Katahdin Part I–The House

July 19th, 2011

This is what 10 years in Alaska will do to a boat.  Actually, it’s about 6 years–the amount of time we have spent rebuilding our homestead across the Narrows.  Now it’s time to turn our attention back to the Katahdin–my first home here in Alaska.  The “Kat” was built in 1899 and has all the associated problems with an old wooden boat–you can read more about her in my new “Pages” section directly above the “Archives” in the right sidebar.    So it’s time to roll up my sleeves….and hire a couple of hardworking youngsters.

Michael is an excellent shipwright and loves old wooden boat projects.  Here we’re digging out rot from the bottom course of the bulwarks.  We discovered this by using a pressure washer!  Not a good sign–probably some of the Mt. Saint Helens blowdown in the 1980s.  This area was logged after too many years which yielded a lot of poor quality boat lumber.  And this is not an easy place to get to.  We’ll slide in a new piece from both sides bolting them horizontally to the existing vertical lag screws–it will be yellow cedar.

Here, Michael installs new siding in the pilothouse–also yellow cedar.  He milled this up with a 3 degree bevel so it follows the curve of the house.  In all, he replaced about 10 pieces here.  Check out the yacht in the background–there are two of these traveling around together–some sort of British flag.  There goes the neighborhood!

I’m lucky to also find Leland, who boasts from Florida.  He’s a faux-painter–that is, he paints things to look old or to ‘disappear’ and all kinds of special effects.  He’s hard working also and loves his craft (or art).   Here’s the results of his magic–it’s a brand new house!

The stairs and rails will be last.

Same treatment below on the main deck.  This tarp I had made years ago has now paid for itself in maintenance saved.  The decks, cap-rails and doors are spared from the vicissitudes of the Alaskan rainforest.  I used varnish on these doors and like all outdoor varnishing, it ultimately fails.  I’ll remove each door one at a time (there are 7 double doors and three full doors) and refinish them with Sikken Cetol.  I use this on all the cap rails, rub rails and the lazarette cover and it is great stuff!

The main mast has rotted out at the base and top–it was installed last in 1982 or so in Seattle.  It is 9″ in diameter and 27 feet tall.  I want to extend it four more feet so I need a pretty sizable tree.  Here I’m measuring with a caliper and this one looks right.  It’s spruce which grows very straight–but the trade-off is it’s also susceptible to rot–oh well, the last one made it almost 30 years.

Earlier in the week  about a hundred yards away on our creek we spot a mamma bear and her cub.  So we look over both shoulders before we begin our ‘logging.’

After laboriously dragging this out of the woods with my tractor and two strong helpers, I peel it and then drag it back into the net shed to dry for a year.   Whew!

Part II will be the hull.   The shipyard has reopened under new ownership and I’m scheduled in a couple weeks.  I’ll redo a lot of the previous work and the hull will be like the pilothouse.  Stay tuned!

Net Shed

June 11th, 2011

Our last major project is to rebuild our net shed; aka warehouse; aka barn.  It’s pretty tired and probably dates to the the founding of Petersburg in 1910.  It was once a gaff-hook factory.   It’s 20′ X 40′ and two levels built on creosoted piers with the tidal edge at the 14′ level, more or less. As you recall (those of you who are fascinated with this blog) we rebuilt the dock two years ago so now it’s time to reclaim the visible structure–our net shed.

In the early days, everyone in Alaska fishing towns had a net shed–to dry and maintain their nets and to store essential fishing equipment. Remember, everything then was made of wood or natural fibers. Today, most of the net sheds have crumbled to the beach and been reclaimed by mother-nature…..with a few exceptions….and we’re lucky to have one.

The SE corner is the weather-ward side of this warehouse and the ledger has severely decayed so I need to raise the second level flooring which rests on this critical beam. Not an easy task. My neighbor has a 6″ X 6″ X 25′ beam which handily slips into this space……..

I’ve jacked up the second story here and removed the rotted 20′ section using a ‘ship-splice.’

Here I’ve winched up the end of the beam (note the splice already cut) and opened up the siding (to be replaced) to slide in this 6″ X 6″  beam.

