Monday, May 31, 2010

Navigator up-date. Making a big jig-saw puzzle.

Before the gunwales are fitted, it seems advantageous to do a few jobs and trial fit a few things that will be harder to do later. One of those has been designing and fitting the seat ply. I still had some ply left over from my last build, and while waiting for some new Gaboon for the hull planking, I was determined to use as much of the left-overs as possible. It was close, but it was done. The pic above is of the aft-most sheets before trimming the inner edges for shape. Those edges will also be thickened with doublers to produce a comfortable and serviceable edge. The angled cuts at the corners enable the joints to follow supporting beams, but with the joints at the corners being formed with edges roughly perpendicular to the edge. This makes a nice curve easier and stronger.

In this pic we have the whole messy puzzle, made up of eight oversized pieces; none of them lying particularly flat, but fitting at the important edges nonetheless. I found it very helpful to have it all laid out like this, to consider the seating ply as one shape or surface. The curves were drawn freehand on one side of the centreline, having established the right minimum overhangs, and then the shapes were cut and transferred from the cut pieces to their opposite pieces.

Below the shapes are cut and ready for the fitting of the doublers. The sheeting has all been marked for orientation, and will be put aside until the planking is done.
The brace that goes across the top of bulkhead 4, at the front of the centreboard case is temporary. That space will be open, and very useful when complete.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Sometimes breaking through is messy and scary. Sometimes it feels comfortable and inevitable. Either way, the breakthroughs that seem most useful to me looking back, are the ones that revealed options that unfolded me to possibilities that are creative and challenging. This often involves a bit of blind commitment, hard work and hope, but one of the joys of getting older is that it seems to be a little easier to trust my judgement about these things as I begin, finally, to have a little understanding of what it is that I am about.
And the beauty of having fun with creative challenges is that they remind me with alarming regularity that I don't know anything, I just play with the shapes of things.
It is after all, mainly our perceived deficits that cause us to be curious. Or maybe, those of us who enjoy being aware of our deficits are curious?

The photo above is of a window in our workshop building being opened up after about 60 years of being bricked in. The building is 160 years old and it was magic to let the world in again. But it was messy...

Monday, May 24, 2010

simple pleasure


Kevin in the US built his Navigator 'Slipjig' and has made some really charming videos of it including this latest of him with some friends, gathered for a week-end of sailing. This is how he explained the trip:

"...last weekend I and 8 friends (8 boats total) went on the 15th annual Chesapeake Bay "Float" weekend. On the trip were 4 Joel White designed Marsh Cats, a 16 foot Melonseed, a 1962 one design Celebrity, and an Edwin Monk design Curlew along with my Navigator "Slip Jig". The basic premise is to pick a spot on the Chesapeake that we haven't been before and go for a 3 day trip camp cruising trip(on the boats). Most years we seem to miss a day to bad weather but this year the weather was very cooperative and gave me a chance to sail for almost an entire day under mizzen and jib under a steady press of air. We bruised some waves as we headed out in the bay proper to a remote island and then headed back into the Little Choptank River to explore some of the many creeks. This river was especially nice due to the fact that there is very littledevelopment and lots of pristine spots. I made a video out of several clips I took, it certainly is not the quality of some that have been posted but I'm just learnin how to do this stuff and don't get paid to do it..."

This is a wonderful collection of boats, and their proximity to each other, and the constant views of Kevin's sails combine to give us a real sense of what the wind is doing and what the sailors are doing with it. Kevin's boat has certainly been one of the benchmarks for me in deciding to build a Navigator, and to build it with a gaff main in the yawl configuration.

