Although I've been around boats all my life, I can truly confess that I learn new words all the time. When I met La Belle Vie, I had opened up a new dictionary of words about the Cape Dory. Hull keel is one of those terms that distinctly fits the Cape Dories. A keel, which provides the stability of a sailboat is enlarged so that the entire hull takes the duty of the keel, and thus, becomes a hull-keel. I'd seen this sort of keel before but since I didn't own a hull-keel vessel, I didn't stop to ask the purpose of it. The benefit of the hull-keel vessel is stability in the wind and waves and the capability of the sailboat to track a course. The entire vessel is a keel. Once she is set in a direction it is very difficult to change her mind unless you fiddle with the "tiller." Well, the tiller, yes, another word for the helm. And the Cape Dory invited me to discover another term in the course of her rehab; the Taff-Rail.
You can read all about the definition of a taff-rail on Wikipedia ( http://www.thefreedictionary.com/taffrail ) and it is worth the read. But the definition of the taff-rail took on new meaning for me when I began to talk to a friend about reconstructing one to its original specifications.
Honestly, I thought the term reminded me of candy. And maybe that is a bit true by virtue of its location on the transom. The word alone made it sound like "taffy." A taff-rail? So, here is a photo of the taff-rail, lying on the ground in all of its former glory. In talking with my friend, it became quite apparent that this taff-rail was going to be a costly endeavor to remanufacture, if we were going to produce the same quality product that Cape Dory had designed for this use. It is teak, that means expensive, and it is curved and is created out of two pieces of wood, joined by a simple (simple for some) scarf joint. In my sailor's mind, it was something that had to be reconstructed with finesse rather than force!
The grey teak was spotted with bits of old varnish and screw holes. Plus, it had been sanded so many times that the rail had become lumpy and uneven. It looked very sad indeed. Again I wondered what tales this taff-rail could spin. Lines usually feed from a cleat on the aft deck, through a fair-lead on the taff-rail, and then to the dock. So the taff-rail is quite visible on a vessel and is set right in the midst of the sailing action. And it's not just a piece of lumber! It is a piece of art with a simple bit of elan all it's own.
So I looked at this tattered taff-rail and scratched my head in wonder. I began to research how and by whom this taff-rail could be produced. I happened upon a Craftsman who had had some experience around boats but who also understood wood, joints, strengths, and was ready to take on the challenge.
My craftsman met the taff-rail one day while La Belle Vie was "on the hard." Another sailor's term for being out of the water. He looked at the transom with its variety of curves and then looked at the tattered taff-rail with its years of putty, scraping, and life aboard, and mused a bit. He announced that the project was rather simple yet sophisticated.
You see, the taff-rail is designed to finish off the transom on the vessel as the last thing you see on her. Yet her beauty of construction reveals a strength produced by her joinery. The scarf joint is designed to join two pieces of wood in a manner which produces a strength greater than were it only one piece of wood. By the grain of the teak meeting in such a joint, the scarf then provides the taff-rail the ability to resist tension and compression plus creates a sort of locking of the two pieces of wood. My craftsman was talking to me in post-graduate language about wood. My sailor brain was awash in technicalities that I would have never realized were taking place on my little vessel.
After a few weeks, he brought the new taff-rail to the Dory. Remarkable. Not only was the product identical in every aspect, but he had remanufactured a taff-rail more beautiful than it's original.
In the photo below you see how much detail and thought the craftsman put into the remanufacture. He lined up the scarf joint so that on this deck side the joint runs directly under the aft-stay whereas in the other edition, the joint is apparent to the left of the aft stay plate.
So, I learned all about taff-rails in this process and how a piece of teak normally or possibly overlooked, can be a bit of art. But I had to be schooled on this and I imagine in many other things Cape Dory. The joy of the boat is the journey of discovery and gaining appreciation for the craftsmanship and design of a vessel that is no longer in production but draws attention wherever it is found. The next time you see a Cape Dory you will think to ask about the taff-rail as I did. And you will have a better appreciation for the capability of teak to wrap around the "gunwales" of a classic boat called the Cape Dory.