Thursday, December 1, 2016

sailing Navigator Annie after way too long

Across the creek from us there is a sort of ramp...well it is more a gap in the bushes really, but after far too long (what with moving, renovating and the charms of Beachcomber) I thought I'd try this little sandy spot for a launch of Annie. The trouble with the jetties around here is they are generally set a bit high for compact and lower boats- I always feel I need a truckload of fenders.

 The vehicular part was fine in 4x4 mode and she slipped effortlessly into the creek. I knew the foliage would prevent raising even the mizzen mast until after launch, but there was a nasty breeze blowing straight up from the south and in such a confined space behind the jetty pictured above it was necessary to cast off and tie up to a couple of trees in very shallow water to rig.
The spars had been revarnished before we moved so lines were all in the wrong places and it all took much longer than usual.

The sailing was certainly worth waiting for and Annie spent a few pleasant hours exploring Bancroft Bay and our bits of Lake King. Other gaff sailors will all have their ways of raising the yard, and with Beachcomber I like to see it going up horizontally until the throat is within cinching height, and then the peak can be trimmed. I had forgotten that the forks I made for Annie are a little tight to do that smoothly, so hers tends to go up with a fair bit of peak halyard first, and she likes to come down the same way. I'll have to get some tallow onto the leathers all the same.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

(indulge me)-From a time when I had hair and I was useful

above, viola spruce and Sycamore

I am aware that the things I have pictured least over the years in this blog are the ones that defined me for a long time before I retired. Violins, violas and cellos. I think that was because, while I was working, the blog was not intended to be a commercial promotion of my business, but a sharing of ideas and inspirations.

I had one of those moments the other day, when I realised that my current operating system has none of the early digital photos of violins, violas and cellos that I made (-they may be on an old laptop that I recently gave away). This was after a reminiscent type of post on Facebook about a harp that I made and it's appearance in an exhibition, and there was some interest in the instrument, and I began to recall some of the different instruments I had made for other lovely people.

I know I have a disc somewhere of some of the stuff from early this Century when I had adopted the digital world, but there is a lot still to find if I want to see it all again. I was a bit cavalier after some years in the business- always only interested in the next challenge rather than looking back upon the things already made. There is a bit of me that has become  quite dependent on images since then, with the advent of digital equipment and storage and that bit of me is writing this post.

I did find the original paste-ups for 'portraits' of some of my very first instruments, and I include a few  re-photos of them here to make them digital and make them accessible for me, despite the low quality. These were made into posters that a few people had on their music room walls (on one level, they were shameful attempts at commercialism, but in those early days I was never certain that I'd earn a good living...)

So here are a few pre-digital prints photographed on my smart phone and re-presented a long time after they were made. The instruments pictured are not at all typical of those I made later, but I like to see that I was searching for form in them, as well as for sound.

viola with a back of birds-eye maple

I look back rather amused at my appetite in the first years of business. I often had three or four absolutely different instruments on the go at any one time, each with different acoustic, aesthetic and woodworking aims. I kept very detailed 'topographical maps' of the thicknessing and structural details as well as all dimensions and tap tones for each plate, before and after bass bar and sound hole work. I was hunting for the secret to the tonal intervals between tap tones of back and belly that gave me the ability to make an instrument brighter or darker, sweeter or stronger, bolder or more refined.

My enquiries were happiest in the making of violas for various reasons. Viola players are much rarer than violinists or cellists, and there is much more flexibility in expectation of tone from a viola, I mean there is room for fitting the tone to the player a little more than with the other types. They also vary in the size of instrument they are happy with, so proportions are flexible too and this offered huge opportunities for pushing parameters in search of tone in the alto clef.

Even small details could alter the character of an instrument, the acoustic variations are invisible, and I won't bore you with details but the physical interaction of a player with the instrument begins with the attitude of the instrument in the hands. The top two instruments pictured here can best be compared by looking at the side view of the peg-box and scroll. The top one is compact and resolute, self-contained and ectomorphic, while the second one is slightly unravelled,  slender, sensual and serpentine.

