Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Prriorities and a dose of humility.

Although I have been quiet lately, there has been a lot happening in the background. Changes are on the horizon and priorities have shifted.

The Romany Project before

The Romany Project after

I know that some would have expected a progress update on the Petrel Play mold. Things have changed on a personal level that has put forward progress on hold. If the word "cancer" has ever entered your life then you know the centering effect it has on what is important and what can wait. Although I am not the person afflicted, someone very close to me is. Taking care of my family is my only concern currently. To alleviate the financial concerns, I've reentered the work force and secured a full time job. Turning Point continues to operate, but on what I have termed "Night Ops". As it often happens with change, there is a cascading effect and more changes result. I am moving the shop to my new home where I can work near family and spend some time around the house. The jokes about forgetting what I look like have been duly noted, so I will be spending the next few weeks moving and setting up the shop, steps from my back door.

Villano Inlet in all it's angry glory

As most know I've been working toward my ACA L4 certification. It has been a goal of mine for more than a year and one that will have to wait. After withdrawing from my ICE a year ago and breaking my hand before my next opportunity, failure was a hard pill to swallow. To some degree, I feel as I was a much more skilled paddler last year than I am now. I was much sharper and less affected by conditions. Somehow my mind and body were no longer cooperating and skills that were second nature seemed to be gone. In the debrief, my self assessment was that ultimately it was on me. No excuses or blame, failure was squarely on my shoulders.  So, what am I going to do? At this point, I think I need to find the passion for rough water again. I am going to take a break from chasing the goal of being an L4 instructor. It's time to be a student of the environment and just have fun without the internal pressure of meeting an expectation. A low point? Maybe, but not something that will keep me down for long.

As I look back at the past year, there have been a few lows and many highs. Assessing my performance as a paddler and a business owner has me returning back to basics. Lofty goals and probably unrealistic expectations have led to forgetting why I wanted to do this in first place. My goals over the next year are simple, build the best boats possible because that is what I love doing.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A surprise project and an epiphany

Inspiration does not come easily for me. It can not be forced, it must come from a usually fleeting thought. I have to start writing at the time or it becomes difficult to catch again. Like dropping a $20 bill on a windy day. You'll chase it for as long as it takes to get it back in your possession. I'm going to get personal in this entry. As time marches on, the hurdles are getting bigger as well as the rewards.

Part of having a naturally creative mind is that it can be a bit self destructive at the same time. What most would call accomplishments, I see the ways I can do it better. It is a tight rope that I balance every day. It also can be paralyzing in the process of building. I have this picture in my mind as to the final product. Every step towards it becomes a greater challenge to preserve the ideal outcome. Case in point. I've faired and polished the Petrel Plug to perfection. It is the culmination of all of my skills to this point. Now it sits in the molding frame, flange sealed and the PVA will not lay out. It must be a reflection of what lies under it or the mold will reflect the PVA surface, not the polished plug. So I keep pushing forward until I am satisfied with the results, no matter how many steps must be re-done to get there. I'll update the progress on the mold in another entry. 

So, I get an email from Nick Schade of Guillemot Kayaks. It simply states one of the boats he just completed got damaged. The email was accompanied by some pictures. He asked if I would be willing to fix it. After looking at it I said no problem, I could take care of it. As the story unfolded, the internal pressure that I struggle with started to ramp up. The boats owner is a very affluent person and this is one of Nick's museum quality builds. No pressure right? After it all sunk in and I had the boat in my possession, I thought to myself, "I'm going to take a saw to a work of art"? Then it occurred to me, how did I get here..to this point? The next freight train of thoughts took me to a very humbling place. It took a conversation with my better half, Jayme, for it all to sink in. She pointed out that I was starting to enjoy the culmination of all of my "imperfect" accomplishments. I have a reputation that took years to build. It was through her that I was able to see the path and where it has led. I have come to another defining moment, another turning point. This time I can be present in the moment rather than realizing it after the fact.

Approaching a repair is different than a build. I pride myself in being able to restore to original condition or improve. Now, a Guillemot museum quality build is something different because the bar is so high. Restoration is the goal, back to original and undetectable that there was ever any type of damage. So, the story goes that a family pet started to use the boat as a very expensive chew toy. The customer has not even had the chance to put the boat in the water. The damage is confined to the bow and stern stems and, luckily, did not affect the book matched mahogany. The boat is clear coated with Automotive Clear Coat with a very highly reflective surface. Any wave, or blemish in the preparation will shine like beacon when the clear goes on.

