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Every couple of years, my old plywood dinghy begins to look sad. Paint faded and cracked, bottom scraped where I’ve dragged it up on a pier or a beach, firehose coming unlashed from the gunnels. That means it’s time to bring a little respectability back to the dinghy. . .  give her a little love.

Minor projects this time – reglass the bottom around the centerboard trunk opening. It’s been leaking ever since I ran aground a couple of years back.

Glassed all around the trunk and down into the interior.

Cured and Sanded.

There a several places where I’ve worn through the glass on the bottom and shallow cracks are opening up. These need to be reglassed.

Cracks opening where I’ve worn through the glass.

And I’ve relashed the firehose in one section. Finally, new paint will make her look fresh and protect her structure for a couple more years.

Nice new white line.

And while I’m into the epoxy, I might as well fill a couple of opening seams in my tiller prior to refinishing. It won’t hold varnish with those big gaps in the tiller.

I’ve injected thickened epoxy into the seams and clamped around a plastic bag so that my clamps don’t get glued on to the tiller.

Here’s the unclamped tiller.

I hope to finish the glass and sanding today and paint tomorrow.  Got to get her looking good for Memorial Day Cruise!

 

I finally wrapped up the starboard side eyebrow trim, paring the plugs and coating each plug twice with Cetol. My slip neighbor had a box of teak plugs containing a number of different sizes and I was able to match the two remaining fastener holes with plugs from his collection. Thanks Frank!

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Here the plugs are trimmed with a razor-sharp chisel. All you have to do is set the chisel at the base of the plug, leaving enough to sand flush, and touch the end of the chisel with a mallet. The top of the plug splits away cleanly.

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Here it is sanded flush and coated twice with Cetal.

I also cleared Cay of Sea of all the stuff that should come off for winter storage ashore – bed linens, pillows, foodstuffs, liquid soap and shaving kits, sleeping bags – and schlepped it up to the house. I managed to choose the dock cart with a flat tire, but couldn’t tell, of course, until it was loaded. I used it anyway.

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Bags of stuff to come ashore.

I left the by-products of oil changing (two seasons’ worth) on the galley counter so I would remember to empty them into recycled oil drum at the boat yard. There is also a special bin for old oil filters and absorbing pads.

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Waste-oil products for disposal, and a gallon of pink stuff the last bit of winterizing after haulout.

I brought down the winter storage hatches from my shed and removed the the varnished drop boards and fore hatch for stowage below, out of the rain, ice and snow for the next four months. These old hatches still keep the weather out, but aren’t serviceable for daily use. They are ugly, broken, and worn, but can be left out in the weather without consequence.

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These didn’t get their fall re-coat of varnish and now it’s too cold. They won’t suffer, though, being inside the boat. Next spring I need to strip and completely refinish the board with vents in it. Water has gotten under one side and begun to turn black.

I removed the headsail and its bag, which needs repairing over the cold months (the bag, that is). It’s old and the stitching is giving way. New stitching will put it good as new, though.

I also brought the dinghy gear ashore. I’ve been inspired lately by Dylan Winter’s video blog KeepTurningLeft that chronicles his love of small boats and his gradual, multi-seasonal circumnavigation of England and Scotland. He posts delicious, beautifully edited videos of his experiences in boats as large as a Westerly Centaur, and as small as a duck punt. So inspired by Dylan this winter, I’m going to sail Sea Minor on nice days as far as time and inclination allow.

I delivered Cay of Sea to the boat yard across the the creek today and left her beside the travel lift slip. She’ll wait patiently through the winter as I plan and execute another slate of maintenance and improvement projects.  A tentative list includes servicing the prop shaft coupling, replacing cockpit drain hoses, inspecting/replacing any engine hoses that need it, neatening up the engine compartment, rebuilding raw water pump (it’s beginning to leak), replacing circulator (coolant) engine pump (it’s leaked ever since the engine was installed new!), re-bedding fasteners in cockpit sole.

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Here she is waiting for high water to haul out for the winter.

