Thursday, December 8, 2016

Navigator Annie in retrospect: fitting her out

Having Annie at the jetty this week (instead of trailered and covered) has enabled me to fine tune a few things that I used to be in too much of a hurry to worry about. But the details are really sweet- they give rise to pleasant little operations and habits that are almost as therapeutic as I thought I'd share a few of the details that went into my boat, especially since the book I wrote about the Navigator didn't feature many finished details of my boat at all. I felt strongly in writing it that the book should be about the design in various hands, not simply mine. It is in the details that your boat becomes an expression of your priorities and methods of operation.

So I offer these thoughts in that context- and with the reminder that there are a few excellent videos and tips about other methods of set-up available online from Joel, navslipjig and others.

Let's start with the pic above. This is all packed up for transport, with a boom crutch at the other end, and here the tabernacle top bolt supports the mast, with the yard and boom under it, sails all still attached. The tabernacle is detailed in my flickr pics (-RHS margin of this blog) Hanging off the cleat is the mizzen mast with it's sail still on too, and it is suspended there for transport by the forestay. It is still attached to the furled jib which is, in turn still attached to the pad eye at the bowsprit. This is incredibly quick to deploy and very compact. The only downside is that the gooseneck maximum height for transport is limited by the height of the tabernacle, but I have it where it stays anyway.

Above is the boom crutch; mast on top, boom below on far side, mizzen near side.

I chose to make a sort of 'push-me-pull-you' to link the CB to the tackle because in this design the top of the board disappears into the case when lowered, and a solid link is really useful in either direction if something gets stuck. The CB case lid can also be removed with two through bolts if necessary, but I never have. Until today, I needed to leave the helm to lower the board if there was forward movement or strong currents because the tackle has a certain braking effect, but a simple line fitted from the front of the wooden member, led back to the CB cleat at the rear of the case has meant that I can raise or lower from the helm.

Not needing to leave the helm has many advantages. Left shows the throat and peak halyards and the topping lift on their way back to cleats on either side of the back of the board case. From the helm, the main can be raised or lowered and the jib unfurled, without leaving the tiller.

Below is a reefing block made from teak over a shop bought nylon sheave, and below that the same method to make one for the rudder downhaul. These are really easy to make and little blocks like this aren't cheap to buy.

 below, the hull was turned (on hay bales) with the main sheet block for purchase. The rest of the pictures are just bits and pieces that give pleasure in the making and in the using. Many of these fittings would be useable on any small craft.

the beginnings of the tiller

all the horn cleats are from Australian hardwood. Of course you don't need to make these things, but they are a pleasure to do if you can make the time to do them. I made a side profile pattern from ply, used it to trace out a number onto a board then cut out the profiles. Knives were used to cut bevels and gradually round them to a pleasant shape, but you could use chisels or rasps.

tiller and extension from teak and cypress

making the tiller extension swivel joint from sheet brass

Always a happy boat for me

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

the Cruise of the Teddy

The Cruise of the Teddy (The Mariner's Library)

really liked it·  
In 1928, Erling Tambs and his bride set off from Norway in the old pilot cutter Teddy, with no sextant or barometer, and only one and sevenpence in small change. They had no special destination and no urgency, but it was the beginning of three years of adventurous and often accident-prone sailing amongst islands in two oceans. At Vigo the crew of two was increased by the gift of a dog, Spare Provisions, and at Las Palmas by the birth of Tony, and in New Zealand by a daughter, Tui. Moments of high drama occurred, too: the Tambs family were in New Zealand at the time of the great earthquake of 1931, and they were also forced to endure a terrifying and disastrous shipwreck. But the charm of the narrative lies in the delightful picture of the Tambs family afloat, and in their encounters with people and places in the more exotic corners of the world. 
Paperback182 pages
Published 1989 by Grafton

The Cruise of the Teddy (The Mariner's Library)The Cruise of the Teddy by Erling Tambs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A charming account from a simpler time. Modern sailors will enjoy the plentiful references to sail management without the insurance of motor back-up. Four stars.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

those moments

That first time in a Summer that you feel your naked toes on a bobbing deck in the warm sun is a recurring memorable moment over the years if you are lucky. We're fortunate to get the toes on the bobbing deck thing all through the year, but not the naked toes part. Thinking about that, and taking this picture of my blue/pink Winter Toes made me remember some thoughts I tried to express in one of the chapters of the book 'Something About Navigator'. It was the beginning of the chapter called 'Navigator Moments', which was primarily to introduce a small collection of Navigator stories and adventures by other owners/sailors/builders/writers. I hope you don't mind if I include a piece of the preamble (slightly edited) here:

