Monday, April 10, 2017

Ed Opheim Dories

The Kodiak Archipelago has a long, rich tradition of dory construction and use. This is a story of the rugged and capable dories built for the local fisheries by Ed Opheim.

The village of Ouzinkie is located on Spruce Island, approximately twelve miles north of Kodiak, Alaska.  In the early days of North American land appropriation, Ouzinkie became an outlying community for the Russian American Company, an official St Petersburg effort to expand settlement along the west coast of the North American continent. The Russians referred to the settlement in 1849 as "Uzenkiy," meaning "village of Russians and Creoles." In 1889, the Royal Packing Company constructed a cannery at Ouzinkie, which spurred the development of a modern fishery. This aerial photo is from 1960.

The earliest commercial fishing in Alaska was the salt cod industry. Hand-built dories used in this labor intensive effort were oar-powered until the 1920's, when small horsepower outboards were employed.
Ed Opheim, Sr. recalled that cod were so abundant around Unga, where he was born in 1910, that a red rag was all that was needed for bait.

Opheim had his own small lumber mill, processing the local spruce he used in dory construction. Hundreds of his boats were used in cod and salmon fisheries.
With his two sons, Ed Jr. and Norman, he built more than six hundred dories and skiffs from native spruce. For decades they were ubiquitous in the salmon gillnet fleet until aluminum and fiberglass skiffs replaced them in the 1980's - though his beautiful dories still ply Alaskan waters today.

Recently, I had a chance to look at an original 24-foot Opheim dory. Roy Parkinson owns this iconic piece of history and it has been fifteen years since he motored the boat to Port Townsend, WA, from SE Alaska. Roy fished this boat for several years in Alaska, everything from salmon to crab (the cod fishery has long since been decimated). His Opheim dory is outfitted with a 13hp Perkins diesel and once sported a sprit-rigged sail.

Building with solid timber has the advantage that all the parts can be replaced as needed, so as you might expect, Doryman is considering making Roy an offer on this fine old vessel. Despite years of neglect, it's sturdy carvel-planked hull is still tough, though the plank on frame bottom appears to be in sad shape. As I ran my hand along the still substantial shear-guard, years of plying the challenging waters of Alaska came to mind. This old dory as more life left in her, no doubt of that.

In his later years, Ed Opheim moved to Kodiak,
took up writing, and his books are now celebrated local lore. (Ed lived to be 100 years old.)
He wrote "The Memoirs and Saga of a Cod Fisherman's Son: Ten years of dory-fishing cod (1923-1933) at Sunny Cove, Spruce Island, Alaska", which is sadly out of print and as far as I can tell, no longer available.
If anyone knows of a copy, I'd love to hear of it.

Old photos of Ouzinkie courtesy of Timothy Smith.
Thanks to Marty Loken, boat restorer extraordinaire, for bringing this old work boat to my attention.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Doryman's Boatyard

Last July a Charles Wittholz 14' 11'' Catboat showed up in the Boatyard, in need of love. It's a small yacht and getting her back on the water seemed a slam-dunk. Fate had other plans, however and the strange symptoms that took me by surprise the day she arrived turned out to have been possibly a stroke. Not one to run to a doctor, it took a while of struggling to act normal (acting normal isn't exactly my modus vivendi, but bear with me) before it became obvious, that among other things, the wee catboat was not going to make it out of the 'Yard anytime soon.

I'm happy to report most of the debilitating symptoms have abated. Of course, as soon as weather permitted, Doryman was back in the Boatyard doling out love in generous amounts. Gotta love those boats!

As the story goes, my good friend, Doug Follett was given this work-boat legend by an ancient mariner, now retired from the sea. Her name was Meow (no kidding). After extensive refit and repair, she has emerged as Puffin. The plan is to launch Puffin within the week. The last two months have been an elaborate dance with late-winter, early-spring weather, since work progresses outside. I'm often asked how I can glue, paint, or for that matter, work outside during the winter. Don't tell anyone - manufacturers specifications are very conservative.

