Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Destiny sails away

Destiny sails away

I can't believe a full year and many change has gone by since I last brought you up to date.  After the hull was re-caulked, primed, and painted, 2014 was quite a year  on the waters of Mobile Bay and the Gulf Coast for Destiny.  We participated in a few MYC (Mobile Yacht Club, 2nd oldest Yacht Club in the United States) Thursday night "fun races", then we took a first place trophy in the Pirates Cove Yacht Club wooded boat show, took first in class in the 56th annual Dauphin Island Regatta, and was invited to take part in the 150 anniversary reenactment of the Battle Of Mobile Bay, famous for Admiral Farragut's pronouncement "Damn the Torpedo's, full speed ahead", as he and his fleet of Union ships ran the gauntlet between Confederacy held Ft. Morgan on the East side, and Ft. Gaines (Dauphin Island) on the west side of the entrance to Mobile Bay. The event turned out to be a grueling three days of cannon fire and black powder on the decks.  However it too was fun and Destiny received many accolades and was seen on TV with the other 25 boats, including two historic Biloxi Schooners...though I believe Destiny was the oldest boat participating  in the event.

150th annivary of the Battle of Mobile Bay
(Ft. Gaines, Dauphin Island in back ground)

56th Annual Dauphin Island Race -2014

The local TV news, WKRG-TV, channel 5, a CBS affiliate,  anchor Bill Riles , heard of Destiny, and being a sailor himself called and asked if he could do an "on the water" interview.  We had the pleasure of sailing with Mr. Riles on the Bay for several hours, and later got our 5 minutes of fame on local television.

In October we sailed over to Lake Pontchartrain again for the 35th annual Madisonville, LA "Wooden Boat Festival", I put this in quotes because there were only a few wooden hulled sailboats, and when it came time to pass out trophies we were beaten by a plastic hulled Hans Christian for first place.  I guess it is no longer a "Wooden Boat Festival"...sad!  There were many very nice wood hulled power boats though, and the local maritime museum does a great job of putting on a wonderful festival.

After the show Destiny was invited to dock, and be put on display at the Southern Yacht Club in New Orleans, (the 3rd oldest active Yacht Club in the country), and I was ask to give a presentation to their members about Destiny's history.

For those of you that have been following this blog, you know that I've been actively seeking someone to take over the reigns of responsibility for caring for Destiny into the future.  In November, I received an inquiry to my ad to sell Destiny from a gentleman in Texas, Mr. Sean Johnston, who was living in Kemah TX.   After a short initial discussion my immediate thought was that an old historic wooden boat was not what he should be looking for.  However he was not to be deterred and I soon learned he'd done his homework, delving into Destiny's history, actually learning some facts about its origins that I was unaware. For example, as you may have read in earlier blogs, it was reported to me by Pat Atkin (Daughter-in-law to William Atkin) that her Father-in-law had first published his plans for what he called the "Meridian Yawl" in the April issue of MotorBoating Magazine, 1934.  Mr. Johnston learned that that article actually was publish later in 1938 the same year Destiny was launched.  He also determined that Mr. Atkin named his designs after the name of the boat he designed for a client.   Given, that we know the plans for Destiny were drawn in 1937, and now knowing the article was written a year later, there is a possibility that Destiny (named in early 2000s by the sailing school Life Sail, in California) may well have been the original Meridian for which this model was named. Needless to say we are just speculating since we have found no records of registration or USCG documentation from its initial launch in 1938.  As reported before, all I know is that the plans were drawn for a John String.

In any event,  Mr. Johnston came to see Destiny, had it surveyed, went on a sea trial, and fell in love as I had five years before. This all took place in January and February of this year (2015) and when the weather looked as thought it would cooperate Sean, and two friends came to Mobile to sail Destiny back to Texas.  I had promised to sail with them on the first leg of the trip to Gulf Port, MS, 70 nautical miles, a long way to accomplish in those short March daylight hours. We left Mobile in the early morning and sailed into a cold rain that lasted most of the day. By the time time the sun was inching its way to the horizon, we were in sight of the entrance to Gulf Port Small Boat Harbor, and my last sail on Destiny came to a close.

