Divide and Conquer


The scarfed pieces, fully cured and ready to be cleaned, is turned into our full length keel plank and then milled to its final thickness before being sent over to Jake for marking and shaping. We’ve now got five people working on four separate projects for the Corinthian; although there’s less opportunity to double check each other’s work, we’re making acceptable progress (for five novice boatbuilders).

Meanwhile, work continues on the bedlogs and centerboard trunk. The trunk’s edges are routed down to match the fore and aft headledges, and the rabbets on each bedlog are further refined to hold the centerboard trunk.


Finally, a stack of 2 inch plus (or 9 quarters) white oak is eyed over to select the bits that will make up our skeg and deadwood laminates.



What to do when the plan calls for a 20 foot long piece of Sapele and you can only find a few measly 12 foot lengths? Well, you just make a longer piece, obviously.

Scarfing joins two (or more) shorter peices into a longer (or much longer) one by beveling two edges so they have a relatively huge surface area, then glueing and clamping them into effectively one piece of wood. Angle is everything in the scarf – for each inch of material thickness, we want 12 inches of material length for an optimal joint. It’s critical that both bevels are cut at the same angle so the finished piece will lie flat, and that we avoid any lows or highs in the cut surface that can cause the epoxy to cure unevenly (or worse, leave voids).

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to do all of this.

The scarf jig is a very simple tool to cut an even angle acros the two pieces. Simply take the thickness of the piece, multiply by twelve, and draw a line across the first piece of your scarf material. Align your second piece of scarf material with this line, and then draw a line on the second piece. Clamp it down real nice, and you’ve got yourself a scarf jig.

Get out your power plane and start working, because you’re remooving a lot of material when you’re working with these big pieces. After a few hours, it’s close enough to smooth that it’s time to switch to a hand joiner plane to even things out. Important note: you can use the plane base as a straight edge to check for levelness, and a flashlight to spot any highs or lows by the light that leaks through.

Once finished, the mating surfaces aretest fitted, and then epoxied. First a layer of unthickened epoxy is applied to soak into the endgrain, then a layer of epoxy thickened with colloidal silica for bond strength. Finally, a layer of clamps complete the setup.


Across the shop, work continues on fairing and matching the bedlogs and setting up the strongback for construction. There’s a lot of measuring, remeasuring, squaring, remeasuring, nudging, remeasuring… you get the idea. We want the strongback to be perfectly square and level so it can be used as a reference datum for the contruction of molds.

Odds and Ends

Mondays are for odds and ends, and preparations, and trying to do things that will make our lives easier later on. This week, that means taking a look at this 200 year old model ship that the museum picked up from the Seamen’s Church Institute in Philadelphia. It’s big and cool and old and really impressive.

Lots of insane detail, which the new caretakers are very interested in learning about and cleaning.

Back in the shop, we check out our stem… and it’s not good. In the laminating process, we made sure that we made it as un-square as possible, twisted it a little to the other side, and then twisted in back. That’s why you make these parts oversize, I guess.


Still, it’s the right shape in profile, which is the important bit. After some judicious use of a handplane and blue chalk, it fits up okay.

The centerboard case, which has largely sat around unnoticed for a few days, get a quick coat of pre-varnish sealer on the outsides and a coat of epoxy on the insides, which will hopefully never see the light of day again. Everyone adds their two cents on varnishing technique, debates the best place to hold your wet edge, and tries to show off.20180717_103621

Lumber shows up after lunch, and the rest of the day is spent sorting, stacking, moving, and shuffling giant pieces of wood around the workshop to make room for everything we bought. It all fits in the end, and there’s even kind of an organizational system to it.


The day’s final project is to move the Ventnor forward into her new home until launch time, which also gives us the floor space we’ll need to set up for the Corinthian. Moving hulls in a shop is always exciting, because it invariably means that you’re actually making progress on a project and not just amassing a collection of highly varnished sculptures. For the apprentices, this move is especially exciting because now we’re staking out our own project on the shop floor, and feel a little less like interlopers. This is also the time to do a shop deep clean, and for anyone who has criticized me in the past for not cleaning enough, my response is: I actually love cleaning, as long as it’s dirty enough. Vacuuming three inches of sawdust off the windowsills is an absolute blast.

The move goes pretty easily, as the boat has been sitting on trucks the whole time and doesn’t need to be slung or jacked or carried; A few blocks are removed and she gently rolls to her destination. The result? A Corinthian-sized block of floor.20180717_143022


Laminating is the 20th century version of scarfing – making a bunch of smaller pieces of wood into one bigger one that is the size or shape we need. In this case, the stem is laminated from a number of smaller, thinner strips of sapele that will be hugely easier to work with than trying to saw or bend one giant piece into shape. There’s a lot of epoxy involved, and it’s a pretty big mess when we get back to it in the morning.

Here’s what it looks like in the middle of knocing down the bumps with a combinationg of chisels, handplane, and scraper- whatever seems like the most fun at the moment.

