Monday, December 14, 2009

Ravn's Carvings

With the temperature hovering around the freezing mark in the shop, I moved my carving bench inside and worked on some of the carvings that will become a part of Ravn. On the bow will be a dragon head and on the inside of the stern combing Ravn's name and carvings of two ravens on either side of the name.

The combing was difficult to fit, not made any easier by the near-freezing temperatures. I made a pattern out of scrap left over from Ravn's planking to get close to the right shape and size of the stern combing. The compound angles and the slight curve in the stern bulkhead kept me going back and forth, from bench to boat, using rasps, files and planes until I got a good fit.

Standing in the warm kitchen carving was pure delight. Daytime temperatures are now in the mid 40s. I hope that was our only cold spell for this winter. Living on the Oregon coast narrows the temperature range where you are comfortable. It is rare that it is too cold or too hot. Most of the time it's just right.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Sampson post post

Yesterday I made and installed Ravn's Sampson post. With the decks finished It's time to put on the mahogany combings, but I had to get the Sampson post in place before I could do that.

I had a chunk of eight-quarter teak I've been hording for years. I jointed one edge and ripped a square length off to make the post. I held it in place and decided how much should stand above the deck and made a mark. Shaping the champers and the characteristic depression for the bit was a lot of fun. Teak is wonderful wood to work with: it carves beautifully and using a sharp plane on it is pure joy. Your edges don't stay sharp for long working with teak because of the silica in the wood, but it's worth the extra trips to the oil stones.

For the cross piece I turned a five-eighths spindle out of a scrap of purple heart. While it was still in the lathe I used the point of my turning tool to etch some rings in the section that will be buried in the post so when I glued the cross piece in place the epoxy will have some purchase.

Before I put the fore deck on I clamped the blank I would make the Sampson post out of in place and drilled holes for the three quarter-inch lag screws that go from inside the bulkhead into the post. Another longer lag screw goes through the Sampson post and the bulkhead into the bulkhead knee that's glued and screwed to the keel.

I mixed up a small batch of epoxy with colloidal silica one-to-one by volume and prepared all of the teak surfaces that would get glued by cleaning them with acetone to get rid of the natural oils that make teak such a great outdoor wood. I had to use a wooden mallet to tap the purple heart cross piece in place. It wasn't overly tight, but I wasn't taking any chances splitting the post I'd put so much work into so I held it in a clamp, just in case. All the screws snugged down tight. The Sampson post is there to stay.

The Sampson post is not in Valgerda's plans. Like the water-tight compartments in the bow and stern, it is a feature I borrowed from the Kari II plans. I think it will be a handy addition to the boat.

While I had some epoxy on hand I installed the screw eye that will secure Ravn's forestay. You can just see it in the background of the photo. It's exciting to start putting some of the finishing touches on the boat.

Decks aye!

The lookout calls from the main top, "On deck!"

The helmsman answers, "Deck aye!"

So starts every communication aboard tall ships from topmen to crew on deck.

Now Ravn has decks, two of them. Decks? Aye!

After installing the deck beams I used some scrap plywood (thin shards not much good for anything else), yellow glue and spring clamps to make a rough pattern for each deck. I then laid the pattern on my remaining sheet of quarter-in plywood to find the best arrangement, marked the points, and used a batten to connect the dots. I rough cut a little wide and refined the fit with a block plane and file. One of the things that made fitting the decks tricky was that there are cutouts for two frame heads and a notch in the pointy ends for the stems.

Once I was happy with the fit, I mixed up a batch of epoxy and used a foam roller to wet the top of the deck beams and seal the bottom of the deck. I then used wood flour to thicken the epoxy to a peanut butter consistency and spread it a little less than a quarter inch thick on the tops of the deck beams and the tops of the bulkheads. I carefully dropped the deck in place and piled scuba weights and other heavy things I could find on the deck about where the deck beams and the tops of the bulkhead are. I then used the thickened epoxy to fillet between the deck and the hull.

The next day I checked my work by using a flashlight and a mirror to look at the inside of the decks. There was uniform squeeze out around the deck beams. It looks like I got a good, strong connection.

After sanding and fairing the deck, especially the fillet between the deck and hull, I lay my remaining six-ounce fiberglass cloth on the decks. Months ago I ordered 15 yards of 60-inch wide cloth. I covered the outside of the boat before putting the keel on and put a second layer over the keel and everything below the waterline. I carefully saved the scraps and cut them into 4-inch wide strips to tape the plank seams inside the hull after she was turned over. I didn't know how much cloth I had left on the roll, but I hoped I could glass both decks without coming up short and without too much left over. It turns out there was only about three inches left over when I laid it out. Phew! That was a close one! I could not have guessed any better how much cloth I would need.

I wet out the fiberglass cloth with epoxy and using a foam roller and a two-inch disposable bristle brush. It went well and the decks look good. So good, in fact, that I plan on leaving them bright -- at least for the time being.

One feature about the decks I'm pleased about is that they are mostly level with a slight crown and a slight slope from the ends to midships. I wanted water to drain outboard at the corners. Because they are fairly level and most of their perimeter is enclosed I think they will be more handy than highly crowned decks above the sheer. I envision putting stuff on them for a short while in a calm anchorage and not having to worry about it falling into the drink. Speaking of the sheer, I also wanted to preserve that most distinctive and beautiful visual feature of faerings by keeping the deck below it.

Without a doubt, though, my most persistent vision of the decks in use is that of my six-year-old grandson and his three-year-old sister (PFD'd and harnessed, of course) taking command of the decks. Her holding on to the stern stem watching Ravn's wake and big brother at the figurehead on lookout.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hunting and Gathering

In addition to actually building a boat there is just a lot of hunting and gathering you need to do. Finding the right rudder hardware is one example (Gudgeons and Gudgeons, Oct. 25 post).

