Baggy Wrinkles

Baggy Wrinkles
S/V Nautica, Hull #614, Built at Whitby Boatworks Ltd., Ontario, Canada 1977, one of the most recognizeable Carl Alberg designs. A masthead sloop displacing 9000 lbs, keel hull, Yanmar 15 hp diesel, LOA 30.27 Beam 8.75, Draft 4.29, roller furling headsail, tiller, berths for 4, interior teak bulkheads, teak cap rail and cockpit teak coamings, 12 volt lighting, aluminum mast support, Harken self tailing winches, in its day was designed for customers as a Cruiser-Racer, the Alberg 30 remains a Classic design of the modest Alberg inventory.

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Friday, May 31, 2013

Boats have a language all their own.  Expressions like "hard a lee," or "amidships," or "weather helm," are bits and pieces of a language that belongs to sailors and their vessels.  And even if you're not a sailor, you have to learn these sayings in order to understand a sailor.  It is a language of the sea and all things surrounding that life.

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 ( )  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.

Friday, May 24, 2013

It was now time for her first sea-trials.  The bright-work was completed and re-put on the hull.  Screw holes were filled and caulking put to insure water did not leak through the hull seam on La Belle Vie.

I had not had her in the water since she was pulled out of the James River in December.  Questions ran through my mind; "Would she take on water?"  "Could the rigging handle the wind?"  and "How will she feel underway?"

I had heard all sorts of tales of the classic Cape Dory Typhoon.  They spoke of how she handled like a larger vessel.  That meant to me that in one sense she was able to keep a heading with little effort.  She would not blow off course or take the wind by surprise.  She would lean over and run with the breeze.  It also suggested to me that like a larger vessel, she was sure in the tiller.  That is to say, the control of the vessel is truly at one's fingertips.  A shallow vessel planes across the water while a keel hull cuts deep and sure.  I was looking forward to our sea trials.

 It was important not to rush the sea trials and to manage all the details of the dory with care and attention.  Even with that caution, I thought I had rushed her a bit too much.  Sometimes I started talking to myself out-loud to simply slow down the procedure and make sure I got each item done correctly.  I remembered how rushing the mast stepping the first time I had bent the toggles on the shrouds.  I wanted to make sure I drug my feet so that everything was properly in place.

Then there was the sail plan.  This Typhoon is a "fractional rig."  That simply means her jib or genoa only ascends part way up the mast.  From my experience sailing larger yachts, I figured that at her displacement of 2000 pounds, she'd need plenty of head sail to get underway.  I fitted her with the Genoa, hanked-on the forestay.  Here she is rigged up on her trailer ready for a splash.

Finally getting her underway I decided to shoot her with my GoPro3 and give a glimpse of what it looks like to be at the helm of this vessel dubbed, "America's Littlest Yacht:"

Sunday, May 19, 2013

An old sailboat is never without a to-do list.  When La Belle Vie settled into her new home she admitted to having a variety of things to fix.  There was the toe rail, the rub rail, the transom taff-rail, the deck, the shrouds, the..., well, I could just go on and on.

Overwhelming?  Not at all.  Normal.  The Cape Dory is the perfect retirement job.  Much to do, time consuming, and worth every minute of effort. 

So there I was in the garage with all the bright-work from the vessel scattered about in my garage.  It was late winter, about 45 degrees outside, and inside, it was almost 50.  The varnish needs about that much to function.  After sanding each piece of teak with 80 grit, then 250 grit and then 400 grit, I was nearly ready to begin the varnishing.  The wood was weary when it arrived.  I examined each piece for integrity.
As I fingered through this pile of weathered teak I imagined who might have sailed on La Belle Vie in years past.  I could almost hear the gleeful cries of kids, wrapped in orange coast guard life vests.   What they must have imagined of the sea and the wonder of sailing?  The bright-work had heard these cries, the laughter, and probably felt the hands of many enchanted sailors and would-be sailors.

But for now, those cries had stopped.  And the bright-work was weary, tired, and grey.  I began working each piece.  I peeled the grey back.  Some owners laud the weathered look as a true sailing vessel, but as I brushed the grey away I saw the genuine beauty of teak.  At points the wood had been worked on and I left some of the original varnish.  At other places I bore down harder to bring out the pinkish flavor of the wood. 

One of the coamings, pictured above, had had short scrapes in the surface.  It looked as though someone had worn a life jacket with a metal clasp.  The abrasions ruined the coaming and it had been varnished over but not sanded clear.  I wondered who that was that would have done such a thing?  How could they just hurt the coaming sail after sail with disregard to the vessel?  Unthinkable to me.

It is funny how I began to wonder about all the people who had leaned back on these coamings in 39 years of sailing.  And then I realized that La Belle Vie could only speak through wear and tear.  She had done well for her years but she needed care.  She needed fixing.