I'm assuming that at the end of the film Kevin is sailing with his main down, under only jib and mizzen, as he had been earlier and doing very nicely, thank you, in front of the bigger cat boat with the reef in his main....but no-one here is competitive...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

navigator up-date

Managed to get a few stringers fitted to the Navigator. Before this, though I took advantage of the easy access to do some epoxy coating and filleting of areas which will become harder to access once it becomes necessary to 'climb aboard'. Tomorrow will mark two months since the build was started, and it has been very satisfying so far. The sobering thought is that once she's built there will be a couple of months probably just in setting up the rig and doing all of the 'minor details' that can't even be contemplated at this early stage of work.
It knocks my socks off how many lovely examples there are out there of this boat, and so many of them have been shared unselfishly in videos and blogs and posts by their owners and their builders. This design seems to have brought out the creative side of many people all over the world, and it is a particularly healthy community, I think.
There is a more fulsome description of this build on the Aussie Woodworker's Forum here;
This is a more complete record, but it also contains grizzles, moans and some inane conversation between builders. I hesitated to link it to this blog, because they are so different in their aims, the thread on the forum being a more blow-by-blow-warts-and-all account, and this blog a rather mundane attempt to align various interests and inclinations for my own needs as much as to share them.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Could this be THE modern classic? (such a silly journalistic rhetorical question...)

OK, I haven't built one of these Goat Island Skiffs, but I really believe in them. This pic was lifted from Michael Storer's site and I think it is of the original GIS, built by a fellow who calls himself 'Bitingmidge' on the Aussie Woodworker's Forum- more than 10 years ago.
What I like is more than just the distillation of the skiff idea to it's essential, very attractive elements, it's the fact that Mik has gone to so much trouble to produce a set of plans that is so clear and rational and specific that literally anyone can follow them. This is backed by phenomenal resources for the builder including personal contact on his forum, and contact with like-minded builders all over the world.
I have a set of these plans and they are as good as it gets. (and I have plans for more than 10 boats, but don't tell anyone)
This is a thoroughly modern design that has benefitted from years of experience in sailing and building, but the most important thing is that it brings simple sailing boats (that are beautiful and fast and exciting) into the realms of possibility for the type of person who is no longer interested in the huge costs involved in modern competitive boats- because they have become so dependent on high spec. hardware and expensive deck jewellery.

I have no commercial or other relationship with the designer.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Musical Time-warp

It is quite common for me to have a visit from someone who has recently inherited an old relic or two that has been stored away in a shed, or under a bed. These are almost always violins that grandfather or great-grandfather used to play in the days before the wireless, the television or the computer. It was common for the man of the house to play a violin, and the woman to play the piano, and for the family to gather together to create their own entertainment and to sing. These things didn't require much in the way of lighting or space, and after the initial purchase they cost very little to use.
This is a half sized violin that came in to-day. It hasn't been played since before World War Two. It was made in Germany before the First War- before the great Empires so carelessly threw their children into the contest for the balance of power in Europe.
It will be a pleasure to bring this little fiddle back to life for the great grand-daughter of the man who learned to play on it. She will learn to entertain herself and others on it in the same way he did, and in doing so she will be in intimate contact, every day, with an artefact that he held and struggled with and drew pleasure from. It's on a par with inheriting a cherished tool in my estimation- to use something that has been used by someone you are connected to.
This violin will need very little done to it structurally, but will need new pegs, sound post, tailpiece and tail gut as well as strings and a new cut bridge. It's varnish will need careful restoration to respect the life and the wear it has had, but to make that patina a badge of honour rather than of neglect.
The girl will find learning to play quite hard, and there will be times when she won't want to practise, and she may even give up before she makes a nice noise, but she has an opportunity to undertake a really wholesome journey that could bring joy to herself and others for decades. The instrument is capable of repeating the process with her children too.
I might add photos of the finished job when it's done.

Going to sea in pea green boats

There is no doubt in my mind that some of the things that attract so many modern Westerners to small, open boats is the capacity of them to transport us mentally from a world of complexity and abstraction to a tangible world of cause and effect; of elemental beauty, and in that, a freedom from modern pressures. It only just occurred to me, looking at these photos from a trip we did to Darwin, that the reverse is true for many refugees when they put themselves and their families at risk in small boats to seek freedom in the world that we spend so much emotional energy escaping.
These are pics of a boat in the Darwin Museum. It was seized from 'illegals' and taken for an exhibit rather than being burnt. No power tools at work here, no labouring over plans. No dreams of holidays spent afloat, reading, drinking wine or testing the new electronic navigation aid. Just escape. I find it useful to remember that most of us, even in Europe, were migrants at some point (or points) in our history.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Navigator 'Annie' up-date. Last of the bulkeads fitted and some pleasant joinery

