Tuesday, July 29, 2008
On Sunday, I'd purchased some food to have something different to eat for a change. Several of us had looked at the weather report and had decided that Tuesday would be a good day to have this dinner party at the Boathouse because the weather wasn't supposed to be good and the waterfront would likely be closed.
On Monday night we prepped most of the food for the dinner. Probably one of the more interesting things that happened was that the person who was making dessert (a flourless chocolate cake) had forgotten to bring any sugar figuring that there would be some in the Boathouse kitchen. There was, but only in the little packets for coffee and tea. Do you know how many of those darned things you need to open to get a cup full of sugar? Let me tell you, it takes a BUNCH.
On Monday in class, we sanded, fitted and glued together the bottom of the canoes and prepared stem materials for laminating. That evening we laminated the stems onto the canoes. Tuesday was spent fairing the stems and sanding most of the exterior and doing repairs for those bond joints that had "popped" due to the damp weather. However, things were not exactly going according to plan on Tuesday afternoon when the weather cleared and became very nice. This meant one of the people at the dinner party would be working unless shifts could be swapped. That happened without much trouble.
When I got down to the Boathouse to cook Tuesday evening, the place was crowded. I went out to the deck - I could see why. There were 9 (count 'em 9!) windjammers out in our mooring field. Boats were zipping back and forth between the windjammers and the dock. People were everywhere. There had been a windjammer race up the Eggermogin Reach that afternoon and all the windjammers wound up at the WoodenBoat waterfront. It was a beautiful sight with all the boats out there and the sun just starting to set.
As people finally started filtering out to get to dinner, we decided to put a table out on the front deck and eat out there. It turned out to be a great decision. Dinner was great, as was the company. I had to go back up to the shop to do a little bit more work, but I was able to get back down before all of the flourless chocolate cake was gone. Sadly, I missed out on the strawberries to go with it...
Monday, July 28, 2008
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I like beer and one of my favorites is one that my FIL introduced me to. It's called Black Sheep Ale and is from the Black Sheep Brewery in Masham in North Yorkshire in the UK.
Described by the brewery as follows:
Full flavoured premium bitter, with a rich fruity aroma. It is brewed with many generous handfuls of choice Golding hops giving a bittersweet malty taste, followed by Black Sheep' characteristic long, dry and bitter finish.
I also like their Riggwelter ale, too. Riggwelter is a nicely flavored ale but is fairly strong at 5.7% ABV. According to the bottle, a sheep that is 'rigged' or 'riggwelted' is on it's back and cannot get up. Entirely appropriate for a bottle of this stuff.
The Holy (Gr)ail is an offering which commerorates Monty Python's 30'th anniversary. It's a light ale and probably not one of my favorites, but still good for what it is.
The last two ales I haven't had an opportunity to try and will probably have to wait until my next trip to the UK. Actually, I take that back. I think I've had the Golden Fleece, but can't recall it. (No, I didn't have too much to drink at the time, but it has been quite some time since I had it...)
The last ale is a "Yorkshire Square " ale. Basically it is an ale that is made in slate 'squares' very much like Sam Smith's Ales which are also brewed in Yorkshire. A very traditional method. I suppose if they brew this ale the way they brew the Sam Smith's, it would be one of my favorites!
Mouse? What mouse?
They pointed underneath one of the chairs circled in the great room of the boat house. There was a baby mouse that had wandered into the room, appeared to have been exhausted by the effort and had fallen asleep under the chair. I put a cup over the mouse and slipped a piece of cardboard beneath so I could take the mouse outside to find a new home in the woodpile.
Heading up to Mountain Ash for dinner, we had a new group of students for the week getting to know each other and the school. During Rich's orientation, he brought up the fact that 40% of the students return to take other classes. That's a pretty impressive statistic.
Because my student's were not starting anew, we skipped the shop orientation and went into our new quarters in the west bay of the shop to remove staples from the bottom panels of the "football" and to mark the centerlines on the panels.
