Cocke’s Mill

South Branch, Hardware River, along

The Plank Road runs west from Keene toward the mountains. It was a toll road, and the original toll house still stands, a private residence now. It’s a very old road, once paved in wooden boards, and along it teams of oxen rolled huge hogshead barrels and cartloads of good from over in the Shenandoah Valley, coming down the switchbacks through Rockfish Gap. Continue reading “Cocke’s Mill”

Decks Glassed

South Deck, Glassed and Trimmed


(to start of project)

It’s been an eventful week. Besides the big storm and flood, boat building and Independence Day celebrations, the dogs cornered a groundhog that drew blood before we could separate them, and one night cornered a skunk, which ended just as you’d expect. Emily did the requisite tomato juice bath at 2 in the morning. At least the basement is mostly dry after a week of running fans, which now are doing double duty dissipating the stink. Continue reading “Decks Glassed”

Weather Eye

Storm coming


(to start of project)

On the way home the sky looked both beautiful and ominous. Over the fields the clouds were piled high in all directions, dragging skirts of rain and lightning, looking bruised and petulant. I stood out by the fence and watched until the rain came in spatters. What I saw was imposing enough I felt compelled to take pictures, but had no idea what was coming. Only a few days into summer, and already the thunderstorms have arrived. Big ones. Continue reading “Weather Eye”


 Batteau Anchor and Sweep Oarlock


(to start of project)

Scottsville is over 150 miles from the coast. The western horizon is rumpled by the Blue Ridge and, beyond that, the Alleghenies. It’s a small town of about 500 people, give or take, situated in horse country at the northern edge of what was historically a tobacco growing region. Not exactly the kind of place you’d expect to find a hot bed of traditional boat building. Continue reading “Batteaux”

Decks Planked

Rough Sanding (earplugs in for safety)


(to start of project)

For Father’s Day I got to work on the boats all weekend, and the girls made a donation to the sail fund. Beats the heck out of getting a tie.

I had Friday off, too, so made good progress – finished planking both decks and did a full round of rough sanding with the antique belt sander. Even so, I’d wander down between other chores, just to have a little look, but it’s hard not to pick up a tool. Terri caught me doing bit of sanding sans OSHA approved footwear. Continue reading “Decks Planked”

Making Hay

 Winter Wheat, Start of Summer


(to start of project)

Pastures are smooth again from a first cut. Winter wheat is followed with corn, green shoots poking up through straw stubble, and what hasn’t been bailed or reaped is tall in Chicory, Day Lilies and Queen Anne’s Lace. In a few days the Solstice will pass, and we’ll enter a third season.

The local paper did a story on the boat project, and now people in town stop me to ask about it. From these conversations I learn many things. For instance, that someone I’ve known for years used to surf competitively as a teenager, and made his own custom boards. Things like that.

We threw a garden party birthday for the First Mate, attended by lady poets, writers, musicians and artists, and the preparations took precedence. We’re also trying to find a car for Em, since her sister got the one they shared. Life intervenes.





In the meantime, snatching a half hour here and there to work on the boats reduces progress to a slow trickle – a row of planks get snuck in, then lights off again for a few days – but it’s progress. You take what you can get. After three weeks, the decks are nearly closed up, almost ready for sanding and glassing.





Except for the slow pace, this part is surprisingly easy going. You could do it all in about four days, if you had four days. Bungies and a few clamps set the bend, and the hot glue holds it.





The Cypress is nice to work with – smooth, consistent and well behaved. My grandmother, on my father’s side, grew up in the brackish swamps on the edge of the Dismal Swamp in North Carolina. Her brothers and cousins were watermen of one kind or another – a tug boat engineer, a sailing yacht delivery captain, and such. She always kept a smooth polished Cypress knee with her wherever she and my grandfather moved. It was an odd looking otherworldly thing, like a stalagmite from a deep cave, about two feet tall, and usually stood on an end table or the bar. I realize now it was a little piece of home she carried with her everywhere, and must have reminded her of that strange world where she lived as a little girl, where the ground was mostly water, and there were more bears and bobcats and alligators than neighbors. It will be nice to have some of it on the boats.








The folks who’ve done their decks in mahogany plywood have had trouble getting the prescribed crown in the foredeck. To get the wood to lay down they usually have to shave off the tops of the frames. Since almost all the boats I’ve seen were done this way, it seems odd to see a deck with the actual shape shown in the plans. I keep rechecking the measurements to make sure I haven’t made a mistake, but everything checks out. It just doesn’t look as flat and trim as a ply deck. The incomplete stripping only adds to the effect, so at first it was really worrisome. Now the lines are beginning to take shape, though it still looks a little proud.









Molds ready for decking


(to start of project)

At this point, the interiors are ready for finishing and framing. Since I’ve built the deck camber and crown into the molds, though, I want to use those as forms for stripping the decks. The partially finished decks will then come off while the interior work is completed. Most normal people would build all the framing and then strip the decks down directly on top. There’s a small problem with that, though:

Boat designers and naval architects take exquisite care in modeling, measuring and plotting out the hulls of boats. The rest? Not so much. Continue reading “Decking”