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.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Home to Marina del Rey

It has always been my intention that once the restoration was completed to bring Destiny back to Marina del Rey, about a 30 nautical mile trek around Palos Verdes peninsula, north past the Beach Cities.  Before she was sold to the individual that abandoned her at the Wilmington yard, she was part of a sailing program for underprivileged children, and sailing out of Marina del Rey.

            When I returned from my latest Hawaii delivery, I was disappointed to learn that the mechanic had made no further progress with the old Gray Marine.  It was now the first of December and I really wanted to have her close to home before the winter rains. I asked around and was told of another mechanic, closer to my generation, who could fix anything and knew these old engines.  I’d heard this before, but at this point I figured I had nothing to loose.  His name was Silver, when he arrived at the boat I explained all that had been done so far; rebuilt carbureator, new wires, new points, rebuilt distributor, new plugs, etc.  He, like the others, tore into the engine with abandon.  He too wanted to blame the carbureator at first and replaced it with one he had at his shop,  when that didn’t solve the problem he was convinced it was the fuel pump, but luckily when he tested it, the fuel flow was strong.  Next he removed the distributor and tested spark, even I could see the tiny light jumping in sequence.  Then, unlike the others, he removed the plate at the rear of the engine into which the distributor attached.  Here was a fiber gear.  Holding the distributor armature and turning the gear he found that the gear was slipping.  I saw the nod of his head as he lifted it to show me the problem.  The engine could not stay in time.  “I doubt if we can find these gears anymore, but I think I can fix it.”  He said. 

            “How long?”  I asked expecting another week at the least.  “I’ll have it back together in the morning.” He said, it was already .  Sure enough the next day when I arrived at the boat he was there and the engine was purring like a lion.  “You know, your starter needs to be lubricated, I’ll take it to my shop and have it back tomorrow.” The starter, though reliable, was making a terrible noise when it kicked in, so I consented. Again good to his word in the morning a new starter was bolted on the block. “Oh, I had a rebuilt one at the shop, so I just swapped them out.”  He said as he packed his tools.  “Give me a call if anything goes wrong.”           

            Thinking a great re-launch voyage would be to go to historical Catalina Island,  Valerie, myself and some friends made New Years Eve reservations at Two Harbors, about a four hour sail from our work docks in Wilmington.  Bright and early the morning of New Years Eve, we packed the boat for two nights at the island and fired up the engine.  We eased the boat out of the slip and retraced our route of the previous month, but this time the engine hummed along without a glitch. It was a sunny December day in Southern California, but when we turned under the Vincent Thomas bridge we couldn’t see past “Ports O' Call,” and the closer we got to the ocean the denser it got…the dreaded California FOG.  We ventured out hoping we would see some clearing, there were even signs of blue if you looked straight up, but as soon as we passed Terminal Island we were engulfed in a cotton like fog so thick I could not see ten feet past the bow.  We didn’t have radar, or even a horn, I hate to say, so I turned around.  Three more attempts were tried that afternoon before calling it a day heading back to the slip.

            New Years day was like another time entirely, and one would not have guessed we were in the same harbor when we again slipped out of Colonial marina.  My volunteer crew was up for another attempt, and this time we had a delightful and uneventful motor-sail to Marina del Rey.  The winds were light, but we were able to sail a little after passing Palos Verdes and falling off to a heading of 350º  All four sails were flying and we saw 7 knots on the hand held GPS. 

            I had arranged for a temporary slip on the sea wall in front of the “Ship’s Store,” on Panay Way, and by we were pulling in.  No sooner than the lines were tied, we already had an audience of on-lookers.  Shouts of “She sure is beautiful”, and “Now, that’s a real boat” were coming from the walk way along the shore. I was beaming inside.
            Since then we have taken the boat out for one afternoon sail on Santa Monica Bay to get some photos under sail, but the winds were light.  Getting out of the tight slip was quite a challenge.  Luckily, there was an empty slip behind to back into, but still needed to have the bow pulled a round manually to make the turn.  These boats were not designed for the compressed boat slips of the modern marinas.  We watched the start of the “Malibu and Return” race, the first of the 2012 season, and paced the cruising class start for a while.  I felt good that we were keeping up with the new fancy fiberglass cruisers until we had to fall off and head back to the marina.