Makeovers and such

Today is the two year anniversary of launching my Puddle Duck Racer, #824 Serenity. Happy birthday, Serenity!

The 2016 Lake Pepin Messabout looms ever closer, and Serenity has gotten some much needed upgrades. First, her sail has been replaced by the good folks at PolySail. While I had been debating going with a some form of balanced lug rig, I ended up with another Bolger styled Leg O’ Mutton sail. [If you’re interested in sailing or even design, you’d do well to check out Phillip Boger. The guy was an unconventional, prolific boat designer.]

What was interesting to me is I replaced a LOM sail with another, and the boom I’d been using had to be replaced. (It was about a foot short.) The reason why this was the case had been escaping me until just typing the previous line. When designing that first sail, I’d made the sail to fit the mast and boom, instead of creating the sail first and matching the spars to it.

I’ve also been experimenting with alternate rigging setups; mainly getting rid of my false traveler and attaching the mainsheet block to the rudder just aft of the pintles. I’d forgotten I wanted to try that out until I was out testing the new sail with my roommate Paul. I noticed an eye-bolt atop the rudder and spent most of the day’s sail confused as to why it was there. Eventually I rigged the mainsheet block to it, taking the load from the “traveler” and found that it worked quite well. I was worried it would negatively impact steering, but it did not. Additionally, the jam (or clam) cleat that holds the main worked FAR more effectively once the angle of the line was reduced.

In case that last paragraph made absolutely no sense, I’ll try to show why the cleat works better in this configuration. Here’s a jam cleat:

The jam cleat, also known as a clam cleat.

The jam cleat, also known as a clam cleat.

Jam cleats hold a line in place by tapering as they reach the bottom, the grooves help pull the line in that direction as tension is applied from the left of that picture. If the line is pulled up, or to the right the line will loose. The problem that I’d been having is the angle of the “traveler” meant it was always being pulled up a bit. This meant it would occasionally pop out, the sheet would loose depowering my sail, and I’d cry bitter tears.

The new way vs. the old way.

The new way vs. the old way.

Granted this is a new mod, and the jury is out if I’ll keep it this way or not. We’ll see.

Also, my friend Kristen came over to help out with a makeover. I spent an hour yesterday with an angle grinder getting rid off my terrible epoxy drip marks that had plagued her hull. I spent another hour today with the orbital sander smoothing out the angle grinder marks. Kristen and I got the first of several coats of paint done. The old girl is getting a whole look I’ll be unveiling at the Messabout. I’m very excited to see our end product!

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The sketchiest thing I do all year.

It appears spring has finally graced Minneapolis, and that inspires me to do the sketchiest thing I do all year: Take Serenity out of the rafters.

Sleeping so peacefully, like a bat...

Sleeping so peacefully, like a bat…

You see, she spends all winter hanging from the rafters in my garage. All winter she waits for this day with anticipation, as I do with dread. On one hand, it means getting her back in the water. On the the other, I have to avoid death by falling boat.

First things first, I needed to take the casters off of the trailer, as they can gouge Serenity when they’re attached.

BAD CASTERS! BAD!

BAD CASTERS! BAD!

Then up into the rafters to attach the ratchet straps to the chain hoist…

All anchored in

All anchored in

What could possibly go wrong here? I'm sure this is totally safe!

What could possibly go wrong here? I’m sure this is totally safe!

Surprisingly, she made it down with very few problems. The largest of which being I had to turn the trailer around while avoiding the other stuff in the garage: motorcycles, bikes, and my roommate’s car.

Aaaaand touchdown.

Aaaaand touchdown.

All ready for a coat for bottom paint. (As if I'm gonna do that. Lake Pepin beach is basically sandpaper.)

All ready for a coat for bottom paint. (As if I’m gonna do that. Lake Pepin beach is basically sandpaper.)

Now to finish the sail I picked up from Polysail!

Lake Pepin Messabout

I have several posts in the near future to make, so bear with me if they’re a bit on the short side. The first of which is the condensed version of the Lake Pepin Messabout adventure!