After we'd finished cleaning up the bottom panels, I went down th the boathouse anticipating a warm fire in the fireplace and a cold beer. What I found was not exactly what I had in mind. All of the students in the Elements of Seamanship for Women were just being told that there would be no men around for the class just as I tried to sneak up the stairs to my room to get a warmer jacket. My appearance was greeted with guffaws and giggles as I beat a hasty exit with my warm fleece.
Friday, July 25, 2008
DW went on a shopping trip last weekend after taking some tests for her work. Part of the shopping trip was to a local store that has an excellent selection of beer, wine, liquors and gourmet foods. She brought home some of my favorite ales. Sometimes she knows me too well.
I like beer.
Really I do.
One was Black Sheep ale from the Black Sheep Brewery in Masham, North Yorkshire, in the UK. I'll delve into this ale more sometime later.
The other is a Belgian style ale from Unibroue Brewery in Chambly, Quebec. The beer is called Maudite (French for "damned") and it is a rich, fully flavored ale. They make a variety of great ales, all of which have a fairly high alcohol content because they tend to be bottled with priming sugars for a second (or even third!) fermentation in the bottle. The other unique thing about their beers is the wonderful artwork on their bottles. On the bottle of Maudite is artwork about the legend of Chasse-Galerie. (see the last paragraph in the quote.) This is what the folks from Unibroue write about their ale:
The robust maltiness and spiciness of our amber-red ale is counterbalanced by an assertive hop finish, offering a distinctive flavor that is cognac-like in complexity.
Whether it is paired with pasta marinara, a brick-oven pizza, Flemish stew, spice-rubbed pork tenderloin or dal makhani, Maudite is 'devilishly' satisfying.
Maudite (Damned) was the first strong beer to be retailed in Québec. Its deliciously complex flavor improves with age.
The word 'Maudite' has many meanings in Québécois culture. Here, it refers to the Legend of "Chasse-Galerie," a tribute to the early lumberjacks of Nouvelle-France. The legend tells of eight daring woodsmen who, during winter, yearned to be home for the Holidays. They conjured up the devil and all of them pledged their soul in return for flying them in their canoe to their village. As they sailed across the moonlit sky, one of them managed to free himself from the pledge by invoking the name of God, which caused the canoe to come crashing down to earth. They were never seen again.
Do enjoy a bottle sometime!
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
One of the big enemies when you're building a cedar-strip canoe is the sanding. Most people do far too much sanding. There are several reasons for this:
- failure to fair the hull with planes or spokeshaves
- too much glue
- poor quality strips
- excessive use of filler
- bad stripping technique
Too much glue is a biggie. The glue is harder than the cedar, so removing the cedar with sandpaper causes "waves" adjacent to the glue. In turn, this will cause you to remove more wood to smooth out the "waves". It's fairly easy to avoid this issue. Just use a damp cloth to remove any excess glue from the interior and exterior of the hull during the stripping process.
Poor quality strips cause poor turns and excessive gaps and facets on the hull. This requires lots of material removal to get a fair hull.
Excessive use of filler (epoxy mixed with wood flour and fumed silica) results in the same problems as too much glue. Excess material should be scraped off with a squeegee when applying filler to the hull. (i.e. before it cures!)
Bad stripping technique can cause gaps and facets on the hull which will require more fairing and sanding.
It is important to remember that you're building a stress-skin composite hull - the separation of the two skins is important to the strength of the finished hull. If your hull is too thin because you removed too much material, it will not be as strong.
Monday, July 21, 2008
A quick shop over at the local Tradwinds store in Blue Hill was followed by dinner that night at the Pub - again. An early night was a good thing.
