Monday, November 17, 2014

Tiller Pilots

I have hovered over the acquisition of a tiller pilot for several years, once having even manufactured a mounting point for one.  I didn't install it.  Misgivings about its non-traditional complexion and fear of the siren-call of creeping complexity stayed my hand.

Last summer convinced me that cruising alone without one is inconvenient, and possibly more dangerous than accommodating the additional set of failure modes of yet another electrical gadget.

I decided to get a Ray Marine, and having done so had to choose between the ST1000 and the ST2000.  The additional push-rod thrust of the beefier model is appealing, but the clincher for me was the underlying technology.  The two models look nearly identical, but the ST2000 translates circular motion to linear push-rod motion via a recirculating ball drive.  According to Wikipedia:
Low friction in ball screws yields high mechanical efficiency compared to alternatives. A typical ball screw may be 90 percent efficient, versus 50 percent efficiency of an Acme lead screw of equal size
The lower-power ST1000 uses the less efficient lead screw push rod mechanism.  I have not found field reports that bolster the benefits of one over the other, so I'm acting on the belief that one is a more compelling engineering approach than the other.  More power for about the same current draw.

Installation required some custom engineering. Ray Marine sells various adapters to assure that the geometry of the installation can be matched with any given boat.  None of them seemed workable for Ripple's deck and cockpit configuration.  Layout measurements indicated that the pivot point for the fixed end of the device needs to be uncomfortably close to the aft deck cleat, and 8-9 inches above the deck.  The solution that I engineered is a stanchion designed to look as natural as possible in it's position on the port quarterdeck.

I laminated a block of oak from which to shape the stanchion using West System epoxy, wondering at this point if I could bring it to a pleasingly aesthetic, non-clunky shape.  The picture conveys the source of my misgivings:

I roughed out the block with a bandsaw and (mostly) a stationary belt sander, shaping it to something that seemed about right:

I filled gaps, coated the stanchion with some West System epoxy to improve durability, and smoothed the whole thing with 80, 180, and 220 grit paper.  Two coats of Brightside primer followed by three coats of Brightside white polyurethane finished the stanchion for installation.  Three brass threaded inserts, epoxied into the base, receive three stainless steel bolts screwed in from below-decks through a suitable backing plate.  A dab of anhydrous lanolin in each threaded insert should prevent electrolysis between the stainless steel and brass.  The base and backing plate are bedded with Dolfinite.  I was prepared to enlarge the through-deck holes in the event of slight misalignment, but it turned out to be unnecessary.  The rated thrust of the push rod is 275 lbs, so the stanchion must be quite strong, able to resist these substantial lateral stresses.  It looks and feels to me strong enough, but the proof is in the use.

Location of the stanchion on the port quarterdeck, near the stern deck cleat, the combing, and not so far from the auxiliary anchor, places it in an already crowded area of deck real estate.  On a boat as small as Ripple, it is another thing to trip over, but the starboard quarterdeck remains relatively open.  Of course, it is important that it not interfere with aft mooring lines and the mainsheet while underway.  I think it will be fine.

The hardest part of the installation was drilling holes in a perfectly good deck and tiller (for the tiller pin).  The first-time-perfect-alignment made me feel better about it.  Its all wood, right?  Everything can be fixed.

I'll sew a cover for the tiller pilot unit to keep rain and sun at bay (field reports highlight the importance of this additional kit).  The completed setup:

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Summer Summary

The Summer has come and gone without updating Ripple's blog.  I'm no better at paper logs, either, but the following is a brief summary of the last few months.
  • Six coats of fresh varnish (le Tonkinois, of course) in the Spring
  • Finished Stuart's Little in time for my trip north
  • Departed for my trip north to rendezvous with Terry Noreault for a trip through the Gulf Islands and Princess Louisa Inlet on July 5.  Seattle -- Port Townsend -- Friday Harbor -- Bedwell Harbor -- Princess Cove -- Nanaimo -- Jedediah Island -- Lasquetti Island -- Smuggler's Cove -- Pender Harbor -- Thunder Bay -- Princess Louisa Inlet -- Powell River -- Pender Harbor -- Mayne Island -- Roche Harbor -- Lopez Island -- Coupeville -- Edmonds -- Seattle.
  • I learned a tremendous amount on this trip, from sailing with Terry and from the variety of conditions and how Ripple and her skipper responded to them.
  • The trip was terrific in many ways, including the good fun of sailing with Terry (he on Sailmates, me on Ripple)
  •  The Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend.  Great to see old friends and meet a few new ones.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Piece of Cake

I am still building a dinghy.  It is still almost done, a bit further down the almost-ness scale than when last I wrote.