After months of planning, acquiring equipment, and general boating obsession, it was time to leave for the trip. I had been back on American soil for 5 days, and the jet lag had mostly subsided. (New Zealand Trip post coming soon!) All the gear needed for the next five days was packed into Serenity, and by early afternoon my dear friend Mindy delivered us to Hastings to begin the trip.

The new and improved route.

The new and improved route.

Getting to the boat launch and loading up serenity was kind of intimidating. The weather looked a tad ominous, and the river in that area is BIG. Not as big as it gets later on, but after looking at all 8 feet of Serenity, and across 1200 feet of Mississippi, the ideas of what this trip might all be about became very real. Big Muddy and I were going to form a bond over the next several days.

Thy sea, O God, so great, My boat so small. It cannot be that any happy fate Will me befall Save as Thy goodness opens paths for me Through the consuming vastness of the sea.

Thy sea, O God, so great,
My boat so small.
It cannot be that any happy fate
Will me befall
Save as Thy goodness opens paths for me
Through the consuming vastness of the sea.

Serenity and I launched without an issue, and with a wave back to Mindy, we started our trek towards Lake Pepin. I was only a few hundred yards into the trip when I encountered the first obsticle: the water was high and the measurements I had for the bridges were off. I passed under the Hastings Rail Bridge with about 2 inches to spare instead of the 4 feet I was expecting! Within three hours of being dropped off, the skies had turned darker, and rain was threatening. I donned my foul weather gear and waited, as luck would have it I didn’t wait long. The rains started slow, and eventually whipped the surface of the river into a froth. All the while I maintained course down river, sopping up as much of the rain as I could with my bailing sponge, and squeezing it overboard.

Thankfully, the first of the rains only lasted for an hour or so, giving me a much needed break for a snack. As I began to make my way towards a beach, I heard my sail start making an incredible noise. Upon looking up at the head of the sail, it was pretty clear what the trouble was: The ties that held the sail to the top of the mast had given way and would require a repair. “This trip is starting out AWESOME!” I thought.

Thy winds, O God, so strong, So slight my sail. How could I curb and bit them on the long And saltry trail, Unless Thy love were mightier than the wrath Of all the tempests that beset my path?

Thy winds, O God, so strong,
So slight my sail.
How could I curb and bit them on the long
And saltry trail,
Unless Thy love were mightier than the wrath
Of all the tempests that beset my path?

As previously mentioned, this trip had been fixated upon for months, and there were very few things that could befall it that would cripple me on the water. After a quick stop for repairs and a snack, it was back to the river sailing onward until darkness began to fall. There was almost no wind, and a good 4 miles between our position, and the campsite. It pained me to do it, but I decided to put in the trolling motor and make a break for it. I made it into the slough upstream of Lock and Dam #3 just as the sun was setting. Supposedly, there is a campsite there, but I never found it. I ended up hiding Serenity in some trees, and hauling my camping gear about a half mile up the road where I found a peaceful field to try to get some rest. A quick meal, a change into not soggy clothes, and I drifted into almost sleep. As it turned out, I had set up my camp about 100 feet from the railroad tracks, which was trafficked every 30 minutes for the rest of the night.

The next day was as uneventful as the previous day was eventful. I woke up early, ate breakfast, and got Serenity pointed into the lock. It was a bit harrowing, as there are no indicators as to where the intercom for the Lockmaster is. Fighting currents with the trolling motor pointed in reverse to slow my entrance, I finally found the pull-chain WAY into the lock. The Lockmaster looked at me like I was completely insane, and asked if my boat was Coast Guard Approved. I said I didn’t know, but it was registered with the state. I’m not sure either of those things mattered, and he opened up the lock for me. The waters are so high that time of year that I only dropped about four inches during the lock process. Once on the other side, and safely out of the eddy area, I pulled the trolling motor, and set the sails with the goal of hitting Frontenac Park.

I passed through Red Wing and the most exciting thing during that leg of the trip was colliding with a navigation buoy in full view of a fisherman. Wait… That’s embarrassing, not exciting. There was more sailing, and as luck would have it, I ended up making a lot of distance on that second day. So much, that I passed Frontenac and made it all the way into Hok-Si-La by later afternoon. A full day ahead of schedule!

