New Northwest Seaport / CWB “Boatwright / Shipwright-in-Residence” a Success

Christine Jacobson working aboard the Arthur FossThe first session of the new Northwest Seaport/Center for Wooden Boats “Boatwright/Shipwright-In-Residence” program has concluded, and both organizations are planning on how to keep the innovative program going.  The joint program was kicked off in the fall of 2012 with Allen Fletcher and Christine Jacobsen, both recent grads of the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building in Port Hadlock, coming to spend a 10-week residency at both organizations.

(Read about Jacobson’s experience aboard Arthur Foss below)

In exchange for a cabin, or berth on a historic tugboat and a small stipend, both budding boat builders got to work on the historic collections of Northwest Seaport and The Center for Wooden Boats. “This had all the components of our ideal program; living and working aboard our ships, pairing youth with experience, restoration through teaching, and close collaboration with our partner organizations,” said Nathaniel Howe, Nautical Archaeologist & Vessel Manager, Northwest Seaport. “It was great exactly what we were going for.”

“The goal was to give new graduates that first on the job experience,” said Kyle Hunter, CWB’s Boatshop Manager. “If we can help those new grads gain experience and benefit from their fresh perspective from school, we both win.”

At Lake Union Park, Jacobson lived on the historic tug Arthur Foss, while working on a wide range of projects.  Here’s her summary of her time as Boatwright-in-Residence with Northwest Seaport (For more about her time as Shipwright in Residence at The Center for Wooden Boats, check out the CWB Blog). 

ABOARD ARTHUR FOSS BY CHRISTINE JACOBSON — When people ask me how I got to a particular place I always respond with, “a long series of poor decisions” and thus I am taking part in the Northwest Seaport and Center for Wooden Boat’s Shipwright in Residence program. I certainly would not call my decision to take part in this program a poor one, even if some of the ones leading up to it weren’t stellar (note to self, always have an escape plan…). The program is ten weeks long with seven weeks spent working at the Center for Wooden Boats and three working on Northwest Seaport’s historic tugboat Arthur Foss.

(unedited) As can be imagined, the list of projects to be done on the Arthur Foss is much longer than both budget and time would allow. The project we, professional shipwright Brian Johnson, Vessel Manager Nat Howe and myself, undertook was a rotted section of blocking under the mooring bitt on the starboard bow. The bitt is the big metal post thing used to tie the boat to the dock, a barge, or anything really, with big ropes. It is also handy for bashing knees and generally taking up prime deck real estate. In this instance the bitt itself was removed several years ago when the rot was discovered and there was a crane handy to remove it. The blocking is what the bitt is attached to underneath the decking. This project sounded simple enough, we had to remove the deck over the rotten wood, remove the rotten wood and do the reverse with new material.

Like any project worth doing a hole about three times larger than the problem area must be made before getting to the actual problem. And in order to do that a number of things must happen. First the problem area is marked out athwartship. This determines how many planks must come out. Then a butt (when the ends of two planks meet) schedule is decided, which determines how much of each plank must come out. Decking adds a tremendous amount of strength to a vessel and ties all the other parts of the boat together; butts are a weak spot in the strength of the deck. Too many butts too close to each almost acts like perforated paper, it holds together and seems fine, but under enough of the right kind of stress it falls apart. That being said, if a perfect butt schedule is unobtainable the boat will not sink out from under you, it’s just another thing to keep in mind while planning out a project like this one. In a ideal world (where unicorns roam free and houses clean themselves) butts would not be closer than four planks wide and four beam spaces fore and aft. Add onto the butt schedule the time and material available and the budget and you’ve got the answer to why things are not always as they would be in an ideal world.

Once the hole to be made has all its edges it’s time to actually make it. First all the seams are reefed, making it easier for the planks to be removed. This is where all the careful planning goes by the wayside. There is always more rot than previously thought, and more wood to be taken out before good wood is reached and the line between the planned for project and what needs to be done gets really hazy really fast. Alas a line must be drawn and work left for future shipwrights. The decking on Arthur is 3 and 3/4” square and fastened to the deck beams below it with square iron nails. Despite having been in place for more than 100 years much of the deck to be removed stayed firmly in place and took a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth to remove. Brian has the biggest slide hammer (a sort of anti-hammer that is used to remove fasteners) I’ve ever seen and even then some of the fasteners were so tenacious they had to be cut off instead of being removed. The tools used to remove planks were a jig saw, a sawzall, various mallets and hammers, cats paws, chisels, elbow grease, and just about anything that would do the job.

After a full week of removing deck planks and prying out the old rotten blocking we were ready to mill up lumber for new blocking and new deck planks. Off to the shop we went with our rough lumber. A whole day was spent just making the lumber the right dimensions for the blocking and the deck planks. Everything had to be passed through the planer multiple times and none of it was light or able to be moved with just one person. Once the lumber was ready to go the arduous process of putting everything back began. Wrecking is easy because there is little worry of ruining anything and nothing has to fit properly. Filling a hole in a deck properly is difficult because the planks must fit in several dimensions; if only they could be crammed into place and quickly fastened like closing an overfilled suitcase. Galvanized lag bolts were used instead of iron nails for fastening and as much poison as possible in the form of boat sauce (a mixture of linseed oil, turpentine and pine tar in this case) and Tim-Bor (a wood preservative) was coated and placed anywhere and everywhere. On the penultimate day of the allotted three weeks the whiskey plank went in, leaving a day for fairing the new deck into the old and beginning the caulking process. The whiskey plank traditionally the last hull plank of a new build, but being sailors and shipwrights any chance to celebrate with whiskey is taken. An electric planer, or moto-beaver for the Canadians in the crowd, was used to fair the deck most of the way down. After caulking is completed it will get faired the rest of the way with a big sander. Caulking consists of a layer of cotton compacted to the same density as the wood followed by upwards of three layers, or beads, of oakum (hemp soaked in linseed oil and pine tar). Caulking on this project as well as the aft deck of the Arthur Foss has not yet been completed, and will be finished throughout the weekend during several work-days. Stay tuned for details.

Overall it was three weeks well spent; certainly better than most of the jobs I’ve held in the past. In my experience I have found that if the list of things to do for a job is short and sounds easy it is exactly the opposite. A list consisting of: remove decking, remove blocking, replace took three people three weeks to complete. There are always tricks to make things easier, but it is still a lot of work that reminds you every evening of just how hard it is. I for one feel like I not only learned a lot, but cemented a lot of my previous learning. The best type of day is one you can point at what has been done and say “I did that.” Now I can proudly point at the new deck section gleaming next to its much older darker neighboring deck and do exactly that.  Christine Jacobson’s Unedited Text (PDF)

(Many thanks to Dan Leach of CWB for composing blog post)