In September I sold my beloved Chamberlain dory to a couple from California who drove to Lincoln City to get it. My goal was to sell the boat for enough money to get an new trailer and the sail for Ravn. I bought a new E-Z Loader trailer two weeks after I sold my dory. It's hard finding a trailer that is designed for a sailboat. This trailer is generic enough I can make it work. It has some very nice improvements over the trailer on my Chamberlain dory. For instance, it has a new type of bearing that doesn't need greasing ever! The trailer is all galvanized and it's designed so it doesn't have leaf springs to rust out.

I had $200 left over after the trailer purchase, which is about half what a new lug sail for a Valgerda would cost. Luckily my friend John Kohnen was willing to part with the sail from his Valgerda for my two remaining Benjamin Franklins. John's boat was built in the late '50s for the Weyerhaeuser family. It is a beautiful boat, but it has been extensively modified from the original with, among other things, an inboard engine. He said if it was ever to sail again it would need a larger sail. An assessment with which I agree and for which I'm grateful. I picked up the sail from John's place in Eugene earlier this month. It really is a beautifully-made sail. It seems almost new, so I'm sure it's not original to the boat. I can hardly wait to put it to use.

Yesterday I got another detail almost taken care of: two marine patrol deputies from the Lincoln County Sheriff's Department came to my house to give me a Boat Hull Identification Number (HIN) Inspection. It was nice of them to come by and do it. I was going to get a photo of them to put in the blog, but I forgot. Now I can send that report in, along with the letter from the State Marine Board, to the State of Oregon and get my HIN and registration numbers. Then I'll be legal to be on Oregon waters.

About the only things left to gather is a 5/16" dia. bronze rod for the rudder gear and the wood -- spruce if I can get it, cvg fir is a good second choice -- for the mast, spars and oars.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bow Deck Beams

Before installing the other deck beams in the bow, I had to install the bow eye and the interior flange for the water-tight hatches. I was glad I waited until I bought a new trailer for Ravn before installing the bow eye; I would have put it too high. I had to measure from the trailer's main beam to the winch and translate that to where the bow will be when it's on the trailer to find the right place to drill the hole. I coated the galvanized eye bolt and the inside of the hole with epoxy before bolting it on.

As I was installing the piece of plywood that will serve as the interior flange for the water-tight hatches I had an epiphany: in stead of mitering the secondary deck beams into the main deck beam, why not cut slots in the plywood frame and bulkhead and run them fore and aft? It was much easier and it ended up in stronger joints and more support for the deck.

After milling the old-growth fir to the dimensions I wanted, I just laid them across the bulkheads, marked where they were to go and cut notches in the bulkheads with a back saw and a frame saw. I dry-fit the deck beams and used a compass to mark out the long scarf where the deck beams join the inside of the hull at the bow. I took the deck beams to the bandsaw and cut the scarf while sighting down the two lines. It only took a few minutes to do the whole operation and I glued them in with thickened epoxy. The next day I cut off the ends that were sticking through the number 2 bulkhead.

Finally a project on the boat that took less time than I figured it would!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Stern Deck Beams

I've spent a couple of weeks filling, taping and sanding the inside plank seams. I also used fiberglass tape to tab in all of the plywood bulkheads. Now it's time to work on the decks at the stern and bow. They are about the same, being a double ender, but after doing the stern deck beams I decided to do the bow differently. More about that later.

I installed the main deck beam when I assembled the stem and number 10 and 12 frames together back when I was building the skeleton (see Building Ravn's Backbone in September's posts). The deck beam connected the top part of the two frames and the stem and made them stable enough that they stayed in alignment while I put them on the building form.

I should mention that the watertight compartments in the bow and stern are not part of the original Valgerda plans, although at least one builder in Australia added them to the boat he built from Atkin's original plan. They are, however, a feature in the Selway-Fisher Kari 2 plans.

I wanted the bow and stern compartments for two reasons: the reserve flotation should Ravn ever become swamped and dry storage for gear. I also think it will help keep the boat neat and shipshape, which enhances safety at sea.

The deck beams are made out of some old-growth douglas fir that I've had for years. A friend gave it to me when I was patching the fir floors in my 100-year-old home. It is tight, light and stiff -- just what you want for a deck beam. When you cut the wood it has a dusty, pitchy smell that is very different from the smell you get cutting into, say, a douglas fir 2-by-4 from the lumber yard.

I'm going to use 6mm plywood covered with 6-ounce fiberglass cloth for the deck. I would be a little more comfortable using 9mm plywood, but that would mean another trip to Portland and another $90. I have a full sheet of 6mm left over from planking so I'll use that. The thinner plywood means I need to put in additional deck beams so the deck won't flex too much.

I suppose I could write several posts on things I would do differently if I built the boat over. Not that I'm unhappy with how the boat is going together or the work I've done, but I feel a couple things could be improved upon. One thing I would do is put a deck hatch in the middle of the stern deck between frame's 10 and 12. That would be the best access to the space and it would be fairly easy to secure and keep watertight. It would also be fun to build and look cool. For now I'm going with a tight flat deck with limited access through the stern seat bulkhead hatch.

The miter joints into the main deck beam were easy to cut with my old Jackson backsaw and a chisel. Where the deck beams meet the side of the boat I simply scribed them with a compass and took them to the bandsaw. The miter joint into the main deck beam retained much of the meat of the main deck beam and did not weaken it substantially. When I was gluing the whole thing together I decided at the last minute to epoxy a rectangular piece of plywood scrap under both joints just in case. I'm kind of a belt and suspenders guy sometimes. It ruins the elegance of the joints, but no one will ever see them anyway.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Gudgeons and gudgeons

I was pleased and relieved to finally find some rudder hardware that is designed for a double ender. A big bonus for me is that it's made out of bronze and not stainless steel. The rudder gudgeons and the sternpost gudgeons also seem to be very strong and heavy castings without looking clunky at all.