The instrument presses itself upon a player by its physical attitude before a string has been bowed. I like it when the 'soundscape' of the instrument  reflects it's physical attitude (like  authentic people often do) so where the viola at the top, for example is straight-up and  chin in, the second one is more chest-out, head back. They were both made for tallish players, but of very different personality.

Over the years the viola experiments taught me a huge amount about the production of tone qualities, and I was able to settle upon a certain string length and stop length and back/belly relationship that would provide the most satisfying platform from which to make a viola for a specific type of player. I just loved this, and I became confident enough to risk making a very particular viola for a player who used to visit often, who was in search of a viola that would suit his very physical and boisterous way of playing. He was also an opera singer of some physical stature. Whenever he visited the studio he would want to try any interesting instruments I had, and my understanding of his needs became quite detailed and specific.

So I made a viola with him in mind, without telling him (I didn't want him to feel pressured).

Everything about that instrument- the swagger of the scroll, the thicknessing, the arching , the acoustic relationship of the plates, the robustness of the varnish- all spoke of my understanding of him. I tried as best I could to get inside of his playing, into the expression of his self through music. The next time he visited, I casually showed him the instrument amongst the others he wished to see, and he played it, loved it, took it home and then bought it. I didn't tell him either that it was one of my finest moments.

above, the first cello I made. With a back of Scottish Sycamore.
below a violin dedicated to William Leslie Russell with back and sides from VictorianMountain Ash. A smallish violin based on the work of my favourite Guarneri (the father of the famous one)

In the years after these early instruments my choice of wood and the varnishing system I made became much more traditional, choosing to buy very old hand split Italian spruce for the bellies and air dried Bosnian Maple for the rest- this stuff was more than ten years old when I bought it and I kept it for years before using it. Made my mouth water just picking it up.

And talking about picking it up (if you are still reading you probably are interested after all) the sound of a piece of wood became ingrained in me; it was like hearing through my fingers...and this made restoration and repair so satisfying because it was possible to tell how an instrument was progressing by the way it vibrated in my hands while I talked.. I won't labour this point or expand upon it because I will sound like a tosser, sufficient just to say that this was the most wonderful experience I have ever had of sensory understanding on a level unknown to me before I undertook this work.

Wood is the most wonderful material, and to allow it the best possible voice was an absolute joy. Why I stopped doing it commercially is another story altogether.
 In the '90's sometime, working on a Lipoid cello 

The cello above is a reminder of some of the joyous restorations I devoured. This cello came to me quite cheaply despite being from the early 1800's, by a reputable maker- because the belly and to  a lesser extent the back had warped and collapsed under the pressure of the bridge after years of neglectful storage. The belly was concave where it should have been convex and it was sad and sorry, not to mention unplayable. The restoration involved removal of both the back and the belly, plaster cast made of each, and then the casts were altered to become the shape the plates should have been without the warps, and then very hot sand in bags was used to encourage the timber to adopt the shape of the plaster casts. This took weeks of careful and accurate work, but on reassembly the instrument was as new, and grateful to have a voice again. I imagine it has changed a lot less since, than I have.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Thoroughbred Couta boats off Sorrento Victoria

Sorrento has maintained a fleet of these powerful sailing boats since the days of the fishermen, and an association now rules on their standards of sail and equipment. These pics are from the Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club and are of their first and second races of the Wooden Boatshop Series 2016.
I share them simply for the loveliness of the event...despite my own relative disinterest in racing of any sort, because I recognise that without organisations and competition there would be very few remaining of these beautiful boats.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

clear vision

Some of the photos that I love the most are the ones distorted by light or atmosphere. They can capture the ephemeral  moments of abstraction that we generally try to avoid in going about our everyday business because they are ambiguous and challenging.

