The Water is Wide
01 December 2021
Pat Conroy wrote this book about his experience as a new teacher in the remote and backward Daufuskie Island, SC. He was hired, a white teacher to go to this all black school as an initiative to desegregate schools. The book is fascinating. On day one he learned the students didn't even know they lived in the United States.
I visited Hilton Head Island a few times in the late 70's. Daufuskie Island is only a mile or so from Hilton Head. The contrast from one of the wealthiest places in the US to Daufuskie Island is the premise about that stretch of water being a great divide. We would watch a small john boat from Daufuskie visit Harbor Town every day to get the mail. My brother, Bob and I would call the Daufuskie Island General Store just to hear the Gullah accent.
Today, I saw the stretch of water between Daufuskie Island and Hilton Head from the other side. It has been a place I have always wanted to visit. I wasn't disappointed.
From Uproar's anchorage off the Savannah River, it was a ten mile dinghy ride to Daufuskie. This was along the ICW and clearly marked. I was lucky to have the current with me. Still, it was quite a long dinghy ride but fun on this calm day. I arrived at the Freeport Marina and was able to leave the dinghy and assemble my bike on the dock. At the General Store, I obtained a map of the island and a recommendation to start at the museum.
I was greeted outside the museum by Chris and her Cockapoo, Sophie. She explained the museum was three buildings and she would return after Sophie's potty run. “Just look around and help yourself.”
The first building was a modern shed with a beautifully restored horse-drawn buggy. I'm amazed at the fine work and design that went into these spindly craft. Chris met me in the museum and became a font of information about her island. The Gullah, freed black slaves who populated the island until 1980's are almost gone. There are only 14 people, three families left. Instead, Daufuskie Island is populated with second homes. Chris and about 50 other people live there year around. There are about 450 other part-time residents.
Chris led me through exhibits showing the First Nation people about 7,000 years ago, Civil War relics and Gullah artifacts. She explained there were four major developments on the island with mixed results. Two are still gated communities but one has fallen into complete ruin, the other still has nice homes but the golf course and club house has been acquired by an individual who won't let the homeowners join. She said, “It takes a certain type of person to live in a remote island where grocery shopping involves a ferry ride. You couldn't drag me off this island.”
The museum itself was the first white Baptist church on the island. The carriage was owned by the island's midwife. She delivered 135 babies, all alive during her practice. The other building was a small school with one wall of windows, before electricity. The windows faced away from the road to reduce distractions.
With map in hand, I rode my bike down Haig Point Road to the other end of the island. This led me to Melrose Development. The Avenue of the Oaks, boulevard leading to the hotel ruin, is the scene of the old South with Spanish Moss dripping from the gnarled trees. The golf course, club house and hotel are all in ruin but cottages along the beach are mostly in use as is the pool and adjoining restaurant. The Hilton Head, Harbor Town Lighthouse was in sight across the sound.
Further along the road, I turned onto School road. School road is all sand, a tough ride on a bike! But it led to the beautiful First Union African Baptist Church. I was able to sit quietly inside and reflect. Out back was a replica of a Praise House. This is a place where slaves would meet to worship their African ways mixed with Christianity. A plaque stated, “The slaves had a hard time accepting Jesus as a loving, human deity. They had not witnessed kindness from man.”
Next down the road was the Mary Fields School where Pat Conroy taught. Part of the school is now Daufuskie Blue, a studio featuring Indigo dyed fabric and clothing. Indigo grows wild on Daufuskie and was an important cash crop when agriculture was more prevalent. It was explained Indigo is the only natural source for deep blue color. I was in no hurry and enjoyed conversations with everyone I met. People would even stop their golf carts when they saw me looking at my map.
Next stop, Daufuskie Rum Distillery. Yes, the rum tour continues. There was no tasting but I sure bought a bottle of their aged rum. The lady said it was her husband's most proud product. They also produced whiskey and flavored vodka, their best seller. I enjoyed a soda while talking with the staff. I should have opened my bottle of rum to juice it up.
Lots more bike riding and just taking in the sights. This is not a prosperous place and there were old, abandoned buildings. But the new construction is carefully secluded away and prices are soaring.
I went back to the museum to buy a book. Chris said I shouldn't add weight to my backpack for the riding. She was talking excitedly on the phone, a tourist in a rented golf cart had smashed the fence and run over a large Rosemary bush. Yes, I could grab some Rosemary to take back to Uproar along with my book.
