Tuesday, August 31, 2010

sometimes, the unthinkable....

This hundred year old factory made cello has been in the possession of a notable school music department for most of its life. In good condition it would have a value in the order of A$8000, but it has had to live with generations of school boys, and some of them have more interest in 'decoration' (generally with a finger nail) than playing.
I have maintained this instrument for them for nearly twenty years, with vain attempts to head off the vandalism by rescuing the varnish and restoring some sort of dignity to the old thing. But the incremental repairs have not kept pace with the vandals. The school has a collection of orchestral instruments which remain at school for lessons and orchestral rehearsals, to save them bringing their own instruments in every day, so this one has suffered particularly from the lack of a sense of ownership I suppose.
This year, the question was asked; 'Do we continue to patch it, or is it time to buy a new one?' Well, I'm a softie, and much as I'm sick of repairing it (because this sort of work isn't very glam, or very satisfying) I quoted a figure that was cheaper than it's replacement cost to give it another chance at life. But this involves the complete removal of the old varnish as well as the structural repairs. Removing old varnish is an absolute no-no to me, but what can I do? The thing would be junked, tipped and discarded if it isn't re-birthed as a tidier, more respectable instrument.
So I'm stuck with the job and it's taking four times longer than it should, but occasionally it's nicer to be on the side of the instrument even if it isn't profitable. And there is just a small chance that maybe for the next couple of generations of students, it will be charming and inspirational enough to keep their thoughts on the music and their hands on the bow.

Monday, August 23, 2010

navigator deck work

The template cut out earlier enabled a very economical layout of the two foredeck pieces onto the ply sheet, and the pieces are sitting on the boat in the photos above. These pieces are cut a little oversized at this stage to avoid any potential for drama when finally positioning them later when the inside surfaces are sealed and painted.
The shape of the forward coaming is a little different from that shown in the plans. I was hoping to create a slightly more conservative line up there, to further enhance some of the sweet curves elsewhere, but also to give a little more sitting space on the forward seats. I hope these little tweaks work OK.
Over the last week-end the slightly drier days enabled me to coat the cockpit interior with epoxy: some bits for the second time. There is still a bit of filleting to do in there, and it is those details that soak up the major time portions, not the fitting of large slabs of wood.
It is a real struggle to come up with a colour scheme for this boat. I see too many options! The sails (from Duckworks) are an 'Egyptian cotton' colour. This is a warmish beige actually, rather than a cream, and I do want them to look well with the hull. The last boat was simply white with timber trim; no brave choices there. This boat has me torn though, because there is a bit of me that would have it as a workmanlike boat, all greys and neutral knock-about colours, but also a bit of me that wants it to look happy and playful. This isn't a heavy weight classic, it is a recreational dinghy that has made lots of sailors very happy!
I still haven't had a chance to begin making the spars, but have made the bowsprit. The centre-board is shaped but not yet weighted or 'glassed. The rudder box is dry assembled, but the foil is still a pile of timber. The seat bases are mostly fitted and put aside until the epoxying and sealing is complete. The tabernacle is dry assembled but won't be fitted until the king plank, anchor well and forward compartment are ready to be covered in for ever.
This isn't a hard boat to build, but like any sailing craft there is an enormous number of sub-assemblies and components to make (and assemble in an order that doesn't make other fittings impossible).

Sunday, August 22, 2010

looking up again

This is our Northeast ridge under an evening cloud fly-past. Some small, dark, knobbly, angry, belligerent ones are harassing a couple of beautifully inflated noble optimists, who, like many people I know, are happily drifting under elemental influences, to areas of lower pressure.

There are some new cloudscapes in my Flickr set of that name. The fact that I keep looking for these images is probably evidence of a childlike romanticism that seems to be increasing with age. A good foil or antidote for cynicism, anyway.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

navigator outer stem

Between frequent sleety and sometimes icy outbursts a few moments have been spent on the outer stem, with a bit of preliminary shaping happening now that the epoxy has hardened sufficiently. Unusually, and because of the moist air, I have some waxy amine blush on the internal epoxy, so it will need to be scrubbed with soapy water before sanding and recoating. I can't install the anchor well floor until that forward compartment is fully sealed and maybe painted...so I won't fit the king plank till then, so I can't fit the foredeck sheets either...