Next, the centerboard trunk sides get some love and sanding, as we level them out, choose which sides will be the show faces, and think critically about what it means to be “flat.”

Raw materials

A trip to Delaware County Supply yields most of the wood (white oak and sapele) we’ll need to for early stages of construction. Out of a few hundred pieces we examine, only a couple dozen make the cut for inclusion (which makes me wonder about what the rest is going to be used for).

Back at the shop, we start progress on a bevel board. This transfers the angles of the lofting to awill board, which we then transfer to the formers so they’ll lay flush to the planks when they go on. Everything is about looking 4 or 5 steps ahead, trying to make later work easier.

Boatbuilding Step 2 (and 1)

Take some really big pieces of wood and turn them into slightly smaller, smoother pieces of wood. In this case, it’s mahogany and is going to be the sides of the Corinthian’s centerboard case. The last photo is the lofted lines on the floor; basically, a full-size 3-view drawing of what the boat will look like.

Day 20: Virginia & Kentucky

Starting today about 30 miles south of the Virginia/Kentucky border, I was alarmed- nay, surprised- to find frost on many cloth surfaces this morning. I was alarmed to find ice in my water hose, though- some amount of chomping and chewing a backwashing was required before I could get water through easily.


Right before reaching Kentucky, I passed through Breaks Interstate Park, the “Grand Canyon of the South” and a pretty magnificent geologic marvel. With a canyon on one side of the road and some marvelously eroded sandstone on the other, it gave a sense of going back in time millions of years as I descended a hill into Kentucky.

When you cross into Kentucky, the first sign you see says “America’s Energy Capital.” Then next one says “KEEP PIKE COUNTY CLEAN.” Apparently no one realized that these goals are at odds with each other, and that clean and coal are two words that can’t really exist together. Also, the anti-littering campaign is, I believe, only barely effective- the “Appalachian Volcano” at least represents some effort to corral litter, but trees are festooned with plastic bags and ditches are still choked with styrofoam and plastics.

The other big thing that struck me about Kentucky was the burning. All day, a continuous spectrum of smokey scents- whether sulfurous coal smoke from homes, thick tobacco smoke from gas stations and driveways, wood smoke from the several fires along the roadside, or exhaust from the passing cars and trucks- followed me as I rode. At first I didn’t recognize the coal smell, but once I realized, it was everywhere.

One thing I did enjoy about today’s ride was the low volume of coal trucks. I had read (and was worried) about a nonstop procession of dump trucks laden with flammable rocks, but being Saturday it appears that a majority of the mines are closed. Hopefully Sunday gives the same relief- it would be fine with me to get out of coal country before trucking resumes.

Using Statolith Composition to Determine Migration Patterns in the Box Jelly Chironex fleckeri

Wow, that is one exciting title excitle! A paper I wrote years back reviewing some literature about tracking the migration of Chironex fleckeri box jellyfish using the relative composition of their statoliths (small structures that help the jelyfish recognize which direction it’s facing).


Marine Biology Grad is a Cape Crusader

Or: I Still Won’t Stop Talking About My Adventures On Monomoy Island.

This is a piece I wrote for the College of Charleston Magazine about one of my experiences while working on Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge. Kate Waddell, also from the College of Charleston class of 2015, provided the illustration. You can find this story in its original format here, or continue reading here.

2015 was an exciting year. After I graduated from the College, won a national championship in rowing, and then bicycled from Rhode Island to California as a fundraiser for the climate action group 350.org, a lot of people asked me what I had planned for 2016. Surely, I’d had enough adventure for a while – wasn’t it time to do something normal for a change?


For someone who grew up beside the ocean, spent four years studying marine biology and had a penchant for outdoor living, the obvious next step was to move to a deserted island and spend the summer working as a wildlife biologist for the Massachusetts Audubon Society.

A deserted island: Most people’s conception of the term involves palm trees, tropical latitudes, coral reefs and being hundreds of miles from civilization.

Monomoy Island, the location of my scientific exploits, is a barrier island off the coast of Massachusetts. It’s less than 80 miles from Boston, has an average summer temperature of less than 75 degrees and frequently is shrouded in fog for a few hours a day. Not a single parrot or boa constrictor can be found there. But without any year-round human inhabitants, only one permanent structure and daunting natural obstacles preventing most humans from reaching the island (it’s likely the least-visited part of Cape Cod), it’s the closest thing to a deserted island that you’ll find in Massachusetts.

The prospect of spending the entire summer on the island, working closely with scientists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to observe and document the birds nesting there, was enticing. This was certainly going to be my greatest adventure yet.

This desolation is what brought us biologists to Monomoy in the first place. With minimal human interruption, the island offers a perfect haven for a huge number of animals. Seals and great white sharks are probably some of the island’s best-known inhabitants. And clams, striped bass and bluefish are some of its most delicious. But the most ubiquitous animals, and the real reason we spent our summer on Monomoy, were the birds.

