Apr 27 2009

Fortuitous Encounters

Tag: musingsmattholmes @ 5:33 am

In the midst of boat work we frequently acknowledge the “right tool for the job”; tonight it was all about the “right person at the right time”.

I had a frustrating day trying–and failing–to drill a few holes in a piece of stainless steel. Drilling a few holes was my ONLY goal for the day–it has to be done before I can move forward with my current project–but after driving a hundred miles, stopping at various specialized establishments, spending an emotionally debilitating amount of money, and carrying multiple heavy metal objects back and forth multiple times, this task went unfulfilled. Along the way I did some other errands fine but Damn! I really just wanted to get those holes drilled!

One would think that drilling holes is not that difficult. But sometimes Oh hell yes it is. In the past month I have learned how to TIG weld, use a mill and a lathe, how to adjust and replace blades on a serious band saw, how to properly cope a piece of tubing to mate to another piece of tubing, and designed and insulated an icebox. I assure you! drilling large holes in thick stainless steel remains the MOST IMPOSSIBLE TASK of everything we have done on the boat so far. Seriously, harder than everything else. Why? This amateur can offer only justifications (since I haven’t found the answer). Stainless is much harder than “mild” steel. If your drill bit doesn’t cut into it, dig into it properly, than all of the energy of spinning that bit goes into friction–thus heat–and when you heat stainless steel it only gets HARDER than it already is. I tell you truly: a quarter-inch thick slab of stainless steel is where drill bits go to die. You can drill all you want, you can press as hard as you can–with a drill press–you can pour cutting fluid on it, you can use exactly the right speed, you can buy expensive cobalt bits, but at the end of the day you’ll end up with a pile of dull drill bits and a piece of metal with a partial hole in it. And all of your efforts will have served only to harden the metal via that excess heat. It’s a downward spiral leading to frustration and despair and wasted money and broken drill bits, and yes I will shamefully admit that my failure to drill holes in stainless steel ruined my day today, has ruined many of our days in the past, and will probably ruin plenty more. What a silly thing to ruin a day! It’s only metal and a hole! But when there’s no one who can do it for you, and you can’t get it done, and you absolutely need to . . .

After returning home with an attitude of failure inadequacy and disgust, I chose to pursue a proper drink at the Trappist in Oakland (best source of real beer–i.e. Belgian–in the entire east bay) with Karen. At the Trappist, we happened to sit next to a guy who happened to be wearing his California Blacksmithing Society t-shirt and happened to have work-blackened hands which I happened to notice and on which I chose to comment. His name is Brad Faris, and had I tried I could not have found a more ideal individual to answer all my metalworking questions and ease the specific frustrations of my day. Brad’s father was a pinball machine artist, and Brad was originally a pinball machine designer, who became a blacksmith after moving to germany to build pinball machines, and is now a custom smith with a studio in Oakland. Hell of a story, hell of a nice guy. Brad is a stellar individual with a wealth of knowledge, and it was a pleasure to talk to him.

Brad and Karen and I talked technical stuff, like the reason why brass goes pink when it goes bad (the zinc in the alloy is oxidized, leaving on the copper, and porously weak) and what naval bronze does when welded (spitting zinc and producing salt-like deposits) versus silicon bronze (beautiful puttied welds), but we also talked about pinball machines and neat hot forges and old school metal suppliers in petaluma, which is to say that we weren’t dorking out at all–it was interesting and accessible and it was a conversation in a bar while buzzed that was filled with content and value and excitement to me and Karen both. He gave me the important names of the metal and tool supply places that I needed to know immediately, like KBC tools where tomorrow morning I’m going to get some new sharp drill bits and “TAP magic” cutting fluid for tomorrow’s second attack on the stainless. And US Metals which is a more standard supplier than ALCO metals which is like a metal flea market by analogy, and Metal Supermarket which is good for small pieces because they have smaller stock on hand and are more willing to cut and sell it in small quantities, and Van-Bebber in Petaluma which–even though it’s in a silly location for a place that gets all its raw materials from shipping yards in the bay–is apparently the type of customer-service rich operation that draws people from all over to make the inconvenient drive for a great product. Brad knows his shit! So incredibly fortuitous that we just happened to run into him at a bar on the day that I most needed his particular expertise.