Perception is dependent on mood, circumstance, need, and attention. It is more selective than most people imagine as we are brought up to believe in a solid world of absolute structure- but most of this is an illusion. There is always way too much going on for our receptors to cope, so we unknowingly adapt our perception to block out most of the stimuli that compete for our attention.

You probably weren't aware, just now, of the pressure of your backside on the chair....but now you are, because your attention has been drawn to it. Nothing has changed, it just feels different.

I was never any good at physics- much too busy in the art room- but I just love science and it really worries me that people who want to tell us that life is a collection of simple problems with easy solutions are threatening to undo centuries of civil trust in scientific methods and institutions, and that it will be at the expense of us all.  

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Escorting PSS Curlip

The story of East Gippsland is inevitably linked to waterways as the country was so remote and the roads so poor in the early days of development, the lakes and rivers became the arteries for supply and export, transport and fishing. The advent of steam on the water pre-dated the arrival of railways and  the names of many steamers still resound in local lore.

This boat, the Curlip has a wonderful, if more modern story too as a replica of the type in general and one boat in particular that ran the great Snowy River that flows into the sea near Marlo, a little town in the very north eastern corner of Victoria.

If there is interest I have a link to more of her story, or I could write more, but this post is just about the trip that she undertook from Marlo, out through the heads of the Snowy, down the coast and in through the Entrance of the Gippsland Lakes, stopping at Kalimna for fuel and water, and then onto Paynesville where she will be restored for tourist use by an enthusiastic group of boat lovers.

Along with a small group of small boats we were able to help provide a welcoming escort from Kalimna to Metung, after the big Police boat and Coast Guard boats left her at Kalimna

I'm sure these two boats were aware that they shared a certain type of backside...although beachcomber's is much more petite..

Our lovely friends in Badger, (a traditional Lakes fishing boat) were there with us and we spent some some time rafted up together fortifying ourselves with a beverage while Curlip was filled with water from two loads from a local fire appliance.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Poldark's Cornwall

While boats are in the background of this story, it is a very coastal type of tale and worth a read if you have avoided it for all these years...

Ross Poldark (Poldark, #1)Ross Poldark by Winston Graham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-reading this book after 40 years and having seen two versions on television, I wasn't expecting to be deeply engaged, but what I had forgotten- and what you don't get in a filmed interpretation- is the wonderful quality of the author's writing and the sensitivity of his observation.

It is still a ripping tale about the lives of folk in various classes in Cornwall during the late 18th Century but it is also a timeless tale about moments and interactions which resound with our own experiences of living.

The last four paragraphs of this novel are surely as perfect a conclusion as it is possible to write.

View all my reviews

Saturday, October 15, 2016

hastening backwards

Bury's slipway near Nungurner- a short boat ride from home- is a local institution, and although the facilities are old and a bit time-worn, they still provide good service.

Beachcomber really needed her antifouling and hull clean this year, with barnacles so thick on the prop it resembled a bowl of very chunky museli. Progress under power was very slow indeed.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Blind Side of the Heart - a review of the novel.

The Blind Side of the HeartThe Blind Side of the Heart by Julia Franck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a bleak but powerful drama drawn at the personal rather than national level, the events of the interwar period in Berlin sliding past uncommented upon. We live the consequences of them in this novel instead.
Franck's prose is intimate and energetic with a rhythm that accounts for life in its finely textured moments. The main character Helene is the victim of parents who are unable to deal with one catastrophe and the narrative is of her attempts to cope with that and survive another.
If there is something engagingly historical in this story it is the timely reminder that intergenerational human dislocation is inevitable when world politics fails to rein in the bullies.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Yeah but...Who are You?

Over more than six years of blogging I've often felt exposed and sometimes vulnerable as I try to say something of value that is positive or thoughtful in the full knowledge that there are so many better voices than mine to be heard on all the topics that I cover.

