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Posts Tagged ‘Greenland Kayak’

Several weeks ago I wrote a post in favor of exploring new places. Sunday reinforced my opinion that when you go out to a new spot in your boat, you never know what you’ll find, and that’s where a lot of fun can be had.

Early in the afternoon on Sunday, Bruce called and we started talking about where to go. We had talked earlier in the weekend and decided to go out, but we hadn’t decided where to go or even which boats to take. After chatting and weighing the options we decided to go check out Caterpillar island. Neither of us had been around it before, though Bruce had sailed past it last summer. The island lies on the north side of the river, across and a few river miles down river from Kelly Point Park where the Willamette meets the Columbia. I would take my skin on frame kayak, and Bruce would be in his Guide Boat.

We put in on the Columbia Slough, headed out to the Willamette and across the Columbia. As we traveled we talked about different experiences we’ve had on the Columbia and different options for quick overnight getaways. We reached the entrance to the channel that goes behind the island, and turned into it.

What a fantastic little backwater. The range of craft we found was broad to say the least. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more unusual mix of old work boats and various types of pleasure craft in one place. There was an old barge that looked like it might have had an earlier life as some sort of small WWII era ship that was latter cut down to use as some sort of barge. Then we encountered the catamaran below. I suppose I would describe it as looking like one of the shuttles from Star Trek. It had this really interesting frame for an awning built up on top, but it looked like it would have had masts and sails at one point. Now it sounds like it may have birds living in it, but restored I think it would still turn heads on a waterfront, even if mostly from novelty.  As we continued our water borne mosey down the channel we encountered a variety of old work boats including this small tug.  Then we came across this pair. At first I thought they were just some sort of random shanty boat, but then I got a better look at their profile, and immediately recognized the shape.  The name on the back of the second one confirmed my suspicion. The design was almost certainly influenced by the work of Sam McKinney or even built by him. The name is a reference to both how far the tides reach back in the Columbia and to the title of a book Sam wrote called “Reach of Tide, Ring of History.” It is a lovely book which would be of particular interest to anyone interested in the history of the northwest and of the Columbia River. In it he tracks a journey in a small boat with a cabin from the Columbia Bar upriver. That journey might have been taken on one of these boats. Through the journey he recounts he weaves in a mixture of history related to the dangers of the Columbia Bar, and of the various fishing, canning and logging villages which popped up on the river once European settlers arrived and most of which dissapeared just as quickly. He relates different parts of the Lewis and Clark exploration as he is passing the locations where parts of their journey took place including a particularly miserable 4 days spent pinned to the base of a cliff on the lower Columbia with weather too foul to move and not enough land to pull all the boats ashore. He weaves in history of the native people in the area as well as his own memories being sent by his mother down to a fishing village for a summer to live with his grandmother and to work on a fishing boat. Its a quick and thoroughly enjoyable read. What an incredible surprise to come across two boats which might have been the vehicle featured in this book!  The channel fit the definition of backwater to me. It was quiet and seemed like the sort of place where many sorts of people were pursuing a wide variety of dreams and where they were coexisting quietly. There wasn’t the sense of affluence you find in some marinas, but with the variety of odd craft, many old and many well kept, I had the sense that many peoples dreams were represented by the various craft we were passing. These old tugboats, fishing boats, sailboats and pleasure craft and the various floating homes were all owned by people with aspirations to whichever lifestyle fit their demeanor. The fact that some were in wonderful shape while some were clearly in need of some attention spoke to the frailty of those dreams. Regardless though, it seemed like a delightfully peaceful backwater to pursue those dreams. Those thoughts were reinforced by the raccoon I saw washing his hands in the water on the shore opposite the boats and also by the turtle we saw sunning itself on a log. Bruce described the turtle as doubly surprising because we were able to get close enough to get a good look without it spooking and dissapearing into the water, and also because it appeared to be a relatively uncommon native variety.  As we paddled and rowed out of the channel on the north end of the island we were greeted by another surprise: This big old wooden rudder sticking out of the sand and mud. Check out the size of that pintle and gudgeon. What at first appeared to be a row of pilings, perhaps to tie up a large raft of logs to transport to a mill when that was still common practice, turned into the remains of a large wooden ship. The diagonal boards were the planks at the up-turned ends of the ship. The large gap between the stern post and rudder post must have housed a large propeller at one point.    We decided it was a good moment to get out of our respective craft and investigate. I found the bow pointed into the channel and barely poking above water. Clearly it has been there for quite a while.  I climbed up on what remained of the stern to get a better perspective looking down at the rudder and to get a sense of the size the ship had been. You can see Bruce standing off to the right below for a better sense of scale.  Currently I’ve been unable to find any information online about what this ship was or how it ended up embedded in the sand on the end of a small island in the Columbia River. I’ll be sending e-mails to some folks I know to see if they know anything. With a little luck I’ll be able to learn a little more about what this ship was, but regardless, it was an amazing thing to come across unexpectedly.

