Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Glossing Over Everything

Three subjects you just don't bring up when in mixed company around boats and shipyards:
religion, politics and varnish preferences..... I reckon I'm about to break that taboo today.

Folks seem to be awfully set in their ways about all three of those subjects. But when it comes to varnishing (or substitutes thereof), opinions can get pretty heated; sometimes turning into long-standing grudges. Seriously.

I just don't get it...Having grown up in a paint shop with a brush in my hand since I was five years old, I've really never been too intimidated by finish techniques (anything that can be fixed with a solvent does not present much of a headache in my book).

There is an old joke in the theater world. Carpenters build things and if there's a slight flaw they say, "Paints'll fix it." Things move through the paint shop and after the Scenics are done they'll say, "lights'll fix it." Once things move on stage and tech rehearsal begins, the lighting crew can be heard to say, "It'll look great 60 feet out in the house with the act curtain down." (Or alternate ending: "It'll be dark and they'll be drunk.")

Sugaree's trail-board
I've approached bright-work on boats with pretty much the same attitude. All in all, it's a policy that has served me well.

Between Sugaree's taffrail and her decorative trail-boards, Kwaietek's ironwood billboard, stern-guard and rub-rails (not to mention her interior fir cabinetry and cherry soles), and little Zeta's classic teak trim, we have more than a few bright-work projects to take care of in the coming months.

Kwaietek viewed from Zodiac's bow.

---Add to that chore list the exhausting square footage of Zodiac's mahogany caprails, deckhouses and spars, and her salon sole which we'll be lending a hand on this spring and you could say we're up to our eyeballs in wood finishing...

Tight-rope act to hit under Z's caprail


(oh yeah, I have no choice but to take the deck of my Chesapeake Light-Craft kayak that Jeff made down to bare wood and re-finish it as well).  

Inlay on the kayak

Every project on every vessel has it's own unique requirement; some more than others. I like to approach each wood finishing project with a different perspective.  I am not married to any one technique nor loyal to any particular brand or type of solution.

Painting detail with (yep), kale!
In the theater, we had a heavy amount of respect for the venerable techniques of the old school painters; in fact, I was trained by my father who in turn was a student of the well known masters such as Arnie Gillette (the guy who wrote the books)... Yet, the theater world promotes innovation and using whatever you can to achieve the desired finished product.

Same thing goes for bright-work. Make it work, make it last. Don't fear the brush.

For our little sailboat Sugaree, we decided from the get go  that her wood work should be easy to care for and not something we wanted to re-do every season. She is a lovely little fiberglass Magellan class ketch and her taffrail has those spindles that can be a real bitch to sand. We chose the teak tinted Cetol initially. The first year that I applied it, I confess to being disappointed in the overall look. The color was too orange and after the second coat it developed a plastic-y sort of finish.
However, we sanded that layer off four years ago and went with the clear Cetol semi-gloss and it has a nice clear finished look. Furthermore, we haven't had to bother with it for four whole years, (big points there)!
The Cetol finish works well on Sugaree
Cetol finish goes on easily, doesn't require a great deal of sanding between coats and is really durable. It doesn't look as showy as true varnish (even their gloss isn't close--no matter what they claim), but it's an attractive and practical substitution, especially if you're planning to cruise a lot with your boat and don't want to worry about constantly re-applying.

When we hauled Kwaietek out for the first time, we asked around for advice on treating her expansive billboard and stern-guard. The BC Forest Service designed and built these old vessels to be bomb-proof when it came to cruising amongst the logging camps up the inside passage. Everywhere the boat could possibly come in contact with a log or rock, there is a layer of ironwood... and we needed to care for it.  Our buddies Christine and Jeffrey Smith recommended the two-part product called Deks Olje.  

I spent a good day or so sanding off all the old finish and then another day applying multiple coats of part 1-the saturating oil finish. Basically, you keep applying coats until the wood just won't take any more. As soon as the last coat dried, I began the process of brushing on part 2--the oil varnish finish. It doesn't need to be sanded between coats (bonus), and the recommended number of coats is six or seven. I love this stuff!

It's been three seasons of summer cruising and anchoring and the billboard looks great. It protects the wood wonderfully, even where the anchor bangs against the ironwood as we hawse it.