I've accepted the fact that I am not the varnisher that I once hoped to become, but c'est suffice.  After a trip abroad and the distractions of nice weather, The Big Push has begun, and the trigger is in part the baking skills of a friend, Leslie Braley. 

There's a long story here, but the essence of it is that one musician has offered to play on recordings for other musicians for a kick-starter contribution of a given amount, and my friend, Leslie, wants very much for it to happen for her, and is offering cake-baking skills to raise money.

Every boat christening should involve bubblified adult beverages and cake, so I have commissioned a cake for the event, and my Mom is hot to have a party, so I have to get this event scheduled.  That is, finish the damned dinghy.

Today marks the 4th coat of varnish... i'll do 6 or 8.  Then I have to repaint the interior, because what I needed was masking paper 8 inches wide rather than simply masking tape.  Install the oarlocks, assemble the tiller/rudder assembly, add pintels, add the name decal, attach the mast step, apply leathers to the mast and mast partners, screw down the thwarts, sew a sail, sew a boat cover, and affix  the duckboards in an easily reversible fashion.  That should do it.  A deadline will help.  Thank you, Leslie.

In the meantime, Ripple's Spring Varnishing Jamboree is underway.  If you're going to do one, you may as well do both.  A trip to Port Townsend for my favorite varnish (Le Tonkinois, official varnish of the French Navy) and I have no excuse not to get this done.  Not a month too soon, either, as the minimal number of coats I applied during last year's epic refit were starting to look awfully thin.

The need, combined with perfect weather, created the opportunity to get this done.  It took me the better part of a day to tape off the companionway, the bowsprit, the hand rails, the house bullnose, the combings, the cockpit, the tiller, and the rails.  That done, each coat takes about three hours, maybe a bit more if sanding is needed (a light leveling sanding every two or three coats).

By the end of the coming week I'll have 6 coats on all the brightwork, and the dinghy will be in final punchlist status.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The New Bronze Age

This past weekend I took time out from dinghy-building to participate in the bronze-casting workshop that has been offered by the Center for Wooden Boats for a couple of decades.  Originally launched by Sam Johnson, it has been ably taught by James McMullen for the past decade and a half.  The two-day workshop at the Camano Island CWB facility takes you though the basics of managing and using a simple low-volume foundry for casting parts of bronze that can be put to work on a boat.  Take your spouse and rent one of the Cama Beach waterfront cabins.

Most of us rarely use anything hotter than our kitchen stoves.  To bring 15 lbs of metal to 2000+ degrees and pour its molten spirit into a sand mold is an uncommon experience, at once primitive and technologically powerful.  Literally, transformative.  An undifferentiated chunk of alloy is transformed, by dint of conceptualizing, patterning, molding, melting, casting, and finishing, into a durable, useful boat part (or perhaps an object d'art) over a period of hours. To proceed over a mere pair of days from complete novice to, well, a novice with the rudimentary skills to effect such changes is nothing short of exhilarating.

There are many patterns made by the instructor that can be used to cast useful or attractive objects... Plaques, oarlocks, cleats, rings, pintels, gudgeons, and many others, including the ever-popular busty-mermaid marling spike (I did two, the second patterned from the first).  Some of us ventured into parts of our own design, as well, as with the tiller comb I patterned onsite and brought home to do final finishing.  A future post will show its installation and use on Ripple.

You'll also learn how to bootstrap yourself into all the tools necessary, including the foundry.  I am hopeful that some of the veterans of the workshop may coalesce into an informal casting cooperative to fire up some molten bronze on occasion.  Cast in stone has nothing on cast in bronze.