'Sailing is such a compelling medium in the use of our bodies and our senses, for routines, skills and transport but also simply for finding some space. I really enjoy the sensory inputs of a nice trip on the water; the different sounds of water lapping or sloshing or frothing or breaking; or the push-pull simplicity of the balance between tiller and sheet- the hard and the soft, the easing or firming, the one hanging off the other with me flexing and contracting in between.

The lines have a beauty of their own too, whether braided or twisted, rough or silky and the organizing of them can be therapy for an everyday cluttered mind.

A gust rustles fabric and pulls at the boom, so the sound in your ears becomes the rise of your backside and the weight in your hand. These things go mostly unnoticed, but their interconnectedness makes them sensations as worthy as any, to be remembered as special, memorable, and maybe even defining.

And what can give these sensations an edge is the scale and power of the forces you play with, and the possibility of being caught by the very things that are so beautiful. The routines that are practiced make responding automatic, but in those moments when everything is in balance, or your mind is in a state of ‘flow’, process becomes timeless, the goal is just ‘now’ and nothing further, and expectations are forgotten. That is my sort of ‘moment’.

I find ‘flow’ in making things too, when a technique or a process is just beyond me, challenging or unfamiliar to me, but I proceed intuitively, letting hand and eye carry on without my supervision; without logic getting in the way. This idea seems strangely neutral, as though things happen automatically, and yet it involves a very strong feeling of being fully in the experience. Focussed and more than ordinarily aware.

I’m sure that some of us lose something very powerful by not learning to use our hands, although that feeling- of working slightly in new territory, is of course at the heart of any creative project and in the thrill of an expedition too. There is the excitement of exploring the known unknown, and the slight anxiety involved in planning for the unknown unknown.

For this to be a positive and comfortable experience, the anxiety needs to be matched by some confidence in our ability to adapt as the experience unfolds. Working even just a bit too far ahead of our past experience will be stressful. We can certainly learn from that, (some even thrive on that) but most, perhaps aim to avoid it.
All this without mentioning boat designs, location, companionship, weather, destination or refreshments! '

Howard Rice's current expedition project was another motivation for dragging out these thoughts, and I know that many of us- even the armchair explorers amongst us- are watching with great interest and support  in mind.

On the subject of 'moments', this little video is of a very special one I had a while ago, no wind, no shoes, waiting for a puff to arrive, but meanwhile just sitting with my feet dangling over Annie's bow enjoying the peace.                              

a brief encounter

Thursday, December 1, 2016

sailing Navigator Annie after way too long

Across the creek from us there is a sort of ramp...well it is more a gap in the bushes really, but after far too long (what with moving, renovating and the charms of Beachcomber) I thought I'd try this little sandy spot for a launch of Annie. The trouble with the jetties around here is they are generally set a bit high for compact and lower boats- I always feel I need a truckload of fenders.

 The vehicular part was fine in 4x4 mode and she slipped effortlessly into the creek. I knew the foliage would prevent raising even the mizzen mast until after launch, but there was a nasty breeze blowing straight up from the south and in such a confined space behind the jetty pictured above it was necessary to cast off and tie up to a couple of trees in very shallow water to rig.
The spars had been revarnished before we moved so lines were all in the wrong places and it all took much longer than usual.

The sailing was certainly worth waiting for and Annie spent a few pleasant hours exploring Bancroft Bay and our bits of Lake King. Other gaff sailors will all have their ways of raising the yard, and with Beachcomber I like to see it going up horizontally until the throat is within cinching height, and then the peak can be trimmed. I had forgotten that the forks I made for Annie are a little tight to do that smoothly, so hers tends to go up with a fair bit of peak halyard first, and she likes to come down the same way. I'll have to get some tallow onto the leathers all the same.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

(indulge me)-From a time when I had hair and I was useful

above, viola spruce and Sycamore

I am aware that the things I have pictured least over the years in this blog are the ones that defined me for a long time before I retired. Violins, violas and cellos. I think that was because, while I was working, the blog was not intended to be a commercial promotion of my business, but a sharing of ideas and inspirations.