You boating types are most likely scratching your heads right now wondering why I have gudgeons and no pintles. You can't have one without the other, right? Well, that's what I thought too. Then I found Duck Trap Woodworking, an outfit in Maine that builds traditional wooden boats, including a very pretty double ender called Matinicus Double Ender. They are primarily boatbuilders, but of late they devote most of their time helping others learn how to build their own boats. They designed this rudder hardware for the types of boats they build. Here's how it works from their Web site (

"A piece of 5/16-inch bronze rod passes through all four fittings and acts as a hinge pin. Why no pintles? Because they have a uncanny tendency to become unshipped. Attached using the rod, should the rudder strike bottom, it can jump and then drop right back down in place. We've been using this system for years, and never had a problem."

This sounds good to me! I haven't liked any of the gudgeon and pintle combinations I've found - and I've been looking for months. I was beginning to think I would have to have something custom made. I'm really glad I don't have to do that.

I decided not to get the polished hardware to save a few bucks. But I'm also considering not polishing the hardware I got and leaving it more of a workboat finish. I think it might be more in keeping with the look I'm trying to achieve.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

It's Alive!

I've often felt that building a boat is about as close as a craftsman can come to creating a living thing. Building an instrument, a violin say, is another instance where an inanimate object seems to take voice and become a living creature. But boats have movement, their own distinctive motion and reaction to the wind and water. The chuckle of the ocean passing by the hull of a wooden boat is amplified like a fine instrument amplifies the vibrations of bowed strings.

Last week, as I ran my hand along the inside of the hull after sanding it, I felt Ravn's heart beat. It was really the planks under tension amplifying the base beat of the music I was listening to, but it felt like a living thing under my hand. I've thought about it for days and can't get it out of my head.

I was telling this to my neighbor, Tom Dollar, who builds guitars, and he gave me a knowing look. As he ran his hand along the planks of the boat he said, "What you've got here is wood under tention, just like a big guitar."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bow Chocks

I spent the better part of a day making a couple of bow chocks out of purple heart. Most of the shaping was done with my patternmaker's rasp, a great tool. I think they look just right for the boat. Metal bow chocks, even nice bronze ones, just wouldn't do, but I did want the functionality of having a couple of chocks to keep anchor and dock lines from sawing off the finish from the gunwales and destroying themselves. So I spent the time and made what seemed to me to be right for the boat.

This is one of the wonderful things about building your own boat. It is also the reason building a boat the way you want it takes so damn long.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Gunwales and inwales

I've come to accept that almost every step in the boatbuilding process takes twice as long as you estimate it will. Putting the gunwales and inwales on Ravn was the exception -- it took about 10 times as long.

Part of it was that I chose to use purple heart for the job. I had some nice 12-foot long strips left over from laminating the keel. I've also come to like the wood for how strong and hard it is. It also glues well. The downsides to the wood are that it does not work well with planes, chisels and spokeshaves because it tears out easily, it gives you the nastiest splinters of any wood I've ever worked with and it smells like -- I'm not sure what -- wet dog, maybe? It's pretty much on the other end of the spectrum from the wonderful pine scent many people associate with woodworking. Another feature of purple heart is that it doesn't take a set. This makes it a favorite of recurve and longbow makers who like to use purple heart to laminate the limbs of their bows, lots of spring and not a lot of memory in the wood. I think that will be a good thing in the long run, but it caused some drama during the installation of the gunwales.

I found out just how springy purple heart is after gluing the two sections of the port side gunnel to Ravn. I let the epoxy cure for a couple of days before I took the clamps (all 64 of them). Just as I stepped back to admire my work, "POP!" "Crack!" "BAM!" Starting from the stern, the gunwale broke loose and lunged at me. It hit the tablesaw instead and I was spared. The noise was loud enough that my wife opened the garage door to see what happened and if I was OK. I stood there in stunned silence and shook my head. I went in the house and didn't return to the shop for a couple of days.

I made a couple rookie mistakes gluing the gunwale. First, and most important, I didn't rough up the surface of the hull or the wood. The hull had two coats of epoxy on it and was real smooth. The second mistake I made was to glue using epoxy only with no additive in it. These were both things that I knew, I just didn't think about them. I was too busy cutting the complex bevels at the bow and stern ends of the gunwale and then measuring and marking the scarf in the middle. It's very exacting work that requires you to clamp, measure, cut, reclamp, mark, unclamp, refine the cut, then finally glue up. I was so focused on getting all the cuts right I totally forgot what I knew about making a good epoxy glue up.

When I returned to the shop I roughed up all the mating surfaces with 60-grit sand paper, mixed in the best adhesive filler I know of (colloidal silica one-to-one by volume) and clamped it up. I also decided to add six quarter-inch galvanized carriage bolts to each side of the boat. I had galvanized carriage bolts on the gunwale of my Chamberlain dory and they did a fine job for all the years I had the boat and will serve for many more decades I'm sure. The thing I want to avoid on this boat is any stainless steel. I'm not a fan. Give me galvanized iron or silicon bronze every time! Until the inwales were in place so I could through-bolt them to the gunwales, I always kept a few strategically-placed clamps on the gunwale just in case.