There is an oft repeated saying on the boat, about having the “right tool for the job”. For the water tanks, it was the cutoff blade (yeah the cutoff blade is frequently that “right tool”) on a 4″ grinder, for the icebox insulation it was Japanese pull saw, for rebedding it’s 4200 UV fast cure, the list goes on and on. Tonight I have to say that Brad Faris was the right person at the right time. His expertise is exactly what I needed to know to turn today’s frustrations into an optimism for a different tomorrow. I’m excited about tomorrow because I have new ideas about how to properly succeed with that piece of stainless–tomorrow I’m going to do everything right and at the end of the day I’m going to finally be able to give a detailed technical dissertation on how to kick 304 stainless ass. Hell of a frustrating day, hell of a rewarding night.


Apr 18 2009

Sailboat not Required

Tag: boat workJonathon Haradon @ 9:38 pm
I’ll give you two really good reasons why I shouldn’t sew a sail: 1) I know nothing about sewing.  2) I know nothing about sails. All I know is that two months ago, while chatting about money and our sailboat, Matt said to me, “We definitely need a new sail.  Why don’t you sew it for us?  It will save us a lot of money and you could do it in Denver. It’s a boat project that doesn’t require a boat.” It seemed so logical, so rational. Even Sailrite, the company that sells sail-making kits, said it was easy. Zip, zip, zip — and voila — done. Check out the video and see. Still, intuition suggested that the task would be daunting. When I told my friends, “I’m thinking about sewing a sail,” I couldn’t even keep a straight face. Like so many other boat projects, sailmaking was unfamiliar and overwhelming. Now, ankle deep as I am in this sailmaking endeavor, I wonder if Matt asked the question in jest.  A completed sail is wider and almost as long as my condo (ehem..currently for rent). How the heck am I supposed to do this? I do know, however, the difference between a code zero, gennaker, asymetric spinaker, drifter, crusing spinaker, and genoa. I know how to thread a bobbin. I know what tension can be applied to different sail luff configurations and how that affects the ability of a sail to go to windward.   I also know what tension can be applied to a piece of thread and how that affects looping above and below the fabric.  I understand roach. I understand how to walk the dog. I know this because I did hours of personal research, had several discussions with Matt, read a book, and talked for 30 minutes on the phone with Jeff, the head sailmaster at Sailrite, hitting him with questions I barely have enough knowledge to even be asking, let alone understand the answers.  He was extremely helpful, though I’m pretty sure he realized I was a complete greenhorn.  We need a sail though, so I pressed on, e-mailed him even more questions the next day, and then called again a few days later. I know we want something that would work in light air.  You see, the breezes in the trade-winds (which blow from 20 degrees north to 20 degrees south of the equator minus about 5 degrees of doldrums right on the equator) are actually fairly wispy most of the time, only 5-15 knots.  All of our current sails are made of Dacron, the most common synthetic sail fabric, but which would be too heavy for those light trade winds.  Our new sail, called a drifter, will be made of super lightweight nylon, much like tent fabric.  We’ll mostly be flying it in what’s called a double-head sail set-up:  the jib and the drifter are attached at the forestay, one going to port and the other to starboard, each at about a 90 degree angle to the boat.  They create a big parachute the wind pushes against, moving the boat.  To use this set-up the wind needs to be coming from generally directly behind you, give or take 20 degrees.  Coincidentally, that’s what the wind will usually be like in the trades. I also know this because I borrowed my sister’s sewing machine, and had my newfound mentor, Lauren, gave me a brief tutorial on using it.  Like a good mentor, she stepped back and let me have fun. To start, I ripped off a 4’x4′ section from my 20 foot square blue ground tarp, hoping that it would mimic nylon, because I wasn’t willing to cut up my tent.  I then impatiently cut  the 4’x4′ square into 6 different pieces to sew back together.  Once in a while, when something stopped working and I couldn’t fathom why, I’d ask for help.  Otherwise, I showed her my stitching, asked for feedback, and generally felt proud of what I had done. The process reminded me of the internship programs that my students go through. Every week, they see new things, learn new skills, and push themselves beyond their normal boundaries — under the guidance of amazing mentors. Such opportunities — in school!— are awesome, and I smiled just thinking about it. Three significant lessons emerged from the reassembly of the first tarp: 1) It would help if I cut up the tarp in straight lines. 2) It would help if I mimicked the way the sail panels would be pre-attached with double-sided tape. 3) It would help if I had more thread. So we drove over to Fancy Tiger, a local boutique thread-shop.  They have a surprising lack of thread, needles, and fabric, but an ungodly amount of yarn, and they also have sewing classes! You get to bring in your own projects and get help!  It’s like getting 10 mentors at once, for free! As far as I can tell, there’s no other shop like it for 500 miles. Back home, I cut out a second piece of tarp. This time with straight lines.  I tacked the pieces together with double-sided tape.  I used my new, bright yellow (Lauren raised her eyes at my choice, but I wanted bold) thread.  The second go was a significant improvement, and my confidence rose ten-fold. So, now, thanks to so much help, this project seems more manageable. I’ve got Lauren, and my sister, and Jeff, and the entire staff of the local thread-shop as support.  With all that scaffolding, it should be easy.  Right?