On Sunday morning, I went up to Mountain Ash to get the week's information and found a note from Doug Wilson to give him a call. Doug is an artist and blacksmith with a studio on Little Deer island (Doug's website here). Over the past week, Doug and I had been discussing some hand made pad eyes for the canoes my class was making. I grabbed a quick breakfast at the Morning Moon Cafe and headed over to Doug's. The weather was miserable and heavy rain, thunder and lightning were all around as I arrived. Doug had forged a sample piece from steel and it was what he and I had sketched. Beautiful work. I particularly liked his dragonfly, below:
After leaving Doug's, I had been pointed in the direction of Ellsworth to find some more shorts and warm shirts. Ellsworth is a town with a beautiful main street and some pretty impressive buildings. Take for example:
My main purpose was to head to Reny's department store in Ellsworth. An institution. They had everything I was looking for.
With dinner back at Mountain Ash, another week begins!
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Fridays at the WoodenBoat School are a bit of an up and a down for most of the students (and faculty, for that matter)
On Friday afternoon most of the classes are winding down with the exception of those that have a bit more time scheduled for Saturday morning. Lots of work gets accomplished on Fridays and you can finally see the classes winding down with finished projects and closure on what has been learned. It's time to go back to the reality of the "world".
When you are at the WoodenBoat School, you are surrounded with others of a like mind who have an interest in wooden boats in all of their shapes and sizes, whether you like to build them, sail them, carve beautiful name plates, tie wonderful fancy-work or take beautiful pictures of them. During your time, you are immersed in what you are doing almost all the time. You tend to spend your time getting to know those who are there for the week and learning your craft. The focus is really inwards. At the school, there are no televisions and only a few radios. The newspaper rarely makes an appearance. For all intents and purposes, the greater world outside and its pressures do not exist. In todays hectic pace, this is really difficult to find.
It's a bit like summer camp, and at the end of the time there, it's hard to leave this wonderful place and the friends you've met.
On Friday evening, there is the weekly lobster bake. It is the final opportunity for most to spend time together. Families and friends come and join in the festivities and the celebration of a week (or two...) spent by loved ones at the school.
In good weather, it is held down at the waterfront on a large lawn overlooking the bay. In poor or threatening weather, it is held in a pole barn just up the hill. It generally consists of freshly cooked lobster, crab, mussels, corn, salads, bread, and cake. While there is lemonade and iced tea available, other refreshments tend to dominate. They range from the humble bottle of beer or wine, to champagne for those celebrating their time at the school.
The boathouse is usually open for guests to enjoy the views or the fireplace if it is chilly. Very often, this is hosted by the sailing class and there may be appetizers supplied by the students in the boathouse.
Rich Hilsinger, the school's director introduces the faculty of the week and relays any pertinent news to those assembled before dinner breaks up. The evening isn't usually done, however. Students tend to wander away to spend those last precious moments with those they've gotten to know having a beer up at the shop and showing those friends and family what they've been doing all week long.
My class was a two-week long class and I really have two separate perspectives on the different Fridays. My first Friday passed without much thought as I knew I had another week at the school. At the time, I had a lot on my mind about how I wanted the next week to go. In some ways I suppose I was a bit detached. My final Friday was a bit more emotional in a lot of respects, as the reality of the fact that I would be returning to the "world" left me a bit torn. I was looking forward to seeing my family, but not looking forward to leaving the place or the people that I had grown close to.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
When I first arrived at the WoodenBoat school, the one thing that really blew my mind was the surfboard building class. I can't say as anything they did really met my preconceived ideas of what this would be. Surfboards were the last thing I expected to find there.
On the weekend before the class started, Mike LeVecchia and Brad Anderson were hard at work making up the shaping benches and clamping equipment their class was going to be using during the week. Now surfers get a reputation as being pretty laid-back people, but these guys were going all-out to make their class a success. They were seriously dedicated and put in long hours to make sure that their students were well taken care of.
Let me try to explain their boards as best I can. The core of the board is a CNC cut plywood frame that looks as much like it belongs in an airplane as a surfboard. The assemble this frame and bond it to the cedar bottom of the board. On the sides, they use strips with a cove and bead cedar strips to create the contoured edges of the board - very much like the canoes I build. The tip and tail area of the board are reinforced to make the board stronger and to allow for the mounting of vent plugs and a fin box for interchangeable fins. The cedar top was bonded on and the boards were shaped. This is really a gross simplification of what went on during the week from my popping in and out trying to find out where all of the clamps in the shop had gone! (See the pictures below - they used clamps like candy...)