This also may be the year that I open up the side decks and recore as necessary, which, of course, will occasion the beginning of repainting the deck. Repainting the deck will be a multi-year project, as I’ll just do sections at a time. I don’t want to have the boat out of commission for an entire season. So we’ll see how far I get next year. I still have a few projects I didn’t get to from last spring!

The benefits of being married to an artist! Without Ruth, I’d have resorted to buying the stick-on letters from the hardware store to put the name on the transom. With respect to handwriting, or any eye-hand coordination that involves writing of any sort, I’m a hopeless klutz. And drawing something that you can recognize? Forget it. Ruth, on the other hand, does this sort of thing as easy as breathing.  Here are a few photos of her talent in action.

Hmmm. . . drawing a straight line.  That skill alone would eliminate me.

Hmmm. . . drawing a straight line. That skill alone would eliminate me.

She lightly penciled a grid for the letters – about 3 inches high – and marked spacing for them with a ruler. After that, she sketched the letters in pencil, then picked up a paint brush and free-hand filled in the letter outlines. She used the same one-part polyurethane paint that’s on the sheer stripe.

I got distracted pulling weeds in the garden. Next thing I knew, she was nearly done.

I got distracted pulling weeds in the garden. Next thing I knew, she was nearly done.

The finished product.

The finished product.

Transom and Cockpit

Just a photo to let you see the how the style matches the yacht’s name.

“Refit my dinghy” is so easy to say, but represents a deceptively large effort. This always surprises me: the boat is only 8 feet long, after all. I’ve been doing dinghy refit things for a month now – I began on 30 April, and I finished yesterday – 30 May – so every day for a month that I’ve had time, weather, and inclination converge on the same day, I’ve worked through necessary steps. Since my last post I’ve painted the shear stripe (twice – 2 coats), reinstalled the hardware (oar locks, pintles and gudgeons, bow ring) and lashed on the firehose rub rail. I did anticipate that lashing on the firehose would take a while, but forgot just how long (about 2 hours). Amazing really – such simple task, yet so time consuming to get it to look right and lash down tightly.

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The sheer stripe turned out a little wider this time. For some reason I felt like the stripe needed to be as wide as the joint at the bow transom. Now I’m not so sure.

Firmly pressing down the tape, it turns out, is really important. . .

Firmly pressing down the tape, it turns out, is really important. . .

. . . and here's why. This one-part polyurethane tends to be very thin, and easily gets under any imperfection in the tape seal.

. . . and here’s why. This one-part polyurethane paint is very thin, and easily gets under any imperfection in the tape seal. I did go around the boat one last time to press down the tape firmly. Fortunately, with a wooden boat there is always “next time” so next time I’ll use a better grade of tape.

But from 6-8 feet away it's difficult to notice the imperfections.  That's fine. My goal isn't perfection here, it's preservation, functionality, and general respectability.

But from 6-8 feet away it’s difficult to notice the imperfections. That’s fine. My goal isn’t perfection here, it’s preservation, functionality, and general respectability. Perfection takes a lot more time and effort than I’m willing to give.

Lashing the firehose.  Part of what takes so long is pulling 50 feet of line through each hole.

Lashing the firehose. Part of what takes so long is pulling 50 feet of line through each hole.

Binding the hose tightly and neatly is the challenge.

Binding the hose tightly and neatly is the challenge.

Once done, though, there is no better rub rail in the world. This covers and cushions everything, and the hose casing cleans up really well. These sections of hose have lived outside at least ten years, and they easily scrubbed up bright again.

Once done, though, there is no better rub rail in the world. This covers and cushions everything, and the hose casing cleans up really well. These sections of hose have lived outside at least ten years, and they easily scrubbed up bright again.

I like how well the hose covers the corners. Extra protection is needed at the corners because of point loading - as the hose turns the corner, extra material gathers and provides that extra cushion.

I like how well the hose covers the corners. Extra protection is needed at the corners because of point loading – as the hose turns the corner, extra material gathers and provides that extra cushion.