The Epiphanes varnish is Danish.  It is terribly expensive at 50 dollars a quart.  But thinned, it was able to varnish about 7 to 8 coats of matte finish on all these pieces.   The more I varnished the better she looked.  I felt as if I was bringing her back to life.

The varnishing with Epiphanes was really quite easy.  The method was apply the varnish every 12 hours and  no sanding between coats.  If you wait 72 hours, you must sand with 600 grit. 

People often talk about varnishing like it is a pain in the neck.  I found the process was simple once the sanding work had been done.  Yet too, I found the application was well worth the effort.  The wood is designed to show through with a matte finish, unlike shiny gloss which shows every imperfection.  And I had purchase the matte by mistake! 

After applying to the coamings, and re fitting the bright-work aboard the vessel, she beamed:

Saturday, May 11, 2013

We all dream about sailing in winter.  Spring snows dampen sailors' spirits in northern climates but don't stop the heartiest from finding something to occupy their time in those long nights and grey days.  Toward the end of winter La Belle Vie came to the sailing club.  Trailered from the warmer Charleston waters, the barren landscape of the midlands of South Carolina was a cold and sometimes bitter environment for a little happy sailboat.  Even sunny days were cold but her refit had to begin. 

First things first, a bath, a scrubbing, and an inspection were in order.  An initial scraping of the keel hull was essential to remove all sorts of bizarre sea growth that had taken residence on her.  Once she was clear of most of that I was able to powerwash her hull with evident success.

While I had not intended to erase her boot strip, it lifted off effortlessly with the powerwash and left the ablative red paint and a bit of the underlying grey base paint evident on her hull.   Too she showed layers of others' labors over the years and like a mystery unfolding revealed that there was much more work to do, and much life left in this Cape Dory. 

In a telling photo the hull reveals both the residue and the clean hull after the wash:

So, the hull cleaned up real well, and despite a few remaining salt water barnacles, she was ready for her new life on the hard and the luxury of being a trailered vessel.  So knowing that it is easier shown than told, I grabbed my GoPro3 and decided to chronicle the Cape Dory where she sat at the Chandlery site our yacht club provides.  It was a brisk and cold late winter day as I toured La Belle Vie.

We had thought we'd name her Baby Halcyon at one time.  But that was early in our relationship with her.  Time and work on the vessel has had an effect on us.  The closer we get to the Dory the more we begin to think she's got a name we're trying to discover.  And besides the fact that later on we find 2 names on her transom, we realize that the name is more the relationship we have with her than "the name" she ought always to have had.  So for now, before she becomes Baggy Wrinkles, she is La Belle Vie. 

Intro to the Cape Dory

Time and weather had taken their toll on La Belle Vie, but underneath the grey teak and the dusty fiberglass deck was a sturdy sailing vessel that was soon to undergo sea trials.  Just another lesson for us all that have long since been seduced by all things digital, that there are some things that get better over time, although old and out of production, this Dory is a bit of living history.  She doesn't beep and click when you touch her but she touches you when you get close to her.  She draws you in to her history and makes you feel alive again.  And if she can do that, she's more magical perhaps than historical!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Every kid has dreams about time travel.  And I think it is probably also true about older kids.  We can dream about being somewhere without the limits of our daily lives, their appointments, and the normal routine in which we so often find ourselves.  When I found La Belle Vie I thought I had stumbled upon someone's dream.  Imagine bumping into a dream?  Have you ever had one of those feelings that you had been somewhere before?   Perhaps in another time, or life, or something?  Well, it wasn't quite like that but it was more like being interrupted in mid sentence by something pleasant.

I'd always been fascinated with wooden boats.  They seemed to be vessels of time travel.  I can remember as a child being fixated on the colorful wooden fishing dories in Portugal and France and the distinct smell of the ocean, the black rocks, the barnacles.  It was like time travel to simply stand and look at it all. 

The Cape Dory is like that.  And if you find yourself turning around to look at the Cape Dory after you've packed her away for the night, you know the feeling I'm talking about.  Just one more look and your eyes trace the classic lines and you feel so happy to be there.  It is like traveling back in time and grabbing something in your pocket to bring back to your routine life.  It makes you feel warm and happy. 

And so wrapped in a huge blue Walmart tarp, I hid La Belle Vie in the Chandlery like a film star I wanted to keep a secret.  Fearing that she might draw undue attention to herself I kept her on the hard in the chandlery where I could begin to work on all the little pieces that needed attention, refinishing, retooling, and changing.  And, I removed the name from her transom to find another name underneath the paint, SeaDare! 

How could she have...?  I thought with a smile.  Other dreams, other adventures had come before me.  I bumped into time travel while removing the name. 

