Friday, March 03, 2006  
Garage Sail - Southern Pines, NC

The Garage Sail was the first boat I built that floated.

Garage Sail - Bimini, Bahamas

At the time I built her, I was in my early twenties and in the grips of my steeplechase horse racing scheme. According to the plan, as soon as I made my fortune riding race horses, I'd hang up my tack and run away to sea.

Win Number One - Hobby Field, Southern Pines, NC

But there were two problems. I weighed 165 pounds, way too much for a jockey.

And I didn't have a boat.

posted by Bernie at 7:11 PM

   Thursday, March 02, 2006  
Winter Wren - Southern Pines, NC

I tackled the weight problem first.

The least a steeplechase jockey had to weigh was a bit less than 130 pounds.

130 pounds. I weighed 165.

That was to ride a maiden three year old thoroughbred, a horse that had never won a race. But that 130 pounds included the jockey's saddle, pad, and helmet. So that meant the rider, even if he chose an ultra light saddle called the "Postage Stamp" might have to step on the scales weighing a few pounds less than 130 pounds.

I was in the grips of racing passion so I did what every jockey does. First I quit eating. Then I bought a rubber suit.

As my body began the slow process of digesting almost 40 pounds of itself, my mind took refuge in my sailing dream.

When things got too bad, toward the end of the week, when I had a race coming up and was silently suffering in my rubber suited sweating Hell, I snuck down to the Moore County Library. The library was housed in a slate covered brick building and as I walked in, I hoped no one would notice. I was making plastic creaking sounds, like I was wearing a diaper under my jeans. And when I sat too long, a puddle formed at my feet.

Such were the inconveniences of cutting weight.

Still, I braved leakage and eventually found a library book called "Pocket Cruisers for the Backyard Builder" by Dave Gerr.

As I flipped through the pages of dream boats Gerr swore you could build on a tight budget, I saw her.

Her name was Winter Wren. She was a perky little gaff rigger, 18 1/2 feet long with a four-side mainsail and bowsprit that made her look ready to shishkebab the world.

"Yes! Yes! That's the one!" I practically snorted.

The Winter Wren

In that euphoric moment, I didn't feel what can only be described as a belly full of acid eating its way out of my intestines. I'd learned all sorts of tricks to muffle its constant grumbling. I drank water 'til I felt like I'd swallowed the Atlantic. That drowned out the noise. And when I was caught away from a water fountain, sucking in my belly button worked.

But for one glorius moment the cavern under my rib cage felt smooth and silent and so I sent off for the plans.

Then I asked Mel what she had planned with her garage.

posted by Bernie at 7:08 PM

   Wednesday, January 25, 2006  
Boat Building for Jockeys - Southern Pines, NC

I sent off for the boat plans, they arrived and then it hit me. I didn't have a clue how to build a boat.

The plans looked to me like I imagined a road map might appear to a chimpanzee; nothing more than a tangle of blue lines and numbers. There was also a sheet of something called a Table of Offsets which was nothing more than a grid full of numbers.

From this I was supposed to build a boat?

I called Sam Devlin, the designer, and explained that... ahem...I was completely lost. He was polite enough to explain to me that the Table of Offsets was sort of like machine code for building my hull. I won't drag you through the discussion but suffice to say he explained to me how the numbers, when transfered to long sheets of plywood, described each of the four panels that composed the hull.

From there it was easy.

First I bought a dozen sheets of half-inch plywood and glued three of them together to make a sheet of wood twenty-four feet long.

A twenty-four foot sheet of plywood. Note: It was Christmas time. You can spot Mel Wyatt's rendition of Santa and his sleigh if you look closely.

Then I transfered the numbers on the Table of Offsets onto each sheet. This gave me the shape of each of the four panels that composed the hull. Once I had the shape drawn out on the plywood, it was just a matter of cutting it out with a jigsaw.

The hull pieces before assembly

Next I wired the four panels together with bailing wire to form the boat shape. To lock it together, I mixed up container after container of thickened epoxy and glued the whole lot together.

The hull wired and epoxied together. The dark lines where the panels are joined are the expoxy fillets that hold the hull together.

Finally, I was getting somewhere. I was three weeks into the project and had something that looked like it might turn into a boat.

Then I ran into two problems. The weather turned cold and I stepped on the bathroom scales.

Remember, I was building this sailboat, first, because I wanted to run away to sea, but more important, it kept my mind off the weight I needed to loose to be a jockey.

I had a delicous Christmas and when I finally weighed myself at the first of the year, that red pointer swung way too far to the right. I was up to 145 pounds. I had to lose another twenty pounds before the racing season kicked off in March.

So I quit eating.

The problem was that when I cut weight, I froze. It also drained me of energy.

So nights, while it froze outside, I rigged special heat lamps to keep the garage warm while I worked on the boat. One night, after I'd spread a lot of epoxy, I laid down for a quick nap inside the hull, just trying to forget that infernal churning in my belly. The heat lamp was cozy, the Carpenters were on the radio...

And when I woke up, I couldn't move my head.

God! No! Had I suffered a stroke? No, couldn't be. I was way too young for that!

I reached for my head to discover that in my exhausted state I'd laid it in the epoxy I'd just laid. Then I'd gone to sleep, the epoxy had hardened, and, well... now I couldn't move my head.

Of course, the scissors that I used for cutting the fiberglass cloth were out of reach. And so was the razor knife. Hmmmmmmm. Some pickle....

Then I remembered Mel.

"Mel!!!!!" I bellowed.

And yes, she came out of the house and cut me free.

The hull really taking shape now.

And so, by fits and starts and a bit of misadventure, my boat was coming together.

posted by Bernie at 10:51 PM

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