Want to play?  Demand for the workshop has occasioned the scheduling of a second workshop this Spring, to be held in late April.  Contact the Center for Wooden Boats for details.  You won't be sorry.

My productivity for the weekend included a rattler (a tool used in the making of the mold), two marling spikes, a bronze towing-eye for the dinghy,  and two pieces which I patterned myself, intended for use as a tiller comb when finished out.  I also had two casting failures, both with the towing eye.  Leaving the pattern in the mold is the most basic of bone-headed failures.  Glad I got THAT out of the way.

Monday, March 3, 2014

the punchlist grows tiresome

On the advice of my brother I mixed up some epoxy and diluted it with acetone to coat the dagger board, making it slightly more impervious to swelling.  I coated the entire piece with the epoxy and then wiped it down with a rag saturated with denatured alcohol, leaving the wood with a (penetrating) epoxy coating that will help keep out the moisture when it develops dings.  To not do so would be to court swelling that would make it difficult to use the board in the case.

I'll sand and varnish as with other bright finishes on the boat.

I used my remaining modest aliquot of Brightsides (Hatteras White) today, and it isn't enough.  I'll buy another $40 quart and sand the interior semi-seriously and see if I can get a good finish coat or three.   I can feel the resistance of my patience flagging... I want to be done, I want to be in the water.  I need to suck it up and get a good interior finish in place.  I'm guessing three coats.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Interior lives

Recent days have witnessed a series of two hour spurts of progress that seem to stretch out like silly putty, distorting time and results.  I finished the daggerboard case, multiple epoxy glue-ups that finally came together as a piece: case cheeks, logs, vertical spacers, floors, forward cap, and top cap.  I got them installed and the result is very solid, tied together and screwed into the keel and epoxied.

I shaped the daggerboard so that it would slide easily into the case, and profiled the cross section below the water line according to the plans.  Handplanes and random orbit sander did the trick.

I glued in the inwhale spacer blocks, figuring they would benefit from being painted with the interior of the hull, with only the tops varnished with the entire rail assembly.

The breasthook went in, with epoxy and bronze screws in from the outer rail.  Shaping it with a nice crown was pretty straightforward.

I put two coats of undercoat on the entire interior.  It went pretty well, but the finish coast... well, we'll see.  The first went on today, and it looks pretty sad.  But i think i did 6 exterior coats before I ended up with an acceptable finish.  The interior will me harder still I think.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Little stuff

I started assembling the case today, realizing it is going to take several stages (days) of glue-up to put it all together.  Taking a cue from the book (duh), i decided to glue just one of the cheeks to the case uprights.  It will be best to paint the insides before assembling the case, and I may even include a few inches of anti-fouling paint on the lower few inches.

Tomorrow I'll glue the other cheek to the assembly, and fit it into the slot in the keel to make sure it will go together and mate with the floors at stations 2 and 3.   The third stage will be to add the end cap, logs, upper rails, and topcap.  There will be some additional cosmetic trim pieces that will hide the aft edges of the case cheeks and improve the visual balance of the case.  All but the top-cap will be painted.  The top cap will be finished bright, as it will be perpendicular and contiguous with the midships thwart.  The other thwarts, quarter knees, knee braces, and floorboards will also be finished bright.

While  I was messing with epoxy, I glued the floors for stations 4 and 5 into the bottom, using some poplar battens to spring-clamp from the ceiling.

I finished the day making the oarlock caps from a piece of iroko I had around from the summer's replacement of the chafe strips on Ripple's mast.  Iroko is an inexpensive teak substitute, and should stand up well to the battering it is liable to suffer in this application.

I drilled the holes for the bronze gudgeons, traced the outline of each gudgeon, and drilled the corners of each with a small forstner bit to approximate depth.  I knifed the outlines so as to start a knife wall for chiseling, wasted the insides and then progressively brought each to a constant depth with the router plane.  I really like this tool!  I will find many more things to do with it, I am sure.

About 4 hours, and a real relief for the temperature to have come back up into the 40s and 50s.