When we tackled the interior cabinetry that Jeffery installed, we went for varnish on the fir woodwork. There is currently four coats of varnish on the bookshelves and bunks and four to five coats on the Maple veneer counter tops in the master stateroom.

I have a hunch that this summer I will be emptying out cabins to sand and apply a couple more finish coats.
The sheen that varnish achieves in the last couple of coats is well worth it.

Kwaietek is at heart, a work boat. Even though she's our home, and often times a show-piece at some classic wooden boat show, she was born a working vessel. Her exterior finish work reflects that.

Sugaree is a 70's fiberglass sailboat. We made the decision to "funky her up" when we purchased her. The accents like her trail-boards, painted sun on her cabin front and the Purple-heart sampson posts are all fun details, but we did not feel she needed the yacht quality varnished bright-work to make her look complete.

The mighty Zodiac however, is a horse of a different color. Anyone who has been onboard or had the chance to walk beside her at dock knows firsthand the glorious bright-work that personifies Zodiac's classic gaff-rigged schooner look.

A hard-won glossy finish on Z's caprails

With  well over 1,800 square feet of bright-work on the 90 year old vessel, one has ample opportunity to learn how to varnish.

Our family has been involved in Zodiac's annual winter refit projects since 2006.
I don't even want to count the miles of varnished wood I've dealt with on that old girl.

A rigger's eye view of bright-work chores!

In 2009, Jeff and I (with Megan and Kris), helped the Captain wood the entire expanse of Zodiac's caprails. It was a back breaking, sweaty chore... Ten to twelve hours a day for a solid week, we sanded and varnished, sanded some more and varnished. Seven coats worth of varnishing when all was said and done.
The brand of varnish we used was called "Schooner" varnish by Interlux. It was beautiful--went down like honey and left a deep reflective gloss. The trouble was, it lasted all of about three or four months. Then it yellowed and faded out.  We decided to discontinue that product.

When our new masts arrived fresh from the lathe in 2011, we spent three months prepping and varnishing them. I am certain that on any given day between January and March, if you'd drawn blood from any of us you would have found a blood-varnish-content of .09% or greater... We sweated varnish.

Tim created a recipe of heated varnish, turpentine and penetrol for the initial coats. This soaked into the raw wood and then we would wrap the spars (all 400 feet of 'em)! and continue the process every other day, graduating to a 50/50 solution of varnish and turp, then to straight varnish. Eventually we'd built up about ten coats of varnish on the main and fore masts with about six to eight coats on the various gaffs and booms. Lordy, what a massive job.

The brand we used for that project (and on all the deck boxes and houses is McKloskey's Man O' War Spar Varnish (gloss).

It gets the job done.

I've applied the floor finish in Zodiac's main salon now twice since we layed the flooring in 2007. The fir sole was reclaimed from a south Seattle apartment building dating from the turn of last century. Jeff ran it through the thickness planer a couple of times and the boards came out clean yet retained a lot of character that is typical of old vertical grain fir.

The salon gets a major amount of traffic during the season. Passengers move in and out of the space and luggage is routinely dragged across the sole. We used a tough finish that holds up well and keeps a high sheen.  Dura-Seal Polyurethane gloss finish has done well for us every single time. I really like using this product because it goes on smoothly and doesn't require sanding between coats (as long as you apply the next coat within 24 hours). 

Salon floor with two coats of Dura-Seal

Classic yachties always hiss when they hear that we've used a non-traditional finish on the salon floor.... but everybody has to admit that it looks fantastic for a space that has hundreds of feet trampling back and forth on it 120 days out of each season!

(Besides--the old scenic artist in me loves the fact that we can maintain the look of a classic wooden boat and use practical substitutes to help make her last)!

I suppose it's time to pull out my custom paint box that Jeffery made me (it's pretty slick and well worth a blog post all of it's own), and I will recondition all of my quality varnishing brushes...stock up on the sacrificial brushes that are good for certain jobs and dig out my paint clothes.
(Of course I'm banking on a few more good winter storms to delay my exterior projects). Still, 'tis far better to get started on all this bright-work soon so I have some actual time to get out there and enjoy the fruits of my labors.