But I have cut out the foredeck sheets and they are waiting like good little soldiers, in the shed and out of the weather.

Yes, the floor looks like a tip. Remember it is sometimes a hay shed, and you can't store bales without there being a bit of extra floor decoration going on, but I admit I'm a very untidy worker, always more worried about the next challenge than cleaning up after the last, and I have real trouble calling any small piece of wood 'waste', preferring to live with it long enough to give it the chance to find a second life with me.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

More on a landscape of huge contrasts

We had some wonderful moments at the centre of things in continental terms, and at the edges of beautiful things while exploring the country around Alice Springs a few years ago. My previous post touched upon the unusual needs of some of our species and the high variability of some of our rivers, and while thinking on those things I was reminded of other extremes we have come across in this spectacular continent. I admit that I thought in particular of this trip because it has not gone unnoticed that there is a disproportionally large red dot on my reader 'clustrmap' in the middle of Australia- a place not generally known for boats or violins...and I do wonder if that dot is one very voracious reader, or several! Either way, this post is to acknowledge the producers of that dot and the bit of our country in which you live.
The space and the light in this landscape combine to give things a shift in value, including our very self. Whatever our thoughts are, the context is overwhelming. This has a habit of making for unpretentious attitudes, I think.
There is water to be had at the edges of things. The lack of it all around only serves to make water more magical when you find it. These wet places have been hugely significant to people for times longer than any history on Earth.
In geological time we pass across it like shadows.

Friday, August 13, 2010

navigator outer stem (and binge-drinking trees)

The outer stem seems to be optional on this design, I've seen some cheerful bows without them, and on the other hand some thick and emphatic ones that also look well. The designer has drawn a particularly lovely line here, I think. When first considering the build I was tempted to give it a nudge towards the vertical, but in tracing the inner stem line I became aware that this was a sophisticated sort of curve, neither swept nor plumb. A beautiful line. When you find one of those it has been my experience that they are best left as they are, and I have tried to do it justice in attempting that course.

I opted for an outer stem in order to further define that curve, but also for the practical purpose of covering all that vulnerable end-grain. So mine is only four laminations thick and I will try to let a certain crispness emerge from it because some lovely shapes radiate from it at the forefoot.

The photo above is of the laminated piece just sitting on the hull, suspended from a single clamp to ascertain the little high spots that needed refining before the glue-up. As it happens the fit was pretty good, with a little bit of spring built into it for snugness. But it is certainly a little wobblier as a line than it will be when glued and tidied up, I hope.

We had a little drive around some spots on the Barwon River that have flooded from recent heavy downpours. Nothing at all compared to the huge floods in the Northern Hemisphere, these used to be the sort of flood that occurred on a regular basis before the rivers got all tidied up with weirs and irrigation schemes. In fact our strange Australian ecology developed to rely upon inundation, and many species are currently in peril because the ebbs and flows have been evened out and reduced in intensity and frequency. We both are lovers of the River Red Gum, a sort of Eucalypt that needs to get its feet very wet on a regular basis. A forest of these things is a sight to behold. Most commonly they are found in the Murray River basin, but we also have stands of them along the Barwon and other rivers. Below is a pic of some babies that are probably having their first proper drink, and they are much happier at it than the fences are...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What's with the boats?