The inwales were laminated in three-eighth-inch strips: two laminates in the spaces between the frames and two inside the frame heads. I notched the top of the oak frame heads for the two inner laminates. It made for a strong, stiff structure on the sheer. Since I will mount the kabes for the oars, the shrouds and mast bench for the mast, and rope traveler for the main sheet on the inwales, they will need to be strong .

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Can't have too many clamps

It's true: you can't have too many clamps. I used 64 to glue the gunwale. The gunwale is made of purple heart and it has a lot of spring back. In fact, a friend of mine who builds recurves likes to use purple heart in the laminations because it doesn't "take a set." A couple of things have slowed me down on the boat, but I'm hoping to pick up the pace again.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Right side up

I live in a close-knit neighborhood. It's like something out of Leave It to Beaver. Six of my neighbors came to the turning. On the day of the turning my daughter, Natalie, her two children, my daughter's friend and her two children were also visiting and they helped as well. In spite of the short notice, three members of the Western Oregon Messabouts (Coots) -- Jim Ballou from Portland, Jack Brown from Depoe Bay and John Kohnen, from Eugene and author of The Mother of All Maritime Links and builder of the Atkin Co. Web site -- came to the boat turning. I'm really glad they did. They were all a big help and a lot of fun. John has helped with many boat turnings and he quickly suggested the best way to do it.

Earlier in the day I rigged up a block hung from one of the rafters in my garage. It was above the middle of the boat and I had a sling around the boat so I could take the weight of the boat on the sling and spin it in place. I thought it might work but John knew better. He said we should take it out, turn it over and take it back in. That was the proven method.

I was glad John came for a couple of other reasons too: he took some wonderful photos and he brought a sail from his Valgerda for me to look at. John posted his photos to the Atkin Co. Web site and you can see them here: John purchased his Valgerda a few years ago. It had an inboard engine installed in it. He said if she was to ever sail again she would need a larger sail so the old one, which was well made and in good shape, was for sale. I told him I wanted it and we later agreed on a price.

The actual turning didn't take long. We hauled the boat out onto the mattresses in the driveway and turned it over. I unscrewed the rest of the building form, pulled it out of the way and set up the saw horses. Then we lifted the boat back into the garage. The sling did come in handy by keeping the boat upright on the saw horses until a few days later when I had time to screw supports onto the saw horses and level up the boat.

Four adults could have done the whole turning easily, but it was nice to have all the help. It also made for a party atmosphere, which I appreciated as well. By happy chance, my neighbors, the Dollars, had a couple of old mattresses in their garage. They graciously loaned them for the turning to keep Ravn's black finish from getting scratched. Natalie recorded the event on video and with a still camera. Her friend went for pizza. The four kids ran around and generally got in the way. It was a great day!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ravn gets her black feathers

More sanding. I really learned to appreciate my tool-triggered Fein vacuum and random-orbit sander. When everything was smooth and ready for some final coats, I mixed up some large batches of epoxy, added about 10 percent powdered graphite as a filler and rolled it on. I've heard many claims from boat builders about how adding graphite to final coats of epoxy makes the boat more slippery, helps it slide over rocks and even that it makes the hull so slippery that barnacles and other marine growth can't get a foothold. I'd like to believe it, but it sounds too good to be true and probably is. What I do know is that it makes the hull very black and shinny. That's what I wanted. Ravn needed her black feathers.

She was now ready to turn over. On a Friday I put out the call to my neighbors and to the Western Oregon Messabouts (Coots). Monday was the day.

Ravn's keel, part two

I laminated two-inch wide strips of purple heart on my workbench. I wanted everything to be straight. The main assembly was a little more than 6 1/2-inches tall. At the forward end it had a space for the lead ballast keel. To make sure the keel went straight on the centerline of the boat I drilled two holes large enough for 5/16ths galvanized lag screws through the centerline of the keelson. Then I put the laminated keel up against carefully marked where the holes should go and used a self-centering doweling jig to drill the holes in the keel. I buttered up the bottom of the keelson and the top of the keel with thickened epoxy and my neighbor, Ray, and I lifted it into place. Ray held it steady while I drove the bolts in from inside the boat. It snugged down real nice.

I then clamped a plywood ramp into place and we slid and lifted the lead ballast keel into place. More thickened epoxy on all the mating surfaces and I drove four 3/8ths inch galvanized lag screws through the lead keel and into the purple heart wood keel. I packed the countersink holes in the lead keel with lead filings and filled them with epoxy. It was a good way to get rid of the lead filings and would add a little weight to the bottom-most part of the keel. I then fitted and epoxied smaller pieces of purple heart forward of the lead keel and drove a 5/16ths galvanized lag screw through them into the main wood keel. The result was that the lead was not only held in place with the four lag screws and epoxy, but it is dovetailed into the wood keel as well.

I did some shaping of the wood in the front to give it a nice, easy run aft. In the stern section I used some old-growth red cedar as blocking to fill in the skeg area. The red cedar is rot proof like the purple heart, but much lighter to keep weight out of the ends. It is soft, but I surrounded it with purple heart to protect it.

To form the stems I resawed two-inch wide pieces of purple heart 1/4th-inch thick for the laminations of the outside stems. I cut them to length, painted epoxy on each lamination and clamped and screwed them into place.

Finally, I cleaned up the glue squeeze out, sanded everything and used my router to put champers on each side of the bow stem and switch to a small roundover bit for the bottom edges of the keel. I then laid six-ounce fiberglass cloth over the bottom and wet it out. The cloth covers everything below the waterline making a total of two layers of fiberglass cloth over the strakes and three layers over the garboard-midstrake seam.

The lead pour

I've been collecting lead for years. Whenever I saw some at a garage sale I'd buy it. When diving friends got rid of their old lead weights for the fancy bags of shot I gladly took their old lead. I piled it all on our old bathroom scale. It weighed in at more than 100 pounds. Just what I needed for Ravn's ballast keel.

