Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Roger B. Smith Design Award Goes to ...

My Ryobi R1801M router is a piece of crap. I think the intentions of the designers were honorable, but in the interest of economy, they made the screw mechanism which you use to set the depth of the router bit out of plastic. Nothing wrong with plastic of course except that in this case, the plastic of the screw mechanism reacts with the sap in the sawdust and glues the screw mechanism shut so you can no longer adjust bit depth thereby rendering the whole router useless, unless you don't care how deep you rout something.
My solution was fairly simple. I took a Dremel tool with a cutoff bit to the router and cut through the plastic screw collar, peeled it loose from the body of the router to which it had glued itself and then was once again able to turn the screw collar and adjust router depth.
This operation had all the subtlety of a frontal lobotomy performed with a screw driver, but it was effective.

In case you're wondering who Roger B. Smith was, he was the CEO of GM for most of the 1980's. He tried to make GM profitable by cutting down on quality. Given that he was an accountant by training and not an engineer, this no doubt seemed like a reasonable approach to him. If you sell millions of cars per year and you can save a few bucks per car by cutting corners on quality, you can save yourself a few million bucks.
No doubt the good folks at Ryobi were inspired by the example of Roger B. Smith and decided to save money by using plastic for the screw mechanism instead of metal, thereby boosting the profitability of the company and the approval of Mr. Smith from beyond the grave.
But wait, there's more: I just went to the RYOBI web site www.ryobi.com. This site is even more lame than their power tools. On the other hand, they seem to have hired some American ad agency to sell tools to women and have this woman with the suspect name of Norma Vally who seems to be the mascot for their chixcanfix website http://www.chixcanfix.com/ Picture of Norma below - picture pulled off the website - it comes in three parts, norma_top.jpg, norma_mid and norma_bottom.jpg. Any failure of the parts to align is entirely due to limitations of the blogger software which auto-sizes all graphics.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pt. Hope Kayak Revisited

Two days ago the wind was blowing straight out of the west and whipping up whitecaps. So I thought it was time to give the Pt. Hope boat another try. As you may remember, its flatwater performance was unremarkable. Because the boat is short it has no glide. Because the keel line sweeps up at the stern, it does not track well. And because the bow is fairly blunt, the boat pushes a fair amount of water.
But I suspected that all these apparent faults might turn out to be virtues under the proper conditions. And in wind and short chop they were. The boat seemed to be just the right length for short steep wind waves. It rose nicely to the waves. The full bow no doubt helped as did the upswept keel line at the stern. At no point did the bow punch into an oncoming wave. By the same token, lack of glide in chop was not an issue. I don't think any kayak would have much glide in such conditions. And tracking was not an issue either. The wind and the waves were pushing the boat around to such an extent that lack of tracking wasn't noticeable.
So all in all, the boat was well behaved in rough water. I suspect that these were the conditions that it was designed for.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Almquist Lumber 2nd Annual Wooden Boat Show

I have been invited to come up to Arcata for the second annual wooden boat show put on by Almquist lumber. The date is May 17 for anyone wanting to stop by and talk skinboat. Check out the website at http://www.almquistlumber.com/boatwoods.html
While up there, I will be checking out Trinidad for suitability as a TAKS site. Then, end of June, I will be back and doing a Greenland boatbuilding course. More on that to come.

TAKS 2008, The Blue Water Symposium

TAKS 2008 is coming up in October. For those of you who don't know what TAKS is, it's the Traditional Arctic Kayak Symposium. This year, we're looking at three possible sites for the symposium. There is of course San Simeon where we had it the last two years, but this year, we're also looking at Mendocino and Trinidad, which is north of Arcata. Mendocino is about 3.5 hours north of San Francisco. Trinidad is 6 hours north of San Francisco.
John Petersen is headed up to Mendo today, Tuesday. He's going to check it out to consider suitability for TAKS. He will also head up to Trinidad a day or so later to check it out. Stay tuned, as they say for more info.
John Petersen and furry friend on the way up to Mendocino.

