My Beagle, Buddy

My beagle, Buddy,

loves to jump

and tumble

and tug

on my sleeves.

My beagle, Buddy,

loves to bark

and chew


tussle in fall leaves.

My beagle, Buddy,

loves to scratch,

and dig,

and never loses a race.

My beagle, Buddy,

loves to roll

and wiggle

and lick my sister’s face.

My beagle, Buddy,

loves to snoop,

and sniff

and find my every hiding place.

But most of all,

my beagle, Buddy,

just loves


– Michael Wenberg

(c) Wenberg Creative Services


The Essential Rollie Patterson Jackknife

pocketknifeMy typical morning ritual just before I begin my commute into the city includes making sure I  haven’t forgotten any essentials.  In addition to what I carry in my computer bag (notebook computer, keys, paperwork, cell phone, headphones, etc.), I slip my wallet into my back pocket (always the left side), strap my twenty-year-old Seiko watch to my left wrist and then the replica Viking bracelet, a gift from my wife, to my right. Can’t forget my wedding ring. I put that on, as well. For many years, that was it. Until I found an old jackknife in storage box. And now it is one of my daily carries. This particular jackknife was once owned by Sandy’s uncle, Rolland (Pat) Patterson. He’s been dead a number of years. How we ended up with it, I have no idea. I always liked Pat. He was a genial, big-eared guy with an ever ready grin, chuckle, and joke. I never saw him without a glass of Pepsi in one hand, and it took me a long while before I realized that it wasn’t just soda in the glass. After getting reacquainted with his son, I learned the grin and the jokes were just camouflage that hid a much uglier side.  Oddly enough, I still think fondly of him, but now those thoughts are like a song that has gone slightly out of tune.

Wallet? Check. Eyeglasses and sunglasses? Check. Wristwatch? Roger. Rollie Patterson jackknife?  Absolutely.

Sand. . .sand. . .sand my boat. . .I mean wherry

sandingI’m at the stage in my wherry building project where it is now, for the most part, all about sanding.  And because I’m not only interested in building a wherry that is functional, but something that is also beautiful to look at and a joy to row, I’m taking extra care.

Up to this point, using my orbital sander has helped speed along the process, but it hasn’t improved the experience. They’re noisy, generate a lot of dust, and if you’re not careful, it’s easy to remove too much material, something I’ve inadvertently done on more than one occasion.

So now I’m back to sanding by hand.  I use a sanding block, or wrap the sandpaper around a dowel for the seams in between the planks.  It’s time consuming, tedious, and not “fun” or “entertaining” in a way that would appeal to most people, but I kind of like it nonetheless. It must be something about the focused attention. The 2 or 3 hours I spend sanding between each coat tends to quiet the incessant chatter in my mind and in a strange way provides a wonderful vacation away from myself. There’s also this sensory reward that comes from running the tips of your fingers or the palm of your hand across the surface of something as smooth as whalebone, and knowing that the reason it is so smooth is because of your efforts.

So, here’s what I have left to do:  sand the exterior hull and then apply 4 coats of exterior paint with sanding between each coat, apply one  more coat of epoxy to the interior and then 4 or 5 coats of varnish with sanding between each of those coats.  Let’s say 3 hours of sanding per coat.  That gives me about 30 hours of vacation time to look forward to.

Lucky me!

I am a hack, but I can change, if I have to, I guess.

Ncleatotice anything wrong with the curved piece of wood on the left distinguishable by the two small holes on either side?

Me neither.

Not for three months, and
certainly not when I initially glued it and four others just like it — they’re called seat cleats —  onto the face of the bulkheads of the wherry I’m building.

But last night, I stepped into the garage to take a look at how the second coat of epoxy was drying, and, yes, I’ll admit, admire my work.  That’s when I spotted a problem. Why I hadn’t noticed it before, I’ll never know. The wide part of each cleat was facing toward the stern…they should have been facing up.

Uh oh.

I didn’t need to look at the instructions for confirmation. I’d screwed up. But I was determined not to wallow in self pity and move quickly through however many stages of grief I was going to need.  A Black Butte Porter would have helped, but I was fresh out. I made it to stage five and decided any more would be self-indulgent. The best way to start feeling better was to figure out a hack.  Or as my grandfather would have said, “suck it up.”

First, a little background on seat cleats.  They aren’t just a decoration but serve an important structural function. They provide places to attach the drop-in rowing units to the hull while at the same time, strengthening the bulkheads.

One of my hacker mantras is to do no harm, either to the thing I’m trying to fix with one of my hacks, or to myself.  Little danger of the latter in this instance, unlike some of my other hacks that involved electricity. In this particular case, I  needed to add a modification that would provide a secure place to attach the rowing units without damaging the bulkhead, or weakening the cleats in the process.

Also, whatever solution I came up with couldn’t look stupid.

My child of the depression dad was a fairly talented hacker.  After he hurt his back working as a logger, he returned to school, received his degree,  then worked in the mortgage banking field for a time, and from there, went on to work in real estate and finally owned his own real estate development and investment company.  Until he went bankrupt, but that’s a story for another time. At his heart, I think, he was always a blue collar guy faking it in the white collar world.   And nowhere was that more apparent than when something around the house had to be built, painted, or repaired.  Why pay money for something he  could do?  He didn’t see it as a chore; it was entertainment, for him, as relaxing as watching ball game on the TV.  His final results weren’t always pretty. For example, he was a rotten painter.  But they usually worked.

I’ve  inherited the same do-it-yourself tendencies, though I’m more sensitive to aesthetics than my old man ever was.  I’m a decent carpenter, know how to tile, can fix most plumbing problems, and can paint better than most professionals.

And unlike my dad, it’s not only important to fix something right, but make it look right in the process.

