Sunday, August 12, 2012

Tendril Can Vote

Tendril turns twenty two.
Tendril is old enough to vote in the upcoming election. This is a surprise because it seems so unlikely that my first boat-building effort still keeps us above water and has muscled out all my other dinghys to become our favorite. She launches in seconds, her engine always starts, and she really stands out at the dock among all the puffy gray lookalikes. I've become quite fond of her.
Bolger and Payson inspired me

She is a Nymph, drawn by the late Phil Bolger and conceived in the aisles of Home Depot as I studied the materials list in Herb "Dynamite" Payson's book, Build the New Instant Boats. She was my first venture into boat construction and got rather short shrift. Rather than shop for marine plywood in the classifieds in Wooden Boat magazine, I made do with Home Depot straight-off-the-rack, loading my cart with several luan door skins and throwing in a couple of two-by-fours for good measure.

Three-sixteenths ply sandwiched by lots of oak
Without knowing any better, where the plans called for quarter-inch ply I thought three-sixteenths would probably serve. I had already built her in small scale, using a spare manila file folder and a little hot glue. In card stock she came out just fine, stiff and proud. That quarter-inch stuff looked awful heavy whereas the door skins were feather light and way thicker than a file folder, so why not?

As others have noted in the extensive literature about actually building a Nymph, the instant part is highly optimistic. For me it took about six months from first cut to launch followed by another fifteen years of adjustments as I recovered from boneheaded mistakes and added and subtracted parts along the way.

The biggest backtrack started when I spotted some polyester resin in the car care aisle at Walmart. I had used up my West System epoxy and thought this might be a cheap and handy substitute. For some reason it never really set up properly. It became about as substantial as maple syrup in Vermont after Christmas: tacky taffy. Rather than do the right thing and remove the stuff, I thought an overcoat of epoxy might be just the cure to make it cure. As a result she molted after a couple of years, shedding a snakeskin of fiberglass and paint. Unfortunately the uncured resin didn't shed until I put in long sessions with a heat gun and finally left the scrapings in the trash.

Elbows for the dinghy dock
When I first stepped back and looked at her final form her gunwales seemed naked and fragile. Well, luan isn't the hardest of woods and three sixteenths is a bit slim. Pictures in Thomas Hill's book Ultralight Boatbuilding showed adding a gap toothed wooden rail to the inside of a canoe. I liked the look and headed back to Home Depot for some oak molding to fancy her up. To avoid having to saw down the bulkheads to allow for the rail, I took the easy path and put it outside, using some quarter round inside to hide the screw heads.

The result is perhaps her best feature. She is surrounded by a tough as nails fence, giving her suitably sharp elbows at the dinghy dock where she bangs against hard dinks and stone walls without suffering more than a varnish scab or two. Plus the rail forms a set of handholds for dragging her about the shore and gives me lots of places to tie her down when she car tops to windward. I wish I could say it was a considered design decision but it started as camouflage for having scrimped on her scantlings.

Over the years she's lost and gained weight. Her sailing rig which weighed almost as much as Tendril herself started staying at home after the mast jumped off Sweet Pea on an overnight passage in the Bahamas. She sailed only once in her life before that and I wondered why I had bothered to make all those parts. Since then I've seen lots of modifications that make her a more competent sailor.

Boarding would be difficult at this angle despite the knee hole
I sawed a knee hole in the longitudinal seat after noticing how some of her sisters had been customized to allow stepping into the dinghy rather than having to dance atop it. This makes it easier to board and gives a roomy but wet place to stow cargo when she's turned into a provisioning barge.

She's gained weight as I added more and more heft to her skeg, put in more oarlocks, and lengthened her oars. Initially under oar power she zig zagged back and forth like a dog exploring a field and I flailed at the water with oars that were so short they barely got wet.

Slipping along in a more sedate moment.
Now her skeg is as big as an Airdale's nose and the seven-foot oars make her skim right along. I even won a dinghy race at Stuart, FL, several years ago at the cruiser's party. A bunch of grownups entered along with the kids. We all vowed to loaf around the course, leaving the competition to the youngsters.

As soon as the horn hooted, we were off, eyeing each other like teens in dragsters. Afterwards I crabbed around like an old man for several days because I couldn't stand up straight.

But I trashed those other guys, including all the preteens. Just goes to show what a well-built dinghy will do in the hands of a maniac.

1 comment:

  1. I can remember sitting on the stool in your basement shop on Willow Mill while you worked on Tendril. And, I still build furniture models and room floor plans out of graph paper before any rearranging begins - Pete just shakes his head. Fond memories of my younger days :)