I had a few large pieces that I chopped up using a sledge and a steel wedge used for splitting wood. I got my little charcoal BBQ and decided to sacrifice my smallest cast iron frying pan and I was ready to melt lead.

I spent a couple hours building a wooden form. I had the foresight to put four 3/8-inch wooden dowels and some wooden disks where the holes for the bolts to secure it to the wood keel would go. Drilling wood is a lot easier and less messy than drilling lead. I then buried the form in the back yard so the sides wouldn't break out from the weight of the lead. My neighbor, Ray, and I got out the lawn chairs for an hour, maybe two, of fun. The hour stretched into more than four. Melting lead on a BBQ is possible, but I don't recommend it. My back was sore for three days afterward.

We had to melt the lead in five- to seven-pound batches. A week or so later when Ray and I carried it back into the shop the lead was stratified with voids that I filled with epoxy. I had hoped each pour would melt the last, but it didn't completely. In all, though, it looked pretty good.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ravn's keel, part one

Since deciding on Atkins' plan to build Ravn, there's been a lot of hand wringing over the keel. Both Valgerda and Kari 2 plans showed keels significantly deeper than the original Hardanger faerings. The designers added more than a foot to the traditional 4-inch keel of the boats they were designed after.

Atkins wrote: "Because of their lack of initial stability, I designed a new keel - the original boats had a long, shallow keel approximately 4 inches deep. When loaded, they had sufficient lateral plane to hold the little craft on the wind.... I prepared the rather shoal fin keel, fitted with lead ballast of approximately 106 pounds, because of her lack of initial stability and the unlikelihood of her carrying a cargo of fish."

On Kari 2, the designer wrote: "The hull is a close resemblance of the original but we have given her a deeper keel to enhance her windward performance."

I like good windward performance as much as the next guy, but I felt I needed shallow draft more. Neither Valgerda or Kari 2 are deep-draft vessels by any means, but even their modest 18-inch draft seemed too much.

In the end I decided to split the difference. I liked Atkins reasoning about faerings, being work boats, were made to carry loads. So I decided to add a 100-pound chunk of lead to the keel. My keel would be made of purple heart wood, which is denser and heavier than the oak specified by Atkins. It is commonly available and usually cheaper than white oak and glues well with epoxy. It is also rot proof, a very nice thing in a boat. I like to think that Atkins would have specified it had it been as common in the 1950s as it is now. I decided to lengthen the keel and carry it farther astern to increase the lateral resistance and directional stability.

I thought of Billy Atkin's advice:
"Now do not be tempted to pull the ends out, raise the sheer heights, swoop up the bow or stern, or do the many things a boat plan always impels one to do. Just put this... boat together and see how well she performs." I bowed my head and started ripping 12-foot purple heart planks into 2-inch wide lengths for the keel.

Fiberglassing the hull

Since Ravn will be stored outside on a trailer under an acrylic canvas cover, traditional wooden boat construction was not an option for me. Near-shore sailing on the Oregon coast has many hazards as well. I determined I wanted to protect Ravn's hull with fiberglass.

I epoxied four-inch-wide, six-ounce fiberglass tape over the plank joints. Then I sanded the entire outside of the hull. I was lucky to find six-ounce fiberglass cloth that was 60 inches wide. That would take it three inches beyond the joint between the midstrake and the sheerstrake, providing double protection for both chines and a single layer over the entire four lower planks.

I rolled the cloth onto the hull, cut it to length and smoothed it with my hands. The cloth draped the boat nicely with hardly a wrinkle. My original plan was to trim it evenly about three inches beyond the midstreak-sheerstrake seam, but it lay so nice I decided to leave well enough alone. It would add that much weight and having that extra protection all the way to the gunwale could be a very good thing.

I started epoxying the hull about 8 a.m. on a Saturday. It was a dry sunny day and I didn't want it to get too hot before I finished. I mixed, applied, mixed applied as fast as I could and finished about 12:30 p.m. I was exhausted! So was my epoxy--I used every last drop I had to cover the hull. I took my gloves off, closed the garage door, went to bed in the middle of a beautiful summer Oregon coast day and slept for three hours.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Whiskey plank!

With the frames, stems and keelson all in place and faired, I drove to Portland to get more plywood. It was only $78 a sheet this time. That's because it was only 1/4-inches thick. The stuff is beautiful: five even plys, no voids, waterproof glue all BS1088 -- British Standards for marine plywood. And it works great with a plane or spokeshave. Because all the plys are the same thickness and there are no voids, it bends evenly. Just as in life, a void in a plank sooner or later will collect water and bad things will happen.

I used 1/8-inch ply to make patterns on the garboards. From there, I carefully marked my plank lands and used the batten to mark out the planks. I'd usually mark, cut and fit the starboard side first and then check the fit of the same plank on the port side. In every instance it was almost a perfect fit and I would use it as a pattern to make port plank. That's when the care at setting up the frames and keelson paid off. It also paid off in less wastage. Atkins estimated it would take seven sheets of plywood to plank Valgerda. I did it in six with some nice left over pieces.

The midstrake is asked to do a lot. It starts vertically at the bow, forms a hollow entry, goes to about 18 degrees off horizontal by the mid frame and then back to vertical at the stern stem. While studying the plans I considered going to 3/8ths plywood for the planking because 1/4-inch seems so light, but I'm glad I didn't. I had a rough enough time getting 1/4-inch to go where it needed to go.