Apr 12 2009

April Fools

Tag: humorous,introspectionJonathon Haradon @ 9:55 pm
I’ve never been much of a prankster. The furthest I ever took an April Fools joke involved telling someone I didn’t like his shirt. Yes: lame. I know. As the day crept up this year my friend Amy regaled me with stories of epic April Fools jokes in her family. They sounded like so much fun. I felt so left out. To hear Amy tell it, April 1st was the only holiday worth celebrating. So I got to thinking about a prank. I started by searching for a victim. An obvious target was Amy, since she so enjoyed such shenanigans. She’s a professional April-Fooler, though, and I figured she’d see right through my meager attempts. What I needed was unsuspecting victims. Someone who trusted me totally. Someone who’s known me for years, and as such, never heard me pull an April Fools caper. Oh, Matt and Jonny: I would pity you if it wasn’t me doing the pranking. The three of us lately have been pushing our fingers into our temples, frowning in thought, throwing fake smiles every once in a while as our minds wandered toward the financial challenge before us. We have little money, a lot more boat parts yet to purchase, and (most importantly) a two year trip to save up for. We’ve tried prioritizing projects, but that only made the monstruous task before us more evident. What we needed was some levity. So I sent them this e-mail: —– From: Jon Haradon Subject: umm….news Date: April 1, 2009 5:52 PM To: Matt Holmes, Jonny Walman So the Superintendent of my district swung by our school today. Apparently she didn’t get the message about me leaving. She said the district was starting a STEM (science technology, engineering and mathematics) charter school in the district and she asked if I would be interested in running it. She basically implied that if I wanted the job it was mine. It would pay a bundle, and as director of the school, I would get to decide exactly how it looks. Couldn’t be be more perfect with where I want to go with my career. I have to admit, I’m strongly thinking about sticking around and taking the job…. I’ll give ya’ll a call to talk about it tonight. —– I let them sweat on it for four hours while I busied myself. I actually forgot about it. Matt and Jonny didn’t. I’m not sure what happened, and they seem unable to recall the events during the time in question, so traumatized were they. I heard hints, though, of emergency meetings, soul-searching conversations, and maybe — OK, definitely — some searing words for me. At 9PM, I called Matt. “Hey what’s up?” I feigned ignorance. After some pleasantries, Matt, slowly started, “So… uh… that was some bomb you dropped on us.” I couldn’t hold the facade any longer — I told you I’m no prankster — and offered “April Fools?” I felt like a little kid lighting a fire-cracker the size of a torpedo, and sprinting away while the fuse quickly burned down. Silence can reveal many emotions. In this long silence, I could hear disbelief and dumb-foundedness, and then relief mixed with incredulity. “You’re shittin’ me….” About all Matt could say after that was that I had better call Jonny. In the background, I heard Karen yell at me. She later flamed me on Facebook. I suppose I deserved it. I called Jonny. He asked if I had talked to Matt. I confirmed, which was about all I was able to do before spilling my beans. “Well I don’t know what he said, but I think I’m going to be a bit more harsh.” I cut him off. Yet again, I lit the fire-cracker and sprinted in the other direction. “April Fools,” I timidly let out. There was less silence this time. Jonny told me I ought to know how much he simultaneously hated me and was glad that we are the kind of people who are pranksters. He also said he’d need a week to get over the shock. I hadn’t thought about what the hoax might prompt as an aftermath; I was just hoping to fool them, and definitely succeeded. It’s strange, but swindling my friends made me feel really good. Not because I lied, but because my friends were truly moved and devastated by the possibility that I might not join them. Yes, love reveals itself in strange ways. In the next few days, Matt and Jonny mentioned that my firecracker actually prompted interesting thinking on their parts, something about soul-searching and opportunities in life and trusting your instincts and taking chances and friendship. For us to have conceived this adventure, have made it through over three years of planning, and be on the verge of leaving, there had to be some intense bonds of trust, respect, and compassion. Some serious man-love. And so while I might have severely severed that bond of trust, (and I currently don’t trust anything they say, because I know they are scheming up some way to way to exact revenge) I think I’ve nudged us all to think about what this journey means to us, together. We’ll need those bonds when confined for a months in a tiny, floating, 40-foot boat with no escape. Unless they prank me by throwing me overboard.