I didn’t anticipate uncured green paint in a few of the lashing holes. That left traces of green on the cord and hose. My final task for the day was sanding the seats and applying varnish (first coat of many to come) to protect the epoxy sealant from UV damage. She’s now ready for Ruth to paint the name on the transom

Lookin' ugly in mid-refit.

Lookin’ ugly in mid-refit.

One of the things I love about our plywood pram is that it endlessly repairable. Not so with a hypalon inflatable. There comes a point in every inflatable’s life when the only thing left to do is pitch it in the dumpster. 10 years? Is that the average life span of an inflatable? I don’t really know.

I think we built this little pram in the winter of ’98, so it’s 17 years old, and on it’s third or fourth refit. Were I to build it now, I would certainly do things a bit differently, but as it is, it has held up extremely well, especially considering that it’s lived the bulk of it’s life outside. I have about $800 dollars in materials in it, and it’s been a tremendous value and a hard working yacht tender.

Today I fixed two corner joints that had opened up. I think this damage occurred because of how I sometimes maneuver it – pivoting on the transoms – and hauling it on board the yacht by the bow ring with a halyard. For repair, I mixed some epoxy and added filler, thickening to a soupy consistency. I drew up the soup into a large syringe and squirted it into the opening joints. I used liberal amounts of soup and refilled the syringe several times. There was lots of drippage, which I wiped up. Then I used a band clamp on the stern section to hold the joint together, and a pipe clamp on the bow transom. These two areas will also receive several layers of glass fabric inside and out.

Band clamp on the stern transom.  I had to figure out the clamp position before applying the epoxy.

Band clamp on the stern transom. I had to figure out the clamp position before applying the epoxy.

Pipe-clamped bow transom.  I love pipe clamps!

Pipe-clamped bow transom. I love pipe clamps!

I thickened the remaining epoxy soup into peanut butter, and applied it to various gouges and voids I’d opened up while chasing small areas of rot.  In fact, I had to mix up several batches of peanut butter, as I found a fairly large area (not surprisingly) underneath the repaired stern corner.

Here's the rough fill.  There is a hole through to the inside, which I backed with a small piece of plywood covered with plastic so it wouldn't stick.

Here’s the rough fill. There is a hole through to the inside, which I backed with a small piece of plywood covered with plastic so it wouldn’t stick.

Here is the same place as above (inverted - dinghy is now upside-down).  I pared down the excess with a rasp, then smoothed with an orbital sander.  The darker bit at the bottom is fresh filler - 2nd round of repair.

Here is the same place as above (inverted – dinghy is now upside-down). I pared down the excess with a rasp, then smoothed with an orbital sander. The darker bit at the bottom is fresh filler – 2nd round of repair.

Wood rasp is another favorite tool.  For rough-shaping epoxy repairs, it can't be beat.  It is the fastest, most accurate way to get the basic shape.  It requires a light touch because it's so coarse and removes material so quickly.

Wood rasp is another favorite tool. For rough-shaping epoxy repairs, it can’t be beat. It is the fastest, most accurate way to get the basic shape. It requires a light touch because it’s so coarse and removes material so quickly.

Finally, I bleached the thwarts with oxalic acid, but it only seemed to lighten the dark lines. I could use a stronger solution, but I think I’ll just live with it. I don’t like using the chemicals, and it’s a several-step process anyway: you apply the solution on the wood several times; allow to dry, then rinse thoroughly with baking soda solution to neutralize the acid; clear water rinses follow, then allow to dry; re-sanding is needed because the water raises the grain.

Here's the midship thwart. It will look okay under varnish.  Not perfect, but serviceable.

Here’s the midship thwart. It will look okay under varnish. Not perfect, but serviceable and protected from the weather.

Tomorrow is supposed to be rainy, so I may need to wait a day or two for clear weather to continue.