Work done in boatyards all over the Pacific Northwest, in almost any weather, are testament. I chose my means and materials carefully, beyond that, it's a privileged secret.

So, my friends, this is a teaser. If all goes as planned, there will be more to tell soon. Just got some varnish on the brightwork today. The mast, yard and boom are repaired, painted and ready to go. She'll get a waterline boot-top stripe tomorrow.

Puffin sports an amazingly large gaff rig, as per design. This is going to be fun.

The Charles Wittholz catboat is a V-bottomed seaworthy pocket daysailer/cruiser designed for plywood construction:
Charles Wittholz
Plywood planking over sawn frames.
14' 11"
7' 4 1/2"
(cb up) - 1' 4" (cb down) - 3' 8"

Displacement: 1,400 lbs.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


I don't often promote the work of others, done for profit, because of an ingrained suspicion of the profit motive. You will not find advertisements here, though the opportunity for profit exists. Exceptions do appear from time to time, when I feel the people involved have a mission above and beyond making money, or feeding their ego.

Thus, I find myself in the compromising position of promoting the work of a best-selling author. In this case, it is with the greatest pleasure. Apparently late to the game, I've recently digested the Wool series by Hugh Howey. In a previous post, I concurred with the opinion that writers, painters, musicians, sculptors, poets, designers, creators, makers of things, dreamers of dreams, have a responsibility to begin the process of imagining a compassionate future, in the face of economic and ecological unraveling. Hugh Howey has offered such a polemic for our consideration.

In the novel, Wool, it's prequel Shift and the sequel, Dust, we find a science fiction world all too believable. It's been many years of compulsive reading since I've found myself in a fictional world where I actually sympathized with and cared about the characters. Hugh has this to say about this trilogy:
" of the ideas I wanted to capture is the insanity of walling ourselves off from each other, and all the trillions we spend defending from and attacking one another, when we’re all in the same green-and-blue space-boat. Viewed from afar, it’s absolutely bonkers. Yet we persist."
If you're interested, he has a lot more to say about this topic in a recent blog post, which can be found on his website, The Wayfinder. Hugh has obviously thought a lot about the human condition in reference to the rock we all share and finds hope in the most desperate situations.

Another quote from Howey, borrowed from the missive cited above:
"Science fiction is full of laments over the wastefulness of war. Many such books look to the cosmos as a place we should be building bridges. I think we’ve got a perfectly good home right here to concentrate on first. It’s a strange dichotomy of optimism and pessimism to think that we can settle on and terraform Mars, but that we can’t possibly figure out a few degree rise in temperature here. It’s the optimism of science coupled with the pessimism of our relationship with nature. But really, if the science were so easy, we could settle by the millions in Antarctica. And if nature were such a pushover, we’d have toppled her by now."
The argument here is for dissolving the artificial barriers we've built for keeping us separate and in conflict, favoring bridges uniting us in common cause. I strongly suggest you check out the essay linked to above and let me know what you think. To repeat the travesties of the past is folly.

If you can imagine it, anything is possible. Please be very careful what you wish for.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Firefly Revisited

Four years ago, we heard from Bayard Storey, from Los Angeles, CA, who was building an ultralight Firefly II from the drafting board of Ken Basset. Recently Bayard wrote to me with an update.

It's always good to hear from old friends...

Bayard is currently finishing another ultralight double rowing racer, which is an indication of how long it's been since his build of the Firefly II. He and his brother raced the Firefly II last summer in the Blackburn Challenge in Gloucester, Mass and took gold in the Touring Double division (20+ miles in 3 hours, 56 seconds).

It's interesting that, even though he describes the Firefly II as "a plywood tub, if an elegant one", it turns out that the lighter, purpose built racer wasn't up to heavier seas and the worthy Firefly II was the boat that won the day.

Here is his story (no pun intended), in Bayard's words:
"(the Firefly) came out to about 85lbs without row rigs, and 120 with. My brother and I raced it this summer in the Blackburn Challenge in Gloucester, Mass and took gold in the Touring Double division (20+ miles in 3:00 hours 56 seconds (a wrong turn kept us just over 3 hours). Great race, great group putting it on and participating, highly recommend anyone try it if they can."