I will be headed up to Arcata in May to check it out and will try to swing by Mendocino. Both are no doubt cool places.
We are also trying out slogans for TAKS. Somebody pointed out that TAKS is one of the few of these kind of events that happens on the open coast with the attendant surf and potentially rough conditions. So we're playing around with that idea - the blue water symposium.
So we still don't know where the symposium will be this year, but it will be October 3, 4 and 5.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


See a few posts back for seaworthiness. Seaworthiness has something to do with stability and stability is aided by a low center of gravity. But heavier boats glide better as well because they have greater momentum than a lighter boat at the same speed. So we're hoping that you can make your kayak heavier and therefore more seaworthy. The Aleuts reportedly carried ballast in their kayaks, ballast equaling roughly the weight of their kayaks.
So today I went out in my Aleut kayak and brought along one of those three sandbags pictured above. These guys weigh about 35 pound apiece. The idea was to place a sandbag in back of the cockpit to see how that would affect handling of the kayak. First of all, 35 pounds is fairly heavy and hard to push around in a boat with ribs. 15 pound sand bags might be a better choice. Not only is 35 pounds heavy, but it's also too big and hard to get into a tight boat.
But on to the effect of 35 pounds on handling. As expected, a heavier boat is harder to accelerate. I was expecting the effect to be negligible, but instead, it was noticable. Glide improves, I suppose but paddling definitely takes more effort with a heavier boat. I had been hoping that the extra weight would affect mostly acceleration, but it affects cruising at constant speed as well. I suppose. Wetted surface increases as does the amount of water that needs to be pushed out of the way by a heavier boat. All in all, extra ballast on flat water is mostly an annoyance. Whatever is gained isn't worth the extra effort.
But I'm still holding out for improved performance in rough water. I'll have to give the sandbags another try next time the wind blows.

The Olive Drab Helicopters

Lots of noise outside yesterday. So I looked and found these helicopters hanging around the gray ships of the reserve fleet. Big helicopters. It occurred to me today that it would be hard to keep these sort of things going on recycled frenchfry oil. Of course, if I was in the military, I wouldn't mind being the guy that drives up to the backs of ethnic restaurants to collect the used oil. Come to think of it, my job in the army was kind of like that. I was the guy who drove around the country side to fetch and deliver, sort of the company gofer. Meanwhile, while the petroleum lasts, we fire these things up with more conventional petrofuels.

Looks kind of like a dragonfly doesn't it?

Paddle Decorations

I made a paddle for one of the local paddlers. He wanted decorations on it. I did a NW Coast design for him. In the process, I also did a few extra designs just to play around. The designs came from a book on native tattoos. I'm thinking of coming up with a bunch of these images suitable for a kayak paddle in case people want their paddles personalized.

This is an eagle - see claws at the bottom. Looked more like a crab to me at first glance, but really, it's an eagle. The interesting thing I found out as part of my research is that 2D art of the NW uses a lot of standard pictorial elements for making up pictures, like the oval or the oval with a little dart in it and so on. It's almost like forming words out of limited number of letters, only it's done in 2D and scaled to various sizes.

The bishop. I like this one for some reason. I think it's because of its iconic simplicity.

Wood Gathering

I almost finished my driftwood kayak rack earlier this week but was a few sticks short of a complete rack. So off to the Alameda driftwood repository at a secluded part of the island. This particular part of the island is situated in such a way that late winter high tides co-inciding with storms blowing from the south pile up consideral amounts of lumber on top of the riprap that re-enforces that part of the shore. Pictures follow. Ice plants were in bloom and the view was unusually lovely. I managed to find two 2x6x10's nailed together, threw them in the water and towed them back to the shop. Successful outing.

The view toward the bay bridge. The pictures turned out blurry. I had the camera inside my pfd. Must have fogged up the lens. Still, the flowers are pretty in an impressionistic sort of way. The dark blue blob to the right of the bridge is Yerba Buena Island. The light blue blob in back of the bridge is Mt. Tamalpais.