Apr 11 2009

Sailing + Kite + Video Camera

Tag: marina life,tripsmattholmes @ 5:01 pm

A while back we came across these superb videos made by Chris Humann (edited thanks to comment below) during his single-handed TRANSPAC race, in which he suspends a video camera from a kite and flies it from his boat while sailing. As soon as I saw the video I had to do it too. It’s so difficult to get good footage while sailing, since you’re usually limited to the deck of the boat–but Chris’s perspective and the footage he captures is just incredible.

Extensive online research revealed that there is a whole hobby out there dedicated to “KAP” or “kite aerial photography”. My immediate question was: why doesn’t anyone talk about kite aerial video? Surely video is better than stills? Turns out that getting steady video is wicked hard!

Most people make their own rigs and build it piece by piece a bit at a time, playing with different kites, etc, until they feel competent enough in their gear to hang an expensive camera off of it. This is probably smart, but I was in the mood for immediate gratification, so I put intelligence aside to make room for recklessness and in an impulsive moment I ordered a kite and a picavet suspension rig from Brooks Leffler’s web site, brooxes.com.

Brooks is the man–he made it super easy to get started. He handled everything personally, and I had my gear in a day and a half. I highly recommend his excellent little company; he is a good guy with great products and great service, and he deserves our business.

Everyone suggests first practicing with just the kite, getting to know how it functions in different conditions, etc, but I was just too impatient for that sort of thing. So the day after my new toys arrived we went out to the grass next to the marina on a pretty windy day and just did it. Put it all together, started the kite flying, then hung my $400 video camera from the picavet suspension and just let out the entire 500ft of line. It was funny to watch my little video camera become a little speck way up there, hanging directly over the sailboats in the marina.

Here’s the basic setup: you launch the kite and let out a hundred feet of string, then you attach the picavet suspension rig to the string. The picavet is an elegant arrangement of lines that serve to keep the camera mounting bracket perfectly horizontal no matter what angle the kite is at. You mount your camera on the bracket at whatever angle you want it to be, and then it stays at that angle the whole time.

About the video camera: I love my sanyo xacti videocamera, because 1) it’s WATERPROOF and 2) no tapes–it holds over an hour of top quality footage on a little 8gb memory card. Plug it into the computer and download all the footage in a minute. We have used this trusty little camera to film underwater in the bay–just put it under the faucet afterwards to rinse it off the saltwater. If only sanyo would make an waterproof version of their HD videocamera!

That first trial run in the marina created very, very shaky footage. Check it out:

Pretty much unusable stuff. I get the feeling that this is pretty common with kite aerial video, which in hindsight explains why the online traffic is all about kite aerial photography. I think you need the wind to be extremely steady without any gusts to get decent footage. Conditions the day we first tried were less than ideal:

The most annoying aspect of the trial run was how long it took to wind up the line to bring the whole rig back in, so I built a new winder to which I could chuck our portable drill–this sped up the whole take-down process drastically.

