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Chine bLog finds and promotes small, traditional / tradition-inspired, and (mostly) wooden boats - their design, building, and use. It is authored by lifelong boater and budding designer / builder Tim Shaw. Enjoy!

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Planking the Merlin Yawl – another day apprenticing at CBMM

Merlin Yawl with a couple planks Last Sunday I got out to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum again for another Apprentice for a Day outing. Planking was the order of the day, as the lovely Merlin Yawl gets her skin.

I arrived to find the garboard planks glued in place and the starboard first broad strake glued and clamped in. I was pleased to hear that the garboards went on well against my planed keelson, with a minimum of filler goop required (and those spots weren’t mine; that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!).

First broad strake The first task was the port-side first broad strake. The prior day’s crew had marked it out, but we started by cutting it (yours truly on the jig saw) and then trimmed it off with hand planes. Happily, my cutting was fairly solid and we had light work here.

The test fit proved fairly successful. Some judicious clamping, pushing, and well-aimed mallet blows, and we liked the look of her. Off came the plank, on went the epoxy, and – boom – both first broads were on.

Picking up marks for second broad strake By this time, the starboard first broad strake had completed its clamp regimen and we could turn to the second broad strake on that side. First we fit a batten along the marks for the next plank, with the batten inside the marks. We then cut up scrap planks to lay between the batten and the first broad strake, joining them with butt-blocks and hot-glue. We then glued on scraps that pointed to either or both the batten edge or a line 3/4″ inside the first broad strake representing the overlap of the second broad strake. By moving this template to the plank stock and connecting the tips of the pointer pieces with a batten, we got the plank outline on the plank stock.

Scarfing plywood From here, the team split tacks. While some worked on cutting and planing this new plank, I took on preparing more plank stock. And that meant scarfing plywood, something I had not done before. Me and a nice, long plane got to it. It is a little tough to tell from the picture, but the sheets are at a bit of an angle to each other to account for the sweep of the planks. Additional scarfs will continue this sweep; hopefully they’ll get a couple planks out of the completed stock piece (the sheets are fairly narrow).

Gain for lap at stem Finally, to finish this productive day, I went back to the boat and did one bit of final prep for the starboard second broad strake: cutting the gain in the first broad strake at the stem. While a saw cut helped set a nice edge, this was mostly work with a chisel and, for my first time, a rabbet plane. It came out pretty well, I think.

So, another great day as an apprentice. I definitely learned some useful tricks and got practice in areas I hadn’t touched yet. This boat is going to be great and I am eager to see her afloat. Now I have to negotiate for another day or two out there… At very least, she launches on June 8th and I am hoping it will be a fun family outing.

NOAA charts now available online as PDFs

A friend recently pointed this out to me: as promised, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), here in the U.S. has released PDF versions of its marine charts for free download. It’s a fairly primitive interface, but if you know what you want, here they are. Happy navigation!

Update from the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum boatyard on the ROSIE PARKS

Skipjack under repair When I have been out to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum I have kept tabs on the restoration of the skipjack ROSIE PARKS. Longtime readers first saw pictures of her in tough shape in 2007 (see right).

By this time last year, there was much better news to report: ROSIE PARKS was well along in a proper restoration. The other day, happily, I found her where she belongs: in the water and looking sharp. Here’s to a great job by the Museum waterfront staff!

ROSIE PARKS afloat

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’, plane those rolling bevels…

You Editor-in-chief here at Chine bLog spent the day over at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum‘s Apprentice for a Day program again today, and, as always, I had a great time. In my haste to get to making sawdust and shavings, I didn’t catch the name of the design [Editor's note added after publication: it is called "Merlin Yawl" and was designed by Kees Prins and Bill Bronaugh] for the boat the program is working on this year, but, unlike most of the others, this is a new design, not a traditional Chesapeake boat with traditional construction. This boat does, however, have a traditional style, but it will be done using lapstrake plywood construction. Today’s focus was the backbone.

Let’s look at the design. She is a bit whale-boatish in appearance, roughly 17′ LOA and 7′ abeam. She is called a yawl and has yawl proportions, but, as is generally the case in small, open boats, she is technically a ketch (mizzen forward of the rudderpost).

17' yawl - lines

Looking at the lines, you can see she’s pretty. Even if she was drawn in 2013, she would look at home a century or more earlier. We here at Chine bLog are generally fans of her basic look: double-ender, plumb stem with a nice round in the forefoot, and somewhat raking sternpost.

17' yawl - sail plan

When I entered the now familiar building shed, I found the strongback and molds set-up with the keelson laid down and attached to the inner sternpost. One guy was shaping the inner stem. Keelson, showing rolling bevel My job was to finish shaping the keelson, then two layers of 5/8″ (I think) angelique plywood [Editor's note: our bad - it is okume] laminated together and cut to shape in plan view. One guy had started to plane the bevels in, and I took over the task today. If you look at the lines, you can see there is a bunch of twist in the garboard at either end, and I had to get the keelson beveled to receive that twisted plank. This is to say, I had to plane in a pretty crazy rolling bevel along the length of the board. You can get some sense of the job from the results pictured here.