I’ve long felt that there is something about islands that promises a sense of adventure. There seems to be some sense with islands that fantastic discoveries are possible. I know that Sam McKinney would have agreed with me. Maybe I just heard too many pirate stories as a kid, but this afternoon of paddling close to home seems to suggest that its a feeling which is well founded. 

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UPDATE: The weather has clearly not cooperated. The show is rescheduled for next Sunday, the 16th of February.

As I sit here typing and frequently glancing out the window to watch the snow blowing around, I am also getting ready do head back down stairs to put a final coat of linseed oil on the next three whale sculptures, and its happening none too soon! On Sunday( weather permitting), Boy’s Fort will be having an open house to kick off a month of featuring my whales (along with the work of one other artist)!

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I’m pretty excited about to be sharing them, as they represent the most ambitious artistic venture I have yet undertaken. By my estimate, I’ve put somewhere in the vicinity of 400 hours into building them, and I think I’m justifiably proud of them. They might not be what folks might call “high art” or something like that, but I don’t really care. I think there is a subtlety of line present in them which is striking. I like the honesty represented by a building process which has hidden nothing: There is no glue or metal included in any of them, but you can see every place where pieces are notched together, you can see where the pegs are, and you can examine every lashing. I like how movement is suggested by the curves in the different pieces, and how the shape is suggested by the framework.

I also enjoy seeing how much joy people of such disparate ages get from seeing them. When I was showing the first one to some former teachers of mine, I had middle school age students walk up to me and just stare at them for a minute before asking “did you make that?”

I suppose its been my hope for a long time to inspire people in a wide variety of ways. At different times I have hoped that someone might be inspired by some sort of endurance challenge I have undertaken, or perhaps to appreciate the natural environment in a new or different way through stories I have told or pictures I have shared. I’m not sure how the whales will inspire people. Some folks might be intrigued by the woodworking side of things and be fascinated with how it was crafted. Some people may appreciate the idea that a whale, which has such a symbolic status within the environmental movement, has been made out of materials which are either reclaimed, or which are sourced from a family owned and sustainably operated forestry project. I think that some folks might just appreciate the grace of the lines and simply enjoy the beauty. Regardless, I think there are a lot of ways that people for people to enjoy them, and I look forward to seeing the response they get on Sunday.

And now for the details, for those who happen to live nearby! Boy’s Fort is located at SW 9th and Morrison in downtown Portland. The open house will go from noon till 5pm. I hear there will be refreshments. If you live nearby, please wander in and say hello!

Pictures of the last few nearing completion:

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And now for the requisite New Years post! Unfortunately, this post is not being written after a leisurely paddle on some calm waterway perfectly suited to the sort of reflection and contemplation this holiday seem to usher in. Nope, because last Friday I had a minor foot surgery and I am currently on crutches and spending entirely too much time in bed with my foot up, and entirely too little time in my shop or on the water. Thankfully I should be off the crutches again very soon, and though it may be off to a questionable start I’m imagining the year will only get better from here!

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So as I look forward toward this year, what specifically am I looking forward to? Here are a few of the highlights:

1)     Teaching for the Wind and Oar Boat School! Back in November I mentioned that I might have some exciting news to share, and thi is it! Towards the end of January I will start teaching a class with another instructor, and it looks like we will be building an Arch Davis Penobscot 14. We’ll be working with a group of high school students and pulling out the embedded math and science as we go while also teaching trade skills. Its pretty wild for me to see my bio and picture on their website. As far as I’m concerned its pretty much the perfect job and its going to be awesome!