I had one of those moments the other day, when I realised that my current operating system has none of the early digital photos of violins, violas and cellos that I made (-they may be on an old laptop that I recently gave away). This was after a reminiscent type of post on Facebook about a harp that I made and it's appearance in an exhibition, and there was some interest in the instrument, and I began to recall some of the different instruments I had made for other lovely people.

I know I have a disc somewhere of some of the stuff from early this Century when I had adopted the digital world, but there is a lot still to find if I want to see it all again. I was a bit cavalier after some years in the business- always only interested in the next challenge rather than looking back upon the things already made. There is a bit of me that has become  quite dependent on images since then, with the advent of digital equipment and storage and that bit of me is writing this post.

I did find the original paste-ups for 'portraits' of some of my very first instruments, and I include a few  re-photos of them here to make them digital and make them accessible for me, despite the low quality. These were made into posters that a few people had on their music room walls (on one level, they were shameful attempts at commercialism, but in those early days I was never certain that I'd earn a good living...)

So here are a few pre-digital prints photographed on my smart phone and re-presented a long time after they were made. The instruments pictured are not at all typical of those I made later, but I like to see that I was searching for form in them, as well as for sound.

viola with a back of birds-eye maple

I look back rather amused at my appetite in the first years of business. I often had three or four absolutely different instruments on the go at any one time, each with different acoustic, aesthetic and woodworking aims. I kept very detailed 'topographical maps' of the thicknessing and structural details as well as all dimensions and tap tones for each plate, before and after bass bar and sound hole work. I was hunting for the secret to the tonal intervals between tap tones of back and belly that gave me the ability to make an instrument brighter or darker, sweeter or stronger, bolder or more refined.

My enquiries were happiest in the making of violas for various reasons. Viola players are much rarer than violinists or cellists, and there is much more flexibility in expectation of tone from a viola, I mean there is room for fitting the tone to the player a little more than with the other types. They also vary in the size of instrument they are happy with, so proportions are flexible too and this offered huge opportunities for pushing parameters in search of tone in the alto clef.

Even small details could alter the character of an instrument, the acoustic variations are invisible, and I won't bore you with details but the physical interaction of a player with the instrument begins with the attitude of the instrument in the hands. The top two instruments pictured here can best be compared by looking at the side view of the peg-box and scroll. The top one is compact and resolute, self-contained and ectomorphic, while the second one is slightly unravelled,  slender, sensual and serpentine.

The instrument presses itself upon a player by its physical attitude before a string has been bowed. I like it when the 'soundscape' of the instrument  reflects it's physical attitude (like  authentic people often do) so where the viola at the top, for example is straight-up and  chin in, the second one is more chest-out, head back. They were both made for tallish players, but of very different personality.

Over the years the viola experiments taught me a huge amount about the production of tone qualities, and I was able to settle upon a certain string length and stop length and back/belly relationship that would provide the most satisfying platform from which to make a viola for a specific type of player. I just loved this, and I became confident enough to risk making a very particular viola for a player who used to visit often, who was in search of a viola that would suit his very physical and boisterous way of playing. He was also an opera singer of some physical stature. Whenever he visited the studio he would want to try any interesting instruments I had, and my understanding of his needs became quite detailed and specific.

So I made a viola with him in mind, without telling him (I didn't want him to feel pressured).

Everything about that instrument- the swagger of the scroll, the thicknessing, the arching , the acoustic relationship of the plates, the robustness of the varnish- all spoke of my understanding of him. I tried as best I could to get inside of his playing, into the expression of his self through music. The next time he visited, I casually showed him the instrument amongst the others he wished to see, and he played it, loved it, took it home and then bought it. I didn't tell him either that it was one of my finest moments.

above, the first cello I made. With a back of Scottish Sycamore.
below a violin dedicated to William Leslie Russell with back and sides from VictorianMountain Ash. A smallish violin based on the work of my favourite Guarneri (the father of the famous one)

In the years after these early instruments my choice of wood and the varnishing system I made became much more traditional, choosing to buy very old hand split Italian spruce for the bellies and air dried Bosnian Maple for the rest- this stuff was more than ten years old when I bought it and I kept it for years before using it. Made my mouth water just picking it up.