The students finished all the woodwork before leaving and were going to do the fiberglassing at home after a great 'glassing demonstration by Brad. When completed, this creates a beautiful, strong and lightweight board that should be the envy of any proud builder!
What was amazing to see was the work ethic put in on the part of the students. They were in the shop at every opportunity - lunch time, before dinner and into the night. It was really great to see people who were driven to create such beautiful things.
Brad has written up a great post with great pictures over at the Grain Website. Congrats and good luck to the folks over at Grain Surfboards!
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Here's the rub, 'tho. How do you hold them while they glue?
Innertubes. Flat bicycle innertubes.
When I bring them out, my students are always skeptical, but become converts as we use them.
We get the scrap ones from a local bike shop and use them like big rubber bands to hold panels down and even for laminating the outer stems onto the hull. The only thing you need to do is to screw some blocks to the strongback like cleats to turn the innertubes around. The rubber doesn't stick to the glue and voila! There you have it. The nice thing is that if you need to apply more pressure in a particular area to close up a gap, you just stick a block of wood with some tape on it (as a release layer) under the innertube.
Three cautions on this method, tho -
- Be careful of where there might be punctures in the tire - it may break in that area when pulled.
- Be sure nobody is in line with an innertube when it is being pulled tight or released!
- Cut out the section with the valve to keep from denting the wood or hurting someone.
Monday, July 14, 2008
The Stephen Tabor at anchor.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
One of the people that I met during my first week at the WoodenBoat School was the instructor who was teaching in the East Bay. This was a gentleman by the name of Bill Shamel. Originally from Texas, Bill had been in the Coast Guard and married the daughter of one of the 'deans" of Grand Laker canoe building, Lawrence "Pop" Moore. Under the instruction of "Pop" Moore, Bill learned the art of building Grand Laker Canoes. It was a labor of love - Bill spent over 25 years learning his craft.
I found Bill to be a kind, gregarious and generous man who was very happy to share what he knew. I have to say that this was a hallmark of most of the people who I met at the school - both instructors and students.
The Original Hull - Used as a Form
I've done some repair on wood-and-canvas canoes including the replacement of planks, ribs, canvas. However, when the class came to use the canvas-stretching station in the center bay where my class was taught, I paid rapt attention. It's amazing what tips and tricks you can pick up by watching a master do his work. In particular, his choice of canvas stretching pliers and the use of a strip of canvas at the stems to keep the canvas at the stems in place under tension when finishing the stems was really fantastic.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Probably one of my favorite pictures from the week. As I was riding to breakfast one morning, the sunlight on the back of the bench just beckoned to me to stop and take a picture. I passed this bench many times and only this one time was moved to take the picture. I don't know who Donna is or was - another untold story I wish I knew more about.
To be honest, when I was originally scheduled to go up to the school I was a bit disappointed as I knew that I would be missing the WoodenBoat Show down at Mystic Seaport. My disappointment was tempered by the knowledge that I was there when the early summer wildflowers were all in bloom. Reflecting back on it, I cannot imagine a better time of year to be there.
Coming downstairs, Jane and Bill were getting some breakfast and Bill was working at one of his new hobbies on the front porch - learning to play the guitar. Not long after, Ted Moores and his daughter (who was up taking a class in Seamanship the week before) came down to say goodbye. After a while talking with them, I got a quick shower and went in search of some breakfast. The morning was cool and a bit foggy.