After all this time it matters less whether I post regularly because an increasing number of 'hits' are of archived posts on specific topics- and it is a source of amusement and pleasure to see what it is that people are still reading, and noticing from which continent the latest wave originates. So as I write this, there has been a fairly steady 5000 hits per month- although it can go as low as 2500 when I struggle to post something fresh.

If there is a trend that I find frustrating it is that fewer new voices are choosing to comment on the posts and I put this down to the tendency of net surfers to skip about until something of use or of interest pops up, without any real engagement or sustained investment in the message or the messenger. If I was a commercial type this wouldn't concern me, if the product was still moving and interest was maintained.

But I'm not that type and that isn't a valid representation of my motivation for writing. If I'm honest here, I really don't know why I do this beyond the fact that the blog becomes a sort of journal of the things that excite me. Or more particularly, the things that I feel able to share that excite me- there are a lot of personal, family and local and political/environmental things that I stay shtum about. It began because a small number of us spoke to each other online in our posts and these were almost incidentally shared to a wider audience because sharing information freely was a liberating and excitingly new thing to do.

I try (and it is a struggle sometimes) to keep away from politics and  events that divide us. I try to concentrate on the acquisition of a creative life of some sort, and I imagine the reader as someone looking for a project, or stuck in a rut who might be interested in another viewpoint on making this or reading that. I love the idea that ordinary people can make and create extraordinary things, and in doing so they become more wonderful as people. I like the idea that things can always be better if we are more thoughtful in our approach to them.

Almost every two or three months I make the decision that I'm talking to myself  here and should stop posting online. I know nothing about the reader  (who is metaphorically outside my house in the dark looking through my window at my private thoughts-) and that thought makes me feel like a shameful exhibitionist. How do I square that with the fact that I've always been a rather private person- one who would probably be happier doing things than talking to people?

Who ARE you? Does it matter who you are? It matters who I am. Well, it does to me anyway.

My Flickr photo sharing pages are much more straight-forward. They are sets of pics on how to build two particular boats and currently there have been 1.4 million hits on them, and I've tried to be helpful to dozens of builders who have emailed me. That is a simple transaction of sharing. Blogging though is a weird sort of contract where the reader gets to be interested or not without the writer having any clue about the relative usefulness of the postings beyond the fact that people seem to keep looking. But I guess that is true of my books too, thinking about it. I just get figures from the publishers every month telling me that some number of copies were sold, with no idea if they are enjoyed or valued or not. That never seems to worry me...

Oh, and that pic at the top of the page? That's my mum in the 1930's with her two brothers in a boat. I was born of one of them and named after the other two, and if in my sixties I'm still searching for something in myself, it is to find the bits of those boys that are in me since they lost their lives so young.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Not Eric. Not George.

A while ago I was fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of some solid wisdom from one of my children. I had been struggling with some guitar phrases used by the great E Clapton  and I expressed some frustration to my son that I couldn't play these particular licks in the way I wanted, and he looked me in the eye for a second, and with a slight grin  said -'Let me get this right, you started to play guitar at age 59 and you're upset that you can't play like Eric Clapton?'

I don't often try to share what I'm learning, but every so often I'll record a certain piece to be a sort of marker of my little journey, and how good it sounds will be determined by a filter I have in my brain that judges how much time and effort the piece is worth, given how much there is still to learn.

The music piece behind the slide show above is a case in point. I know I could make it sound so much better if I spent another week just polishing it further, but at some point I just 'called it', because the benefit does not justify the time.

This piece was my first played with a slide and I found intonation very challenging, ending quick trips up and down the neck at the right pitch, and  trying to give them pleasant vibrato; all of this took a lot of repetition and refinement. Plenty still to do. The solo is played over a backing track by Brian Sherrill which I re-mixed a bit and sped up 10%.