We also got the inner stem in (that’s program manager Jenn Kuhn checking it out) and, ultimately, glued it and bolted it to the keelson.
Keelson and inner stem - before

I did the shaping of the keelson from this fitting (at left) to the roughly finished result below. I am fairly happy with the results.

Keelson and inner stem - after

With that done for now, the last prep was cutting the slot for the centerboard. My handiwork here too.

Centerboard slot

Another guy spent much of the day doing calculations to line off the planking. They will be carrying on with that tomorrow, and I am sorry to miss the task. I got a bit of a flavor of it and picked up some tips. #1 – don’t forget to calculate in the rubrail! They’ll have to backtrack a bit on that tomorrow. I would surely have missed that and ended up with a puny sheer plank.

Battens for lining off

I tried some new things, learned some good lessons, and had a great time. I can’t wait for round two in two weeks, when planking will be the order of the day! Stay tuned for more on this lovely boat.

Fascinating “This American Life” piece on the launch of underwater archeology

Our colleague Andrew Cohen popped in the other day asking if we heard a This American Life episode that re-aired recently about “shipwrecks or something.” We had not and he was good enough to send it. What we got was a fascinating fifteen or so minutes hearing about two men who basically created underwater archeology starting in the late 1960s. One took a chance dive on a wreck in Turkey and, 50 years later, they are still unraveling clues about what they came to discover was an important Byzantine ship. Along the way the rewrote our understanding of Byzantine shipbuilding and commerce. This story is definitely worth a listen.

A nice collection of traditonal boats from Vietnam

Chine bLog friend David Witzel was recently in Vietnam with his family and agreed to serve as a special corespondent for us, capturing pictures of traditional Vietnamese boats. Happily, he found some nice ones. We don’t have the backstory on them, but they are nice to study anyway.

Mekong River
River craft from along the Mekong, including a ferry and perhaps some liveaboards.

Vietnamese long boats on the Mekong

The ferry looks like she might be wooden Continue reading A nice collection of traditonal boats from Vietnam »

In defense – at least a little – of the traditonal working scow

We at Chine bLog have very much been enjoying reading Howard Chapelle’s American Small Sailing Craft, even if the writing is a bit trying. After musing about the types and origins of colonial watercraft, Chapelle turns, in chapter 2, to the simplest of boats, the scow.

“Scow.” The word seems to say it all (unless one is an aficionado of the racing scows of the Midwest) – it sounds like an epithet, even if it isn’t. In fact, flat-bottomed, blunt-ended sailing craft we popular working boats in 19th century America, and they were respected in that role. More than carrying a load of rock, bricks, hay, etc. well, though, Chapelle notes that the boat below, taken from the book:

… appeared a very fast sailer, considering her heavy load. She was heavily canvased, was well-handled by the crew of two, and seemed to be very quick in tacking… The master… claimed that he could weather deep sloops if he kept the scow sailing hard…

The boat in question is a Maine / New Brunswick type of scow sloop, just shy of 40′ LOA with a 12+’ beam. The rig appears to be a gaff sloop.

Maine / New Brunswick type of scow sloop

Chapelle praises these boats as working craft, but then feels the need, at a couple points, to denigrate their appearance. He writes “… the type has never become popular in the pleasure fleet, even in those areas where it was well known and most useful, for it was not a thing of beauty and only appealed to the most practical sailor.” While calling scows “fast” and “weatherly,” he also cites their “clumsy appearance.”

Look, we are not going to say the boat above is going to stack up against DORADE on a beam reach, but Chapelle seems a bit heavy-handed here. The scow above is utilitarian, but she has a gentle sheer and nice overhangs. Set with a nice big gaff main and moderate jib, she’d please the eye. Even the boxy pilot house does not, to our eye, look so off that “clumsy” is in order. This scow is pretty, in her own way, and certainly interesting, even in the pre-generic-mass-produced-sloop years in which Chapelle wrote.

Chapelle is surely accurate that such a boat would never be in fashion, but “in fashion” too often equates to “ordinary” and “ho-hum.” Traditional working boats like this scow are ripe for rediscovery and reinterpretation. Let’s remember more of the graces Chapelle cites and not knee-jerk to disparage these craft.