This isn’t just about the boats, is it? Nor is it just about collecting the skills to make one, or even about the sailing or the dreams of cruising lovely shores with a bit of string in one hand and a tiller in the other. And it isn’t just about exploring or being out of doors in good weather, or meeting people who share our daftness, or even about having as much fun as a grown up as we had in the bath with very small boats when we were striplings. It isn’t just about lovely curves that look different as you move about them, or great lines that intersect on large plans that need reading like another sort of nautical tale, or the promise of one. It isn’t either just about having a knockabout grasp of the use of a range of tools and materials, or making a solid edge from a mere line drawn by someone else, somewhere else.
It is about all of those things, but it’s also about needing beauty in a time of some unease. It’s hard to be a thinking person in the world now without becoming overwhelmed sometimes by the issues of climate, resources, social and economic upheaval and issues of hatred and war. It’s hard not to feel knocked over by the news some days, so it is important to do things that keep our feet on the floor.
I’ve always been a great believer in the renaissance sort of person; the universal thinker and the interdisciplinary mind. Leonardo and Alberti are two of my heroes. This type of person will turn their hands to any problem and be prepared to think laterally, and work with a range of technologies in the process.
In contrast to the world in which those two artist/sculptor/architect/designers made so many contributions, our world of Modernity demands of us that we specialise in ways that lead us to know more and more about less and less until we feel as if we know everything about nothing. The result of this kind of thinking is that, ironically, our systems become more monolithic and simple, the vastness demanded by the economies of scale reduce even agriculture to narrow bands of phenomenal productivity totally dependent on specific, manufactured conditions. The consequent reduction of diversity produces an equal increase in the risk of disasters of unprecedented magnitude.
By so predominantly becoming specialists we also lose flexibility and adaptability- personally and at a national level, and I would attribute to this also the loss of meaning felt by so many in their lives.
But there is real hope in the rag-tag collection of bloggers, artisans, craftspeople and enthusiasts who share their passions locally and electronically, who develop facility with tools and processes no longer needed in manufacturing, who take pleasure maybe in growing food no longer economically viable for supermarkets, who make art that doesn’t fit the colour schemes of contemporary penthouses, who prefer a bit of string in their hand to a plastic steering wheel, who keep livestock breeds that have been reduced almost to extinction, and generally give modernity a flick of indifference that not only feels good, but may help us make sense of the stifling greyness of the industrial and post-industrial market place.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

why am I such a sucker for late afternoon light?

In an earlier post I mentioned some trees we planted about nine years ago. These were to take our remnant native vegetation up to the boundary and down to the little beginnings of the Yan Yan Gurt Creek, which eventually flows into the Barwon River. The new trees are just visible as an almost vertical line of darker vegetation on the left hand edge of the bush in this photo. (The 'bush' or forest is in the bottom right hand corner- click on the pic for a larger view) It was amazingly difficult for these trees and shrubs to survive even though they faced onto a large patch of mature forest. The prevailing winds played a part in restraining natural regeneration by seed and the Wallabies and Kangaroos used the shelter to emerge from and eat our little seedlings.
Our local tree guru supplied some spray on 'goo' to discourage the furry raiders and this was made from iron filings, milk powder and glue (as I recall), and this was enough to put a bad taste in the mouth while little stems turned into spindly trunks which took leaves high enough to escape the foragers. Some seedlings are still only a foot high all these years later, but they live and will grow when the times are right. Others are tall and straight and already trying to cast their seed around them.

Mike and Wendy Robinson-Koss run a wonderful business generating seedlings and planting trees in our region, and have probably been involved in more tree planting than anyone else since these forests evolved themselves. There is a link to their 'Otway Greening' web site in the right column. It is a model for business and communities wanting to re-claim pillaged and over-worked landscapes.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

navigator down from its perch

The workstand served me very well, being of sufficient height for me to work under it without having to roll my lanky self up totally while shaping the stringers, but before I turn the hull, it will be useful to do some fillets, fibreglassing and general prep work inside. So I lowered the hull onto some hay bales while it is still light enough to lift single-handed and have done a bit of filleting and sanding. I'll keep the workstand assembled for spar work later.

I used some thin material to make a template for the fore deck pieces because with only a small amount of ply left, I wanted to make the most economical layout of these ungainly pieces to avoid buying an extra sheet. It is highly unlikely that I'll get away with it, but I really don't like waste. I had some concerns about the symmetry of the bow section but these were allayed by the making of the template because it fits very well on each side in mirror fashion.