Working alone, I build a tripod support and winch it in with a come-along.  I made a ‘tray’ platform so I could roll small pieces of pipe to reduce friction when it slides in–worked perfectly!


And the splice fits perfectly!  Two large bolts complete the integrity to the building.  Braces are removed and the second floor joists now rest on solid wood and about 3″ higher.

Now that the beam is in place, I order up some yellow cedar from Prince of Wales Island (still no mills in Petersburg) and tow it down the Wrangell Narrows about 2 miles–it’s a free ride with an ebb tide….

This is about 2000 board feet of yellow cedar at $1.20/ft–we support our local mills.  I managed to refloat this pile on the 4am high tide and drag it right to the dock saving me lots of work.  These are 1 X 10’s, 2 X 8’s, and 2 X 6’s which we’ll use for boardwalk ramps, raised garden beds and board/battens for the netshed.

After dragging in the lumber, look what floats by–an errant iceberg from the nearby Le Conte glacier.  I run and grab a couple ice screws and some rope and after another hour, have this sitting right in front of the house–refrigeration for a week or two….until another higher tide takes it.   But first, this thing almost dragged me backwards out into Frederick Sound–a funny site at 5am.  This is about 8′ tall!

After all this monkey-business, it’s a rest on our newly built (red cedar) porch swing.  Note the Garden Gate Trellis beyond.  We’re ready for summer–time to sit down and watch the critters:

Our third bear so far…..stay tuned.

Manna from Heaven

June 10th, 2011

With oil prices climbing, it’s time for me to climb, too…..climb trees and remove limbs to install a solar system.  As you remember, two years ago, I tried to harness the hydro capacity of our creek only to be met with thousands of dollars of fees, federal and state permits and annual assessments just to take water out of my creek and return it back 300′ downstream.   Not worth the hassle.  But, the government can’t tax the sun (although I’m sure they’ll try) so we’re off and running…..  And, man, this is not how I remember the rock climbing of my youth–this was hard work.

After precariously climbing three ladders lashed together, I re-cut these  spruce limbs with our 14″ Stihl chainsaw (beautiful little saw, by the way) and repaint the ends to camouflage the mess.

My first attempt to prune this massive spruce was entitled:  “Chainsaw on a stick,”  which was a total failure leaving the running saw stuck in a partially cut limb 20′ in the air.  To solve this dilemma, I crafted  “The Great Ladder Pyramid,” which ended in utter disaster with me waking up on the ground with the chainsaw stuck vertically right beside me….still running…..don’t ever do this.   Well, at least now we have photons streaming to our site….

I’ve designed the frame to change the panels tilting towards the sun at various times of the year.  This is summer solstice mode.  The formula for tilt is simply the angle of the the tilt from horizontal is equal to your latitude but this during the equinox.  Given that the earth tilts on it’s axis another 23 degrees, I move this up 11.5 degrees in winter and down the same amount around the summer solstice.  We live at:  Lat = 56.803, Lon = -132.993.  Plug these values in on this website which is better than Google Earth for Alaska, and you will find our solar site.   I’ve installed 12 panels of Kyocera KD135GX-LPUs hooked in series/parallel (2 circuits of 6 panels yielding about 132 V at 16.5A in an ideal situation.

One of the engineering challenges was to transport this power 250 feet (underground in #2 aluminum wire) to our battery bank in our well house.   To achieve this, we experimented with different configurations and finally came up with the 6 X 2 wiring which maintains resistance loss under 2%.  On a clear summer day, I’ll pack in over 7 KWh–enough to run our home without supplemental generation.

Interestingly, the colder it is, the more efficient yet dangerous this system becomes with voltages climbing–hence the 6 X 2 configuration.  With a 1 X 12 configuration we could only operate down to 20F but our winter temps can get down to -10F.  The only charge controller that can handle this current is the Midnite Solar Classic 250.   I didn’t know this was so complicated.

Manna from Heaven…..This is sweet!

Speaking of solar energy, here our Puget Sound guests bask in the afternoon sun in our back yard over G&Ts–more Manna from Heaven.  Summer is here!