The other day a friend visited, and we had a nice time talking about her visits to Isle au Haut, and my own stop there last year. Much of Isle au Haut, outside of the village and year-round local community, is part of Acadia National Park, even though Isle au Haut is a separate island roughly 15 miles south and west of the main park. Last year I spent a night in the small Head Harbor at the southeast corner of the island, enjoying the remote feel of the tiny community on the wilder side of the island, and the beautiful countryside. In looking today to find photos to send to my friend, I realized that I never did put anything about that on the blog. So today, here are some pictures, and a little bit of a story.
Looking on the chart, you would not think that this harbor was going to be particularly comfortable. It opens to the south, directly to the open water, and the entire island is already a little ways out to sea. Going in here was not my original destination – I was trying for Swan’s Island, having started early that morning from Birch Island, at the southwest corner of Penobscot Bay, and going outside, around the south shore of Isle au Haut. That’s quite a haul, and the wind was slacking off, as we got into the afternoon. As it turned out, the dropping wind opened up a great opportunity that I wouldn’t have chosen otherwise.
Head Harbor is in fact somewhat protected, and just like the cruising guide says, not nearly as much of the swell gets in as you would think, to look at it. This is especially true with a very shallow draft boat, so you can go in right up toward the inside end of the harbor, with just enough water at low tide. A larger boat anchored a little farther out still did some rolling. Being there worked out just fine for the night, and leaving in the morning I was surprised to see how much swell there was – I wouldn’t have known, from the inside.
The shore, from rocks, to trees, to meadow, is just beautiful, and I hope to go back.
So let’s get real, on the subject of fear. Now and then people say to me, or they say to my friends, something about me being brave, with all this boat stuff. And I have to say, it’s not exactly bravery. There’s something to do with psychic muscle – so many plans made, so many people helping, so much generosity received. Such an opportunity, not to be left to pass by, floating away down the stream. So you say yes, and get in the boat. But it gets harder to leave, every time.
Suzanne and I have bought a house – by the water, on the coast, in Maine. Gradually, through some combination of miracles that I cannot properly see ahead, I believe that we will actually move. But it makes departure from home – this home, of these last many years – that much more difficult, even just for a sail. The summer is so sweet: ignoring the city sounds, hearing crickets and katydids, and the soft summer smells, Massachusetts hardwood forest, and a yard full of plants, August-green. Never mind the traffic, and the music from the cars and the bar down the street. Katydids, and crickets. Daytime birds, and the night, late, when the street finally goes quiet.
How to leave? Knowing that I will probably not live again in this house, in August, with the summer smells, and night sounds of the raucous insects. I grew up in Massachusetts, and then went so far away, for so long. Utah, Arizona, California, and years in southern New Hampshire, not the same. Lived in the pine forest, in another corner of Massachusetts – beautiful, but no summer meadow. Arrival to the warmth of new friends is beautiful, and sweet. It’s the departures that I can’t stand.
There was a date set: August 18, 2014. A Monday, with fine weather, and early in the week to avoid the heavy summer boat traffic on the river, and their big wakes at the ramp and adjacent dock. Melissa and Richard were set to bring their truck to Holyoke (from Maine – kind souls) to haul the boat and pop it in the water. Friends in Deep River were welcoming, with a spot at their dock all ready to go. And still, I was conflicted. For all the above reasons, as well as practicalities to do with the unfinished tasks. More rigging, especially – so much easier at home. Still, it could have been done.
On the Thursday before, as every day since we set this date three weeks earlier, Suzanne and I went off for projects – this particular morning, more work on the wiring in the mainmast. We completed the connections at the top of the mast, and with a small 12 V battery clipped to the lower end of the wires, confirmed, with satisfaction, that the Bebi-adapted tricolor and the anchor light both worked. Next it was on to the lower end of the wires.
There are so many opportunities for mistakes in a complex, long project such as this, and they are inevitable. In the normal, unhurried course of things this is not a terribly big problem – annoying at the time, and/or embarrassing, but over the long stretch of months or years, not particularly significant. For example, cutting a wire too short. Sadly, or perhaps for the best, I did that with one of our mast wires. There are reasons that this happened, clear in retrospect, but that did nothing for the 12 V wire that was now going to need more heat shrinks, and fuss, and complications with needing an extra person to help turn the mast in the garage so doing all that would be possible. All this on Thursday, when Friday morning was our chance to go forward with planned help for the items assigned to that day – NOT putting scant time into resolving this admittedly small complication.
