Headlong Plunge Into Madness

Here is the continuing account of my headlong plunge into madness. It is a cautionary tale of triumph and sacrifice; reader take heed.

Know that I had set for myself a deadline to have this vessel completed by the end of the weekend. Here is what transpired: Saturday morning I started working at 4:00 AM and finished at Midnight, so it was roughly a 20 hour day of focused and frenzied activity which is kind of a blur now, and I am having trouble remembering what exactly I did and in which order. The only real break I took was when my wife called to tell me that she had stopped by Palace Art Supply after spending the day with our friend in the hospital before her discharge, and there was a lady there leading a craft project for kids. She asked if I could stop for a little while and bring Emma by. Since I have been really neglecting my family and prioritizing this project above all else since last weekend (which I DO NOT recommend or endorse) it was the least I could do to invest a little in them.

So Saturday after writing my 2:30 AM update and making a carafe of coffee, I was out working at 4:00 A.M. I fired up the propane heater to throw some warmth on the epoxy curing on the foils. Then I started cleaning up my workspace and gathering tools and materials and parts (when I'm focused on a project like this it means I've committed some precious time and I work manically, maniacally, and tools and parts and debris wind up strewn about everywhere, and I have to exercise tremendous focus to try and keep drill bits and hand tools - and that %$@#ing pencil! - from being sucked into the wreckage and out of sight). Then I climbed into the boat and began spraying the new can of expanding foam into the remaining gaps between the airboxes and the sides of the hull, and trying to slice some of the excess PL Premium off the chine planks and bottom. There is a very great deal of PL Premium incorporated into Jemima.

I couldn't start firing up saws until 8 am or so, so I mixed up some more epoxy and applied it where necessary to try and smooth out the foils and soak into any exposed fiberglass. The plywood I used turned out to be really junky with interior voids, so I tried to fill in some of those. I haven't done much thickening of epoxy for fill, but I understand that fine sawdust is ideal. However the I don't have a bag on my belt sander and the piles of shavings from the planer were far too coarse. I was not about to pull a Shorty at 5:00 AM, and awaken my wife to find me grinding up wood chips in her blender. So I went looking for flour in the cabinet. Since I live in California, all I could find was oatmeal and coarse ground flax seed. I had used the flax seed once to mix with some epoxy and fill voids in a broken chair leg I'd epoxied together, with good success. Had I been thinking clearly at the time, I might have tried to fashion a mortar and pestle to grind that coarse flax seed, or better yet the oatmeal, finer, but I was not and just poured it into the voids. The results are pretty much what you would imagine, i.e. maybe just a little bit better after sanding than if I had done nothing at all.

After that I started taking measurements for mounting the leeboard. It's a detachable kick-up style leeboard (the hull just barely fits in the back of the minivan if the seats are out of the way). I knew it would have to be mounted just forward of the center of effort of the sail, and that I would have to install a 2x4 to reinforce the attachment point. I had acquired a big old honking 1/2" bolt, washers, lock washers, and wing nut for the attachment. I "calculated" where I needed to drill the holes in the side of the hull and the leeboard in my usual fashion (some smartphone facilitated research, some measuring, some holding pieces together and moving them around and eyeballing, some guessing, some pencil marks, some shoulder shrugging, and ultimately some pulling of triggers on power tools). Special credit to David Gray of Polysail.com for his notes on building PD racer 100 "Dangerous Duck," as well as his expertise in polytarp sail making. I referred to his notes a lot while working on my leeboard. When I could finally fire up the saws I used a scrap of salvaged 2x4 for the reinforcement for the leeboard, and invested virtually no effort into esthetic considerations. I call this piece "Big Ugly I" (Big Ugly II to be introduced later).

Then I started building my rudder assembly. Special credit to Ken Simpson for his Modular PD Racer plans - I designed my rudder and rudder assembly based almost entirely on his diagram, with the exception of using some existing rudder mounting hardware from a Hobie 16 attached to the rudder box, and some savagely hacked aluminum angle "iron" mounted on the stern (this will undoubtedly need to be upgraded in the near future) instead of the eyebolt business which is supposed to be prone to failure. I'm really not sure that what I have constructed is any improvement though.

