Tag Archives: Cheseapeake Light Craft

Delayed Gratification


One final coat of sea green polyurethane was the exclamation point to finishing the exterior hull of my wherry.  Now, it’s on to the interior with another coat of epoxy needed followed up by four or five coats of varnish.

I think the sea green adds a nice accent to the white planks below and the warm mahogany rail above.  The mahogany is a little dirty right at the moment, but once I clean up the white primer and finish with the varnish I think that line will be nice and clean looking. It helps to have a color expert as a wife!

I’m sure I’ll have a heart attack the first time I scrape the hull over some rocks or run over a piece of driftwood, but so it goes. I can’t imagine a worse fate for a boat than to be stuck in a garage or storage unit year after year. In other words, Gracie is meant to be rowed, and rowed a lot, and the best gift I can give my wherry and myself would be to row it so much I wear her out.

So, the exterior hull was initially covered with three coats of epoxy.  I followed that up with three coats of primer, and finished it off with five coats of white Interlux Brightside polyurethane, and four coats of Interlux sea green.  There was a couple of hours of sanding required after each coat except for the last one.

This project is many things but certainly an exercise in delayed gratification. But that makes moments like this all the sweeter, and the anticipation is growing for that first time I slip her into the water and head out across Appletree Cove.

Sandy is suggesting we have a christening of some sorts and invite everyone who has been following my progress. I suppose that would be okay,  though that’s not really my style.

But that’s next month. Now it’s time for a Black Butte Porter.

Or two.




And now painting

wherryAh, the clarity that comes from painting.  Imperfections unnoticed by eye or fingertip are revealed and I am once again thwarted by the sore fact that perfection is but a Siren’s song never to be attained this side of the veil.

That doesn’t, however, prevent me from continuing to throw myself against that particular rock. I can do nothing else. It is in my nature.

But after four coats of primer and three coats of white polyurethane, I must admit that my wherry looks pretty darn good.  I have two more coats of white to go, followed up by four or five coats of sea green on the top plank.  And then I get to flip it over and finish the inside with one more coat of epoxy and four or five coats of varnish.

Maybe an August launch?  That is one hope, anyway.



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.

Before. . .and After. . .

Fiberglassing the hull.  Here’s a before photo.before

And here’s “after”. . .after

I think the transformation from white cloth to transparent, rock hard shell is pretty cool.

Since this was taken, I’ve added another layer of cloth to the bow, removed the tape and trimmed the edge of the finished fiberglass, and added filet material (a thick, peanut butter-like combination of epoxy and wood flour) to the seams between the planks.

4 hours of focused attention

Finisgluehullhed up the “gluing” portion of the “stitch and glue” process last Sunday afternoon.

It just happened to be the hottest day of the year, which made my west facing garage sauna-like.  Not that I’m complaining. Come the cold gray days of November the heat, sunshine, and brightness will be a fond memory. I also had music playing in the background, beer (Obsidian Stout) in the fridge, and 4 hours to spend focusing my attention on one thing and one thing alone: applying a bead of epoxy between the planks of my wherry.

syringe hullThe tool of the moment was a cheap, disposable plastic syringe, and I did make a note to myself early on to try and find a better syringe to use on my next boat.  Unlike a caulking gun that when used correctly can lay down a uniform bead of caulk, the syringe was so herky jerky in the way it dispensed epoxy it was impossible to get a consistent bead.

But I made do. And now the wherry is hull down and my next step will be to remove the copper stitches. Once that’s done, I can move on to filleting.

As some of you may remember, in addition to working on my wherry, I’m also reading Matthew Crawford’s latest book, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction.  I read a few pages at a time and then spend the next few days thinking about what I read.  It’s that kind of book and he’s making me work at it.

Lately, I’ve been doing more and more thinking.  That’s because this book has turned out to be profound and alarming.  For example, I just finished a chapter titled, “Autism as a Design Principle: Gambling.”  I won’t go into the details here, but it was deeply disturbing, particularly the hints that other industries are/have already embraced the same design principle.