In a fit of frustration, I blurted out “I don’t even want to GO on this trip!” That has been so hard to prepare for, working these last weeks, Suzanne at least as tired as I, and equally frazzled. The ache of leaving, again. The boat not really ready, and myself either.
In the end, thanks to that pesky wire, and the two of us out there crying in the driveway, together we pulled the metaphorical plug on this launch plan. It’s the best decision I’ve made in ages. I miss the sailing, and seeing everybody, and the quiet water. But I don’t miss the strain of departure, and the difficulties of sorting out the boat necessities so far from our handy shop. Tables for stretching out the mainsail with all its long battens, in comfortable positions for attaching the rest of the zillion lines and fussy ties. Sawhorses for masts, in easy locations in the shade, happy in the yard, tying on halyards and everything else. And I don’t miss the fear.
A few days ago, Monday the 18th arrived, and passed, here at home. All day long I felt extra happy to be here. Now there’s a sign of a right decision! Work on the boat has continued, with comfort, and relaxed joy. Not without complication – it turns out that it’s really good that we didn’t leave, because drilling for the mainmast retaining pin has not been simple. And neither has raising and lowering that mast. There will be more to say about this, over time. But presently, the bottom line is that perhaps the boat will go in the water this fall, or perhaps not. It’s only August, and there are still September and October after all. Having missed the last two years of summer and early fall here at home, it might be just perfect to stay, and savor. The water is not going anywhere, and spring will come soon.
In changing over to (or originally building) a junk rig, one of the questions that needs to be resolved is how all those many lines will run to and from the top of the mast, or masts. Sorting out a plan, and then implementing it, has been a process.
The most common approach seems to be having a special cap, with an array of attachment points, either cast or fabricated. Some Wharram catamarans deal with masthead attachments using two horizontal rods, one above the other, at 90° to one another, which make places for either lashings or loops tied around the mast to catch and avoid slipping down. Another alternative is a small eye strap screwed to the mast at the backside of each lashing; the lashing is supported sturdily around the mast, and is prevented from sliding down toward the deck by the eyestrap. I’m partial to the methods that avoid putting substantial holes through the mast… In the previous AUKLET rig, that last method with the eye straps is what I did for the halyards, and it worked well.
The tricky thing about a junk rig is how very many lines need to be connected to the top of the mast. Some folks still do it with lashing, and that was my fallback plan, but I was hoping for something more like a proper fitting. At the same time, I was not excited about trying to sort out the fabrication process (welder? foundry? galvanizing??), and there was some question about the appropriate diameter for the fittings for the two masts anyway; waiting for that clarification meant that fabrication could not be started decently ahead of time.
Considerations on the diameter question have been that the original wood mizzen mast, which we are still using, is taller than needed for the halyard and other lines for the junk sail, but I have wanted to keep that extra height (flags!), and the mainmast that we had been using really needed to be changed out. As a result, there were questions until very recently about the mast fitting diameters. As far as I know, there is no place to get stock, already made junk rig masthead fittings.
But there’s another option! Traditional gaff rigged sailboats make use of a fitting called a “mastband.” This is a slightly tapered ring, generally with either two or four eyes arranged at equal distances around the ring (photos follow). The eyes can be used for shackling on blocks, or for tying lines directly. Mastbands are not perfectly easy to find – they are not something available from the ordinary sailing catalogs – but fortunately there is a company that still makes them. That company is Davey, in England, and they make a variety of sizes, in either bronze or galvanized steel. Their hardware can be found in the US in the R&W Rope catalog http://rwrope.com/ , as well as through Toplicht http://www.toplicht.de/en/index/, which is located in Germany – their online catalog is now in English as well as the original German. (As always, I’m not receiving anything for these mentions or links – but both those catalogs sure are fun!)
Standard mastbands with four eyes are pretty close to the typical five attachment points of a custom junk rig masthead fitting. With an extra line looped around the mast immediately above the fitting, prevented from sliding down by the fitting itself, I think it’ll work out fine. (This looped line will be the “mast lift,” for those who follow junk rigs more closely.) The mastband will be oriented so that the eyes are positioned on the 45° diagonals, relative to the centerline of the boat – this way one of the eyes will be at the appropriate angle for the halyard, which is the highest stress line that hauls the sail up, and for a junk rig is supposed to be at that 45° angle, somewhat off to the side.
