Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Dory By Any Other Name

Out in the boatyard, we have a conundrum.

The famous Australian boat designer, Michael Storer was requested to design a boat for comfortable rowing in protected waters. What first came to mind?
"Of the modern, shorter, lightweight dories, the better ones of the modern kind paddle very easily but are tender until you have a load aboard and their speed is limited by the short waterline. The worse ones are so twitchy as to be almost useless."
And so the story goes. Dories can't handle rough seas. Dories are twitchy, hard to handle. Never own a flat-bottomed boat. Almost useless.

But when all is said and done, what emerges from Mr Storer's drawing board? I'll let you be the judge.
To be on the safe side, Michael has called his creation the MSD Rowing Skiff and Doryman has been commissioned to build one. From start to finish, I know well what it is, though I'll keep my thoughts to myself.

The MSD Rowing Skiff is a simple design with all the power and versatility of it's long heritage. Michael tells us this rowboat evolved from his Goat Island Skiff, which is also a time-honored sea-kindly vessel of a certain kind, well loved in these pages. Caution has been taken to be sure the MSD Rowing Skiff is not twitchy, is easy to handle, can hold up to a violent sea and goes like a yearling seal.

I'm not well versed in metric measurements, so the boat plans and I hit a hard spot right off. Rather than purchase a metric tape measure, I decided to struggle with conversions. Those of you with multi-amplitude will understand me completely when I say, metric measurements and the U.S. customary system are not compatible. What is a simple boatbuilder to do when 1 foot = 12003937 meters? Regardless, a fine rowing vessel has emerged, in the rough. We'll be following the progress of this worthy dory in the days and weeks to come.

Please stay tuned.....

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Belle Starr in Racing Form?

Seriously? Can you imagine a full keel cruising design in a field of hard core racers? Neither can I. But there she was, out spreading her wings during the annual Shipwrights' Regatta, in Port Townsend Bay.

Yesterday dawned under heavy clouds, pouring down rain, with thunder and lightning crashing all around. It does Doryman credit that he turned over and went back to sleep.
...not for long...
The plan had been to go sailing, rain or shine. Fortunately the storm melted away with the morning and by noon, in time for the start of the Shipwrights' Regatta, the clouds peeled away to reveal a brilliant sun. The Stone Horse, Belle Starr was as delighted as her skipper. Sporting her new mainsail, she was lovely in tanbark.

And no, she did not race, sorry to disappoint. You supposed she took honors? Only points for grace and beauty. While the field duked it out in the first race of the 2018 season here in Port Townsend, we kept clear of the marks and enjoyed the break in the weather. There is more than one way to win.

Monday, January 15, 2018


70 miles in 48 hours.
The rules are simple - no motors, no sails, no support. Human power only. Pedal, paddle, or row.

Seventy 48 begins in Tacoma, Washington, at the head of the Thea Foss Waterway, near the Museum of Glass
Port Townsend, to the north is the finish. Two checkpoints are required: A boat off the beach at Point Defiance and the bridge over Port Townsend Canal. The route is up to you.
The race starts June 11, 2018 at 5:30 PM, and teams have 30 minutes to cross the start line
Application deadline: April 15, 2018

An Old Town canoe converted for rowing should do the trick. Please stay tuned.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

New Sail for the New Year

Salutations from the great Pacific Northwest to all my friends the world over.
Calendars confuse me. Where I live we call this the first days of winter. Some people never see winter and today my good friends far south of the equator celebrate high summer. I prefer to look to the sky and see the axis turn on our lonely planet and contemplate the millenniums of our universe. On a long night with the constellations turning slowly over my head, I can forget that I live in a country where my own government despises poor people like me.

Today was short. In the same vein as the above comment, I think of a day in terms of sunlight, which was easy on the ground today at 48 degrees latitude north, 122 longitude west.

Being an aging mariner, who still prefers to live each day outside, in nature, these short, cold days are hard on my bones. Despite natural inclination, sometimes I have to stay inside, by the fire.