"Getting the boat from L.A. to Gloucester was a real logistical challenge. I had to get it to a trailer about an hour away from me, and they brought it to Ohio (for club nationals). I flew to Oak Ridge, TN to meet my brother (co-rower, ultra-marathoner with some rowing experience), we bodged together a Home Depot bits and pieces rack (Gorilla Tape is amazingly useful -- we went through two rolls) for his SUV, then drove north to Ohio to pick up the boat. From there we barreled northeast to Mass. The trailer to Ohio was the missing link I only belatedly discovered - I've been meaning to get to that race for years."

"The white boat (pictured to the left) is a new design from a guy who has won the Blackburn in a single version of it in both the fixed seat single and sliding seat touring single divisions (he just built a sliding rig and boom, won)! We worked with a terrific guy in Austria (gotta love boat forums) to get the lines plans optimized for the double version and I had an amateur canoe builder used to strip building build the bare hull about 3 hours from me, all via internet. I added the decks, rigging, etc. later. It's got the usual red cedar strips up to the waterline and then very light paulownia from there to the sheer. Decks are 1.5mm aircraft ply backed by Depron foam in spots to stiffen it. Some carbon tubes, cedar and paulownia were used for the internal furniture. So ready to row it's about 85lbs. Despite the shape, it's the same length and max beam as the Firefly2 and is also meant to fit the design class for FISA coastal rowing 2X (although because there is a weight minimum there, some 35 pounds would have to be added -- however, lead along the keel would only further stabilize it). At this point, though, I don't plan to race FISA."
"That was the boat which we meant to take to the Blackburn as it's about 1-1.5mph faster over the long haul than the Firefly which is, relatively speaking, a plywood tub, if an elegant one. But when my brother came out (to LA) for a long weekend to practice ocean rowing, in white caps and a small craft warning, we discovered that the white boat is speedy in fairly calm water but rolls a lot in serious seas. That's due to too high seat/oarlocks, and the wing riggers being at gunwale height. So I need to rework the riggers to lower the oarlocks, and also lower the seats and feet (especially in bow) to get the center of gravity a few inches down.

"In the end the back-up boat, Firefly2, went weirdly fast (average 7mph even with breaks) so I have a newfound affection for it. And it's stable as hell and can handle any weather thrown at it."

That's an impressive claim to make for any craft. Kudos to Bayard and the Firefly II. Though this blog is not about racing, it is certainly about being able to weather any and all conditions, with style. 
Thank you, Bayard. (his photo essay can be found on Flickr)

 All photos courtesy of Bayard Storey.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Winter Tetrapod Christening

A Peapod named Dunlin and a Canoe named Corvidius

Last Sunday, the local small boating community gathered for a dual launch and christening. It was a fine day, just above freezing, with a light wind - coffee and scones thoughtfully provided.

Corvidae is a cosmopolitan family of birds that contains crows, jays and magpies. They are known as the crow family. The genus Corvus, including jackdaws, crows, and ravens, makes up over a third of the entire family. They are considered the most intelligent of birds, and among the most intelligent of all animals
Ken Miller built his canoe this year and called her Corvidius, based on the family name of crows and ravens. She is a Northwest Coastal Indian inspired canoe and is built in plywood.
Photo, Ken Miller.

The Dunlin is highly gregarious in winter, sometimes forming large flocks on coastal mudflats or sandy beaches. Large numbers can often be seen in synchronized flight on stop-overs during migration or in their winter habitat.
Kees Prins built his peapod this year and called her Dunlin. This oar and sail cruising boat is inspired by the East Coast (US) peapod and is strip-planked with red cedar strips, framed and decked in plywood.

On Sunday, December 11th, at the launch ramp at Boat Haven, Port Townsend, WA, these two original, hand-built designs were dipped in the water for the first time. A winter christening, and an impressive gathering of hearty souls.  Photo by Kate Chadwick.