A quick musing on epoxy use – or overuse – in wooden boat building

The most recent issue of WoodenBoat includes part I of a three-part “how to build” piece on the Phoenix III, a cute sprit-rigged day-sailer from the desk and shop of Aussie Ross Lillistone’s Bayside Wooden Boats. As is generally the case with these pieces in WoodenBoat, the boat is pretty and fun-looking, the article clear and interesting, and the detail on target for the need. Mr. Lillistone clearly has a nice eye as a designer and we are sure he is a great boatbuilder. We don’t want to impugn the big-picture here at all; again, we really like the looks of the boat.

One bit in the article really bugged us, though, and we are interested in others’ opinions. In writing about setting up the transom, Mr. Lillistone writes:

The transom edge, like the bulkheads, is simply cut square, relieving the builder of the tricky process of cutting compound bevels on its edges. The planking will contact only the outer corner of the transom. This is no cause for worry, since the gap will be filled with thickened epoxy when the hull is being planked. After the planking is completed and the hull turned upright, this joint will be further reinforced with a large radius epoxy fillet and double-bias ‘glass tape, making it exceptionally strong.

We would fully expect the method described to do the job, but does it strike anyone else as crossing a line from being accessible to being sloppy and leaning on a crutch? We here at Chine bLog are all about getting as many fine boats like the Phoenix III built as possible and that clearly means knocking down barriers to entry. Epoxy and ‘glass methods like stitch-and-glue, lapstrake-plywood, and the like are valuable ways to do this. We find ourselves getting ruffled, though, when we are leaning on epoxy so much that joinery is getting tossed out wholesale. Yes, the bevels present some extra work, but it’s hardly the trickiest task one faces. We would be curious to hear what you, our readers, think of this. Is there a line of artistry the we should try to hold or have we gotten curmudgeonly here?

Gap filled – Chapelle’s “American Small Sailing Craft” now resides at Chine bLog HQ

American Small Sailing Craft
It was shameful. Howard Chapelle’s classic treatise on American traditional boats, “American Small Sailing Craft: Their Design, Development and Construction,” did not exist in our bookshelf here at Chine bLog headquarters. Until a week ago, that is, when Mr. & Mrs. Chine bLog Senior filled this gaping hole. Merry Christmas to Chine bLog!

We have started reading it already. It already seems like it is going to provide so much information that we’ll be even more embarrassed by its absence a month from now. Oh well, at least it is here now.

“The Sea & Civilization” impresses as a comprehensive maritime history

The Sea and Civilization
One of the responsibilities we face here at Chine bLog is reviewing books related to traditional boats. We get no less than one request every… how long have we been doing this?… seven years. Even with this taxing set of demands, though, we agreed to accept the publisher Knopf‘s offer of a complimentary copy of a new book called “The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World” by Lincoln Paine. The Knopf representative was willing to work with our strict editorial policy of not writing about any subject until we got around to it, and sure enough, Mr. Paine’s work arrived within a few days.

We will confess, from the outset, being a bit unnerved by anything with “History of the World” in the title (and Mel Brooks not in the credits). Two connotations come to mind:

  1. A gigantic tome of numbing dense-ness that is two parts endurance for every one part education, or
  2. A coverage of the world where “the world” means the Mediterranean, Western Europe, and post-Columbus North America.

Happily “The Sea & Civilization” is neither. Mr. Paine packs a broad, well-organized overview into 600 readable, engaging pages (with some illustrations and a set of maps at the beginning.

Mr. Paine allayed our fears regarding the scope of the book right off the bat: chapter 1, “Taking to the Water” begins with its first section, “Oceana,” describing population of the Pacific and the technology that supported it in a fair manner that is consistent with scholarly work on the subject. Boom – you have our attention. He then moves, in his first chapter, to discuss early waterborne trade in South America and the Caribbean before giving due coverage to the traditional boats of North America, both the Arctic skin boats and the birch bark ones of the Northeast. Credit justly given. Next comes ancient Egypt, getting more play for its maritime exploits than we have seen before. From there, Mr. Paine is thankfully careful to balance Western advances with the developments in South, Southeast, and East Asia. The result is a fully credible world history.

Mr. Paine maintains a few interesting themes across all the eras and regions. Trade is of greatest importance to him, and he shows the many cases in which trade relationships led to cultural bridges. Military affairs in the maritime realm gets good attention, though the discussion is more about limitations of naval warfare than about huge changes in tides of battle, at least until he gets to the 20th century. We were pleased to see Mr. Paine try to weave boatbuilding styles and technologies into the work as another theme. It seems, though, that there is not much known about a great deal of the craft he covers, at least not to the level Mr. Paine was inclined to cite. We wished he’d engaged in a little more speculation of possibilities in some cases.

The only weakness of Mr. Paine’s book, in our view, is that he names so many place names around the world in such quick succession that it can be dizzyingly hard to follow. More detailed maps for each chapter might have helped; in general this is a reasonable cost of covering such a large swath of history in one book. We recommend the book highly, but know this is a drawback. Many thanks to Knopf for including Chine bLog in its outreach strategy.