Emboldened by our trial run, the next weekend we took it sailing. It was a bit more challenging to deal with the setup from the deck of a boat, but all in all totally doable. We sent it out when the wind was about 10-15 knots, I let out the kite and all 500ft of line, and then the wind picked up to 20 and then 25 and I thought the line was going to break and I was going to lose the whole thing, so I hooked up the drill and wound that sucker back in. The footage was super shaky again, which is a bummer but I guess to be expected in those conditions. Also, the angle of the camera (easily adjustable, from the ground!) wasn’t quite high enough, so the top of our mast is never quite in the shot. This is unfortunate, but no so bad for our first try. I’m very happy with all the gear and the setup–thanks to Brooks for a simple and excellent product. Now we just need to send it up in better conditions, and hopefully sometime soon we can get great aerial footage of Syzygy in action.


Apr 09 2009

Stellar Monday Sail

Tag: tripsmattholmes @ 3:53 am

This past Monday we sailed on the bay with friends Kevin Tompsett and Liz Roberts. This was the second week in a row that we had partially dismantled the engine and then put it back together in time for a sail (and we’re going to try for a third time this weekend). The conditions were varied, and interesting enough that I’ll give some details. First, here is our track:

We left the marina at 10am, a good 3 hours earlier than our usual average departure–which explains why we had no wind for the first 3 hours:

Upon motoring out of the marina, we immediately discovered–via an unusual and alarming noise eminating from the engine room–that the drive belt of our engine was rubbing on the alternator belt, an unfortunate and potentially disastrous condition caused by my improper reassembly of the engine the previous day. We elected to motor very SLOWLY, thereby minimizing the bad sound, and in this hobbled and tenuous state we were able to make it out of the narrow channel and hoist the sails.

Upon hoisting the sails, nothing happened. A situation caused by a total lack of wind (refer to wind archive graph above). So we sat around with the sails up for a half hour, floating for a bit. When the wind finally picked up enough for some proper sailing, we headed for angel island, and promptly sailed directly into the wind shadow of angel island. Disdaining engine usage–for reasons already mentioned–we floated around in a state of no wind for another hour or so. We sailed away from angel island a few times to reach some wind, and then elected to turn around and sail right back into the wind shadow. These maneuvers, confusing though they might seem, are well documented in our gps track above. In our defense: these things happen when you don’t particularly care where you’re going or how long it takes to get there.

As we made our way up racoon strait (the section of water between angel island and tiburon on the mainland) the wind rapidly increased. By the time we hit the west end of racoon strait we were bowling along, way overpowered, under full jib and full main. Without fanfare, I took this opportunity to change into my foulies (there isn’t enough good raingear to go around, so I try not to flaunt my enviable ability to stay bone-dry). We started burying the leeward rail in the water, hefty splashes started coming over the bow. We partially furled the jib, which helped very little. Kevin had been playfully mouthing off about us not doing any “real” sailing earlier in the day, so I decided it was an ideal time to take him up to the bow to help me set up the staysail. Within half a minute seconds a big splash soaked him through. 🙂

Thus outfitted with main and staysail, we sped under the bridge. When we made it a mile and a half past the bridge, the wind slacked off some, at which point we checked the time, Liz and I chose beers, and we decided it was time to head for home. The way back involved some fun sail changes–we went wing-on-wing for a while and scooted DDW (dead-down-wind) along the headlands, taking advantage of the flood current starting to pour back into the bay (it happens along the edges first). Back in the bay, we went off towards angel island a bit to get some room on the wind, so that when we jibed we would be ability to come up into the wind enough to use both foresails. Then we unfurled the jib again, and with both jib and staysail drawing well, we sailed just about as fast as our boat will go. The wind was still blowing and it’s a bit of a task to jibe with both headsails at once, so we sailed right into the lee of alcatraz for the maneuver. The jibe accomplished, we jammed along on the port tack until it was time to douse the staysail and main and crawl back down the channel at a lazier pace.