At the marina complex, I had a late lunch at the Old Daufuskie Crab Company, bought dinghy gas and paid another visit to the General Store. It is mostly a gift shop but one could easily imagine it being an important source for everything needed for island life, years ago before ferries to the island.
Back in the dinghy with the gas can and bike, I headed back to Uproar. Fortunately, I was on Daufuskie long enough for the current to switch, again the current was with me on the way back. Uproar was patiently waiting in the quiet pond where we anchored yesterday.
My visit to Daufuskie did not disappoint. I wish there were still some Gullah people there to meet but the current residents were gracious and proud of their remote home. There is a real feel and sense of timelessness on Daufuskie Island, something I will take with me. And I have a new, excellent rum to enjoy while writing.
30 November 2021
Last blog about Uproar was in June, 2021 when we sailed from the Bahamas to Beaufort, NC. Mid-October we drove Snow Flake to Beaufort to get Uproar ready to sail again. Lisa and I spent two weeks working hard on a bottom job, drive shaft replacement, watermaker membrane replacement, topside compound/wax and a long list of maintenance items. Not the least of which was a thorough cleaning of the interior including laundering the cushion covers. Every surface was cleaned, we had a bit of mold over the summer storage, the first time Uproar was stored in the past six years.
Uproar was launched with a bit of fanfare, Bill and Judy (S/V Whisper) happened by to help us deliver Uproar from the boatyard to Homer Smith Marina in Beaufort. Then gale force winds descended into the North Atlantic. Lisa and I were pinned to the dock for a week, waiting for better weather.
The “plan” was to immediately sail the 1500 miles to the Caribbean, enjoy the winter in the tropics, then sail to the Med, the last of our bucket list destinations. It wasn't just weather keeping us from heading offshore to the Caribbean. The Italian Consulate in Chicago was rather possessive of our passports. We had applied for a long-stay visa for Italy to aid in our Med cruising plans. “Sure, just give us a pre-paid, addressed envelope and we will mail your passports, gratzie.”
Well, we were sitting in Beaufort, waiting for good weather and still no passports. And no response from Chicago/Italy to our emails or phone calls. Now let me tell you, Beaufort is a mighty nice place to be stuck. What a cute little, historic town. Great bars, restaurants and our first nano-brewery. The Royal James bar has world class $5 hamburgers and cheap beer. It has all the ingredients for a perfect sailor's bar. One night we met two other Milwaukee cruisers and a handful of their cruiser friends. What a great time.
With no passports, our cruising options were limited to the USA. No problem, lots of cruisers just transit the east coast of the US, Maine or thereabouts in the summer, Florida in the winter. But Lisa was not excited about this option. She caught my nasty cold and everything piled up to where she decided heading back to WI was her best option.
I decided to keep Uproar sailing south for when our passport situation was straightened out. We would then have options, we could continue to the Caribbean, hang out in Florida or ? As Lisa says, “Cruiser's plans are written in sand at low tide.”
Now I'm on Uproar, heading south with no particular plan. What could be better? Well, Lisa being with me, #1. She is still coughing her head off (no Covid after multiple tests). Warmer weather would certainly help. It gets down to the high 30's at night. And I don't have any heat on Uproar. Normally our heat pump works as A/C and heat. But it took a crap in Beaufort. It also requires dock power to operate. That costs a lot! Docks start at about $100/night!!!!! I call marinas “boat jail.”
Most of the places Lisa and I have cruised don't even have marinas. We anchor out, wherever we want to. In a marina, there is little privacy, little cooling breeze and perhaps bugs and noise. No thank you! Not to mention the expense. But on the US east coast, marinas are the way of life. Still, not for Uproar.
I'm a guerrilla cruiser. I put an anchor down and dinghy to shore. From Beaufort, I sailed to Wrightsville Beach, NC, a beautiful spot with protected anchorage. There I was fortunate enough to meet up with Jamie and Cheryl from Pacific High and Dave and Dan from Bel Canto. I have known Jamie from years of racing in Milwaukee. We met Dave and Sandy in the Bahamas, six years ago. But cruising friendships endure. Dave and Sandy brought me along to Dave's brother's Thanksgiving dinner in Charlestown, SC.
Yeah, the trip from Wrightsville Beach to Charleston wasn't that great but we made it. Charleston was a fun place to explore on my bike but the anchorage was not that calm. Didn't matter, I spent much of the days off the boat, bike riding.
