So there she was…Curlew, a 29 ft. sloop built in Lunenburg NS. Pine planks on oak frames fastened with iron clench nails since 1946. A little fixing up and she’d be ready for a season of blissful sailing in the deep blue sea!
I travelled to Blue Hill every weekend and set to work. I scraped, I sanded, I squeezed caulking here and filled divots there, and every now and again went below decks to see how much sunlight was still coming through the seams. When I couldn’t see anymore, I slapped a coat of paint on ‘er, and went home to pack my duffle bag and grab my life preserver. Oh, and made a sound investment in a bilge pump!
The moment of launch came, and the yard hands gathered on the docks to witness the spectacle, quietly wagering how long she’d stay afloat. The crane growled and puffed out a column of black smoke as she swung out over the water.
SPLASH! She was in. One second…five seconds…twenty seconds…one minute…I stood there with my duffle bag and life preserver wearing a dumb half smile as a cold clammy feeling crawled up my shoulders and neck…three minutes…five minutes…then *burp* a gush of dirty brown bilge water came spewing out the side for about ten seconds and stopped. Several seconds passed and another shot came squirting out. Slowly, the time began to increase between pumps and Curlew remained proud above her water line. The coughing and smirking between workers around the dock began to subside. One of the more seasoned hands finally spoke up and said “looks like you did a pretty good job, I was figur'n she’d be on the bottom by now with how long she’s been out of the watah”.
There was a valuable lesson planted in my mind then that would become the basis for my understanding of a fundamental property of wood. Wood needs to move and breath. Wood is amazingly durable stuff. As long as its cellular properties are left intact it can last a very long time. The things that cause wood to move are mostly environmental influences like temperature and humidity, and consideration has to be given to allowing this movement to happen in order for the wood to last. If not, the wood fibers are strained too far and the cellular binding breaks down and bad things happen. It also has to breathe. If it can’t moisture and other things become trapped and it becomes a breeding ground for fungi which basically digests the fibers in wood and destroys that cellular composition.
Blah Blah Blah…wood science is a very large subject and lots can be read about it to understand it better. But let’s go sailing!
So after a day and night of letting the planks on Curlew swell, the leaking slowed, and I shoved off for Kennebunkport and by the benevolence and good humor of Poseidon and his buddies made it home safe but soggy.
In the years that followed, I would replace some of the boards, sister some frames, reef and re-caulk the seams with cotton and compound, replace the iron clench nails with screws, gut below decks and install bunks and a table, add winches, get new sails, and countless other things that boat owners do.
Every year I sailed to Camden for the feeder race and the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta, and many places in between and beyond. She stayed proud and well-mannered in all sorts of weather and each year when I launched I’d watch with gratitude as the seawater rushed in through the seams that opened over the dry cold winters to swell and close them for the summer sailing season. She would live on, and after many years, I sold her to another wooden boat enthusiast who promised to continue to do the things that would keep her alive and breathing.
What a boat, and what memories!
But the lessons I learned about wood’s beneficial properties and how to preserve and let them do their job stayed with me and have served me well since.
This and more would play a significant role in the design and construction of the timber frame barn that now houses my workshop for Meadowlark Designs…but that’s another story.
Thanks for reading! Your comments are welcome.