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.