Monday, April 12, 2010

The End of the Beginning

Her first real cruise had shaken loose many fresh problems with my modified Birdwatcher, but I was by now patient and philosophical about my temperamental plywood yacht called Neoma. You may remember that I compared launching a boat you have built to getting married or bungee jumping. After the excitement of the big plunge, you realize this is just the start of a long, up and down relationship, and it may take years to figure out all her capricious ways — if you ever do. You will dangle upside-down at the end of your tether for a long time, so best have fun with it. Well, I am mixing my metaphors . . .

Again in the back yard dry dock, dealing with excessive weather helm was the first order of business. Previous trimming of the mizzen and welding the steering gear to reduce play had not been quite enough remedy. By using a jib, and therefore getting more sail area forward of the centreboard, I hoped to not only balance the helm better but make Neoma more close-winded. The jib trials on Reindeer Lake had not been satisfactory because my hand-me-down jib was too big for the fore-triangle space and bellied out to leeward. I recut and re-edged the sail and placed a new padeye farther forward where the tack would be fastened. I also put in a taller mast — an easy job when your masts are just grown sticks with their bark peeled away — to accommodate a more upright jib. The foresail would now set properly.

Then it was time to address the chine log that had popped loose. The cause was simply that I had not carried the sheathing fabric up and over the chine logs, and moisture was getting between them and the hull side panels. I had chosen not to put fabric on the side panels on the advice of some authority I can no longer remember. The logic was that, while fabric and epoxy are tough and abrasion resistant and therefore vital for the bottom, they do not make your wood "waterproof" and their cost and weight is wasted on the sides. However, I regret not "glassing" the entire hull. The extra strength and puncture resistance you get on quarter-inch panels is reassuring, and it makes a better base for paint. Epoxy may not be waterproof, but it is much more so than paint. After a long spell afloat, the "dutchmen" in my marine plywood panels swell and telegraph their positions quite plainly. One of these days I will get around to glassing the whole sides. As it was, I ran a three-inch piece of polyester tape over the chine logs and sealed their tops with a larger fillet of epoxy.

A problem with the rudder had presented itself on Reindeer Lake. As designed, the blade hangs straight down; however, the blade ought to be parallel to the angle of the stem, or it will impart heavy forces on the helm. You are, in effect, sailing with a partially raised board. Phil Bolger addresses this problem in the addenda to his Birdwatcher I plans, advising that you have a preventer line, or downhaul or what you may call it, to pull the blade the last few degrees forward. This has to be fed through the rudder head over a couple of sheaves.

At last, I got around to installing my electrical system, a grand term for my humble set-up. I installed two running lights each side and a white on the stern, two interior LEDs plus a 12-volt bus to accept three cigarette-lighter type accessories. One of these would be my VHF radio, though in the waters I sail nobody uses a marine radio much. I have never uttered a word to anyone on mine to this day.

As for the supply side of the system, I had a small photovoltaic panel, the kind you can fold up and carry in a knapsack. This fed sun power to a rather pricey controller-charger, which managed my battery, a massive 12V deep cycle thing I got from a surplus outlet. In the near future, I wanted to try an electric trolling motor. I will wade into the topic of motors — gas, electric and human powered — a couple of posts hence.

Finally, I reinforced the simple tiller by screwing some long, rather decorative brass straps on either side. I hoped that the weather helm would be at last tamed on the next voyage, but meantime, I did not want the tiller to break.

Next time, we are back on the water, this time on a magnificent lake called Lac La Ronge.

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