See ya' out there!

~ Chris

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Mission Control, We Have Begun Countdown.


Time is Relevant

New years is not one of those revered holidays in the Carson-Wallace household. Resolutions, sentimentality and 'marking time' hyperbole sort of went out the collective doors by the time we'd met each other. 

On the other hand, we are an extremely goal-oriented couple. We survived ten years of living in a 4,000 sq. ft craftsman house while remodeling 95% of it by setting dates for big parties, necessitating completion of one or more projects (to the outward eye).

In fact, you could say that the way we mark the passage of time is by scheduling great celebrations and parties...(We are after all, theater people at heart).  
This was not significant because of any particular party, but more or less enhanced by the event that was surely destined to follow.

Our annual "Blue-grass Clam Bake" would draw sixty or more of our friends and neighbors to the backyard. Our friends fondly recall over 30 pounds of clams, corn, yams and kegs of beer along with a great band.... we'll always remember events such as jacking up the foundation; finishing a complete kitchen/bathroom remodel; the closure of a business and preparation to move away to live on a boat.

Our backyard became a festival grounds for an evening each summer.

This tendency to set up an event in order to hasten along a project has translated handily into our boat-life. Two years ago, in order to put the screws to a full remodel of Kwaietek's main deck-house, we officially committed to the Centennial Rendezvous of the BC Forest Service fleet in Victoria. For some reason, we added a new exterior paint job and detailed touch-up of her logo on the stack to the project list. Gluttons for punishment?  Yes  ...opportunistic of reaching an established goal?  You bet.

Jeff's cabinetry work in the salon. V.G. fir bookshelves.


Our Recent Revelation

Our intent from the start was always to cruise.  Once the business closed in 2008, we began to set things in motion. We pulled the youngest out of elementary school in order to free up our commitments on land. Juliet excelled in the home school environment due to her awesome self-motivation skills. (You see, unlike her parents, she apparently has no need of goal-setting to accomplish tasks).
For four years she followed the curriculum from the Calvert School's program. We could take off and cruise whenever we chose to leave. However, once she began talking about college and vet school, we knew the best thing to do was place her back in an accredited public school. We chose Sehome and it has been an awesome experience for her. She's an honor student for two-years running.

It has occurred to us recently that Juliet's graduation from high-school will occur in less than three years, (two years and five months to be precise). Without consciously realizing it, both Jeffery and I simultaneously went into goal-setting mode.

With a concrete date placed in front of us, we immediately found an event to attach to it. We shall begin our off-shore cruising adventures.

Once our goal was established we initiated the project list(s), plural-for there are many.  Sugaree would need more than a few items replaced, refurbished or re-doubled before we toss lines. Additionally, we could start in earnest to ready ourselves for the off-shore lifestyle. As mentioned in several of our previous posts, Jeff and I have witnessed far too many naive sailors who've shoved off with very little or poor experience to cruise the open ocean--out of ignorance or just trusting to luck (often both). Our friend who is a former Coast Guard rescue swimmer has recounted many chilling tales about risking his life to save unprepared cruisers caught in situations they should not have been in. We don't intend to end up like that, hence wanting to build up our experience in uncomfortable conditions.

So, the Countdown Begins.


Sugaree's cabin - some changes to make before cruising

This year we will take inventory of Sugaree's systems in regard to her long-term cruising competency. We'll also start looking for some replacement sails and additional sizes, perhaps we'll take some advanced lessons in sail-making to augment Jeff's working knowledge and my background in patterning and costume/garment construction... Heck, patterning a sail can't be any more difficult than patterning a 17th century man's vest and sur-coat can it?

13.4 knots in 35 knot winds--good times!
Next step: We head out and play in some ocean waves. We're looking forward to circumnavigating Vancouver Island.  It may have to wait until we've got an entire summer, but we can at least begin gunkholing up and down the west coast. Jeff found numerous bays to explore when he worked on the Triton's towing runs last winter. We've both been in all sorts of weather conditions during the past seven years, but most of the time (for me) it was on 160' sailboat and lately (for Jeff) it was on a tug boat. It's time to get some big sea-time on our little 40' ketch

Next, finance the thing... (Okay, okay, that portion is going to require more than just setting a party date). We are making strategic and tactical plans to ensure the feasibility of this entire adventure. But fate has taught us a valuable lesson and that is, "Do not announce your plans to the gods, lest they become bored and seek to prove you wrong."  Therefore I will skip over the details on this part.