Kees went first, with Dunlin. The design is unique and his workmanship is impeccable. Dunlin sports a sail rig inspired by the Sea Pearl; the sails furl all standing, around carbon fiber masts. She is outfitted with twin retractable foils, a kick-up rudder and water ballast, all for efficient handling under sail or oar. She has no motor. Sealed watertight stowage compartments assure safe recovery in the event of a capsize.
Photo courtesy of Galen Piel.

Launching Dunlin, December 2016 from doryman on Vimeo.

Dunlin is a light and lively bird. Her first sail of the day was tender, even in light wind. Kees reports that loaded with 200 lbs of water ballast on her second run, she felt much more stable.

Running rigging. Please note the tiller arrangement mounted at the mizzen mast partner.

Beautifully carved rudder foil.
The kind of detail that sets Kees apart.
He is a consummate professional and it shows.

Next up was Ken Miller, with  Corvidius. Ken worked out this design himself, based on local Northwest aboriginal canoes. He did a great job, conceptually.

Once in the water, Corvidius proved to be a bit tender. When he got in, I was very concerned for him because, as you may remember, I've been there, done that. Our good friend Laingdon kept a good hold on the gunnel, at the dock, until Ken opted to climb back out.
I'll spare Ken any photo evidence. Suffice to say, he looked pretty nervous. No one got wet this time.

So, it's back to the drawing board for Ken. He thinks some ballast will do the trick, though the consensus from the gallery was for outriggers. We hope to follow Ken on this journey, to see what he comes up with.

Congratulations to Ken and Kees on jobs well done. Thanks to both of you for taking us along.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

A Wee Pram

Yet another Stone Horse story...

The Sam Crocker Stone Horse, Belle Starr has been mentioned in these pages many times. Hopefully you are not tired of hearing about her yet, because here is a new chapter.

Cruising on Belle Starr is a treat. She's a well mannered boat and comfortable. Except for one thing. Headroom. Inside, one must sit down, no options. Please don't get me wrong, the design appeals to me aesthetically, wherein lies a quandary.
Most of the time, the low profile is just what is needed. Under sail, there is no obstruction for a clear view in all directions. The flush deck is a joy for working around. But there are those wet days at anchor when it would be nice to stand up, if only in the companionway, to get dressed, or take a look around.

There is a local boat, also designed by Sam Crocker, called the Macaw. She is obviously a big sister to the Stone Horse. In this photo of her, please note the raised companionway doghouse. Very pleasing to my eye. How would Belle Starr stand up to such a design change? After all, the Macaw is a thirty-six foot boat.

So, I sketched a raised companionway for Belle, to fill the available deck space, and came up with a trunk three feet wide, five feet long and a foot high, with a sliding hatch, shown here.

Still not convinced this protuberance would not spoil the look of a well designed boat, I decided to mock-up the add-on in the shop, with heavy cardboard. The full sized model was soon abandoned, because it quickly became apparent that with a tweak here and there, what I would have was a Wee Pram.

A tender less than six feet long apparently has few uses, because I was not able to find many appealing designs for such a vessel. My calculations showed me that the Wee Pram would carry 3-400 pounds, so I designed one of my own.
The pram will fit over the hatch, behind the mast. The aft transom has a removable panel, to facilitate access to the companionway.

The forward transom will notch around the mast, to help secure the load. I may even install deadlights in the hull panels, to give a more cabin-like appearance.
(hard to tell which is the bow and which is the transom, eh? This is the view looking aft.)
Cold weather (and an unheated shop) have temporarily suspended construction, though here in the Pacific Northwest, freezing weather doesn't last long, so look forward to photos of the Wee Pram-as-trunk-cabin, in the near future.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Dark Mountain

In these times of uncertainty, when the cult of personality replaces reason and compassion, we look to false leaders to solve problems we have created for ourselves. Hubris becomes Nemesis. I know many young people who are nihilistic, to the extreme of anarchy, terrorism, and destruction. I offer that there is a different solution, one that embraces change, by which I don't mean a return to some idealized past, but openly embracing the opportunity for a future as yet unimagined. For your perusal, I offer the following polemic:

"The pattern of ordinary life, in which so much stays the same from one day to the next, disguises the fragility of its fabric. How many of our activities are made possible by the impression of stability that pattern gives? So long as it repeats, or varies steadily enough, we are able to plan for tomorrow as if all the things we rely on and don’t think about too care- fully will still be there. When the pattern is broken, by civil war or natural disaster or the smaller-scale tragedies that tear at its fabric, many of those activities become impossible or meaningless, while simply meeting needs we once took for granted may occupy much of our lives.

Human civilization is an intensely fragile construction. It is built on little more than belief: belief in the rightness of its values; belief in the strength of its system of law and order; belief in its currency; above all, perhaps, belief in its future.

That civilizations fall, sooner or later, is as much a law of history as gravity is a law of physics. What remains after the fall is a wild mixture of cultural debris, confused and angry people whose certainties have betrayed them, and those forces which were always there, deeper than the foundations of the city walls: the desire to survive and the desire for meaning.

Increasingly, people are restless. The engineers group themselves into competing teams, but neither side seems to know what to do, and neither seems much different from the other. Around the world, discontent can be heard.

Today’s generations are demonstrably less content, and consequently less optimistic, than those that went before. They work longer hours, with less security, and less chance of leaving behind the social back- ground into which they were born. They fear crime, social breakdown, overdevelopment, environmental collapse. They do not believe that the future will be better than the past.

And so we find ourselves, all of us together, poised trembling on the edge of a change so massive that we have no way of gauging it. None of us knows where to look, but all of us know not to look down. Secretly, we all think we are doomed: even the politicians think this; even the environmentalists. Some of us deal with it by going shopping. Some deal with it by hoping it is true. Some give up in despair. Some work frantically to try and fend off the coming storm.

Ecocide demands a response. That response is too important to be left to politicians, economists, conceptual thinkers, number-crunchers; too all-pervasive to be left to activists or campaigners... Artists are needed... We believe that artists — which is to us the most welcoming of words, taking under its wing writers of all kinds, painters, musicians, sculptors, poets, designers, creators, makers of things, dreamers of dreams — have a responsibility to begin the process of decoupling. We believe that, in the age of ecocide, the last taboo must be broken — and that only artists can do it."

‘We must unhumanise our views a little, and become confident
As the rock and ocean that we were made from.’

  1. We live in a time of social, economic and ecological unraveling. All around us are signs that our whole way of living is already passing into history. We will face this reality honestly and learn how to live with it.
  2. We reject the faith which holds that the converging crises of our times can be reduced to a set of ‘problems’ in need of technological or political ‘solutions’.
  3. We believe that the roots of these crises lie in the stories we have been telling ourselves. We intend to challenge the stories which underpin our civilization: the myth of progress, the myth of human centrality, and the myth of our separation from ‘nature’. These myths are more dangerous for the fact that we have forgotten they are myths.
  4. We will reassert the role of storytelling as more than mere entertainment. It is through stories that we weave reality.
  5. Humans are not the point and purpose of the planet. Our art will begin with the attempt to step outside the human bubble. By careful attention, we will reengage with the non-human world.
  6. We will celebrate writing and art which is grounded in a sense of place and of time. Our literature has been dominated for too long by those who inhabit the cosmopolitan citadels.
  7. We will not lose ourselves in the elaboration of theories or ideologies. Our words will be elemental. We write with dirt under our fingernails.
  8. The end of the world as we know it is not the end of the world full stop. Together, we will find the hope beyond hope, the paths which lead to the unknown world ahead of us.

From the Dark Mountain Project

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Stickleback Dory (Amberjack)

Iain Oughtred developed detailed plans for this lapstrake (plywood) Swampscott dory derivative. My good friend, Jim Reim recently built one and our mutual friend, John Kohnen teases him about going to an Australian designer living in Scotland, to get plans for a very American boat.