My last Sunset sail on Destiny

Dauphin Island Bridge in Destiny's wake
(Author, left and Mr. Johnston's crew to the right)

Monday, March 30, 2015

Bottom and rudder resteration

The last blog ended with the grounding on Dauphin Island after the Wooden Boat Festival in Madisonville, LA, and waiting for word from the insurance company.  They send an adjuster and agreed to pay for whatever it takes to make the hull water tight again, and rebuilding the rudder, which became my 2013/2014 winter project.   Tom from Diversified Marine Services in Mobile, one of the few "wood boat guys"  left, along with Turner Marine took on the project.  All the bottom paint, just applied six months before, was again ground off the hull. The bilge was filled with water so we could see the areas it was leaking out, assuming that if water will come out it it would probably come in the same place. The rudder was taken off  and the broken hinge removed.  This may sound routine, but in fact the rack and pinion steer mechanism had to be taken apart, and the prop shaft removed from the engine to allow the rudder post to slide out of the boat. I learned that the entire rudder was made of solid teak, and looked to have never been removed from the boat since it was launched.

I had the new hinge fabricated from stainless rather than bronze, because it was not just the hinge but the complete rudder post and topmost hinge was one piece.  Stainless was stronger and less expensive, and since it was to be painted and under the water, I felt secure in sacrificing this small amount of authenticity for the integrity of the boat.

     While the hinge was being fabricated Tom removed all the old cotton caulking from between the planks, from the keel to the waterline.  Except for a few places where the cotton had rotted from water exposure, he was amazed how preserved it was, and estimated that it had been at least 30 years since it had been replaced.   After letting the groves dry out he started the process of replacing the cotton batting.  He first painted the inside of the groves with thinned bottom paint, then using the special tools that look like wide chisels without an edge he would lay in a bead of cotton batting and tap it deep into the space between the planks.  I didn't count the number of planks or the total length of batting pressed into the seams, but I know the planks were only 4-5" wide and started at the top if the keel board to the waterline in a nice wineglass shape for a total of about five vertical feet and thirty-one foot waterline.

Minor grounding impetus for Bottom Over-haul

Last fall while returning home from the Madisonville, Louisianan Wooden Boat Festival, where we  awarded First Place for Sailboats, I had made arrangements to put Destiny on display at the water front on Dauphin Island.  While following the channel from the ICW to Aloe Bay, on the North side of the Island just west of the bridge,  we had a soft grounding.  I was watching the depth meter closely, thought the channel was supposed dredged to 6 feet, and Destiny draws five feet.  The transducer is located a couple feet below the water line on the starboard side of the hull, and was reading a consistent 6'-6'-7'-5.5'- 6' - 0'.  We were just left of center of the channel, but we were stuck.  I tried in vane to back off with the engine in reverse, so we flagged down a passing power boat who was gracious enough to let us throw him a line.  He first tried to back us off but his 90hp outboard Just churned up the water as the lines tightened to laser beams.  Then they came around to our bow and tried to pivot us off.  After several attempts this method was starting to make progress and soon we were floating again in the deeper part of the channel, and motored on down to the bulk head and secured the boat for the night.
     The following morning, I came to the boat and saw the water was up to the bottoms of the floor boards.  The switch to the electric bilge pump took this opportunity to have a mind of its own and decided to go on strike.  After some official language and playing with wires it came to live and shortly dispensed with the invading water.  Since Destiny had before always had a dry bilge, except after a rain, I figured we must have jarred something loose the day before.  We sailed her back up to Turner Marine on Mobile Bay with no issues but kept an eye on the bilge.  I called my insurance carrier to alert them that there may be a problem and watched the bilge.  The problem seemed to get worse rather than better and the experts at the boat yard said we'd better pull her out of the water and take a look.
    I did get a surprise.  Out of the water I saw that the brass rudder hinge was broker and the top of the rudder was cracked and bend over to one side.  Actually the hull itself looked pretty good, no sprung planks, no gaping holes, but I could see water seeping out of several of the lower seams right above the keel.

   I called the insurance company back and they agreed to sen'd an adjuster.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Moving East...and South

A lot has happened with Destiny since the last blog.  Both she [boats are still referred to as “She” in these days of over-sensitivity and political correctness aren't they?] and our family have moved out of the Los Angeles area.  Valerie and I finally made the move to our favorite little island off the Gulf Coast of Alabama; Dauphin Island.  Like so often is the case, a variety of circumstances came together at the same time and motivated a life change, another chapter so to speak.  In this case, Valerie lost her job, and our apartment building in Marina del Rey was undertaking a radical renovation which when completed would raise our rent to more than we wanted to pay or could afford.  I had been lobbying for a move for quite sometime so when this opportunity presented itself we knew it was time to go.
            I have owned a beach house on Dauphin Island since 2004.  We enjoyed our get-a-ways there and it paid for itself in weekly rentals when we weren't there.  The Island is loaded with great history having been a French settlement originally since the late 1600's,  the site of native American relics, and Fort Gains built after the war of 1812 to keep the bloody British out of Mobile Bay.  Also, it has the greatest beaches in the world with sand that looks like snow in all the photos. 


