Recent Events of the MTBEIn February of 2008, the Mt. Baldy Expedition had the pleasure of broadcasting Readings from the Mt. Baldy Expedition at the Whitney Biennial as part of the pirate radio station Neighborhood Public Radio’s project American Life. We read adaptations of the MTBE’s Announcement Lecture and Conversations with Our Parents on the Topics of Everyday Exploration, Play Learning, and Risk. A complete podcast of the event is available on the sidebar at left.
In May, we had the opportunity to work with Philip von Zweck again, publishing Excerpts from the Mt. Baldy Expedition’s Collection of Natural Philosophy in Chicagoland in his compilation, Book 2. Click on the pages at right to see our contribution. The book includes the work of 27 other artists and is available for purchase through Bertran Projects. It is also available for viewing at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art’s Artist Book Collection. Artifacts from the MTBE Nautical Knot Workshop included in the VONZWECK Much More Lecture series are also on view at the Van Abbemuseum in the Netherlands.
From the MTBE Boatworks, we are happy to announce that after an exciting and productive summer the deck of the Boutez en Avant is on, the centerboard slot is cut, the mast and spars have their first coat of varnish, and the centerboard and rudder are ready for fiberglassing. This stage of building involved fairly intricate joinery and a great deal of careful work to shape the wood on the interior of the boat. With the deck installed, most of these parts are now hidden from view, but we hope that the following construction photographs illustrate the challenging and rewarding journey this stage of building has been.
Making the Laminate Deck BeamsUnlike the steam bending process used to shape the pieces of wood for the Boutez en Avant’s chines, the deck beams were made with a laminate bending process. To accomplish this a jig was made with a slightly stronger arc than the desired deck beam.
In the image (above left), you can see the outline of the jig being made. A batten sprung across it to find the appropriate arc. Three pieces of Douglass Fir ½” by 1 ½” were then clamped and glued together on the jig (above center). Once the epoxy set on these pieces, they held the arc and became our deck beams. Below the beams are laid out on the bow and for marking for cutting to size. At the work bench, the final cutting and planing are being done to fit the deck beam (above right).
Fabricating the Mast Step BoxThe mast step box holds the bottom of the mast firmly in the boat. It is made from 7 pieces of Meranti plywood, and once glued together, it is incredibly strong. Captain Short describes his mast step box design as “unsplitable.” You can see the pieces of the box being routed out (below left), the finished pieces laid out on the keelson (below center), and the completed mast step box (below right).
Getting a Jump on the Centerboard and RudderWhile work on the interior woodwork was underway, Hui-min fabricated the Boutez en Avant’s centerboard and rudder. The centerboard and rudder are the primary parts of the dinghy that enable us to control where it sails. The first step was to transfer and enlarge the outline on our plans to a sheet of ¾” Meranti plywood.
The shapes were then cut out with a jigsaw (above left) and planed down to size by hand. The trailing edges of both centerboard and rudder were tapered in order to reduce drag in the water. Hui-min used a spokeshave to create this taper (above center). We applied a coat of thickened epoxy to the tapered edges to smooth out any rough grain and prepare them for fiberglassing. The rudder on the work bench (above right). The centerboard and rudder clamped to the wall of the MTBE Boatworks to keep them safely out of the way while the epoxy dries (left). We have done this with many other items to increase our storage space. To the left of the centerboard and rudder, you can see the burner for our steaming box and up above them all is the disassembled strongback stored in the hayloft. Originally, our shop was a carriage house and this storage space is the last remnant of the old hayloft that still exists.
Interior Structural WoodworkThe interior woodwork consists of many pieces, all of which needed to be shaped by hand to fit them to the contours of the hull and to each other. A list of the various pieces is as follows: deck beam knees, deck beam stiffeners, deck beam stanchions, carlings, side planking battens, and fore and aft top transom cheek frames. All of these pieces work together to stiffen the hull of our dinghy making her a very sturdy vessel. The initial marking (far left) and the front and back of the finished starboard deck beam knee (above).
Jim and Andrew take a break on the cornerstone behind the shop while waiting for the combing stringers to steam in the MTBE steam box (far left). The starboard stringers clamped to the hull cooling to their new shape (near left). Notice the mast, spars, centerboard, and rudder in the hull.
The mast step box and a deck beam stanchion installed (above left). A deck stiffener lying across the deck beam (top row center). Jim propped on the bow cutting notches for the carlings (top row right) and notches being cut in the deck beams to receive them (lower row right). Jim planing the carlings down to size (lower row left).