The rest of the Messabout was a lot of hanging out, telling lies with other boatbuilders, relaxing, and sailing. My favorite vessel by far was the one-of-a-kind Arcebus. Captain Greg took a couple of us out for a ride on a fairly choppy and rough day, and we managed to get a top speed of 7.25 mph, which on a sailing vessel of that size is damned good.

My favorite moment came after the Messabout had completed, and while I missed this little guy and his dad, I’m glad I managed to inspire them. Hopefully, I’ll see them next year at the Messabout!

I hope they do!

I hope they do!

Also, Google photos made a pretty sweet “story” about it… Which you can view HERE.

More lettering

It’s been a very busy week at my house. People moving out, major cleaning and purges have taken place. Quite an ordeal, really. In an effort to avoid doing more work in the house, I moved into the garage where Serenity met me with a very blank port side.

“I painted one side but was sidetracked.” I thought “Perhaps it’s time to finish the job.”

First, was the matter of figuring out where the letters were going to go. So I went about marking off the area with painter’s tape so they would be similar in size and placement to the other side. After getting the tape down, and laptop and projector set up, I traced the projected image onto her hull.

Basically, it looked like this:

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Animated?! Now I'm just showing off!

Animated?! Now I’m just showing off!

Then, once it was all penciled in, it was just a matter of going over the outline with acrylic.

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Fancy!

Fancy!

Ready for the hull decal

Ready for the hull decal

All done!

All done!

Quick and dirty upgrade, with a post to match.

I am a dumbass

“Don’t get to being in a hurry.
-Jack Baker

I heard my old man’s voice in my head right after I heard the CRUNCHPOP sound as Serenity fell to the floor of my garage. Despite all our disagreements, I think he’s probably right on this piece of advice. Being in a hurry makes one sloppy, and sloppy breeds chances for failures. Today I was in a hurry, and it bit me in the ass.

The story:
It was a beautiful day, and I was very excited to take my boat out for the first sail of the season. I had just finished my rudder:

All bolted together, stained, urethaned, ready to sail!

All bolted together, stained, urethaned, ready to sail!

All that needed to be done was to transfer the boat from the sawhorses to the trailer. Piece of cake! I’ve done this a dozen times now. A perfect day for sailing, a steady 15 knot wind was calling me. I set about hoisting Serenity the same way I’d done it before… (Well, mostly the same, I was trying to save time and get out to the lake!) So instead of harnessing the bow and stern and hoisting, I only did the bow, figuring the sawhorse it was on would hold it fine. This is what we’d call A Very Bad Idea.

Additionally, there was an old fluorescent light fixture that was resting under Serenity, waiting to be recycled in the Citywide Cleanup. I saw the conduit sticking straight up under her like a punji stake, and thought “That looks like it could be a problem.” But it was such a nice day, who has time to move around all the junk in their garage before heading out for a beautiful day of sailing? Not me! This was another Very Bad Idea.

The saw horse did not hold the stern, and the rear of the craft careened to the floor with a sickening POP. I didn’t even want to look, because I knew that sound meant the hull was likely punctured. I looked. It was.

Right about now is when I almost started crying.

Right about now is when I almost started crying.

After some very, very, loud four letter words, I managed to get her onto the trailer and surveyed the damage. Poor girl looked like she’d been shot.

I NEED AN OCCLUSIVE BANDAGE! STAT!!!

I NEED AN OCCLUSIVE BANDAGE! STAT!!!

I was definitely not going to be taking advantage of this very nice, perfect sailing day. On top of that, I’d put a hole in a boat I planned to take on an 80 mile cruise down the Mississippi. Many unpleasant feelings were happening all around me.

Once I’d calmed down, I went about figuring out how to fix it. The general idea when patching a hole in a fiberglass boat is you grind out the area, then layer incrementally larger patches of fiberglass, one over the other until it’s back to the original thickness. I could do that! But I’d need a grinder. There was no way in hell I was gonna try to do that with my sander… After a quick trip to Harbor Freight, I’d picked up a grinder with some 36 grit flap pads. I’ve had my eye on a grinder for a while but couldn’t justify it until now, so yay?

I read to triple the size of the hole to figure out how wide an area to grind out. So I did that.