Hanging each plank seemed more exciting than the last. When I clamped the whiskey plank into place I felt like throwing a party. The thing about marking milestones with events involving actual humans is you need to finish said milestones on schedule so the humans know when to show up. So far that's only happened once while building Ravn. Everything seems to take at least twice as long as I thought it would. Every once and a while something falls into place like magic, but that's rare and not to be counted on.

I celebrated the whiskey plank with my wife, Virginia, and granddaughter, Maddy, with milkshakes and without any whiskey.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Building Ravn's backbone

After taking the two stems out of the laminating form and cleaning them up with the jointer and table saw, I clamped them in the full upright position on my workbench to look at them and figure out what to do next. They were beautiful! The sweeping lines really gave me a hint of what the bow and stern of the boat would look like.

Using a large square I started to figure out where important landmarks were on the stems. I marked the waterline and where the top of the sheer would land. I also marked the positions of frames 0 and 2 on the bow stem and 10 and 12 on the stern stem. While still clamped to the workbench, I positioned the two frames on each stem. I glued them in place and, to keep them square to the bench, I glued and screwed a knee brace to each. Finally, on each assemblage, I epoxied the main deck beam to the frames and to the inside of the stem. I made the deck beams from some old-growth fir I've had for years, the grain is amazingly tight. When I unclamped them from the workbench, the stem and frames were solid.

I then built a building form that had to be straight, strong, flat and level. This is one of the frustrating things about building a one-off boat: you do a lot of work (like lofting, pattern making and form building) that that is not part of the boat and you never use again unless you build another boat to the same design. You can't fudge on any of these things, though, or your boat just won't turn out right. I absolutely wanted Ravn to be the best boat I could build. When I finished making the building form, my neighbor, Ray, and I spent the better part of an afternoon making sure it was level and true.

I then clamped the bow and stern assemblages to the building form and took a final measurement for the keelson. I cut a scarf joint into each end of the keelson and epoxied the backbone into one piece.

At the center of the building form I raised the mid-station, which I cut out from the plywood I lofted the boat's frames. I covered the edges of the plywood with cellophane tape so I wouldn't accidentally glue it to the inside of the boat. I also epoxied in the two oak frames and frame number 9, which goes only as high as the thwarts and will become part of the stern seat.

Ravn's skeleton was complete! You really got a sense of what the finished boat would look like: her size and shape. It was at this point that my friends and neighbors thought I was really building a boat. It seemed like I talked of nothing else for the past year or so, but it wasn't until they saw the complete skeleton that they were convinced.

There was a lot of work before she was ready to be planked. I used a 16-foot batten to determine the proper angle of the plank lands and the bevel on the keelson. It took many hours working with a handplane, a small handsaw and a one-and-a-quarter inch chisel, to get things the way I wanted them. Now I was ready to plank.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Making patterns and parts

Once the lofting was done, I started making patterns for all the frames. For most of the patterns I used eighth-inch plywood. Two of them were a special case and I made them out of quarter-inch ply.

Five of the frames are made out of plywood and two are made of oak. For the plywood frames I used three-eighth-inch marine plywood made in France to BS 1088 standards. It's really good stuff and you pay for it at about $90 for a 4-by-8 sheet. Luckily, I was able to get all five frames out of one sheet.

The oak frames I made from some wonderful white oak I've been air drying for about 10 years. It's hard, tough and heavy but works well with hand tools. The frames are double sawn, which means the frame is put together in sections (futtocks) and doubled so as the grain runs out on one side it is reinforced by the other side and all joints are over staggered on the other half of the frame. It's easy to show someone what a double-sawn frame is, but hard to explain.

Because these were made from oak I used Weldwood Resorcinol plastic resin glue instead of epoxy. For some reason epoxy doesn't work well on Oak, but glues well with Resorcinol. I put wax paper on my woodworking bench and glued the futtocks together on the bench top to keep them flat. I used my biscuit joiner to make sure the butt joints were tight. Using this method I basically made two frames, then glued them together so the joints were staggered. (Maybe you can get the idea better from the pictures.) One difficult thing about using Resorcinol is that it has a narrow working temperature and doesn't cure well in temperatures below 68 degrees F. Since it was getting into fall, I made a tent out of an old plastic shower curtain and put a small, thermostatically-controlled heater in it so the glue would cure.

I have to say that the oak frames were fun to make and impressive when I finished with them. They look real good in the boat too. Any friend who came to visit had to make a trip to the shop to see the frames.

Next, I made the inner stems for the bow and stern. The plan called for them to be pieced together, but I wanted to laminate them because they would be lighter, stronger and have a cleaner appearance. I lofted a pattern for the bow and the stern. (You would think since Valgerda is a double ender they might be the same, but no such luck.) Then I built a bending form. I sawed up more of my white oak into quarter-inch thick strips two-inches wide, painted Resorcinol on both sides and clamped them to the form. I used about 40 of my largest C clamps and all of my F clamps to do the job. Then, since winter had arrived, I hauled it all into the house for 24 hours so it would cure. It was heavy and awkward to get it in the house. Luckily, I didn't get glue anywhere in the house and Resorcinol doesn't smell too bad.

Lofting Ravn

Lofting a boat sounds simple: You plot coordinates from a table of offsets onto a sheet of plywood and connect the dots. Any fifth grader can do it, right? I should have hired a fifth grader. Without going into a lot of detail let me just say that I got through it, but it wasn't easy.

I love maritime traditions. One of them is that the table of offsets are done in feet, inches and eighths -- the first number is feet, the next number is inches and the last number is eighths, sometimes with a plus or minus which means add or subtract a 16th of an inch. I was pleased with myself that when I first looked at Valgerda's table of offsets and understood it. But when I actually started trying to plot points on the sheet of plywood I used as a lofting floor, feet, inches and eighths made my head hurt. I finally went into the computer, made a table and re-entered all of the table of offsets numbers translating them from the traditional into the practical, which, for me, was the number in the box looked exactly like the number on the tape measure. After I did that things went smoothly.

