Nothing to Scarf at

Now with smooth 20-foot sections of Spruce the magic trick would be to transform the sections into single 40-foot sections. I understood that two ends would need to be cut on a diagonal and eventually glued together but how we would accomplish that escaped me.

That is when Jim pulled out a bucket of parts, a large drill bit and plastic contraption. The Mount Hope custom creation ended up being just that a one of a kind mobile drill press that would make perfect scarfs in wood planks. While setting up the machine Jim recounted how this very machine got away from one of his female workers (a professional carpenter) and cut across the top of her hand. A gruesome story in it’s own right, I questioned the timing of this particular story as Jim set out to begin using the machine.

Snugging up my safety goggles, I watched as Jim manhandled the 2-inch bit through the wood. A few minutes later one side was finished and the device was shut down.

“I’m going to run a few errands, do you got this?”

Glancing around the completely empty shop I didn’t have much of a choice.

“Uh, yeah no problem.”

Jim left and I stepped up to the machine.  Glancing down at my hands, I really wished Jim hadn’t told me that story. An extra tightening of the safety goggles for good measure and I fired up the serious(ly intimidating machine).

Taking almost 15 minutes to do what had taken Jim three, I had finished scarfing my first plank, only six more to go. Eventually I did get the hang of scarfing and by the end I was able to finish one in a respectable 5 minutes. Not setting any speed records the scarfs were long and even. I sanded down the recently cut ends and wiped it down with paint thinner to prep them for gluing.


West System Epoxy is the glue of choice for Jim Titus and the rest of the crew at Mount Hope. They’ve experimented with other wood glues but trust this product the most. With that in mind I mixed up a cup of the sticky stuff and with a quarter inch brush glued and clamped the boards together under the watchful eye of Jim who returned from his other tasks. I would return during the week to see that the pieces had dried well and began sanding the boards with a belt sand to help smooth the pieces together.

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Leaving the shop on the cold and gray winter afternoon, I was filled with a small sense of accomplishment. Not only had I finished the day with both hands intact but also the mast was slowly taking shape. Trudging through the snow and slush I may have been the only one dreaming about sailing that day.

What’s in a name?

Taking a break from mast building, I returned home for Christmas with a few boating chores to accomplish. One of them, which had been nagging at me was to pick a name for my boat.

Now, there are many legends out there regarding what makes a ship unlucky. Some dockside superstitions I have heard over the years are:

  • Black travel bags are bad luck
  • Don’t allow people with red hair aboard your ship
  • A silver coin placed under the masthead will ensure a safe voyage
  • Pouring wine on the deck will bring a voyage good luck
  • Women aboard a ship make the sea angry
  • Black Cats are good luck for sailors

While not normally superstitious, having my first day of sailing end with a broken mast made me reconsider my stance. I’ve been contemplating dying my red hair and ditching my black backpack. Spilling a little wine, well twist my arm if you must (white wine, of course). Between my landlord’s annoying black cat and an old silver dollar in my desk, I am pretty well covered. Telling my girlfriend she is unlucky aboard however…let’s just say, I’d rather take my chances with Poseiden’s wrath.

Perhaps the most egregious rule is that a boat that is renamed is the unluckiest. It is said that every ship is recorded by its name in the Ledger of the Deep and is known personally to Poseidon.

Several articles online (the most trusted source for maritime traditions) state that you should purge your vessel from all traces of the old name. Thinking about my empty boat with no name on the hull, I had nailed step one. This may be easier than I thought.

The next step is to state the following aboard with a bottle of bubbly in hand.

“Oh mighty and great ruler of the seas and oceans, to whom all ships and we who venture upon your vast domain are required to pay homage, implore you in your graciousness to expunge for all time from your records and recollection the name (here insert the old name of your vessel) which has ceased to be an entity in your kingdom. As proof thereof, we submit this ingot bearing her name to be corrupted through your powers and forever be purged from the sea.In grateful acknowledgment of your munificence and dispensation, we offer these libations to your majesty and your court. (Pour at least half of the bottle of Champagne into the sea from East to West. The remainder may be passed among your guests.)”