            When the decision was made I thought we should by another boat to live on during high rental season and live at the beach house in low season.  But, Valerie asked “Where am I going to put my furniture?” so, we bought another house.  I tease that we bought an expensive storage unit.

            After getting settled in, including me joining Turner Marine as a yacht broker, I made arrangements for Destiny to be shipped to Mobile.  One of the perks of working with Turner Marine is that Destiny can stay here free, and being a full service boat yard, she can get all the attention needed…which I’m finding out is considerable.
When she/it arrived I took the opportunity to have her bottom done.  I had not previously done any bottom restoration, as I’ve explained before I’m a believer in “If it ain't broke don’t fix it.”  Well, perhaps I should have listened to my intuition, but instead I had all the old paint ground off, right down to the beautiful mahogany planks, her bottom resealed and new paint applied.  When she was lifted gently down into the Bay it was like trying to float a colander.  “She just needs to swell up some.”  I was told. 

            Well, she did finally swell up and would stay afloat, but we decided to remove and fill in the hole of an old depth transducer we suspected of leaking and that seemed to help steam the flow.   We had a great summer sailing in the Mobile Yacht Club’s Thursday night “beer can” races.  Our advantage was that the competition was so busy taking our picture they forgot to race.  You may imagine that I’ve been in a battle with the Gulf Coast yachting Association GYA for a competitive PHRF rating and after several changes now am racing with a PHRF of 213 around the buoys.

As fall rolled around we made arrangements to attend the Madison, Louisiana Wooden Boat Festival.  Madison, in on Lake Pontchartrain, north of New Orleans, over 150 nautical miles from our marina on Mobile Bay.  We took it leisurely, stopping the first night at Dauphin Island , then Gulfport, MS and finally to Madison with the help of Tow Boat US for the last several miles due to the ignition coil on the old Gray Marine taking that opportunity to breath it’s last breath.  The show was fabulous with hundreds of on-lookers oooing and ahhhing as they toured below decks.  At the final awards presentation Destiny was awarded first place for sail boats and runner up to a vintage steam trawler for best of show.

On the return home, we had to motor against then prevailing south easterlies.  The good news was the new coil performed perfectly and the old Gray didn't skip a beat.  The bad news was, on our way into Dauphin Island, in the middle of a perfectly marked channel, we ran aground.  It was a soft grounding but we were stuck, and less than ¼ mile from where we were to tie up for the night.  As luck would have it, a passing power boat gave us a hand and pivoted us off the shoal, but in the process it opened up some seems and I found out later, when we hauled her again, there was a broken the rudder hinge and a portion of the rudder.
            We made it back to the marina and kept an eye on the bilge until she was hauled and put on the hard,  where she is as I write this segment.  The Insurance Company has been notified and the claim process started.

In the mean time I’ve had the opportunity to do some more research, and have uncovered some more history.  I was reviewing some old paperwork that I hadn't previously uncovered.  With the prospect of water invading the boat I removed all the old receipts and manuals left on board, fearing they may get wet.  I have been able to narrow the gap, though only slightly.  I learned that previously to the donation to the non-profit sailing academy, Life Sail, who named here Destiny, she was owned by Jacques (Jack) Lorch, and her name was Skeaf IV.  Mr. Lorch owned her through the early 2000's, and was the one that installed her current engine. I have put in a call to the number I found on a West Marine receipt dated January 2002, and was told by a receptionist that he was still at the firm but wasn't in at the moment.  I’ll let you know what I find out if we get talk.  
       Prior to that apparently Skeaf/Destiny  was owned by Mr. Paul Kemner, I found his name on a  receipt from the sail maker, long since out of business, who made the last set of sails. There was no date, and the old phone number didn't work.  But, I found his obituary, and it said he owned a wooden boat, too much of a coincidence not to be the same.  I found his son Randy’s business in Long Beach California and called.  He was away but I was given his email. We exchanged emails and I learned that his Dad's boat was called Santana, though he called it his "mistress."  He bought her in the late 60's or early 70's, and took care of her until the late 1990's when he was in his 80's.  Randy didn't remember who his Dad bought the boat from.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Maintain and repair: and learn more history

Maintain and repair; and learning more history


It has been a year since the restoration was officially completed, though it seems that there hasn’t been a week go by that some marina artisan hasn’t been on board performing his or her magic, and handing me an invoice. 