Since Cay of Sea is not sailable until I address the rigging issues, I’ve sailed our pram Sea Minor several times recently. I am prone to forget how much fun it is to sail a small boat, but these big sailing adventures in a small boat remind me that sailing is fun regardless of the size of your boat. Actually, small size provides a connection with the forces involved that you don’t get with a larger boat.

A little about Sea Minor:  She’s 8 feet long, with a 44 inch beam at the widest point of the gunnels. Pram shaped, the bottom is made from one sheet of 6 mm marine plywood. A slice is cut out of the plywood both at the bow and stern to provide the vee shape: deeper at the bow, shallower (and smaller angle) at the stern. With the sides of these slices pulled together, the bottom takes on a deep vee at the bow, and a gentle lift at the stern. The chines are firm angles port and starboard, and provide a bit of grip in the water as she heels to the wind.

You can see the shape of the stern in this photo.  Also notable is the "super tide" we've had the last day or two.  High tide is usually 12-18" lower than this.

You can see the shape of the stern in this photo. Also notable is the “super tide” we’ve had the last day or two. High tide is usually 12-18″ lower than this.

Here the depth of bow rise is visible.

Here the depth of bow rise is visible.

She rows well, skimming easily with one person on the middle thwart and pulling at the oars. Two people on board is a different story. The additional weight has a big impact on speed, and the oarsman has to sit on the stern thwart, thus pushing the oars rather than pulling. This is something I will eventually change, because rowing this way is hard work.  The middle seat needs to be refit so that it is oriented fore and aft. This will allow the oarsman to slide forward when a passenger is aboard and fit the oars into an additional set of oarlocks, optimally positioned. The oarsman will then be able to face astern and pull. The pram will balance with the passenger sitting on the stern thwart.

My sons and I built this dinghy from a set of plans I bought at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Show in 1996 or 7.  We put it together that winter, and have been using it as a tender ever since.  We also built the sailing rig. I bought clear square stock (it was spruce or pine) at the building supply store and planed it down to shape.  We ordered a sail kit from Sailrite and my wife (mostly) sewed it together. We received no plans for the spars, centerboard, centerboard trunk, or rudder so those were little puzzles we had to figure out by the seat of our pants. The plans did provide information about locating a centerboard, and that was helpful.

Centerboard, rudder assembly, and tiller.  These were sized by guess, but seem to work just right.  The effective depth of the dagger board is 12" less than you see here, allowing for the length of the centerboard trunk.

Centerboard, rudder assembly, and tiller. These were sized by guess, but seem to work just right. The effective depth of the dagger board is 12″ less than you see here, allowing for the length of the centerboard trunk.

Attachements for sprit and boom.  We had to figure all of this out on the fly too, as no instructions were provided with the plans.

Attachments for sprit and boom. We had to figure all of this out on the fly too, as no instructions were provided with the plans.

While the instructions alluded to a mast step, and the spar passing through the forward thwart, how to do it was not actually detailed.

While the instructions alluded to a mast step, and the spar passing through the forward thwart, how to do it was not actually detailed.

Centerboard trunk epoxied in place. Sorry about the dirt and grass inside - I just stepped out of it from sailing and took this photo. She's about due for another coat of paint too.

Centerboard trunk epoxied in place. Sorry about the dirt and grass inside – I just stepped out of it from sailing and took this photo. She’s about due for another coat of paint too.

Various bits of the trim are mahogany (gunnels, seat rails), which when finished bright sets off the white hull and varnished thwarts nicely.  However, I soon realized that the unprotected varnished gunnels were easily marred, and scarred the topsides of the yacht as well.  I finally painted them white and covered them with firehose, after experimenting with other materials like foam swimming noodles and foam pipe insulation. Fluorescent green or bright blue foam noodles provided Sea Minor with a measure of distinctiveness. I was more interested in a traditional look though, so reluctantly jettisoned the noodles and the distinctive air they lent. The firehose lashings have changed several times.  As it turns out, if the topsides are pierced to allow lashing to pass through, moisture and rot are also possibilities.  I’ve repaired and filled the original piercings, then epoxied in place fixed lashings. I don’t like this either, and will go back to the original system of lashing. This time, however, I will pot the piercings with epoxy, then re-drill the holes through the epoxy, and in that way protect the topsides from rot and moisture.