Circle drawn to grind out.

Circle drawn to grind out.

Inside, post grinding.

Inside, post grinding.

Then, to keep fiberglass from sagging after being wet out, I put a temporary backing of a sandwich bag taped in place to the bottom of the hull. Not pretty, but it seems to have worked.

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Next, making concentric patches, starting with the smallest, and working up until it matches the ground out area.

The first of many patches.

The first of many patches.

Wetting the fiberglass out with epoxy.

Penny for scale.

Penny for scale.

I need to find a way to measure out epoxy/hardener in MUCH smaller batches since I currently get about 3 oz. per batch, and I really need about 1 oz. batches. Since I made up a HUGE amount, I decided to try out my silica thickener and fill in the hole in Benoit. It’s ugly, and will need a lot of sanding, but it seems to have filled the void on her.

Should have taken a "before" shot...

Should have taken a “before” shot…

And that’s where I left off. One layer of fiberglass in, with probably a half dozen or so to go. The moral of this story? Dad was probably right. Take your time and secure your gear, even if it’s a nice day and you really just want to get out sailing.

Rudders and such

One of several repair tasks on Serenity was replacing her rudder. The old one was basically a short tiller arm bolted to the rudder stock, which was bolted to the rudder blade. Just about as simple as you could make it…

Here’s an early, unfinished pic of the original rudder:

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While this design worked, it was kind of lacking in a few ways:

  • The blade had a tendency to unbolt from the stock. This never actually became a critical problem, mainly because Serenity was never on the water for more than a few hours at a time, and I’d check that bolt/nut to make sure it was tight before embarking.
  • There was a lot of flex between the blade and stock. With only one contact point, (the bolt), and all the forces pushing on the rudder, it would bend laterally under strain. Again, this never got so bad that it failed, but it certainly wasn’t the strongest way to do it.
  • No way to hoist the rudder up when coming in to land, going over sandbars, etc. Instead, it mostly gets dragged through rocks, mud, sand, etc. Not the end of the world, but eventually, I’ll need to make a new one if this one continues taking abuse.
  • Tiller was bolted into a fixed position on the rudder stock. This means if I need to move the tiller from one side to the other, anything/anyone in the middle of the cockpit needs to move around the tiller. That’s just silly.

I set about fixing these issues, and have come up with a new design that seems to fix all these issues. Sadly, I didn’t do much in the way of documenting the design process. I knew I wanted to keep the rudder blade, so I cut open some brown paper grocery bags, and traced its shape out, I then proceeded to make parts templates for the new rudder stock to match up to the blade. Basically, a full scale paper model. I decided on a design that houses the rudder blade on port and starboard, with a”stop” built into the front.

The following pics are a work in progress: the tiller handle still needs to be urethaned, and the sides/stock pieces need at least a couple more coats. Also, because I document my screwups as well as my successes: You’ll notice a change to the rear of the handle, from the first pics to the later ones. I neglected to trim the tiller handle with a radial cut around the bolt. (It wouldn’t lift. I would be stuck down.

Initial test fit. Seems pretty good so far.

Initial test fit. Seems pretty good so far.

Other side. You can see the rows on the sides where the bolts will hold this together.

Other side. You can see the rows on the sides where the bolts will hold this together.

Overhead view. Still looking good.

Overhead view. Still looking good.

After making the radial cuts. No longer stuck in place.

After making the radial cuts. No longer stuck in place.

SEE?!

SEE?!

In hindsight, this should have been a GIF.

In hindsight, this should have been a GIF.

Tiller and rudder stock ready for the finish.

Tiller and rudder stock ready for the finish.

Interior view of the rudder blade matched with the stock.

Interior view of the rudder blade matched with the stock.

 

 

You can’t see it very well, but there’s a plastic spacer that covers the threads of the bolt in the last picture. That should protect the inside of the rudder bolt hole from wear. Additionally, I’m hoping it also acts as a bearing to keep the pivoting of the rudder blade from turning the bolt. I plan to put a padeye on the rear edge of the rudder blade that a line will be attached to to keep it in the upright position via a jam cleat on the top of the stock.

Getting closer… Ever closer.