It is played in standard tuning on a regular guitar and was an attempt to capture something of the feeling that George Harrison expressed very sweetly in his later years. I mention that because trying to do these things is so beautiful in the way that it lets me inside the music, and falling short of the target is OK in that context.

So learning to play has really been an enormous lesson in learning to listen.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Midnight Watch

I enclose my Goodreads review of this book by David Dyer about the 'side story' of inaction by a nearby ship when Titanic struck an iceberg and failed to recover. He has researched the characters and actions that  turned a maritime accident into a human disaster.

The Midnight Watch: A Novel of the Titanic and the CalifornianThe Midnight Watch: A Novel of the Titanic and the Californian by David Dyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wasn't particularly interested in an analysis of the events surrounding the Titanic story, but I was rather captivated by the failures that made it such a disaster.
The unfathomable distortions of a truth, or maybe just the exploration of the impossibility of truth as memory lie just beneath this fictional rendition based upon actual events and people in the sinking of Titanic and the loss of so much life- apparently unnecessarily. The book explores the terrible inaction of a nearby ship when Titanic was damaged and unable to recover.
In the last pages Dyer masterfully resolves a lifetime of focus by a fictional newspaper journalist who struggled for decades to explain the human failures at the heart of the tragedy, and did so finally by understanding that human action takes place within a lived emotional and psychological context.

View all my reviews

Monday, July 18, 2016

A New Port Fairy Whaler

It isn't often that you hear of a small community having a replica working hull made to celebrate not only the working traditions of the local seafarers but also those of the craftsmen that enabled them to take to the water.

 The 28ft Huon pine whaleboat is being built for the local Port Fairy Heritage Boat Group. The builder Garry Stewart says 'working with me on construction is Rob Whitehead who is a member of the group, all timber is huon pine, fastenings copper and bronze, planking is lapstrake, and the design is what was used for off beach whaling at Port Fairy in the early 1800s'.

This pile of Huon Pine is a rare thing now. Like so many wonderful species in the Southern Hemisphere, the huge scale of their availability and their wonderful working qualities fooled our forebears into thinking that the supply was endless. I'm thinking Huon, in Tasmania, Australian Red Cedar in New South Wales,  Kauri in New Zealand, and Jarrah in Western Australia- but there are plenty of others that grew aplenty in our neck of the woods. For some, their use is very political and it can be difficult now for good craftsmen to source the timbers that have always served so well.

While in some stands of forest 'clear felling' is still allowed, exposing soils to invasion by weeds and depleted by erosion, in other situations supply of particular species has been very restricted if not banned.

Huon is a marvellous timber to work. It planes like butter and has an incredible aroma that wafts off the blade and fills a workshop. It is resinous and very resistant to rot. These trees need time and space, so their use should be carefully considered. I would argue that traditional crafts that depend upon them should be prioritised.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Rebirth of a Lakes Classic from 1936

There is something about the Gippsland type fishing boat that rings my bells. I'm not alone here...
Although different builders varied the type considerably over the years (as documented in previous posts here), there was a convergence in the years between world wars when certain attributes became almost fixed to create a distinct local character.

There remain  on the lakes a good number that have outlived the great days of commercial fishing and there are many families for whom this type of boat provided work on the water across several generations. Some of the boats are working evidence of family and local histories and this boat is one of them.

The boat has recently been rescued and purchased by Peter Medling, a fourth generation fisherman from Paynesville.

Peter said; 'Built in 1936 for Jack and George Smith and used as a professional Fishing Boat for many decades. My brother Ray Medling bought her in 70s and fished out of her for nearly 20 years . I also worked out of her for many years as well. Rob Morecroft also used her for fishing. Rick Cove who was married to the daughter of the original owners the Smiths then bought her back...He contacted me this year and I was keen to buy a piece of our family fishing history back as my fathers boat is unrepairable. We will totally restore her and will have her raced tuned for the next fishing boat race at the Rally. She will be renamed to the Nancy Jean to honour my mum. JGS will still be written on her stern I have been lucky enough to score the rudder off my dads boat so that will be fitted also to complete the family connection. So with a little luck another one of our great old classic boats will be saved!'

