Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sulaire, Some History

Sulaire was designed and built by William Fife III for John and Robert Aspin of Glasgow whose letterhead reads "Paint manufacturers to the Admiralty" . She was launched in 1929 and spent only a couple of years racing in Scotland before she came to the US.
She's had many owners many names; Decima, Marbette, Wild Goose, Polho, Trouble and maybe others.  Sulaire (Her original name) now resides in the Pacific Northwest where Bill Ford has owned and maintained her since 1985. Her restoration is now complete.
Bill, experienced in boat repair, planking, all aspects of woodworking, welding and now casting bronze, did the restoration himself. 

When she came to the United States in 1932 she sailed and raced in Marblehead.  Here she is in a Morris Rosenfeld photo from that time. 

As She Was

In 1985 I purchased Sulaire, then named "Trouble" with a broken mast and a blown engine. According to the broker, even though her hull was in excellent shape, she was taking on a fair bit of water.  The first thing I did was to paint her white to help reduce shrinkage from the sun.

The next step was to build a new mast. The fittings and chromed bronze hardware were intact with enough pieces of the old mast left to get measurements.  I set out to duplicate the tapered, tear drop shape. Consulting an accomplished spar builder on Orcas Island who had previously owned a Fife 10 Meter I learned how to lay up the pieces. how to orient the grain and how to use threaded rod to make inexpensive clamps.

I built a jig for the router to reproduce identical long scarfs making 5 - 62' lengths out of 30 ft 2x8s. The tapers were cut into them, cants were glued to the front and back sections to allow clamping in both directions. This also kept the wall thicknesses even.

The box was glued using resorcinol glue and clamped with 60 clamps made from threaded rod and 1 x 4s. Using a power planer for two long days the excess was trimmed away. I finished by hand with a sanding belt (from a belt sander) using it like a strop to smooth the rounded leading edge.

With paint and the installation of hardware and wire I was ready to raise the mast.  I installed a new motor and motored across Puget Sound to use the crane at a Seattle marina.

I set the mast rake using an old photo of the boat and sailed her home with an older suit of sails. She handled beautifully. I had been told by the previous crew that the boat had a serious lee helm but here she was perfectly balanced.  When I had the newer sail repaired the helm issue was clear, it was 15" longer on the leach and the mast could not be raked enough to balance the boat.

After the first sail in heavy air, it was obvious she was flexing too much.  Even though her sheer looked perfect, the hull seemed slightly flat amidships and her cabin sides were pushed in where they meet the deck. I referenced the Lloyds numbers and found that she was 3/4" narrower than she should be. For the next few weeks, using a jack, I put pressure on her cabin sides and cockpit coamings pushing her back into shape, a slight bit every day, keeping an eye on her progress from the deck of a neighboring boat. 

To keep her shape, I installed a new deck beam between the cabin and the cockpit. This beam is notched into 2 new beam shelves of the same dimensions as those spreading the load at the mast.

After this the leaking stopped and she felt as stiff as a rock pounding through rough seas.

Fife built Sulaire with tight seams and they are as functional now as they were 84 years ago.  

(Last photo: Detail of beam shelf and joint with new cross beam, the hull here is sanded and ready for varnish)

Deck and House Restoration

In 1991, I built a shop just the right size to house Sulaire and her mast. I originally planned to make her a fast live-a-board cruiser. After visiting the Toronto fleet and seeing what was happening there and in Europe I made the decision to restore her to as close to original as possible. I removed the engine, eliminated all the through hulls and stripped the hull to bare wood. Before replacing fastenings, I treated the hull with a mixture of linseed oil and terps adding pine tar to the mix for those planks below the water line. All of the screws in the sawn frames were then removed and replaced with new silicon bronze screws one size larger than the originals. True to Fife design, every third frame is sawn from one piece of wood, presumably grown frames from trees purposely shaped for this use.