PDR Updates

With the Lake Pepin Messabout 65 days away, I’ve been scrambling as best I can to get Serenity up to speed for her trip downriver. We had a fortunate warm spell during my spring break that allowed me to clean the garage, and get her down from the rafters. (Yes, my boat hangs perilously over my car all winter long.)

First order of business: Install oarlocks.

Last summer Molly and I were entertaining her nephews who were visiting from Germany. We had though a nice sail around the lake would be a fun adventure, and it was… Until the wind died while we were 150 meters from shore. After baking in the sun for about 30 minutes, her nephew Dennis and I ended up jumping overboard and swimming it back to shore. That was the day I decided that oarlocks were a must.

A problem with oars on the PDR is that there’s no bench. I was in a bit of a jam: I didn’t want to install oarlocks before I had a bench, and I couldn’t determine where the bench should installed without having the oarlocks ready to go. I came across a video of Michael Buchanan rowing his PDR #760, “Duck Dodgers”, and he seemed to have the balance sorted out nicely. I sent him and email and he gave me a link to another ducker’s video. Once I saw the bench design on Bill MacPherson‘s PDR #608, “True North”, I knew what I needed to do.

New First order of business: Install oarlocks Install bench seating, then oarlocks.

I had been so focused on getting the seat into the “perfect” position, that I had completely neglected to think of adjustable as “perfect”. I found some scrap and ripped it to the right dimensions, glued a strip of it to each side of the interior. Found another scrap piece, trimmed it to the width of the cockpit, and put a couple coats of polyurethane on it. Ta dah! Adjustable bench!

Bench rails installed

Bench rails installed

The bench on the rails.

The bench on the rails.

Pardon the expression on my face here. I had to set the shot with a timer (with the tripod on my ladder), run around the side of the boat, climb a garbage can to get into the boat (which is on sawhorses), grab the oar into a semi-usable position all in 10 seconds… It sounds like it should be enough, but it wasn’t. (The first pic I got was me looking VERY surprised that the camera went off. No you can’t see it.)

Me, on the bench, on the rails.

Me, on the bench, on the rails.

Since it warmed up again today, I painted the starboard hull registration number and touched up the transom lettering.

And all because i want to use a trolling motor once in a while...

And all because i want to use a trolling motor once in a while…

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I’ll try to get a video of how well the rowing bench works once I have a trailer that is not full of yard waste. (The drawback of a utility trailer that’s used for everything…)

Messabout preperations

There’s a few items that probably need attention before I make this voyage to the Lake Pepin Messabout.

First of which is installing the oarlocks and getting my oars installed. Also, I’ll need some kind of bench to sit on when I’m rowing. Fairly easy upgrades.

The rudder need to be redesigned as their present state has a nasty tendency to unbolt itself and also to float. Along those same lines, I’ve been pondering the best way to construct a windvane so I can get some relief while single-hand sailing. I’m usually only out for a couple hours at a time. This trip will require several hours of sailing per day, for three or four days in a row. While I could probably do it without too much stress, it would be nice to take the hand off the tiller once in a while to eat a sandwich or something…

There are some other technical additions I’m considering, such as a cheap solar charger for my phone which will also be functioning as a chart plotter on this trip. As well as a VHF marine radio. Might be useful for the locks as well as keeping tabs on commercial barge traffic.

Tying up loose ends

After weeks of delay, Serenity’s bow is finally repaired. In my last post, I’d only gotten as far as glassing it. Several attempts at sanding down the drips later, it was time for some paint.

(Also, I need the garage space. Sorry, Serenity.)

Here’s a couple shots post-glass, post-sand, pre-paint:\

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And here’s a couple while the paint was still drying. I’ll be putting a second coat on later.

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Not bad for a total hack, eh? There are still some non-smooth spots even after multiple sessions with an orbital sander using 50 grit paper. At this point, I’d rather wrap her back up and get back to sailing.

She’s still not perfect, and likely never will be. The PD Racer class is meant to be a learning process for people who know squat about boatbuilding. (I totally qualify for that.) One of the perks of working on Serenity is I have a new craft that I’m scared to work on, and everything I learn on Serenity gets to be used on the other boat.

More about that boat as I begin to mess with it.