Around Noon I took the art project break, then completed the rudder assembly, which required 1' stock, which I did not have and had to to carve out from a really nasty old 2x4 that had been part of a concrete form in its former life. I THOUGHT I had gotten all the nails out, but I found one last one with which I ruined the new saw blade I had just put on my cordless circular saw. I really shouldn't have been using that little saw anyway...

Then I set to work on the final shaping of the foils. I used a razor knife to try and trim some of the rough edges of the fiberglass off before taking the sander to them. I'm not sure if this was a worthwhile investment of time, but they were really rough and I was able to clean them up considerably this way. While I got to work sanding them finer, Emma fell asleep and my wife volunteered to paint the rudder housing.

After the foils were sanded close enough for my tastes (or I ran out of sandpaper for my orbital sander, one or the other), I built my oar. I had one 6-foot hand-me-down oar, so I only had to build one. I should say that as the daylight faded my work product became more savage and crude, and this oar is a fine example, made from a 6 foot 1 1/4" softwood dowel (certainly a bad idea) with a rough scrap of 1/4" (?) plywood glued and screwed onto it.

Then I got to work on what I'm calling "Big Ugly II." Big Ugly II is a wheelbarrow wheel attached to a truly hideous hulk cut from a 2x6 and 2x4's and a piece of scrap pine, with a nut locked onto the bolt with a through pin that took me about 20 minutes of drilling through hardened steel to bore through the 5/8" nut and bolt, which is inserted into the mast step when the hull is upside-down to convert Jemima to "Wheelbarrow Mode" for ease of transportation. In practice, I have discovered that I will need to attach handles to the stern to facilitate convenient operation. On Sunday I wasted some time with a nylon web belt and some 3/8" twisted poly rope, and some stupid hooks screwed into scrap wood trying to try and make a shoulder strap that I would hook onto the gunwales for hands-free maneuvering. This was ultimately not successful.

I stubbornly refused to just scab a piece of scrap onto my lovingly crafted leeboard to serve as a handle, and it was too late to use the belt sander, so I finished off the night's work hand carving a contoured recess into the two foot remnant of the six foot dowel I'd cut down to four feet for the tiller handle, trying to match the curves of the top of the leeboard. Then I limped into the house, dusted myself off, and fell into bed at midnight.

Sunday morning I was up at 7:00 AM. My To-Do list included

These were all the little tasks that nonetheless required proper small hardware and special tools, and amazingly took almost eight hours to complete. The biggest thrill was laying out the sail and seeing it as it will look flying.I was able to complete every part and piece, although as of yet I have not attached them all simultaneously.

I said that I had set a deadline of this weekend to complete Jemima, but truthfully I had set the goal of SAILING her by this weekend. That was ultimately a mistake, and one which pushed the strain I had placed on my family to the breaking point. My mad and total commitment to completing this project within this arbitrary time frame placed a tremendous emotional strain on my family, and I will say again that I do not recommend or endorse this kind of approach. But my family is young, and I have been approaching challenges in this manner for my entire adult life, so the habit is hard to break. Add that this method is not only the most successful guarantee that I will complete a task, but also the one that I have used to achieve those accomplishments from which I have derived the greatest pride and satisfaction, and you can see why I have a very hard time abandoning it.

The problem that arises though, is that I tell myself and my family that this boat is something to enrich our lives and bring us together, but this approach creates resentment and distaste for the object of my obsession. My family is made to sacrifice heavily for my obsession, which contradicts my justification that this object is for their benefit. So it is a fine line that I am learning to navigate. The closest Jemima came to the water this weekend was the back of the minivan, and I inflicted a fair amount of suffering on all of the involved parties in the process. My wife told me that, had we not been married and together for years, but instead dating for less than six months, she would have broken up with me over this boat. That night I suffered from a terrible nightmare in which she left me, and a horrible man came to take Emma away from me. I had to fight him off with a stick (I think it was the dowel I used for the oar handle).

But, she is finished, and beautiful, and ready for her maiden voyage. Please take from my account any wisdom that it can furnish.