Now I'm in a river, anchored near Savannah, GA. I asked on a FB group for ICW sailing about a good anchorage near Savannah. All replies were for a favorite marina. No marinas!!! I studied the charts and found a “pond” right off the Savannah River and ICW intersection. It was a bit scary getting in here. Uproar has a very deep keel which is not easily floated in the ICW. Still, I carefully motored here and set the anchor. It is calm and quiet. Even sunny today.
This is a type of cruising not like anything we have experienced the past six years. It is not tropical, it is not particularly beautiful and the water is brown. But now I feel like I'm in the rhythm of the east coast cruising. Cruising friends, new and old are the best. People everywhere we go are most generous and welcoming. That sounds trite but far from it.
The two guys sitting next to me at the Brick sports bar for the Ohio State, Michigan game were both rooting for Michigan with me. Can't beat that!
Velocette part 8, glassing the hull
23 November 2021
Frozen snot! That's what wooden boat folks call fiberglass. Doesn't matter, strip planked boats must be fiberglassed inside and out. The strips form the shape and provide a stiff core for the fiberglass skins. Without the fiberglass, the wood just isn't strong enough. Most builders don't even use waterproof glue to glue the strips together. Without fiberglass, the boat would just melt apart. But Titebond now makes a waterproof wood glue and I used it.
But first, the hull has to be planed and sanded perfectly smooth. This step is crucial to getting a smooth, fair shape. As stated before, extra care aligning the strips will lessen the work to fair the hull. I'll pay a bit more attention the next time. I started with a long plane taking paper thin shavings at 45 degree angles to the planks. The smell of the freshly cut cedar and walking barefoot among the carpet of shavings is a joy.
The fun is over when the long board comes out. I cut a 48” x 6”, 60 grit sanding belt into a long strip. This was glued to a piece of 1/4” plywood and two handles glued to the ends. The 1/4” plywood can flex a bit to conform to the hull shape. Again, the hull is sanded at angles to keep it fair and smooth. Some call the long board “torture board.” No question about it, this is hard work. I sanded by hand for 1 ½ days to fair the hull. It would have been so easy to just run a sander over the hull but this would not yield a perfectly smooth skin.
Again, “Building Strip Planked Boats” has great tips on how to fiberglass the hull. I used 6 oz fiberglass cloth and Mas Epoxy. The glass cloth has to be handled carefully, it is a loose weave and will distort and bunch up. Being loose weave, it will also conform to compound curves which is desirable. Lisa and I laid the cloth out carefully on the hull. Two pieces were necessary to span the width and they overlapped on the keel. Great for added strength where it is needed.
The cloth is smoothed out with a dry paintbrush. Resin is poured in a puddle in the center of the hull and a plastic squeege is used to spread it around. It is easy to tell when the cloth is soaked with resin, it turns transparent. But too much resin adds weight without strength. When the glass is saturated, the squeege is used to scrape off as much excess resin as possible.
After the resin cures, sand smooth and roll on a thin layer of resin to fill the weave of the cloth. I decided to add the mahogany rub rails while the hull was still on the mold. The rails would further stiffen the hull while it was held in shape.
Then came the moment of truth, We lifted the hull off the form. Looks like we now have a boat!
Velocette part 7, strip planking the hull
22 November 2021
Time to start butchering wood. Anyone who has seen a cedar strip canoe agrees they are a work of art. I wanted to use this construction technique not only for its beauty but to build a light, strong hull that could easily conform to the compound curves of the design. There is a lot of boat building these days using the stitch-and-glue method. Planks of plywood are literally stitched together with wire or zip ties and the joints are reinforced with epoxy putty and fiberglass. I call this the plywood and playdo method. It is not the type of woodworking I enjoy but there are some cool boats built with this technique.
Building Strip-Planked Boats by Nick Schade is an excellent book to describe the techniques I used and served as my reference.
Strips of cedar are stapled in place to the building form and edge glued together. That's pretty much all that is involved. As the boat curves, the square strip edges must be beveled so they fit tightly. But construction does not need to be perfect. The inside and outside of the hull are fiberglassed for strength and waterproofing.
The 1/4" thick cedar strips conform quite easily to the curved mold. But they can start to twist when forced to bend in two different directions. Then strips need to be tapered along the length to lay flat. All of this requires the use of a sharp plane. My 7th grade woodshop class prepared me for this. Mr Jones has us spend the first six weeks using a plane to make a flat, square board from a rough plank. My dad thought it was too much time spent on plane craft. No way, it taught useful woodworking basics that have served me well.