Iain readily acknowledges the origins of the Stickleback in his description of the design brief:
"The Amberjack has the second chine that is the indicator of the Swampscott type so favored of the corn cob pipe smoking Eggamoggin Reach types, up there in Maine. There's a few here in OZ too, people like the compromise dory style, with their handier sailing ability and still very good rowing and load carrying potential."

Jim and I have worked together on volunteer boat projects and I can attest to his focus and attention to detail. Raven shows the quality we have come to expect from this amateur builder. Jim is still a bit nervous about sailing Raven. She sports a big sail, and he's unfamiliar with the sprit rig, though the accompanying photos tell a slightly different story.

Designer: Iain Oughtred
LOA: 15' 8"
Beam: 4' 5"
Draft: (board down) - 6" (board up) - 2' 8"
Displacement: 125-150 lbs.
Materials: Wood (plywood)
Propulsion: sail, oars
Skill Level to Build: Basic to Intermediate

Jim in Raven, with his bird dog, Lucy.

Happy Skipper.
Congratulations Jim!

All photos courtesy of boat photographer extraordinaire,  John Kohnen. Thank you, John.

He who would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.
Thomas Paine

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Jack O'Lantern

I recently had the pleasure of sailing the double-ended, gaff-rigged schooner, Jack O'Lantern, owned by Bruce Barnes, of Taos New Mexico. Bruce acquired this boat from builder Charlie Taylor, in a partially complete state and spent the last few years in Port Townsend, Washington, fitting the boat out. The day I crewed on Jack O'Lantern was the first time she had been under sail since her build began, back in 1975.

Jack O'Lantern is a fifty foot Tancook Whaler, so called, though they did no whaling, a fishing boat hailing from Tancook Island, Nova Scotia. She is an adaptation of a fine design, more than a little out of the ordinary, which evolved to its peak, in the mouth of Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, around the middle of the 19th century.

The whalers probably rose from a long-standing double-ender tradition traceable to European craft including the Dutch pinques, the French chaloupes and the shallops of the English and the Basques. Translated to the New World, these ancestors evolved into the Chebacco boats, Cowhorns, and later Nomans Land boats, Isle au Shoals, Hampton whalers, pinkys, Quoddy boats, and the Gaspe (Canada) boats or pinques.

The small open boats of the North American fisheries evolved from the laws of usage and adapted to the regional demands and the type of fishery. Since whaling was an early fishery and continued well into the 19th century on that coast, it seems likely that whaleboats of varying designs had their part in the development of the Tancook.

"Shortly, through the fog, appeared brown sails (their sails were nearly always tanned) and a white hull, between 40 and 50 feet long. The boat seemed to approach slowly, to hesitate a moment, and then to leap past in the manner of boats passing at sea... But there was time to observe two or three men in yellow oilskins, the helmsman standing with the end of the great ten-foot tiller behind his back, lifted slightly form the comb, and the load of barrels and boxes partly covered by a tarpaulin or, more likely, by the brown staysail (it was not set) in her waist… They were then close aboard. The tiller was swung a trifle to weather; the loose-footed overlapping foresail filled with an audible snap, and away she went, at eight or nine knots, her lee rail occasionally awash, and with a smoothness and lack of fuss in that broken water which, somehow, no other boat has ever seemed to me quite able to obtain – and I have known some good ones! … My friend remarked … “Damn good boats, them Tancook Whalers!”" ( Ernest Bell, Yachting, February, 1933)
 photo e3362ae8-005f-4e1e-b5af-8bb5f2317521_zpsca0cba8a.jpg

Obviously Charlie Taylor has taken liberties in adapting the open Tancook Whaler into a closed cabin yacht. Jack O'Lantern, though she has a deep ballasted keel, coupled with a heavy plate centerboard, has a good bit of top-hamper and could use more ballast. In the accompanying photos, taken during the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival, she has taken down her foresail and may still be over-canvased.

And here's the clincher: Jack O'Lantern is for sale. You all know how much Doryman loves a project...
LOA:  60 feet
LOD:  50 feet
Beam: 12 feet