2)     On January 12th Boy’s Fort will be having an open house while featuring my artwork! I’ve been hard at work building my whales, and given my current slow moving state, I may not get very much sleep in the week and a bit leading up to this event as I continue finishing some more of them, but this is going to be crazy! In the past woodworking has generally been a hobby for me with the occasional commission to build furniture. This is the first time that I have invested myself so deeply into such an artistic venture. Its going to be great to see them all displayed together, and I’m pretty excited about it.

3)     As soon as the last of this first series of whales is completed I get to start focusing more of my energy on building my Shearwater! I’ve got all the frames laminated and have been picking away at it bit by bit, but without a whole lot to show for it yet, but I’m looking forward to settling into more of a rhythm with it and seeing it take shape. With all the laminating of frames and such on the front end I knew it would take a while to see the shape take form, but by the end of the month, I plan to have some exciting updates to share.

4)     I’m looking forward to the time I’m going to spend on the water and the things I am going to see. Allow me to share an anecdote related to the sort of paddling I am particularly looking forward to:

A few weeks ago I got out with Bruce from Terrapin Tales again. We went out to a part of the Columbia I had not been on before and which I will purposefully be vague about. I was out in my skin-on-frame kayak, and he was out in his guide boat. Our first interesting encounter included two Sea Lions. We saw the first initially from a distance off our starboard beam. Then he started heading towards us. While we crossed the river, I found myself in the rather interesting position of having his progress narrated to me by Bruce who initially marveled at how big he was, and then conveyed that he was getting close. I was periodically glancing over my shoulder and the last time I saw the splash as it dove again, he was only about 15 feet behind us. Gonna admit, that made me a bit nervious, but it was also pretty cool.

Later during the same paddle we stopped on an island with a wide shoal extending towards the shipping lane. Even about 80M out the water was only about 4 feet deep, and because the water was moving slowly and the suspended sediment had dropped out you could see every ripply on the sandy bottom. He left the island a minute or two before me and was rowing slowly to let me catch up when he called out “Sturgeon!” As I paddled to catch up I initially saw two of them which were about 2 or 3 feet long. As I continued paddling, I soon had about two dozen on the bottom below me and after proceeding a little farther there were so many Sturgeon stacked on top of each other that I could barely see the sandy bottom even though it was only about 4 feet down. Fish from about 2 all the way up to several individuals that had to have been about 7 feet long. Just incredible. I had seen Sturgeon jump on just a few occasions but never been able to look down at them and see them clearly with the spots down their sides. I was completely blown away. I’m still working to learn more about why there would have been so many concentrated together like that, but here is one article that was sent to me afterwards describing their behavior. Really neat stuff. Who knew they were so social?

Oh, and I also had the chance to test row Bruce’s Guide Boat. Good lord, I want one.

Anyway, as I continue considering the new year I may formulate some proper resolutions. Perhaps they will even follow the SMART nmeumonic that Liz talks about from her own grad school experience ( Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound). Whether I do or not, right now I am enjoying the fact that after such a difficult year, I can see so much to look forward to.

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After a long break from posting here, the time might have arrived to pick this back up. Its been a long, difficult year, involving a painful change of situation and graduate school. I no longer live in the granny flat this blog was originally named for, and unfortunately, I do not have any new boats currently underway. That being said, my passion for boats is alive and well, and perhaps a new one will be under way soon? In the mean time here is a teaser photo from a trip I went on last spring, and which I will try to post more about soon. The picture was taken between Cathlamet and Skamokawa by my brother from his finished Pygmy Coho, with me in my finished Skin-on-frame kayak in front of him.  Below that is a video I recently created for graduate school, where I am studying to become a math teacher. Perhaps the video is a bit cheese-ball, but I’ll let you decide how you feel about it. Enjoy!