The next questions are the particular choices, and how these mastbands will actually be secured to their respective masts. There’s a bronze band for the wooden mizzen, and a galvanized one for the aluminum mainmast. Bronze hardware and aluminum masts do not fare well together, so it’s galvanized there, and bonus, it’s more economical – but the bronze is very pretty, and I sprung for that for the smaller mizzen. On a wood mast, typically there is either a small shelf carved into the mast for the band to rest on, or small wood stops are screwed to the mast, to prevent the band from working its way down. Neither option seemed particularly exciting, because of compromising the already small-diameter wood, and as it turned out the position that would be ideal for the band is above where the band that we have would rest naturally, and below where the next smaller size would fit.
Here’s a photo of the mizzen sail laid on top of the mast, to help figure out the mastband placement (really, the sail goes on the other side of the mast). It’s important that when the sail is raised, the halyard attachment is a decent amount higher than where the halyard is tied to the yard. This is because of potential torque on the top of the mast when the sail is out to the side. Having a length of extra halyard between the masthead fitting and the yard prevents that torque – and potential mast damage – from happening.
Because the ideal position for the mizzen mastband is halfway between the two available band sizes, we have yet another experiment: securing the mastband is being done with small wedges made from cedar shingles, jammed up from the bottom, with top ones going down over the bottom ones wherever there are gaps. The lower wedges are seized in place with tarred nylon seine twine and trimmed, and the top ones are trimmed flush with the band and then caulked to prevent water coming in from the top.
I would’ve liked to have used dolfinite in this process – mast rot can be an issue, with everything so tight against the mast – but it seemed like it would be a hopeless mess to try to get dolfinite in there with all those shifting wedges and adjustment. So the theory here is that the caulk will prevent endless drenching from above, and the gaps between the cedar wedges will allow for drying from below. We’re hoping for the best on this, and will be paying attention to how it fares. The white caulk is a bit glaring now, but probably next year it will be time to paint the mast, and the upper part will be the traditional white, so it should all blend in.
Then there’s the mainmast…
Fitting the mastband to the tapered aluminum mainmast presented two problems: one, the mastband was not perfectly circular, so it rocked when placed on the mast. Additionally, because of the difference in taper between the mast and the inside of the band, there was a substantial gap all around the upper section of where the band would otherwise be meeting the mast. This contributed further to the rocking.
We decided to apply dynel fabric and epoxy to this situation. Dynel is nicer to work with than fiberglass – no splinters in your skin, and the fabric holds together a little better than fiberglass cloth when you’re working with it; otherwise it’s the same idea. The theory was to get one layer of dynel around the mast, extending above and below the band, and then to scrunch the epoxy-wetted fabric into the gaps, as well as creating a small roll below the fitting, to give the fitting something secure to rest against. An added advantage to this arrangement is that the aluminum and galvanized steel are electrically isolated from one another. Although these two metals are supposedly fairly compatible, it’s relaxing to know that there will be no galvanic corrosion to worry about.
In the end, rather than wrapping one piece of dynel around the mast, it was easier to cut pieces of dynel to fit around the mastband, dry, with temporary masking tape on the outside, and then to put epoxy on the inside section, and slide the whole thing onto the (previously scuffed) mast. After this, the masking tape was gently pulled off and the dynel stretched out above and below the band. Once stretched out, epoxy went on all of the remaining fabric, and then the fabric was delicately folded back toward the ring. Theo had a handy thin stick in one hand, and a narrow putty knife in the other, and with Suzanne taking care of brushing the epoxy onto the fabric it all worked pretty well. Theo used the little stick to help spread the epoxy and work it into the fabric, and then to help with rolling and tucking the whole business into place.
The only complication was that once the dynel was all folded and stuffed, it had a kind of puffy thing going on, and declined to stay scrunched into one solid lump. We ended up wrapping the whole business in Saran wrap, and then applying masking tape to press the dynel snugly against itself and the mast/mastband joint. This arrangement worked out fine, except for that the Saran wrap was not exactly ideal when it came to later getting it off the hardened epoxy. It did do a good job of preventing the masking tape from being glued into the dynel/epoxy, but my dreams of the plastic wrap neatly peeling off were quite far from the truth! Still, when we took it all off the next day, and spent about an hour of fussy removal of small broken pieces of plastic wrap, it came out pretty good. Sandpaper is next, after the full week of curing (epoxy dust is quite toxic before it’s fully cured), and then the whole thing should clean up just fine. The dynel/epoxy will be painted later, to protect it from uv.
So now there are two mast bands in place! Each of them feels quite solid and secure, and presently we’re working on mounting the brackets for the tricolor light and AIS antenna at the top of the mainmast. It’s going to be fun to start attaching lines!