Sunday, March 23, 2014

She floats!

It never fails to amaze me how many insurmountable problems and catastrophic eventualities can capture control of one's brain at 3  o'clock in the morning.  Fortunately, few if any of these thoughts are played out in the bright light of the following day.  That has been my life over the past week as we prepared for the launch of Lagniappe -- a few hours of uninterrupted sleep followed by a few hours of anxiety.  Will the engine start? Once it starts, will it keep running?  Will the high tech packless stuffing box  actually work? Will the epoxy crack and allow a seam to open up while trailering to the launch site? Will the ballast fall off? Will the travel lift fail and drop her on the ground? You name it, and I have worried over it during the past week. Fortunately, none of these anxieties played out in reality.  Almost everything worked as designed, and those things that didn't work were not major impediments.

We began the launch process on Thursday, by loading the world's newest Oughtred Grey Seal onto the trailer at the Workshop on the Water at the Independence Seaport Museum, which has been her home for the past three months.  Since Thursdays are a big volunteer day at WoW, lots of helpful hands were available to move things along.

Lagniappe suspended by WoW's two gantries.

A boy and his trailer
By the time I arrived with the trailer (carrying my spars) shop director Jeff Huffenberger and the crew had the boat off the ground and suspended in slings from two movable gantries. Slowly, she was maneuvered to the door and positioned to receive the trailer.

Ready for the trailer

A full crew, Jerry, Newt, John, and Robinson and me watch Lee work. 
Ready to roll
Once we got her outside, we tried to turn over the engine.  I have learned that diesel engines are great, and will run forever, very reliably and very efficiently, but first you have to get them started.  They are finicky about air in the fuel line, and in order to make them happy, you must purge the air by pumping fuel through the entire fuel delivery system.  This entails opening each hose, filter, etc. and pumping fuel until no more air comes out.  Then you close the fitting and move on to the next one.  This is a messy and slow job, but it paid off.  Jeff, who knows more about marine diesel engines than one ought to know, and I, who do not even know enough to be dangerous, carried out the process. Once we had finished, the engine did indeed turn over.  We ran her briefly, pumping water into the through hull fitting using a toilet plunger bell clamped to the end of a water hose (a very clever work-saving invention Jeff came up with on Thursday afternoon and I manufactured Thursday evening.) Someone simply presses the open end of the plunger bell over the through hull screen, you turn on the water, and crank the engine.

Dave, Robinson, and Lee hold the plunger bell in place on the through hull.
Friday morning, we hooked up and drove the trailer down the river to Butch's dock in Essington, PA.  We were Butch's first launch of the season, so starting the travel lift engine took a half can of ether.  Jeff sprayed while Butch cranked and I paced. 

We had hoped to put her in the water at low tide, and head back up river to the Museum dock where I'll rig her, but unfortunately Butch didn't have enough water until two hours past low tide. By then, it was mid-afternoon. We decided to put her in, check for leaks, tie up at Butch's for the night, and head up river at the following slack tide on Saturday.

Taking the straps off at Butch's
This will not do.

Butch gets ready to do his thing.

At 2 o'clock on Friday afternoon, we had enough water to float a smallish boat, which was enough.  Butch expertly picked her up off the trailer and set her down in the water.

Those slings may be ancient, but they will hold this vessel.
Going down with the ship.  My first ride.

Leaks  were minimal, and none were in areas where epoxy was used.  I had a small drip around the centerboard case top, which was bolted in place.  A few quick turns with a wrench on the nuts solved this.  There was also a minor drip around one keel bolt, which we decided to leave alone, and let the swelling of the keel resolve it.  Aside from that, the only glitch was that the starboard bilge pump didn't work.  A wire must have come loose. While this could have been a problem, there wasn't enough water in the bilges to pump anyway. No harm; no foul.
Tied up for the night at Butch's.  Look at that waterline!
Friday was another night of anxiety and dark thoughts for me, contemplating all the things that could go wring with a new, untested, amateur built boat on the Delaware River.  But morning came, and I felt much more assured because Jeff had agreed to come along on the voyage.  In addition to being a first rate boat builder, a master engineer, a highly skilled rigger, and a generally great guy, he also knows the Delaware, having crewed on sailing ships for many years in many places.