Next I began to disassemble the deck. Removing a layer of plywood revealed Fife's original deck. After seeing this, I decided to completely replace the deck. Bent Jesperson, the builder of the 1984 World Champion 8 meter Octavia, advised me that the only way to build a strong, water tight deck and keep the weight of the deck as light as it's original pine was to cold mold in red cedar.

The original deck was removed. Because the cabin and cockpit had been changed over the years it was necessary to replace the deck beams from the foreword end of the cabin to just short of the rudder post. By this time, Fairlie restorations had sent a copy of the deck beam layout with detailed specifications. With this I was able to restore her cabin and cockpit to the original size. Heavy structural beams, originally spec'd in Larch, were replaced with Douglas fir (called Oregon Pine in the original specs). The lighter beams, originally spec'd in Spruce, were replaced with Spruce. Carlings were dovetailed into the beams and the beams were fitted to the original dovetail joints in the clamps.

Cold molding the deck began once the beams were in place and a new stern timber was put in. (The only rot I found was from the back stay bolt through this timber)

In the lowest layer, each strip of 1 3/4" wide cedar was sized and beveled to match Fife's deck. These were sprung in so that from below, she looks the way she did in 1929.

The king plank was laid in mahogany

Two additional layers of 1/4" x 3 1/2" cedar were then laid over the first in opposing 45 degree angles. These were all laid in epoxy and fastened with thousands of silicon bronze staples. This layer stops about 4" shy of the outer edge and was routed so the mahogany covering board could half lap over it.

A layer of glass cloth set in epoxy covers the cold molded cedar. I routed a small lip into the upper/inner edge of the mahogany covering board so the glass cloth covers the joint and ends in a clean line that would mostly be covered by the toe rail. The covering boards were left natural. I felt that problems would arise if I couldn't completely seal the surface and that the deck needed to be non skid. The varnished decks I've seen on 6 meters look scary to walk on.

A white deck with natural wood covering boards, cabin and cockpit coamings is extremely attractive while allowing the deck to be coated with non skid. The cabin, also cold molded, consists of 2 layers of cedar laid in different directions, sandwiched between two layers of mahogany. It is extremely stout.

I salvaged beams from her old house and re-used them to add the depth of aged wood to the character of her interior.

We are currently using a plexi-glass cover over the skylight cut-out and are actively seeking information, drawings and/or pictures of Fife 8 meter skylights - especially those with six circular lights. We would appreciate input/help/comments.

Bulkheads Chain Plates and Other Structural Reinforcements

For higher performance I moved the mast aft and the forestay foreword (to maintain balance) increasing the J dimension to 14'9". I had been to Toronto for the 1991 World Championships where the members of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club and the Port Credit Yacht Club treated me wonderfully, got me on a spectator boat to watch the races which was by the way, a great party! I had the opportunity to look at their fleet, to discuss the pros and cons of various rig and hardware designs with people who really knew 8 meters. They connected me with North Sails Toronto where I confirmed that a J of about 15 feet would be a good number for my boat.

To stiffen her at the mast a 3/4" marine plywood bulkhead lapped into a 2" x 2" laminated frame was added. A new set of lodging knees and hanging knees were also added near the new bulkhead. New chain plates were attached to the bulkhead. Each chain plate is made from a 3" x 3" x 3/8" stainless steel angle with a 2" x 2" stainless angle welded to it. This runs along the deck beam compressing directly against the mast partners.

Each chain plate is attached with four bolts to the bulkhead, 4 bolts to the deck beam and 2 bolts through the clamps. A tab was welded to each chain plate as close to the deck as possible and 1 1/2" stainless tension rods run from the tabs to a bolt that runs through a 2 ' long stainless steel cap that is fitted over and attached to the mast step. The cap is also attached to the bulkhead with 3 bolts on each side. This system takes most of the rigging loads off of the hull.

To strengthen the foredeck, a set of hanging knees was added at the hatch.

