Monday, April 24, 2006

It is hard to believe how time flies. Two months (!!!) have passed since I last posted , and I am sure I have lost the interest of most of my readers. This is my fault, and the result of my reliance on modern technology. We get spoiled, don't we? For example, the ability to include photos on this site makes it much more interesting and informative for the reader, but it means that if I am unable to upload any photos, I end up not posting at all.

In the meantime, trips have come and gone, my field season is over, the weather has gotten a lot hotter, and the Manatee has seen a lot of construction. In the absence of pictures, permit me to resort to the old-fashioned thousand words...

Both ends of the boat have decks, each sealed off from the rest of the boat's interior with a bulkhead, and accessible by a hatch cover. The boat and the original outigger are painted "dark grey", but it looks black to me. This is an epoxy paint that is not mean to be the final colour, but a strong undercoat. This is a learning experience every day I work on it, and, in retrospect, if I have known about this paint, I would never have fibreglassed her. More on that later.Eventually.

The mainmast is a three-inch diameter, twelve-foot long red mangrove log, that weighs a good 15 pounds. The mainsail is the same configuration as on a Sunfish: with an upper yard and a lower boom, hinged so that the angle of the sail and its relative fore-and-aft position can be modified. The picture will explain it. The main point is that the sail can be adjusted in three ways, which is meant to steer the boat with minimal use of a rudder.

We finally carried her to the water on a hot and breezy Thursday, 20 April, 2006. It took six men, four of them borrowed from Island Expeditions staff, plus yours truly and Sam my furniture-maker-cum-shipwright. The akas (crossbeams connecting the boat to her outrigger) were tied on with equal lengths on either side of the boat, and we picked her up by grabbing these 10 ft poles. Someone commented that it looked like we were carrying a coffin. I didn't much like that. The path out of the yard squeezed between the house and a big shrub, so we had to carry her through the back yard and heave her over the fence. I think we crushed the corrugated tin a little, but we got her over. Then it was a simple two-block slog down the street to the water, where we re-installed the akas and attached them to the outrigger. Phwew. My back told me later what it thought of that little maneouvre.

The beach along this shore has been eroding since last summer, and has been reinforced with boulders, sand bags, and sticks driven into the sand. It looks a little like a half-hearted attempt to repel an invasion.

On the beach we tied on the outrigger, slid the masts in place, and raised the maisail. We left the mizzen sail out for the time being. Didn't want too many complications yet. Had to find out if she floats.

Sitting on land is no place to try and judge how high the outrigger and boat will sit in the water. We set the outrigger too high and when she went into the water, the boat listed over with the edge of the gunwhale dangerously close to the water. In this awkward position we drifted down the shore a short distance to the beach in front of Island Expeditions field office before hauling her out and re-adjusting the outrigger and bringing her to an even keel.

After borrowing a couple of paddles and lifejackets, my co-adventurer, Jaime, and I climbed in, and we pushed off. The wind was heading towards the beach, angling in at about a 45 degree angle from the left (NE). As soon as we raised and secured the mainsail, she took off, heading about 60 degrees off the wind, slicing into the waves and throwing spray. She looked and felt grand.

Our first discovery was that she runs arrow-straight. I installed a full-length keel only a few inches deep, and have been waiting to see how she resisted leeward drift. I am pleased. The downside is that she resists any effort to steer her with a paddle. That needs work.

The second discovery was that she isn't quite what you would call sea-worthy. Her shape is long, narrow and deep. And she has a lot of extra weight from the decking, the fibreglass, and the mast, sails and, oh yes, the crew. The unsurprising result is that she sits low, with little freeboard and takes in water with every wave. Also landing in light surf results in immediate swamping. Fortunately, when you are sailing, your hands are free to bail, and swamping is not such a problem with an outrigger canoe because it remains upright.

Discovery three: she is a little bow-heavy. Water splashing over the deck gets into the foreward compartment under the hatch cover, and through the mast-step.

So this is all good. I knew she would need a little tweaking here and there. It is just a matter of building up the sides a few inches to increase freeboard, installing deflectors on the foredeck to keep waves from sliding up under the hatch cover, installing weatherstripping in the hatch cover and shifting the weight a little further aft. So all the heavy stuff, drinking water etc, will go in the after compartment. I will also install drainplugs in the bulkheads, so if water does get in, I can drain them into the open middle section (affectionately called ""the bathtub") and bail them out without opening a hatch-cover.

And I will have to install the rudder and mizzensail to make her go where I want to. That is kind of important.

My sweetheart and partner Lorena is here visiting me. I wanted to have the boat in the water by the time she got here, but, well, it's a boat. She has been helping me work on it between short jaunts around the country. We managed to spend a week at Half-Moon Cay, the most beautiful place I have ever been, and a couple of days in Guatemala, where we stayed in Flores and visited the ancient Mayan capital city of Tikal. She will be heading back to Mexico in a couple of days and I will be in a rush to finish the boat then, as I won't even have an apartment in Dangriga past the end of the month. So as soon as I can I will post some photos and an update on my progress before I finally head out to sea. Lorena, it is so great to have you here with me. I will miss you but I am coming home to you....ya mero.

Thanks for checking in on me. I will let you know how things are progressing soon.

Island Jack

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