Monday, February 8, 2016

Nesting: How to Rebuild the Interior of a Forgotten Boat

For me it's always hard to imagine sailing during winter. That  the same icy, lifeless marina can be sun-filled and bustling. That there was a time, not too long ago, when I was sanding  fiberglass in the sun, looking down to see my sweating, sun  burnt arms sparkling with glass. In February, the boats are  lined up on jack stands and bedded down under white plastic  shrink wrap with stanchions and spars poking out like bones.  The docks are frozen into the water, and there is not a sound  except for the occasional boom trains carrying fuel over the  Rondout Creek on the elevated, rusted-out railroad bridge. The boat is in a million pieces and in just as many places, a sort of Venn diagram of a project with the gutted hull at the center.

It is perfect weather for nesting, for daydreaming about the interior that will be our cozy, warm, perfectly squared away home for the next year or more. I am happy to say we are well on our way and have already made such a difference. At the end of the workday I clean up and look over the
cabin. Squinting my eyes I can almost see it: the cushions made and in place (my sewing work immaculate), each new drawer or surface varnished and glowing that warm mahogany tone, the Nav station blinking with instruments, and even a hammock of fruit hanging in the newly tiled galley. I have seen Max lost in a similar reverie, though all we say to each other is that we can't wait until it's finished. Later, however, when we are driving in silence, or about to fall asleep, one of us may say, Do you think we should have one or two drawers in the galley? to which the other replies, I've been thinking about that, and I think one.

We didn't know much about the history of Tortuga when we bought her. We have found out more due to the dedication of Bud and the Westsail Association. He seemingly knows everything about each Westsail out there. What we had heard was that the previous owner went mad and returned to Ireland. Seriously. Inside the boat, if this is possible, I could see evidence of his downward spiral in the carpentry. It was really bad, and everything he fixed or replaced, had this Whatever, I'm a bachelor kind of feeling. The nav station was a half-built, roughly cut desk that collapsed most times you touched it and one dinette seat just had a rectangle sawed out. This provided excellent access to storage below, but might be a little rough on the backside of a breakfast eater. The upper starboard bunk had been torn out and cheap plywood installed as a back rest for the lower bunk. Every crevice was filled with a mysterious greasy gunk and, maybe most disheartening of all, there were no cushions and no one, except a crazy man in Ireland apparently, knew where they had been stashed.

So, we set to work. Max and I, but mostly Max, poured over interior sketches of Westsails, and we decided what we wanted it to look like. We would reincarnate the upper starboard bunk and build a navigation station where one could sit and face aft having the instrument panel directly in front. I would rip the linoleum surface out of the galley (it had taken on a sort of uneven, jaundiced color), and replace it with something beautiful. I found a free, almost complete, set of cushions. (again, Bud from the Westsail Association) and will only have to make four more. This list continues, but I think it is most helpful to other sailors to see the way that we were able to cut pieces of wood to the strange dimensions necessary, how we replaced doors and drawers, and got the different pieces of wood to look like they belonged among the originals.

Terry Baldwin in his shop in
 Stanfordville, NY.
One of the great benefits of sailing life in the Hudson Valley is that we have no shortage of master craftsmen. They are always ready to support young, dreamy-eyed sailors and we often call on them for advice, tools, and materials. For the interior we contacted the incomparable Terry Baldwin, and stopped by his incredible shop for a cocktail and a lesson on interior marine carpentry. He taught us the following multi-step process for rebuilding, or finishing, parts of the boat that included the curvature of the hull. I'll have Max write this part, but the general idea is that the spaces within the boat where wood needs to be added may be curved and are not in anyway level.  Through a 3 step process one can make sure to get the shape correct without wasting the expensive wood. Here is how it is done...
-1/4” Lauan Plywood                                                       -Staple Gun with ½” staples
-1/2” MDF Board                                                              -Jig Saw
-1/2” Hardwood Plywood                                               -Router
-Assortment of Scrap Plywood                                        -Top Bearing Flush Cut Router Bit
-Compass (drawing tool)                                                 -Small nails or nail gun

    1.Rip Lauan into 4”, 6”, and 8” wide boards
-          2.Cut board down to approximate length of curved surface you would like to form to.  For deeper curves use wider boards, for sallower curves use thinner boards.
-          3. Hold the board’s edge tight against the curved surface.  The edge should only touch the surface at two points.
-          4. Open the compass so that it’s slightly wider than the largest gap between the curved surface and the inboard edge of the board.  Always hold the compass in either the vertical position 
       or the horizontal position.  Never hold it at an angle.
-         5.  From one end of the board, guide the compass along the curved surface while simultaneously making a mark on the board.  This is called scribing.   The line on the board should resemble the curved surface in section.  Remember to hold the compass vertically or horizontally. 
-        6.   Cut the board along the marked line with a jig saw. 
 Fit the cut board against the curved surface.  If your satisfied with the fit, continue, if not try again with another board.
-          7. With the board fit tight against the curved surface, staple it to 
       a scrap piece of plywood that is approximately 75% the size of the piece you are trying to make.
-         8.  Continue these steps for all edges of the piece you are trying 
      to make.  You should end up with one piece of scrap plywood with multiple pieces of Lauan stapled to it around the edges.  We will call this a stencil. Take the stencil, place it on the MDF board and trace the edge with a pencil. 

9. Cut along the edge with a jig saw.  We will call this piece the template.
10.  Test the template by fitting it against the curved surfaces you scribed from.  The template should fit tight against all surfaces simultaneously.  If your satisfied with the fit, continue, if not try again.
-    11. Tack the template to the hardwood plywood with a nail gun. 
-    12. Adjust the depth of the flush cut router bit so that the ball bearing is guided by the edge of the template
-    13.  Router around all edges of the template.
-    14. Remove the template from the final piece.
-    15. Test the fit of the final piece.  It should fit at least as well as your template. If it doesn't, start over from the beginning.