            After the regatta (previous blog) I noticed the shrouds and stays were a little loose.  Upon closer inspection I saw that the mast had slipped slightly further down into the boat; perhaps as much as a ½ inch.  I called a shipwright friend of mine and we descended into the main salon, lifted the floor board near the mast.  He stuck his arm to the elbow into bilge.  “Your mast step is broken.” he said.  How could that be I thought, I had seen the board the mast rests on it was almost 2” of solid oak 12” wide suspended over three stringers spreading the load more that a foot and a half in each direction.  Apparently over the years, fresh water seeping down the mast, had collected at the bottom where a notch is cut into the board to take the matching notch protruding from the bottom of the mast.  At this weakened point, with the stress put on it by the race, the board finally let go; it would have to be replaced.  “Hopefully we can the step out with out cutting any stringer, but the mast will have to come to see.”  He said, he also said his schedule was too full so he would have to recommend someone. 

            Soon the floor boards in the entire forward section of the boat were out, and the boat was on its way to the yard.  For the second time in less than a year the main mast was pulled out of the boat and laid on saw horses across the deck. Back in the slip, the old step was cut and slipped out of it notch in pieces.  A new step was created out of a 2”x12”x30” oak and the notch carefully cut in the exact location for the bottom of the mast to settle in.  Back to the yard, the mast was lifted off the horses, pivoted vertical, and slid back in with the 1938 silver, Standing Liberty, half dollar securely in place.   Back again to the slip so the oak floor could be reinstalled.  Several of the floor boards were destroyed in the removal process and new boards had to be cut, stained to match. When it was all completed one could not tell there had been any disturbance.  I believe that was the most expensive racing trophy I have ever received.


            I believe I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs entries that in the history of ownership Destiny was owned by a group called LifeSail, an organization that teaches sailing to under privileged children.  The head of this organization has been an acquaintance of mine for some time and knew that I had acquired the boat.  He stopped by my office saying he’d found a old set of blue prints for the boat. Wow, what a find.  They were actually copies of the originals, but clearly show that William Atkin drew the plans, a slight modification from his original, for Mr. John F. String, in July of 1937.  I have to assume Mr. String then retained Joel Johnson to build the boat. I am doing further research to learn how long Mr. String owned the boat, if he did, and where and to whom it was sold.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Destiny's first Regatta

            It was called “One More Time Regatta”, that is, of-course, assuming there has been a “time” before.  The Wooden Hull Yacht Club teamed up with Del Rey Yacht Club, to sponsor this annual race of wooden hull boats on June 23.   I decided to enter Destiny just to see how she would sail against other boats of her era. I know that Mr. Atkin had, at least, a thought of racing when he drew the plans for the Meridian model, or why else would he describe his Yawl rig a “rule cheater” in the accompanying article for MotorBoating magazine’s April 1934 issue.  Though, the whole idea of a “rule cheater” begs the question of whether it is the “winning” or real performance of this sailing yacht that was most important to the designer.  I guess by nature we are a competitive species, and if there is no desire to win then why race at all?  However, if designing a “yawl” was primarily to get a better handicap performance rating, rather than it actually performing better, then I wonder what is the point other than “winning”?  I would like to think both.

            I have not been able to ascertain whether Destiny had raced before in Southern California; at least not by her present name because neither SCYA, nor Southern California PHRF had a record of it.  As far as I know this wasn’t “One More Time” for Destiny, but perhaps its first time on the field of competition. It was, at least for me at the helm.

            I had sent in my entry form, and at the Saturday morning skipper’s meeting I was supposed to be assigned a handicap.  We looked up other full keel yawls of about the same water line length and displacement and came up with an acceptable rating for the race committee.  The race is historically an inverted start, meaning the slowest boat start first, then all subsequent boat, depending on their handicap, are assigned a start time the appropriate number of minutes and seconds after the first boat is off.  The idea is that if all boats sailed up to their handicap, they would all cross the finish line at the same time.  Thank God it’s only a theory.