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Its been a while since I have posted a proper update on the progress of my kayak, and I’m not going to write a lot about each of the steps I have performed since my last update. If you have any questions about how I did any of the steps please leave a comment and I will answer it as well as I can. I am planning to seal the skin with clear polyurethane tomorrow, which will leave only varnishing the coaming and attacthing the deck rigging left to do before the boat is done! With a little luck I will have another big update up in a little over a week. In the meantime, please enjoy the following pictures which will bring you up to date with the current state of the project.

The completed frame with masik and deck stringers in place.

Stern breasthook in place.

Gluing the coaming together after steam bending the pieces and letting them sit for a few days.

Bow breasthood.

Late afternoon light showing off the shapes of the ribs.

It does feel a bit unfortunate to cover the frame up.

The skin pulled tight along the keelson. Its nice to see the shadows of the ribs on the cloth.

The cloth was pinned to the keel stringer first, and then pulled tight and pinned to the top of each gunwale moving from the ends to the cockpit. Here is the stern.

The skin wrapped tight to the gunwales.

A thin board with a centerline was clamped to the middle of the deck frames and used as a work surface to hold the cloth in place while sewing. Two needles were used at once, so that each end of the line was passed in opposite directions through each stitch hole. I was really pleased with how the seam resulted, while it was not a quick process.

The coaming held in place with finish nails.

Sewing the coaming to the skin. The coaming is not directly attached to frame in any way.

The kayak with skin wetted out to shrink it. As you can see, the skin loosened up while wet.

When the skin dried, almost all of the wrinkles dissapeared as the skin tightened. The only remaining wrinkles are in small areas between the coaming and the cockpit rim, which I am not concerned with. It looks great.

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This is a bit last minute, but for those of you who are local, I will be displaying the completed frame of the kayak I have been working on as well as my cedar strip canoe at the Wooden Boat Festival being hosted by the Willamette Sailing Club on July 10th. The show will go from noon until 6pm. You will be able to find me hanging out with the other experts( check the event poster: their words, not mine) who are RiversWest members. More information can be found here. I will hope to see you there!

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Long story short, I got the deck beam lashings in and the ribs steam bent into place. This update will be a bit long, as its been a while since I have written an update on this project, but if you don’t check anything else out, check out the video of me bending a rib into place. Steam bending may be one of my new favorite things to do.

About a month and a half ago I finished lashing the deck beams to the gunwales, and would have liked to start working on cutting rib stock down to size, but I don’t have any green oak yet. The Cunningham book in particular recommends procuring a source of green bending stock early on, but I didn’t think the project would proceed so quickly, so the need for it snuck up on me.

Sure enough the oak was harder to find than I expected. I e-mailed some of the local folks who build greenland kayaks and some of whom teach classes building them to see if I could buy some from them, and they did not have enough to sell me any. I e-mailed a family friend with a sustainable forestry project, and he did not have any, but he was able to recommend another family run mill outside of Salem which might have some wood. Sure enough, I called the guy and it sounded like he had a lot of material in stock. Unfortunately, its a long enough drive that I wasn’t able to get down there until a few weeks later.

Getting down there was its own little adventure. It was down highways and side roads I don’t know, and pretty soon I came to the “pavement ends” sign. And that was before I had even reached the driveway to this place. I got to the red mailbox he had described and realised it was probably red more due to rust than to any paint. I found the place most of 2 miles down a gravel road which rolled up, down and around the rolling hills west of Salem. The first thing that really took my notice when I parked was the large timber framed barn which houses all the oak which is being prepared for the two kilns. Ben Deumling, the owner of the forest and mill told me the frame of the building is entirely put together without metal. All pins, mortises and tenons. Ben was very helpful, helping me find the boards I needed and selling them to me at a very reasonable price. He also said that with a little lead time, he would gladly specially saw boards in dimensions and grain orientations that I or other boatbuilders might need. Pretty cool. If you find yourself needing oak for flooring or boatbuilding, check them out: Zena Forest Products.