Rick Cove has contributed some of the boat's history, he wrote to Peter;
'I purchased her from Robert Morecroft about 1985 and with the help of Rob Ashworth got her seaworthy and back into the water. Robert Morecroft had just raised her from a watery grave in Raymond Island bight but she was too much work for him so I bought her for the same reasons you did. To get her back into the family. I worked at the Paynesville Slipyard where Rob Ashworth and I spent many many hours rebuilding her. I went to work in her each day for about 14 years. In 1998 I was in hospital for a back operation and got news that she had sunk. Friends raised her but the Mazda 323 engine was not able to be used again. My crook back stopped me being able to use her and from about 1998 she was kept for the family. We moved her to Duck Arm when I sold up in Paynesville in 2007. She has always been regularly slipped and anti-fouled at the Paynesville Slip. There was only growth on the keel cooling pipes when you pulled her out. The original cost when she was built in Paynesville in 1936 by Robinson, ( on the corner of King Street and Langford Parade), was 90 Guineas. (94pounds 10 shillings or $189.00) The original receipt is still around in the family somewhere and I will try to get it for you or at least a copy. It is great to see that you are getting stuck into her.'

Above, The JGS and Lorna (Peter's father's boat) in the 1980's.

Peter has begun the restoration, replacing and sistering ribs and plank pieces and is currently replacing the deck with reclaimed kauri planking with the assistance of Bob Benton. I hope to post on her progress and completion.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

what is it about lines?

Some obscure thing in my childhood must be responsible for my appetite for nice lines. I've never been a builder of any merit, but I have had so much joy over the years drawing lines to create a space, and then getting outside to make them real lines drawn against sky. If I'm honest, these things interest me much more than fitting out or even using a building. What I love is the transformation of space by considered lines and I feel rather blessed that the old body can still enjoy  days in the sun 'on the tools'.

There are a few persistent themes in this blog, and line is one of them. I vividly remember a walk with my father when I was less than four years old, through a street in our Victorian country town of Horsham where we lived,  less than ten years after the Second War. On this walk I saw my first house frame being built and the sense of transformative wonder has never left me. I raced home and stole all Dad's garden stakes and tried to create something equivalent in the garden. I had a parallel experience the same year at our local swimming hole at Green Lake, where I saw my first boat- with the same attempt at re-creation when I got home. Every chance since then, I've been up to the same mischief, but never as a professional. It was violins that allowed me to be paid for making nice lines, and I'm missing them a bit lately.

I have a grandson reaching the age that I was when these things shook me. I bet a few readers might have grandchildren too. I hope some of them are as aroused by the possibilities of making things as some of us were. Taking an idea from paper to the vastness of the outdoors, and being encouraged to do so can set  the mind up to be forever looking to see the 'what if' in life instead of the 'I can't'.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Couta Boat restoration in Port Fairy

Garry Stewart is a fine professional boat builder, working on the Moyne River in Victoria's west, and he has recently restored this 20ft couta boat in what he describes as a refit and a new laid deck. This is quite small by 'couta standards but is a lovely no-nonsense hullform of rather beautiful proportions.

Garry wrote that she has a length of 20 ft, a  beam  of 7ft 6'' draft 2 ft 6'' and was  built by Peter Locke boatbuilder at Queenscliff around 1935-1940. She has a lug rig, centre case with 3/8'' steel centre plate, planking and ribs are New Zealand Kauri. The new deck is Iroko, new combings King Billy pine, and is powered by 20hp Volvo diesel.  He added that as she has lifting eyes for and aft she would have worked from Lorne or thereabouts on the Surf Coast where it was usual to lift boats onto the pier for storage between fishing trips.

'Castwood' (ex 'Dolphin') on the lovely jetty at Port Fairy