And talking about picking it up (if you are still reading you probably are interested after all) the sound of a piece of wood became ingrained in me; it was like hearing through my fingers...and this made restoration and repair so satisfying because it was possible to tell how an instrument was progressing by the way it vibrated in my hands while I talked.. I won't labour this point or expand upon it because I will sound like a tosser, sufficient just to say that this was the most wonderful experience I have ever had of sensory understanding on a level unknown to me before I undertook this work.

Wood is the most wonderful material, and to allow it the best possible voice was an absolute joy. Why I stopped doing it commercially is another story altogether.
 In the '90's sometime, working on a Lipoid cello 

The cello above is a reminder of some of the joyous restorations I devoured. This cello came to me quite cheaply despite being from the early 1800's, by a reputable maker- because the belly and to  a lesser extent the back had warped and collapsed under the pressure of the bridge after years of neglectful storage. The belly was concave where it should have been convex and it was sad and sorry, not to mention unplayable. The restoration involved removal of both the back and the belly, plaster cast made of each, and then the casts were altered to become the shape the plates should have been without the warps, and then very hot sand in bags was used to encourage the timber to adopt the shape of the plaster casts. This took weeks of careful and accurate work, but on reassembly the instrument was as new, and grateful to have a voice again. I imagine it has changed a lot less since, than I have.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Thoroughbred Couta boats off Sorrento Victoria

Sorrento has maintained a fleet of these powerful sailing boats since the days of the fishermen, and an association now rules on their standards of sail and equipment. These pics are from the Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club and are of their first and second races of the Wooden Boatshop Series 2016.
I share them simply for the loveliness of the event...despite my own relative disinterest in racing of any sort, because I recognise that without organisations and competition there would be very few remaining of these beautiful boats.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

clear vision

Some of the photos that I love the most are the ones distorted by light or atmosphere. They can capture the ephemeral  moments of abstraction that we generally try to avoid in going about our everyday business because they are ambiguous and challenging.

Perception is dependent on mood, circumstance, need, and attention. It is more selective than most people imagine as we are brought up to believe in a solid world of absolute structure- but most of this is an illusion. There is always way too much going on for our receptors to cope, so we unknowingly adapt our perception to block out most of the stimuli that compete for our attention.

You probably weren't aware, just now, of the pressure of your backside on the chair....but now you are, because your attention has been drawn to it. Nothing has changed, it just feels different.

I was never any good at physics- much too busy in the art room- but I just love science and it really worries me that people who want to tell us that life is a collection of simple problems with easy solutions are threatening to undo centuries of civil trust in scientific methods and institutions, and that it will be at the expense of us all.  

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Escorting PSS Curlip

The story of East Gippsland is inevitably linked to waterways as the country was so remote and the roads so poor in the early days of development, the lakes and rivers became the arteries for supply and export, transport and fishing. The advent of steam on the water pre-dated the arrival of railways and  the names of many steamers still resound in local lore.

This boat, the Curlip has a wonderful, if more modern story too as a replica of the type in general and one boat in particular that ran the great Snowy River that flows into the sea near Marlo, a little town in the very north eastern corner of Victoria.

If there is interest I have a link to more of her story, or I could write more, but this post is just about the trip that she undertook from Marlo, out through the heads of the Snowy, down the coast and in through the Entrance of the Gippsland Lakes, stopping at Kalimna for fuel and water, and then onto Paynesville where she will be restored for tourist use by an enthusiastic group of boat lovers.

Along with a small group of small boats we were able to help provide a welcoming escort from Kalimna to Metung, after the big Police boat and Coast Guard boats left her at Kalimna

I'm sure these two boats were aware that they shared a certain type of backside...although beachcomber's is much more petite..

Our lovely friends in Badger, (a traditional Lakes fishing boat) were there with us and we spent some some time rafted up together fortifying ourselves with a beverage while Curlip was filled with water from two loads from a local fire appliance.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Poldark's Cornwall

While boats are in the background of this story, it is a very coastal type of tale and worth a read if you have avoided it for all these years...

Ross Poldark (Poldark, #1)Ross Poldark by Winston Graham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-reading this book after 40 years and having seen two versions on television, I wasn't expecting to be deeply engaged, but what I had forgotten- and what you don't get in a filmed interpretation- is the wonderful quality of the author's writing and the sensitivity of his observation.