A couple weeks ago I got the rib stock planed down to thickness and jointed on one edge at my old high school woodshop. I cut the boards into the strips that would become ribs at home. Figuring out the length of the ribs out was a bit of a process. For the ribs I am using the methods discussed in the Cunningham book. The book talks about using the measurement across your fingers with your hands held flat and your index fingers touching. It talks about using a the length you would measure closer to your finger tips for a lower volume kayak and the longer measurement towards your palms for a higher volume boat with more freeboard. This all seemed fine except that I also had to take into account the fact that my gunwales are wider than the ones discussed in the book. After much debate the compromise I settled on was adding 6 inches to the length at the bow and 2/5 of that length at the stern. This takes into account the width at the base of my fingers at about 7 inches and a 1 inch decrease in length for the depth of the gunwales.

With this dimension figured out, I had to make the rib length gauge. Each rib has a certain amount of material added to the width of the bottom of the gunnels at its set of mortises. The rib gauge provides these distances, starting with the full measurement of 6 inches at the bow and tapering to two fifths of that length at the stern. Between these two lengths, 24 equal increments need to be created so that each of the 25 ribs would receive its own unique length. The Cunningham book has an elegant method for creating these increments without complicated decimals or fractions. Without going into the method here, suffice it to say it was fairly quick and elegant.

With the gauge created I started going through my rib stock to find the best long sections of high quality oak, and started cutting ribs to length, starting at the middle and moving towards each end. This process went very quickly and it was satisfying to start working on significant parts of the boat again. With all the ribs cut to length, I used my tablesaw to cut a sixteenth of an inch off of the thickness of what would be the inside of the ribs for the last 6 inches of their length. Thinning the ends allows the location of curves in the ribs to be focused more towards the gunwales. The transitions from thicker to thinner portions of the ribs were smoothed with a 4 in 1 rasp with blocks held under the ends to act as height guides. Ribs were sanded before being soaked and steamed, though since the combination of soaking and steaming raises the grain and makes the wood feel rough, I would skip sanding before steaming in the future. When I was almost ready to steam the ribs, I put the ribs into water to soak for 24 hours.

While I was getting the ribs ready to bend I was also working on the apparatus I would use for steaming them, and I approached this process with the goal of spending the least amount of money possible. I was able to create the whole assembly for less than $15, so I feel it was a success. For the boiler I bought an old 4 liter pot from a local thrift shop. To transport the steam from the pot to the chamber I bought a threaded barb fitting and 4 feet of 5/8 inch radiator hose. The steam box I made from rigid foam insulation I was able to get for free. I taped the insulation together with duct tape and put a few dowels in it to hold the ribs off the bottom of the chamber. I used a candy thermometer from the kitchen to monitor the temperature within the chamber. I used part of an old t-shirt as the door to the chamber.

With the apparatus ready and the ribs soaked, I was ready to steam them into place. I clamped my bending jig to a work table near the steam chamber. I filled the pot most of the way up with water, and put it on my MSR Whisperlite stove. I waited and watched the temperature gauge. It struck me how long it took to see any change in the temperature within the chamber. When the temperature finally did begin to increase it did so quickly, but it stopped increasing at a lower temperature than I wanted. I raised the height of the steam chamber so the hose would follow a straighter path from the pot and that seemed to allow the steam to flow more easily. The thermometer did not indicate as high a temperature as I would have liked, but seemed high enough to begin.

I put the first 4 ribs in and started my stopwatch. After about 12 minutes I pulled the first one out and gently bent one end with the bending jig, turned it around and bent the other end. I walked over to the boat, slotted the end closer to me into its mortise and gently bent it down to slot the other end in. It went in easily without any drama. I continued and was able to get all but two of the ribs into place. Two of the ribs with the tightest bends broke as I tried to slot the second side in. Throughout the process adjustments were made to how the ribs were bent. They stayed pliable for several minutes after they had been put in. I had Joseph’s help with this aspect of the process and it was very helpful to have someones help so one person could sight along the length of the boat and call out instructions while the other made adjustments.

A few days later I made three replacements for each rib to allow for multiple breakages. I broke one rib before I was able to successfully bend one into one position, and the other rib went in first try.

The steam bending was great fun. Its really incredible to make oak do things it just doesn’t seem like it should be able to do. I have already gotten started on the next steps which seem like they will go quickly and be satisfying as the silhouette of the boat really takes shape. Stay tuned, I will try and additional updates up soon as the next steps proceed.

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