The Year of Delignification, Part 2

Water in the forward bilges

We have 14 bilge pumps on the Gyrfalcon. In each of the largest compartments, there are 2 pumps deep in the bilge and a larger emergency pump above them in case the primary pumps are overwhelmed. Last winter, we noticed that the pump in the forward bilge was working quite a bit when there was a bit of chop, we were shipping water somewhere. We discussed it with the brain trust at Haven, and they decided that it was most likely on the port side of the bow where the most forward planks met the anchor guard. We decided to open the can of worms, since they felt it would not be a major repair. One should always be careful of what one wishes for. It turned out that the bow end of six planks were rotten.


One of our Delignified (Rotten) Planks – looked good from the outside

Although the outside of the planks appeared solid, the insides had – you guessed it – delignified. Because the boat is so long, the individual planks are long as well. But that’s OK because…

We buy lumber by the tree

It is hard to get good fir planks. After Mount St. Helens erupted, there was a lot of fir from downed trees available. A lot went into planking for wooden boats. Unfortunately (and for reasons that no one seems entirely clear about), this fir was substandard, and, when used for planking on boats, rotted out after just a few years, causing major headaches for owners and shipyards alike. Because of this debacle, many folks in the Puget Sound area no longer trust fir.

But I guess it depends on where your fir originates. I got a call from Stephen Gale of Haven sometime last year. He said, “Peter, I am up here in Canada with my sawyer, and he just took down a really nice fir tree. I think we should buy it for the Gyrfalcon. It is long enough that we can get some good planks out of it. I’m sure we will use it.” He was right. The problem we have getting planks is not the thickness of the boards, but rather the length. We have very long planks on the boat, and there aren’t too many really long fir trees available. Besides, there is something classy (although frightening) about being able to say, “We don’t buy boards; we buy lumber by the tree.” We used most of our tree this spring on the various projects on the Gyrfalcon.

Our tree

Our tree, before it was converted into planks for the 2015 projects


Some of the planks ready to be shaped and put on the Gyr

Once we made the decision to open the area, we had no choice but to continue until all the bad planks had been replaced. Here are a few pictures of this project


Starboard bow: After the anchor guard and the six bad planks were removed

The original planks were attached (in 1941) with Monel Steel spikes. Monel is a vey hard grade of steel. Unfortunately, one is no longer avaliable

Original Monel spiked

Original Monel spikes

We tried to save as many of the original spikes as possible, but sometimes they became distorted and unusable during the removal process

A bucket

A bucket of Monel spikes removed with the old planks

When we couldn’t re-use the original spikes, we substituted large bronze screws. At $9.00 a screw, we tried to salvage as many of the Monel spikes as we could.


Bronze screw replacement

Here is a shot of the new planks in place with a fresh coat of bottom paint


New planks in place

Soft spot in a plank on the port side

Last year when we were painting the hull before the Gryfalcon went back in the water, we noticed there was a large soft spot in one of the planks between two portlights in the aft section of the port side. Although it did not appear to be a significant problem at the time, it was not good thing, so we had planned to have it repaired this year. It was a fairly straight-forward repair – only one plank was affected, the underlying frames were solid, and there were no unexpected findings. A new plank was fitted and painted, and we are good to go.


Plank between the portlights removed


New plank after painting


The sponson is the long piece that projects out from the hull of the boat between the deck and the waterline that protects the boat from contact with other objects. It is also called the rub-rail. In our case, the sponson originally consisted of two laminated pieces of fir which were capped by a solid piece of ironwood. Over the years, our sponson on the port side had suffered damage. Last year a piece about 6 foot long fell off the boat. It had been repaired once before, and the repair did not last.

We knew that the sponson had to be replaced at some point – it was no longer functional where the chunk was missing, there was probably water getting into the boat in the damaged area, and it was aesthetically unpleasing.  Replacing an 88 ft sponson was no easy task.  The end result is a piece of art.

First, the old sponson had to be removed. In addition, the shearstrake – the planking under the sponson that connects the hull to the deck was also bad in places, so it was removed as well


Old sponson and shearstrake removed the entire length of the boat


Supporting frames and timbers under the shearstrake

As they removed the old sponson and shearstrake, they made a pattern at each frame member, so that the new sponson and shearstrake would fit exactly


Pattern placed over planks for the new shearstrake

The planks for the shearstrake were laminated from two pieces of fir, while the sponson was purpleheart (the same wood that was used for th horntimber).


Caulking the new shearstrake – 2 fir planks


Sponson (purpleheart) over the laminated shearstrake (fir)

Putting the new shearstrake and sponson on the boat was a team effort. Since our May 15 launch date was rapidly approaching, Haven threw a big crew at the project.


Installing a portion of the shearstrake


Members of the Haven team working on the shearstrake

View from above

View from above as the sponson is attached to the shearstrake

Relaunch in mid-May

After 5 1/2 months, we were ready to be launched again.  Two friends, Ken and Sarah, came over with us to Port Townsend as crew.  The moment a wooden boat goes back in the water is a scary one–until the boards swell, the boat takes on lots of water.  Since the Gyrfalcon had been out for so long, we sat in the slings awhile until everyone felt comfortable about setting us free.  The boys from Haven brought over a large auxiliary pump, but it was not needed. We stayed at the dock on Friday night, and were visited by friends Chris and Es of Island Fresh.  By the evening, the influx of water had slowed to a trickle.  We were off the next morning for Seattle.  It was an uneventful trip back.  As soon as we arrived back at our home dock in Seattle, we hopped into our 20 foot zodiac (the Go-fast-Boat) and headed back across the Sound to Port Townsend to pick up our car. The weather was so calm that we were able to go 35 mile an hour on the trip over – we got there in an hour and 45 minutes – the trip to Settle  in the Gryfalcon took six hours! Nancy piloted the Go-fast-Boat back to Seattle by herself, and Peter drove the car back. While Peter was waiting in line at the Kingston Ferry, he got a call from Nancy that she was safely home.  After we arrived back in Seattle, we started preparations for a big summer trip.

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5 Responses to The Year of Delignification, Part 2

  1. Bob Wheeler says:

    Just a great article. Thanks.


  2. jon britell says:

    Sisyphus has nothing on the 2 of you.
    May the journeys become less harrowing and expensive, and
    laissez les bon temps roulez.

  3. Diane Lander says:

    Hi Nancy & Peter:
    I just love reading your blog and being SO happy that I am not paying the bills. Good for you for putting her back together and taking care of all of that rot. I got some of that bad Mt. St. Helens fir in the stern of Olympus the only time we ever had her worked on in Seattle. Never again. Enjoy the winter and hope to see you at the CYA banquet in January or the big Change of Watch in Vancouver BC!

    Sent from my iPad


  4. Joan says:

    Hi Nancy & Peter, So interesting…never a dull moment, right? Bob Clelland (I can’t remember if you met him and wife, Becky) asked me to send him some photos of the Gyr. (Bob was instrumental in making financial arrangements for the construction for the San Salvadore). Can you send some of the vessel as it is now, maybe with something to show the scale of it. Also one I remember with Peter in the engine room with the engines awhile back. and any other 2 or so that you think are the most interesting. Bob is a huge boating fan. Love, Mom

  5. Stephen Hulsizer says:

    Monel is a an alloy of 66-67% copper and 29-30% nickel with a smidgen of iron. It does not corrode under most circumstances, and is strong. It is difficult to machine. It is also expensive, so save the spikes you have. I had a Danish built sailboat with monel keel bolts. I withdrew one when the boat was 15 years old; it was in perfect condition.

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