Lastly, Plan That Big Party.

When all preparations have been made; when we have obtained the extra time of open-water sailing; our boat is well outfitted and once the child is an alumni with her application to the university accepted, we will launch our big event. Then, once the epic shindig is well over and the hangover finally clears, we will toss those dock lines and begin the next journey....

So keep an eye out for a rather  auspicious looking invitation.

Man, I do so love deadlines!

~ Chris 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The First Vessel in the Fleet, The Last Vessel to Receive Her Dues

By Jeff

The year was 1999.  Chris and I just had a baby (Juliet) and were living in a rental house in the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle.  All the kids were still with us, making for a very packed space.  As I am still sometimes guilty of now, I had a bad habit of trolling the waterfront looking at old wooden boats.  One afternoon I noticed a small sloop sitting in a back corner of a (no longer existant)yard with a for sale sign on it.  For about a week I would drive by whenever the opportunity presented itself and look, just to see if it was still there.  Honestly, I was just looking.

It sat stern to the fence, showing off a beautifully shaped transom with just the right amount of tumblehome.  It was small, only twenty-six feet with a short boomkin projecting astern, but no name was present.  Finally unable to resist the urge, I called the number on the sign.  After a talk with the owner I learned a small bit about the circumstances.  This was his first boat, fulfilling a long term dream.  Unfortunately, he lived a fair distance away and was unable to get over to check on or use it.  He hauled it out for a stem repair, learned it needed more work and as he tried to decide what to do, it became apparent the boat needed recaulked.  At this point he was done with old wooden boats.  I secured permission to go aboard and look around.

I discovered a vessel that at one time had been a real looker, but was showing it's age.  A cursory examination showed most of the frames had cracked, some had been sistered, and all were due for replacement. There was additional rot in the transom framing, an engine needing to be rebuilt and a long list of cosmetic details calling for attention.  The price was way too high but I continued to drive by for a week or so and check on it.

One afternoon on a walk with Chris and Juliet, I took us by the yard and showed her the boat.  She thought it was a pretty little boat and we started to talk about possibilities.  My father had recently passed away and I had inherited a small bit of money from him.  With Chris' go ahead, I called the owner and we started to negotiate.  Eventually he came down to a price where I knew in a worst case scenario I could buy the boat and if it was unsalvageable, sell the bronze hardware and recoup the cost.  We met, signed paperwork, traded cash and suddenly "it " became a "she".  Chris and I now owned our first old wooden boat.

A friend gave us an old trailer which I modified to hold the boat.  We scheduled pulling the mast to load it on the trailer and cleaned her out.  The yard's crane was mounted on the dock, which meant she had to go back in the water, pull the stick and lift her out again.  Pumps were lined up against the inevitable and all was ready.  On the day the travel lift placed her in the water with me standing on the house top, I listened to the water POUR inside and I knew all the pumps we had could not keep up.  The yard lifted her out, placed her right back where she'd been and we called in a mobile crane.

Chris had arrived at the yard to watch the process and left when she saw my hands on my head, wondering what to do as the yard crew muttered something about "suckers born every day".  Unbeknownst to me she had just named our new vessel.  It had become obvious to Chris that in my mind I was seeing Don Quixote's Dulcinea whereas the rest of the world saw Aldonza for what she was.  Before she arrived home, our little boat was now Aldonza.

Finally loaded on the trailer, we hauled her home, parked her on the street in front of our house and began working on her.  Parts were removed, organized and labeled.  Hardware went into bins and I would sit at night watching a movie with the family, polishing away.  Old varnish was scrapped away, wood sanded and new brightwork started to appear.  The interior was removed in preparation to reframe and all was continuing apace.  In my idealism and naiveté I was sure we were making good progress.  Then winter set in.  Winter slowed us down, but more importantly made us painfully aware of how cramped we were for space with our large family in a small house.