But this was only the first of many accidental discoveries I would make on the vessel, destined to get a new name, to fit this new adventure.  Of course there is a proper ceremony for a new name that must be adhered to.  That will come later for her.  But for now, I wondered if she had had her proper ceremonies in the past?  Did her skippers take care to make those transitions and keep with the traditions of the sea?  I thought to myself that Baggy Wrinkles would be safe with me.  When the future time comes to the present she will be christened with a name, Baggy Wrinkles, but for now she must travel in my slow time and wait for me to catch up to her.
So there are many more things to discover on La Belle Vie.  ( You see until the ceremony, she retains her name whether or not it is inscribed on her transom.  Maybe she could be called  "Sea Dare La Belle Vie" since neither name had been removed! 
A skipper can imagine so many things about an old vessel.  But for now, this Cape Dory is in "transition" from one name to another and from one place to another.  And I am intersecting with her time travel and her classic form in an age where digital tries to mimic real with pallid success.  In this photo you can almost see another time underneath the blue tarp. 
The adventure continues as La Belle Vie goes to sea for her first sea trials....

Saturday, May 4, 2013

I've always had a sailboat of some kind or been near sailboats or fascinated by sailboats.  So my search for a Cape Dory was not a novelty but more a passionate interest.  I found her moored on James' Island in Charleston in this swift moving river looking a bit forlorn, tethered to a dock, the elements having worn her bright-work down to a rustic grey, the tell tale sign of a once passionate interest overcome by other agendas.

But the Cape Dory design is unique and timeless, classic.  Other places tell of the rubrics of this particularly stylish design by Carl Alberg.  And if you look closely in this photo you will see several vessels one of which is the wine glass transom.  Others may be larger, faster, brighter, or louder, but the Cape Dory at that time called "La Belle Vie" was certainly the more interesting vessel and drew the eye. 

The posting photos illustrated how well cared for she had been in her day.  A boat 39 years old has had many owners of course.  When I saw this photo I knew she had had quite a bit of care and had charmed someone's interest to be so well-maintained.  Bright blue Awlgrip on her decks, the teak was well finished and her rigging was tidy.  She appeared ready to sail and I thought I could not resist snatching this classic vessel.  But of course the sales photo and her actual condition were separated by the lapse of time during which an interest had waned and her condition had deteriorated.

Weathered lines, grey teak comings, indentations from docking lines, sanding and refinishing over the years, and the penetrating beatings of the elements had punished La Belle Vie.  Her current  ownership was a bit confused between two people.  One had listed her, but another was actually doing the selling, and I seemed to profit from the arrangement securing her at a price many Cape Dory Typhoon's seem to draw even if worn and a bit tattered.  She was still a classic.  She had an historic value and the essential elements of design that drew looks. 

The seller helped me pull her out of the James River on a pleasant winter day in December and I escaped James' Island and its Pirates to head for her new home and her next owner.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Ok so it was about time to start the story.  I fell in love with a Classic Cape Dory sailboat years ago and found one this past December waiting for a new owner.  I got her.

This is a blog that describes the renovation of my Cape Dory Typhoon Weekender.  She is Hull Number 729 of the nearly 2000 built by Cape Dory Boatworks during the twenty some years they were built.  The Cape Dory Typhoon or Ty as most of us who own them call it, is a classic little boat called "America's Littlest Yacht." 

She really captures the imagination of everyone with her teak brightwork, bronze winches and simple rigging.  A classic keel-hull design, she weighs about two thousand pounds but is nimble at the tiller and sure in the wind.  Simply a delight to sail.  Yet the problem with the Cape Dory Ty is that she isn't made anymore.  As someone once wrote, the molds were rejected for sale and eventually destroyed in the late eighties and since that time those of us seeking information for this classic design have to rely upon each other for information.

Since I retired from the Army I wanted to work on a classic sailboat.  I was fortunate to find this Cape Dory in Charleston, South Carolina.  She had been named SeaDare, then when I found her, La Belle Vie.  The idea of renaming her came as the renovation of her began.  At first my wife and I thought to name her after our former yacht, a 47 foot Beneteau named Halcyon, thus Baby Halcyon.  But that was just our first reaction.  Then I began making these yesteryear things for the shrouds called "baggy wrinkles" which serve to protect the sails from chafing against the metal.  She said, "that's a great name for the Dory, 'Baggy Wrinkles.'"  I smiled and agreed, and so she is in transition to Baggy Wrinkles. 

It is a fitting name for a  classic little boat.  She is as far from digital as time can put her.  And that is part of the enjoyment of this sailing vessel (s/v).  It is like therapy for a digital generation.  Sailing her is like sailing the past.  In this blog I will post the journey of her renovation and refit on, "my watch," as they say in the military.