Like I said earlier, taking a saw to a highly prized boat requires planning and patience. I'm leaning on my experience with the materials to make this a more predictable sequence of events. So, I dove in with my trusty oscillating tool. Cutting the stems off close as possible to the joint. The rest of the removal process was all done by hand to have complete control. Once removed, the painstaking job of fitting the new stems began. Again, all by hand for a precision fit. Once I was satisfied with the fit, both stems were trimmed to shape and epoxied to the boat.

Next up was blending and shaping the stems. Great care was taken to replicate the shape of the originals and to blend the new stems into the hull. The tools of choice here were a plane, sanding block and my hands. The most important tool we possess is our hands. It's one thing to feel a part, but a completely different experience happens when you close your eyes. One sense is shut off and all your attention is focused on every movement as you run your fingertips over the surface. It it possible to feel something that is invisible until the finish is applied. After they had been sanded satisfactorily, fiberglass was applied and the epoxy blended into the undamaged area.

Now the fun begins. I was dreading the next step as I am rusty applying the clear coat. I did have one big thing in my favor. A collapsable paint booth was left behind by another tenant in the complex. The manager asked if I wanted it and I quickly took him up on his offer. Once installed I had a dust free environment to apply finishes. This was the first project to test the room and it passed with flying colors. 

Taking into account my rustiness with clear, I applied an extra coat knowing that the boat would require buffing to get the shine I was after.  I did have one unexpected boo-boo in the form of a sag that would need correcting before block sanding for final buffing. I thought to myself that this could be another teachable moment, so here is how you remove a sag. 

So, here is the secret. Sanding a sag will remove everything around it before it completely disappears. As ugly as this looks, it was perfectly flat once it was sanded out. To protect the surrounding surface, glazing putty was smeared over the sag to protect the surrounding clear coat. 600 grit wet sandpaper (on a sanding block) was used to remove the sag. Once the glazing putty is sanded off, the sag will be gone. Once buffed, this spot could not be found. 

After several rounds with successively finer grits of sand paper, ending with 2000 grit. The prize was finally in view. Several exhaustive days were spent sanding before and after the clear coat to ensure a finish that was as close to flawless as I could make. The stress started to lift with each successive pass with the buffer. Even under fluorescent light, the finish was exactly what I was working for. Once in the sun, I had to take a moment to take it all in. 

As I said before, this one was different. My reputation, as well as Nicks and Guillemot Kayaks was on the line. My goal was to bring it back to original. The journey to achieve that, exposed something unexpected. I had exceeded my own expectations. It took several days for that to sink in. Truthfully, I am still processing it now. One thing does stand out. I have raised my own bar and the timing is perfect. I strive to be the best, because every boat I build will ultimately be my legacy. Every customer that buys a Turning Point Kayak will have the same attention to detail in their boat. Bringing the artistry of wood into the composite market is what I intend to do. If this is the benchmark, the sky is the limit. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

It's getting serious and my brain hurts.

My lack of posting recently is a direct result of being busy. I have completed and delivered a completed Annapolis Wherry for a customer and work has resumed on the Petrel Play. I was even asked to represent my old employer, Chesapeake Light Craft, on their annual cross country tour. My focus has returned to the mold of the Petrel Play

There are many different ways to build a mold. As I find my way through the daily challenges, the goal gets closer to completion. Building the mold frame and flange is challenging. It needs to hold the plug level and provide the base for the flange. Considering the plug is a odd shape this proved to be a test for my visualization and building skills.

My solution was to make female molds from the templates I made the forms. Taking into account the skin thickness and all of the newly added features like hatch recesses and cockpit. Each one was fitted to the boat and tied together with a pair of wood runners that would hold the assembly until the flange was attached.

Once the plug fit into the frames, I could then begin the process of fitting the flange. It needs to be as tight to the hull as possible. To accomplish this, Masonite boards were laid onto the top of the frames and marked to closely mimic the hull parting line profile. The flange was carefully cut and then several trial fits were required to get it just right. The gap is minimal and will be sealed off with clay or tape for the application of the tooling gel coat.