It is still a ripping tale about the lives of folk in various classes in Cornwall during the late 18th Century but it is also a timeless tale about moments and interactions which resound with our own experiences of living.

The last four paragraphs of this novel are surely as perfect a conclusion as it is possible to write.

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

hastening backwards

Bury's slipway near Nungurner- a short boat ride from home- is a local institution, and although the facilities are old and a bit time-worn, they still provide good service.

Beachcomber really needed her antifouling and hull clean this year, with barnacles so thick on the prop it resembled a bowl of very chunky museli. Progress under power was very slow indeed.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Blind Side of the Heart - a review of the novel.

The Blind Side of the HeartThe Blind Side of the Heart by Julia Franck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a bleak but powerful drama drawn at the personal rather than national level, the events of the interwar period in Berlin sliding past uncommented upon. We live the consequences of them in this novel instead.
Franck's prose is intimate and energetic with a rhythm that accounts for life in its finely textured moments. The main character Helene is the victim of parents who are unable to deal with one catastrophe and the narrative is of her attempts to cope with that and survive another.
If there is something engagingly historical in this story it is the timely reminder that intergenerational human dislocation is inevitable when world politics fails to rein in the bullies.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Yeah but...Who are You?

Over more than six years of blogging I've often felt exposed and sometimes vulnerable as I try to say something of value that is positive or thoughtful in the full knowledge that there are so many better voices than mine to be heard on all the topics that I cover.

After all this time it matters less whether I post regularly because an increasing number of 'hits' are of archived posts on specific topics- and it is a source of amusement and pleasure to see what it is that people are still reading, and noticing from which continent the latest wave originates. So as I write this, there has been a fairly steady 5000 hits per month- although it can go as low as 2500 when I struggle to post something fresh.

If there is a trend that I find frustrating it is that fewer new voices are choosing to comment on the posts and I put this down to the tendency of net surfers to skip about until something of use or of interest pops up, without any real engagement or sustained investment in the message or the messenger. If I was a commercial type this wouldn't concern me, if the product was still moving and interest was maintained.

But I'm not that type and that isn't a valid representation of my motivation for writing. If I'm honest here, I really don't know why I do this beyond the fact that the blog becomes a sort of journal of the things that excite me. Or more particularly, the things that I feel able to share that excite me- there are a lot of personal, family and local and political/environmental things that I stay shtum about. It began because a small number of us spoke to each other online in our posts and these were almost incidentally shared to a wider audience because sharing information freely was a liberating and excitingly new thing to do.

I try (and it is a struggle sometimes) to keep away from politics and  events that divide us. I try to concentrate on the acquisition of a creative life of some sort, and I imagine the reader as someone looking for a project, or stuck in a rut who might be interested in another viewpoint on making this or reading that. I love the idea that ordinary people can make and create extraordinary things, and in doing so they become more wonderful as people. I like the idea that things can always be better if we are more thoughtful in our approach to them.

Almost every two or three months I make the decision that I'm talking to myself  here and should stop posting online. I know nothing about the reader  (who is metaphorically outside my house in the dark looking through my window at my private thoughts-) and that thought makes me feel like a shameful exhibitionist. How do I square that with the fact that I've always been a rather private person- one who would probably be happier doing things than talking to people?

Who ARE you? Does it matter who you are? It matters who I am. Well, it does to me anyway.

My Flickr photo sharing pages are much more straight-forward. They are sets of pics on how to build two particular boats and currently there have been 1.4 million hits on them, and I've tried to be helpful to dozens of builders who have emailed me. That is a simple transaction of sharing. Blogging though is a weird sort of contract where the reader gets to be interested or not without the writer having any clue about the relative usefulness of the postings beyond the fact that people seem to keep looking. But I guess that is true of my books too, thinking about it. I just get figures from the publishers every month telling me that some number of copies were sold, with no idea if they are enjoyed or valued or not. That never seems to worry me...

Oh, and that pic at the top of the page? That's my mum in the 1930's with her two brothers in a boat. I was born of one of them and named after the other two, and if in my sixties I'm still searching for something in myself, it is to find the bits of those boys that are in me since they lost their lives so young.