I should say something about the food at the school. It's really very good, wholesome and hearty food. It's served buffet style and quality, variety and portions are quite generous. Mountain Ash is the larger of the two rooming houses for both students and staff and contains the kitchen and dining room where breakfast and supper are served. On a bulletin board in the dining room was a sign-up sheet for your choice of sandwich lunch - usually 4 options with 4 choices of bread! Lunch is served either at the workshop or wherever your class is held. The only big variation is for Friday night - a lobsterbake is served either at the waterfront if the weather is nice or at the pole barn near the waterfront if the weather is uncertain. At the WoodenBoat school, Saturday breakfast is a continental affair and there is a lunch served at Saturday noon for those whose class lasts until that time. From noon on Saturday until supper time on Sunday, there are no meals served. There are, however, leftovers loaded into the refrigerator up at the Mountain Ash House.
One thing about Mountain Ash house is that it is a bit remote from the rest of the campus - about a mile towards the center of Brooklin. People generally walk, bike and carpool between the main campus and Mountain Ash House. I had brought a bike to get back and forth and to help me get in shape. I rode my bike up the hill to go to the Morning Moon Cafe for some breakfast. By the time I got to the cafe, my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest. It's uphill all the way from the waterfront to the center of Brooklin where the cafe is located. One of those hills that's amazingly unsteep when you're driving, but not when you're pedaling.
After a late breakfast, I got back down to the shop to continue to prepare materials for my class. I really have no idea where the day actually went. Along with me in the shop were the folks from Grain Surfboards who were going to be teaching a class building wooden surfboards in the loft. They were definitely working very hard. Students sort of came and went through the shop as they arrived.
I pedaled up the hill to dinner and was greeted by Kim, the school's Business Manger was filling in for Rich, the school's Director greeting students and guests and doing the orientation after dinner.
My students and I went down to the shop and had a quick orientation from Mike, the shop manager. My class then met for about a 1/2 hour for me to hand out course materials and to get to know one another better. Have to have a little homework, you know...
Tomorrow things begin in earnest!
Friday, July 11, 2008
My room at the Boathouse was clean and comfortable but not fancy.
First, there were the stairs:
This view is looking down from my room into the stairwell to the first floor. The door at the top is just about 4 1/2' or 5' tall. The stairs have a left-hand winder at the top and a right hand winder at the bottom. Thankfully, the height of the door at the bottom was a typical door height. As you can see, after the first night, I discovered there was even a light in my stairwell.
The South Wall:
The south wall of the room was actually the back of the fireplace in the great room. The door to the stairs is to the right. Hidden to the left of the folding chair was a somewhat 'unique' chair made from a wooden keg.
The North Wall:I had a desk against the north wall with a small window over it. Immediately to the right is the bedside table and a fouton couch made up as a bed. You can't see them, but there are two good-sized windows over the bed. There were no curtains on the windows. Let's just say that the sun is up awfully early in that part of Maine in the summer time.
The West Wall:
Other than the door downstairs and the small white table, there was a great closet. I say great because the closet was above the water heater and was always warm. Every morning I got a warm, dry towel. In an environment as damp as the waterfront was, that was a real treat.
As you can see, the furniture was all relatively small - I don't think you could have gotten a real full-size mattress up the stairs if you wanted to. Still, it was warm and cheerful. It was also relatively private. During the evenings, there wasn't really anyone around but staff. I actually felt quite fortunate to have this as my living space.
Before I delve into too much detail about the shop, I should say something about the whole facility. It was originally a Gentleman Farmer's getaway built sometime around 1915. The magazine has offices in the main house - an imposing white brick building. Just down the hill from the house is a new building which houses the store and the associated mail-order business. The shop, originally a barn, houses 4 classrooms. One in a loft above the east bay, and one each in the west, center and east bay. Above the west bay is a living space for instructors. Like the house, it is an imposing brick structure and is interesting in that the builder seems to have been hoping it would be fireproof. The roof is reinforced concrete with slate. Adjacent to the barn is the original farmhouse where the Gentleman Farmer's staff, who actually took care of the place, lived. The Farmhouse had been re-done as both student and instructor housing.