There’s no mystery to the reason why. It’s all the end result of billions of dollars of research into human behavior and the way our minds work. In short your brain is malleable.  And big companies know this. You may not start out addicted, but one of the goals of using their products is to make you that way.  Addiction makes you a loyal, life long customer.  Simple.  Drug dealers know this. So does corporate America.

I suppose most people don’t care about this one way or another. But the idea that we’re not autonomous creatures blessed with freedom to think, do, buy and opine whatever we choose has implications that I don’t care to contemplate right at the moment.

Freedom for puppets!

So how does one fight back against the Corporate Mengeles, the purveyors of group think and lemming-like behavior? Well, I’m getting to section in Crawford’s book, but from his early chapters, it seems that it may involve something that I’m already doing: through focused attention on something real, as opposed to something virtual.  This is also opposed to an activity that creates that illusion of choice, but really offers a sanitized version of reality with a predetermined subset of choices.  An example of this would be shopping for deodorant. You have five different brands to choose from offered by five different companies, but, in fact, all five companies are owned by the same parent company, so your choice is really not much of a choice at all, but simply a matter of choosing which scent or package you like more than the others. Video games are another example.  They offer a predetermined number of options so players are given the illusion of real choice. Over time, they begin to assume that that is how the real world works. When they discover it doesn’t, the tendency is to find refuge in the “safer” and more predictable virtual world.

In any case, it seems that spending 4 hours gluing fits the bill. During that time, I didn’t answer my phone, check for text messages, or peruse the web.  I just glued (with occasional beer breaks). As it turns out, Sandy and I did something similar on Saturday. We didn’t glue, but we went hiking in the Olympic’s along the Duckabush River.  It was a gorgeous day, the river was lovely with cool pools and water the color of Swedish crystal.  We chose the hike, the distance we walked, where we stopped for lunch, when we turned around, and dealt with the dilemma of a few unknowns such as an unmarked fork in the trail. Which way to go?  We couldn’t google an answer.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t tell you how much I cherish my time unplugged, without distractions, and with choices to make that are mine, and mine alone. At least, I think they’re all mine….

A few Stitches and a Little Bit of Time

wenbergwherryhullAfter a few weeks of feeling like I wasn’t making much progress, the hull of my wherry took shape over the 4th of July weekend when I was introduced to the “stitch” part of “stitch and glue” construction.

I assumed this type of boat construction was an old one, invented by our clever ancestors who used stitching to attach tanned animal skins to boat frames of various shapes in order to make versatile, lightweight craft.  I was wrong. The stitch and glue method of small boat construction was invented by a really smart wood working teacher, Ken Littledyke, in the early 1960s.  One benefit of his technique was the  simplified boat construction methods that let do-it-yourselfer’s like me construct a lightweight boat (from simple craft to fairly complex ones) using common tools and in my case, pre-cut materials.

In other words, if you’re willing to put in the time, you can use this method to build some pretty cool stuff.

Copper wire Over the weekend, I took the individual planks I had previously glued together,  stitched them to each other and to the bulkheads, using 4 inch pieces of thin copper wire inserted into very tiny holes pre-drilled every six inches.  About 40 stitches per plank times 10 planks plus the bottom and the ends comes out to . . . a lot.  As you might imagine, the tips of my fingers were really tender when I ran out of wire, just a few stitches from being done.

So, I’m on hold right at the moment.  I’ve ordered more wire and a few other things I’m going to need from CLC. When the wire comes, I’ll finish stitching and then I’ll get Sandy or Luke to help me to flip the wherry over, hull side up, and I’ll use pliers to tighten the stitches, removing any gaps between the planks. When that’s done, I’ll mix up some epoxy and use a disposable syringe to place a bead of epoxy between each plank. Once it dries, I can pull out the stitches, clean up the epoxy (hopefully not much of that to do), and then move onto the next phase.

In the meantime, I just noticed the refrigerator in the garage is out of Black Butte Porter. Probably a good thing that I’m on hold.