For the filleting I'm using my usual mix of 411 West light weight filler and about 30% wood flour from my orbital sander. It has the smoth surface texture of the commercial product with a more pleasing colour, and I like to think it has a bit more body as well.
Now I'm caught a bit here because I find this post is more like those I would normally do on the boat building forum that I inhabit, and very unlike my normal 'thought bubble' sort of post, but I guess I have to write as if for my own purposes, in the absence of any idea what a potential reader might be wanting to read...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A very special novel

My own 'little black book' that lives at my bedside records three hundred and something novels that I've read since I started recording them in the late nineteen nineties. I entertain myself by giving them a mark out of ten and this helps me remember them I suppose, as much as grade them, for the grading does not attempt to be objective, it is indulgently personal.

To score a ten the book really has to move me on several levels. First it has to be a good read. Second it has to be a celebration of the use of language. Third it needs to give me some insights that cause me to engage. This will often involve the worst aspect of a novel: that point somewhere after the middle of the book, when I slow down my reading because I am frightened that the book will finish, leaving me bereft and wanting more. There are probably more criteria that I use, and some of these will be entirely unconscious, but overall, a really good novel helps me to feel that I'm able to participate in an extra life, while also carrying on with my own.

The book shown above, The Secret Scripture, is most certainly a ten for me. I finished it weeks ago, and am into my third book since, but it still hasn't left me. The place is Ireland- Sligo to be precise, and the time scale is a broad century leading up to the 1950's. The subject is the interacting lives of several people on the periphery of Ireland's great social and political turmoil- 'the troubles'- and the damaging paternalism of the social structures of the time. The lives examined are ones that we can identify with though, they aren't the movers and shakers, they are deeply human and flawed in the ways that we all are. But it is the writing that lifts the story off the page. It is an Irish sort of voice, and very pictorial, and sometimes I found it hard to believe that it was mere printed words that I was reading.
I can't wait to run out of options so that I have time to read it again.

Monday, August 2, 2010

navigator work: top planks

This rather fuzzy shot was taken after removing the clamps for the port side top planks. Since then the starboard ones have been readied and dry fitted, and with a bit of luck and tolerable weather, they might be glued in the next few days. The sheerline here is very bumpy and has not been trimmed; having been cut a little over height to allow for adjustments of fitting and curve. Even the texture of the plywood is fuzzy and woolly from exposure to moist air.

Despite the boards having nicely planed edges, they still appear bumpy here, but I remind my self that these edges will look much better when given the torture board treatment to make lines flow through the slight irregularities caused by intermittent screwing around some very strong bends.

Now if you move your computer screen fifteen metres away and squint your eyes as much as they can be squeezed without extruding all light completely, and if you then apply your imagination loosely and with abandon, then you might get a picture of some nice shapes that may be revealed one day...

A while ago I wrote a post about a varnish restoration job for a French violin. That was picked up last week by the owner, but the player who had brought it in (the owner's husband) was away on tour with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (he is a long standing senior violinist in that wonderful organisation). Well, he rang yesterday to say how very pleased he was with the results, and was quite emphatic in his enthusiasm. I only report on this because I know my post resounded with my anxiety at having to meddle with the varnish at all.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Port Fairy Vic. Aust.

A little harbour now, Port Fairy was once Australia's most important; when fish were 'aplenty and this area was still a green and verdant part of the English colony of New South Wales. The harbour is exposed to Easterly blasts and has accounted for a few wrecks, but the mouth of the Moyne River offers modern protection for the fishing fleet, as well as many less functional and more comfortable boats. This area has a significant heritage from Irish immigrants and many of the buildings, shires and natural features still wear names familiar in Ireland.
We've been visiting the place for thirty something years and it is part of the incidental landscape of our lives together. One day I'll bring a boat and sail from this place to Killarney beach and then to Warrnambool, just to test the wild Southern Ocean, and give it a chance to give me what for.