Here the stringers that run alongside the CB case have been joined to bulkhead 3 with a type of mitred housing joint that gives lots of gluing surface area with very little loss of rigidity to the bulkhead doubler
It's been less than two months to get to this point, but so far it has been that sort of work in which most sessions give the impression of rapid progress. A big empty space has been filled by bits that fairly quickly began to resemble some sort of boat. In that sense it is a bit like building a house, where the framing converts emptiness into a structure that suggests the bits in between...but those subsequent bits that fill in the spaces are the ones that require hours of input for little visible change or progress. But there is plenty of pleasure to be had in those details, as long as I don't think about how many of them there are.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

the sensations of making

This is spruce, from a log in the Italian Alps, stored for years to stabilize it's dimensions and it's moisture content, then split radially with a blade and mallet into wedges for the violin making trade in such a way that we are able to have the grain vertical, strong and straight. By the time I've used it, it has been kept at least five years more in the workshop.

Here the beginnings of a violin belly are being rough shaped with a broad gouge, across the grain rapidly to form the major arch of the instrument. This experience is physical, but it is also very sensory, even sensual. The spruce has an aroma, a clean and natural fragrance that seems attractive to every client who ever stumbled in while this work is happening. It makes a beautiful sound even while being gouged, and we learn to respond to it's differing tones as feedback from the removal of material. It has a surface sheen even on the ribbons of waste, and of course the growth rings make emphatic stripes on the work as evidence of the time it took for the tree to grow, and of the truth (or not) in the shapes we are carving.

This is all so beautiful it almost sounds too precious or twee to write about it; so romantically old-fashioned and so irrelevant to the realities of the present. I only write it to celebrate the simple sensations in the making of an example of an object that has made music for us for so long, and maybe to grizzle that we seem as cultures so removed now from simple sensations -because they have been rendered inefficient by manufacturing processes. Viva inefficiency.

(click on the pic for a big version to see the sheen on the curly bits)

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Ditch

Peter Unwin's story of the English Channel begins at the pre-historic land bridge which, thousands of years ago linked Britain with the Continent. Although he captures a wealth of detail in his history, it does sweep through time without ever becoming ponderous.

The theme of the book centres around the role played by the famous strip of water in the creation of the various peoples who have inhabited, explored, pillaged, fished, traded and controlled it's edges. Central to all this, of course, is the role played by boats, tides, winds and hazards. The plans and dreams of kings, princes, fuhrers and emperors are all subject to the same forces and pretty much the same natural constraints until the landing of a little French monoplane on the cliffs of Dover early in the Twentieth Century. The role of seacraft in the security of nations was forever altered by the implications of its arrival.

A very interesting and approachable read.
Published by Review Books ISBN 0 7472 4452 9

Sunday, May 9, 2010

evocative video from Dylan Winter

Dylan Winter's 'Keep turning left' series has become a bit of a legendary effort. His down to earth commentary and his refusal to be impressed by the superficial has connected him to several world audiences- some who admire the trips he undertakes, some who admire his values, some I suspect, who would just love to see a bit of mud with a bird on it in the flesh but can see them on film because of his efforts (when they probably should be working), and some who just love mucking about in small boats.

The series began as You Tube videos and has recently become a series to subscribe to. It is my fondest wish that a great many people will value the view from an 'edge'- an uncommercial view- and subscribe and make Dylan's work worth continuing.

the book cover that wasn't

I found this in my iphoto collection yesterday. It was one of the ideas I explored for the cover of 'Before Pearl Harbor. Making the PacificWar'. It is actually worked up from a small photo print sent back from Rabaul by my uncle Bob and it shows his 'section' of B Company (2/22 Battalion AIF) in the jungle of New Britain before the invasion.
What appealed to me in this as a cover was the repetition of shapes; the palm trunks and rifles being vertical, the legs making energetic diagonals echoed in the various angles of slouch in the helmets. I coloured it to be 'hot' and threatening...but moved away from the idea because this book was not about the war at all, it was about it's causes. The image finally chosen was of a parade of New Guinea police for the benefit of, and inspection by, an obviously colonial official.