Tens of thousands of birds representing hundreds of species pass through the eight-mile spit of an island each summer. Some just use the island as a rest stop in their multi-day flights up and down the coast. Others, like the terns and plovers, make their summer homes there, taking time to raise a family before departing for the winter.

The prospect of spending the entire summer on the island, working closely with scientists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to observe and document the birds nesting there, was enticing. This was certainly going to be my greatest adventure yet. Indeed, it lived up to – and even exceeded – my highest expectations. Whether we were under attack from overprotective seabirds, stalking squid and dogfish across the mudflats by the light of our headlamps, watching whales feeding just yards away from us in the surf or keeping our eyes peeled for the telltale fin of a great white hunting for seals, life on Monomoy was a nonstop thrill, a relaxing retreat, a months-long logistical challenge and a full-time job.

As if the entire summer was scripted by some omnipotent author, the last day of my employment at Monomoy served as a perfect finale to the incredible experiences of the summer. That day, August 19, 2016, was marked by the arrival and departure of one of the ocean’s most awesome animals. It was the day we rescued a leatherback sea turtle. Few people will ever have the chance to see a leatherback; fewer still will encounter one on the beach. And, of that number, only a minuscule percentage will be fortunate enough to help orchestrate the rescue of such a magnificent and mysterious creature.

The rescue almost didn’t happen at all. When we found the stranded turtle after a quahogger’s tip, our first reaction was to call the professionals – the teams from the New England Aquarium and International Fund for Animal Welfare – to come to the aid of our reptile in distress. Monomoy’s relative inaccessibility, though, meant it could take all day for help to arrive, and that might be too long for the turtle to be slowly roasting under the August sun stuck on the baking sheet of a beach. It was obvious that if the turtle was going to make it back to its ocean home, we would have to be the ones to get it there.

Leatherback sea turtles virtually never come ashore. The females land every two to three years to lay their eggs; males, once they’ve hatched, will spend their whole lives, up to 100 years, plying the oceans.

Stranded high above the tide line, the turtle had left a trail of flipper marks that clearly defined its struggle after it washed ashore in the shallow tidal flats. Calm and warm, Nantucket Sound extends to the west of Monomoy Island. The shoreline has many sandbars and shallows, great places, as it happens, for a turtle to get stranded. From its tracks, it looked like the turtle had tried to make its way over the beach toward the sound of the waves crashing on the distant Atlantic Ocean side of the island. Ultimately, it only made it a few yards toward its destination before succumbing to the obstacles it faced.

Unsure of what to do, we started our rescue by cooling the turtle with water dipped from the ocean. Then we fashioned a makeshift sling out of a tent’s ground cloth snatched from our camp. Manuevering the turtle, some five feet in length and weighing in the neighborhood of 400 pounds, into the sling was a painstaking operation of digging, sliding and wriggling. Initially wary of its huge flippers, we soon discovered the ordeal had so exhausted the turtle that it was almost powerless to move, let alone harm us.

Deciding against releasing it back into Nantucket Sound, where it was likely to be stranded again, we opted, instead, to introduce it directly to the deeper and cooler Atlantic Ocean. The hurdle preventing us from attainting this goal, however, was the more than 100 yards of hot, sandy beach that lay between us and the Atlantic. Half carrying, half sliding the sling over the beach, we maneuvered the exhausted turtle toward the ocean.

For the most part, the turtle put up no real struggle. Perhaps its massive size, coupled with the discomforts of being stranded out of its environment for so long, had left it drained with nothing to do but wait for good luck to come its way. As the rescue party crested the berm and finally began heading downhill toward the surf, our large reptilian friend showed the first signs of renewed life and intent since we found it. As if suddenly realizing how close it was to the cool ocean waters, the turtle began its own clumsy sprint towards freedom, flapping its massive flippers and wriggling its body against the constraints of the giant sling. Gathering momentum as we moved down the intertidal zone, the whole party – rescuers, turtle and sling – raced together into the surf. As the sling drifted to the bottom and the turtle floated, recovering, at the surface, I took a moment to reflect.

Leatherback sea turtles virtually never come ashore. The females land every two to three years to lay their eggs; males, once they’ve hatched, will spend their whole lives, up to 100 years, plying the oceans. This turtle was a small one by leatherback standards, and, if all goes well, it will still be traversing the oceans for 75 more years.

Hopefully, it will never have to encounter another human. But if it does, I wonder if it will remember the day it met us. Sometimes, the unpredictable can happen to a turtle: They’re searching for food, get caught in a current and end up stranded and helpless. It’s then that they must rely on an outsider to save them.

The truth is turtles and people are a lot alike. No matter how independent and capable the human or reptile, sometimes unforeseen challenges land you in a situation you’re not prepared for. When they do, all you can do is look – or sometimes simply wait – for help in order to get yourself back on track. And your saving grace might just come from an unexpected source.