Here's an old photo that shows the original firehose lashing system.  This held the hose tightly against the gunnels, and it looks neat and shippy.

Here’s an old photo that shows the original firehose lashing system. This held the hose tightly against the gunnels, and it looks neat and shippy.

And how does she sail?  Well . . . like a short boat, actually.  Not too surprising, I guess. It is easy to stop her forward motion because of her short water line.  She goes to weather fairly well – amazingly well, as I’ve discovered recently, but she has to be handled correctly to do so.  She kind of needs a running start for going to weather.  If sheeted hard too soon, she doesn’t build any forward momentum – she just slides sideways. Once she’s moving cracked off the wind a bit, she can be hardened up, and she goes fine up wind. She could do with a spacer at the bottom of the centerboard trunk, because the board vibrates when she goes fast, especially off the wind. Taking up some of the extra space at the bottom of the slot will fix that. The rig is simple, and remarkably effective. I’m still amazed that it works at all, but so satisfied that it works so effectively.  Here are a few photos of today’s sail:

Above is the rigging and launching process.

At the end of the sail, all the parts are stowed aboard Cay of Sea: rudder, daggerboard, and tiller slot into the quarter berth, and the rig is rolled, lashed, and stowed along the starboard side of the v-berth.

Like any boat, a dinghy can’t be ignored forever – Sea Minor is due for a refit – probably next spring: New paint, new varnish, revamp with middle thwart and firehose lashing.  I also need to add a mainsheet traveler of some sort – something simple, of course.  And she also needs her name painted across the transom – I’ve been putting that off until the transom is faired and repainted.

I’ve thought about this a lot.  I keep looking for the “easy button” on dinghies – the most efficient, common-sense way to stow, haul, tow, and power a dinghy.  I can’t seem to make it any better (for me) than I have it right now, without a lot of expense or inconvenience.  I have a plywood pram that my boys and I built 15 years ago.  It’s a bit beat up at this point, but a fresh coat of paint and varnish make it presentable.  I’ve replaced/reinstalled fire hose rub rails, epoxied in new pieces of wood as required and generally maintained it in serviceable condition.  This hasn’t taken a lot of effort.

What set me off on my most recent exploration of “improving ideas” was an article from a blog I read (onboardwithmarkcorke.com) on powering dinghies with a portable power pack – like a jump-start battery pack – and a trolling motor.  Now I have to admit, this idea appealed to me a lot.  Most of the reason I won’t use a trolling motor is the inconvenience of loading and unloading the battery – a proper trolling battery will weigh close to 50 pounds – I may as well use a gas outboard for that kind of weight.  However, if a trolling motor could be powered by a battery pack that weighed less than 15 pounds and included a molded-in carrying handle(!) I could manage that easily.

Peak 450 Amp Jump Starter.  This is one has more capacity than most, but it's designed for a big jolt delivered quickly.  Using it regularly like a deep-cycle would ruin it in short order, though it may provide suitable service in the short term.

Peak 450 Amp Jump Starter. This is one has more capacity than most, but it’s designed for a big jolt delivered quickly. Using it regularly like a deep-cycle would ruin it in short order, though it may provide suitable service in the short-term.

Alas, this is not a workable solution, for the simple reason that these power packs are designed to deliver high amperage quickly.  They are not designed to deliver constant power for a long time.  Most of them don’t have much capacity in the way of amp-hours, so they would run out of juice fairly fast, and that sort of use would quickly ruin them.  There would also be the recharge underway problem to solve.  It’s not impossible – but would just need puzzling through to find the right answer.  Obviously, this option works for Mark Cork, and I’m not criticizing his choice or idea.  I’m just fairly confident that for the sort of use I have in mind, this set-up would not work very well.  So, I’ll keep my set of oars and my sailing rig, and be satisfied.