            My start was 18 minutes, 45 seconds after the first boat, and I was the 3rd boat to start in a field of 17 entrants.  The winds were pretty good for Santa Monica Bay this day and that 18 minutes and 48 seconds seemed like a very long wait as we watched the two boats ahead stretch their lead further and further.  Finally our time was drawing near. “Your to close…” shouted our bowman “you’re going to be over early.” So I jibed around, loosing precious momentum, but we got pointed to the line and I heard our horn seconds before crossing; we were off.  The big genoa was cranked, we healed over and someone shouted “we’re doing seven knots”.  By the time we rounded the first mark, at the Santa Monica Pier, we had cut the lead of the first boats by more that half.  As we approached the next mark, three and a half miles to windward, we had already passed the first boat start and the second boat was approaching the mark slightly behind us…but I had miscalculated the current and had to wear away and jibing to keep from hitting the mark.  This was a costly error and the second boat scooted by, rounded the mark seconds ahead, and set its spinnaker, “Good by”, we didn’t have a spinnaker or a chance.  The whole rest of this leg we watched as it pulled away.  Number two was now number one, and I started to look over my shoulder.

            Rounding the third and final mark, at the El Segundo buoy, we turned toward the finish line and starting a slow but encouraging game of catch up.  But, it wasn’t to be, our rival, a gaff rigged sloop, was over the line a good four minutes ahead.  One could argue we were faster, boat for boat, since they started eight minutes ahead, but we didn’t beat the handicap. One could also wonder what might have been if we too had a spinnaker to fly.  As it was, we were handed the first place trophy for “Ketches and Yawls”, but the coveted first over all was captured by the boat of which I only saw the stern…and I didn’t even catch its name.  I guess next year, if we are here, it can truly be “One More Time.”




Thursday, April 26, 2012

Mariner Magazine article

The following is from the March issue of Mariner Magazine, published in Marina del Rey, CA

Saving an Atkin’s Yawl

By Captain Jim Cash

            It has been a struggle, but I’ve survived.  A year ago, last December, I reported coming down with a full blown case of the dreaded Woodboatitis.  I’m happy to report that I’m on the mend with a diagnosis of full recovery, though a lot poorer. 

            In my case, it was exposure to a 1938 vintage racing yawl designed by William Atkin, called the Meridian, and built by shipwright Joel Johnson in his shop in Fairfield, Connecticut.  I’d been exposed to wood boats before, but this one really threw me for a loop.  I had let my guard down after attending the Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend, WA, when friend (I use that word loosely) called and lured me to an old boat yard in Wilmington, CA.  The next thing I remember was breaking out a crisp new check book and writing the equivalent to the “Great American Novel.”  Before it was over, I’d gone through several new packets of check, and wore out several credit cards to boot.  My insurance company is refusing to reimburse me claiming it was a non-covered ailment. 

            “You’re spending Millions of dollars on that old boat” my wife would harangue…I hope she’s exaggerating, I haven’t added it up… every time I would mentioned the stack of unread LA Times and suggest we drop her subscription.

            The disease started with a complete disassembly, clean, and preparation the interior for new paint and varnish, even the toilet was removed. Then a coat of white primmer was sprayed everywhere, from the keel board to the cabin top, in, under, around and through every nook, cranny, and floor board.  Then three coats of nice soft semi- gloss white with the natural teak, oak and mahogany trim and sole varnished to a high gloss…Nathanael Herreshoff would have been proud.

            By spring, the malignancy and metastasized to the exterior where the decks were tackled with abandon, over a thousand bungs replaced, and the old grout removed and recauked.  As spring rolled into summer it was time to remove the masts from their seats, strip them of the old varnish, and replace the ancient standing rigging. Wow, things have changed in the rigging world in the last seventy years.  At the same time the cabin structure was scrapped to bare and new varnish applied. 

            When the rigging was completed the hull was next and the process began with a with a haul out and tenting for termite treatment, the mandatory removal and inspection of fasteners for insurance and a fresh coat of bottom paint and sacrificial zincs. 

As summer gave way to fall, three quarters of the year, was gone and the hull had yet to be approached…it was time! Again, stripped down to bare wood, mahogany over oak frames, old caulking removed from between the tightly faired planks, and West System applied.  Then sanded, primed, and painted…a rich burgundy to complement the teak decks and mahogany cabin.  Her name Destiny was re-applied and she was launched: a miraculous transformation had occurred.

            She looked beautiful, but she still needed her electrics updated and her vintage Gray Marine auxiliary brought back to life.  By this time a new winter season, the earth having rotated a full 360º, came upon us and she was done… my malignmant was starting to abate.   Her interior glowed with new lighting, her engine room swept clean of fumes with a new blower, and all her navigation lights brightly warned others of her presents at night.   Her old gray Gray was purring on command and she moved gracefully through the water, 5 knots, at only 1500 RPMs.  We had done it, we saved a vintage nautical classic from the wrecking saw.

            Neptune, or some such deity must be pleased as I’m on my way to full recovery… and hopefully with a full dose of immunity.