Slack tide was at noon, and we wanted to hit it for two reasons.  First, it would give us a plenty of time to reach the Museum dock at Penn's Landing on the rising tide, and second because Butch's is located on a fairly narrow stretch where Little Tinicum Island divides the Delaware. Consequently, once the tide gets moving, the water fairly roars past Butch's, making departure for a small low-powered and untested sailboat-to-be a bigger challenge than we wanted.  Adding to this was a 20 knot breeze from the SSW that promised to "help" us leave Butch's.

We departed at 11:50 Saturday morning, with me at the helm (obviously for the first time.) On board were Jeff, who was navigating us through the swift and bar filled area, my boatshop buddy John, and my wife Joan. It had turned out that I was the only non-"J" person on board, but then again I was the captain.

Jeff on the foredeck guides us out of Butch's and into the current.
The engine proved more than adequate and we made it out of the marina with no difficulty at all, even with a rank amateur at the helm. We had a pretty good following sea for much of the 3 hour journey, due mostly to the stiff breeze, I assume. Still, Lagniappe ran true, didn't get pushed around, and was very sensitive to the helm. She really showed the virtue of a double ender and that huge rudder.  We made good speed, and the Yanmar 1GM with a 13 inch wheel seemed to move us along nicely, but it is hard to tell, given that we were moving with the tide nearly the entire trip.

I know that bouy is out there somewhere.
John pops out of the forward hatch as we approach the Walt Whitman Bridge.
A big phase of this project is over now. I am both amazed and amused at how well it has turned out.  As a retired systems guy, and an instinctive pessimist, I always expect that if something new can fail, it will. Nevertheless, Lagniappe has passed her "sea trials" with flying colors.  I am impressed anew with Iain Oughtred's design, which is not only beautiful in the water, but agile on it. I am proud with my accomplishment, and, most of all, exceedingly grateful to the people who helped, guided, and supported me over this multi-year adventure. Foremost among them are my wife, Joan, who put up with this insanity, Jeff Huffenberger, who has been my guide and advisor along the way, and John Brady, President of the Independence Seaport Museum, and Newt Kirkland, professional boatbuilder and curmudgeon, who taught me most of what I know about building wooden boats. The continuing help, good will, and good natured ribbing from the staff and volunteers at the Workshop on the Water at the Independence Seaport Museum has made the hard work in the recent push to the water great fun.

I'm taking the weekend off, but Monday, the mast gets stepped as we begin phase 2.


  1. Charles, a huge congratulations to you. From what I can see in the photos, you've more than done justice to Oughtred's excellent design. I predict you'll enjoy years of delightful sailing—as well as showers of compliments at dockside and even on the water, as skippers of lesser boats (which will be just about all of them) chase to ask you questions.

    I read your first paragraph to my wife at dinner tonight, asking if it "sounds like anyone you know." All too well, she said. I'm likewise a worrier; when I launched my 19' Devlin Winter Wren for the first time three years ago the anxiety list even included wondering whether the motor vibration might crack the transom seams. But just like you and Lagniappe, almost everything worked from the beginning, and I've spent many productive hours over the last two winters making incremental improvements to the rig, cabin accommodations, and other things. You will too. And as a good as your boat seems already, you'll be amazed at how much better it will be after a couple seasons of sailing, as you come to understand it and make these adjustments.

    You look like a profoundly happy man in the last photo of the latest post. I'd say you deserve the glow, and I predict it'll continue for a long time.

    —Larry Cheek
    Whidbey Island, Washington

    1. Larry,
      Thanks so much for the kind words. I have most certainly enjoyed the adventure so far, and I am looking forward to continuing it as long as I am able. As far as worry and anxiety go, I think the only way to avoid them is to never do anything you haven't done before, and that doesn't seem like much fun at all.

      Good sailing to you.