally found Rose City Recumbents down in Portland, and after numerous emails with the endlessly patient Jonathan, I arranged for a day to come down and do some test rides. I am so glad I did, because there were several models that I thought would be great options, and after riding them for only a block or two I immediately knew that they were not at all what I was looking for. 

At the top of my list was the Lightning P-38, a short wheelbase speed machine that had set many records over the years, but also had a reputation for being the best all around recumbent on the market. It was a major stroke of luck that Jonathan had a used P-38 in stock, in my size, and in my color...BLACK! Several test rides later and the choice was clear, the P-38 was by far the most comfortable and easy to ride bike out of the several bikes I rode. And being lightly used, the price was quite reasonable for a niche bike. So, I added a new horse to the stable! 

I brought it home and almost immediately took it out for a ride. I ended up riding almost twenty five miles which was pretty good for the first time on a new bike in a new riding position, and after being off of any bike for a month and a half. My legs were tired, and my knees were a little sore from the boom being set too close, but most importantly my shoulder didn't hurt at all! 

It's going to take some time to get used to this new beast and getting the fit dialed in, but I am looking forward to rediscovering cycling in a new way, and getting some exercise and fitness back into my life again. A long term review will be forthcoming, so stay tuned!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Building a Skerry

Disappointments and creative solutions
  • Day: Who knows, I lost count
  • Total Build Time: Don't know, don't care. See above

For some reason, I have been really dragging my feet on this boat build. Perhaps it's the frustration of working with the kit components, or the lack of creativity in building from a kit, or absolutely hating  epoxy, but I just can't get too excited about going out to work on the Skerry these days. Even less inspiring is working on the blog, writing about working on a boat I have barely touched in the last 6 months! I have also had some major disappointments in the building process, and although I know the boat is going to sail well, it is certainly not going to be the showstopper I had fantasized about building. Well, it is what it is, so let's get on with the pics and see what I have to show for my work up to this point!

My previous post had me scarfing panels, of which there are six total. 

Safety first for "Team Rusty!"

In this pic you can see the finger scarfs. These were the first of many disappointments in this kit. As stated before, the scarfs were super tight. So much so that it was virtually impossible to clamp them flat. This meant that when sanding them flat there was no avoiding sanding through the outer plies. I was very upset that I was not going to be able to finish the boat "bright", a term that means varnishing the entire hull. This can look spectacular if the construction is perfect...but not on this scarf! A standard scarf would have been more attractive, simpler to manufacture, stronger, and easily varnished. This is one of the many reasons I probably will never do a kit boat again. That and the many issues coming up that I haven't even gotten to yet!

The bottom and first panels are set out ready for the stitching process.

The first set of panels goes on. The bow and stern don't come together very well, with big gaps where the panels meet. The construction manual says this is OK though, so I don't worry about it too much.  Little do I realize how bad it is going to be!

Before the second set of panels can be stitched on, tapers need to be cut into the "gains" where the panels fade into each other at the bow and stern. CLC has precut where the gains terminate so you are stuck with how they want you to taper them. The rabbet plane cuts a beautiful taper, though.

With the second and third panel's tapers cut into their gains it is time to stitch on the second set of panels.  Once the second set is stitched on the frames are added, which pushes the panels out into their final profile. The gaps in the second panels at the bow and stern are monstrous! Huge, gaping openings show massive amounts of light through. It is impossible to bring the gaps together with the light gauge wire supplied with the kit, so I end up having to drill additional holes and use bailing wire cranked down with vice grips to try to bring the gigantic gaps closed. It still doesn't really work, and my only consolation is knowing that epoxy can fill the cavernous spaces and at least make the boat watertight. Still, at this point I am pissed at how this kit is coming together!

There is nothing I can do but move on and stitch up the third and final set of panels. In this pic you can see the light shining through the huge gaps. 

The bow is not as bad, and seems to look pretty much the way I expected after reading the building manual. There is a big gap at the prow, but I think I can work with this. But the stern...

Look at this incredible mess!!!!  All of the wire here is under incredible tension just to get the gaps to close even this much. And the gains taper down so far that they crack as the panels are brought (forced) together.  This is just not what I was expecting from a company with the reputation CLC has. What the hell?! Move on, keep going...

Epoxy is spread into the gap between the bottom and first panel and slathered into the huge gaps bow and stern to start bringing structure to the hull. 

Once the epoxy cures I pull out the masses of wire and see if the hull explodes from all the stress on it. Miraculously (and mercifully), it holds together!

It's time to flip the hull over. A large fillet is added bow and stern, and then a strip of fiberglass is smoothed over it. Hopefully this will help hold the bow and stern together!

There is now a massive amount of sanding to do to fair all that hideous epoxy and make a desperate attempt to create a smooth hull shape. It turns out ok, but I have to sand through a lot of plywood to get a fair hull. Yeah, definitely painting this mess. 

A layer of fiberglass is added to the bottom and first panel to give strength and abrasion resistance.

It is a beautiful hull shape!

Now several coats of epoxy are rolled on to seal the outside of the hull. The epoxy runs like crazy no matter how thinly I apply it, and a lot of that will just be sanded off later to smooth out the hull. I hate epoxy. I sand and sand, but with my palm sander I don't make much progress. I guess I am going to have to get a Festool random orbital sander! 

Once that all cures I turn the hull over again so I can install the breast hooks and rails. I threw the interior panels in just to get a feel for how the boat will look when it's done.

The rails have traditional scarfs (thank god!) 