(Photo - Cast bronze reinforcement being removed before keel is removed)
I found a small gap (1/16") on the lower edged of the joint between the stem and the keelson. Believing this may have been caused by upward force from the forestay, I closed the gap by weighting the bow with 2 5 gallon buckets of water for many months. When the gap was closed, the leading edge was cut out to a depth of 1" from the lead to about 2 feet forward of this joint. I cast a piece of bronze to replace this piece and attached this reinforcement with 5 bolts, securing the keelson and stem.

In order to reduce the load of the forestay I fitted a 4 " sheave into the bow, ran the forestay over this and back to the stainless steel mast step cap, reducing the upward pull angle by half.

For the running back stays I replaced the Highfield levers with 2 speed, self tailing Anderson winches to allow for infinite adjustment of the stays. Spectra Line runs from a pad eye on the aft deck through a block that is attached to the back stay wire, down to another block on deck and runs to the winch. Both blocks are rated to 7,000 lb working loads.

The garboard seam was reefed and caulked with cotton. I used a pizza roller to insert a few strands of cotton between a couple of the lowest planks. Except for those few seams, because of Fife's craftsmanship the original tight seem construction needed no further attention. She got new top side enamel and Balta-plate racing bottom paint sanded to 600 grit and polished with bronze wool. You could see yourself in the bottom paint.

With these improvements the boat was incredibly stiff and she sailed like freight train. We took her to the 1994 Maple Bay Labor Day Regatta where she placed second in the big boat division. The modern 2 tons were not pleased to be beaten by a 65 year old boat. The Maple Bay Yacht Club has a long history of 6 & 8 meter racing, they were exceedingly gracious. The following year, we were able to get Concierto and Amita to Maple Bay for the race and the yacht club reinstated the 8 meter trophy for us. The trophy listed both Concierto and Sulaire as winners in races back in the 60's when there was a fleet of a dozen 8's in the northwest. in 1995 they added Amita to the trophy. But that's another story.

Sand Casting

Once I decided to do my own casting the next step was to build the furnace and tools. The furnace was built using half of a 55 gallon drum. I cut a hole in the side at the bottom of the drum and placed the jet in such a way that the flames would spiral around the crucible. The inside of the drum was lined with a 1" layer of 2100 degree fiber board and next with a layer of 2500 degree zircon fire bricks. The naturally aspirated jet was attached to a manifold connecting 2 50 lb propane tanks, each with a regulator capable of 30 psi. The regulators control the pressure and in order to control flow I installed a ball valve at the jet. To preheat the crucible slowly, I partially closed the ball valve and ran the pressure at between 5 and 7 psi. Once the inside of the furnace reached 1400 degrees the valve was opened completely and the pressure was raised to 20 psi. At high flow, it was necessary to keep the tanks in a hot water bath to keep the regulators from freezing.

The lid of the furnace was made of fire bricks drilled and sandwiched between two angle irons on threaded rods. A small hand pivot crane was attached to the base to make moving the lid easier and safer.

The process produces a small amount of slag that floats to the top of the bronze. I used a bent piece of sheet metal to scrape this off.

Before I could do any of this I had to make my own tools. The tool to lift the crucible out of the furnace is similar to a post hole digger made out of steel but instead of shovel blades, the tongs were shaped to fit a number 10 crucible. (The number "10" designates that this crucible holds 10 lbs of aluminum which is relative to 33 lb of bronze.)

An artist friend gave me a pouring ring but it needed to be modified. I added length to the arm, made the rings slightly smaller and welded a movable latch onto the side which keeps the crucible in the ring when it is tipped on it's side. The pouring ring is set up to pivot over the mold. After the crucible is pulled from the furnace, it is set into the pouring ring, locked into place and is easily moved over mold for pouring into the sprue.

I consulted with several metal craftsmen and read as much as possible about the process. The first few pours were trial and error with temperature. I'd read that 1950 degrees would be sufficient to pour a large casting and that fine detail work required 2100 degrees. At 1950, the metal cooled before reaching the end of the mold. After that, I brought the metal up to 2100 degrees and as an added precaution (see the first photo) I preheated the sand with a heat gun. This worked beautifully.