The only lofting error I made was when I actually drew the frames for station zero and station 12, which make up the first and last frames of the boat, they didn't look right to me so I changed them. I discovered the error before I installed the frames and fixed it. More about that later.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Valgerda or Kari?

The plans arrived from the Atkin Co. in November 2004. I had a lot of work to do to get my shop to where I could accommodate building a 19-foot boat and other projects that needed finishing. While I was working on those other things I studied the plans, built models of Valgerda and fretted about how I was going to build her.
Atkin designed Valgerda in 1952 taking the lines off of a faering imported from Norway. He praised the workmanship and design of the faering that was the inspiration for his design. The only thing he changed was the keel. He said: "I designed a new keel - the original boats had a long, shallow keel approximately 4 inches deep. When loaded, they had sufficient lateral plane to hold the little craft on the wind. With expert handling, they had little difficulty in reaching port." He drew a shallow ballast keel that housed 106 pounds of lead. The other change he suggested in building the faering was that marine plywood be used for the planking since 20-inch wide pine planks are hard to come by.
As my list of projects in the shop diminished, my doubts about whether I'd chosen the right design grew. Then I found another faering, this one was designed Selway-Fisher firm in England. The lines for this design were taken from a historic 1892 boat that now resides in a museum. It was designed for "stitch and glue" construction, which appealed to me also.
In the Selway-Fisher catalog it says of the Kari 2: "The original (was) built in 1892 for the sum of 70 Kroner (£3.10.0). The original is now in a museum and still in excellent condition, having been used by several generations for holidays and a few long expeditions. We have now taken the original lines and produced construction drawings for modern stitch and epoxy construction using plywood. The hull is a close resemblance of the original but we have given her a deeper keel to enhance her windward performance."
I ordered the plans for Kari 2 and they arrived in November 2006 and I built a model from the Selway-Fisher plans. The deeper keels on both Valgerda and Kari bothered me because it was a departure from the original faerings and because I felt I needed a boat with a shallower draft to explore the parts of the Oregon coast I yearned to go.
I decided to build my faering using the Atkin plans for Valgerda. Part of my decision was because I had a hard time wrapping my head around the metric measurements in the Selway-Fisher plans. But more than that Valgerda just appealed more to me ascetically.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Finding Valgerda

One evening while I was rowing up the Wishkah River, I passed a kayaker paddling downstream. On his fiberglass kayak he had fashioned a pretty good likeness of a horse's head out of Bondo. The figurehead was not very large, but it made a big impression on me. I wanted a figurehead on my boat! Of course it would not be a horse, but a Norse dragon. I had taken up carving to augment my woodworking skills about a year earlier, so found a suitable dragon design, some Alaska yellow cedar and started carving.

It didn't take me long to realize that a dragon head would look a little silly on a Chamberlain dory and since I felt the need for a larger boat I looked to the descendants of Viking vessels for a design.

I am impressed with the designs of Iain Oughtred and for a long time I thought his Ness Yawl was the boat for me. It was about the right length and had a Nordic heritage, by way of the Shetland Islands, but I found myself more and more drawn to it's predecessor, the faering. Oughtred, at the time, also had a faering, Elf, in his design catalog, but at 15 feet it was too small for my purposes, so I kept looking.

I remember the thrill I felt when I discovered Valgerda, a design by John Atkin. Here was the boat I was looking for! In the early 1950s Atkin spotted a faering that had been imported from Norway and took the lines off the boat to use as the basis of his July 1952 design. William and John Atkin used the design as one of their monthly articles in MoToR BoatinG magazine. Her Viking heritage is apparent at first glance -- the graceful sheer and double ends that sweep skyward ending in long stems. She's long and low in the mid sections, just made for rowing.

In June 1992 Mike O'Brien featured Valgerda on the cover of the second issue of Boat Design Quarterly. He said of the design, "Valgerda (is) a nearly perfect Hardangersjekte.... The hull design for the handsome jekte (Norwegian for this type of boat) should be credited to generations of builders along the shores of the Hardangers fjord, Norway. We're told that these double-enders enjoy a reputation for hard work and possess rough-water capability comparable to our peapods and Sea Bright Skiffs."

O'Brien had experence with this design beyond just looking a lines on paper. He rowed a boat built to these plans. Of it he said, "Between strokes, Valgerda's considerable momentum could have carried her into the middle of next week. She loved rough water and had sense enough to mush through the small waves and ride over the big ones. Rowing this boat was pure joy -- or would have been if the builder hadn't installed a centerboard trunk."

This was my boat! A dragon figurehead would look just right on her. I ordered the plans from Mrs. Atkin.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A small Swampscott

It wasn't too many months later that my mother visited me. I was telling her this story, while we were driving past a boat yard. I'd just gotten to the part where my friend said he would help me build a Swampscott dory when I looked in the boatyard and there one was. I apologized to my mother as I put on the breaks and pulled into the boatyard.

There was the boat my friend and I were going to build – at least a smaller version of it. It was a 13-foot-5-inch Chamberlain dory designed by John Gardner based on dory-builder William Chamberlain's legendary boats. Gardner said of the boat, “For a rowing sea boat, you can't do much better within the 13-foot limit.” I put that to the test many times in the 12 years I owned her and she took care of me every time. For several years I would row eight miles with the boat loaded with camping and archery equipment to bow hunt for elk on an island in Willapa Harbor. I once rowed into some of the steepest wind chop I've ever seen and she didn't ship a teaspoon of water. I also entered a 13-mile rowing race and came in third in the fixed-seat class even though my boat was the shortest in the race.