Super light then quite heavy wind, and myriad sail combinations, all in one glorious day.


Apr 01 2009

Another tool bites the dust

Tag: boat workjonny5waldman @ 7:41 am
At first, the returns lady at Home Depot didn’t wanna let me return the Dremel tool, since I didn’t have a receipt or the plastic box it came in. I pressed on. “It’s broken,” I said. “Try it. It turns on, but you can’t change the bits.” She examined the tool, turning it over mid-air. She held it gingerly, as if it were a sex toy, or a rotten vegetable. “What’s wrong with it?” she asked, bringing up the refund screen. “Broken collet,” I said, and she began typing. I spelled it out: C-O-L-L-E-T. A wave of joy swept through me. Success! I thought. Replacement Dremel, here we come! Alas, all was not right according to the returns lady. I had picked up a brand new Dremel tool, still in the box, for demonstration purposes, and now she looked at the image on the box — model 400XPR, with 70 bits and 3 attachments — and pointed to the attachments. She asked if I had those with me. “I don’t,” I said. “I brought everything I have.” This was definitely a lie. I had left all the good dremel bits on the boat, because we are down to a precious few of them. “You can’t return it without the box,” the returns lady said. “But it’s broken,” I said. “The tool is broken, and it’s guaranteed.” “I can’t return it like this,” she said. “There’s a code on the box that the manufacturer needs.” I begged. I pleaded. “What if you let me return the old tool, without the box, and then i give you the new box, since I won’t need it?” This calculus was beyond her. It didn’t work like that. The returns lady had me move over, to make way for another customer. Not a good sign. Not success. I felt like $100 was about to be pulled out of my pocket. My problem tool and I were handed off to Mike, apparently the fix-it guy at the service counter. I recognized him (I guess I’ve made too many trips to Home Depot) but tried to hide it. Mike grabbed a wrench,  depressed the collet button with his thumb, and tried to turn the collet with the wrench. It didn’t budge. “That’s what I spent the last half hour trying to do,” I said, trying to establish rapport. He tried again, this time with two wrenches: one on the collet, and the other on the bit. “I tried that too,” I said. I wanted to say: I’m not a dumbass, dude, but I restrained myself. Mike tried a few more times. By now the manager had walked over, to see if Mike had made any progress. “What were you grinding?” Mike said. “Balsa wood,” I said, which was true. “It’s rusted shut,” Mike said. “It won’t open.” “I told you,” I said. “It’s broken. I wasn’t even running it hot,” I added, which was also true. “I’ve never seen a broken Dremel,” Mike said, with an air of fascination. He looked up at the manager. “I’ve never seen a broken Dremel,” the manager said, with a sense of gravity. He seemed troubled, as if he’d just learned that the world was not round, but octagonal. I thought for a moment, and decided it was against my interest to point out that I had seen three broken Dremel tools before, in my own hands, by my own doing. I also restrained myself from blurting out: Are you gys serious? You work in a friggin’ hardware store! Instead, I lied again, and said I’d looked online and seen that a lot of people have this problem. It seemed innocent enough; how could people like me NOT have this problem? Grudgingly, the manager said he’d take care of it. As the manager walked back to the returns counter, Mike made some joke about running a retail establishment, where the point is to sell things. Then, to me, he said a lot of people come in with “I.D. 10-T problems, saying it like that: I.D. ten dash tee. I tried not to laugh. I knew he wasn’t  comparing me to the people who can’t find the ON button, or who think their CD-drives are coffee cup holders, but I didn’t want to be mentioned in the same breath as them. I did not want to be cataloged anywhere near the Incompetents. The manager printed a refund slip and receipt, and I walked out into the world with a brand new Dremel, in a new case, in a new box, complete with 3 attachments and 70 bits. No money was sucked from my pocket. Success! Of course, halfway home, I realized I was missing one key bit: the coring bit that was stuck in the broken tool. The single best bit we owned! Curses! But I was too happy to turn around. Back at the boat, I swore I’d save the box, the case, and the receipt, because it’s only a matter of time before this one, too, bites the dust. Given how much work remains on the boat, it’s inevitable. I’d put money on it.

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