However, here’s another thought – $250 for the motor (give or take), $80 for the jump-starter – that’s not a lot of cash for an experiment that could turn out well.  And if it didn’t work out practically, the motor could be sold off to recoup losses.  Hmmm. . .  Probably worth the risk, when we’re ready to cast off and constantly rely on the tender for transport.

Here are my thoughts on dinghies from a previous post entitled:  Simple Conveniences, Simple Systems (10 May 2012).

“From all the opinions that I’ve read concerning dinghies (in itself, a subject worth several posts), it is apparent that which sort you choose is very personal.  Perhaps this is true of all cruising gear, in the long run.  Years ago, my 3 sons and I built an 8 foot plywood sailing dinghy/tender (stitch and glue) and bought a set of oars.  I think we finished it in 1997, and we’ve been using it ever since. I’ve been tempted to motorize it with a trolling motor and battery, but the idea thwarts the simplicity of this dinghy.  Somehow I would have to figure out how to stow the battery on board our yacht, how to get the battery into the dinghy, spend time attaching the motor and connecting the battery, etc..  Some sort of motor would be helpful when rowing against wind, chop and current.  As it stands, though, any kind of motor is more of an inconvenience.  How can you improve on the simplicity of oars for a launch-and-go application?  The dinghy is not difficult to sail, either, so that is certainly an option for longer distances than you might want to row.  It’s not a great sailer – a situation that could be improved with a bit more sail area – but it will get you there.  Boarding the dinghy from the water could be difficult.  Unlike a RIB (which is very stable when boarding from in the water), if you pull yourself up on the side from in the water to get aboard, it will likely swamp, so for a snorkeling platform, it’s probably not great.  So here are up sides and downsides of our hard dinghy as I see it:

  • Pluses:  I don’t carry an outboard or gasoline; it rows well; it sails okay; it’s easy to launch and retrieve from on deck; it’s easy to repair and maintain; sun won’t destroy it; it won’t puncture; a new coat of paint makes it look fresh again.
  • Minuses:  Can’t board from in the water; is not fast; is range-limited by practicality (you can’t reasonably go five miles away for a snorkeling trip and return in a short time period); short chop, contrary winds and current make for a difficult trip (usually in only one direction, though).

The building cost was about $800 in materials and gear.  A RIB with no outboard will set you back a good bit more than that.  With an outboard, even more.  My plywood dinghy was fun to build – a RIB won’t give you that satisfaction.”

There are more than a thousand boats on Rockhold Creek.  One of the best ways to see them is from my dinghy.  It’s great exercise ( I have only oars or sail), and the pace is slow enough to really admire the boats.  I can row a couple of miles in an hour easily, and not even realize where the time went. Seems like the perfect exercise.

But I get to visit my favorite boats too.  Here are some photos of boats I like.

Bristol Channel Cutter “Sadie”

The Bristol Channel Cutter might be the most beautiful boat ever built, and this one is an exceptional example.  I wish I had several more angles for you, and several shots of her underway.  If you own this boat, though, you’d better keep your varnish brush limber.  The amount of varnished teak on the BBC is measured in acreage.

Freya – Gaff-rigged sloop with top sail

I don’t know who the manufacturer of Freya is, but she is obviously in the northern European life boat tradition, as the hull shares obvious similarities with Westsail and other double-enders.  I’ve never seen her out of the water, but I guarantee there’s a full keel below the waterline.  She has abundant varnished hardwood details, and her spars appear to be solid round sections with several scarfs to make up requisite length.  Her paint’s a bit faded, but she’s well cared for – curiously though, I can’t remember seeing her out on the water more than once or twice.

A photo of the upper mast.

She appears to be traditionally rigged with standing rigging tensioned with dead eyes and line spliced over thimbles.  All her running rigging is three-strand twist except for the dead eyes.  I can’t determine the composition of her hull – It’s not wood, and not steel, but whether fiberglass or ferro-cement, I can’t really tell.  She is a beauty though, and when she’s under sail you just can’t stop looking at her.

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