So, what's next? There are a few areas that I will be touching up on the plug. The perfectionist in me has reached a point where I've found a few things that need some attention. I also had a freak gust blow through the shop that knocked it off the stands a few weeks ago. The damage was limited to a couple of dings. I am glad I chose to build it the way I did so that it would survive incidents like this. The supplies are on the way for the mold and should arrive by the end of the day. Then the fun begins with a marathon fiberglassing session to build up the thickness and strength needed to start building hulls. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Why and How of Paddling

I have developed a philosophy about paddling over the past few years. I've done my best to stay humble in my paddling and always keep my mind open to learn as much as I can in the short time I have here on Earth. My passions are building kayaks (and boats in general) and paddling without limits. When I say "without limits", I mean the internal limits that often surface as fear or anxiety. This doesn't mean I will do something questionable in terms of safety, but I will push my limits from time to time with varied success.

There have been several instances in the past couple of weeks that led me to feel as if there is a shift in the paddling community.  First was an article posted online about "safety shaming". How it affects the person it is aimed toward and the reason it exists in the first place. Then there was a quote on Instagram from one of my connections,  @danielmendozaortiz. He wrote, "What sea kayaking needs is not another expert, not another guide of how to do it , but a guide of why to do it, what for, and what it really means". This statement really struck a chord with me, because there is so much truth in it. Finally, I read and article in Adventure Kayak Magazine, about certifications and it's relationship to societies urgent need for expert instruction prior to attempting any activity. We've become paralyzed to try anything new and our sense of adventure has suffered. So what is happening here? There is a certain group of people who can't get over the Sea Kayaking boom of the early 90's and have this sort of gloomy outlook for the sport. Recent statistics have shown the sport of kayaking is having a sort of renaissance currently, and the state of the sport is quite healthy. Sales are strong and participation according to the Outdoor Industry Survey, has sustained healthy growth over the last 5-6 years. But there is the old nagging naysayer that will downplay any of this as the end of the sport because the average paddlers practical knowledge is dropping drastically and people are going to die.

The act of safety shaming has reached epic proportions as of late. In my opinion it's a result of the formation of several large online kayaking communities. It is now far easier for one to grab the Bull Horn of the new millennium, the internet, and berate someone they don't know, or ever met over their lack of safety standards. Personally, I will NEVER be one to berate anyone, for any reason. If they are doing something that could harm them, I will talk with them and show concern, rather than my superiority of knowledge. Having been on the receiving end of an in person safety shaming incident, I know first hand, that there is far more to the picture than meets the eye. The nagging question in my mind is, where personal responsibility come into play? I am responsible for myself and the results of my actions. Why isn't everyone else? Why do certain people feel an overwhelming need to assume responsibility for another persons actions? Accidents happen, whether it is behind the wheel of your car, or taking the dog for a walk. My gut feeling is the "Safety Police" feel that accidents are so damaging to the sport that they believe that the sport kayaking will end if too many happen. The truth is that "Safety Shaming" is damaging the sport. There is a kinder and gentler way to look out for your fellow paddlers.

When I started my path to become a certified instructor, it was for my own personal reasons. I love the sport of kayaking and I am passionate about teaching. Combine the two and you have the basis of why I do what I do. I did not start my education to proclaim expert status. If fact you will never hear me say "me", or "I" and "expert" in the same sentence. I prefer to stay hungry and humble. Paddle with people that are more knowledgeable to gain more perspective and experience.  The longer I keep this practice, the more I have to share with whoever wants to do the same. I can sometimes get lost in the quest for knowledge and experience. A leisurely paddle with friends is usually what brings me back to the reason I started paddling in the first place. The tranquility and freedom are unmatched in any other sport I have participated. The only limitations are mother nature and your abilities. Expand your skills and more doors to freedom will open. There are not many sports that offer the same freedom as kayaking. The ability to become one with the water and get lost in the moment is why I have adopted this sport with so much passion.

As an instructor, it is my responsibility to lift up the people who want to hear what I have to say. The satisfaction of seeing the lightbulb moment in a students eyes is unmatched. Watching their skill and confidence grow is extremely satisfying. This is what kayaking is about and this is the way kayaking will grow in participation. I've seen it work in a Meetup group back in Maryland called Chesapeake Kayak Adventures. It started with a relaxed atmosphere and a bunch of adventurous paddlers. Then there was a shift. The founder Chuck, got certified as an instructor and added another instructor. Together they started offering low cost, low pressure skills classes. The group responded and the willingness to learn snowballed from there. They shared skills among themselves and practiced. The group has grown collectively in skill ever since. The size of the group has nearly doubled in three short years, surpassing the participation of a traditional club that had a 20 year head start on them. The difference....the learning environment and the community it cultivated. They are the model of what the sport is about, enjoying nature and seeking adventure. They are proof that Daniel's statement is spot on. They have become the model of, "why to do it and what it really means".