Today was such a day. Fortunately, there was plenty to do. We are sewing a new mainsail for Belle Starr. The wooden Stone Horse had to sit out a sailing season due to lack of funds for moorage, but soon (I promise) she will return to her natural element and the voyage ethereal she loves will commence.

 Suddenly help arrived. (never know when she'll appear).

Belle Starr was built in the early 1980's, here on the Puget Sound. Her sails were (are) very a finely constructed cruising design executed in the early years of Hasse and Petrich Sailmakers. Carol Hasse is still in business here in Port Townsend, but I know without asking that I can't afford to have her replace her aging set. And, it goes without saying, our new sail pales in comparison, but then I probably don't have thirty-five years of sailing left in me, even if I have the good grace to live that long.

Besides, it's good experience to make your own sails. I remember well the days when I could not figure out how to drive my boat to windward, let alone understand  the physics of sail theory. Nothing brings all the elements of sailing theory together better than building a sail.

I cheated.
Belle's mainsail came in the mail, as a kit from Sailrite. Those guys are awesome. A custom, precision cut mainsail for pennies on the dollar. All the pieces you need, minus the tools. Believe me, building the sail is challenge enough without having to cut it from raw materials.

Heather is a pro with a sewing machine and we have an old Phaff made to sew through metal. (don't mean to sound too elderly, but stuff was made better back in the day.) Still, the large bits of slick fabric were a challenge and took up the entire front room of the house for days. The main body of the sail is now complete and the task of hand sewing is underway.

I learned to sew from my mother and grandmother at a very young age, but have never mastered the delicacies of the job. My sewing is strong, but able-seamen of old would blanch at the quality of my work. I'm trying very diligently to make the grade.

My bible for hand-sewing technique is Emiliano Marino's "Sailmaker's Apprentice", an exceptional book, by the way. I've recently had the pleasure of meeting Emiliano and it's likely he will one day see my handiwork.
Hopefully, he will be kind.

Love and Peace to you all.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Meditation and Transformation

It's quiet here today. I just returned from a walk with the dog. She's the offspring of a spirited Border Collie, bred with a Blue Healer. She doesn't care much for calendars or clocks, and lives from moment to moment, the all too infrequent romp in the woods. I strive to be more like her.
Heather left long before daybreak, to work at the bakery, serving the gluttonous masses. In silent meditation, I've decided to fast in contemplation. I live in a country so preposterously prosperous that being thankful for good fortune seems hypocritical.
The rain comes down in buckets, as we say, out in the boatyard, and though I spend most days out there working in all weather, it seemed appropriate to set the tools aside for awhile. In a bit, I'll go out and bail an old carvel-planked boat that is kept open to the weather, to keep her planks swollen and tight. Her other, more protected sisters will be patted down and reassured their lives will not always be spent on the hard. My neighbors see this ritual as tedious, but I do not - it is a meditation for a sailor between voyages. It is said the professional sailors of old yearned for the sea the day they returned home. I once knew an old fisherman who, while in port, would visit his boat everyday and sit at the helm, reading and listening to the marine broadcasts. I can relate.

Remember Mistral, the big live-aboard/cruising dory that inspired the moniker on the header? She is still around, though an apparent permanent resident of the backyard boatyard. We hauled her from the water a couple years ago to make the journey from the Oregon coast to my new domicile in Port Townsend. Why didn't I sail her here on her own bottom? You ask a good question. The best answer I can offer, is, a trip northbound on the Pacific coast of the US is strenuous, since a vessel must climb uphill, against prevailing weather and tide. I've done it a few times - and failed, too. It's not a voyage to be taken lightly.

A vessel must be redundantly reliable for an open ocean passage.
Mistral suffers a limitation due to poor design and it's nobody's fault but mine. (Oh how hard it is to say that...). I gave a lot of thought to accommodations, structure and sail rig, but just let the cockpit and steering happen on it's own.

Over the years (how quickly they pass), I have struggled with different steering options, going from a simple tiller, to a wheel, and when that failed, back to a tiller. The hard truth is, on a double-ended vessel, the cockpit can be pitifully tight.