In the first few years I owned her I did a lot of tinkering: I lowered the rowing thwart and the stern seat, added a carved back rest for the stern seat and reinforced the front thwart to serve double duty as a mast partner. I also added a mast step and made a mast and sprit to convert her into a sailboat. The spritsail rig worked well and I decided that rather than complicate a wonderfully simple boat by adding a centerboard and rudder I would sail her peapod style by trailing the lee oar and shifting my weight to steer. It worked well thanks to a shallow, full-length keel that terminated in a generous skeg. The rig even allowed her to go to windward pretty well.
The boat works well with one or two adults and a couple of kids, was OK with three adults and could even accommodate three adults and two small kids. But when kids and grand kids visit I yearned for a larger boat and one actually designed for rowing and sailing. A longer boat would be faster and increase my range.

Selling Lobo

Fast forward three and a half decades. My three kids are in high school and junior high school and booked solid with activities. Our beautiful 28-foot Pearson Renegade sloop, Lobo, has left the dock only twice in the last year. So I decide to sell her. When I tell the family of my decision, they just shrug. The kids grew up on Lobo and her predecessor Freyja, a 22-foot sloop designed by John Alden. Sailing to them never held the magic it did, and still does, for me. I put a “For Sale” sign on Lobo and before almost anyone in the family noticed, she was gone. I missed her terribly, and still do. She was my dream machine. My escape pod. She was the kind of boat I'd wanted for most of my life, but at this time of my life there just wasn't room for her. To let her waste away at the dock, like so many other boats, was too cruel a fate for such a fine lady. The thing that kept me going was the dream of replacing her with a boat like her – but maybe a few feet longer – when time and family commitments would allow.

One Sunday at church a friend asked me how my sailboat was doing. “I sold it,” I told him. He looked stricken. “You're going to get another one, aren't you?” he asked. I decided not to go into a lot of detail, but I did tell him we didn't use it enough to justify owning a boat that size. “But if I could find a small boat that sailed well and rowed well and that I could keep in my garage, I think I would buy something like that.” I didn't think to much more about it until two weeks later when my friend came up to me after church and said, “I've got the boat for you.” “Oh yeah?” I said. “Yup. A Swampscott dory. And I'll help you build it.”

I knew enough about Swampscott dories to know that he had hit the nail right on the head. That would meet all my criteria and more. I also knew I couldn't wait for years until I could afford the time and money for my dream boat to get back on the water. A boat like a Swampscott dory would be perfect to get me through. But build it?! I was pretty handy with tools, but building a boat? That's a big project. My friend assured me that with his help I could do it. I believed him because he had built a number of wooden drift boats and worked at a commercial boat shop until his body wouldn't let him any more. We decided after steelhead fishing was over for the year we would go to work.

Some weeks later I saw him in the hospital parking lot on a Thursday. “When are we going to start building that boat?” I asked. “Well, I'm going fishing Friday. On Saturday you come to my place and we'll load up my saw and take it to your place and get started.” That was the last time I ever saw him. He died on that Friday of a heart attack doing what he loved, fishing.

How it all started

I honestly can't remember when I decided to build a faering. A faering is a double-ended boat that is a direct descendant of the type of small boats used by Vikings. The word faering comes from the Norwegian word færing (Old Norse feræringr) that literally means “four-ing,”and refers to the number of oars. The small boats found with the nineth-century Gokstad ship resemble boats still used in Norway and testify to a boat-building tradition more than a thousand years old.

More to the point, they are beautiful. The kind of boat you can't walk away from without turning around for one last look. They are also amazingly seaworthy ranking with some of the best designs in the world for seakeeping ability, speed and versatility. Since the Norwegians have been building and using them for all these centuries they must have a lot going for them. Furthermore, they have had plenty of time to work the bugs out.

I've known about this type of boat for at least 30 years even though they are rare in the Pacific Northwest where I live. About 20 years ago I saw an advertisement in the local sailing magazine by a builder in the Tacoma area who specialized in building faerings. I thought then how beautiful they were and how well they fit in Northwest waters, which are so much like Norway's fjords.

One of the formative movies of my youth was The Vikings with Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis. Douglas not only stared in the movie, but it was his production company that produced it in 1959. Both he and the director insisted on authenticity in everything right down to the Viking horses they borrowed from a Norwegian zoo. You won't see any horned helmets in this film. One of the amazing things about the picture are the ships: They built three replica Viking longships or dragon ships for the movie that were authentic in every detail. They also built a smaller vessel that Tony Curtis uses to escape from Kirk Douglas. That boat was a little big to be classified as a faering, but it did have four oars. There is, however, a faering in the movie that is almost exactly like the one I'm building. Kirk Douglas uses it to row out to the longship anchored in the fjord where Morgana (the love interest of both Douglas and Curtis) is held prisoner. The boat is 18 feet long, or so, and behaves like the fine lady of the sea she was meant to be in spite of Douglas's character being very drunk and rowing standing up.

My fascination with Vikings started when I was four or five years old. My grandmother, who is of Danish descent, had a beautiful Viking ship made in Copenhagen out of iron. She told me it was a replica of the ship that Lief Erickson sailed to discover Greenland. It was heavy and, fortunately, almost indestructible. The ship was proudly displayed on top of the piano and was one of my grandmother's most treasured objects. I remember on several occasions her letting me sail the ship on the living room carpet for what seemed like hours. I was in heaven. With out a doubt, it was my favorite toy while I lived with her for the first five years of my life. And for years after when we would visit one of the things I looked forward to, almost as much as her cooking, was playing with the Viking ship.