While glueing up the rail material I decided to laminate the skeg. For some stupid reason I didn't do this on a flat surface...and it came out with a slight curve in it. Dammit! I can fix this later, but it was a stupid mistake.

I fixed it by clamping the skeg down and glueing the wormshoe to it. The hardwood wormshoe will hopefully hold the skeg straight. (It does.)

The next few shots are of the rail installation, which goes pretty smoothly. The rails are double laminated and I didn't have enough clamps to do both sides at once, so they went on in four steps.

Test fitting

One rail glued up, the second rail goes on. You really can never have too many clamps.

The third rail is attached. Creative solutions are invented to pull that rail into place!

Maybe I should have been a structural engineer!

And the fourth rail goes on!

I have a rotator cuff issue that is really slowing me down. So until next time, whenever that may be...

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Building a Skerry

Halloween Scarfing
  • Day Two: 1 hour
  • Total build time: 3 hours

Happy Halloween! Today, and the next few days are going to be relatively short ones. This is mostly because of the limited space I have available in my shop. 

Before I could get started today I had to run to the store and pick up some acid brushes. I would have thought they would have been included in the kit, but they are cheap so it was ok to stock up. After trimming them back a bit they are perfect for applying the epoxy to the scarfs.

I pulled the weights off of the bottom panel and was pleased to see a good, strong joint. I was a little concerned because the finger style scarfs that CLC pre-cuts in all the panels are very tight, and I was worried that I may just push all the epoxy out of the joint as I slid (pounded) them together, and end up with a glue-starved joint. I guess this is not a big risk on the bottom panel because the bottom is sheathed in fiberglass anyway, but the side panels don't have that reinforcement. With typical wood glue you need a super tight joint for the glue to bond successfully, but with epoxy there needs to be enough glue to create a material gap-filling bond. I hope CLC knows what they are doing! I imagine they probably do, but don't make me get out that Moaning Chair!

I started scarfing up the strakes today, but because I only have room to do one matching pair at a time it is going to take me a few days to get through the three sets of them. Today was #1, the "garboard strake" in the parlance of boat building. Probably a misnomer since stitch and glue boat building is a completely different process than clinker planking, which is where that term comes from. Plank #1 is the one which attaches to the bottom panel, and it's the first one to give the boat it's beautiful, curving shape.

On to the snaps...

Preparing for glue-up

It is important that both strakes have the exact same profile, so during glue-up I "book-match" them, and clamp both scarfs at the same time so they have the same shape. Very interesting to think these long, swooping, flat planks are going to curve into the shape of a hull. So cool!

A simple piece of two by four screwed into the work bench makes a perfect clamp for both strakes at the same time.

The next few days will be more of the same, so I will batch the next group of scarfs into one post to save time. See ya in a few days!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Building a Skerry

My New Skerry Build
  • Day One: 2 hours
  • Total build time: 2 hours

They say that the two happiest days in a boat owner's life are the day they buy their boat, and the day they sell it. Well, I am not sure what that means for a boat builder, but if I figure it out this time I will let you know.

After building and sailing my West Mersea Duck Punt for the last few years I decided I wanted something a little different in a boat. I was looking to get back to a more traditional sailing craft, something with better upwind performance, room for two people, and a boat that could handle bigger and deeper water than would be safe or sane in the Duck Punt. After much deliberation I finally settled on building the Chesapeake Light Craft Skerry from a kit. 

A gorgeous Skerry with a sprit rig, the same rig as on my Duck Punt

A Skerry with a standing-lug rig and tanbark sail, sailing in blustery conditions! This is the rig I chose for my boat build. Very salty!

It took a while to put my garage/shop into boat building shape, but once I had things more or less organized it was only a couple of days before the kit that I ordered arrived. It was quite a few more days though before I finally decided to open it up and see what I had in the box. I was deliberating over whether or not to do a video document of the building process, and I finally decided to keep things simple and just do this journal. If I was taking the time to film every step it would take forever, and I want to get this thing built so I can go sailing!

Today being the first day was mostly spent just getting the parts inventoried. I did have time to epoxy the bottom panel together. As you may remember from the Punt build, with plywood only being 8 feet long and the boat being 16 feet long I had to "scarf" together panels to make pieces long enough to build the boat. CLC is kind enough to provide laser-cut finger-joint scarfs for their kits eliminating the need for hand-cut scarfs, and saving a huge amount of time and effort. You simply mix up some thickened epoxy, coat the joint, and press it together. Everything is perfectly aligned and oriented. It's great! I do need to make a caul though to simplify clamping, and apply more pressure to the center of the joint.

Tomorrow I will glue the side panels (called strakes) together and once that is done I can start stitching the hull together!

The large box is the boat kit, the standing box is the sailing kit, and the square box is the epoxy. The shop was still a disaster at this point. In the background you can see the most important tool in any boatbuilder's shop- "The Moaning Chair." Howard Chapelle had this to say-“In every amateur boatbuilder’s shop there should be a ‘moaning chair’; this should be a comfortable seat from which the boat can be easily seen and in which the builder can sit, smoke, chew, drink, or swear as the moment demands.”

Finally, more room to work!

After opening the box, we see the parts kit. Lots of little pieces to turn into a boat. CLC does a great job with packaging, and all the parts arrived without damage.

The laser-cut scarfs on the bottom panel. These are just awesome!

After epoxying the scarfs together, weight and clamps are used to make sure the joint lies flat while the glue cures. I sprung the ends just a bit to make sure the joints orientation is correct without any reverse bow.

Weight added to the middle of the joint to keep things flat. Make sure to use wax paper between the layers or you are going to really need the Moaning Chair!