This photo shows the cope and drag - the two parts of the mold were built from 2 x 6s and 2 x 4s. Internal guide pins and external, tapered guides kept the two parts aligned properly. I chose Petro-bond, a casting sand that uses oil rather than water to bind the sand together. It eliminates the possibility of uneven water distribution which could cause a steam explosion. I made other tools for this process including a hand ram for ramming into the mold and around the pattern. I used various small shaping and cutting tools to cut sprues and vents. Talcum powder was used to keep the two parts of the mold separate and to keep the patterns from sticking to the sand.

Fabricated Floors

Fife used 2 different types of floors. Larger fabricated floors that carry the main keel bolts and are bolted to the larger sawn frames. The others are 5/8" strap floors fitted to the bent frames carrying smaller keel bolts to pockets on the sides of the lead.

For the larger fabricated floors I used 3/16" silicon bronze sheet cut to the shape of the hull using metal cutting blades in a jig saw. Each blade would cut through about 4 feet before needing replacement.

To replicate the angle that stiffens the top of the floor I cut 1 1/2" strips using a circular saw and a special blade. They were bent to the shape of the cut plate and TIG welded from both sides.

(Photo) Different phases of fabrication from the plywood pattern to fitting a finished floor.

(Photo) Checking final fit before lower angle is installed - inside and....


The angle of the larger casting at the bottom of each fabricated floor matches the angle where the floor meets the keelson or the horn timber. These pieces are approximately 3" x 3" x 3/8". They are bolted to the plate with 3/8" bolts every few inches. The outermost bolts were welded in place since the nut would have required notching into the frame. Lightening holes were drilled in the same location as the originals. Holes were then drilled and filed square to fit the bronze carriage bolts that attach them to the sawn frames.

The bilge and wooden frame members were painted with red lead and Irish felt was laid between the wood and bronze floor.

Each floor is bolted in with either 8 or 10 3/8" bronze carriage bolts backed with hand made 1 1/2" x 2" x 3/16" thick rectangular washers.

All 8 Fabricated floors bolted in....ready to remove the keel. To see good photos of the finished floors see the posting titled "Boat Jewelry".

Cast Strap Floors

Due to the size and difficulty of extracting these full size patterns from the sand I decided to cast them in three pieces and weld them together. The patterns were made using 5/8" poly-carbonate sheet. The tapers were cut into the plastic while it was flat and then with just the right amount of heat - about 250 degrees, the material becomes pliable and can be laid right on the bent frame and held until it cools (I wore welding gloves for this process) When it is removed it holds both the curvature and the twist of the frame. (I used a heat gun but the person I learned this trick from used an oven.)
The patterns were rammed into the sand mold.
The mold is then separated and the patterns are removed. Removal was tough even with 3 degree bevels on the patterns because of the twist. At first I attempted to patch any sand displaced by the removal process but subsequently decided it was easier to grind away small amounts of excess bronze. Both sides were cast in the same mold and connected to a common sprue.
Once all the pieces were cast, the three pieces that make up a complete floor were placed in the boat, they were clamped in place and checked for fit.
The three pieces were held in their final shape by gluing sheets of plywood to each side with foaming urethane glue. The corners of the plywood were cut away to facilitate welding the joints while the plywood was still holding them in place.

The plywood was removed and the complete floor was ground and sanded smooth.
The original floors were fastened all the way through the planking. I did the same in the same holes except that I made my floors go one plank higher than the originals and added one more rivet. The rivets were made from1/4" copper rod cut to length. Using a torch, a ball peen hammer and a jig, I heated the rivets and then peened heads onto each one. Pushing the rivets through the hull and the floor, my wife held the backing iron on the hull side while I peened each rivet tight. Yes we are still married.
The 5/8" keel bolts that pocket into the outer edge of the lead were made in the same manner using theTIG torch, a ball peen hammer and a steel jig. The other ends were threaded by hand. Keel bolts larger than 5/8" were threaded on a lathe at a local machine shop.