For the record, none of these boys came back, and neither did my uncles. And neither did another thousand of their Battalion comrades.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

boat work..Navigator progress

Having established the bottom rocker shape and fitted the keelson, the structure to support the cockpit bulkheads is attached to the floor and to the cockpit seat front panels. Transom has been glued too.
Bulkheads 1 and 2 are glued and the whole thing looks most unlikely for a boat...that's part of the joy actually- the transformation of a kit of complicated parts into sub-assemblies, and the combination of these into , well, assemblies...and the cumulation of assemblies into bits of a boat- and on the way there are some lovely curves, and pleasant views through holes, not to mention some haunting cast shadows.
The whole method of plywood boat building is in a way the total antithesis of the methods I use and love in traditional violin making. Where traditionally we deal with moisture and rot and fungus and swelling and movement and shrinkage by making sacrificial joints and using only organic reversible glues, and vapor-permeable coatings, and grain-orientation selected for stability- in modern plywood boats we use encapsulation within an epoxy (plastic) skin to keep moisture and it's associated problems permanently locked out, and alternating grain in the ply to keep things from changing size and shape in response to its exposure to the weather. The major benefit of this technology is that it enables us to keep boats in or out of the water without causing the sort of problems that traditionally built hulls suffer from. In short- we can keep them in a shed without them shrinking and leaking when they go back to the water.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

sit down boogie

A painting from about 1982, guache on paper. One of the last times I took paint and brush to make an image rather than just to colour something. In paintings at the time, I loved the picture plane, the flatness of the paper and the way that lines and colours hint at space, or can be made to contradict it. So, quite apart from the subject matter here (which I won't go into) we have some areas of red 'pushing' towards us off the picture plane and away from the blues and greens and greys, but the white drawing across the top undermines this illusion and creates a tension in front of the image, then surrounds other shapes and pushes them forward. Spatial ambiguity. Love it. Click pic to enlarge.

2007 violin...thinking of Mother's Day

2007 violin, originally uploaded by robert.ditterich.
This violin was being made around the time of my mother's death and it carries a hand written dedication to her inside on the back. It was sold soon after, but I remember it has a clear, powerful tone and a capacity to play right up the fingerboard without 'cracking' the sound. It is a low arched instrument of considerable power.

looking north

looking north, originally uploaded by robert.ditterich.
Evening light spills across the Western Plains in Victoria Australia. Colours change, birds busy themselves for the nights work, or rest. I often stop at this view when I have an arm full of firewood...

dry fitting B1,2 & 3

dry fitting B1,2 & 3, originally uploaded by robert.ditterich.
Building the Navigator, a 15 ft open boat. A sequence of photos is in my Flickr collection, shown in the links here.
There are some beautiful curves in the Navigator, but also some potential for awful ones if the wood is tortured without care. The hull has an incredible resolution of a very fine forefoot- a water slicer- into a very flared upper outline- a splash spreader- combined with a bottom capable of planing beyond hull speed- flat across and convex along its shape.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

overload, the floor has gone from my abode

OK it's always messy, but sometimes everyone needs something done yesterday, and it only takes two Double Basses in for repair to seriously impact my use of the floor to hide my slovenliness...paperwork is normally done on the computer desk in the next room, but here it has invaded. For some obscure reason I can only do tax related paperwork on my sit down work bench...go figure!

waller ts540 waiting for her first 'splash'

IMG_0311, originally uploaded by robert.ditterich.
'Chrissy Shand' ready for her first sail December 2009. She is a Waller TS540, homebuilt out of timber.

making the things to make the thing is good

I made these little cast bronze and fabricated brass planes in the early 1990's each for a specific purpose in instrument making. I use them still, most days.
Wooden boats, bits of writing, making violins, passive solar design, making tools, reading, Belted Galloway cattle...what was the middle thing?