Tag Archives: do-it-yourself


After 17 months, Gracie is done. finishedwherry

And here’s what I started with:



Unlike the celebrations and inaugural launches I’ve seen on YouTube, the inaugural launch of Gracie was low key as fitting a high functioning introvert like me.  Just Sandy and me. No marching band. No champagne. I backed my truck up to the boat launch at the Port of Kingston, pulled her off the bed extension and set her gently in the water, locked in the oars, responded to a few comments from  some fisherman, took a few photographs, and then I was off, pulling out into Appletree Cove.

It was a big moment.  And yet I felt terribly out of sorts. On one hand, I had been working hard to get her done and out on the water before summer was completely  gone. But “done” meant I had to say goodbye to a routine that had become as anticipated as a greeting from an old friend.  When I wasn’t working on my boat, I was often thinking about what I was going to do next, and when I was about to attempt something I’d never done before – and I had plenty of those with this project – I was wrestling with how in the hell I was going to do them without committing an error so egregious it would ruin everything.  The project was very nearly all consuming at times, but more importantly, it was real, unlike so much of what I do.  In other words, it’s hard to sink your teeth into web-based training courses, but my boat was something I could quite literally bite, and I certainly breathed enough of her dust when I was sanding to make darn sure she was part of me in a way that wasn’t particularly healthy.

Enjoy. It’s a fairly common word with a less commonly used worked, joy, buried inside.  But that’s the word I would use to describe every moment of this project. It was a joy from start to finish, and now I’m experiencing a different kind of joy when I take it out on the water.


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.



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.

A change of perspective

Sandy and I spent the last few weekends painting our house.  Here’s a look at the south side with all four colors visible:


Now that it’s done, it looks great.  I confess, however, that it was a chore I had been dreading. Partly because it interrupted work on my wherry. But mostly because I just didn’t want to do it.

In the words of the great philosopher, “been there, done that. . .”

Over the years, I’ve done my share of house painting.  Most of the time, because I had to. It isn’t cheap  to hire a painting contractor, and unlike wiring a house, or tuning up a car, “painting” is something that just about anyone can do. And if you take your time and are careful, even amateurs can do it well.  So, if you need to save some bucks, do-it-yourself painting is a good way to transform a room, or a house without costing a lot.

But I’m not as young as I used to be. Free time has become much more precious, particularly free time during the sweet weeks of summers in the Puget Sound country.  Selfishly, I didn’t want to burn three or four weekends standing on a ladder. I’d much rather work on my boat, or day hike with Sandy, or. . . do any number of things instead of painting.

I also really hate heights. And this particular project was going to involve some work at the top of my very tall extension ladder. If truth be told, I was worried about hurting myself. I’d been having this recurring image of losing my balance and falling off the ladder. It was happening so frequently, I was even thinking about ways I might be able to twist in midair to help prevent a broken back, neck, or worse.

But then I started hearing what local painting contractors were charging for house painting.  And I reluctantly changed my mind.  I just couldn’t see us shelling out that much money just because I was, well, a wimp. Besides, we also needed that money to go elsewhere…like our contribution to our youngest son’s college.

I wasn’t happy about any of it, but what are you going to do?

So there I was a couple of days into the project, perched on my extension ladder 2o-feet or so in the air. I was holding a paintbrush in one hand, and my 4-inch roller, and a gallon of paint in the other, and making steady progress, putting a first coat of paint on the east side of our stark white house.  And that’s when I just had to stop, and take a moment to take it all in. There was a warm breeze and the air smelled fresh and newborn; the sky was the kind of blue that makes poets and artists weep and as much as I had not wanted to paint our house, right at that moment I couldn’t imagine a better place to be. . . standing on a ladder. . .painting.

Funny how a change in perspective (or change in altitude) can make all the difference.

Hair of the dog

hair of the dogNo, not that hair of the dog.

Last weekend I fiber-glassed the   interior of my wherry.  It took four hours instead of the recommended two. That was my fault, but I’d like to blame the dog.

At first, everything was going along just peachy.  I had carefully sanded the interior, vacuumed up all the dust and debris afterwards, and then painstakingly cut and spread out the fiberglass cloth so that it fit the the bottom like a second skin. I was all set. I pulled on my gloves, turned on some music, mixed up my first batch of epoxy, and started spreading it over the cloth.  That’s when the magic starts. As the epoxy soaks into the cloth, it turns the cloth from white to clear, revealing the beautiful rich colors and grain of the underlying okume wood.

That’s when I noticed the first dog hair.  Black dog hair.

Okay, first things first.  I love our dog, Gracie.  She’s a medium-sized lab mix that my wife and her20150810_152651 friend, Mary, rescued from the pound in Pasco. We call her our little barrio dog.  She’s smart, loving, and I can’t imagine our family without her.


I wasn’t really interested in using my boat as a vehicle for forever protecting her essence like an ancient mosquito in amber. I couldn’t ignore a hair. Absolutely not. . . not when I was striving for perfection.

As I cursed softly under my breath, I grabbed some needle-nose pliers with my sticky, latex gloved hands, lifted up the epoxy soaked cloth, carefully snagged the hair, and wiped it off on a rag. I ditched the pliers, hurriedly spread out the cloth, and started adding more epoxy and. . .yeah, another hair.  And this one wasn’t close enough to an edge for me to nab.

The curses became louder. I was in trouble. Epoxy begins to “cook” as soon as the hardening agent is added.  You have about 20 or 30 minutes before it becomes to thick to work with.  So, I made an executive decision to finish up with my first batch of epoxy, and then take a time out and vacuum the inside of my hull again in hopes of cleaning up all the stray dog hairs.

I didn’t need a Sherlock Holmes to tell me what had happened. A few days earlier, I’d taken the cloth upstairs and with Sandy’s help, stretched it out on the carpet and then per the instructions in my manual, rolled it up.  I didn’t even consider that the cloth would act like a dog hair magnet and I wasn’t looking close enough to notice.

Knowing it happened provided no insight on a fix. So I did my best vacuuming the inside of the hull again, shook out the cloth, and then spread it all out again.  And then it was picking up where I’d left off thirty minutes earlier.

Later that night, I was enjoying a beer on the deck, my fin20150810_144455gers resting on Gracie’s head. All in all I was pretty happy with how the fiberglassing turned out.  And if truth be told, I wasn’t too miffed about preserving a few dog hairs for posterity. Years from now if I’m still lucky enough to be rowing, I just know that when my eyes light on one of those stray black dog hairs, I’ll be reminded of the all the joy Gracie brought to me and my family, and that’ll put a smile on my face and tears in my eyes.