As strip edges butt against each other, it is very important to be sure they don't shift up or down. Any step in the joint must be smoothed out to the lowest spot to have a smooth hull. I would recommend using clamps or masking tape to hold the joints flush with each other while the glue dries. It will save a lot of work later on.
If one decides to build a strip-planked boat should give it a try. Canoe shapes, with their straighter lines, will be easier to build than Velocette. I would strongly suggest buying a CNC cut mold instead of making your own. It will eliminate a lot of work and ensure a smooth hull. Chesapeake Light Craft is a great source.
It only took a week to complete the strip planking.
Velocette part 6, the building jig with a little help from my friends
20 November 2021
It is amazing what one can find on the internet. I have been looking at reproduction, mahogany runabouts and race boat for years. The Crandall Flyer remains one of my favorite designs. I have even accumulated some mechanical parts to modify an Alfa Romeo engine for use in such a boat. My searches brought me to www.danleeboatbuilding.co.uk. Dan shows a similar design vintage race boat, Rocket, that he has built. Dan has a unique method of cutting the wood parts out with a CNC mill and using a CNC jig to accurately assemble frames. It got me to thinking about using these techniques to help build Velocette.
I discussed the project with Dan and he agreed to do the CAD design for the building jig. Dan took the CAD files for the boat and pulled off the sections, much like I did for the model. But Dan configured the sections and assembly rails to make an “egg crate” style building jig. It was designed to be CNC milled out of 1/2” MDF. All I needed was to find someone with a CNC router to cut the parts out.
A sailing friend mentioned his friend, Chris Freymuth, had a CNC router table. Yes, Chris would cut the parts out for me. I visited his shop in Grafton, WI with several sheets of MDF and 1/2” marine plywood on top of Showflake. Chris was recovering from knee surgery but still expertly cut out the parts. The bulkhead #6 where the boat splits would be two pieces of 1/2” marine plywood along with the transom. They would remain part of the boat when removed from the jig. Kind of hard to describe but pictures will help.
The only thing I needed to do was assemble the “puzzle” of MDF and plywood pieces on a straight, flat surface. Then I could build the boat. From Facebook Marketplace, I bought a section of that shuffleboard game often found in bars. This is an incredibly heavy hunk of hard maple, even heavier than a section of bowling alley. It provided the straight, flat surface needed. I used a laser level to check the assembled jig.
So far I didn't even have to lift a tool and I had a jig or mold set up to build the hull. Not only was it easy but the jig was perfectly fair and smooth. Computers get it right!
From Home Depot, I was able to find some Western Red Cedar that surprisingly had no knots! I bought a dozen boards and a bargain price. Lisa and I set up the table saw with a special, thin blade and cut it all into ¼” strips.
Now all I had to do was complete the bathroom remodeling project before I could start construction.
Velocette part 5, the model sails
19 November 2021
Christmas Eve Day, 2020, model Velocette was launched. Lisa and I were anchored on the east lagoon of Huahine. A group of guys were having some Christmas beer, song and were butchering a wild boar on the motu away from the main island. We asked if we could visit. “Mais oui.”
We brought Velocette ashore and floated her at the beach much to their puzzlement. Later they invited us to join them for some wild boar stew and local music. We returned later that afternoon for an unforgettable celebration.
It had been over six months since the Velocette design process began and the model was just completed. Paper sections from Caddie were glued to 1/8” balsa, cut out and fastened to a board. This would serve as a mold for the hull. As with the full size boat, section #6 was two pieces of thin plywood, screwed together.
Other sheets of balsa wood were cut into 1/4” strips. These were bent over the mold and edge glued together. The outside of the hull was sanded carefully and covered with a layer of thin fiberglass. The hull was then strong enough to remove from the mold. Centerboard trunk and forward deck were added and the inside was also fiberglassed.
I removed the screws from the double bulkhead #6. A thin razor saw sawed the hull in half. Yes, the forward half then nested perfectly into the stern half. The design concept was proven.
And she floated! I even added a heavy chunk of coral and Velocette floated high.
The initial plan to build the full size Velocette in New Zealand was thwarted by the Covid lockdown. We made the difficult decision to tack Uproar. Instead of continuing on west, we shipped Uproar back to Fort Lauderdale from Tahiti. That way, we would be in cruising grounds we knew we could visit and be less likely to be stuck somewhere without options.
This would also mean that I could now build Velocette in my home shop, a real bonus for the project.