That all sounded like a good time, except for one small dilemma, I had no idea what to name the boat. To make matters worse, I had yet to register the boat because you need a name to do that. I have walked enough docks to know that there were names I really like and names that are just plain bad. Certainly naming your boat Aqua-holic or Miss Behavin’ would piss off Posedon more than a nameless boat, right?

I knew my name couldn’t be a play off the word Sea, Miss or anything other common variation. When she is fully restored she would be a one of a kind, and I needed a name that reflected that.  One name that was suggested to me was Rough Draft (Ahhh, now the blog title makes sense, huh?). Reflecting both my passion for writing and the tough shape my new vessel was in, it seemed perfect.

After much (and I mean a ton) of internal debate, I decided to name the boat after my girlfriend. Sweating and still unsure, I jotted down the Karen Marie on the dotted line of the registration form. Handing the form to the clerk at the Department of Environmental Management, we engaged in a cartoon-like tug of war over the form.

Finally the, surprisingly strong, clerk snatched the form and sent me on my way. I could hear my friends giving me a hard time in my head the whole car ride home.

Just as I had feared, family members and friends alike gave me a heaping dose of ribbing for my name choice. I endured a barrage of sarcastic awwws and that’s sooooo cute over beers that weekend.

On Christmas I gave a framed photoshopped image Karen’s name written across the back of the boat. (It was a big hit) That night one of my her uncles capitalized on the opportunity.

“So you go out and buy a boat, name it after Karen and give that as a gift?! Well next Christmas I’m going to go out and get myself a new couch and name it Mary Ellen!” The jokes continued into the night.

I joke that I named the boat after Karen because they both are a drain on my billfold, are a lot of work and I can’t seem to figure either of them out.

But joking aside, the name fits because they are both one of a kind, have a special place in my heart and what’s an adventure without the company of loving woman?

Your move Poseidon.

Stay tuned for my next blog about: Something extra manly and tough.

Measured 10 times, cut once

I was never a good math student in school. (Stay with me, there is a point to be made here.) I could handle basic addition and multiplication but compound fractions and solving for x was enough to make me break out in a cold sweat. 

When Jim told me we were going to be doing some measuring of the old mast to plan for the new one, I was confident I was up for the challenge especially since my mast was rectangular.  He grabbed a pair of old calipers off the wall and we set off measuring the height of the mast at one foot increments of the 35-foot mast. I thought we would both start at each end and stop when we got to the middle but Jim insisted that we each measure the same points and then compare numbers. If our measurements were different, even an eighth of an inch different, we would both go back and redo the measurements. I was surprised to learn that because the mast tapered in size at the top and bottom that the measurements were different at each spot (this was no ordinary rectangle).

We also measured the width of the new Sitka Spruce planks in a similar fashion. Once we had all of measurements, the next step was to calculate where each piece of would should go and where each piece needed to be cut. This would require dividing a lot of complex fractions. Just as the first beads of cold perspiration formed on my brow, Jim had to run off and tend to another project.

‘Why don’t you figure these out and we’ll meet back in an hour?”

“Uh, yeah ok,” I stammered.

Unable to find the phone number for my high school math tutor, I broke out the calculator to subtract 35 and 7/8 inches from 1 3/8 plus 1 and 5/8 .  It took me a full hour, a dozen scraps of paper and half a charge on my cell phone but I struggled through it.

I mention this story, not to gloat about my mathematical accomplishment, (that is an added plus) I mention this because when Jim returned, he decided to double check my numbers by doing the calculations himself. While I had broken a mental and physical sweat, Jim calculated all those numbers immediately, off the top of his head.

This skill would prove invaluable as the rest of the day was spent organizing the wood and deciding which ones would be best suited where. By the days end we had double and triple (and sometimes more than that) checked our measurments and laid out of the wood. We would go through the same exercise the following weekend, too.

“You can never be too careful when dealing with dimensions like this.” As anxious as I was to keep production moving I was thankful we were airing on the side of caution. Especially when you are working with $700 wood from Maine.