So, deciding to finally do something other than going from one haphazard solution to another, Mistral's surgery has begun. First, I've taken a hardtop bimini from an older boat and covered the helm seat. Next, I sawed the old transom off. You heard me right. The languid angle of a dory transom is simply too low for a stern mounted rudder. In a tack, the rudder lifts to the surface of the water, losing purchase and the unfortunate vessel stalls. If the dory doesn't have enough weigh, it is soon in irons. I could have designed a balanced rudder, but am disinclined toward underwater holes in my boats. So now, Mistral's stern is more vertical. I really love the diminutive V shaped transom of a traditional dory, so this was a hard choice. The change is not severe, in an attempt to keep that aesthetic.

To add more seating for the helmsman, I've taken liberties suggestive of traditional Asian sampans. Since I usually sit up on a very skinny shear rail while under sail, I've added a platform, up under the bimini, which my friend Martin calls the poop deck.

I apologize for the poor quality of these photos. Like I said earlier, the winter monsoons have arrived, which means, if I'm to get any time in the boatyard, I must work under a tent.

 Meditation and transformation to keep a sailor sane, while ashore.
Photo courtesy of Mathew Atkin

Monday, October 16, 2017

Building Kayaks on the Oregon Coast

I hear the sad strings of fall all around. In the Pacific Northwest, once the rains come, there seems no end for months. Folks despair. But I love the fall months, the soft edges, brilliant colors, chilly mornings, diffused light. Even the sometimes violent weather makes me feel alive.

There is no better place for a weather-watcher like myself than the coast of Oregon. Every minute brings a new drama. Call me strange, but I'm never happier than in the teeth of a gale.

Last week was pure heaven for me, as we spent our fall "vacation" building kayaks in the historic US Coast Guard Lifeboat Station, in Garibaldi, Oregon, US. There was weather aplenty, as nature unfolded in all her seasonal glory. Around here, this season brings the salmon back from their ocean journey to spawn in home waters, which of course brings out the fishermen. Talk about a hearty breed.

I'm no fisherman. Don't get me wrong, I love seafood. But I'm a single-handing sailor and there is plenty to do on a sailboat, so very little time for fishing. And when I'm not sailing, I build boats, something my fishing friends are grateful for, to the point I really don't need to fish for myself. But, I digress........

Those who know me and my passion for building boats may be surprised to hear it is not my favorite activity. Sailing is.
Thus, I found myself in a quandary last week, while we built five Pygmy Kayaks at Pier's End, in Garibaldi. The old Coast Guard Lifeguard Station is 750 feet out from shore, in deep water, so the view from every window is like that from a ship. I can hear you now -"poor old Doryman, he's stuck inside an amazing historical building, surrounded by immeasurable beauty, forced to build boats". There was some whining and wishing to be out sailing, for which I am not proud.
My crew were sympathetic, but unconcerned because they were having the time of their lives. All participants were volunteers, and only one of a dozen had ever built a boat before. We paired off to build five kayaks from kits. Kit building is not what I do, and while kits provide shortcuts, they also present their own challenges. Perhaps we'll explore that topic one day.
Pygmy kayak kits are not simple, and my condolences to those of you who have had to labor through their instruction manual. Fortunately our team had someone versed in Greek. I see my job, in mentoring a group of builders new to the trade, to play to individual strengths. The end goal for me is to build community, so the Garibaldi Cultural Heritage Initiative is a perfect fit. Building boats as a group is a metaphor for life. The true beauty of such an exercise is how people from all walks of life and philosophies find common cause and become fast friends.
The week was exhausting - I'm no spring chicken. So, glad to be home and resting, with memories of an experience I'll never forget. Special thanks and lots of love to all who participated. Garibaldi rocks!

Doryman burning the midnight oil. It's the instructor's responsibility that there are no loose ends.

Photos courtesy of my awesome friend, Heather Hicks.

Special thanks to Kristen Penner, organizer supreme.

More images from Kristen:

And, still yet more photos on Doryman's photo site...