On an evening walk with the dog I passed by an old craftsman farmhouse for sale, life took a turn and we were now homeowners.  This house needed a lot of work, and by a lot I mean a HUGE AMOUNT.  We spent the next two months remodeling before we moved in, working evenings and weekends to beat the deadline.  Aldonza was moved down the street to the new house, parked and blocked into place and a new cover was built around her. 

For the first year in the house we still found time to work on her, reefing seams, scraping paint and starting to rebuild the transom.  Unfortunately, as has happened to so many boats, she slowly became less of a focus in our lives and languished in the driveway as the shrubbery started to grow around her.  A storm took the cover and a tarp replaced it.  As the years went by a family of raccoons took up residence for a while and she became the butt of many a joke and comment.  She was still my Dulcinea though, and I was not giving up on her.  Every once in a while the tarp would be removed, friends lured with food and beer, and a work party would occur.

When we made the decision to sell the house (which I was still remodeling after ten years), many thought it was the end for Aldonza.  I had other plans though.  The shrubs were cut back, the interior cleaned out, the trailer pulled onto the street and she was readied for a trip to Bellingham.  With additional bracing built around her she was towed north and pulled into the covered shop space I share and postioned once again for restoration.

Of course we had Kwaietek to prepare to live aboard as well as Sugaree by this time, followed last year by Zeta.  All the while Aldonza sat patiently as I promised her "someday soon".  That "someday" arrived about a month ago.  Chris and Tim (whom I have the shop space through) were both making grumbly noises.  It was evidently time to fix her or burn her, but she had to be on a schedule to leave the shop.

The first project was to reassess the frames and figure out a replacement schedule.  Then I began the process of patterning exterior forms to jack the stern back into shape in order to finsh the transom framing and planking.  Parts are still coming out, but more importantly, parts are starting to in.  I know she's a big project, but at twenty-six feet she's not overwhelming.  I've even got a few friends who are starting to drop by and lend a hand every once in a while.

When Tim once asked me why I wanted to restore her I could only say I owed it to her.  Thinking more, I've realized that her fate in my mind is intertwined with Juliet.  We bought Aldonza when Juliet was six months old and my father had just died.  There was a lot of personal history and emotion wrapped up inside this old hull.  I've realized that this is a boat for Juliet to own and sail, one that I will watch her truly grow into her own aboard.  As we start back in, the daughter who was wrapped in her baby blanket on the day Aldoza arrived is now pulling tools out of her own toolbox to assist with the work.

Shortly after buying her I had spent some time researching her history.  She was built in southern California in 1927 at the Ashbridge Boat Works.  I have found little documentation but was told by one previous owner that there had been six sister ships, Aldonza being the last to survive.  She was worked up the coast, San Francisco, Oregon and then to Seattle, having changed names a few times.  I've got paperwork with Katharine E. and the fellow we bought her from called her Wood Duck, but there was no trace of a name onboard when she became ours.  She was powered by a Universal Motors Utility Four gasoline engine, I believe the original propulsion.  I would like the engine restored as a separate showpiece, but a new diesel will be the power that goes in.  As a father doing this for my daughter, I cannot put a gasoline engine back in Aldonza.

For fifteen years crates of polished bronze hardware have been carefully stored and moved.  Stacks of parts, forty-five feet of mast, sails and rig all await the day for the dust to be blown off and to take their place once again.  As new wood is finally starting to replace old, her "someday" is finally "today".  I've learned so much about carpentry and boat construction since we bought her and I know the road ahead will not be quick and smooth, but I feel it is achievable. I'm glad she waited for us to get to her and look forward to launching day, with blue skies and sun on the water and Juliet at the tiller.

"Rozinante was the name of Don Quixote's steed. She was a long, thin animal but every time the Don mounted her he had remarkable adventures.  Perhaps seven-eighths, of the romance of these adventures took place in Quixote's mind, for he was a great reader of romance who rather looked down on the times in which he lived.  Like Don Quixote, every time I venture out on this Rozinante I meet with great adventure and romance.  Perhaps, also, seven-eighths of it takes place in my mind, but each point opens up new vistas with all sorts of new possibilities."

                     ~ L. Francis Herreshoff