The gray building to the rear of the shop houses a lumber room and a mill room. The mill room had excellent tools including a 24" planer, large bandsaw, 12" planer, jointer and a Saw Stop Table saw all of which were equipped with excellent dust collection. The bow-sheds to the back were for the storage of both boats (both in the on and off-season) and class materials. To the left is the pole barn in which some of the bronze casting classes were held and serves as boat storage. (Did I mention, there is a lot of boat storage?)
Center hall of the center bay. A lovely well lit and well ventilated space.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
The first sign I saw as I drove into Brooklin in mid-afternoon was this one:
Finally, I saw the sign that I was looking for:
Upon my arrival, I got straight to work. Definitely one of the down-sides to being the instructor. (- gotta get crackin' as soon as you get there!) One of the people who was in the shop that day was a student who had been there the previous week by the name of Bill Chapman. Bill was very surprised to see an instructor unloading class supplies for a two week class out of a Honda Civic. To be quite honest, my Honda looked a bit like the 'clown car' from the circus. It was packed to the gills with sundry supplies and tools needed to teach the class along with my own gear for the two-week stay and had a bicycle on a trunk rack. I had very little travel left on the car's rear suspension, actually.
I ran into Bill Thomas and Wyatt Lawrence (briefly) who had been at the school the week before. I'd met Bill last fall when I went up to check out the school facility and it was good to see him again. I also ran into the shop staff who were busy getting the bays prepared for upcoming classes.
I was fortunate to get to speak with Ted Moores who was up teaching a class the week before. For those of you who may not be familiar with Ted, he is the owner of Bear Mountain Boats. Ted is a fixture in the cedar-strip canoe business and has been building boats for many, many years. He has authored at least three books on the subject and numerous articles. I was particularly interested in talking with him as we were both using a new experimental version of West System's 207 epoxy hardener in our classes and I wanted his impressions of the material. West System had kindly given us access to the new material and I appreciated the opportunity to use it. As I understand it, the new material will replace the existing hardener for improved clarity (water-white) and better cloth wet-out properties.
I unloaded my tools and supplies into the shop and organized the room the way I wanted it for the class. I cleaned up the stems that I had prepared for my students and ripped sheet stock down for forms. After finding the strips and putting them up on a bench I figured I ought to wander down to my new "home" as it was getting to be about 5:30 PM.
I had been billeted down at the Boathouse at the waterfront and drove down to unload the rest of my things. Bill Thomas and Jane Ahlfeld were down there as was Laurel Seaborn, the waterfront director. Jane was going to be teaching the Elements of Seamanship with Laurel the following week. Jane is somewhat of a fixture at the school and has been teaching there for many years. Unknown to me until then was the fact that Bill and Jane are married and that Jane had lived in my hometown for several years during the '80's. Small world.
The Boathouse is an interesting place. There is a kitchen in the back, two bathrooms (one outside for students and guests, one inside for staff), a bedroom on the side for the waterfront director, a great room with a massive stone fireplace where classes are held, a porch overlooking the waterfront and two loft bedrooms for staff. The first is above the porch and seemed to be Jane's private territory and the other was behind the fireplace and above the kitchen where I was staying. More on my room another day...
I got unloaded, changed my clothes and drove over to the Brooklin Inn. The Inn has a pub downstairs which can best be described as "homey". I ordered a pizza and a beer and sat down listening to the conversations of a few tourists, locals and WoodenBoat Students. As I was waiting, a voice to my left asked how my accomodations were. Huh? Looking to my left I noticed a woman sitting there that I didn't immediately recognize - it was Emily, one of the shop staff. We chatted for a while and I noticed the rest of the staff and other students filtering in for a beer and a bite to eat.
I finally decided to get back and get a good night's sleep. On arriving at the Boathouse, I realized my big mistake. I'd forgotten a flashlight and all the lights were off. I went in and couldn't find a light-switch. Making my way back up to my room via braille, my head and shins found every piece of furniture and low overhead all the way up to my room. Not a mistake to make again.