As I get closer to starting production of my own line of kayaks, these sort of discussions and articles are refreshing. The sport is growing for the same reasons it always has. There is an underlying desire to experience true freedom. A kayak can provide it like no other craft. My part is to be a positive roll model and open doors for the people who want them to be opened. I did this as the sales manager for Chesapeake Light Craft.  Counseling people on boat choice and helping them during the build when they had questions. More often than not, I was humbled by their gratitude because they had fulfilled a dream. What could be better than that?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The progress of the Play

As I was sanding the Petrel Play plug for what seems the hundredth time, something occurred to me. I have been accurately called obsessive and a perfectionist. These are descriptions that I wear proudly. After all, it landed me in my own dust filled shop with my name attached to it, building boats for a living. The thought seemed so profound, at the moment, that I immediately snapped a photo and crafted a post on facebook, "The madness of seeking perfection is that it is not found in the final product. It is a culmination of perfecting each step along the way".

The plug is a unique creature. Since the mold will be created from it, any imperfection or wobbly line, will be repeated over and over. Every step in it's construction has been an adventure in striving for my best. As I was pushing and pulling the fairing board across the surface, I quickly rewound all that has gone into its creation. From Nick's brain, to design, followed by an email with the drawings. This boat has risen from a thumb drive to an actual 3D object that looks like a kayak. How did all this happen?

It started with a conversation on the drive back from Stonington to Nick's house. We had just spent a day in the tide races of the Fishers Island Sound. I asked the question, "have you ever thought about building your boats out of fiberglass or carbon"? The rest is history. Turning Point Kayaks was in its infancy, just an idea with a new found purpose.

Fast forward to April, The shop is up and running and the day arrives that Nick has finalized the form patterns. I download them to a thumb drive and headed to Office Max to have them printed. Finally, I was actually working on THE boat that I had anticipated for almost a year. Forms were cut, strongback built. Piece by piece, the dream was becoming a reality. Every piece of wood stapled to the forms was a step closer. There were no set rules for building the plug. I made mistakes and came up with creative solutions. The requirements were; the shape be absolutely correct, it had to be light weight for easy maneuvering and storage, the surface had to be as perfect as possible and it had to be dimensionally stable as not to change during the molding process.

The beginning

First real look at the shape of the Play

Stripping the hull

The Completed hull

The Deck and hull undergoing a trial fit

Forming the Cockpit recess

Forward hatch recess

The recesses trimmed

Every step in the process of building was an exercise in obsession with perfection. My build philosophy has always been to always be proactive in a build. Address issues immediately and never hope the are hidden in the next step. The build up of the plug was no exception. Sure, I could have taken short cuts here and there. There is a price to pay at some point when a short cut was taken. I decided at the beginning to take each step to completion the best way I kew how. I obsessed over strip fit, making sure the shape was as designed and making sure the surface was fair. Once both halves were stripped, I spent more time than I would like to admit, fairing with my air file and hand fairing board. Then came fiberglass and another round of fairing after the entire surface was skimmed with body filler. Once the surface primer was sprayed on the boat, I could start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Hand fairing the primer has been a joy, because all of the care taken in the previous steps.

Glassed and skim coat of filler applied to perfect the shape

Ready for Surfacing Primer

Top is primed

The polishing process is a lengthy endeavor. The surface was sanded five more times to get ti prepared for buffing. Since the primer had been sanded with 220 to ensure it was flat, the next step was 320 grit. Then came wet sanding with 400, 600, 800 and finally 1000 grit sandpaper. After the first pass with the buffer I was elated with the results. The surface is perfectly "flat". no waves or distortions. My approach to fit and finish will rival the standard that most luxury car manufacturers utilize. My frustration at this point is that I am buffing out primer. It will never have the reflectivity of a gel coat or paint. The object of this exercise is to perfect the surface, the mold and every boat produced from it, will only be as good as this plug. No pressure...

The before shot during the hand fairing process

After fairing with the long board. using an x-pattern ensures a flat surface

The lines are starting to emerge. They are crisp and even.

The bottom getting the treatment

Got a little goofy during one of the five rounds of sanding

After the first cut with rubbing compound

Half of the bottom polished. Six coats of wax are the next step.

So there it is. A touch up in a few small places and then it gets six coats of wax. Mold construction starts next week. Once completed, hull #1 can be built. Lots of little details to work out, but we are getting ever closer to being able to build truly custom kayaks.