Making the Mast and Spars and the Anobium Punctatum Scare
Making the mast and spars was an especially exciting time at the shop because these are the primary wooden elements of the boat critical for transfering the power of the wind to the hull, ultimately making the Boutez en Avant move. When our wood shipment initially came in, we set aside some of the best pieces for them. A year later, we went over the wood again to make our final choices (above left).
During this examination, we received quite a scare. In the very bottom board of our stock of lumber, we found the characteristic holes created by woodworm, a form of beetle larva (right). We were afraid it could be a new infestation and may have made its way into the boat itself. We were terrified. After numerous internet searches and consultations with Hui-min’s father-in-law, Tom Albrecht who is a woodworker, we decided the damage was caused by the common furniture beetle, Anobium Punctatum. Although Tom assured us that it was probably an old infestation, it wasn’t until he visited the shop and confirmed that there were no signs of current damage that we felt at ease.
The making of the mast and spars was fairly simple except for the fact that the pieces of wood were very large. The first step was to plane the rough planks down to their final thickness of 2 inches. Our shop is too small to simply plane the pieces inside, so we placed the planer near the shop door and shot the pieces out into the alley as they were planed. Jim and Hui-min run the mast through a power planer (top middle and right). After the planing, we found an unexpected sap pocket in the mast (above left). Although mostly closed, we simply filled the rest of it with epoxy. Hui-min planed the pieces by hand to make each side smooth and square (above center), finally tapering the ends down before routing the edges off (above right).
Stepping the Mast and Another ScareStepping the mast is the process of placing the mast in the hull and setting it at the appropriate angle in relation to the hull’s waterline. In its final position, the mast does not stand straight up, but leans or rakes, back a little bit. We calculated this angle by tying a plumb bob to the top of the mast then measured back from the forward deck beam the specific distance indicated in our plans (below left of center).
When the time came to step the Boutez en Avant’s mast, however, we discovered another unexpected challenge. The shop ceiling was just barely too low. Back when we flipped the hull over, we had carefully blocked the boat up so that it was level with its waterline. We did this to avoid having to move the boat again during this very process. Unfortunately, our calculations were all correct except for one very disfavored ceiling joist (above far left). Our options were to re-block the boat a few inches lower or build a ladder tall enough to reach the ceiling and get our landlord’s approval to cut out a part of the joist so our mast would fit. Both of these seemed very time consuming. After much deliberation, finagling, and evaluation, we looked at it and said, “That actually looks pretty good.” A little more rake makes it look more like an expeditionary racing dinghy (above right of center). We celebrated the boat, the mast, and even the joist by toasting them all (above far right and below left). The completed mast and spars lean against the shop wall waiting for their second coat of varnish (below right).
Later that week, Bill Berger stopped by to test fit the mast-cap he fabricated for us (left). Over the winter, Bill also placed the Mt. Baldy Expedition name on a prayer tree dedicated to seafarers while he was on vacation in Japan.
Final Fairing and Sealing the Interior with EpoxyBefore the deck could be installed, all the surfaces of the deck beams, shear, etc. needed to be planed down so that the deck would press flush against them. This is accomplished through a lot of hand planing and the use of a test piece of plywood. Jim fairs the #2 deck beam (left). Hui-min adjusts the midships knees (below left). The bow and forward deck beams after final fairing (below center). Jim taking down the top stern transom (below right).
Finally, we sealed the interior of the boat with a coat of epoxy before attaching the decking. Although epoxy was not specified in our boat plans (epoxy as we know it today was still being developed when Captain Short designed the Pelican), we chose to seal the boat to increase its longevity by further protecting it from wood rot. The stern after final fairing (below left). Jim and Hui-min coating the interior with epoxy (bottom left). The interior fully sealed (below right).
Installing the Decking and Side Combing
The installation of the decking went smoothly. First we laid it out on the boat to mark it, then cut it to size, and glued and screwed it down. The foredeck after being installed (above right). Fitting the side decks (above center). Final fairing adjustments to the shear and combing stringers (above right). Installing the starboard side combing (below left). The Boutez en Avant after the decking is fully installed and the temporary interior braces have been removed (below right).
AnnouncementsPlease click on the To-Do List at right for a detailed account of the upcoming events at the MTBE boatworks.
The Mt. Baldy Expedition is partially supported by a Community Arts Assistance Program grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.