No where was that going to be more important than with my wherry.    I was building something that was not only going to be functional and fun to row, but I was hoping it was beautiful, too.

The first step in my hack was to assess the extent of the problem. If the wood along the top of the cleat was wide enough, maybe all I would need to do is re-drill the holes from the top. It would leave an ugly blemish exposed, but it would be the simplest solution.

As it turned out, the wood wasn’t wide enough for that option.  That was just as well.  If I’d gone that route, the blemishes on the exposed surface of the cleats would have bugged me until I died.

On to considering option two. This would involve cutting the cleat from the bulkhead and reinstalling it in the correct position.  If I was really careful, and used a super thin blade, I wouldn’t nick or cut into the bulkhead or take off too much wood from the cleat.  Once I was done,  I’d need to redrill some holes, sand and prep the bulkhead, and the rough side of the cleat, and then reattach the cleat.

It was tempting. But I wasn’t confident I could cut  away the cleat without cutting into the bulkhead and affecting its integrity.

That led to option three. It would involve leaving the cleats as is, and gluing pieces of identically shaped mahogany to their faces. These additions would serve two functions: 1) provide the extra width I needed to re-drill the hole used to attached the rowing unit to the bulkhead, and 2) cover up the old holes.   Even better, it wouldn’t put the bulkheads at risk, and I was fairly confident I could replicate the shape of the original cleats so it would look like my fix was part of the original design (albeit installed wrong), and not one of my hacks.

So, that’s the solution.  Instead of making my own replacement cleats, I bought perfect matches from Chesapeake Light Craft.  $30 plus shipping seemed like a good deal.

Here’s how the fix looked before I glued it in place:

hack fix
By the way, Sandy doesn’t think anyone will notice my hack, and the other blemishes I pointed out to her.  As usual, she’s probably right.

Why “Gracie”

20150810_152651Here’s why.

Prep work for fiberglassing the interior of my wherry was slow and tedious. But I wanted to do it right, so I didn’t mind. I was extra careful vacuuming the interior, making sure I captured every bit of dust and debris.  The instructions were clear about the best way to lay the fiberglass out, so I grabbed Sandy, we went upstairs, stretched out the cloth on the carpet, and then I carefully rolled it up into a long tube.  Then it was back downstairs into the garage. I snaked the cloth through the bulkhead openings, and sliced the cloth so it could lay on either side of the bulkheads. Once I was done, the cloth hugged the bottom of my boat like a pair of yoga tights.

Perfect. Ready for glassing.

I mixed up the epoxy, made sure my spreaders were handy, and started at the bow.  Everything was progressing just like I expected, but as the cloth began to turn opaque to completely clear, I noticed something that made me curse under my breath. There it was, starkly visible against the beautiful mahogany-colored grain of the Okume wood.  A black dog hair.


By now, my gloves were sticky, so I pulled on a new pair, grabbed needle nose pliers, gingerly lifted up the cloth, and snagged that nefarious hair.  Mission accomplished. I smoothed the cloth back in place, resumed spreading epoxy, and then stopped once again, cursing more loudly this time.

Another dog hair!

I repeated my previous actions, wondering what I’d done wrong. I’d been so careful to vacuum the interior. How in the heck did dog hair get inside???. . . oh, crap.  It hit me like a rotten apple in the face. I was a complete moron. We picked up the dog hairs when we spread the cloth on the carpet upstairs.  And that had certain implications that made me feel sick to my stomach.  I wasn’t dealing with just one or two random hairs, but hundreds…thousands….

I took a deep breath, peeled off my gloves, fired up the shop vac, and proceeded to vacuum the cloth and the interior of the wherry once again.  It was all I could think to do.  Once I was done, I resumed fiberglassing.  I came across more dog hairs, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I got the ones I could; left the ones I couldn’t get at.

And by now, I was even kind of laughing about it.

I love our black barrio dog, Gracie. Sandy saved her from certain death, and she’s been the best dog, best friend I could ever imagine.  And someday in the not too distant future, she’s going to die. But she won’t be forgotten.  Not by me. Every time I hop into my wherry for a row, and notice a black dog hair forever preserved beneath clear varnish and epoxy, I’m going to think of our Gracie girl.  And who knows, a million years from now, some distant ancestor may dig up my fossilized wherry, and discover black dog hair forever preserved, like a mosquito in amber, and wonder how the heck a canine with no hands managed to build and row that boat.

So, it was fate.

My wherry just had to be named after our black dog, Gracie.





Back working on Gracie

Finally, wherrythe temperatures have warmed up enough to begin working on my wherry again.  I finished sanding the first coat of epoxy on the interior last Sunday.  Except for adding the rails, my wherry is complete (I’ll buy the Piantedosi sliding seat rig separately and it will just bolt in place).  Now it is just a matter of finding the time to apply three coats of epoxy, at least three coats of varnish, and then primer and at least three coats of paint to the exterior hull.  There will be sanding in between each coats, so I’m probably 9 weekends away from being done. Not that I’m complaining As weird as it sounds, I am enjoying the detail work, sanding the nooks and crannies as smooth as I can get them, running my fingers along the surfaces to check how everything feels, while imagining those moments soon to be when I’ll be out on skimming over water smooth as glass.

Do-It-Yourself mini-greenhouse

I typically start a few plants from seed in the early spring: squash, broccoli and cauliflower, cabbage, sunflowers, corn, basil, and whatever else strikes my fancy.

Because I don’t have a dedicated greenhouse, it’s always a bit of scramble to find warm, sunny and safe spaces for my seeds to germinate.

costco container

This year, I’m going to use recycled Costco roasted chicken containers as mini-greenhouses.  I should be able to crowd five or six compressed peat pots into each one, and because they containers are fairly portable, it’ll be easy to move them around, as needed.

I’ll let you know how it works out.