Here's the wood, all shapes and sizes.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


I just picked up a book called Seaworthiness, The Forgotten Factor, by C.A. Marchaj at one of the local used bookstores. The prose is a little dense but the author has a lot of good things to say. The author's premise is essentially that yacht racing has forced the design of racing yachts toward speed at the expense of seaworthiness and comfort. And unfortunately, racing fashions also seem to set the tone for cruising yacht design. The book was published in 1986 and it is quite possible that things have changed, but I suspect not much. Fashion after all trumps function every time. So the book focuses not on what makes a boat fast, the prime concern of racers but rather on what makes a boat seaworthy, the thing that should be of prime concern to the cruising yachtsman.
So why do I read books about sailboats when I am a builder of kayaks? Two reasons: one is that I am starting to get interested in sailing and two that the study of kayak performance seems restricted to stability measurements on flat water and hull efficiency in tow tests. Another way of putting point two is that the only two things that kayak designers have any measure for is how far you can lean a kayak before it capsizes and how much resistance it offers to towing at various speeds. If you want to know how boats behave in other than flat water, you have to look beyond the kayak literature.
And so it came as a pleasant surprise to find C.A. Marchaj's book on seaworthiness. Here was chapter after chapter of examination not only how a boat behaves in waves, but also how a boat behaves at various degrees of heel. Not all of this stuff applies to kayaks, but most of it at least gets a reader like me thinking about how kayaks and sailboats are different. But they are also the same in some ways. Forces that apply to one apply to the other. The question is what does one want to do about them and what sort of strategy works for a kayak but against a sailboat and vice versa. But above all, the book adds a third dimension to the discussion of how a boat behaves on water. A boat moves not just forward and backward and sideways, but up and down as well. Hull shape needs to take into consideration not just the movement on a flat surface but the movement in a vertical direction as well.
Perhaps the greatest difference between a sailboat and a kayak is that sailboats in general are not meant to be inverted, that is, capsized. They are not built for complete inversion. Once they go past a certain angle of heel, they are likely to flood and sink. Not so a kayak. A kayak is so unstable in general that occasional inversion is generally expected and planned for. Surfing likewise is dangerous to sailboats but kayakers often seek out surf and when they do, they are likely to do so in kayaks that are especially designed for the surf.
But the majority of recreational kayakers want to move about the surface of the water just like their sailboating cousins, that is without unplanned inversion while covering adequate distances. It is for these sort of kayaking conditions that Marchaj's book is instructive. That is to say, it attempts to answer the question, how can we built boats that behave well in rough water and avoid capsize. As such, it is a useful book even for the kayak builder.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Sunset Cruise on the Bay

Sunday I went out on Tim Anderson's Free Yacht. See here for more details on how he got this free yacht.

Tim is a first rate scrounger and thus an embodiment of the skinboat ethic. The skinboat ethic is that nothing should be bought that can be scrounged. It's not every skinboat builder's ethic, but it is mine and it used to be the ethic of the original skinboat builders. Not that they had a choice. They had to build their boats out of found materials. We don't. Nowadays they don't either. And so they don't. Tim taking a call.

This was a sunset cruise. Start out at about 5:30 and go till sunset at about 7:30.

The sun being close to setting, the golden gate toward the left.

I don't know anything about sailing, but it seems like the trimaran has certain assets, the main being that it is wide and so there is not much of the usual heeling over and scrambling to stay more or less upright that you get with keel boats. Given this property, there is not so much of the usual annoying scrambling about. One can settle into a spot and stay there.
Another asset of the trimaran is relatively shallow draft. One does not have to worry as much about running aground on mud flats and resting there until the tide comes in again.

Tim took a bunch of people aboard for this cruise, something like 18 and we all fit comfortably on the deck. Different people took turns at the tiller, steering the boat this way and that. Sailing is a pleasant activity, provided where one aims to go can be gotten to by a zigzag course. Our intention was to head over to Treasure Island to pick someone up, but the wind was directly off Treasure island and so the tacks were long and didn't produce much forward progress. Not much one can do about that. But anyway, we ran out of time and turned back to run before the wind toward the harbor in Emeryville.

It was nice to be out on the water and have the wind in our face. All in all an experience that is the perfect antidote to life in the city and all its discontents.